Podcasts are an interesting challenge for small businesses. They require a little more know-how, energy and time than signing up for Twitter, Facebook or even Foursquare. But they're not nearly as daunting as you may think, and they offer an excellent opportunity to build a unique audience and generate leads for your business.
The number one tip to starting a podcast is to really enjoy what you're talking about. It sounds simple. But that passion and enthusiasm for your subject matter is what will capture your audience and launch your podcast above any minor technical shortcomings.
"Technical shortcomings," you ask? Don't worry, below we cover some basic tips and tools to get you up to speed. No one is expecting a small business podcast to be flawless out of the gate. They will, however, be looking for your voice, passion and know-how. Read on for four tips to creating a podcast for your own business and don't forget to share your own experiences in the comments below.
Podcasts are not extraordinarily difficult to understand. They are simply audio files released through the Web on a—more or less—regular basis. While iTunes has become a sort of hub for podcasts, it is not the only way to package and distribute your podcast. Many successful podcasters post their shows on their own sites. This is a good alternative if you want to ramp up your exposure slowly while you get the hang of the format.
Like a YouTube video, podcasts don't really have a set time limit. They can range from just a couple minutes to upwards of two hours. In the beginning, aim for shorter lengths as you hone your podcast format and presentation chops. You can always make your show longer as your audience asks for more.
But unlike YouTube videos, podcasts rely more heavily on subscriptions, meaning people actually sign up to receive your podcast whenever it comes out (though they can listen without subscribing).
Subscriptions are a blessing and a curse: It is more difficult to attract subscribers, but once you have them signed up, your podcast will have a more reliable fan base week over week.
It's important to release your podcast on a regular basis. It can be one a day, one a week, one a month, or even longer. Establish a comfortable release schedule and stick to it—your fans will learn to look for your podcast and you'll help build loyalty. Remember to create a schedule that will give you adequate time for your planned features. For example, if you're doing an interview-based podcast, make sure you leave enough space between podcasts to find guests and interview them. While you can of course add or remove sections of your podcast, your fans will figure out when this is a planned change and when you simply ran out of time.
Talk About Your Passion
This should be a bit of a no-brainer—talk about something you like to talk about. If that topic is already saturated with top-notch podcasts, try to find a content angle that is unique to you or mix up the format of the show. "People can speak well about the things they care about the most," says Jesse Thorn, a host of several popular podcasts including The Sound of Young America. That enthusiasm and passion can compensate for inexperience as a presenter or podcast personality.
The most important thing is to give value to the listener, whether that is a laugh or useful information. Thorn acknowledges that it was hard to hit the sweet spot between entertaining your audience and giving them tips. But that balance often depends on more than just your skill in front of a mic. "If you're in the middle of a tornado, your 'tornado podcast' can have the most boring host in the world," Thorn says. "The more useful and valuable you can make your content, the more a listener will tolerate your relative skill or lack thereof as a presenter."
Another option is to create two podcasts, one that is business-based and another one where you can be a little sillier and play around with format, says Peter Wells, host of film podcast FulltimeCasual. "For people who have never recorded before, the only way you're going to get better is to constantly record yourself." A silly side-project can be a good, stress-free way to hone your craft away from your business podcast.
Still, it all comes down to speaking about your passion. "Just find whatever it is," Wells says. "If you're making bottle caps as a business, and you think no one in their right mind is going to think about listening to a show on bottle caps, well, you're probably right. But there's probably something about what you do that can be interesting...find that idea and bring it to the table."
The Right Equipment
The really good news is that you don't have to break the bank on expensive gear. "The essential skills of podcasting are knowing that you have to have a microphone for everyone that's talking and knowing the basics of using a microphone," Thorn says. "Beyond that you can form a solution that could cost $20 to my recording set-up which probably costs, in total, $5,000." It's possible to spend five times that on top-notch mics, baffles, and other sound paraphernalia—but ultimately it's the content that is king.
Wells says he records much of his show through Skype because it allows him and his friends to have better conversations, and it gives him more flexibility to find and record guests that may be further afield. Despite the drop in audio quality, Wells says his numbers have actually gone up since the switch to Skype last year. "Always record with the best quality upfront, but don't kill yourself over it," Well says. "If you can get a better guest by recording over the Internet (which you probably will be able to do), I'd say yeah, go for it."
Wells has a quick tip if you plan to record over the Internet: Have your group of speakers download and use the same recording program and have them all record the podcast and upload it to one source. You'll get clearer sound and have a couple safety nets in case one Internet connection cuts out during the conversation. Wells recommends using Levelator, free software that helps balance your sound levels.
Perhaps the single best advice is to get up-to-speed with an audio editing program. You won't have to do anything crazy, but just even basic knowledge like how to cut a track or remove awkward pauses can make a podcast sound infinitely more professional. There are classes and online tutorials for many of the available programs, but often the best way to learn is to download a copy and start playing around. Mac users can use Garageband for a bare-bones option or join PC users and download Audacity for a solid starting block.
Dos and Don'ts
Thorn and Wells offer some golden rules of podcasting—what to do and what to definitely avoid. Thorn says simple is often best. "Many of the most popular and useful podcasts are short, tight and simple. Generally speaking, the simpler the better, and often a part of that is making it shorter. You reduce the chance of trying your audience's patience."
Thorn also says to know why you're making a podcast in the first place. He turns away from podcasts that don't know who they're for or are more about the presenter than their prospective audience. "Like any form of web publishing, you'll be much more profitable talking about and recommending other people than recommending yourself. You don't have to do a podcast about your business, you can do a podcast about your field of expertise...A PR podcast? No one wants to hear that."
Well's comes back to the fun factor—his golden rule is to do something you really want to do and can have fun talking about. He says to avoid direct confrontation during podcasts. "There are ways to argue with someone without attacking them." The best podcasts are ones that express opinion without making their guests feel like idiots. Finally, if podcasting just isn't in your blood, Wells suggests finding an existing show that fits into your field and consider sponsoring or pitching them to gain access to their established audience.
Podcasting is not the easiest thing in the world. It is, however, a lot easier than it first seems. It can establish you as an expert in your field and give you access to a whole new audience set. Let us know if you plan to jump into the podcasting deep-end and share your own experiences in the comments below.
Image credit: Rusty Sheriff, cybass