These days, it seems the old cliche of saying to your friends, “Hey, let’s start a band together!” has been replaced with a more updated version:
“Let’s start a podcast together!”
Or so it seems based on the numbers. As of March 2021, there are 1.95 million unique podcasts totaling 47 million episodes, according to the podcast resource Podcast Insights. With so many podcasts out there, it’s understandable why you might conclude there’s no point in adding yet one more to the podcast slush pile.
But if you think you or your company have missed the boat when it comes to starting a podcast, local marketing expert Ryan Alford begs to differ.
“Look at the amount of money that Spotify and Pandora and all these companies are just now investing in podcasts,” Alford said. “They’re not quadrupling down their investments because we’ve hit the top of the bell curve. They’re doing it because it’s still going up.”
Alford, who runs the Greenville-based marketing agency Radical, is not wrong when it comes to big-name companies going all-in on podcasts. In the past two years, the music streaming platform Spotify has spent a whopping $1 billion on podcast-related acquisitions and production. Pandora recently plopped down a cool $145 million to acquire the digital audio ad technology AdsWizz. WarnerMedia, the television powerhouse behind HBO and dozens of cable networks, recently inked two separate multiyear deals with Spotify and iHeartMedia for exclusive narrative-driven podcast content.
Advertisers have also taken notice of smaller-scale podcasts — so-called “micro-influencers” — as a means of reaching more niche and engaged audiences.
“Influencer marketing isn’t just for big brands,” said Barbara Rozgonyi, CEO of Charlotte-based CoreyWest Media. Speaking on her very own podcast InfluencePros, Rozgonyi said targeted advertising has already become the standard. “What I love are the micro-influencers,” she said. “Some of these [larger] influencers may have a million followers, but how many of those followers are active?”
And then there are folks like Alford, who started his own marketing-centric podcast, The Radcast, nearly 10 years ago but has still not opted to strive for overt monetization, despite tens of thousands of unique downloads.
Instead, he uses his podcast to build his brand, build relationships and find new leads, which is its own form of monetization. His podcasts have featured a range of guests, from “Top Chef” winners to entrepreneurs to social media influencers, all telling their stories and discussing how they’ve grown their own personal brands.
“If I get one good lead a month from the podcast, that’s still a great month. It’s about building these relationships organically,” Alford said. “But even if you are trying to get paid directly for your podcast, it’s really not as hard as you might think.”
Whether you’re looking to build your brand or gain revenue from your podcast, here are Alford’s tips for how to get started — and why now is the perfect time to jump on the podcast bandwagon.
Don’t worry too much about the technical aspects
“I think a lot of people get hung up on whether or not your podcast sounds professional enough. But a $20 Amazon microphone plugged into your iPhone will sound wonderful for 8 out of 10 people, and that’s really all you need if you’re just starting out. Focus less on the equipment and focus more on the topics of your episodes.”
Be consistent and have a plan
“I see it all the time where people get three or four episodes in and then you never see them do another podcast. You need to outline at least your first 20 episodes. There are about 2 million podcasts in the world, but only 400,000 make it past 10 episodes. If you can break through that barrier, you’re already positioning yourself much better than the majority.”
Outline every episode
“Think of it like a story, with a beginning, middle and end. Even if it’s meant to be a casual conversation, outline five to seven questions or topics you want to cover. You don’t need any more than that, because people will talk and have their dialogue around it. But five to seven questions should get you a 20-30 minute episode.”
Understand when people are listening
“One of the most common questions I get is: ‘How long should my podcast be?’ Think about when people are listening, which for most is when they’re commuting to work or working out. Now, how long does that take most people? I’d say 15 to 40 minutes is the range, but you probably want to keep it close to 20 minutes or so, because with how short attention spans are now, you better have a damn good talker to fill 40 minutes.”
Find your niche
“You can easily monetize with advertisers even with a small audience, so long as you have an engaged audience. Micro-influencers are all the rage with brands, so while a brand might look at a guy with 100,000 followers, they still might turn instead to the guy with 50 followers who listen religiously and are willing to spend on what you’re selling. If I’m a B2B company that sells servers and I only have to sell two servers a month, I’ll be on a podcast that’s about network security even if they have only 40 listeners a month.”
Get over shyness
“I listen to every episode I put out, and it’s not because I’m self-absorbed but because I want to get better. At first I didn’t listen, but when I stared going back, I realized I can slip into this un-energetic tone without even knowing it. You’ve got to bring our your personality and amplify it. Bring that energy level. I like to say, ‘Develop your character,’ because even though it’s just you speaking as yourself, you still need to build your own persona.”
It’s not too late
“I can’t stress enough how beneficial I think [podcasting] is to our business. Even if I never got anything out of it directly, the way it’s kept me excited and engaged in my industry has been such a great ancillary bonus. Over time, things can get stale or you might not keep up on the trends, but when you make yourself engage directly with the topics relevant to your industry on a consistent basis, it’s a benefit that’s impossible to fully calculate.”
Resources for would-be podcasters
Podmatch is a service that connects podcast hosts and potential guests based on more than 40 different criteria
Founded by Alex Sanfilippo — host of Creating a Brand Podcast, which is ranked among the top 20 entrepreneurial podcasts in the United States with more than 10,000 unique downloads per episode — Podmatch is best described “Tinder for podcast guests.”
“You can always find guests for your podcast, but the problem is, so many people I know were having trouble finding the right guests for their show,” Sanfilippo said.
Podmatch, which serves more than 7,000 different members, is a free service with a pay-for-upgrade option that meets the needs of both guests and hosts. Unlike a podcast booking agent, which caters to bigger names (think celebrities, best-selling authors, politicians), Podmatch simply connects potential guests with the right podcasts, and vice versa, and allows them to take things from there.
Sanfilippo said the free model, suited for the type of podcast that wants to book a new guest every week or so, meets the needs of 90% of users. Those who want to get a new guest every day, for example, would want to upgrade and pay $39 a month for more extensive connections. Agencies pay $69 a month plus $5.99 per user that is added, meaning a PR company would pay the base rate plus $5.99 per client.
Sanfilippo also recommends would-be podcasters look into booking podcasting studios, which allow hosts and guests to simply meet in a studio and perform the show, while all technical equipment, mixing, editing and posting online is handled by the studio.
“My big takeaway for those new to this is that there are tons of people that offer podcasting services,” he said, “so you don’t have to do it alone.”