If you want to start your podcast (or your own podcast network), here’s the play-by-play of how I started the Mystery Tin Podcast Network and how we achieved success with our flagship podcast MAD Potential (with Ben Mehl).
Start with a Solid Idea
There are close to 250,000 podcasts on the internet, most you can find through the iTunes Podcast Marketplace. This number shouldn’t scare you away from starting your own podcast. In fact, it should inspire you to go ahead and take your own shot. Everybody else seems to be doing it, so go ahead and jump off the cliff!
I approached my friend Ben Mehl to see if he was interested in doing a podcast to supplement his private coaching practice. As a physical trainer and self-help coach, I felt he had a powerful message that would come through in a self-help style podcast, mixing in interviews with prominent figures in fitness industry and influential people in his own life. We would also use the podcast to recruit new clients, expand his social media impact, and drive people to his blog.
Get Ready for Personal Hurdles
The biggest hurdle for Ben to get over was the idea of recording his own voice and listening to it. It’s not an easy thing. In fact, it’s really awkward for the first few recordings if you’re not already involved in the radio/podcasting realm.
To help Ben get over the hurdles, I had him record a few paragraphs of his introductory episode over, and over, and over again. When he thought he had a good take, we exported the audio on my phone and went out to my car. Since a majority of listeners play podcasts in their cars (during their commutes to and from work), I wanted him to hear what his listeners were going to hear when they’re behind the wheel. It was uncomfortable, but that simple episode gave Ben the confidence to go ahead and try making the podcast.
Structure is Key
If you’re not an “on the fly” conversationalist, structure will save the day. I had Ben sit down and write out the content for many of his solo episodes. Working together on these drafts, we were able to get down everything he wanted to get across and eliminated any of the superfluous or repetitive talking points.
Jumping ahead slightly, after we launched the podcast, we decided to change up the structure of the show. We had originally intended for the MAD Potential episodes to run approximately 45-60 minutes, but as we progressed, we saw the need to change formats:
- 45-60 minutes was a long time for Ben to generate his own content. Despite having the structure written out in advance, there was still a good amount of time that needed to be filled in order to reach our quota of 45 minutes. This added extra stress to Ben to deliver, something that podcasting is not supposed to be! Accordingly, we ended up lowering the target time to around 30 minutes, enough for roughly one leg of the daily commute.
- Outside of the larger episodes, we also started “in-between episodes,” which consisted of strong bursts of inspiration intended for quick consumption. Clocking in under 5 minutes, we wanted his listeners to have something to listen to during breaks from work, or whenever they didn’t have time for a full hour-long interview.
Starting from absolute scratch, we needed to not only get equipment but also set ourselves up in WordPress to feed seamlessly into the iTunes marketplace.
This was a simple microphone for us to get started with. The CAD U37 plugs directly into the USB port, so there was no need for additional equipment like mixers, converters, etc. You simply plug it in and you’re ready to start recording!
Perhaps most importantly, if you’re looking to start your podcast on the cheap side, this microphone is under $50 on Amazon. It sounds just fine, which is all you can really ask for when you’re starting out.
We had such success with Ben’s podcast that I went ahead and purchased a handful of these for the other podcasts I would launch on the MTPN.
That’s right. We launched the podcast using Garageband, a free download from Apple. We weren’t doing any highly technical editing, just simply an intro song, Ben’s recorded audio, and the outro song. Simple and free, it was a great place to start. (If you’d rather spend money on “the best” podcasting audio program, my recommendation is picking up a copy of Pro Tools)
This caught me slightly off guard. I had gone ahead and paid for the custom domain to host all the content on, but there are restrictions on the kind of media you are able to post with a basic account. I didn’t realize that you couldn’t upload .mp3 or .wav files without the premium account.
But once I did sign up, there were a handful of additional benefits, including the invaluable “Live Chat and Customer Support,” 13GB of storage, and the ability to monetize the site with banners and side advertisements.
Podcast Art ($50)
You need to have good art for your podcast. People will be scrolling through the artwork on the podcast marketplace and if you have a great cover, people will give an extra second to click it.
I asked an artist friend of mine, Brian Rose, to design something cool, creative, and inspiring. This is what he came up with.
In retrospect, it probably would have benefited Ben and the podcast if the cover art featured his face (or likeness), but we decided to stick with this cover art until we found another one that fit better. (Unfortunately, this never happened.)
You need your podcast RSS feed to make it into the iTunes Podcast marketplace. They do a good job of giving you the necessary play-by-play to list your podcast, but before you’re ready to submit there are a few essential steps along the way.
Whether you are doing one podcast, or an entire podcast network, the best way for WordPress to create your RSS feed is by creating a “Category” within your blog that is solely committed to the podcast. This could be “Podcast” or it could be more specific like “MAD Potential.” This crafts the RSS feed to only contain posts held within that particular category, whatever the media content may be.
Since WordPress nor iTunes provide listenership analytics, we went with Google’s own Feedburner site. Here you’ll enter the RSS feed from your WordPress site, and it’ll spit out a new RSS feed address that can be tracked using Feedburner. You’ll receive your download numbers, individual episode downloads, as well as allow you to make changes to the metadata attached to your podcast. The new RSS feed information they provide is what you’ll submit to iTunes when you’re ready to launch.
An important note: iTunes won’t host your podcast until you have at least one episode available in the RSS feed. For this reason, we chose to do short “teaser” episodes for each of our shows. We posted this (without telling anybody) to get approved. Once the show was approved and displayed on the iTunes marketplace, we then promoted the show’s weekly release (MAD Potential was released on Mondays as a way to jumpstart your week) and encouraged our listeners to subscribe directly through iTunes, rather than checking the MTPN website for updates.
For the Mystery Tin Podcast Network, we have the following categories/RSS feeds feeding into iTunes:
The cheapest method of marketing the MAD Potential podcast was through our pre-existing blogs and social media accounts. We promoted the launch on our individual websites, Facebook Pages and Profiles, Twitter, and any other websites that would support our goal of reaching people with our “self-help” teachings.
We started by e-mailing our closest friends and family and asking them to listen to the first episode of the podcast, and if they liked it, to rate the podcast and leave a review on the iTunes page for the show. Ratings and reviews are the best way to get noticed inside the iTunes marketplace.
Another extremely helpful element of doing an interview-style podcast is the extra bump you get from the guest’s social media presence. Bringing in prominent figures in the fitness industry really brought bumps to our listenership and download numbers. They shared the episode with their friends, and clients, who then shared it with their friends.
For the biggest names we interviewed, or the most popular episodes, we would occasionally spend $10 on Facebook advertising to promote the episode. This isn’t required for you to get the traction you need, but we did see some positive responses to our sponsored posts and a direct correlation with downloads on those particular episodes.
What about Sponsors?
You don’t need sponsors. Sponsors aren’t involved in creating good content, nor are they really involved in the distribution and marketing of your podcast. But most importantly, if you want to gain the attention of sponsors, you need to build momentum first. Some sponsors are willing to pay upwards of $250 an episode, but they need to see their investment is worth it. If you’re getting less than a few thousand downloads per episode, chances are, they’re not interested.
To reference Field of Dreams, “If you build it, [they] will come.” You gotta build it successfully first!
We promoted MAD Potential really hard during the first season, promoting nearly daily to our networks, but all the hard work payed off. We landed on the “New and Noteworthy” section of the iTunes Podcast marketplace.
We were beginning to make waves, so we really leaned on our guests to help push us into the ratings. Fitness professionals like Ben Ceccarelli, Greg O’Gallagher, and Anthony Madonia were integral to spreading the show to a much larger audience.
We kept our foot on the gas, encouraging listeners to leave ratings and reviews and share with their friends. I’ll admit that at times it felt like we were begging for attention, but in the end, it was ultimately the best series of events and decisions made for the show, because we managed to make our little two-man show climb to the #4 spot on all of the iTunes “Self-Help” podcasts.
It’s really that simple. We didn’t use any high-tech editing software, social media algorithms, or a ton of advertising. We simply stuck to our guns, made a podcast we were proud of, and eagerly shared it with those around us.
The MAD Potential podcast, after amassing over 6,000 downloads, ended last year, but not because we didn’t think we were successful. Ben’s passion projects (other than the podcast) required more of his time, so we decided to put it “on hold” until a later date. I did apply this practice (and a few other “secrets”) to the other podcasts on the network, and they too succeeded on varying degrees
For More Information:
Podcasts are a media platform that is here to stay, and if there’s anything I can do to help you with your podcast (or podcast network), here are a few more options for you:
The Modern Artrerpeneur Podcast
- Episode 03: A Podcast Record Label
- Episode 06: Launching Another Podcast
- Episode 09: Better Late Than Never
Other Relevant Blog Posts on The Mystery Tin:
- End of one Podcast, Beginning of Another
- Launching “The Modern Artrepreneur” Podcast
- Producing a Podcast… or four.
If you’d like one-on-one consultation for your podcast or podcast network, you can always e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear what you’re up to.