How to Start a Podcast: Nuts and Bolts
Digital marketing is a must, but it’s an intimidatingly broad field, encompassing everything from social platforms to email campaigns, apps to display advertising. For small business owners, who have limited time and resources, correctly identifying which digital platforms have the largest population of their target audience can make or break their marketing efforts. One way you can reach a targeted audience is by content marketing your products and services through podcasting.
Podcasts work really well if you have an authentic story to tell. (In other words, if you podcast just for the exposure, listeners are unlikely to connect with your material.) As the New York Times put it, “Podcasts are personal. …Listening to a great [one] can feel like falling into conversation with a new best friend or eavesdropping on an infatuating crush. A bad one is like sitting next to the wrong stranger on the subway.” This is also why podcasting is a great platform for niche interests. (There’s an entire section on iTunes for Star Wars-related podcasts.)
And the number of people tuning into podcasts is on the rise, in part thanks to popular series like Serial and Side Hustle School, as well as increasingly low barriers to creating and listening to them. According to a study done by Edison Research, in 2016, 21 percent of Americans 12 and up had listened to a podcast in the last month, a 75 percent increase in podcast listenership from the previous year.
Podcasts have a variety of marketing benefits.
- Podcasts are the ultimate portable content. Most people prefer watching video or listening to content.
- Podcasts can be listened to 24 hours a day—on a commute, while working out, cooking, or relaxing on the weekend—making them especially appealing to those with busy lifestyles.
- Podcasts can be integrated into other marketing efforts. Connecting your podcast episode or series to a blog or video campaign is easy. That content can also then be repurposed into other forms—eBooks, Slideshares, and so on.
- Being a podcaster can signal expertise. Many consumers understand the time and labor required to master podcasting and to create quality content, and see it as indicative of your knowledge and experience on the subject.
- They resonate with millennials. If that’s your audience, this is a great way to help them find you.
- They can provide an additional revenue stream, through advertising or subscriptions.
For small businesses owners, podcasts are an opportunity for owners to connect with and build a community of followers and listeners, locally, and even internationally.
Podcasting 101: Steps for creating your first podcast as a small business owner
In order to create a podcast, you’ll need yourself, some recording equipment, Internet access, and a topic to talk about. The following tutorial scaffolds the process of creating a podcast into three parts: Before Recording, Creating Your Podcast, and Uploading Your Podcast.
First, decide on a topic. What part of owning or operating a small business, or participating in the local economy, will you hone in on? Is there an aspect of being a small business owner or a topic in your industry that you’ve mastered? Choose something you are passionate about and be ready to talk about your own experiences.
To help you find the right topic for your podcast, read about and listen to content in your industry and business generally. See what’s already out there and what’s doing well. It’s possible that you will uncover an unexpected niche for an episode or even a series.
Once you’ve decided on a subject that will engage an audience, draft a script for the recording. f you’re not a regular consumer of podcasts, be sure to listen to a few popular podcasts like Fresh Air, RadioLab or This American Life. These shows can help you get an idea of what works well in the medium.
Timing is everything! An outline or other visual organizer can give you something to refer to, and will eliminate any awkward pauses.
Many listeners give up on content that lasts more than an hour. Twenty minutes, more or less, is a pretty standard length, but anything between 5 minutes and an hour can work. Your podcast can be once a day, once a week, or once a month. Most prominent podcasts air episodes on weekdays. See what podcasts similar to yours are doing. Some podcasts create seasons, like TV shows, with a fixed number of episodes published each year. The most important thing, as with all content media, is to be consistent about length and frequency.
Next, you’ll need to decide on the equipment you’ll use to podcast. To begin, you will need a microphone and some kind of voice recording podcast software. There are podcast starter packages for around $100 but offerings differ among retailers.
If you’re not ready to make an additional investment in podcast technology, you can use the microphone that most computers come with, your smartphone, or buy a unidirectional, dynamic-type microphone from an electronics or music store. A good option is the Blue Snowball microphone; it’s high quality and around $45. The mic has a USB connection and plugs directly into your computer, easy peasy. If you think you’ll incorporate interviewing into your episode or series, a microphone will be the most important piece of equipment to start with.
Next, consider what kind of voice recording podcast software you are going to use. There are good options for both free recording services and paid recording services. Every Mac comes with GarageBand as part of the iLife suite. Sound Recorder on Windows will record but require you to convert your file from a .wav format to an .mp3 file. Audacity is a free software package that you can download, with Windows, Mac, and Linux versions available. Adobe Audition is another, more expensive, option.
Decide on your content and create a script. It is especially important to know how you will start your podcast, and how you will transition between topics—avoid awkward pauses and false starts. Before recording your podcast, practice speaking at a consistent pace. You will be able to engage your audience more effectively if you keep your voice animated, and, at the same time, speak clearly.
Creating your podcast
Technical glitches can ruin any recording, so before you begin, do a couple of tests to make sure that the software and the mic are adjusted to the right settings.
Be sure you save the audio file of the recording (from GarageBand, Audacity, or other platform) to your computer desktop. It should be in MP3 format, with a bitrate of 128 kbps for a talk-show podcast, although 64 kbps is acceptable. It’s a good idea to save all copies of your audio files in the same folder, either on your computer, or in the cloud somewhere like Dropbox. (Make sure there’s a backup in case something happens to your computer!) Name the audio file so that the title of the podcast and date of the episode are clear. Finally, give the episode “album” art, either something original, or a non-copyrighted image from the web.
Uploading your podcast
Of course once you’ve finished recording, you’ll want to submit your podcast to platforms that publish podcasts. To do that, all you need is an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed. Once your RSS feed is set up, submitting your podcast to new apps is relatively easy.
You might be familiar with RSS feeds in the form of content feed apps like Feedly or Instapaper or the now-defunct Google Reader, which allow you to identify your favorite websites and then have their content (or particular sections of their content) all show up in one place—your Feedly or Instapaper account, or “reader.” Podcast RSS’s work the same way.
Your RSS feed is how your podcast gets updated on podcast apps. No RSS feed, no audience for your podcast. It works like this: the RSS feed provides metadata for your podcast to podcast aggregation apps, i.e., the directories where your listeners will find you. This data is what allows users to browse episodes of your show, or automatically download new episodes. Your feed allows your content to be made available for use on other sites, and alerts those sites when you’ve updated your content (with a new podcast). For a good introduction to the tech of RSS feeds, check out Wired’s RSS for Beginners.
If creating an RSS feed sounds like the sort of techie task the mere thought of which gives you a migraine, good news! Most of the hosting platforms will do this for you, as part of a package that includes storage, a dedicated web page for your series, and other features. Podomatic provides a basic free account, while Libsyn, Cast Mate, and TypePad each offer inexpensive starter packages ($4.99 – $8.95) . If you’re already on WordPress, the free Seriously Simple Podcasting plug-in will create the RSS feed (and much more) for your podcast.
If you have a website, you should definitely have an easy-to-find link to your RSS podcast feed there. Otherwise, you can create a standalone site where you can direct potential clients and consumers. Posting directly to your social media feed is also possible. But, after placing it on your website, the first place you’ll want to submit that RSS link is to iTunes. With average users touching, swiping, and clicking their phone screens 2,617 times per day, iTunes is still your best bet for reaching users on an iOS device. Consider making your podcast available as a smartphone app.
Other iOS podcast apps include Overcast, Google Play Music, and Miro. Stitcher and Pocket Casts are both applications that span both iOS and Android. It’s a good idea to make your podcast available under a Creative Commons License. This allows other people to use your audio content, broadening its distribution, while still making sure that it is attributed to you.
The last piece of the puzzle is analytics—that is, how big is your audience? Typically, podcasters measure their audience through the number of downloads for each episode, though there are attempts being made at devising new metrics to better understand the value of your podcasts. Hosting sites offer analytics, though this may be a feature available only in paid versions.
As a small business professional, innovation is part of your job description. You already have the equipment, and the creativity of an entrepreneur. When you decide to share it, your podcast will connect you to people who respect your experiences, hard-earned expertise, and your willingness to share both of these things.
Check out our own podcast of the Paid Parental Leave Forum for Seattle Small Businesses, recorded at the Seattle Public Library on November 15.
Special thanks to Dan Heister and Kyle Henderson for answering all our podcasting questions!
Dan Heister is founder of Distantly Yours, a digital design consultancy that offers design, front-end development, and WordPress development services. Dan has been a member of Townsquared since November 2016.
Kyle Henderson is a technology consultant, and co-founder and executive producer for VennCast Studios. VennCast Studios is a podcasting network based out of Seattle that currently runs five podcasts on a variety of subjects.