“We’re starting a podcast!” said just about everyone during the pandemic. Podcasting has taken the world by storm in the last few years, some projecting over a half-billion listeners by 2024. During a period of uncertainty amid a worldwide pandemic, people searched for new ways to connect with the world. For some, podcasting helped fill that gap. So what’s the deal with this magic medium?
For starters, the surprisingly simple format of podcasts capitalizes on inefficiencies within traditional media, such as TV’s high attention requirement. Easy-listening podcast episodes, in contrast, are a great option for spicing up the menial tasks in our lives, like the morning commute, household chores, or waiting in lines. They also give access to authentic, real-world conversations on hyper-specific topics you might not find on your favorite streaming platform. And I think I saved the best part about podcasts for last: they’re almost always free.
I’m sure most of you reading this have at least considered starting a podcast of your own. If you’re thinking now’s the time to take that leap, here are some things to consider before you lay down a few hundred bucks for a new mic.
Step 1: Who is your audience?
For many subjects, your audience is a natural extension of the topic. Want to start a podcast about rock climbing? Your target audience will probably consist of rock climbers. But let’s say you’re breaking into the true crime genre—who will your audience be then? Hopefully the answer isn’t criminals; so in those cases you may need to do a bit of research to discover how many potential listeners are in your market, and just how many competitors have already saturated the space (in the case of true crime, the answer to both of those questions is a lot). Whatever your topic, it’s important you build a connection with your audience and understand how they think, then make content that’s relevant to them. When RevRoad and CBVault teamed up to launch The Midnight Founders Podcast, entrepreneurs and founders were the obvious choice.
Remember that most audiences also appreciate consistency, and it will help you too. If your followers can depend on a certain time of the week for a release, it’s easier to work your content into their schedules so they can make a habit of listening on a regular basis! Also, if you record at the same time each week, it’s much easier to coordinate schedules, invite guests in advance, and make preparations than if you’re just playing it by ear. For our podcast, we followed this advice carefully—recording every Wednesday afternoon and launching a previous episode that same midnight (an ode to our title). You might say we have distribution down to a science!
Step 2: What makes your podcast unique?
There were over 4 million podcasts as of March 2022 as identified by The Podcast Index. When anyone with an internet connection and a microphone (and yes, that includes many pairs of Apple earbuds) can start their own podcast, how do you expect to stand out from the crowd? This isn’t a question you can simply glance over during the planning phase—you need a hook to get people to listen. Don’t expect to replicate the strategies of big name podcasters and draw the same kinds of crowds within the year. Think of something that no one else has.
For some, that hook is exclusive guests who won’t speak to just anyone. Other podcasters concentrate on information or stories that have flown under the radar. However, what seems to be a popular hook that keeps listeners coming back for more is personality, the general feel that the hosts and guests exude. The right tone will draw out an emotional response in your viewers, whether that be rolling on the floor laughing, sitting on the edge of their seat, or lost in a sea of ideas.
On The Midnight Founders, our hook has always been focusing on founder stories, startups deep in the building phase of their lifespan, as opposed to those who have already achieved their financial goals. That way, we get to give and receive advice related to real startup experiences with those who are living it, down in the trenches of entrepreneurship life.
When users can really resonate with your podcast’s tone, it even becomes possible for your viewership to feel connections to people they’ve never met. Thanks to our “Where can we find you?” segment, we’ve had cases of our audience reaching out to our guests to take those connections into the real world. We’d recommend taking a similar approach at the end of each episode, letting your guest share their favorite platforms and build their audience as a thank you for being on the show.
Step 3: What form of podcast will you make?
Many people are surprised when they find out that some of the most downloaded podcasts in the world are long…like really long. The #1 Podcast in the world, The Joe Rogan Experience, frequently releases episodes that exceed 3 hours in length. And his podcast isn’t an outlier either; it’s not uncommon for other podcast fans to sit through two, three, or even four hour sessions in their entirety.
However, the question is whether long-format podcasts are right for you as you’re starting out.
Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before diving straight into a three-hour session:
Can you keep people engaged long enough to take on a longer format, or should you play it safe with content that’s short and sweet?
When it comes to stories, many people like shorter, more digestible segments that mimic television formats they’re normally used to. If you’re having a conversation, also remember that it’s a lot easier to go completely off the rails within a three-hour block than it is in just 45 minutes.
On The Midnight Founders, my co-host Jake McHargue from CB Vault and I decided to aim for around 40 minutes per episode so they could easily fit within a daily commute. We’ve found that this length is long enough to cover the meat of our various topics, while short enough to remain interesting and on-topic throughout.
Do you have a team prepared to record for long stretches? Is your guest willing to sit down for three hours straight?
Pay close attention to the resources you have at your disposal and avoid spreading yourself too thin, especially if you’re going it alone. Prepping for long-format podcasts obviously takes much more time than short-form episodes, so be ready for a hefty time commitment on- and off- record if you’re going for full-feature content, and don’t expect every guest to forfeit their entire afternoon for you.
Audio or video?
When choosing a format, either video or audio alone, don’t overlook the cost of video equipment. In order to capture high-quality video at a flattering angle, you may need new cameras, tripods, lighting, or even a videographer/editor to ensure the recording is smooth. You also need to start a YouTube channel or other platform to house and play these larger video files. And lastly for video, you must consider whether your host has the charm you’re looking for. Many people freeze up when they know they’re on camera, while audio is much less intimidating, leading us to our next point.
Step 4: Who is going to host it?
So you and your buddy are thinking of starting a podcast together, but can’t decide who should be the host. Maybe you’re both equally outgoing and want to take up the mantle, or both equally shy and can’t decide who to pass the buck to. Then you get an idea: what if you both bite the bullet and host the podcast together?
While the world of podcasting is filled with tons of multi-host programs, keep in mind your coordination must be on point to really pull this one off. Without proper preparation, it’s easy for hosts to accidentally interrupt or talk over one another, leading to either one personality dominating the conversation or just total chaos and narrative dissonance. Even Jake and I found this balance tricky at first. One of us would often ask a question that led the conversation in a totally different direction than the other was planning. While we eventually found our groove, it’s up to you to decide if the benefits of co-hosting outweigh the difficulties. You could even try using a single host and switch off until you find the best fit for the position. Then after more practice, you could consider joint hosting.
Step 5: What is your podcast’s “personality”?
As mentioned earlier, many podcasters rely on a unique personality to keep listeners coming back for more, week after week. But how do you discover your podcast’s personality before you’ve even started? You can’t just turn on your mic and wing it, can you? While many podcasts “find their voice” through trial and error, moving toward what feels best over time, it’s smart to go in with a game plan and an atmosphere you want to foster on set.
First, consider your subject matter and shoot for a mood that coincides with the topic. You probably don’t want to be cracking jokes during a serious discussion about history’s most brutal dictators.
Second, prepare a set of questions to ask your guests beforehand, especially when you’re just starting out. This may sound obvious, but it’s easy to forget your notes sheet at home, and you don’t want to be coming up with all your discussion topics on the fly; trust me.
Third, while I recommend keeping your notes sheet close, it’s also important to venture off the script when it feels right. Listeners can tell and are normally turned off when an episode feels forced or unnatural. Guests will open up more and often give their best material when the tone is conversational as opposed to a Q&A.
Finally, it’s helpful to have a set question that you ask your guest at the close of each episode. The audience and guests who know your podcast will cling to that consistency every week. Several questions include:
- “What has your success allowed you to do?”
- “What is one nugget of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs?”
- “What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done as a founder?”
The question we ask each time is, “What makes you a midnight founder?” which ties into our theme nicely. We get some crazy, funny, and heartfelt stories thanks to this question.
It’s Launch Time
At long last. The podcast is ready and you have some nice mp3 or mp4 files just waiting to hit the world wide web. But wait. How do you make your podcast launch go off without a hitch? Don’t worry, we’ve got some tips for you there too!
- Finding good guests is hard, especially when you have yet to prove yourself as a good podcaster. Start with personal contacts you already have a report with to get the ball rolling.
- Identify your main team behind the camera (or audio equipment) while scheduling each episode, not five minutes prior to recording. You don’t want to have your guest sitting there waiting for your team to show up.
- Make sure you choose a solid hosting platform to distribute your episodes. We use Podbean and highly recommend it. Some other options are BuzzSprout, Libsyn, and Anchor.
- Be patient; getting your podcast approved by Spotify and Apple Podcasts can take one or two days, and in some cases even longer.
- We know you’re anxious to get listed and watch the viewers pile in, but hold up. Build up at least 12 episodes before launch. If you want to maintain that consistency I mentioned earlier, you’re going to need some buffer room so you’re not scrambling to record each and every week to remain on schedule.
- Before hitting publish, put some thought into a detailed intro for each episode so listeners can preview your content before they play.
There you have it! Everything you need to know to start building your podcast. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for your big launch!