How to Start a Podcast

In 2018, I decided to start a podcast with a friend. We quickly produced three episodes, built a small following, and then life got in the way and we spent months just trying to find the time to record more episodes.

At the beginning of 2019, I committed to reviving the show and focus primarily on what I do day-to-day in my roles at Searles Graphics and Searles Media.

Today, The Messengers podcast focuses on helping small businesses, non-profit organziations, and entrepreneurs to market themselves effectively and grow their businesses.

Through personal accounts, tips and tricks, and interviews with successful entrepreneurs, executives, and business owners, we aim to help others learn from our triumphs, our mistakes, and our experiences each week. As of this writing we've produced over 25 episodes and, with a lot of effort, we're slowly growing our listener base.

It's been a huge learning curve and there aren't many tools that exist to make the process nice and easy so I thought I would share at least a good amount of what I've learned so far to help demystify the process for anybody that might be thinking of starting their own show.

It's really not difficult with the right guidance, so hopefully this helps!

Just a quick note that product links (only) are affiliate links if you don't mind that Amazon kicks me back a few pennies if you end up buying something I recommended :-). Otherwise just copy and paste the product name to an Amazon search bar for a non-affiliate version.

Topic and Format

Step 1 is deciding what your podcast is actually going to be about, what the format will be, how long you want each episode to be, and how often you want to publish.

Choosing a Topic

For topic, make sure it's something you're passionate about. There's a misnomer that you need to be a subject matter expert to gain a following speaking on a subject, but that couldn't be further from the truth!

Some of the most interesting and engaging shows are based around someone going through a learning process and documenting that experience to share with others (Tim Ferriss is a great example!) that want to go through the same journey, learn from the process, or just live vicariously through someone else for an hour or so each week.

There are ways to handle a lack of experience and make it engaging, but you can't fake passion, and if you don't love the topic you're going to burn out quickly and stop producing content. (And the ability to just show up, day in and day out, and simply do the work is almost always what separates those who are successful from everyone else that talks about all the things they want to do but never actually does any of them!

Ideally, you'd like to know there's an audience for your topic before you start, but it's rare that you'd be so interested in something that you want to podcast about it that there wasn't some pocket of an audience somewhere that's interested in hearing about it.

More important would be to make sure your market isn't already over-saturated with content before going deep into it.

What's the Right Format?

I don't believe there is one.

Different formats can be equally engaging, so feel free to do whatever works best for you, but don't hesitate to change it up if you find it's not working or it's unsustainable.

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History is a great example of a thoroughly researched, well-prepared and well-written long-form single-voice narration. Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan have the market cornered on long-form 1-on-1 interviews. On the other hand, Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame has a really interesting podcast where he retells stories from history and (nearly) every episode is less than 10 minutes long. You can be successful with just about any format, just be sure it's something you can manage. If you're going to produce something that's an hour or longer, it better be packed with information or entertainment. And remember that longer episodes not only take longer to prepare and record, but they take longer to edit as well.

Finally, remember that the beauty of producing your own show is that you have the ability to change the format if and when it should be changed. Listen to just about anybody's first podcast and their 10th, 20th, 50th, or even 100th and you'll see immediately how they've adapted to continue improving the show.

For us, while the show continues to evolve and we try to make positive adjustments after each recording based on things we didn't like or want to do more of, we try to stick to a consumable length of about 20-30 minutes. As of the time of this writing we've had one call-in guest and I really liked what that brought to the show so we're looking for more entrepreneurs and small business owners to join us to do more shows like that.

As a side note, if you or someone you know has a good story to tell or would in some way be a valuable addition to our podcast (we focus on marketing, business development, small business management, and entrepreneurship), please reach out. You can reach me direct through my website here.

Recording

Once you know WHAT you're going to record, the next step is to actually get your voice recorded to a digital file that can be published somewhere. The bottom line here is if you have a smartphone or a laptop with a built-in microphone, you have the ability to record your voice at an acceptable quality to produce a podcast.

One of my favorite tools to facilitate this is an app called Anchor.

*A quick disclaimer/aside, I'm not affiliated with Anchor in any way but the co-founder & CEO was the first employee I ever hired at my first business so I've followed them closely over the years and love how they've pivoted to what they're doing for the podcast community.

Anchor was recently acquired by Spotify so you can be confident that there is some power behind the platform, but also wary that it might not remain free forever if they can't find a way to monetize it properly. The app lets you use the microphone you already have built into your smartphone to record your episode with no additional hardware necessary.

They're also adding a lot of features around hosting call-in guests and letting listeners record questions to submit to your show that you can easily cut together with your own responses if you want to do Q&A-style shows.

For me, after a lot of research I decided to purchase a few microphones so we could have a good round-table discussion in-person and be sure the audio quality was top-notch with the ability to record on separate audio tracks that can be edited individually. You CAN spend A LOT of money on microphones but you absolutely don't have to.

These Behringer Ultravoice microphones are excellent and they're $20. Basically an unbeatable value. Every one of my episodes have been recorded with these so if you're worried that $20 can't buy you good audio quality, listen to our show and decide for yourself!

To complete those I also picked up these Neewer shock mount boom arms for about $25 each. The purpose of these is pretty self-explanatory (not needing to hold the mic for the whole show), and they work well enough. If you want to be able to move your mic all over the place while you're recording you'll probably want to spring for something higher-end but for most people they'll do the trick.

I also purchased these foam mic covers for about $7 to help protect the microphones and act as a basic wind screen. After recording a few episodes while I was listening to one that had just published and all I could hear was my own breathing so I immediately picked up these Neewer wind pop's for about $10 each to help take care of that problem and that completed the current microphone setup we use.

(As a side note, we were looking for some lavalier mic's for video recording recently and purchased these that I haven't had a chance to test out but I'm hoping for good things!)

For the process of recording the audio, you can do so right to a laptop if you want, you just need a way to connect all of your mics to it and a piece of software to handle the recording. This is probably a good option if your show is just going to be you and maybe a call-in guest.

If you're going to bring in microphones and not just use the tools outlined at the beginning of this section though, my research led me to this Zoom H4N Pro Digital Multitrack Recorder as the absolute best-bang-for-your-buck audio recording device at just over $200. This is probably the #1 recommendation I can make in terms of recording hardware.

It has two built-in microphones so you can actually use it as a handheld interview-type recording device, or use them to pick up background noise on a separate audio track that you can filter down in post if you want. And it has two XLR/TRS inputs for your microphones that each record to their own track.

Separate tracks are incredibly useful when editing your audio to cut out the coughing or throat clearing that might be happening on the part of the person that's not actively speaking. Each of these can also be split to record two mics into each track which helps if you have more than 2 people you want on an episode.

If you want to see the whole setup, we video record all of our episodes for distribution on YouTube and social media channels (not going to get into the video setup or editing process here though!).

Finally, I mentioned in section 1 that we recently had our first call-in guest and had to figure out how to make that work. We chose to use a piece of software called OBS Recording to record the call-in on a laptop.

It turned out to be a poor choice that I wouldn't recommend. Going that route meant relying on two network connections instead of just one, and using the device that was streaming the audio and video to simultaneously write it to disk.

I've since found a much better way that I'm not sure how we missed. Skype actually has a call recording option built-in that records in the cloud for you and lets you download the recording when you're done.

I was also recently featured on someone else's podcast and they used livestream.com which worked well, but they also had a pretty .

Editing

The audio you're getting off the setup above really shouldn't NEED a lot of editing but a little post to clean up peaks and valleys and add a few extra little touches always helps.

Running a marketing firm and a commercial print and design studio means we have Adobe subscriptions on just about every computer so for us Adobe Audition was a pretty obvious choice.

Back when we first started I did the editing myself and was able to pick up on it pretty quickly. A few YouTube and Google searches starting out and as I encountered problems brought back plenty of useful help.

Otherwise, if you're on a Mac, your best option is probably GarageBand. Audacity is a good cross-platform (Windows, Mac or Linus) option. While it's probably more difficult to learn than GarageBand, it does work really well.

I've come to learn that an episode intro / teaser as the first thing a listener hears is hugely important (in most cases). It provides listeners (especially new listeners) a good teaser about what value they can expect to get from the full episode before they commit to giving you 15, 30, 60, or even 90 minutes of their time.

I find the best way to record introductions is to actually record it AFTER you've recorded the episode. I tried doing them before when we first started doing intros and it really restricted what we felt like we could discuss during the episode.

Recording it after the fact allows the episode to flow much more organically and then you can easily summarize what you actually covered regardless of what your plan was when you record your intro. Editing is where you can take the audio you recorded after and drop it at the beginning of the episode.

Also, if you use Anchor, they have a nice feature that allows you to organize multiple audio files for an episode and they'll combine them together on the fly for you to stream them as a single episode.

The pro tip on this one (that I haven't had a chance to take advantage yet!) is that you can record a close to promote anything you have going on currently, and you can swap that out across all of your episodes to keep that information as current as possible anytime you want.

In general, don't go crazy with editing. Assemble your intro, episode content, and close (if you have one and you aren't using Anchor), and do enough that there's nothing so annoying in your audio that listeners will drop off because of it, then call it a day.

If you really struggle with this, hit UpWork or Fiverr to find someone that will do it for you on the cheap.

Distribution

This was my biggest question when I first started, and probably the #1 question you had coming into the process as well.

I knew I could record audio to something, but I had no idea what to do with it once it had been recorded!

Fortunately, once you understand how the "podcastiverse" works, it's very simple (although frustrating) to get your show distributed onto the various podcast apps that people use.

Podcasts are distributed entirely over RSS feeds. I won't go into crazy detail here but if you're not familiar with RSS, for all intents-and-purposes, it's a web-page that contains structured text-based data. This is the information that the software reads to learn what your show is called, what episodes are available to download, and where they can be found.

The short answer to distribution is that you need to find someplace to host your audio files and your show's metadata (titles, descriptions,, etc.). That hosting provider will give you a link to the RSS feed they create for your show. That's the simple part.

Here's the frustrating part: There's no central repository where you can just list your RSS feed and let every podcast app know where it is and that it's available. You need to manually submit your show to all of them (the only caveat here is that a number of them actually pull their data from Apple's list, so that's stop #1 for listing your show).

The good news is that there really are no requirements, standards, or prerequisites for having your podcast listed and made available for download, so getting listed in an app is as simple as going to their website and following the instructions to submit the link to your RSS feed.

Once again, this is why I love Anchor. As far as I know, they're one of the only places that is trying to simplify this whole process, and hosting your podcast on Anchor means they will do the work to distribute your show to all of the major players (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Overcast, etc.). Create a free account, upload or record your audio, write up your titles and descriptions, and publish. They also aggregate all of your statistics into once clean interface which is really nice to have, although this is still in really early stages so it still needs a lot of work.

There is a downside to this approach that should be noted. While paying a service to host your show and manually submitting your RSS feed across the landscape doesn't sound as good as a free option that does the work for you, it does allow you to retain full control over all of your accounts and your stream.

There's nothing stopping Anchor from automatically appending ads to your shows to generate revenue, or Spotify from forcing them to remove the options that allow you to automatically submit to other platforms and forcing people to listen on Spotify. While I'm hopeful this won't happen, it certainly could, and you'd have no power to stop it from happening.

I would recommend SoundCloud as a good option if you choose to go the other route. It's where we started hosting ours but have since moved to Anchor because I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

The nice thing about SoundCloud is that it's a pretty robust and active community in it's own right and you will definitely get listeners that find and listen to your show only on that platform.

Marketing & Promoting Your Podcast

One of the best tips I can offer is to record at least 3 episodes (4 to 6 is even better!) AND a teaser for the show BEFORE YOU PUBLISH ANYTHING!

The single best way to grow your following quickly is to get listed in the "New & Noteworthy" section on Apple. They pick candidates for this largely based on number of downloads, and you only have 8 weeks to be considered new, so having a few episodes to listen to in succession makes a huge difference (it's also nice for listeners if they enjoy the show to be able to binge your content if they want!).

Publish the teaser and share it everywhere. Then publish your next 3-6 episodes in rapid succession, possibly even on the same day, and share them everywhere over the next week or so.

Outside of that, marketing a podcast really isn't much different from marketing anything else.

Spotify has a good sharing option that's well-integrated into Facebook and Instagram to share new episodes to your story. This allows users to click a link in the story post to listen to your show, even if you don't meet Instagram's follower threshold to post links.

I have someone cut <1min clips out that I can share on Instagram, and because our show is about business, we cut some longer clips for LinkedIn and link to the full episodes. We've recently started cutting longer clips for IGTV as well.

I share the YouTube videos on all of my social platforms, and we debut the full episodes on Facebook as Premieres. I don't know that I'm married to this strategy but we do get some listeners that tune in "live" (so-to-speak).

Finally, we leverage the email lists we've built over some time to share each episode, and this is probably the single biggest driver of non-subscriber traffic to our podcast.

I'm also working on adding text marketing to our podcast marketing mix, and we happen to have a product that we built that does just that so feel free to contact me if you want to look into SMS marketing.

Recording video for every episode has been really helpful to driving an audience because of the social sharing options it opens up. It adds a good amount of work (we shoot with a 3-camera setup to keep it a little more interesting than a static camera for 30 minutes at a clip) but it's well worth the added expense and effort if you're planning on using your podcast for more than just having some fun.

Having guests on your show with large(r than yours!) social followings that will share their episode with their networks are a great way to extend your reach, as is reaching out to other podcasters and going on their shows as a guest (I'm currently looking for guest-podcasting opportunities if you want to reach out!).

There are always paid promotion options, and Facebook and Instagram are probably where I'd start with those. Unless you're in a really small niche without a lot of competition, or you have a plan to monetize each listener in a pretty big way, AdWords is probably too expensive to drive individual listeners, so I'd try social media outlets to see what kind of mileage you can get from advertising there.

Finally, if you're positioning yourself as an expert or just have really good things to say about a brand or another person, make sure to share that content with the company or person you mentioned! You never know who might share your show and bring in a lot of listeners (or even become one themselves!).

How to Monetize Your Podcast

I hesitated to even cover this topic. The best advice I can give you on this is, if you're reading this, you're certainly not ready to worry about monetization!

Wait until your show gets big enough (tens-of-thousands of downloads per episode at least!), and then if you decide you want to, you can start reaching out to potential sponsors.

Earlier than that and it's not worth the amount of time it will take you to close and manage advertisers. Starting CPMs for podcasts are going to be in the $10 range. CPM stands for "cost per thousand," so 100,000 downloads would net you $1000. (I believe Tim Ferriss charges a $60-70 CPM before his recent experiment to move to a listener supported model. This experiment failed far sooner than he thought and is back to an ad-supported model.)

If your show and audience warrant higher CPMs because you reach a highly targeted or affluent niche (for example), you can certainly start looking sooner, but mostly it's important to get good at the craft and be sure you can build a listener-base before you go there.

If you're targeting a small, under-served niche and don't feel like there are even that many potential listeners out there for you, that's exactly why Patreon exists!

One final note on all of this which is another reason I like Anchor is that they have built-in options to allow listeners to support your show direct (you only have to setup a Stripe account), and they are also working on building a network of advertisers (think YouTube's ad platform for podcasts) that can buy space in bulk across multiple shows and let you insert that sponsors ad into your episodes. Again, not something to annoy your listeners with until you've built enough trust to justify it.

The pro-tip on this one is if you're thinking you might get to this point, it may not hurt to build natural breaks in your episodes that allow you to insert ads at a later date. Anchor allows you to do that very easily using the multi-track option I outlined earlier when I wrote about being able to update your episode's closing.

That's about all I have for now! We're constantly learning more about it every day and I will be sure to publish updates whenever possible. Feel free to reach out on the socials where I can be found @chrisasearles (on most of them) or you can reach me directly through my website here with any questions you may have and I'll do my best to answer them!

And of course, I'd love it if you would check out and subscribe to The Messengers podcast and if you can find the time to leave a review and a rating if you enjoy it, it's always very much appreciated!

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