Towards the end of last year, I started mentally toying with the idea of doing a podcast. I regularly listened to various shows and had always enjoyed podcasts but for whatever reason, I had never really given any thought to doing my own.
But the more I considered it, the more intrigued with the idea I became. For much of my career, I’ve made a living as a professional speaker, primarily talking to high school and college students. I had built a solid business offline but now was eager to start something online.
On May 27, we formally launched the How Did You Get Into That? podcast. I had no idea what to expect and given how quiet most shows are about numbers and downloads, it’s tough to really even know what’s “good” and what’s not.
But with a lot of hard work and hustle, our show was downloaded 100,000+ times in 62 days… all without having an existing audience.
Here are the 12 keys that really helped us launch strong, gain traction, and rapidly grow our audience.
1. Create An Avatar For Your Show
Who is listening? Why are they listening? Where do they listen? What guests do they want to hear? If you want to put together a podcast just as a hobby or something just for fun, then sure, it may not make any difference who it is intended for.
But if you plan to use your podcast to help grow an audience and spread your message, you’ve got to be laser focused with who you are making the show for.
In the months leading up to our launch, I wrote out detailed descriptions of who I wanted to help and where they were at in life. I spent hours interviewing people that met those criteria asking them questions about what they were struggling with related to their career and finding and pursuing work they love. I asked about other podcasts they listened to and what they liked and didn’t like.
Every time we recorded an interview with a guest, I would ask questions from the mind of that avatar. What would they want to ask this guest? If I’m in their shoes, what questions would I have?
Keep in mind that people may not know what they actually want. Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
That’s why it’s your job to do the research long before you launch your podcast to figure what your avatar’s pain points would be and how your podcast will help solve those problems.
We’ve got a free guide here at Fizzle to help you create your podcast’s avatar.
2. Carefully Select Your Categories
Within iTunes, there are over 100 different categories you can choose from to have your podcast listed within. You can pick up to three categories, but use your selections wisely. (I know that sounds like a wise old wizard cautioning you on how you use your three wishes.)
Some categories are going to be more competitive than others. Some categories will be easier to rank in than others. Obviously you don’t want to pick a category that is easy to rank in but completely unrelated to your show. That won’t help you.
Depending on the nature of your show, you can probably immediately pick out one or two categories that would be a great fit. But for your other choices, spend some time within iTunes going through those categories and looking at some of the top ranked shows. How many episodes do they have published? How long has their show been around? How many ratings and reviews do they have? The newer they are, the better your chances of ranking with them.
Why is this even important? Remember that iTunes is just a search engine. Often times when people are looking for new shows to listen to, they will pick a category they’re interested in and look at the top ranked charts. The less competitive a category is, the more likely you can rank higher, the more likely visitors to that category will find you.
Within the first few weeks of the show, we were able to consistently rank within the top 10 within the “Careers” category within iTunes and spent several days ranked #1.
We also managed to get to #3 in overall business (behind Dave Ramsey and Tim Ferriss) and as high as #36 in all podcasts within iTunes.
3. Create Quality Artwork
In the land of podcasting, people absolutely judge a show by it’s cover. If you scan through iTunes, you can quickly see some really quality cover art and others that look like they were made by a 3rd grader using Microsoft Paint.
When you browse through shows and look at cover art, what stands out to you? Are there certain colors that pop more than others? Can you read the text?
You want to include the title and give them a snapshot of what the show is about in as few words as possible. Think about it like you’re driving down the interstate scanning billboards. You can’t include a huge paragraph because people won’t take the time to read all of it. A huge key in limiting the number of words you use is picking a good title. If you told a stranger the title of your show, would they have a pretty solid idea of what it was about?
If your show is called “The Awesome Podcast” that’s adorable, but that doesn’t really tell me anything. My podcast is called How Did You Get Into That? and quickly explains it is probably some type of career related show with people doing unique or interesting work.
4. Turn Pro With Your Show
You can have quality audio and a professional sounding intro and outro without breaking the bank. Again, if you want to do a podcast that is just a fun hobby and quality is not that big of a deal to you, there is nothing wrong with that. But if you intend for the podcast to really be part of your marketing and brand arsenal, you have to take it seriously.
If your podcast is a tool to help spread your message and brand, people will associate the quality of the podcast with the quality of your product or service. If your podcast is poor quality, don’t you think potential clients and customers would assume the same about what you’re offering?
The good news is there are plenty of microphone options available at different price points. You don’t have to spend thousands to get a quality sound. You just don’t want to use your internal computer mic. Pat Flynn has a great video tutorial of the various mic options available and Chase here at Fizzle made this great high quality podcast mic shootout. I personally use the Audio-Technica ATR2100 that I picked up on Amazon for just over $50. It sounds great.
Depending on the nature of the show, you may also want to include a professional intro or outro. I had mine done by a guy on Fiverr.com which turned out really well. I wrote the script of what I wanted and had him do a few different takes to get exactly what I was going for. I listened to a variety of other podcast intros, so I knew exactly what I liked and didn’t like. My cost for the intro, outro and transition pieces cost $30.
You can attract people to the show through a variety of tactics and strategies but if you want them to subscribe and stick around, the audio quality has to be there. A great show with horrible audio quality quickly becomes a horrible show.
5. Start With More Than One Episode
When people discover a new TV show on Netflix, they tend to binge-watch and get caught up. (My wife and I once watched an entire season of 24 in a matter of days… huge life accomplishment.)
When people find a new podcast they like, they tend to do the same. They scroll through all the previous episodes they missed and download several (or all) to make sure they didn’t miss anything. If you start with just one episode, what happens to people who download, listen, love it, and want more? They may actually leave never to return.
We chose to launch How Did You Get Into That with 5 episodes. Given that our show is a guest-driven podcast, it made sense to offer several out of the gate since people are more likely to cherry pick the episodes they think will be most relevant to them.
Definitely start with at least three episodes for people to download. Also, remember that however many shows you start with, people are likely to download all of them if they like the first one they hear. So instead of getting one download towards your numbers, you may be getting 5X out of the gate (if you start with five episodes).
6. Pick A Consistent Schedule And Stick To It
Far too many podcasts just release a new episode when they feel like it. Scroll through several podcasts, and you’ll see what I mean. They may go on a streak with a bunch of new episodes, but then it may be crickets for weeks or even months. Don’t do that to your audience.
Pick a consistent schedule and let your audience know to expect new shows on those days. For us, we picked Tuesday and Thursday to release new episodes. It builds that habit within listeners of when they can expect something new.
I can tell you the posting schedule for all my favorite podcasts because it’s ingrained in their listeners (I live for Fizzle Fridays). Buffer suggests one of the best days to release a new episode is Tuesday but generally earlier in the week is better. Regardless of how often you choose to release new episodes, just pick a schedule and stick to it.
Because we are committed to a consistent schedule, we have to plan weeks and months out to make sure we stay on track. This is especially important if you’re doing a guest-interview show. You have to coordinate schedules, do the recording, edit it, create show notes, upload it all to your media host and WordPress, and finally schedule it out.
There are a lot of moving pieces, so you have to think beyond just the current week. We try to stay 2-3 weeks ahead given my travel schedule. Having a buffer insures there are never any gaps or missed release days.
7. Run A Contest
One tactic we had a lot of success with was running a contest when the podcast first launched. We set up a free contest where we gave away an iPad, a $100 gift card to Amazon and a free coaching session with me. There were three tasks to complete in order to enter:
- Subscribe to the podcast.
- Leave us a rating and review.
- Subscribe to our mailing list.
We wanted to make this as simple as possible so we included a list of the sequence to follow with screenshots for each step (we’ve modified the text since the contest is over, but you can see the steps and screenshots at grantbaldwin.com/contest).
We ran this contest for 3 weeks and plugged it in the intro/outro of every episode during that time. We also promoted it on social media and pushed it at every opportunity possible.
Why did we do all this?
Although the iTunes algorithm remains a black box of mystery, we can assume that a few factors are important: adding new subscribers, getting lots of quality ratings and reviews, and having people download the show. The quicker you can get subscribers and ratings/reviews on iTunes, the quicker you can gain traction. Running a contest is just a way to incentivize to people to take the steps that they may not otherwise do.
8. Reach Out To Everyone You Know For Ratings And Reviews
Prior to launching the podcast, I made a list of every friend, family member, and human I could think of that I thought would be willing to leave us a rating and review. Sure, they may have seen the contest promoted or had seen my asking for ratings/reviews on social media, but I wanted to make individual requests for help.
I sent out hundreds of emails and Facebook messages asking for support. I tried to make it as simple as possible. I would show them the screenshots of what I was asking them to do. If I was asking for them to tweet or post on social media about the podcast, I gave them various options they could just copy and paste. I wanted to make it as close to a no-brainer as possible.
Although the general email or message was the same, I tried to tweak parts of it, so it was slightly personalized to each person. That way they knew it wasn’t just a mass spam message.
Get in the habit of continually asking people for ratings and reviews. When I get emails from people who say they love the show, I’ll always include a simple PS in my reply asking if they’d leave us a rating and review. A personal request is generally more effective than a mass appeal.
That being said, be sure to ask people for ratings and reviews on the show itself. Make a simple pretty link for iTunes (grantbaldwin.com/itunes) and Stitcher (grantbaldwin.com/stitcher), so it’s easier for people to remember. Oh, and feel free to leave our show a rating and review.. 😉
9. Find Win-Win Scenarios with Guests
A lot of times when you have guests on your show, they will be interested in promoting that interview to their audience. For example, I’ve been on several podcasts where we’ve talked a lot about the business of speaking. Now when I get emails about how to get started as a speaker, rather than type up a short reply, I can direct them to someone else’s podcast where I covered that topic more in depth.
Not only are they getting info they are looking for from me, but they are being introduced to an entirely new podcast that they may get hooked up and go ahead and subscribe. I know I’ve personally found several shows I’ve started listening to not because I was searching for their specific show but because I was searching for a specific guest that they happened to have on their show.
Having said all that, you should never have a guest on solely because they have a big audience you think they’ll bring to your show. Find guests that can help solve the pain points of the avatar you’re trying to help. And if they can bring their audience to your show, it’s just icing on the cake.
Remember that having a guest on creates a win-win for them too. You are introducing them to your audience, who may not be familiar with who they are and what they do. You are introducing your audience to them and they are introducing their audience to you. Win. Win.
10. Release More Than One Episode Per Week
(Tip: Do this only if you can keep up with it and the quality can remain high.)
In some ways, the number of downloads can just be a vanity metric among podcasters. Getting a lot of downloads can certainly be a numbers game.
If you release 7 episodes a week, you will naturally have more downloads than someone who releases once per week simply because you have 7 times the number of episodes. And while downloads aren’t the only metric to consider, I don’t want to take anything anyway from the fact that whether 100 or 100,000 people download your episodes, those are real humans on the other end you have the ability to impact, teach, inspire or encourage with your work.
If you’re just shooting for more downloads, naturally the more episodes you release, the higher your numbers will be. It’s easier to get to 100,000 downloads with 100 episodes than with 10. The caveat to all this is only release more episodes if you can maintain a high quality level. You can record seven 5-minute episodes in the car and release them over the course of a week, but is that what you want?
Have a level of excellence to your work and make sure to maintain that level regardless of how often you choose to release new episodes.
11. Maximize Time on New & Noteworthy
This section of iTunes is very powerful and is a great way for new listeners to discover your show. Apple is naturally very secretive about how to get on the New & Noteworthy list, but there are a few general assumptions:
- Good quality artwork
- Consistently publish episodes
- Gain subscribers
- Quality ratings and reviews
Thus the importance of trying to get all these things in place from the beginning. The rumor is that you can be on the New & Noteworthy list for up to 8 weeks from your release date. I’ve heard it can be more than that, but again, Apple really doesn’t say. The sooner you can get on it and stay on it, the better.
If you open up the podcasts page within iTunes, the only thing above the fold (on most monitors other than the scrolling banners) is the New & Noteworthy section. You see this section before you even see the top ranked shows!
12. Be A Guest On Other Podcasts
Being a guest on other shows is the podcasting equivalent of guest posting on other blogs. It’s a way to introduce yourself to an entirely new audience who may not otherwise find out about you. When you’re starting out and may be relatively unknown, it can be tougher to get on other shows, but it’s not impossible.
Be realistic about which shows you’re reaching out to. Unless you’ve got some significant prior successes under your belt, most bigger name shows wouldn’t be interested in having you on. Reach out to some up-and-coming shows in your category/niche that you think would be a good fit. This is also why building relationships with other podcasters is so important.
If you’re able to be a guest on a few shows, see if it’s possible for your episode to be released as close to your podcast launch date as possible. That way you’re maximizing your exposure to a new audience.
While there are plenty of tactics, strategies and tips to rapidly grow your audience with a podcast, the bottom line is this:
Produce a quality show people will listen to and want to share.
Slick marketing for a poor podcast will only carry it so far, but taking strategic steps to get a quality podcast out into the world will only speed up it’s reach and impact.
If you’re starting with an audience of one (that one being your mother of course), that’s okay. Everyone starts with one (thanks mom). We started with no audience and were able to get 100,000+ downloads in 62 days. But that didn’t magically happen, and it won’t for you either.
You’ve got to be willing to put in the effort and energy in the pre-launch, during the launch and ongoing to make sure you are creating a quality show people will listen to and want to share.
Note from Caleb: We shared this post from Grant not just because we each had a blast on his podcast (which we did), but because he is solid interviewer, branded his show well, and had a great launch. Today, you can find Grant over at TheSpeakerLab.com.