Many of us have made the long commute to work more bearable by buffering the departure and arrival with a podcast or two. Some of us have compensated for the sense of isolation felt as new parents by consuming manageable chucks of podcasts during baby's naptime. And who hasn't tried to cut through the boredom – and worry – of waiting to see a doctor by losing themselves in a podcast? Podcasts can be sanity savers, informative, educational, inspiring or just plain fun.
As a result of its versatility, this form of media has grown in popularity since its inception in 2005. In fact, today, there are some 750,000 active podcasts, with over 30 million episodes produced. Nearly 51% of the U.S. population has listened to a podcast, up 7% from just last year. Listeners enjoy an average of seven shows per week, with 80% listening to all or most of each podcast episode.
Given podcasts' ability to attract and keep an audience, it's no surprise that business owners, entrepreneurs and marketers are looking to capitalize on the popularity of this medium. As a podcaster, you can position yourself as an authority in a particular topic or field, which will help you influence clients and customers in ways that encourage them to purchase your products and services, invest in your business, or promote you to their peers. And all of this can be done on the cheap, because in most cases, creating a podcast does not require a significant financial investment.
Although you may be an expert in your industry, perhaps you are not quite sure where to start when it comes to creating your own podcast. To help you avoid common rookie mistakes, we spoke with experts to get advice and recommendations on how to get started.
Here is our beginner's guide to starting a podcast.
For the newbie, a podcast is an audio series that is available online. Similar to a TV or radio show, it's made up of episodes and seasons. Listeners can subscribe to specific podcasts, download episodes as they become available, and listen to them whenever and wherever it's convenient for them. Tuning in to a podcast only requires a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer.
Find your niche
The first step is deciding what you'd like the focus of your podcast to be. You need to find a happy medium between a topic that is broad enough that you can explore many different aspects of it, and one that is narrow enough to attract an audience with that specific interest.
Don't try to be everything to everybody, advises Jennifer Moxley, the founder of Sunshine Media Network, whose work includes guiding clients on how to start, improve and be interviewed on podcasts.
"By showcasing quality content targeted to a specific group of people who want that content, you'll find your voice and start to grow your audience," Moxley said.
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.
Choose a name
There are a couple of ways you can select a name for your podcast. You can come up with a descriptive title that is self-explanatory. Another option is to create something really clever and catchy, but just make sure it offers a clear connection back to your niche. The name needs to be instantly recognizable to listeners looking for info on your topic.
Though tempting, avoid incorporating your own name into the title. This only works if you already have huge name recognition amongst your audience.
Tip: For some inspiration on choosing a name for your podcast, check out the top 100 U.S. podcasts.
Select a format
There are many types of podcast formats – the most common include solo shows, co-hosted shows and interview shows. The solo show involves the podcaster speaking directly to the audience. With a co-hosted show, you share the mic with another presenter. In an interview show, you speak with guests, which you can do solo or with a co-host.
"If you're interviewing guests, two hosts can be a bit cumbersome and also potentially prevent you from digging into interesting information from your guest, because both hosts may want to add commentary," said Jen Spencer, vice president of sales at SmartBug Media and host of a weekly podcast, SmartBug on Tap. However, Spencer points out that a co-hosted show can work if each presenter plays a specific role.
Regardless of which arrangement you prefer, what matters most is finding a format that lends itself to exploring your subject matter.
"In the end, it's about having a message that resonates with your audience, not the number of voices delivering it," said Mary-Lynn Foster, co-founder of the coaching and e-learning firm BIGG Success and co-host of its podcast.
Define your style
The most successful podcasts provide targeted content in a conversational, engaging style. 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 authentic. 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.
"Every person who is new to podcasting needs to understand that the key to being interesting is being interested," said Jason Klamm, founder and executive producer of StolenDress Entertainment and creator of the Comedy on Vinyl podcast. "Curiosity is everything, even if you've got a ton of knowledge on a subject already. Make each show a connection, either with the interviewee or the audience. Eventually, you'll figure out what the story you actually want to tell is."
Decide on the length
The length of your podcast is determined by how much you have to say on a topic and the needs of your audience. "We give each episode the freedom to be the length it needs to be," said Foster.
There are five-minute podcasts that appeal to a certain kind of listener and four-hour podcasts that offer in-depth coverage of a particular issue. The typical podcast tends to be 20-45 minutes, typically the same length as the average commute. Find what works for you, and don't be afraid to vary the length when necessary. What you don't want to do is stretch out material to fit a rigid timeframe or, conversely, cram so much information into an episode that it overwhelms listeners.
The objective of a podcast is to connect with listeners and build a community over time. People will invest their time to listen to what you have to say, so make it worth their while.
Key takeaway: A podcast is usually around the same length as a commute, 20-45 minutes.
Figure out the frequency
Your content will determine how often you release new episodes. However, if you are trying to build a brand or gain traction with a following, consider recording and issuing an episode each week.
"I wish I'd been told how important keeping a regular release schedule was in maintaining an audience and getting more listeners," Klamm said. "If I had, the show might have grown a lot faster."
To avoid feeling overwhelmed and hurriedly producing new episodes, Spencer recommends creating a few episodes before you launch. This way, "you don't feel unreasonably pressured, but you are still able to stick to a regular schedule for your subscribers," she said.
You don't need a professional studio with fancy equipment to record a podcast. All that's required is a laptop or tablet, audio recording and editing software, and a high-quality microphone to record the audio.
"The utmost important factor in a show is sound," said Tom Scarda, founder and host of The Franchise Academy Podcast. "[Do] not skimp on a good microphone."
Using a poor-quality mic may result in lack of audio crispness and clarity that will brand your podcast as amateurish. Look for a USB microphone that plugs into the USB port of your computer. Do not use your 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. Many podcasters swear by Blue Yeti USB or Audio-Technica microphones. You can also browse mics (and chat with customer service representatives) at online retailers like B&H to see the full range of options that are available.
Condenser microphones, such as the Blue Snowball iCE, also provide rich sound and are quite popular. Be sure to buy enough microphones in case you have several speakers or guests. Consider purchasing a pop filter to muffle or reduce the clicking and smacking sounds people make when speaking normally into a microphone.
Ideally, audio should be recorded in a quiet area, away from cars and nature noises. To reduce the time you'll spend editing each podcast, consider sectioning off the room and adding dense, sound-absorbing materials. Some podcasters record in a closet, where carpeted floors and hanging clothing absorb ambient sounds. You can also check out these pop and reflection filters.
Recording and editing
You'll need audio software to create your podcast. If you 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 useful YouTube tutorials on how to use GarageBand to create a podcast can be found here and here.
For PC users, applications like Audacity and Adobe Audition are similar to GarageBand. Audacity is free, and Audition is available for a monthly subscription. You can find a comprehensive beginner's guide to Audacity here and one beginners' guide specifically for podcasting here. Access a tutorial on how to edit a podcast with Audition here.
Tip: If all this feels too technical for you, you may want to try Alitu, which is a podcast-maker tool that helps build episodes by automating the processing, editing and publishing of your show.
If you are interviewing guests on your show, you'll need to put together a list of potential guests and reach out to them as soon as possible. A service like Acuity Scheduling avoids all the back-and-forth involved in scheduling. People can book a date and time to be interviewed directly within your calendar.
If you have remote guests, Skype lets you record calls, and the quality is much better than landlines, plus the connections are usually strong. However, there are tons of tools on the market for recording podcast interviews you can check out, including Ringr, Zoom and Zencastr.
Beyond the tech tools necessary to record interviews are the skills you'll need to elicit information from your guests. As an interviewer, you need to build a rapport with guests that is natural and fluid while still keeping them on topic.
"Interviewers must keep the interview moving forward, [as well as] focused and relatable," said Moxley. "They should realize when the answers are getting derailed or lengthy and keep [their] ears open for those golden nuggets of information."
Additionally, interviewers need to be ready to challenge or call out a guest's comments or assertions when necessary. This is uncomfortable for new podcasters, but it's key if you want to establish long-term credibility.
"Often, a new podcast host is so grateful for an interview, they allow it to be full of fluff," Moxley said. "If you're just hosting 30-minute commercials for someone, today's audience will not participate or trust you."
An intro is a short voiceover, usually with music, that introduces each podcast episode and the host(s) at the beginning of the show. Outros thank listeners and direct them to your website at the end. You can record these yourself, or hire a professional voiceover actor or actress to record them through a service like Music Radio Creative.
An intro and outro for your podcast add personality and professionalism. They can be creative and fun, but most importantly, they should make a good first impression, reassuring listeners that they made the right choice in selecting your podcast and that you are going to deliver.
You want music in the intro and outro that suits the personality of your show. However, don't use copyright-protected music without permission ‒ it's a severe violation that will get you kicked off iTunes or Spotify.
One of the most extensive libraries of free-to-use music, also known as creative commons, is Incompetech. However, because the music on this and similar sites is free, it's very commonplace and used extensively. If you have some money in your budget, you can get royalty-free music for a one-time fee at Jamendo. You also can access thousands of music tracks through the monthly subscription service Audioblocks.
Another creative, budget-conscious option is having a local band or musician compose something specific for your show, or ask if you can use a clip from one of their existing songs. This partnership provides you with original music while offering the artist some exposure.
Your podcast cover art is the first thing listeners will see when looking through podcast directories like iTunes or Google Play. Your cover art should be 1400 x 1400 pixels, in JPG or PNG form, and under 500KB to meet iTunes' specifications.
Podcast artwork should visually communicate the subject of your podcast, include your logo (if you have one), and use simple fonts and high-quality images. Remember, your listeners will see the image in a much smaller format, so keep it clean and uncomplicated.
You can use stock images to create cover art on platforms like Canva or Snappa, or you can pay for custom art through sites like 99designs, Podcast Designs or Fiverr. Of course, you also can design it yourself, or ask an artistic friend or colleague to do it.
Once you edit the audio, and add images and music for the podcast intro and outro, you're ready to export the finished podcast to your website and the distribution platforms of your choice.
Many novice podcasters assume that you upload your podcast directly to places like iTunes. However, you need to create an account with a media host, which is a subscription service that stores your audio files. In addition to housing your audio files, a hosting service provides stats, marketing tools, and podcast websites while also serving as a link between you and podcast directories like iTunes.
"They make it easy to upload your audio file, add show notes and get your podcast to the places where people will be listening," said Joey Held, digital manager at INK Communications and host of the podcasts The Good Stuff and The Noise (with INK) and Parks n Wrecked.
After you have your web hosting squared away, your media host will provide you with an RSS feed, which is basically a URL. This is the feed you'll submit to platforms like iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, TuneIn and Spotify. You can then publicize your RSS feed to listeners so they can find, download and subscribe to your show.
Make sure your podcast landing page on these platforms includes 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.
Launch and promote
To generate 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. You want to build an audience before you launch. To improve your chances of being noticed and possibly featured by iTunes, encourage new listeners to subscribe to your podcast and leave a review.
To get the most out of your podcast, think of ways you can repurpose your podcast content on your blog and social media channels. Also, be open and willing to learn about your listeners' needs by the way they respond to your content. This is especially important if your listeners are current or potential customers.
"We've been able to track which episodes are the most popular and have used those insights to inform marketing campaigns," said Spencer. "For example, one of my latest podcast episodes on SEO basics is pacing well ahead of any other episode. This data helps validate the need for our company to create more educational content on this topic, because clearly our audience is hungry for it."
Though podcasting may be intimidating, there are support systems to help newcomers succeed.
"The best thing for every newbie to know about starting a podcast is that other podcasters want to help you," Foster said. "Podcasters are some of the most giving people who freely offer tips and encouragement."
There is a host of online podcast communities that can answer your questions and provide support. Here are just a few:
- Podcast USA
- The Podcast Movement Community
- She Podcasts Facebook Group
- Podcast Community
- Podcasting Technology Resource Group on LinkedIn
- Podcast Meetups
Benefits of starting a podcast
If you're still having doubts about whether it's worth your time to create a podcast, consider the many benefits of talking directly to current and potential customers and clients.
Podcasting allows you to build a relationship with your audience, which can open doors to new opportunities.
"Whether you're hosting your own [show] or appearing as a guest on another show, you're connecting with someone in your industry or field, which can lead to additional work and collaboration down the line," Held said.
Podcasting gives you access to movers and shakers in your field in a way few other experiences can.
"My podcast gives me credibility with my clients … and allows me to contact to people who are otherwise out of reach to request an interview," said Scarda.
Perhaps most importantly, podcasting helps establish you as an expert in your chosen area or field because of your efforts to delve deeper into relevant issues during your show. You can become a trusted voice that others come to for insight and advice. Your brand will grow as you connect and engage with listeners, and provide them with the information they need most.
"Podcasts can elevate your level of expertise in a field, which you can leverage for your own exposure," said Moxley. "Podcasts can make you relevant; they're a reason for someone to talk about you, share your social media content, invite you to guest panels, or highlight you in your community."
Additional reporting by Pamela Oldham.