The 3 greatest mistakes nearly all podcasters make, according to a tech-startup founder.
Starting a podcast is similar to building a startup.
After launching two podcasts and three startups of my own, I’ve come to realize that there are fundamental rules that define the success of a podcast. Here are the 3 most important laws when creating a podcast today:
- Start with a group of people, not a topic.
- Start with a distribution strategy, not a monetization strategy.
- Start with an MVP, not a polished product.
Let’s break them down.
1. Start with a group of people, not a topic.
Nearly everyone who decides to start a podcast begins with a topic which they assume will be interesting to podcast listeners. It may very well be an interesting topic, but think about it: People who don’t know you, don’t care about you. Why should they stop listening to shows they already love to listen to yours?
This is a classic case, of the debunked, “Build it and they’ll come” model.
If you’re starting from scratch, resist the urge to start with a topic, instead, start with a group of people. This could be as small as a group of friends, or a FB group you’re active in, or even a local club or organization where you’re actively engaged in.
The better you understand this specific group of people the better you’ll understand what specific topic to choose.
Most starting podcast creators assume that their topic will be interesting, but the brutal reality is that most people will care less then you think.
Here’s how to start with a group of people: For example, I’m a dad my 50’s, my closest friends also have young kids, and most of us are also entrepreneurs.
A podcast for techie dads who had kids later in life, will be far more successful than a podcast on, “How to be an entrepreneur” or on “How to be a dad”.
2. Start with a distribution strategy, not a monetization strategy.
The second question most podcasters ask is about monetization. It’s a good question but usually asked way too early. Monetization is only relevant once there is a large audience. Therefore a distribution strategy is FAR more important than a monetization strategy.
If you can get an audience, you can easily monetize.
For it to work you must understand the mechanics of, “How will people find you?” To ensure you have a good strategy, assume the worst and build from there:
- Assume Apple won’t feature your show and no one will find you organically.
- Assume your interview guests don’t re-share the content, especially if you don’t have a network and audience as large as theirs.
- Assume traditional methods, like running some ads or giveaways won’t work.
- Assume your existing social network won’t subscribe.
Now that we’ve created a likely scenario, you have to start with a mechanism that doesn’t depend on luck or assumption.
So what does a good distribution strategy look like?
There is no roadmap for it and it’s different for every person. But you must think about distribution at least as much as you think about content creation.
The fact is, there is an over-abundance of great content and listeners have a limited number of hours/day for podcast consumption. Furthermore, audio doesn’t have trailers (yet), so listeners need a good reason to subscribe.
The greatest challenge in podcasting is having access to the right kind of audience. Facebook doesn’t have a “listens to podcasts weekly” category for running ads. You can spend money running ads, but unless you can find your niche audience that also listens to podcasts, it will be money spent in vain.
Most of the traditional online growth hacks don’t work in podcasting because it’s hard to target podcast listeners on the web.
The best strategies involve cooperation with existing podcasters who are willing to promote your show to their existing listeners. It’s how networks spin up new shows so quickly.
If you don’t have access to your audience, work on creating a good pilot for your show, and then invest your time into building the right distribution relationships before launching.
3. Start with an MVP, not polished content.
An MVP refers to “Minimal Viable Product” and is asking an important question, “What is the simplest, easiest, and most cost-effective way to get a product shipped?”
Outlining an MVP is one of the most important entrepreneurial skills that nearly all startup founders learn the hard way.
The greatest challenge of an MVP is the faulty assumption that your content must be polished for people to like it. It’s completely not true. You don’t need to start with fancy intro music, a broadcasting voice, and a slick tagline. In fact, it will probably make it less likable.
If I was starting a podcast today, I would lean into the raw, honest, and transparent dynamics that big media will struggle to reproduce.
Imagine that the group of people you’re targeting are in the same room when you’re recording. They are sitting right in front of you, looking at you and you’re speaking to them. Your content will be dramatically different when you’re speaking to an ambiguous “ether” audience or a specific group of people you personally know.
This is especially true for independent creators who are starting from the ground. Your podcast is ultimately a test–will the market think of it the same way that you do. Will the market validate your MVP? Will you have a product-market fit?
To run a valid MVP test, you must be able to formulate a hypothesis of who the audience is, why they’ll want this exact content, and why your distribution channels will work.
If you’re starting a podcast, I would recommend writing out a strategy for each of these three golden rules and then discuss them with an experienced startup founder.
This way you can create a robust hypothesis and even if your podcast doesn’t unfold how you expected, you will have learned something incredible along the way.
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