How to Start a Podcast: The Ultimate Pre-Launch Checklist for Every New Podcast Host, Including Gear and Software

Sean Lund-Brown

It isn’t that difficult to start a podcast if we're being honest. But the low barrier to entry means that quality varies—a lot. Podcasts are becoming increasingly popular. Spotify, for example, has well over 3.2 million podcasts on its platform. No matter your interest or hobby, you can be sure that someone has produced a podcast about it.

Your goal should be to produce a high-quality program that earns a loyal following. We'll cover everything you need to check off before producing a successful podcast that attracts a listener base who actually listens.

Podcasting 101

The recently coined word ‘podcast’ is a combo-collab of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast.’ But this isn't to say that you need an iPod to listen to a podcast.  Although most podcasts are audio, there are video podcasts available. However, audio offers much more flexibility than video since you can multitask while listening, while video demands undivided attention.

A podcast is like a radio program but, unlike live radio, you can listen to a podcast whenever and wherever you wish. For example, BBC radio is famous for the quality of its programs, but not everyone can tune in at the same time each week. Recognizing this, the BBC has made much of its content available as individual podcasts you can download to your phone. You can listen to your favorite program when and wherever you want.

The popularity growth for podcasts goes hand in hand with a broader adaptation of new media. It's part of a wide-scale change that has seen more and more people watch movies on streaming services and do their shopping online.

Who listens to podcasts?

Source: Statista

Many people listen to podcasts because of the flexibility they offer. You can listen to a favorite program while out for a jog, driving to work, in the gym, or relaxing on the sofa. Edison Research states that over 80 million Americans listen to podcasts weekly.

Most people use their smartphones to listen to podcasts, and currently, 88% of Americans twelve years old and over own a smartphone. What do we learn from this? Podcasts are readily available to an ever-increasing audience.

As the large market for podcasts continues to grow, Edison's demographic findings suggest that the typical podcast listener is a white male who earns more than the national average. But that sort of blanket statistic doesn't apply when every podcast targets a specific niche.

The advantages of podcasting

We've already mentioned that podcasting offers the listener flexibility. But, for the podcaster, the format has other advantages that you should consider. These include:

Length

How long your audio podcast is will depend on the content. But a podcast could range from a two-minute bulletin to a three-hour in-depth report. Any length is possible. A happy medium would be a podcast of thirty minutes. This is long enough to go into detail about your topic, but not so long that you risk losing your audience’s attention.

Format

Some podcasts simply feature the host talking about a subject; others might have many people involved. There is, of course, no reason why you shouldn’t vary the format from episode to episode.

In one, you might like to interview a guest. The next might have a panel, and some episodes might just have you as the host. This depends on you and your content. It's a good idea to vary your format occasionally.

Frequency

You can choose how often you produce your podcast. Posting could be daily, weekly, monthly, or just occasionally. You'll want to release your podcast regularly — this will allow you to plan and fit your podcast into your schedule.

Subject matter

A podcast can be about anything under the sun. If you are tying your podcast to your business, you should choose a topic that has wide, general appeal. Just because your company makes widgets doesn't mean that your podcast has to be about widgets.

Your subject might be the history of Japan, with your business named as host. Think of ‘Texaco Star Theater’, which ran for nearly twenty years on radio and TV and was not exclusively about Texaco.

Captive audience

If your podcast is successful, you will find that you quickly build a loyal audience. This is great publicity for your business. We will talk more about this because getting and keeping your listeners is the most difficult part of podcasting.

Getting started

You have to think about how to begin before you jump in feet first. Here is more information about what you should consider.

Space, equipment, and software

One of the main reasons podcasting is booming is that you don’t need to buy expensive equipment. This also explains why some podcasts are of such low quality. Here are the essentials that you'll want to invest in:

A quiet place for recording

You don’t have to rent studio time, but you will need to find a place to record without interruptions. Your microphone could pick up external noise that drowns out your voice. Choose a space with no noisy machinery that's isolated from external noise like excess traffic or planes taking off. If you're recording at home, keep the kids out.

Microphone

The microphone on your laptop might be perfectly adequate if yours is the only voice you are recording. However, if you are recording an interview or have a group of guests, it's worth investing in a good external microphone. A wide range of microphones on the market at a wide range of prices is at your disposal.

Three well-reviewed (and reasonably priced) choices are: Blue Yeti USB at around $150, Rode NT USB priced around $170, and the slightly more expensive Shure MV7, which will cost you around $250. Shop around since there are frequent offers. You might also check to see if someone is selling one secondhand.

Recording and editing software

The right software makes recording and editing much easier. You might be one of those rare people who can record a program from start to finish with no awkward pauses, with no mispronunciations, and without sneezing. Most people, however, will find that they need to play around a bit before releasing their podcast.

Many software packages, some free, can make your podcast sound more professional. Auphonic, a mobile app, is well thought of, as is Camtasia. So far, so good. You have a comfortable space to work in and all the equipment you need. What’s next on your checklist?

Choosing the right name

Many other podcasts vie for an audience, so the name you give your podcast can be an important means of attracting listeners. There are two main ways to title your podcast:

A personal name

This could be your name or, perhaps, the name of your business. The problem with this is that the name gives no clue as to the content. If you call your podcast ‘The Jane Doe Show,’ you will need to add a subtitle to explain a theme like ‘A Weekly Look at the News in Miami,’ for example.

Content-related names

Here the name tells the listener what to expect. An example of this might be ‘The History of Japan.' You can use a subtitle here if you want to be more specific, like ‘From the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day.’ The big problem with content-related names is that they can limit the audience to those specifically interested in the subject.

Choosing a host

It's easy to find a podcast host. Amongst many popular and reliable ones are Buzzsprout, Kinsta, and Bluehost. The one you choose will depend on your budget and your needs.

If you write a book, your book has to be available to readers. With a book, a publisher takes on the responsibility for distributing and publicizing your work.

A podcast host does the equivalent job for your podcast. The host will keep your program on file and send it to podcast directories (think of a podcast directory as a bookshop).

There are a considerable number of podcast hosts out there. They offer a variety of services, and the one you choose depends on the service you want. You should expect to pay anything from $5 to $50 dollars a month, depending on the features you're looking for.

Free hosting services are available. But you get what you pay for. Some of the free services are not very dependable, and some disappear completely, taking your podcasts with them.

Podcast design

Source: Eggs the Podcast

You might not think that visual impact is important when considering an audio podcast, but your show will be hosted on a platform. When vinyl records were popular, record companies soon realized that sleeve design was important. It's the same with podcasts.

Your host will offer your podcast on a virtual shelf along with dozens of others. What makes yours stand out? Choose a design that identifies your podcast brand and a design for individual episodes.

This is a question of personal taste. You might choose an abstract design or something directly relevant to your content. A podcast about homeschooling might feature your child’s drawings, while some of your own photographs might illustrate a podcast about travel. Websites like unsplash.com provide free-to-use stock photographs.

Music

Try having a short clip of engaging music to open and close your podcast. This helps to identify your brand as a podcaster. The music you choose is up to you but make sure you aren't infringing copyright. Remember that this music can set the tone for your audience as well. If you run an energetic marketing podcast, try picking something upbeat to get listeners in the mood to feel inspired.

Content

Your podcast might be technically perfect. The sound quality is faultless, the title is catchy, and the music seamlessly leads into your show. All of these factors are necessary but not sufficient. So what's the one thing that will separate your podcast from the rest of the herd? Content. Quality content will attract an audience of regular listeners who love hearing what you have to say.

Imagine that you're producing a podcast about cooking. Not every dish you describe will be unique to your program. Some of them might even be very familiar to your listeners. So, why would they go to the trouble of listening to you talking about them? Well, you have a unique voice. You can liven up your content with personal anecdotes and reviews of restaurants.

If you are talking about current events, you can draw parallels with similar stories from the past. Your listeners may not agree with you, but you are still engaging them. We will talk a little more about keeping your audience later. But for now, let's leave it at this: your job is to inform and engage your listener.

Back up

Your podcast shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. You have just released a podcast and have successfully informed and entertained your listener. Where do they go to find out more?

You could have a website, a blog, or a Facebook group to reinforce your podcasts.

This extra platform is a great way to further promote your business. You might use it to connect your listener to other material and involve your audience in discussion groups. As your podcast grows in popularity, your platform might attract advertising and additional revenue.

Publicity

Because you are entering a highly competitive field, you should use everything available for marketing your podcast. Post it prominently on your social media platforms, tell your friends, family, and customers, and ask your contacts to spread the word.

Plan on spending a lot of time and even a little money on publicity and advertising. You don't have to take out a full-page ad in the New York Times, but you do need to let people know you exist. Focus on starting small and then widen your range as your popularity grows.

Podcasting problems: what to avoid

Podcasting is easy and fun, right? Well, yes, up to a point. Anyone can podcast, but we won't go so far as to say that everyone is good at it. Some podcasters make mistakes. Here we'll look at some of the more common examples and how you can avoid making them.

Boring content and delivery

Nothing makes you fall asleep faster than boring speeches from a professor droning on or a wedding toast that never ends. The words are delivered in a monotone by someone who seems uninterested in his subject. The captive audience can’t wait to escape. Your podcast listener is not a captive audience. They can switch you off and unsubscribe whenever they lose interest.

Your content has to interest your listener, and you must show that you are also interested in it. If your audience gets the impression you are simply going through the motions and don’t care about your subject, you have lost them. They can listen to plenty of other podcasts.

You might have created ten scintillating podcasts in a row, but the eleventh is a snooze. Audiences can be unforgiving. Your content must be consistently engaging. This can be hard work sometimes, but it's necessary.

Spending too much money

We have seen that good podcasts don’t need to be expensive, yet some podcasters seem to think that they need high-end equipment. You can spend thousands of dollars on a microphone, but you are not remaking a classic rock album.

You perhaps know someone who decided to take up jogging, and the first thing that he did was buy the best running shoes on the market. This is hardly necessary and an investment that probably won’t pay off. To make a good podcast, you may need to invest in yourself a little, but you certainly don’t need to drain your bank account.

Being overly ambitious

You can’t expect miracles. It will take time to build your audience. There is a lot of competition in podcasting, and your podcast will need to find a niche in a crowded market.

Some podcasters get discouraged if they don’t seem to reach a large audience right away. Don’t stop; if your podcast is good, people will find it and recommend it to their friends. You might have very high hopes for the future. This is fine, but don’t expect too much, too soon. Patience is the keyword here.

Your podcast may not be directed at a very large audience, anyway. Some podcasts have deliberately catered to a smaller audience.

Not knowing your subject

You don’t need to be a world-renowned expert in your chosen subject to produce an interesting podcast about it. Nevertheless, you should know what you are talking about. This may well require a considerable amount of research and fact-checking.

Your audience might disagree with your interpretation of the facts. This can make for an interesting program, but your facts must be correct. If they aren't, your audience will unsubscribe before you know it.

Infringing copyright

If you use someone else’s material, make sure that the material is in the public domain. If you are not sure that you can use something, the best thing to do is leave it out and use something else. Breaching copyright can lead to the closure of your podcast and, possibly, a lawsuit.

Plagiarism

There is nothing wrong with referencing someone else’s work or directly quoting a source. This shouldn't cause any problems with copyright. These references demonstrate to your audience that you are doing your homework and can add interesting content to your podcast.

You should always give proper credit to your sources, though. Add a reference to your website or other backup platforms so that your listener can find out more. This is a long way from copying someone else’s material and passing it off as your own. Never do this. It's dishonest to your listeners, and they will care.  

Not involving your audience

When your audience listens to your podcast, they enter your world, where they will feel a part of it if you invite them to participate. Your podcast should invite audience participation, either directly or by referring people to your website. People like to be involved.

You might like to devote a short segment of your podcast to processing the audience’s reaction by using a live chat or answering service. If people believe that their opinions are being listened to and taken seriously, they will keep listening.

Losing your listeners

You can expect some turnover in listeners. This is only natural. There is a lot of competition and your program might not be to everyone’s taste. Have you ever heard of "podfade"?

This describes a gradual loss of interest by the listener that eventually leads to them becoming an ex-listener. They've lost interest in your podcast. To avoid this, keep your podcast fresh and engaging.

Sometimes, podfade is proof that you as a host are less enthusiastic than you were, and your content is stale. If you start seeing this, try shaking things up or bringing on a guest that you're excited about.

What makes for a successful podcast?

There are ways to keep your listeners engaged and loyal to your podcast. These include the following recommendations.

Focus on your subject

Stay on topic. Your audience wants to listen to what you have to say on your chosen topic. They don’t want to hear you drifting off on a tangent. Some podcast hosts feel that this adds personality and humanism, but that's not always the case.

It's easy to get side-tracked, and it isn't as entertaining as you'd think. Ultimately, it can be distracting for your listener.

Know your audience

Unless your podcast is highly specialized and aimed at a well-informed listener, you should address yourself to an educated, interested audience. Don’t talk down to people but don’t assume that they know more than they do.

If you're unsure if the average listener will understand something but don't want to waste precious air time, try linking to explanations for those who want to learn more.

This is also where social media can come in handy. If you have a decent following, you can start hosting polls and asking questions. You'll gain insight into specific topics your audience is knowledgeable on and what they want to learn more about.

Regularity

If you decide that your podcast will go out weekly, stick to your plan. You should add to your list of available episodes regularly. This enables you to plan your episodes, and your audience knows when to expect a new program. When listeners know your content releases Monday, they'll get in the habit of checking for a new release without reminders.

Planning

Just like a teacher has to prepare for class, each podcast episode requires careful planning. You should also know what you are going to be talking about in future programs.

Draw up a rough list of your topics and when you are going to talk about them. This helps you with more detailed planning and allows you to keep your audience informed. Some topics lend themselves easily to this sort of planning — a history podcast, for example.

Others are more difficult. If your program is about current events, you will need to be more flexible. Even so, you should have a rough idea about future topics — you can always change your content as events unfold. Consider asking your audience on social media what they'd like to see covered. Their answers might surprise you.

Engaging

Let’s imagine that you are making a podcast by yourself. This week you have no guests on your program. It can be tough to keep your audience engaged alone when you can't see or hear them. You might get inside your own head and begin doubting the quality of your content.

Stop the spiral before it starts. When you sit down to record, imagine that you are talking to an interested friend. This simple advice will help you quickly find the right tone and pinpoint areas that might need more explanation or information. Another big advantage here is that this will make you more comfortable and less nervous about audience response.

The do's and don'ts of podcast advertising

Data Source: Podchaser

Some aspects of advertising can help or hurt your podcast.

Do’s

Do back up your podcast with a website or a social media account that gives extra information. Plan to post regularly so your audience knows they can look for news, updates, and information.

Do try to attract advertising from other businesses in your area. Even if your small business is local and your customers come from your regional area, that's okay. You don’t need to have millions of listeners to be successful.

Do work with local businesses and offer listeners discounts on products and services to attract advertising and build interest. Your podcast could become an integral part of your local community and bring in leads for your business.

Do create podcasts on topics that have "already been covered." Just because a topic is popular doesn't mean that it's now off-limits. There's plenty of room for your point of view. Your perspective can add a unique twist to your show that other podcast hosts can't offer your audience.

Don’ts

Don’t be too heavy-handed with sponsored content. There is nothing wrong with letting your audience know what your business is about or including ads to earn money. You don’t want to drown your content in a sea of advertising, though. Make sure you're only advertising products and services you support.

Don't take criticism too personally. Regrettably, there will always be people who take things too far. Ignore offensive people and block them from your website or social media if they are offensive to you or others.

Don't ignore your target audience if you're using the podcast to advertise your business. Your personal interest might lie in butterflies of the Andes, but an audience for a program on this topic will be limited. Instead, find ways to connect those unique interests back to your area of expertise.

Get to know your market

Starting a podcast is pretty straightforward. The key is consistency and growth. Your podcast's success depends entirely on you and your efforts to produce interesting content that hooks your listeners.

Before you start working on your series, listen to a few highly-rated podcasts—especially ones that center on a topic related to yours. Get comfortable in the space and pinpoint your market competitors.

Think about why the podcast you're listening to is successful, and look at their marketing efforts. Review listener reviews and critiques. Some hosts will seem engaging, and others just won't, at least to you. Ask yourself what the unsuccessful ones are doing wrong and how you would avoid making the same mistakes.

Once you get into the swing of podcasting, you won't be able to stop. The benefits to your business are invaluable, especially if you work through the checklist we've outlined. Starting a podcast is an adventure, and you get to bring your listeners along for the ride.

Make time for podcasting

Preparing and producing a good podcast will take time and effort; there's no way around that. There may be some people who thoroughly know their topic and are comfortable working off the cuff when they're recording.

However, most people have to work things like the following into their schedule:

● Research

● Line up guests

● Write a script or notes

● Spend time editing

True, these things take up the time that you could spend on your business. But if you love podcasting and feel that it's worthwhile, there are ways to have it all.

Smith.ai can make podcasting easy

Podcasts are a great way to reach your customers or users in an engaging and informative way. You can cover so many topics, speak with experts in your field, and create valuable content that will keep your listeners coming back for more. Creating podcasts requires a lot of work, and it can take you away from other important tasks that keep your business rolling.

Instead of putting your podcast dreams to the side, let Smith.ai’s virtual receptionists be your support. New and established customers are the lifeblood of any business, and it’s crucial that you Smith.ai can answer phone calls, text messages, and Facebook messages. With 24/7 services, we'll make sure you aren't missing leads or customer service opportunities while you are busy publishing the next episode of your compelling podcast.

Reach out to us to schedule a consultation so we can let you know how Smith.ai can help your business succeed and grow. We offer a 14-day, money-back guarantee, and we are always available to answer questions about our services.

Sean Lund-Brown

Sean Lund-Brown is a current Marketing Assistant for Smith.ai. A graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver, Sean graduated with a BA in Music and an individualized degree in Teaching Vocal Pedagogy.

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