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Podcasting has come a long way from its origins in the 1980s (when it was originally called audio blogging) and has become a highly-accessible medium through which to entertain, share expertise, tell stories—and, yes, make money.
The progress in widely available technology means that all you need is a device with a microphone to join in the podcasting game. Podcasts come in all shapes and sizes and cover a kaleidoscope of topics. So no matter what your interest or specialty is, there’s a place for your podcast too.
What’s more, anyone can turn their podcast into an income stream. In this article, we’ll explore step-by-step how to make a successful podcast and the ways in which you can maximize its financial benefits.
Why Start a Podcast?
One of the great benefits of podcasts is that listeners can enjoy them anywhere and at any time. Easily downloaded onto a phone or other device, people listen to podcasts on their commute, at the gym, at the beach, or while doing the housework.
Podcasts can entertain and educate people as they go about their daily lives, fitting into their schedules as needed but without requiring their undivided attention. This means you can reach a large and diverse audience, and because podcasts are a versatile medium, it lends itself to a wide range of topics and formats.
You could create a scripted history podcast that covers little-known events from the past. Or, start a podcast aimed at entrepreneurs that gives advice on everything from budgeting tips to the best business phone system app. The options really are endless, so if you feel you have something to contribute, go for it.
Is It Hard to Start a Podcast?
There are certainly challenges entailed with starting a podcast. As with any new endeavor, it takes time to learn the ropes, particularly when it comes to the technical side of things. Recording and editing well are skills that you will need to hone, but there is plenty of easy-to-use software and equipment that can help you with that.
It may also take time for you to find the right format and style for your podcast and to build an audience. Be patient; very few podcasts become overnight hits or make big money overnight. But if you’re willing to learn and keep working at it, podcasts remain one of the top online ideas for creating multiple income streams.
Can You Start a Podcast With No Money?
Yes, it is absolutely possible to start a podcast, even if you don’t have any money. You can use the microphone on devices you will likely already have, such as your phone or laptop. Plus, there are lots of free editing apps, software options, and hosting platforms you can use.
There’s no doubt that spending a little money when you have it will help you create a better podcast. Investing in recording equipment will result in a cleaner and more professional sound. Plus, purchasing recording and editing software with more advanced features will make producing your podcast easier.
However, it isn’t necessary to make a serious financial outlay at the beginning. Start only with the free and low-cost options you can afford, and after you have built your following and explored your monetization options, you can then consider investing your earnings into improving your equipment and production quality.
What Makes a Podcast Successful?
Though there is no perfect formula for a successful podcast, there are a number of contributing factors that are required. Read on for a step-by-step guide to creating a successful, money-making podcast.
1. Find Your Niche
The saying goes that you should write about what you know, and similar wisdom should be applied to starting a podcast. To create a successful show, you should find a niche that plays to your strengths, whether that’s your experience, skills, or passion.
Don’t be dissuaded if you feel that you have huge enthusiasm for a hobby or topic, but you’re no expert. People will respond to that enthusiasm and love. It’s more than enough to help you create a podcast that resonates with your target audience—which brings us to the next point.
2. Check Out the Competition
The reality is that with podcasting being such an open and diverse landscape, the chances are you will already have well-established competitors to consider. Seek out podcasts that focus on your chosen topic or are similar in style. Spend lots of time listening to them and making notes about what works and what doesn’t.
This will help you understand how to create a successful podcast in that genre, but it will also make sure that what you create is original. You want to find an approach to your podcast that hasn’t already been done, and listening to what already exists will help steer you right.
It is important when doing this not to become discouraged by how many other podcasts there are or become preoccupied with how you can compete with them. If people are out there wondering how to make money as an artist and you have the experience and know-how—trust that they’ll want to hear from you.
3. Pick a Format
There are a number of tried and tested formats that can help you to start creating your podcast:
- Panel discussion. This format brings multiple guests together with the host for discussion or debate on your chosen subject. These podcasts tend to be dynamic and highly engaging and allow for opposing viewpoints and diverse insights. Listen to The Writer’s Panel with Ben Blacker for inspiration.
- Solo. Choose this format if you want to go it alone. It’s a great way to share your knowledge or experience and create a more personal relationship with your audience. It can be a bit more challenging to keep it engaging, but if you’re confident you can speak at length on any given topic, it’s still achievable. A great example of this format is The Lazy Genius Podcast.
- Co-hosted. Podcasts that have two hosts work well, especially when they have great chemistry. This format can cover a whole range of topics, but its universal appeal comes from the feeling that you are part of an engaging conversation between friends. My Favorite Murder showcases this format well.
- Interview. This format involves at least one host interviewing guests about topics that can be as broad or as specific as you like. It’s a great way to share many different people’s life experiences and expertise, and skilled interviewers create very popular content. How To Fail With Elizabeth Day is a highly-successful interview podcast.
- Scripted. There are two main types of scripted podcasts: fiction and non-fiction. This is the format to choose if you want to tell compelling stories in a professional way, played out over the course of a series or within single-contained episodes. Serial is a famous scripted non-fiction podcast, and Homecoming is a popular scripted fiction show.
Of course, you do not need to adhere strictly to these formats. There are no rules against playing around and using a combination of all of them if that’s what works for you.
4. Create a Memorable Title
If you’ve already researched other podcasts in your genre, you’ll be well-placed to create an original title for your own. You want it to be memorable, so a good rule of thumb is to keep it short and punchy.
It’s a good idea to make it clear what the topic is about, as this increases the chance that potential listeners will be drawn to your new podcast. Take your time and look at different options, such as a single-word title, wordplay, or even puns (if you think it’s appropriate).
5. Make a Plan for Your First Episode
Your first episode is what will win you your first listeners, so carefully consider the topic. Say you are making a podcast about your experience traveling and working remotely; you might cover the best places for digital nomad visas. This makes it clear straight away what the podcast is about and promises to be an interesting subject for your audience.
Then no matter what your format is, make sure you create an outline of how you want the episode to play out. This will help to keep the episode focused and on track, and it will also give you an idea of how long the recording will be.
6. Record and Edit Your First Episode
When you are recording your first episode, remember the most important element is to find somewhere that is quiet. This doesn’t need to be a recording studio; many successful podcasts are recorded in the comfort of the host’s home—just make sure you don’t have too much ambient sound coming through.
As it’s your first recording session, it may take a while. You’ll almost certainly have to re-record some parts or take a break, so set aside plenty of time. Then use editing software to remove any mistakes, improve timing and pacing and refine volume levels.
7. Create a Website and Social Media Pages
If you want to make your podcast successful, you have to establish your brand, and that means you need a social media presence and a website. Both of these are great ways to build your audience loyalty, giving them the opportunity to further engage with your podcast.
But it can also help bring in new listeners. If someone searches on YouTube for “How to become a successful writer” and finds on your page a video clip of your podcast on that very topic, there’s a good chance you’ll get a new subscriber.
8. Use Keywords Wisely
When you are writing your episode descriptions and titles, you want to use keywords that will help potential listeners to find your podcast easily. If your podcast is about tech innovations and you have an episode reviewing a cloud based business phone system, including words like technology, business, and phone would be a good idea.
However, avoid using too many keywords, as this will likely have the opposite effect. Podcast platforms are strict on any attempts to rig the search results and will potentially remove your podcast from the directory.
9. Create an RSS Feed
Creating an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed is a critical step in podcasting. It enables the distribution of your podcast to different platforms and makes it easy for listeners to subscribe and receive automatic updates. Essentially, it acts as a central hub that delivers your podcast episodes.
Your RSS feed serves as a bridge between your podcast and different directories. Therefore, it is important to make sure your feed is compatible with major directories and that you validate it before submission. There are online tools and validators that will help you do this.
10. Start an Account With Podcast Platforms and Submit Your First Episode
There are several popular platforms you will want to get your podcast on, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Audible, and Google Podcasts. They all have large audiences, and most have free options for users.
Set up your account with as many of them as your wish. When submitting your first episode, follow their submission guidelines carefully alongside any relevant artwork and additional information that will help attract listeners.
How Does Starting a Podcast Make Money?
Whether your podcast is a comedy panel show about current events or an educational tech series that answers questions like “What is a CDN?”—there are plenty of ways to monetize your podcast and potentially generate income in 2023.
Donations and Tips
This is the simplest way to start earning some money from your podcast. All you need to do is mention in every episode a way your listeners can tip or donate to help support the show, such as via PayPal or Venmo.
You can also include instructions in the show description to make it even easier for them to donate. You can encourage listeners to tip you by being transparent about how you intend to use the money, e.g., to buy better equipment.
Advertise Your Own Services
Utilize your podcast to promote your own relevant products or services. Say you provide coaching services to people starting their own businesses, and you record an episode about the benefits of being an entrepreneur.
You can very organically include a mention of how people can access your personal coaching services. You’ve already set yourself up as an authority during the podcast, and your audience is listening because they’re interested in the topic, so this can be a lucrative way of generating new business.
One of the reasons podcasts are so popular is that they are generally free to listen to. However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an opportunity to provide premium content that your most avid listeners will be willing to pay for.
You can use platforms such as Patreon to offer additional episodes or other perks and benefits that can be purchased either through a one-off payment or membership. Tiered memberships with increasing benefits are a great way to offer premium content for different budgets.
Sponsored Ads and Affiliate Codes
Partnering with brands that are preferably relevant to your podcast topic is a great way to generate income with your podcast. This usually takes the form of reading out a scripted advertisement during the podcast that the brand will pay you for.
They may also give you affiliate codes or links that your listeners can use for a discount on their products or services, which you then get a commission for. However, sponsored ads will usually only be an option once you’ve built a significant audience, at which point you may find they come to you.
If you want to get the ball rolling with advertising opportunities, join an advertising network. These networks act as middle-man between podcasters and sponsors and can be a great way to get your first advertising opportunities.
They also handle revenue terms and sharing, with the podcaster usually getting the majority share and the network taking a cut. Many podcasters find this worth it as it means the financial management is taken off their hands.
Can you make a living off a podcast?
While there are some podcasters so successful they are raking in millions a year, this is difficult to achieve—although clearly not impossible. Certainly, in the beginning, you should manage your expectations and plan to build your audience and income from your podcast gradually.
Combining your podcast with other work is a good place to start, and indeed, a podcast can be a great way to also boost your other income streams. With time, dedication, and patience, it is possible to grow your podcast and the money it makes so it can become your sole income.
Start your podcast in 2023
Podcasts are a highly-accessible medium for entertainment, education, and income generation. Starting a podcast requires learning and perseverance, but it can be done with minimal financial investment. Follow the steps outlined above to create a successful podcast and start a new income stream in 2023.
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