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7 Essential Things to Know Before Starting a Podcast

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7 Essential Things to Know Before Starting a Podcast

As a beginner (or aspiring) podcaster, you’re probably like many of us. Before starting a podcast for real, you might think podcasting looks like this:

  • 95% or more of your podcasting time will be spent recording episodes (the “fun part”)
  • Editing will be easy and quick (if you even need to do it at all; you have no verbal ticks and never stumble over your words!)
  • Sponsors and amazing interview guests will be lining up at your door from day one

If reading over that rosy list has you smiling to yourself, you’re probably practical enough to know that podcasting, like any serious endeavor, takes a lot more work than it looks like from the outside

Unfortunately, it’s not always about effortlessly recording fun conversations with friends and A-list celebrities. Sometimes, creating just one episode involves more planning and organizing than you’d ever thought possible. And sometimes, you’ll get negative feedback or struggle to land enough sponsors to meet your financial goals.

That’s not to say that podcasting can’t be a fun, rewarding, and profitable job; it’s just that the reality of the podcasting life looks much different from the inside. That’s why in this post, I’ll be sharing the seven things I wish I’d known before starting a podcast. Use them to steer yourself in the right direction from the start, and make sure you have a clear understanding of what the world of podcasting is really like.

1. Know the ‘What’ and ‘Why’ from the Beginning

First, it’s important to be able to answer the important questions about your podcast before you get started. What is it about? And, probably most importantly, why are you doing it? 

Beginning a podcast without a defined plan is like starting a journey without a map. You might get there eventually, but you’ll waste a lot of time and fuel while you do it.

Many beginner podcasters make the mistake of not having a good idea of their niche, style, and audience before they start. While some have stumbled into success by finding their way through trial and error, it’s much easier to start out with a plan. 

First, do a bit of soul-searching. Why do you want to start this podcast? Do you have something valuable to teach the world? Do you just like to talk? Do you dream of being paid to interview guests you admire?

Write down your goals and your big “why.” Stick this note somewhere you’ll see it, like on your computer or your bathroom mirror. Let your “why” guide all your other decisions so that you don’t waste time going down paths that won’t lead you where you want to go.

Then, tackle the “what.” Ask yourself the following:

  • What topic will your podcast cover? Whether it’s politics, gardening, or philosophy, choose a direction. Don’t leave your podcast open to whatever you feel like talking about that day—that’s what diaries are for.
  • What’s your niche? Your podcast niche is what you focus on within your chosen topic (and the angle you approach it from). For instance, you may want to start a fitness podcast—but it can be hard to find an audience with so broad a topic. You may want to niche down to focusing on marathon training or yoga. 
  • What will the structure of your podcast be? There’s a wide variety in the podcasting world when it comes to structure. Will you have an interview podcast? Will it be a casual conversation between two hosts? Perhaps you’ll go solo, or create a narrative podcast. It’s up to you!  

Knowing the what and how of your podcast makes it much easier to start off on the right foot. Being consistent from day one helps you find a loyal audience, have a direction, and not waste your own time or resources struggling to find your groove on the fly.

Related article: How to Come Up with a Good Video Podcast Idea

2. Focus on the Value You Bring to Your Audience

As a new podcaster, you’ll be tempted to keep the podcast focused on yourself. After all, you’re the host, right? You might be excited to interview your guest or talk about your topic because you’re interested in them. But don’t assume something is universally interesting just because you think it is.

Why should your audience care?

Remind yourself constantly to see your podcast through your audience’s eyes. One helpful marketing technique that works well for podcasters too is called an audience persona. Marketers often create a target audience persona to visualize their ideal customer and their preferences, likes, and needs. Why not do the same with your podcast? 

Visualize your ideal listener—and create your podcast with them in mind. Why are they interested in listening to you? What value are you providing to them? What is your unique selling point (USP) that makes them tune in to your show instead of one of the millions of other podcasts out there?

Make sure to keep the value you create for your audience at the forefront of your podcast. Keep your audience in mind by:

  • Reinforcing actionable episode takeaways in the promotion, lead-in, and conclusion of each episode (for example, “today, our conversation with [Expert] will help you [benefit]!”)
  • Involving your audience whenever you can by asking for feedback, reading their questions/comments on the show, etc.
  • Respecting your listeners’ time by being concise and keeping episodes as short as you can

3. You Don’t Need to Spend a Fortune—But You DO Need a Quality Setup 

For beginner podcasters, it’s easy to assume you need a fancy studio with high startup costs in order to produce high-quality content that competes with the big podcasts.

Thankfully, though, this isn’t necessarily the case.

For long-term success, it’s important to invest in simple, minimal podcasting equipment that doesn’t take hours to set up and doesn’t break the bank, but produces the best audio and video quality possible.

For many podcasters, a plug-and-play podcast microphone is a minimalist solution that does the job well. And as for a camera for video podcasting, you can go with a fancy camcorder on a tripod—but often, an affordable external webcam works just as well for your needs. 

Decide on your priorities (budget, quality video/audio output, ease of use, etc.) and pick a simple setup that meets those priorities.

You’ll also need to choose podcast recording software. Thankfully, there are affordable options out there that produce high-quality audio and video.

Riverside.fm, for instance, lets you record studio-quality content directly from your browser. Each participant can join with a click, and their audio and video streams are recorded locally to their computer (so you don’t have to worry about slow or interrupted internet connections).

4. Podcasting Takes a LOT of Planning and Organization

As much as it might sound fun to sit in front of a microphone and wax loquacious, take it from me: podcasting is as much about the behind-the-scenes work as it is about recording.

For instance, you’ll need to create a podcast script before each episode. How detailed you make it is up to you; but in order to make an episode that doesn’t need hours of editing, you’ll need to go into each recording session with a written plan.

After the recording is over, you’ll also need to create show notes for your episode. These notes are a description of the episode’s contents. For instance, you can click on an episode of Gretchen Rubin’s Happier Podcast in your listening app of choice to see a brief description of that episode.

The description also points you to the full notes on Gretchen Rubin's website. Some podcast hosts prefer to turn their show notes or transcript of the audio into a blog post featured on their website.

Including show notes and transcripts helps your audience learn more about your podcast before deciding to listen, as well as refer to any resources you mention in the episode. 

Hefty tasks though they are, writing scripts and show notes are just two of several tasks involved in creating a successful podcast episode. In order to keep all the behind-the-scenes tasks straight, it’s probably best to keep a checklist of every step that goes into production. Your checklist might include:

  • Generate topic ideas
  • Reach out to interviewees
  • Research and write podcast outline/script
  • Schedule interview/recording session
  • Record sponsored content
  • Record the episode
  • Edit episode and prep for publication
  • Write a description and show notes
  • Create a transcript of the episode
  • Write and schedule promotional social media posts  

As you can see, creating one episode of quality podcast content takes a lot of planning, organization, and behind-the-scenes work. You may find that batching your tasks helps you cut down on time. For instance, you might write the scripts for several episodes at once. On another day, when you have several hours free, you may batch-record episodes (or portions of episodes). 

Staying organized and finding a groove that works for you is key to consistency and sustainability.

5. Plan to Manage Your Web Presence 

Many new podcasters assume that since podcasts are an audio medium, you don’t need to worry much about visual content. But you should know that you’ll need a website if you want to host a successful podcast. 

After all, you’ll need to attract listeners. Simply uploading your episodes to the hosting platform of your choice won’t necessarily bring it to the attention of people who are looking for a new podcast to listen to. That’s where a website comes in.

Creating your own website lets you employ search engine optimization (SEO) basics to help new listeners find you through Google. If you follow SEO rules well, people searching for new podcasts in your niche or category will likely see your website in their search results—which might lead them to subscribe.

Your website will also be your home base where you can post, show notes, transcripts, blog posts, and links to previous episodes. It will also be the central hub for your promotion across various channels. As your podcast grows, you’ll want to notify your audience via social media of new episodes or any other news from your brand. Being able to point people back to one location (your website) is endlessly helpful in expanding your podcast subscriber base.

Website vs. Hosting vs. Publishing

However, this doesn’t mean you should host your episodes on your website unless you’re very tech-savvy. Lots of newbie podcasters get confused about where their podcast episodes live (i.e., where they’ll be uploaded and stored) after production. 

Unless you’re extremely comfortable with coding and handling any technical problems that arise with generating your RSS feed, you probably shouldn’t host your podcast episodes on your website. Those audio files can slow down your site. Also, if your website glitches or goes down temporarily, your RSS will be unavailable as well. It’s usually a better idea to choose a popular hosting platform like BuzzSprout, PodBean, or Transistor.fm to store your audio files for you. 

Then, you can submit your podcast’s RSS feed to popular podcast publishing directories like iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher. The more directories you distribute your podcast to, the wider your potential audience will be. 

Related article: How To Publish A Podcast (Beginner’s Guide 2021)

6. You’ll Get Bad Feedback

Here’s the bottom line: if you can’t handle bad reviews, don’t start a podcast. 

One of the toughest lessons to learn as a new podcaster is that you can’t please everyone. Even if you’re the greatest content creator who ever lived, there will still be some listeners who just don’t resonate with you. And that’s okay!

Read your reviews and take constructive feedback into account—but don’t take nasty messages seriously. While listeners often provide good ideas and helpful feedback that lets you tailor your podcast to your audience’s needs a little better, not all listener reviews are valuable. 

Some people just need to vent their frustrations, and they’ll choose you as their target for no good reason. Nasty or hateful reviews usually say more about the reviewer than the podcast they’re reviewing.

The key to podcasting longevity is developing a thick skin. Learn to have enough humility to acknowledge that you can always improve, but be proud of what you do and have confidence that you have something to offer—because you do!

7. It’s Not Easy to Make Money as a Podcaster

One of the most important things I wish I’d known before starting a podcast is how difficult it is to make an income as a podcaster. 

In fact, most podcast creators start out with a negative cash flow because they invest money in their equipment and studio setup before starting. Then, it can take a long time to start earning money from sponsorships.

The most common way to monetize your podcast is to land sponsors using the CPM (cost per mille) pricing model. This model is based on how many thousands of listens each episode receives. It might look something like this:

  • Pre-roll and Post-roll ads (approximately 15 seconds of ad content before and after the main episode): $15 per 1,000 listeners
  • Mid-roll ads (a longer advertisement somewhere in the middle of the show): $20 per 1,000 listeners

Then, landing sponsors often comes down to how many downloads you regularly hit. If you’re under 1,000 subscribers, it can be difficult to find sponsors willing to pay you to run ads in your podcast episodes.

If you aren’t interested in running sponsored ads, you can also ask your subscribers to pay you directly. Many podcasters rely on Patreon donations to cover the costs of their podcast, while others offer a membership model where dedicated fans can pay a subscription for “premium” content.

No matter which monetization method you choose, it can be difficult to make a substantial income until you’ve built up a solid listener base. Reaching a high number of subscribers to match the leading podcasters in the industry can take months—or years—of dedicated promotion, consistent high-quality content, and patience. Not all beginner podcasters are willing to put in the time or effort to wait for that return on investment.

If your goal is to become an overnight millionaire, you’ll probably be disappointed. But hosting a podcast can have many benefits not directly tied to making millions.

Your version of success may not be the same as everyone else’s. What are your goals? It may not be to make a full-time income. Perhaps you’re interested in boosting your brand or increasing your credibility. Maybe you want to get more website traffic or grow your email list. Or, maybe you just want to talk into a microphone with some friends. 

Any or all of these goals are valid—just make sure you’re honest with yourself about what you want out of the podcasting experience. If you go into podcasting expecting it to be an easy thrill ride that instantly earns you fame and riches, you’re likely to be sorely disappointed.

Starting a Podcast: Hard Work, But Extremely Rewarding

Many podcasting newbies or aspiring podcasters have the wrong idea about what it’s like to do the job. Starting a podcast involves in-depth planning and organization, and you always need to keep both your own goals and your audience’s needs in mind if you want to create a quality, consistent podcast from the beginning.

And while you don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune on your setup, it’s also important to understand that you’ll need to invest in the right equipment and podcast recording software—and know that making an income is a slow, oftentimes difficult process. 

These are all things I wish I’d known before starting a podcast. There are many misconceptions about what it’s like to be a podcaster, but as with any creative endeavor, the podcasting life can be extremely rewarding. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

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