13 Steps to Start A Successful Podcast
In case you missed our co-founder Steve’s brilliant webinar, here’s a little summary in blog form. Bringing more than 25 years’ worth of experience to the table, Steve outlines the crucial key points you need to hit to make sure that your podcast stands out and achieves wonderful things.
(Before we go any further, we’ve popped some links in here to help with equipment selection. We’ve picked them because we think they do the job, but wanted to let you know that we may get a commission from any purchase you make from following the link.)
So let’s dive in.
1. A BRILLIANT IDEA
All good things start as a tiny seed flourishing somewhere in the mind. That’s great, but it’s not everything. To build a successful podcast from the ground up, that little seed needs to transform into a premise.
What’s the difference? Let’s take Steve’s example to demonstrate.
A self-confessed Manic Street Preachers superfan, Steve wants to start a podcast about his favourite Welsh rockers. His idea is simple: to tell the story of their success. He goes about researching a few bits and bobs to fill each episode, but soon gets bogged down in the sheer amount of detail there is to cover. After a few episodes, he loses heart and, with little direction, the podcast falters.
Now let’s take this idea further. Steve confesses to having bought every single one of the Manic Street Preachers’ 57 singles since their first release in 1988. So what if he were to tell the story of the band through the lens of each single? Before he’s even recorded a minute of content, he now has a roadmap and clear destination. 57 episodes of his podcast are already fully formed.
All that overwhelming detail suddenly doesn’t seem too scary anymore. Why? Because there’s a focus, meaning he can omit anything unnecessary to the story.
And that’s the difference between an idea and a premise.
2. TARGET AUDIENCE
Everyone knows the importance of figuring out your target audience. But this is especially true for the medium of podcast. Why?
One statistic can explain this. Here in the UK, 94% of people said they listen to podcasts alone (RAJAR – MIDAS WINTER 2021). This makes all the difference. Gone are the days when you could get away with making a vague product for a mass market and hoping for the best. This market is singular and incredibly niche and people listen to podcasts that are highly specific to their areas of interest.
A podcast for runners? Forget it. Dog-owners? Nope. Dog-owners who run with their dogs? Now we’re getting somewhere!
3. DEFINE YOUR SUCCESS
Decide how you want to measure your podcast’s success. In an industry obsessed with stats, things can get confusing, and comparing your work to the likes of comparing your work to the New York Times and its 4 million listeners to The Daily is bound to be disheartening.
So make sure you define your own metrics straight off the bat. Maybe your goal is to generate traffic to your website or build a small but dedicated community of like-minded listeners: it doesn’t always have to be about numbers.
You’ll also find the more effort you put into proper engagement with your listeners, the easier the podcast will grow. By focusing on making enchanting content, you’ll be able to harness what’s arguably the most powerful marketing tool of all: word-of-mouth recommendations.
In the words of marketing consultant and podcaster Jay Acunzo: “Don’t be the best, just be their favourite.”
4. STAND OUT IN A CROWD
Stating the obvious, you need to stand out.
Just a few years ago, podcasts were a rare medium that few people listened to or talked about. A lot has changed. There are now 2.7 million podcasts, and that number is growing exponentially. What does this mean?
Do your research. Find out what other podcasts there are on the same or similar topics. You need to find out what your target audience is already listening to and work out how yours differs. What will listeners be getting from you that they won’t be getting elsewhere?
If this still seems too broad, consider:
- Bringing a new level of expertise to the field
- Focusing on a neglected area
- Offering a fresh approach or opinion
- Trying out a different format, e.g., collaborations & interviews
5. KNOW WHERE YOU’RE HEADING
Map out your direction and long-term goals before you publish. You need to pick a schedule and stick to it. For example, are you aiming to post once a week? Or, how many episodes are there in each series?
Once you’ve established this, it’s essential that you tell your listeners this information so that they know when to expect more content.
If you’re planning on speaking to guests, our advice is: dream big from the start! By having that roadmap in your pocket, you’ll feel confident enough to approach guests with a wider influence in the world, which in turn will help your podcast grow in the future.
6. MARKETING PLAN
Don’t listen to Kevin Costner…if you build it, they won’t necessarily come.
You may not realise it, but a podcast is usually 50% production and 50% telling your audience about it. Don’t leave it to chance – make a marketing plan and keep at it.
You’ll also need to brush up on copywriting skills because you’ll be writing a fair amount. Series and episode descriptions explaining what your podcast is about do a lot of work in the lead-up to getting people to press play. And research shows that after pressing play, 67%* of people stay till the end (*RAJAR – MIDAS WINTER 2021).
If you can get people to that point (pressing play, that is), the rest is down to the content. And if the content is great, then encourage your listeners to tell others about it.
7. A GREAT NAME
Basic as it is, we really can’t stress enough how fundamental this is to your success.
Podcasts, unlike radio, are hardly ever accidental listening. Someone has made a conscious choice to press the play button.
And getting people to press that play button for the first time is literally one of the most difficult things to do. However, a really great podcast name will help your listener decide:
- What they might expect
- How they might feel when listening to it.
- Here are three great examples:
Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place (mental health and wellbeing): tells us immediately that this is a discussion about emotions, feelings and how the host and her guests navigate them.
My Dad Wrote A Porno (adult comedy): this first-person title operates by putting you in this very situation and encourages you to imagine what it feels like. Embarrassing? Check. Hilarious? Absolutely.
They Walk Among Us (true crime): a sinister suggestion deliberately cloaked in mystery and intrigue. Leads us to ask questions, drawing us in.
8. COMPELLING ARTWORK
That brings us onto artwork. Whether we like it or not, we do judge a book by its cover, so make sure yours is killer (not literally of course, you don’t want to end up the subject of a True Crime series!). Your podcast needs to stand out among thousands of other listings in apps and directories. Something simple and effective that chimes with the podcast description (and is recognisable in thumbnail size) is best.
A brilliant example is Macmillan Cancer Support’s Talking Cancer podcast art. The colour scheme and style is on brand for the organisation, and the two mugs of tea do a great job of making a difficult and tender topic less daunting for listeners, and chimes with the charity’s Coffee Mornings that they are super well known for..
9. THE RIGHT RECORDING CONDITIONS
Look at that. Number nine and we haven’t even opened a mic!
First things first – you don’t have to be a ‘techy’ to get this right. It’s not the most difficult thing to achieve, but you do need to fulfil certain basic conditions to keep listeners listening. No one wants to hear hissy, crackly audio, or overly loud audio full of popping p’s and b’s.
Podcasts need to be high quality productions, but that doesn’t mean they have to be expensive… easily available USB mics can be a good place to start. You’ll probably want to opt for a condenser mic, as these are better at picking up the intricacies of speech and intonation in quiet settings.
You’ll also need to learn to love headphones. Wear them whilst recording so you can hear everything as you go along; that way you won’t waste time having to re-record later on. Again, no need to splurge here. The ones that you got with your mobile phone will suffice, or if you wanted to try an over-the-head set, these will certainly do the trick.
Another good little hack is to record in a room with as few hard surfaces as possible. Cushions, duvets and curtains are your friend: they’ll absorb unwanted sound waves and echoes leaving your audio clean and clear.
10. ONE LISTENER, NOT MANY
All the best broadcasters are good at their jobs because they’ve learned the art of speaking to one person.
You need to build trust with your listener as if they are a friend. As we’ve already said, 94% of people listen to podcasts alone, so you have to make someone feel included.
In-jokes between guests and stories without adequate explanation are out. A good way to get to grips with this is to visualise talking to a friend. Likewise, if you have a guest, treat your listener as the third person around the table. That way, you’ll be sure to include them in your conversation and not alienate them.
11. BECOME A SKILLED EDITOR*
The daunting or laborious bit for some…
If you’re a dab-hand at editing software already, superb – and have at it 🙂
*For those of you that aren’t, worry not – you have loads of options open to you – from free editing software online, or recording platforms that will edit for you if you tell them when and where to, to learning how to do it yourself from online tutorials or in person training, or plainly having someone else do it for you.
We run half day and full day training courses to help you with editing, just as we also edit hundreds of podcast episodes for clients each year, so please feel free to get in touch if you think we could help you out.
But editing isn’t just about software. What we can’t do is tell you which parts of the content you need to keep. Remember, listeners’ time is precious, so it’s vital to respect that. Chances are, out of 40 minutes of speech, 10 minutes of that could do with a good trim, so cut it out.
It’s also fine to get rid of some ums and ahs that arise during a natural conversation, but not all of these are bad. You might want to keep a few of those hesitant moments in the final cut just so you don’t end up sounding like a robot reading from a script.
12. BE SEEN EVERYWHERE
Listeners find their podcast from a whole host of podcast directories like Spotify / Apple Podcasts / YouTube / Amazon Music, so get on as many of them as possible. Think of these directories as your podcast shop window. They will all point back to your podcast hosting site.
If you’re not a YouTube native, consider posting some of your content there too. It’s not crucial to post everything there, but a ‘best bits’ cut of your content could be worth the effort.
Be sure your podcast is accessible from everywhere that people interact with you – on your website, on all your social, print etc. Tie this all into your marketing plan (see step 6).
13. LISTEN, LEARN + IMPROVE
Yes yes, a lot of us hate listening to ourselves back. But you’re going to have to get used to hearing your own voice. It’s essential that you go back over your podcast and listen critically. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to put yourself in the shoes of your target audience, hearing it as they will.
It’s a good idea to get some honest feedback from friends too.
Have a scroll through and see how it looks on the directories in contrast to other podcasts and make adjustments to improve.
This feedback loop will help you keep improving, and it’ll enable you to see how you’re measuring up to your own goals of success.
Finally: HAVE FUN!
Listeners want to hear something that makes their heart sing, and if your heart is singing making your podcast then it’s going to be infectious to those that listen. We’re a lot more intelligent than we give ourselves credit for, and if you’re not having fun, your listeners will pick up on it straight away and turn off.
We’ve made a handy 13 Steps checklist that you can download for free here to get you started.
We really hope this has given you some food for thought, and wish you the very best of luck on your podcast journey. As you know, here at Bengo Media, we love nothing more than making compelling podcasts whilst helping clients achieve their podcasting goals. If you’d like to have a conversation about how we might be able to help you with a podcasting project, please book a complimentary discovery call with Steve.
Find out more about our podcast agency, including our full service podcast production offering.