Like everything else, launching a podcast is simply a matter of taking the right steps, mostly in the right order. Eventually you’ll end up with a finished product, and if you plan ahead, that product has a better chance of being good. Now that I’ve got The Build Cycle podcast up and running with a solid number of downloads, it’s time to share how I did it.
0. Determine your podcast’s niche
Before you read any further, decide what your podcast will be about, and how it will be different or better (or both) than what is already out there. If you’re not sure what else is out there, go search and listen. There are a million podcasts with new ones launching daily. If you’re just doing one because its en vogue, you’re wasting your time. Your podcast needs to stand out in some way. No pressure, but your first episode HAS TO BE GOOD!
Things to consider:
- Why am I creating a podcast? What’s my goal? (opening doors to talk to others? marketing my goods? creating a personal brand? becoming a thought leader?)
- Who is my audience? (as in, who do you want it to be?)
- What value can I offer that audience?
- What is my podcast’s niche? (how will it be different? better? why would someone listen to my podcast over others in the same category?)
Now that you know what you’ll be talking about and why, here are the basic steps to launch a podcast:
1. Listen to other podcasts.
Find a few highly recommended podcasts in different subject matters and listen to them for a couple months. Yes, a couple months. This gives you time to see how they change from week to week, but also notice where they’re consistent. You want both consistency and variety. Consistency of format, variety of content. We’ll come back to that. What I noticed about the best podcasts was that they all had a consistent format to the beginning, middle and end. Production quality was also fairly decent, with unique music and introductions, usually using a different voice than the host’s for the intro.
2. Decide on your format.
For The Build Cycle, I came up with the following sequence:
- The Summary: who I’m interviewing and why it’s worth listening to. Mine is 50 seconds because I want people to quickly get into the main interview, and it keeps me from rambling. This is where I hope to hook you into listening past…
- The Intro: this is the same on every episode, so it feels familiar.
- The Interview: I use a simple format without internal breaks or sound effects to minimize post-editing time. I record with a Zoom H5, in person when possible or via Skype using eCamm Call Recorder.
- The Outro: The recap of the interview, calling out my highlights and key points. This is usually 60 seconds of recap followed by 30-40 seconds of…
- The Calls to Action: What do I want listeners to do next? Follow my blog? Subscribe on iTunes? Download something? Find me on social media?
3. Design and record your intro.
And outro, as needed. I used Garage Band to create the music and had my friend Anna Schwinn record the intro voiceover. I wanted someone else’s voice for the intro to provide a very clear break between my summary intro and the main interview. You don’t have to do this, but every good podcast I’ve heard has some way of clearly segueing from one part to the next. For the outro, I created a similar piece of music that I can loop as needed for length, then fade out.
This part is very important to make your podcast sound professional. You could just start talking, but music and a 3rd party intro gives it presence. I’ve had numerous compliments saying it “sounded very well produced, especially for a new podcast.” You want listeners focusing on the content, not any flaws in sound production.
4. Find a host.
iTunes, Stitcher and the other players don’t actually host your podcast audio files, so you will need to host those files somewhere. You could host your podcast audio files anywhere you want -your own servers, Box, DropBox, Amazon AWS, etc.- but you don’t want to. You want to use a service that specializes in this because they make it very easy to attach artwork (like a cover image) to each episode and will create the RSS feed for you. The RSS feed is what you provide to iTunes, etc., and that’s how they find your podcast episodes, artwork, and anything else they need. They also provide an embeddable player like you see above, making it easy for people to listen to the episode directly from your website.
I researched several top-rated podcast hosts and chose Podbean. It’s affordable, has all of the features of more expensive hosts, is well rated, and provides good download analytics.
5. Brand your Podcast
You need a good name, and then a good logo. Look through iTunes’ top rated charts in all the categories and you’ll see that most of those podcasts have catchy logos and names. And those logos pop, even in the small square shape on your small rectangular phone screen. This is the low hanging fruit for getting people to check it out. Ideally the name is both catchy and relevant to your subject matter.
Then, I use this theme to create individual episode images like this. The square one is the cover image that shows up in iTunes, etc., and works well for posting to Instagram, and the rectangular one works best for Twitter. Either one works well for Facebook.
6. Create your podcast template
If you’re doing this yourself, I recommend Apple’s Garage Band. Pat Flynn’s YouTube tutorial on how to create a podcast in Garage Band is excellent and comprehensive, so no need for me to recreate that here. For PC (and Mac, too), check out Audacity – it’s free, and I’ve read good review for it, but haven’t tried it personally. Not sure about other alternatives, but Google probably has a few ideas. In this step (watch the video in link above), you’re simply creating the template for a Master Episode, then it’s time to…
7. Invite good guests to be interviewed
Use any connections you have to line up interesting subjects. Since I run the world’s largest cycling tech blog, it was easy for me to get some heavy hitters in the bicycle industry to come on the show. But I quickly branched out from there to include climbers, other publishers, etc., to keep the variety and interest level high.
Or just cold call people that would be interesting. People are usually flattered you want to hear their story. I’ve only had one brand turn me down (something about the family owners being very private). My strategy has been to contact well known people, and continue to ask more and more well-known people or brands with every episode. Your audience wants to hear about people and brands they already know and care about, so be sure to mix those in with some unknowns and surprises.
One caveat: I’ve heard the same “origin story” for Tim Ferriss and Tony Robbins on a million podcasts. I don’t want to hear it again. If you’re interviewing someone that’s a regular guest on other media outlets, find something new to talk about rather than have them regurgitate the same story they’ve told in every other interview. They’ll appreciate it, and it’ll pay dividends in growing your listenership.
I provide each guest with a Pre-Interview Checklist to give them a heads up of what we’ll talk about. More importantly, it lets them know they’ll need to have a mic, a quiet place, and about an hour dedicated to being a guest. The microphone is very important. Without it, volume levels can vary dramatically, and if they’re talking directly into a phone’s mic, you might end up with a lot of sharp “S” and “K” sounds that crackle during playback. And if they’re using a built-in mic on a laptop, you’ll probably get feedback and crappy sound.
8. Record your first five episodes
When you first connect with the guest, talk a little and check volume levels. Some of this you can fix in post-production, but if you can get your volume close to theirs from the start, the end product will be better. If the “S” and “K” sounds pop or crackle when they’re talking, ask them to move a little further from the microphone. If they don’t have one, you could ask them to try putting it on speakerphone and see if that works (might be too much ambient noise). Hit record.
Then go ahead and produce the first three episodes. Make sure the sound levels are consistent between speakers, intro and outro. Nothing’s worse than a low talker paired with a loud host (or vice versa). The sound variables are too great, making it very difficult to listen to, particularly when driving or in a noisy environment. You can usually fix this in post production. Mostly, I leave the conversation unedited. Occasionally I’ll remove any pauses that are too long and aren’t needed for effect, but I try to leave the conversation as it happened.
If you want to get fancy, you could intersperse the audio equivalent of chapter headings and side notes – a good example of this is NPR’s How I Built This podcast. But it takes a lot more production work, and they have an entire studio of people to produce for them. If you don’t plan on producing the episodes yourself, just Google “podcast producers” and you’ll find plenty of folks willing to turn your raw interview audio into a finished product.
9. Upload the first three episodes
Virtually every pro podcaster recommends uploading your first three episodes at once, then letting iTunes and Stitcher know about them. This increases the likelihood that you’ll get more downloads right off the bat because any subscribers will automatically get three, tripling your initial numbers. Having been there, done that, I recommend having the first five episodes recorded and ready, then trickling #4 and #5 out over the next week, then getting into a steady rhythm of weekly episodes. Why? Because a) things sometimes come up that prevent you from sticking to your schedule, so I like to have a few in the bank just in case; and b) because if you can maintain momentum and keep getting more downloads, you might end up in iTunes’ New & Noteworthy section, which means you’ll be instantly put in front of millions of potential listeners. You only get the first eight weeks after launch to make this happen, so…
10. Promote the heck out of it
Ideally, you’ve pre-hyped your podcast. Maybe even built up an email list that you can alert when it goes live. As soon as you’ve uploaded your podcast and it’s showing up in iTunes, promote the heck out of it to your audience. Consider social media ads targeting your audience, too. The more subscribers, comments, ratings and downloads you can garner in the first few weeks, the better.
My promotional process starts about an hour after publishing an episode (to give it time to populate in iTunes, etc.) and looks like this:
- Post an episode-specific story with show notes to The Build Cycle blog (immediately)
- Post link to story on The Build Cycle Facebook (+1 hour)
- Post link to story on The Build Cycle Twitter (+1 hour)
- Post link to story on The Build Cycle Instagram (+1 hour)
- Post link to story on my personal social media channels (+3-4 hours)
- Send links and episode cover images to the interviewee and ask that they share with their audience and social media followers (+1 day)
- Post link to story on my cycling website, Bikerumor, if subject matter is relevant to that audience. This automatically sends it out to Bikerumor Facebook and Twitter. (+2 days)
- Post story with iTunes, Stitcher & Google Play links to Medium (+3 days)
- Post story with iTunes, Stitcher & Google Play links to LinkedIn (+3 days)
- Tim Ferris describes how he built a #1 ranked podcast (LINK)
- Pat Flynn’s YouTube tutorial on how to create a podcast in Garage Band