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Top Mistakes When Starting a Podcast

Heidi Thorne is a business author and speaker. Her podcast, The Heidi Thorne Show, discusses self publishing and small business.

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In a comment on one of my articles about podcasting, a reader asked about what are the top podcast mistakes that hosts make. And I’ve fielded a number of questions from friends and followers about podcasting. So here’s a roundup of some of the common pitfalls of the podcasting game, especially for newer podcasters.

Expecting Too Much Too Soon

In comparison to the number of blogs, podcasts are a much smaller pool at the moment.

According to SoftwareFindr (April 2019), there are 60 million WordPress blogs and that’s just for that dominant platform. If you add in the less popular platforms of Drupal, Joomla, etc., there are another 4 million or so blogs (not including the pseudo-blog Tumblr platform which boasts 440 million accounts). Contrast that with an estimated 550,000 to 700,000 podcasts (Podcast Insights, April 2019). Not even 1 million yet! So as of this writing, there’s still opportunity to be an early adopter in podcasting.

But even with an open field of opportunity, it does not mean that people will flock to your podcast. Though the audience of podcast listeners and podcast awareness is growing, it still requires a significant promotion and marketing investment to get people to listen. As for blogs and all other content, the time it takes to gain a significant following can be measured in years.

Actually, podcasts are more difficult for listeners to discover than blogs since audio content isn’t SEO/search engine friendly (at least right now) unless the show and episode descriptions contain relevant keywords or a text transcript.

As well, though podcast players can be embedded in websites, podcasts are consumed on platforms such as iTunes and Apple Podcasts (55.5% of listeners consume podcasts via iTunes or the Apple Podcasts app, according to a 2017 Wired article). That presents additional challenges since listeners need to know the show is there and be motivated to go there to listen.

So podcasts require a significant amount of promotion, maybe even paid advertising, to get noticed.

Tip: Keep your expectations in check and be ready for the long haul.

The Podcast Dead End

While podcasts are a growing content medium, they have a technological fatal flaw that makes them challenging: They’re difficult to share and engage with, unlike other content forms.

People usually listen to podcasts while they’re doing other things like driving, working, exercising, walking the dog, housework, etc. At present, there is no good way for people to easily share or engage with a podcast unless they stop what they’re doing and take action. This is especially problematic for those that listen while driving (which would be dangerous, too!).

It’s obvious that this is a problem since even some of the top podcasters I listen to (that have hundreds of thousands of downloads and/or subscribers) are directing their listeners to connect with them on Twitter or some easy-to-remember URL... if listeners can even remember that!

New podcasters get discouraged at the black hole of engagement they encounter and quit since they’re measuring their success against other content forms. Maybe one day there will be an easy and/or voice-controlled way to interact with a podcast. But until then, measure your results appropriately for the medium.

Tip: Use easy to measure metrics such as number of downloads or subscribers to evaluate your podcast’s progress... at least until some better metrics can be implemented. Monitor the tech landscape to keep tabs on new ways your audience may be engaging with your show.

Shows About Nothing

Listened to an interview podcast from a newbie host that was just excruciatingly painful drivel and droning on about the host’s and guest’s lives.

Though Seinfeld perfected the “show about nothing” (which really was “something”), just turning on the mic and babbling away offers nothing of value for the audience, unless, of course, you and your guests are big celebrities and your fans want the day-to-day minutiae of your lives. (I’m guessing you’re not, at least not yet.)

Tip: Have an agenda for every show.

Stop and Go Podcasting

I was guilty of this a couple of years ago. Continually stopping and starting podcasting stops momentum, wastes resources, and can hurt your image by branding you as someone with low commitment. It’s the same problem as with dead blogs.

Tip: Commit, quit, or don’t even start.

Underestimating the Investment

Like bloggers, podcast hosts can grossly underestimate the investment required to keep up with a regular blog. I’ve found that a weekly podcast of up to 15 minutes can take 1 hour or more to record and edit, even though I’ve converted to a one-take type production. Multiply that by 52 weeks per year and you’re conservatively looking at an investment of at least 50 hours annually. Looking at that in terms of 40-hour work weeks, that’s 1 to 2 weeks of your year at minimum, excluding any content development time prior to recording. And if you haven’t honed your audio production skills yet, that time could balloon dramatically while you learn.

Another area that eats up time for a podcast is promoting it. I find that I can spend up to 30 minutes creating promotions for each week’s show to post on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. True, my podcast hosting platform will automatically post a message to Twitter every time I post a new episode. However, it’s a text-based link that has almost no descriptive elements and gets lost in the social media streams. Show promotion ups my annual podcast investment by another 20 hours or more per year.

Tip: If you can’t do the time, don’t.

No Endgame for Podcast

I’ve heard some newbie podcasts that are actually quite good. The only problem is that they concentrate so much on the content, that they forget to add some self promotion at either the beginning or end to encourage listeners to keep listening and share the show.

Simple “visit my website” or “don’t forget to subscribe and share” type messages at the beginning and/or end is even enough. You don’t want to be too heavy on the promotion. But to presume that people will telepathically know or be enthusiastically motivated to do what you want them to do is unrealistic. Gaining and retaining podcast followers is the endgame.

Tip: Include brief messages about your upcoming shows, product and service offerings, and requests to share content in either your intro, sign off, or mid-roll (midpoint in the podcast, usually at a natural break in the content).

Expecting to Make a Lot of Money (or Any Money)

People are often surprised to learn that many podcasts make no money. In fact, if you offer your show on Apple iTunes, it must be made available for free. So you have to find other ways to monetize your show.

Hosts can include advertising within their shows at the beginning (pre-roll), middle (midroll), or after (post-roll). There are companies that insert ads into a show and share the revenue with the host. Hosts may also sell sponsorships direct to advertisers; in this situation, the host may read the ads or the sponsor provides an audio ad to insert in the show.

Just a few things about that: 1) You have to have an audience to even be attractive or eligible for advertiser and sponsor programs. That usually means having at least thousands of downloads or subscribers. 2) Unless done right, ads can be disruptive and turn off listeners. 3) Ads can detract from any of your own offers that you make to listeners during your show.

Most articles I’ve seen about how to make money with a podcast exaggerate the financial potential. Usually these articles tell you that you can make a lot of cash from advertising, selling subscriptions (on non-iTunes podcast distribution platforms that allow it), selling your services like coaching, selling books and merchandise (like branded T-shirts), events, public speaking, etc. Please, stop! Each one of those are high investment options that take marketing and development expense. And, again, you have to have a pretty big audience to make any of them possible or worthwhile.

Tip: Understand your investment and ROI, realizing that podcasts are not an easy, quick, or cheap road to riches.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Heidi Thorne

Comments

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 27, 2019:

Hi Lawrence! Haven't we all? :) Indeed, I, too, see a lot of things I would have done differently. Maybe next time, right? ;)

Glad you found this helpful. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a wonderful day!

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on May 26, 2019:

Heidi

I can see I've done a few of these things trying to start a blog. It didn't go too well, partly because I just can't find the time to make it work.

This was a good reality check for me, thank you.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 03, 2019:

Linda, if you do start a podcast, please let us know so we can check it out. Thanks for stopping by and your kind words, as always. Happy Weekend!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 02, 2019:

At the moment, I can't see myself creating podcasts, but anything is possible. If I ever decide do it, I'll read all your articles about the topic again. They are very useful.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 28, 2019:

Flourish, it's so easy to give up on efforts like this! And I think that's why podcasts still are just a fraction of the online content sphere. Their unique challenges can easily lead to frustration if you don't have a clear idea of what is happening and how to adjust.

Thanks for adding that exclamation point to the discussion! Have a great weekend! (BTW, we had snow yesterday and it's still on the ground this morning. What is going on? Crazy spring weather here in Chicago.)

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 28, 2019:

Claudia, I was like you for a very long time and only starting listening to podcasts a couple years ago.

The problem for me is that the only time I can really listen is when I'm driving which is only about 30-40 minutes a day at most. Because my work is writing and editing, I cannot have a stream of words going on in the background when I'm working.

What I've also found is that you have to sample a bunch of podcasts to find those topics and hosts that really resonate with you. Though I will occasionally listen to friends' podcasts if there's an interesting episode or guest, I subscribe to only a few shows on a regular basis. And I look forward to those!

I would be curious to know if you find any good ones that deal with your crafting. Thanks for stopping by and have fun exploring podcasts!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 28, 2019:

Pamela, as you've obviously discovered, there are podcasts on every conceivable subject. For many podcasters, as with many blogs, the goal isn't so much money, as connection. It's that way for me. It's been a good experience for me. Thanks for sharing your podcast listening experience with us. Have a great weekend!

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on April 28, 2019:

Hi, Heidi, thanks for weighing in. I think I will try the issue sometime in the future. Enjoy the week.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 28, 2019:

Bill, I do think you would be an awesome podcast host. I hope that one day you find the time to do it. If you do, please let us know. Thanks for taking the time to stop by. Happy Weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 28, 2019:

Hi Dianna! Podcasting is definitely a learn-as-you-go adventure. :) But I'm glad you found the article helpful if you one day decide to give it a try. Let us know if you do. Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 28, 2019:

Thank you, Miebakagh, for reading even though you haven't tried podcasting yet. You never know. Maybe one day you will. I didn't think I would be doing it even a few years ago. Have a great day!

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on April 28, 2019:

Hi, Heidi, I had not tried making a Podcast before. Nevertheless, my pleasure in reading the story. Thanks, for sharing.

Dianna Mendez on April 27, 2019:

You have given me good ideas and tips to consider on making podcasts. I have toyed with the idea and it's nice to know how to avoid mistakes. Valuable article, indeed!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2019:

This is one of those things I would love to do, but it would mean going without sleep to accomplish it, and I love my six hours of sleep. :) I'll have to file this for another day.

Enjoy your Spring weekend!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 27, 2019:

It sounds very tough to have a successful podcast. This is an interesting artice. I do listen to some podcasts on the Keto diet, and I think they do quite well, but I imagine many people do fail to make money for the reasons you discussed.

Claudia Mitchell on April 27, 2019:

Interesting Heidi - I've always been curious about podcasts, although I don't listen to them. I really should start!

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 27, 2019:

Truly an excellent article that should save any potential podcaster frustration if s/he were to follow your wisdom. I find that most people do give up too easily or they keep at it and just fail to adjust themselves to feedback and seek learning to improve. They just keep doing the same thing and wonder why they haven’t made it.

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