How To Create A Successful Podcast
The best thing about podcasts is that anyone can make one. If you have access to the Internet and a smartphone, you can broadcast globally with the click of a few buttons. You don’t need a hi-tech studio or state-of-the-art equipment… you don’t even need to know how to produce a radio programme. Smartphones have turned us all into creatives and social media has given us a platform to share this creativity. The media we consume is more diverse, the content has been democratised, and our generation has a legacy (the Egyptians left the pyramids, we’ll leave cat videos).
Having worked at the BBC for five years, as well as producing my very own podcast, the Internet has been my best friend in guiding the way as I traverse new digital landscapes. I’m a firm believer that anyone can broadcast and produce with the right information in their hands. And this is precisely why I want to throw my thoughts out there, for anyone struggling to get started.
When you don’t know how to begin
Getting started is the hardest part. The beginning is your market research and self-discovery stage. Take a look at the podcasts you enjoy listening to and why. Think about what you care about what you want to say. Once you notice themes emerging, have a brainstorm. Create a Pinterest board. Do what you need to do to get the creative juices flowing. This part should take as long as you need… let the ideas ruminate in the shower, on a walk, while you’re staring out the window on the subway. Once you’ve got thoughts rallying around a theme, your brain will find connections and spark new ideas. Use the notes section on your phone to capture anything that drops in those unexpected moments.
Once you’ve got a list of ideas, start collecting together themes and looking for patterns. Eventually, the core themes should emerge naturally (and if they don’t, give it some more thinking time). Of course, you could pontificate on this forever, so try and set yourself deadlines to work towards.
During this time, I’d also recommend listening to as many podcasts as possible. Get a feel for how they tell stories, how long each episode is, consistent formats they adopt across episodes etc. Also, take note of the ones that really capture your attention and why.
Nailing the finer details
Hopefully, you’ve decided on an idea. It’s now time for some specifics. While you don’t want to be too prescriptive with your podcast, think about:
- Who is your audience?
- What do you want people to feel when they listen to it?
- How do you want to get your message or story across?
You don’t need to worry too much about this, because rigid categories are never the friend of creativity. However, it’s useful to think broadly about who you are speaking to, as it will give the editorial focus.
Choosing a name
It’s now time to make the biggest decision of all: what are you going to call it? This is one of the hardest parts and, trust me, you’re never going to happy with the name. You’ll always second guess it.
Every time you come up with an idea, write it down. Peruse this list regularly. You’ll get a feel for the names that stick and feel right. It should also give audiences an idea of what your podcast is all about. Do your research and see if anyone else already has a podcast by the same name. When I first conceived When I Grow Up, mine was the only one. By the time I came to release, another had cropped up. Fast-forward a year or so, and there are now four When I Grow Up podcasts. It’s going to be tricky being original but it’s definitely something to consider if you want to differentiate yourself in a busy marketplace And don’t worry, you can change it later if you really want.
Writing a description
It’s time to write a compelling description that really explains what your podcast is all about it. This is useful for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the description you can use when distributing your podcast across various platforms such as Apple Podcasts. Secondly, it forces you to get your thoughts in order and refine exactly what your podcast is about. This paragraph is the writing on the side of the tin that gives an idea about what it’s inside. Include keywords and be ultra-clear. It’s going to be vital in the audience’s decision-making process as to whether they want to listen or not, not to mention the all-important SEO.
Branding and artwork
There are loads of great articles and advice aplenty on the Internet about this, such as this one from Buzzsprout. Your artwork should be designed for mobile and be clearly legible at the size of a postage stamp (aka the smallest size it will appear on a phone). Other considerations: keep the colour palette relatively clean and distinctive, make the text clear and legible, ensure the style is aligned with the content of your podcast. If your podcast is about death metal, it may feel strange to have a pink, fluffy podcast cover. Think about it as a front cover of a book, it’s got to sell and represent what’s inside.
Planning your episodes
The most important part of a podcast is the actual audio itself. Before you start recording episodes, I’d recommend thinking about:
- Duration: aim for consistency, where you can.
- Format: this might be easy to carry across between episodes.
- The content in each episode: if you’re telling one story across multiple episodes, then you need a detailed plan for the series. If you’re interviewing one guest per episode, plan out the sequence, if you can.
A huge consideration for content is time. If this is a side hustle, it’s unlikely you’re going to have time to create blockbuster multi-story episodes. Pick a format and style that fits with the amount of time you can dedicate to the project. If you make it too complex, you’ll give up after a few episodes.
Once you’ve decided on a format (again, this can change and evolve over time, so don’t worry about feeling boxed in), it’s time to start the fun part… content planning and recording! My podcast is interview and guest-led, so much of my time is spent sourcing and securing guests, and then researching them.
Securing and working with guests
You probably don’t have a guest booker and might not know where to start in securing a guest for your podcast. Thankfully, it’s never been easier to get in touch with prospective guests thanks to social media and the Internet. Here’s my mini-guide on guest booking and management:
- Choosing guests: Pick guests that you know will resonate with your audience.
- Dream big: Make a big list of everyone you would love to interview (think big, you don’t get if you don’t ask).
- Start systematically contacting each person: Try and go directly where you can, whether it’s finding their email on their website or DM’ing on Instagram.
- Be sincere and authentic: take time to explain why you would like to interview them and, most importantly, why it would be beneficial or interesting for this individual.
- Don’t worry if you don’t hear back: people are busy and there is no harm in sending gentle nudges here and there. Set reminders to check back in and use Boomerang to schedule follow-ups.
- Be explicit about the expectations: let them know how long it will take, how you conduct the interview and the sign-off process. They need to know exactly what they’re agreeing to.
- Be flexible: travel to them, be available for a Skype interview — work around them. Most of the time, guests do interviews for free and their time is valuable, so it’s up to you to be as accommodating as possible.
- Do your research: Make sure you read as much as you can, watch any talks they’ve done, listen to other podcasts they’ve been on.
- Be grateful, always: ALWAYS send them a thank you and let them know when their episode will be available.
As the content and stories are yours, I’m not going to tell you how to structure your interviews or stories. But, I will share a bit about recording equipment. While investing in microphones is never a bad idea, you definitely don’t need top of the range equipment to get started. The in-built microphone in an iPhone is surprisingly good, so there’s no excuse!
Make sure you know your way around the equipment before you get started. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes that have really affected the sound quality. While these kind of errors are inevitable, you can set yourself up for success with YouTube tutorials or articles online. This is the equipment I currently use:
For Skype recorded interviews:
For in-person interviews:
- Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder
- Behringer Ultravoice Xm8500 Dynamic Vocal Microphone, Cardioid X 2
- XLR Cable x 2
- Foam windball windscreens x 2
Once you’ve recorded, you can get moving on editing your episode. I use Adobe Audition, but there are plenty of free editing tools out there, such as Audacity. You’ll know at this point how much time you can spare to editing, so depending on the level of complexity required, you might be absolutely fine with a basic tool. Never edited before? No problem. Head over to YouTube and watch a few tutorials to get started. Make sure you save a copy of the original recordings and then make a copy for you to practice on. Be warned, the first few will take you a while, but you’ll get used to it.
Feedback and sign-off
Once you’ve got an episode or two ready, I’d recommend sending them to friends and family to listen. They’ll serve as your Execs and give you honest feedback on moments that didn’t flow or parts that need improvement. Lean into every bit of advice you can get. Once you’re happy with the final product, send it over to the guest so they know what you’ll be putting out into the world. They may not have time to listen, so just let them know when you plan to release it and then they know to be in touch if they have any issues. Some guests are more hands-on than others, so just adapt your feedback process accordingly.
Distribution and uploading episodes
Finally, you’re ready to put your masterpiece out into the world! I’d recommend putting a trail out first to set up the RSS feed. I use Audioboom for mine, which I would highly recommend as it’s simple to use and easy to sync up to other podcast platforms from — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and more. Follow all the instructions on Audioboom as to how to get the RSS feed synced up with other platforms, the Apple Podcast process is different to Spotify, for example.
Here’s a handy article that explains all the different hosting platforms, RSS feeds and distribution.
Promotion and listenership
If you’ve done all of the above, you’ll already have picked a great podcast host and optimised your descriptions for SEO. Next step: shouting about it to anyone who will listen. Tell all your friends on social media, tell them to tell their friends. Ask your guests to post about it. Network with other podcasters and cross-promote each other. Word of mouth is the best marketing tool at your disposal and it’s free. Don’t expect big numbers at the beginning. One of the most satisfying things with starting a podcast is watching the numbers grow over time and listenership build.
The feedback loop
Audioboom and Apple Podcasts has a great analytics platform. Stay abreast of the numbers and notice trends. You should watch audience behaviour and let that inform future episodes or the direction of the podcast. If there one guest or story was a runaway success, have a think about why… did they promote it on their social media channels? What was it about their story that resonated? There’s no formula for success, but you should be aware of the key ingredients and re-use them if you can.
Don’t be hard on yourself
It’s exciting putting a podcast out there… and amazing that you’re doing it in the first place. Remember, life can get in the way, so don’t hold yourself to unattainable production standards or release schedules. A big part of my journey has been accepting that I don’t always have time to prioritise my podcast alongside my full-time job, as much as I love doing it. If you ever need to take a break, that’s totally fine. The moment it becomes a chore, you’ll want to stop. The most important thing is that you’re enjoying yourself.
Finally, the biggest piece of advice I can offer is: the Internet is your friend. Just a quick google will give you everything you ever needed to know about getting started. If you’re curious, you can listen to my podcast When I Grow Up here. And, as always, if you have any questions, I’m more than happy to answer them.