Podcasts are a unique medium.
When you publish a blog post, your readers might be scrolling through it on their phone or at work. When you post a video on YouTube, your viewers might be watching it on their laptops when they have some down time at home. When you run a Facebook ad, users might have their guard up because they know you’re trying to sell something.
But podcasts are a different story.
When you post a new podcast episode, your audience listens to it when they’re at the gym. Or going for a walk. Or on their drive to work.
Podcasts help you build an intimate relationship with your audience in a way that’s just not possible with other platforms.
Because podcasts makes your business seem more “human.” You talk directly to your audience about a topic that they're interested in, or you interview someone else in your niche and share the conversation. You speak naturally in a way that feels unscripted. You might tell jokes or show your personality through a spontaneous conversation in a way that you wouldn’t be able to in a blog post or an ad.
Podcasts also travel with the listener. Your audience doesn't need to stop whatever they’re doing and focus on what you have to say like they would if you posted a YouTube video.
More and more people are listening to podcasts. In 2016, 21% of Americans have listened to a podcast in the last month.
That’s a massive audience.
And if you already have a pre-existing audience somewhere else, like an e-mail list, then you can promote your podcast to them and build an even deeper relationship.
You need to allow your audience to get to know you, like you, and trust you before they’ll be ready to buy something from you. Podcasting is probably the most effective medium to hit all three of those criteria. Your listeners will feel like you’re sitting right there in their room or car having a conversation in front of them.
That also means that podcasting can be a great way to sell high-ticket products. The Art of Charm fills up seats for their pricey in-person social skills bootcamp in Los Angeles, and podcasting is their main channel of acquisition. Rick Mulready from the Art of Paid Traffic podcast also successfully sells courses and seminar tickets through his episodes.
Other podcasts have helped build giant careers for their hosts. Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income saw the following benefits from launching a popular podcast:
- His podcast became the #1 way people found out about his blog and the products he was selling.
- He gathered a bunch of high-profile listeners, like a social media director for a major $10M Hollywood film.
- He was contacted by the press to be featured on the news because of something he said on one of his episodes.
- He became more skilled as a speaker, and was able to use his podcast as a way to kill his fear of public speaking.
- He’s been booked for speaking events all over the world.
Our podcast, Growth Everywhere…
…has brought in some of our best clients at Single Grain, a digital marketing agency.
In this post, we’ll talk about how we grew our Growth Everywhere podcast from zero to 109,000+ listens per month, step by step.
When you’re first starting to build a podcast, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- You have to find your “angle” that resonates with your audience. What’s your unique spin or point of view on your niche? What things do you write about that separate you from everyone else in your space?
- You have to approach experts in your space and get them on your show so that you can get their audience to listen to your material.
- You’ve got to have a launch strategy ironed out to propel your show to the top of the charts, even if there’s a lot of competition out there already.
- You’ve got to adopt a long-term view. Most podcasts take a long time to get any traction — in fact, Growth Everywhere took months to see any sort of traction at all.
We’ll take you through each of these points step by step.
Step 1: Finding the Right Angle
The first step to building a successful podcast is finding a unique angle.
If you already have an e-mail list or have traffic coming into your site, then you probably already have an idea of what type of content works for your audience. Tim Ferriss writes long-form content on tools and hacks that people can use to master different skills in a short period of time. So he creates long-form podcasts where he “deconstructs” what makes other experts perform at such a high level.
James Altucher is extremely vulnerable on his blog, talking in depth about some of the lowest points in his life when he lost millions of dollars. So on his podcast when he interviews other experts, he teases out the details of their lowest points, and how they bounced back.
Our Growth Everywhere podcast sits at the intersection of personal growth and marketing.
We talk to marketing experts on not just the tactics they used to grow their businesses, but also the fears and obstacles they had to overcome along the way.
The best way to find your own unique angle for your podcast is by seeing what already works for your blog content. What pages or posts are ranking the highest? What types of e-mails do people respond to the most? You can use that as the foundation for your podcast angle.
If you don’t have an audience already, you can use other sites to test what works and what doesn’t for audience you’re trying to target. For example, James Altucher writes pretty frequently on Quora.
By answering different questions on Quora, he’s able to gauge what type of content his audience likes to read, and what they don’t like to read. If an answer gets a lot of upvotes or comments, then he’ll repurpose it on other channels, like his podcast.
Deepak Shukla also started a podcast based on his popular content on Quora. He built a pretty huge following on the site, and had a good sense of what type of content resonated with his readers. Deepak’s unique angle was writing short, simple, “life hacks” that people could put to use immediately.
So he built his podcast content in a similar way. He created short-form audio clips where he talked about simple hacks that people could use in life and in business. He called it “Life, Love and Entrepreneurship.”
You can also use sites like Quora as a “laboratory” to test what angle works. For example, if you run a marketing blog and want to start a podcast, you can type a related topic like “digital marketing” into the search box on Quora:
Then click on the topic. Select “Topic FAQ” to find the most common types of questions under that topic.
From there, you can post your own answers to some frequently asked questions on your topic. From the level of engagement you get, you’ll be able to tell whether it resonates or not.
Another way to test your content is by posting on Medium. You can measure the amount of traction you get by the number of “recommends” your post gets on the site.
Learn More: The Advanced Guide to Medium Marketing
But the ideal way to find your angle is by building an audience first. The best type of “proof” that your angle resonates with people is having a list of e-mail subscribers who want to hear more from you.
Step 2: Getting World-Class Experts to Be Your Guests
Featuring industry experts on your podcast has a couple of big benefits. First, you can get fans of that expert to start listening to your podcast as well and your existing audience will look at you as a bigger authority in your space.
You’ll also gain the respect of other industry experts just by being associated with so many well-known people in your space. For example, Growth Everywhere was recently listed by Drift.com as one of the top resources in product strategy:
There’s also a third, lesser-known benefit of interviewing experts comes when you first launch your podcast on iTunes. But we’ll talk about that later in this post.
Some articles say that you won’t be land high-profile guests on your podcast when you’re first starting out. They say you have to rank high on the charts before you get to interview experts in your industry.
The truth is, you can offer value to experts without having a huge podcast listenership — as long as you have an audience on some other platform.
How to Find Experts to Interview
Let’s assume for a second that you don’t have a pre-existing audience or a powerful network you can pull guests from. How do you find guests to interview on your podcast?
You can’t get high-profile guests by a cold e-mail if you’ve got nothing to offer (i.e. your audience) to your guest. So you have to bring them into your network.
One way to do this is by attending industry events. Publicity expert Selena Soo got James Altucher to speak at her live event by meeting him in person at an industry event, and asking him right then and there. Pat Flynn almost always agrees to podcast interviews when people ask him in person.
Another way to find your initial guests is by scouring through the “New & Noteworthy” podcast section in your category in the iTunes store. New and noteworthy podcasts have audiences of their own that are quickly growing, and because they’re still in the early stages of building their own podcast, they’re typically more interested in making guest appearances on other people’s shows.
You can also find emerging authors on Amazon. Authors love to go on podcasts to promote their book. You might not be able to get a bestselling author to come on your podcast when you’re first starting, but you could potentially get an small-time author who has an engaged audience of their own.
For example, Benjamin Hardy is a self-published author who’s got a couple of books on Amazon. He’s also a popular writer on Medium, and has over 20,000 engaged subscribers on his e-mail list. Even though he’s not “famous” in his industry by traditional standards, you could still gain a significant number of listeners from his audience if he promoted his guest appearance to his e-mail list.
You can also join mastermind groups with like-minded entrepreneurs who are a few years ahead of you. For example, you might join something like Lewis Howes’s School of Greatness or the Genius Network. Because you’ll be putting yourself in the same “group” as other successful people in your niche, they’ll be more likely to help you out with your own projects.
Reaching Out to Your Interviewee
The guests we’ve had on Growth Everywhere have been pivotal in growing our listenership. We’ve had people like Jason Lemkin, the founder of EchoSign. We've had Neil Patel, founder of several multi-million dollar companies including KISSmetrics and CrazyEgg. We’ve had Brian Dean, the founder of Backlinko.
When you’re first starting out, it can be intimidating to reach out to people you respect. What if your e-mail comes across the wrong way? What if you make a bad first impression? What if you come off as annoying?
The truth is, most bloggers and authors get dozen and dozens of e-mails everyday that ask them for their time. But most of those e-mails are really bad.
There are a few things that you have to do before you send your pitch to make sure that it’s well received:
- Do your research. Before you pitch your potential guest, get a sense of who they are and what their work is like. Follow them on social media. Read through their blog posts. Maybe even read part of (or all of) their books. Get a sense of what projects they’re currently working on.
- Tell them about your mission. People love to help others who are on a mission. What do you want to do with your podcast? How do you want to change people?
- Counter objections from the start. Think about what objections your interviewee might have when they see your e-mail. They might think your interview would take too long — in that case, tell them that you’d only take up 15-20 minutes of their time for a short segment.
- Offer something to them. Ideally, offer to promote your interview with them to your audience on a different platform — whether that’s e-mail, a blog post on your site, or something else.
Here’s an example of a pitch you can send out (from Smartblogger):
[Comment on their work, how you know them, if you appreciate their books, teaching, etc. Try to make this original and prove you’ve done your homework.]
I’m wondering if you would be willing to do a quick 30-minute interview sometime over the next few weeks?
I have a blog called [blog name and link]. I help [audience] to [goal].
I recently came across something you wrote/said [here] and I’d love for my audience to hear your take on [topic]. [Statement of why this is important to your audience, or what’s missing in the niche.]
I’ve also interviewed/am planning to interview [here’s where you can drop names, if applicable.] I’d love to include you as well.
The interview will be pre-recorded, so we can talk whenever it fits into your schedule and I’ll make sure to keep it to 30 minutes.
I’ll send you my questions ahead of time so there will be no surprises.
Just let me know a few times that might be good for you, and I’ll be happy to set it up.
Eventually, you’ll have a list of credible interviewees who can help you grow your listenership by promoting to their own audience.
Step 3: How to Propel Your Podcast to the Top of the Charts
Once you have a few interviews done, you need a strategy to propel it to the top of the charts.
Luckily, this is actually pretty simple to do with the iTunes algorithm. Nick Unsworth from Life On Fire explains it in this video:
Life On Fire went from having zero audience members and zero name recognition to becoming number 9 in their category on the iTunes podcast charts within just two days of launching. They passed people like Anderson Cooper, Meet the Press and Sesame Street.
Here are some of the principles they kept in mind when they launched:
- Take the iTunes algorithm into account. iTunes gives you free traffic in the first eight weeks after you launch a new podcast. They feature you in the “New & Noteworthy” section for your category, which is a great chance for you to capture a lot of new listeners.
- Invite your network along for the ride. One persuasive sales trigger when launching new products is community. People like being part of movements that other people are a part of. It creates buzz and excitement, and ultimately benefits you.
When you’re launching your podcast, keep your network up to date on everything you’re doing. Share your logo creations. Ask them their opinions on what your title should be. Give them a sneak peek of cool information about the other guests you got on your show.
If you bring your network along for the ride — even if it’s just 10-20 people who are close to you — you’ll have a small audience who can give you your first reviews. And that can bring you a huge boost in rankings.
- Pick the right category. It’s important to choose categories where you have the opportunity to rank. For example, you probably can’t compete with someone like Tim Ferriss or John Lee Dumas when you’re first launching — unless you have a massive audience on other platforms already.
But you might be able to rank in a category that’s slightly tangential to the topics you’re covering. Tim Ferriss’s podcast is under the category “Investing.” He could’ve also chosen to list his podcast under a category like “Careers,” “Business,” or “Self Help.” For Growth Everywhere, we chose to list it under “Management & Marketing.” The point is, try to find categories where there aren’t already a list of extremely popular shows on the top 10 list.
- Have five episodes in iTunes when you launch. Whenever anyone subscribes to your podcast, iTunes will automatically download the first five episodes onto their phone. That counts as five downloads for your podcast. If you only have one episode listed when you launch, you’re leaving tons of free downloads off the table — and that can keep you from rising quickly in the rankings.
- Have other episodes in the queue. The next step is to make sure that you’ve got a list of podcast episodes to drip out as much as possible over that eight week window. Before you launch, it’s best to have a long queue of interviews with experts so that you can release them day after day until you run out. This way, you can maximize the amount of downloads you get, and take advantage of your spot on “New & Noteworthy” to rise in the rankings for your category.
- Don’t sell anything in the beginning. There are lots of people making a lot of money with podcasts. John Lee Dumas made over $200,000 in November 2016 alone. But in the beginning your number one priority should be building your rankings and a dedicated listenership. Once you have a loyal audience, then you might be able to experiment with introducing sponsorships.
After those initial eight weeks, your rankings might drop a bit because iTunes will stop giving you the extra “boost.” According to Life On Fire, that’s when you should go back to your original planned format for your podcast release dates — whether that’s once a day, once a week, etc.
But even if your rankings drop, you’ll have a large number of listeners you can build relationships with over time.
Podcasting is one of the best ways to build a deep, intimate relationship with your audience. And, when done right, with that relationship comes trust, which means you’ll have a huge audience of people who know, like, and and are loyal to you. They’ll be much more receptive to hearing what products you have to offer than they would’ve been if you just sent out an email.
That's how we grew our Growth Everywhere podcast to 109,000 listeners per month and got new contracts with companies for Single Grain.