Here’s where podcasting was on Jan 1, 2019: Gimlet was still an independent company, Spotify just gave us access to listener data, and Podcon2 was right around the corner. It is truly a different world out there, as if the Podcast Hunger Games started sometime in April 2019. Now, legacy media and tech companies are making more acquisitions and VC funds are knocking on podcasters’ doors more than ever.
Three years ago I published a blog post with some of the lessons I learned in my first year-and-a-half of podcasting. My co-hosts and I had learned a thing or two about how to make and grow podcasts and wanted to share with others starting out.
Now, as I enter my second year of podcasting full-time, learning new ways to grow and thrive in this industry is no longer a nice-to-have benefit but a matter of survival. That doesn’t mean you should treat other podcasts or podcast companies as competition. The more demand there is for strong podcasts, skilled professionals, and profitable companies, the better all of us will fare.
So I’m opening Multitude’s playbook to share what we’re doing to keep our business afloat in 2020. I hope these 5 tips help you keep your podcast alive and thriving this year and beyond.
Own Your Relationship With Your Audience
Nearly 250k new podcasts launched in 2019, and we’re all facing the same issues. These are the top five questions clients ask me:
- How do I find an audience?
- How do I get my listeners to engage with me?
- What show improvements/investments will actually help me make money?
- I’ve been doing this for years but my audience growth has stagnated. How do I break out of that plateau?
- I never worked in radio and I’m not a celebrity — so how do I get networks to pay attention to me? And would they really help me grow?
The common denominator in how I answer all of these questions is to get to know your audience. Listen to them, speak honestly with them, and find ways for them to help you succeed.
Making Shows Makes Us Different
Some of the podcast industry people I speak with are shocked that I co-host two podcasts in addition to running Multitude full-time. All six members of Multitude host shows and contribute their unique skills to the collective too, and wearing both hats makes us better at both.
You know how you see a familiar face of an actor you have definitely seen on Law & Order and The Good Wife and ER and maybe a Fast & Furious movie? “Now that’s a working actor,” you might say. That’s us. Unlike most podcast production companies, we run three weekly and two biweekly shows. Every week we’re publishing between 3–6 episodes, fulfilling Patreon benefits, doing our own ad sales + reads, answering listener emails, and running 3+ social media accounts per show. We know what it’s like to run a podcast day-to-day, what our listeners like and dislike, and the impact industry developments have on working podcasters.
Having to do it all yourself is a competitive advantage. Whether you’re shooting for a job in podcasting, hoping to sell or scale your business, or just want some respect from bigger players in the industry, have faith that what you know is valuable. Many companies and even more executives claim to “know the podcast landscape,” but there’s no substitute for first-hand experience. Believe in yourself and your skills.
Control Your Own Destiny with DIY
I spent several years getting turned down by ad sales companies because my shows were too small. So in 2018 I decided to learn how to sell ads for myself, starting with profit-sharing and affiliate agreements with fellow small businesses here in New York. We learned how to create good ad reads, got organized with an ad tracking spreadsheet, and built a thoughtful and fun ad break into our shows.
In 2019, we ran 374 ads from 49 sponsors across our four podcasts. I booked 88% of those directly with the sponsors, and took 27 days on average to get paid (fastest: zero days. Slowest: 218 days). For the remaining 12% of the ads booked through a third-party ad service, it took us 88 days to get paid on average. 67% of our ad inventory for 2020 is already sold out.
Control your own destiny. Learn how to do the things companies want you to pay them to do instead, and share your knowledge and skills with people you trust. I started helping one friend with her ad sales early in 2019; now, I help 21 shows make some extra money via ads. These are incredible podcasts with talented, creative, responsible producers who are “too small” for traditional ad sales companies to care about. But by owning our own destiny and pooling our skills we can succeed at any size.
Lean On Your Peers
When Spirits first launched I emailed every network I’d ever heard of to try to get signed. All of the successful podcasts I knew were part of networks, so that meant I had to join one to grow… right?
Not even a little bit. As cool as it would feel to be in the same Slack as Roman Mars, networks are not the answer for the vast majority of podcasters. All of the benefits a network offers, from ad sales to cross-promotion, are possible to do on your own. Harder, but possible.
Just like the job market, joining a podcast network is more likely for people who are already close to that network: sharing a social circle or professional background with network staff, or bringing a long list of successful shows or a large pre-existing audience to the table. For the rest of us, creating a formal or informal network of other podcasters you respect and want to grow alongside is the best option.
Treat Your Business Like a Business
People, from potential guests to potential sponsors, take you more seriously as a business than as an individual. I will gladly discuss the ethical implications and fundamentally destructive capitalist agenda of that viewpoint over drinks anytime, but until we abolish the system we need to exist in this flawed world. Whether you’re still in pre-production or a ten-year veteran podcaster, it’s always a good time to check in on your business.
So take some time to check in with your team (even if that’s just you!) about your strategy. Use our checklist to make sure the way you structure, publish, and talk about your show makes sense. How you talk about your show is as important as what your show sounds like, at least when it comes to finding new listeners, sponsors, and collaborators, so spend some time thinking about your communications and marketing strategy. Make a trailer for your show so new listeners understand what it’s all about. Provide transcripts of every episode. Start asking your audience for help spreading the word.
Next Year, In Full Time
This is a toast, to you, to us! May you be working full-time on your creative pursuits, may the media company you work for keep your job secure, and may we have a better handle on the news that floods in. Cheers!
— Amanda McLoughlin
Multitude is an independent podcast collective and production company based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Our original shows make niche interests accessible by bringing enthusiasm, nuance, and inventive formatting to topics we love. We also help clients of all sizes make and market great shows; perform and give workshops at podcast events; rent out our NYC studio; and publish dozens of free resources for creators.