My best advice on growing and monetizing your podcast in 2020 (Independent podcasters, read this!)
It’s probably due to the lockdown, but I’ve seen so much bad advice floating around [the various podcasting advice outlets] that I’m beginning to think everyone is a charlatan guru. If you’re looking to create a successful, non-corporate podcast and you need advice, this is the only article you’ll ever need to read on the matter. Let’s get down to basics and brass tacks.
What should your podcast be about?
Something you’re knowledgeable and passionate about. Not what’s popular, not what you think others will like, not what some internet talking head tells you is the “in” thing to be podcasting about right now, just what you know and love.
You cannot create quality content around something you don’t care about or aren’t knowledgeable about without trading away bits of your mental health and well-being. Creating a podcast is already hard, don’t make it harder by faking authority in it and working twice as hard to meet the expectations of an audience that isn’t even made up of “your people.” It’ll give you an ulcer and it’ll keep you up at night.
How do I promote, grow, and monetize my show?
You take $100 every month and put it into a weekday Facebook ad campaign at $5 per weekday. Create an initial target audience, make the landing page your website’s “subscribe” page, and run the campaign. Install a Facebook pixel on your website and, in three months, change your target audience from your initial settings to a “look-a-like audience” based on collected pixel data.
Sign up for Popt.in and collect email addresses. Sign up for the free tier of Popt.in and put a popup on your website’s homepage to collect email addresses. Don’t worry about why you’re collecting them, just collect the damn things. In trade for signing up to the free email list, people get access to a once-monthly newsletter that provides a link to a bonus monthly episode. No, not for free, for their email address. Your podcast hosting provider likely provides a “private publish mode”, Simplecast does anyway, and you can link people to that in the newsletter.
Use KingSumo to run a monthly contest. Spend $0 to use KingSumo’s giveaway platform and run a contest every month for a free [whatever might be relevant to your audience, a t-shirt, a book, a whatever. Budget $20 a month for this giveaway item]. This collects additional email addresses.
Develop an affiliate relationship with a company that fits your niche (or not). The point of this is not to make money, it is to insert ads into your content at the pre-roll and the mid-roll. You want sponsor messages in your content even if you’re not paid for them. MeUndies, Stamps.com, Squarespace, whatever, doesn’t matter. Be picky or don’t be picky, just make sure you have them in the podcast.
Once you have more than 500 email subscribers, create a Supercast.com feed for $5 a month. Use this feed to create members-only content. Not in trade for anything that increases your overhead, that means no stickers, no t-shirts, no reward tiers, none of that. Signing up for your Supercast subscription will provide subscribers with the following:
- An Ad-free version of the show
- A monthly AMA (Ask Me Anything) session with creators
- A shout-out and honorary producer credit on the show / in the show notes
- Access to back-catalogue (you’re going to archive episodes older than 6-months, every 30-days).
Alert your mailing list to the existence of this new, members-only Supercast feed. Also replace your midroll ad with an ad for this new members-only feed. Conversion rates from free listener to paid listener suck, they will always suck, but they can be made less sucky by the quality and authenticity of your content. The better your content, the higher your conversion rates — and the niche-ier your audience the easier this is… to a point. Example: Knitting is a niche, knitting with a particular brand of needle and using only locally sourced wool from New Zealand is too niche to successfully monetize*. Don’t niche yourself into a corner.
Expect a conversion rate or 1% — 3% in your first year. Expect that percentage to hold steady as you grow your listenership. For every 1000 listeners, expect 10–30 paid subscribers. You will likely get more than this but this is the most you should DEPEND on. That means per 1000 listeners you’re making $50 — $150 a month… that’s better than any CPM you’d ever get from an advertiser, I promise you that. It may seem slow, but stay the course. By 10,000 free subscribers you should be seeing between 100 and 300 paid subscribers, which is $500–$1500 a month. It is more than feasible to obtain a 10K listener audience by the 12-month mark. We have seen others do it in 8. To go from 10,000 to 100,000 will take another year at least. But don’t be focused on the subscribers, be focused on tracking that conversion rate and doing what you can to increase it. You don’t need 1M listeners to make $100,000 in revenue from your podcast, but you do need damn good content and a strong marketing strategy.
You cannot stop here, but since it will take you a year to get here, I don’t need to give you more than this right now. Once you hit 10,000 subscribers, you need to look at how you can invest those earnings into a more advanced marketing strategy. What I’ve provided here is easy, affordable, and effective, but slow. Once you have $1000 a month coming in, you should consider investing most if not all of it into hiring someone to grow your brand. That someone isn’t me by the way, that’s not my shtick, I’m just good at it. When you get to that point though, reach out, I have some people I could connect you with who do good work and have proven results.
Supporting your marketing efforts with genuine social engagement.
Be present and engaging on social media, but don’t over do it. Engage with the community you serve and do so authentically. If your community lives on Twitter, be there. On Facebook, be there. Instagram, be there. Don’t be in places your community isn’t. Also, and importantly: you do not need to be everywhere all at once, at least not at first. Don’t over-commit yourself on social, you’ll burn out and become less effective (which will damage the brand you’re building). Start on Facebook and one other, likely either Twitter or Instagram, and, as you grow, get a feel for where your engagement is coming from and commit a few hours a week to engaging and be truly present in those places. Don’t automate. Don’t be lazy.
Always read new reviews at the outset of new episodes. Always ask for 5-star reviews after doing so. Always ask for 5-star reviews in your outro. Don’t ask for “reviews”, ask for “5-star reviews”. And, if you’re comfortable, don’t ask, direct. “If you enjoy our program and want to help us grow, leave us a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts. It really helps.”
Occasionally include social interactions within your content. Reference a tweet Joe wrote, a question Susan asked, or a counterpoint that Jessie made. This shows you’re listening, it shows you’re present, it shows you’re not disconnected from the community of like-interested folks you claim to be serving.
Be very patient if you’re planning on quitting your day job.
It will take 3 to 5 years for your podcast, and everything which will inevitably spring from it (live shows, speaking opportunities, book deals, authority in the space, etc) to become capable of sustaining you. Don’t believe me? Ask Aaron Mahnke of LORE, Jason and Carissa of Myths and Legends, or Dan Carlin of Hardcore History, or literally any podcaster who “made it” — this isn’t going to happen in 12-months, it’s going to take years.
Stop listening to gurus, they are the podcasting world’s version of self-help books.
Everyone has advice they know works because it worked for them. That’s anecdotal as shit. They’ll be more than happy to sell you their formula and give you all the steps you need to find out in 3-months that what worked for them won’t work for you. Your show is different, you are different, and there are only a few strategies that work universally.
What I’m telling you to do is what works for everyone:
- Prevent yourself from making bad content by making content you know and care about.
- Leverage Facebook’s outrageously powerful ads platform to help others discover your podcasts.
- Use incentivized mailings lists and giveaways to grow an initial captive audience.
- Create an affordable members-only product which doesn’t add to your overhead and begins working towards the covering of your overhead.
- Successfully cover your overhead, keep your day job, and use your early profits to expand on your marketing plan.
- Be patient until podcast (and related media) revenues allow you to make the jump to full-time content creator.
This works. This is affordable. This is easy. Do this.
*In regards to being hyper-niche: this absolutely can work, but you’re skirting the line between independent passion content and something which requires a more business approach. In this example you could probably corner the market on knitting subscription boxes (which likely already exists) by beginning to think of your podcast as a piece of content marketing for a service or product. The two ways to monetize a podcast are to monetize its audience by way of member-only subscriptions or sponsor CPMs, OR to use it as the mouth to a sales funnel for a product, service, app, or what have you. If after reflecting upon this, you think the latter is a better option for you, there’s a different strategy that should be employed. I will likely write about it in the future. If you have questions, reach out email@example.com.