Podcasting 101: What small business owners need to know
The ins and outs of podcasting and why you should start now
If you’ve ever started a business (or joined an early-stage startup), you know that creativity and bootstrapping are at the center of that venture’s success. This includes innovating ways to market, grow and adapt your business. With the advent of the internet, small business owners have access to a new wealth of resources, technology and content opportunities that can help them flourish on a budget. And there is one type of content that’s on the rise that's helping small businesses creatively build their audience — podcasts.
Podcasts offer a cheap and innovative way to reach their audience, interact with consumers and provide new value to their clients and listeners. This, plus sheer curiosity, drew dozens of Northern Colorado business owners to a discussion on podcasts — hosted by Seth Silvers, founder of Story On Media and Marketing and host of The Small Business Storytellers podcast — at last week’s Fort Collins Startup Week.
Silvers walked attendees through the ins and outs of podcasting, including why podcasts are a good idea for small businesses, how to select your topic, if monetizing your podcast is viable and how to let it grow.
The accessibility of podcasts
One of the reasons podcasts are having such a moment right now — and not just for small businesses — is that the barrier to entry is incredibly low. Often the biggest cost is your time. Podcasting requires very little technical and monetary investment to get started thanks to a number of free tools on the marketplace. These include:
Anchor: Recently acquired by Spotify, Anchor is a free platform where you can create, distribute and monetize your podcast from either your computer or phone. Podcasts are unique from other content types in that in order to publish your podcast to the popular platforms (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, etc.), you must first host the audio elsewhere. Anchor not only hosts the podcasts but it distributes to the top 10 podcast platforms for free.
Garageband (for Mac users): While Anchor does give you the ability to edit your audio after you record it, Garageband is a free audio editing software for Mac users that is a little more sophisticated (although still easy to use), according to Silvers.
Audacity (for PC users): Another free audio editing software, just for PC users.
Zoom: For recording interviews over the phone, the free version of Zoom allows you to record audio that you can then edit and repurpose into your podcast.
For Silvers, these free tools are enough to get you started, however, he does suggest investing in a nice microphone. According to him, a nice microphone should only cost under $100 and is worth every cent because it enhances your audio quality significantly, which conveys a sense of professionalism and seriousness to your audience.
It’s worth noting that 80% of listeners listen to the entire podcast (this is a much higher engagement than other content types, including video), which means you are getting a lot of value for the work put into the podcast production.
Choosing a podcast topic
As with most marketing content, choosing a podcast topic starts with determining what Silvers refers to as your dream audience. According to Silvers, it doesn’t matter if this audience is specific and narrow, podcasts are able to reach these niche markets and then grow exponentially from there.
Once you have your dream audience in mind, you can pick a topic to center your podcast around by asking the following:
What questions do they regularly have related to what you do? It’s important that your podcast connects in some way to your business and your expertise.
What does your audience want to learn? Silvers says this is not connected directly to your product/service, but rather suggests you broaden outside of that by really getting in your dream audience’s brain and how your expertise can serve them.
Where are they going to learn these things? It’s important to consider how your podcast will differentiate from other available resources.
Where are they congregating? According to Silvers, you want your podcast to “become the watering hole for your dream audience.” Plus, this will help identify places where you can reach/market to your dream audience.
The goal is finding a topic that your audience will find value in, as well as a topic that is topical and shareable. This way, even if your audience doesn’t buy your product or service they are getting a value from you and your business, which makes it easier to build off-podcast connections and even deals, according to Silvers.
Selecting a format
There are a few types of content models for podcasts out there, which Silvers refers to as: Library, Consume it All and a Hybrid model.
Library: This refers to podcasts that over-deliver content and produce a lot of it. This means that an audience will search for relevance and listen to only some of what the podcast produces. Often times these podcasts are longer in length.
Consumer it All: This is a podcast where the audience is meant to listen to every episode. Sometimes it just means less frequent podcast releases, or it can mean seasons, where a podcast drops 10 episodes on a specific topic.
Hybrid: A combination of the two, where podcasts post frequently, but perhaps post shorter episodes that are easier to listen to.
In addition, before you get started, Silvers recommends looking at the trending podcasts on the top podcast platforms in your specific market vertical. This will give you ideas on how the top podcasts are marketing their podcasts, what formats are working for your intended audience and identify smaller, less crowded market verticals where launching your podcast could make a bigger splash.
Plus, once you’ve decided on a general podcast topic and a format, to come up with episodic topics, determine the following: 25 questions your audience might have, 25 things relevant to your audience and 25 people you can interview. Silvers also recommends starting each podcast with a brief pre-recorded “manifesto” that states what your podcast is about, so the listener will know immediately whether or not it’s right for them.
It’s important to keep in mind that whatever you decide, you must be consistent, so determine ahead of time a production schedule that works for you and that you can stick to. This will create a sense of trust and professionalism between you and your audience.
Monetizing a podcast
While there is an inherent value to your business with podcasting, there are a few ways to monetize it.
The first way is through front-end traditional ads, which you are likely familiar with if you listen to some of the popular podcasts on the market. While these ads might be availableto you down the line, Silvers says that you need a high-volume of listeners and subscribers for most advertisers to show an interest (and for your to make money from the ads).
A second, more accessible way at the beginning, is through sponsorships, where audience members can pay to subscribe to your podcast (and perhaps receive additional content for their subscription). Silvers says that both Anchor and Patreon offer easy ways to set this up.
The third way is on the back-end. This refers to focusing on building your audience, getting them to engage with your business offline and welcoming them into your value ladder. This transactional value is centered around building relationships.
Growing a podcast
For Silvers, his only regret with podcasting is that he didn’t start it five years sooner. The reason? You won’t learn anything until you start and there’s a value to longevity, he says.
Once you start building your podcast, you can quickly learn the length, topics and structure that best serves and engages your audience. From there, you evolve and adapt based on these learnings. This will help grow your audience in a natural and sustainable way.
Plus, it’s important to market each podcast episode with promo content including social media posts, embedding the podcast audio on your website and even sending an email blast.
Another way to grow your audience is by developing a “Dream 100,” says Silvers. This is a group of people that will be able to listen and share your podcast with their audience. Silvers refers to this group as “gatekeepers."
However, the best way to grow your podcast is to keep going and don’t stop. Longevity, Silvers says, is the most important thing.