How I Built A Successful Podcast In 12 Months
Building a successful podcast can mean different things to different people. For some, it simply requires getting together with friends once a month, recording a light-hearted conversation, and publishing on the internet - just for fun. For others, it consists of producing a bi-weekly storytelling podcast, meticulously-crafted with music and sound design, and funding it through a combination of sponsorship and listener support. One way isn’t better than the other. The key is being able to achieve whatever your chosen measure of success is.
When I started my podcast, The Firn Line, my bar for success had 3 clear benchmarks:
I wanted the create a podcast that combined all of my passions (outdoors/mountaineering, music composition and audio engineering).
I wanted to set high standards for production quality.
I wanted to create financial sustainability through sponsorship & listener support.
Through a combination high-quality content, promotion, networking and hard work, I was able to achieve all of these goals within 12 months. Additionally, the podcast has reached #1 in the Outdoors genre of Apple Podcasts on multiple occasions, has a five star rating, and is currently averaging around 25,000 downloads a month.
Here are the key components that helped me build a successful podcast in 12 months:
Find Your niche
The podcast world is getting more crowded every day, making it challenging for individual podcasts to stand out from the crowd. Therefore, it’s imperative that you find your niche. A niche should be a combination of your strengths, passions and interests - something you enjoy doing, and that others can find value in.
I was fortunate because in some ways, my niche found me. The Firn Line grew out of my three passions: mountain climbing, music, and recording. Even though a handful of excellent climbing / outdoors podcasts existed, I knew I could use my unique skills to set my podcast apart. For example, I spent most of my twenties climbing mountains all around the world, so I knew I could use my knowledge and connections to secure great interviews, and have meaningful conversations with experts in the genre. Moreover, I spent years as a touring musician and songwriter, and had recorded 10 albums. This gave me a vast music catalog to use for podcast episodes, and also gave me the expertise to record and produce my own original music. And finally, I worked as a freelance audio engineer, and had the skills and equipment to record, produce and edit my own shows. For me, making a highly-produced podcast about mountaineering made sense.
Now I realize that all podcasts are different. Not every podcaster has the same set of audio-editing skills, or the means to invest hundreds of hours into starting a podcast. But that doesn't mean you can't have a professional sounding show that fits into your own clever niche. Determine your passions and identify your strengths. Be honest about your weaknesses, and don't be afraid to ask for help or advice where you need it. The most important thing is that you are following your passion, being creative, and finding a niche that works for you.
Bonus Tip: You should be able to convey what your podcast is about in one sentence (ie; The Firn Line: A podcast about the lives of mountain climbers).
Set Challenging (but achievable) Goals
Setting challenging, yet achievable goals is essential to the success of your podcast. Not only will goals help you stay focused from day to day, they will also give you mid-range and long-term benchmarks to shoot for.
When I started working on The Firn Line, I was overwhelmed by the amount of work that needed to be done. I had to come up with a name, design a logo, build a website - not to mention, teach myself how to become a podcast producer. Needless to say, It felt daunting.
But what saved me was setting goals that were challenging, yet manageable and achievable. I started by narrowing my focus. What did I really want to achieve in the first 12 months? For me, it came down to three specific goals:
Production - Figure out my angle, format, and a way to distinguish my podcast from others.
Promotion - Use social media as a tool to promote the podcast and engage with my audience.
Sustainability - Obtain at least one sponsor to help pay for the podcast.
To figure out my production angle, I did a ton of research. Each morning, I read blogs, listened to a wide-array of different podcasts, watched video tutorials on YouTube, and brainstormed countless ideas. But one of the best decisions (and investments) I made, was to purchase an online course ("Power Your Podcast with Storytelling" w/ Alex Blumberg), which turned out to be a game-changing and invaluable resource (highly recommended).
I also started social media pages (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter) and began trickling out content and teasers to build a following. And finally, a month or so before I was ready to launch, I approached a local sponsor and made a pitch - and to my surprise, they agreed to sponsor the show for a season. The sponsorship gave me a much-needed financial boost. But more importantly it was a confidence builder, and an affirmation that my idea was solid, and my product was good.
You might notice that my initial goals weren't data driven. meaning, I didn't set goals for how many downloads or streams to shoot for within the first year. Rather, I focused on the basics - putting a strong emphasis on content and production quality, organically engaging and building my social media, and forging a relationship with a supportive local sponsor. My feeling was that if the product was good, increased listenership and downloads would come naturally over time. Now, just a little over a year in, I'm getting around 25,000 downloads a month - which makes it easier to set data-driven goals moving forward.
Bonus Tip: Set at least one achievable goal a day, even if it’s a small one. There’s something truly satisfying about crossing finished tasks off a list.
The Firn Line
April - May 2018
Engage With Your Audience
Let's face it, social media is a driving force in our culture. Chances are, you've linked onto this blog through the Pod Peak Instagram page, or via another social media outlet. The reality is that if you aren't promoting your podcast on social media, you're missing out on a huge opportunity to connect with your fans and listeners.
I created my social media channels about four months before I launched my podcast. This gave me ample time to start pushing content and teasers, connect with like-minded folks, and gain loyal and engaged followers. By the time I launched the first episode, I had a core group of people who were already excited about the show. There's nothing more exciting than getting your first 5 star review, or seeing others share your episodes on social media.
The Firn Line on Instagram
Now I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the best self-promoter, and I've always been self-conscious about being seen as someone who forces content on others. That being said, I understand that engaging with your audience on social media is one of the most powerful (and cheapest) promotional tools available. My solution is to post a 3-5 times a week, which feels like a good balance.
Bonus Tip: Instagram's story feature is a fun (and effective) way to give your audience additional content including teasers, behind-the-scenes access and other creative tidbits. Experiment and refine your style to match your podcast vibe and brand.
Bonus Tip: Audiograms (short 60 second audio clips with artwork) are a great way to promote your podcast on Instagram and other social media channels. Headliner is a free app for making audiograms.
Set High Standards
If you want your podcast to grow into a professional and sustainable endeavor, it's imperative that you set high standards. The content needs to be relevant and entertaining. The audio needs to sound top notch, and be mixed to professional standards. Your social media presence needs to be engaging and support the message of your show, and your sponsors should somehow reflect the demographic of your audience.
One of the smartest things I did before launching The Firn Line, was to listen to a wide array of successful podcasts, and get a sense for what made them good. For me, the first indicator of a good podcast is the quality of the audio. If I start listening to the podcast, and the audio is hissy, clipping, or distracting with harsh "S" sounds and plosives ('P' sounds), I probably won't make it through the episode.
Even if you don't have the best gear, you'd be surprised at how good you can make your audio sound by taking the time to educate yourself on proper gain-staging, editing and other basic audio-related terms.
The same goes for the way you interact with colleagues and peers, and the people you interview, as well as your online and social media presence. Make sure you portray yourself in a way that is consistent with your podcast's message and brand. This will ensure that you attract the audience you're looking for, and keep things consistent. Which leads to another subject...
Consistency is important for one simple reason: It builds trust between you and your audience. This is why it is imperative to set a standard for your podcast, and keep it that way. Think about it this way: imagine that you've spent months planning, investing in equipment, building your social media audience, and you finally launch your first episode - and it exceeds all expectations. You wouldn't want to waste that momentum, would you?
I'll admit, I've struggled with consistency with my own podcast. And there have been times when I felt totally burned out. I'm an introvert by nature, and some days I don't feel like posting on social media. And some months, I battle with finding the energy to put another 40 hours into producing an episode. The reality is that sometimes, you need to give yourself permission to take a break - and that's ok. The key is to not let the quality of your podcast suffer or lose connection with your audience (or sponsors) in the process.
Being consistent takes a commitment to every aspect of your podcast. whether it's the audio quality, the character of your guests and content, or your social media presence, staying consistent is essential to building your podcast's brand, message and growth.
Bonus Tip: Spend a few hours researching successful podcasts you enjoy listening to. Listen to the quality of their audio and content. Check out their website and social media presence. See what others are doing to make their podcast successful and consistent - and see how you can apply these strategies to your own podcast.
Looking for more ways to make your podcast successful? Get in touch with us!