5 Things I Wish I'd Known When I Started My Podcast
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Backyard Media is always trying to think of new ways to help independent podcast creators. As a writer for Backyard Media and a podcaster myself, I’m always trying to improve my craft and learn from others in this space. To that end, I recently attended the Third Coast International Audio Festival in Chicago. Third Coast is the premiere gathering of audio professionals in the US. A three-day event full of technical sessions, social events, and networking opportunities, Third Coast is a great place for like-minded radio professionals and independent podcast creators to meet and exchange ideas about their craft.
We’ll be providing more insights from Third Coast, but here are five key takeaways I got from one particular panel: the “Podcasting without a Net(work)” session for independent creators. These five points are all things I wish I’d thought about when I’d started my own podcast, and are useful for both existing and new podcast creators to think through as they work on new podcast projects.
Make a budget for your time as well as your money.
At the “Podcasting without a Net(work)” panel, independent creator Phoebe Unter pointed out that we creators often meticulously budget how much of our own funds we’re spending on our podcast. But rarely do we consider how much time we’re spending on our project. Most creators, especially those starting their podcast, have other responsibilities like full time jobs that take up a good portion of their time.
For creators, the important question we have to ask ourselves is “how much time am I willing to spend on this to achieve my goals?” It’s important to have a realistic range of time we’re willing to spend on a new project. If we don’t, we risk burnout and prematurely ending a podcast.
This “time budget” can be as simple as another tab in your budget’s spreadsheet that’s dedicated to time. How much free time, after your job(s), personal care, chores, and other family obligations, can you reasonably devote to a new creative project? As you start working on your podcast, track your hours and make sure you’re not hitting way over that estimate. If you are, re-assess what parts of the podcast you can get help with, either by hiring freelance help or getting friends or colleagues to help out.
2. Always be marketing your show - and don’t just rely on social media.
Reaching new people and getting your first 100, 500, and 1,000 listeners can be incredibly difficult for podcast creators on a budget. Social media is obviously a low-cost tool for getting your message out, but simply having a Twitter handle and Facebook Page doesn’t get you your audience. Podcasters need to be active on social media, engaging with like-minded shows and potential listeners in order to gain a following.
Following similar podcasts in your niche is a good start. Also be sure to follow experts in your field, or people you may want to have on as guests in the future who are relevant to the topic of your show. When it comes to posting, view your podcast’s social media channels as another avenue for creating show content. Go beyond simply posting about new episodes, and instead write about the topics related to your show, or engage in conversations with people in your industry. The Lonely Palette, an art history podcast by Tamar Avishai that Backyard Media partners with, exemplifies this principle well. Tamar will often post news about art or museums, in addition to interacting with art magazines and other outlets relevant to her field. Tamar was on this Third Coast panel, and she made a point of saying that “51% of my podcast time is on social media.”
Which brings us to another way you can market your show: get featured in outlets like sites and magazines. Tamar mentioned that she’s gained listeners by being featured in local magazines like the Improper Bostonian. Appearing in a non-podcast media outlet allowed her to reach new audiences who might not have found her otherwise. Of course, getting this kind of spotlight requires that you do great creative work and start to build your following in other ways first. Tamar also relayed the story of a woman who ran her own podcast and decided to become a sponsor herself, for business conferences relevant to her podcast’s topic. This meant her show was mentioned at the start of conference events. Tamar said this creator found marketing at conferences was an effective way to get new listeners who were engaged in her specific industry.
Panelists also discussed how independent creators could re-create the benefits of a “podcast network” without actually being in one. A podcast network is a collection of shows, like Radiotopia or Maximum Fun, that pool their production, marketing, or financial resources. One way to create a “pseudo-network” is to engage in cross-promotion with other podcasts. Cross-promotion is a low- or no-cost way to gain listeners by appearing on other shows or having other podcast hosts as guests on your own podcast. Making this connection can be as simple as contacting the host and saying, “I’d love to have you on my podcast to talk about your show.” When shows have roughly the same audience sizes but have different audiences, cross-promotion can be a powerful way for both shows to get new listeners.
Note: it’s important to cross-promote with shows that make sense given your audience. You can figure out which shows “fit” with yours by having a listener avatar (check out our discussion of listener avatars here).
3. Look beyond just Patreon for funding.
Tamar mentioned that Patreon has been an important source of funding for The Lonely Palette. She said she’s grown her Patreon by offering customized Lonely Palette labelled “swag,” which she invested in early on. She also suggested that creators offer higher Patreon funding tiers than they might expect people to pay, as listeners are sometimes willing to pay higher amounts so long as you give them the option.
Multiple creators on the panel, including Tamar, mentioned that Patreon can be a great tool for crowdfunding for your podcast, but there’s a chicken-and-egg problem of needing a healthy audience in the multiple hundreds or thousands before Patreon funding becomes viable. All of the panelists emphasized looking for other sources of funding, including from local organizations. Phoebe Unter mentioned she had secured an artists’ residency for her podcast, Bitchface, by applying to a local arts organization. She’s also received funding from her local radio station, KCRW. Phoebe encouraged reaching out to organizations like these for grant funding.
4. Keep your podcast on a schedule.
One consistently mentioned point at the panel was the need to keep to a consistent release schedule. James Kim of the Competition Podcast said that his first season had a very erratic production and release schedule. In his second season, he’s posted new episodes every week for six weeks, with each episode roughly the same length. By planning ahead and starting production early so that his team had completed multiple episodes before launch, Kim said overall season 2 had been a better experience and had actually seen increased listenership.
Keeping to a production and release schedule has a number of benefits. First, it keeps creators honest about what they need to accomplish and when. It also discourages perfectionism - a podcast that creates great episodes on time is a better experience for listeners than one that releases very few, but superb, episodes in an entire year. A consistent release schedule also tells listeners they should tune in for new episodes on a regular basis. New listeners can see your RSS feed and know how often you send out new episodes, based on previous release dates.
5. Set your goal of what success is - it’s not always money and download numbers.
Finally, the panel’s moderator Julie Shapiro of Radiotopia asked what success can look like for independent podcast creators. She and the panelists agreed that it’s important for creators to define for themselves at the outset what success in their project means for them.
One obvious goal might be high download numbers, or money made from the project through sponsorship. Shapiro said that not all creators should define their success based on these metrics. Less obvious but still relevant success metrics could be:
Learning a new skill
Proving to yourself you can create a podcast
Making a podcast as a work sample for your portfolio
Creating a like-minded community around your podcast
Telling a story that you feel is important
Check back soon for more coverage from our time at Third Coast 2018.
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