Key Elements of Podcast Success

In the past seven chapters, we have covered many aspects of starting a podcast - from finding your unique voice to templates for inviting guests. By now, you should have enough confidence to launch your podcast and start telling your stories.

With so much information, it is easy to get overwhelmed. That is why we created this list of “Key Elements of Success.” There are compiled from listening to many top podcasters talk about how they built successful shows. Consider them as “To-Do List” - the basics you need to get right to succeed.

1. Be Relentless

Make peace with the fact that it will take 12-18 months of consistent efforts to see any meaningful results. You just cannot quit before. One that differentiates successful podcasters from the rest is that they didn’t give up - Downloads were low, content wasn’t great, guests canceled but they kept working with fresh energy and excitement.

iTunes is full of podcasts with only 4-5 episodes. Being consistent is an unfair advantage. Eric Siu runs the popular “Growth Everywhere” podcast and shared this inspiring story on the Intercom Podcast.

With “Growth Everywhere”, the first podcast I started four years ago, I spent six hours a week on it. Editing, recording, I did everything by hand. After the first year, I was only getting 9 downloads a day. Those numbers are terrible!

I should probably have given up, but I kept going because people kept emailing me saying, “Hey, I don’t know why you’re not getting more downloads but this has been really helpful. It’s made a difference in my life.”

I worked for another year, again six hours a week, and I was only getting 30 downloads a day. But nowadays Growth Everywhere has about 80,000 downloads a month. Not bad, but the Marketing School podcast gets about 640,000 downloads a month. The reason those succeeded was that I was relentless with it.

2. Episode frequency matters a lot

If you are trying to build a habit, initially, focus on consistency and not content.

This is true for your initial episodes as well. You want to make your podcast a habit for your listeners. Consistently releasing episodes at a particular frequency, on a particular day is important to let your listeners get into a habit.

You don’t want to release too many episodes or release too few. Maintaining this balance is tough and would depend on the format and the niche you are in. The best way to learn is to look at the pattern which podcasters in your niche publish.

It is also a good idea to start publishing only after you have recorded, 5-7 episodes. That way at 1 episode/ week, you have 6 weeks time to get into a rhythm of recording and publishing.

3. Focus on 10 people who LOVE you, not 100 who ‘kinda like’ you

Podcasts grow through word of mouth and reviews on iTunes. While it is easy to go after numbers, in the initial days, focus on finding users who love you. Are they going beyond just listening to your show - Are they connecting with you on social media? Are you getting emails on the lines of “Hey, this was really awesome. ”

Those are the people who love you. In a sea of podcasts, they found something so interesting that they want to reach out. Connect with them. Understand what they like and how your show made an impact on their lives. Talking with them will give you deep insights that will inform how you design your content.

If you get even 5 listeners who love you, you have something special. Remember, if you can get 5 - you can get 50, 500 and 5000.

4. Add value to listeners

Telling good stories is the foundation of good podcasting. Get good at it asap. Weaving a great story with facts, anecdotes, and unique perspectives give value to your listeners. Depending on the type of podcast, this value may be different. Just make sure,

After listening to your stories, listeners should either feel better or get better.

That is how you add meaningful value to their lives. It is extremely important to stay in touch with your audience, get their feedback and then iteratively, design your content.

5. Reward your audience’s time

Once you have listener’s attention, you have to maintain it. Engaging your listeners with activities like giveaway contests, exclusive event invites or meetups is important to build a long lasting relationship with them. While the number of winners might be very few, a lot of people will actually listen to your podcast and take part in these contests, irrespective of whether they win or not. Giving a shoutout to some of the participants who did not win goes a long way as well.

People also like hearing their names on air and one easy way to do that is creating a “Ask me anything” or “Listener Questions” type of episode once every quarter. It gives a reason for listeners to contact you directly and chances are others also had similar questions

6. Collaborate with fellow podcasters

Podcasting is not really a zero-sum game - Your listeners like your perspective and your point of view, so other podcasters, even in the same category, are not really your competitors. So, a lot of famous podcasters have started collaborating with each other. They appear as guests on each others’ shows or share guest lists. Even popular YouTubers have started doing this, so this looks like a trend that is likely to continue.

This helps in 2 things - one, you get exposure to your collaborator’s audience and two, establishes you as a thought leader in the space. If the collaboration (episode, event or something else) itself turns out to be great, chances are both you and your collaborator will gain a larger audience. A true win-win!

7. Get better at voice modulation

Films have the benefit of visuals - they hold the audience’s attention easily and can cover storytelling weaknesses. But podcasts are comparatively difficult because the only thing that you have to leave a lasting impression is your voice. Your voice has to know all the tricks that capture listeners’ attention and invoke surprise, curiosity, and happiness. Changing the tone for different circumstances keeps the user more engaged and ensure that they actually listen to the entire podcast.

This is why you should listen to the top performing podcasts and learn how they speak and how they change their voice modulation under different circumstances. You can especially learn a lot from solo hosted shows like Dan Carlin’s History or Lore.

8. Measure your audience to attract sponsors

We covered this in detail in Chapter 6 but you have to understand your audience quantitatively and qualitatively - demographics, how long they listen to and the popular sections of your episodes etc. Most podcasters have no idea about their audience and so work with any brand ready to work with them. This is not optimal for anyone in the long run as your sponsor might not get good RoI, your listeners may not like the ad and you may lose the trust of listeners.

That way, once you have a sizeable audience, say more than 2000 listeners, it is a good idea to understand your audience in detail. This will give a very good idea of brands and products your listeners may like. Based on the quantitative and qualitative analysis, you can shortlist brands and then actively reach out to them. Your scientific approach will be a refreshing change for your advertisers and help you stand out from other podcasters who have no clue who their audience is.

The most important “To-Do’ however, is getting started. Many people read about podcasting, plan a show but never actually get started. This guide was all about helping you get started.

Remember, even the best of us start the same way - One step at a time, one day at a time.

All the best and looking forward to hearing your show. Tell us about it and stay in touch.

Anup Gosavi

Anup Gosavi

Co-founder, Spext

Co-founder, Spext