Spiritual teachers Alyssa Malehorn and Zack Fuentes begin their day with coffee and a private conversation about spirituality and personal growth. The duo hadn't thought about sharing their discussions with the world until friends and family learned about the lively and insightful conversations that took place during their morning ritual.
"They kept saying, 'Man, I wish I could be a fly on the wall,'" said Malehorn. "It gave us the initial thought of starting a podcast."
Podcasting is a content format that reaches people who might not otherwise find an organization's messaging and prefer the portability and intimacy of listening to audio content. Most listeners fall between the ages of 18 and 54 and are nearly equally distributed between male and females, according to Edison Research. The number of people who listen to podcasts (also known as on-demand audio) is exploding every year, thanks to technology advancements that make creating podcasts and listening to them more convenient and accessible than ever before.
One of the biggest benefits of podcasting is positioning yourself as an authority on your topic, which helps influence clients and customers in positive ways that encourage them to purchase your products and services. But with millions of hours of podcast audio available today, it's important to find a niche – something that sets your podcast apart from others.
Ramp-up to first broadcast can be quick. Malehorn and Fuentes launched their podcast, "Raw Spirituality," a couple of weeks after the idea was first hatched. Best of all, you don’t need to be a technophile or have a big budget to start a podcast.
Where to start? Here's the basic podcast startup checklist.
1. Create content that's highly targeted and conversational.
Podcasts are often compared to talk radio broadcasts. But unlike radio, podcasts are more prolific and delivered on demand. Listeners tune in whenever they want, wherever they happen to be at the time. Tuning in to your podcast and consuming your content only requires a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer.
Always keep in mind that the objective of a podcast is to connect with listeners and build a community of relationships with each and every listener over time. They'll be investing 30 minutes or more to listen to what you have to say, so make it worth their time.
If your industry is underserved in the podcast universe, it's likely that there are listeners out there who are hungry for information and actively searching for new content. Carve out a topic niche in which you can easily and authoritatively speak for long stretches, in language that's informal and engaging.
Don't count on podcasts as a way to generate revenue. Monetization comes with large numbers of weekly downloads, not subscribers, and that's challenging for most podcasters to achieve. Instead, think of podcasting as a way to reach more people.
When it comes to choosing a subject, make sure it's something you're passionate about. If you're not in love with the topic you're talking about, podcasting will be a struggle and listeners will hear that in your voice. "You want to talk about something you find very exciting," said Malehorn.
2. Throw out the scripts.
Before we talk about equipment needed to produce a podcast, understand that podcasting is no place for a teleprompter. A short topic outline might prove helpful, but successful podcasters don't use scripts because they lead to stilted language that doesn't resonate with listeners. Podcasts that feel like an advertisement or resemble college lectures won't cut it either.
Be your authentic self. Talk about what you know, using essentially the same words and tone you normally use when conversing with a close friend. Successful podcasts allow listeners to get to know the podcasters, warts and all.
"A lot of people who start podcasts think they have to be perfect. Relax into what you're doing. Your listeners are friendly, and if you're engaging with them, you're getting to know them too," Malehorn said. "Being authentic helps build the community. We feel that sense of community, and that allows us to relax and just go for it."
Talking into a microphone for 30 minutes or longer might take some getting used to. Try to imagine yourself talking to an individual person, one-on-one, about a single aspect in your area of expertise and take the conversation wherever it leads. Better yet, consider different formats, such as expert interviews and multiple hosts.
3. Acquire hardware and peripherals capable of recording high-quality audio.
You don't need a professional studio with fancy equipment. All that's required is a laptop or tablet, audio recording and editing software, and a high-quality microphone to record the audio.
Probably the most important piece of equipment for podcasting is the microphone. Skimp on this item and the resulting lack of audio crispness and clarity could brand your podcast as amateurish. Look for a USB microphone that plugs into the USB port of your computer. Do not use the computer's built-in microphone.
There are some basic microphones on the market for under $100, but if you're serious about podcasting, you'll want to budget for a higher-quality model – anywhere from $125 to $300. Many podcasters swear by Blue Yeti USB microphones.
Condenser microphones also provide rich sounds and are available within the same budget range. Be sure to buy enough microphones for all your podcast's speakers. Browse products (and talk or chat with customer service representatives) at online retailers like B&H to see the full range of microphones available. Consider purchasing a pop filter to muffle or reduce the likelihood of recording the clicking or smacking sounds so many people make when speaking normally into a microphone.
Audio should ideally be recorded in a small area, away from cars and nature noises. To reduce editing time, consider sectioning off the room and adding some dense sound-absorbing materials to reduce noise and sound reflections within the room – rugs or carpet on the floor and blankets on rods around the space in which you'll be recording, for example. Some podcasters record in a closet, where carpeted floors and hanging clothing absorb most ambient sounds. Check out some examples of pop and reflection filters.
You'll need audio software to create your podcast. If you already own a MacBook or iPad, you are already ahead of the recording and editing game. Apple's laptops and tablets typically come equipped with GarageBand, a professional-level studio editing application that's free and easy to use. Two great tutorials on how to use GarageBand to create a podcast can be found here and here.
For PC users, such applications as Audacity and Adobe Audition work similarly to GarageBand. Audacity is free, and Audition is available for a monthly subscription. You can find a comprehensive beginners' guide to Audacity here and one beginners' guide specifically for podcasting here. Access a tutorial on how to edit a podcast with Audition here.
Intros and outros are short voiceovers, usually with music, that introduces each podcast episode and the host(s). You can record these yourself or hire a professional voiceover person to record your intro and outro for you. An intro and outro for your podcast add personality and professionalism.
Once you edit the audio recording and add images and music for the podcast intro (the beginning of the podcast) and outro (the end of the podcast), you're ready to export the finished podcast to your website and the distribution platforms of your choice.
4. Upload podcasts to your website and multiple distribution platforms to reach a wide audience.
Check with your current web hosting company, but you'll probably need a separate host for your audio files because of file size. When determining how much storage space you'll need, consider how many episodes you'll record each week and multiply to figure out your storage needs – and then try to get an option to quickly increase space, just in case you need more file space.
After you have your web hosting squared away and at least one episode uploaded, your media host will provide you with an RSS feed. This is the feed you'll submit to platforms like iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Spotify.
Make sure your podcast landing page on these platforms includes beautiful podcast art that reflects the look and feel of your podcast. Platforms such as iTunes pay attention to details like artwork and podcast description text.
5. Launch your podcast with two or three episodes.
To generate more buzz on launch day, have several episodes already completed and uploaded. Announce the launch in advance to your business network via email and social media. The idea is to build a small audience before you launch. To improve your chances of getting noticed and possibly featured by iTunes, be sure to encourage new listeners to subscribe to your podcast and leave a review.
Your first step: Listen to popular podcasts and set your goals.
There are dozens and dozens of categories and subcategories of podcasts on iTunes. To find out what works and what doesn't work, listen to a wide variety of them – including those that aren't in your industry or topic area – to learn how others conduct themselves on air. The best podcasts are conversations, not sales pitches.
Malehorn and Fuentes say the goal for their podcast was focused around the energy of giving a gift to others. They planned their podcast for like-minded people interested in spiritual growth, and their broadcasts provide insights to help listeners improve their lives.
"As spiritual teachers, we don't put a lot of energy into developing a brand," Fuentes said. "We looked at podcasting as a way to reach more people."
That's the right approach, no matter the industry or topic. Connecting and engaging with more people should be every podcaster's primary objective. Deliver the information listeners need most, and branding will naturally follow.