According to the latest research by Ofcom, podcasts are booming, with nearly six million UK adults tuning in each week. That’s more than double the amount of people compared to five years ago.
So, what does this mean for your small business or startup? Michael Bird, digital marketing manager at Softcat, explains why podcasts should be a key part of your business plan.
Unlike many online content formats which are easily missed or ignored, podcasting has proven to be a much more personal medium for brands wanting to communicate a message.
While a Tweet or blog post may get seen by more people, they’re also more likely to be skim-read and have a higher bounce rate. In contrast, a podcast listener has made the conscious decision to download your content and take the time to engage with your brand and are likely to engage with your brand for longer.
“Podcasting has proven to be a much more personal medium for brands wanting to communicate a message”
In fact, research shows that a lot of podcast listening is done via headphones which are one of the most intimate ways to engage with content. Listeners are shutting off from the outside world and listening without any other audio distraction.
The personal nature of podcasting makes it the closest medium to face-to-face contact and with the UK’s growing podcast audience, a successful podcast could prove as effective as having a conversation with thousands of prospective leads.
However, the world of podcasting isn’t easy and getting people to listen is the hardest part, but a listener choosing to play your content is already a valuable first step. A one-to-one communication channel is about as authentic as it gets.
The first steps
If your marketing budget is small, that’s not a problem. Most organisations will be pleased to hear it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to start podcasting.
If your podcast becomes successful you may want to invest in higher-quality equipment, but realistically all you need is a microphone, a recording device, somewhere to save and host your episodes and a way (or someone) to edit it for you.
Research shows the optimal length for a podcast is 22 minutes, so to keep listeners engaged you’ll want to make sure the final episode produced is shorter than what you record.
The equipment may be affordable, but your content needs to be good and engaging. As the UK podcast audience grows, so does the number of brands producing podcasts of their own, creating a more saturated market and listeners who’ll expect more.
First, pick a topic. It doesn’t have to be completely unique – and the chances are it won’t be – but you need to decide what makes yours different. It may be an expert opinion you can offer on a subject, interesting guests, or a unique format for your podcast, but it needs to be different from your competitors.
For example, Softcat launched its own podcast, Explain IT. It’s a show for IT professionals explaining an often and unnecessarily complicated IT concept or buzzword. We’re able to draw on our in-house knowledge (and our partners) to offer our current and future customers easy-to-digest insights and opinions on key topics. It also allows us to show our fun side and demonstrate we know what we’re talking about.
You also need to decide where you’ll host the podcast. There are plenty of free and paid platforms available like Libsyn and Blubrry, many of whom have free tiers to get you started. Most of these feeds can be added to your own website.
You should then make sure to list it in all the main podcast directories, allowing listeners to find and subscribe to your podcast and listen to your previously released episodes. It also automatically downloads new episodes to listeners’ devices when they go live.
iTunes, Google Podcasts, TuneIn radio and Stitcher would be the best places to list your podcast to begin with.
Maximising return on investment (ROI)
Podcasting has the potential to be an incredibly time-efficient way of securing a return on your marketing spend, given a good understanding of your customer base, thorough planning and confident presenters.
One big problem is accurately measuring ROI because podcasts rely on much of the same technology to release and publish since iTunes formally supported podcasts in 2005.
However, most podcast hosting platforms now provide better analytics allowing you to see how many downloads your podcast is receiving from where and on what device. This can then be augmented into other data sources by using tools like Google Data Studio which allow you to get a better overall picture of how your podcast is performing.
Think about how you can make your content work harder for you and where your podcast fits into your wider marketing strategy. It doesn’t have to be a standalone project. For example, if you’ve got a bank of evergreen blog content, why not record podcasts based on the posts?
Similarly, you could record public talks by spokespeople to release as special edition episodes on your site or share snippets across your social channels. Many podcast hosts have this snippet functionality built in.
Podcasts have the potential to work across every stage of your marketing funnel, to drive brand awareness and convert a lead into a sale.
Successful podcasts also open up more revenue potential too; research from whypodcasts.org shows that 61 per cent of podcast listeners have made a purchase resulting from a podcast advert, making it a great investment for relevant brands if your podcast can grow a substantial audience.
Podcasts with high numbers of engaged subscribers can easily sell pre and mid-roll advertising space, typically based on the number of downloads, so advertisers are more willing to get on board.
Listening to the podcasters
Anna Jordan speaks to three different small business owners about how they got their podcast started and what they’ve learned.
Peter Groucutt talks about why he set up The Business Continuity Podcast and how he’s keeping it separate from his main business.
We provide back-up, disaster recovery and business continuity services to SMEs in the UK. Very large businesses will employ a business continuity manager or even a team, but most aren’t big enough to
Setting up the podcast
When we started, we had no experience of producing a podcast. We tested lots of different microphones: expensive condenser microphones, cheap tie-clip microphones and even in a pinch we recorded straight onto a mobile phone.
Our interviews are usually in quiet meeting rooms, but we’ve learned that when we’re in loud hotels or at trade shows, the tie clip mics are great.
We use Audacity for editing. It’s free and widely used by podcasters which means there are a lot of good tutorials online to learn the basics of editing.
From the outset we wanted to make sure the podcast was distinct from Databarracks, the main company. We wanted it to live on its own.
So, we created its own logo, branding and website. There are downsides to this approach because we don’t get to have ‘Databarracks’ all over it, but we wanted to avoid it being just another corporate podcast where every episode is a sales pitch.
I think that separation also helped in terms of interviewees’ willingness to contribute. I don’t know if people from BP, the 2012 Olympics and The Guardian would have been as keen to be involved if it were a Databarracks podcast.
Corporate podcasts will always be viewed sceptically by potential listeners, so it was vital to demonstrate ours was different.
It takes a long time to produce. Conducting the interviews is quick but cutting it down into an interesting episode takes time. We could just post the entire hour-long interview, but we want to be respectful of our listeners’ time. We’d rather have 20 great minutes than 50 good ones.
A big boost for the firm
The podcast has helped in a number of ways.
It gives us invaluable advice from impartial experts that we can share with our customers and prospects. The IT professionals we sell to know all about backing up data and restoring servers but dealing with disasters is much broader than that.
We’ve got experts from Virgin Media, TFL and The Economist talking about how they’ve dealt with hacking, terrorist attacks and civil unrest abroad.
It has also led to opportunities we didn’t imagine. We’ve been invited to speak at events as a result of the podcast and we won an award last year at the Royal Albert Hall.
Before you dive in, decide if the world really needs another podcast. There are so many that the big challenge is standing out. The great thing about podcasts is that they can appeal to a very specific niche and just serve that audience. We did our research and couldn’t find anyone doing a business continuity podcast, so we went for it.
“Podcasts are a great reason to meet and learn from some very interesting people”
Next, make sure the content is valuable to your potential customers. If the content is good and it’s genuinely helpful then it will be a success. Don’t expect every listener of the podcast to become an immediate customer, but it will raise awareness of you as a business and build a relationship with your potential customers.
Finally, enjoy it! Podcasts are a great reason to meet and learn from some very interesting people.
Alice Reeves is the mind behind BelongCon, a group hosting talks about belonging. She talks about setting up The Belong Conversation Podcast and how being a podcast fanatic helped her.
The BelongCon events are all about conversation. We have six or seven speakers giving ten-minute, TED-style talks about how they have found a sense of belonging.
This could be through working on their own self-love and acceptance, finding communities that really ‘get’ them or founding projects that give them a sense of purpose. It was clear after a few events that the potential for these conversations were huge, and that the people speaking had much more to say than they were able to in a ten-minute slot. I also had so many questions that I wanted to ask them.
So, The Belong Conversation Podcast seemed like the best way to have these more in-depth talks about mental health, self-love, purpose, community.
I’m also a lifelong radio geek and a total podcast addict. I reckon I listen to at least 15 hours of podcasts a week. I think it’s natural to want to explore and create something for yourself that you love that much. I have a background in radio. When I was at Sussex University, I managed our student radio station and did some work for a local radio station, so I had that basic knowledge of sound editing under my belt (even though I was rusty after a ten-year break from it).
Tech and software
I went with Audacity as my preferred editing programme because it’s what I was used to using, it’s free and it’s pretty simple to learn how to use.
I asked around about microphones, as I didn’t want to drop a huge amount of cash on something that initially was an experiment. My brother is a Twitch streamer and he recommended the Blue Snowball Ice to me as a great, not-too-expensive starter microphone.
We’re just about to put our eighth episode out (we’re newbies to the podcasting world) and I’m still using this mic. Though I have now got myself a pop guard to make the sound a little softer. I may upgrade at some point soon, but this does the job and it was only £50.
In terms of where to host the podcast, we went with Soundcloud. Initially it’s free for your first few hours, then it’s £90 a year for unlimited uploads. It also allows you to easily embed podcasts episodes into your website so that people can listen there.
We’re still learning ourselves, but some of the other things to bear in mind when you first start podcasting are:
- Find some royalty-free music for your jingle or pay a musician to create one for you (we found ours on Jamendo) — without music at the start and end, it will sound rather flat
- Make a list of all the platforms you can add your podcast to enable people to listen – such as iTunes, Pocketcasts, Stitcher and Spotify – and work your way through the applications. All have separate processes to get your podcast live. Some of the processes might take forever and feel unnecessarily complicated and some are by application only (like Spotify) or may not be available to you based on your location (like Google Play).
Using the help available
Mostly, we’ve been learning all we need-to-know as we go along! My friend Laura Clark helps to produce the episodes and it’s brilliant to have someone to learn with. It makes those silly questions feel less silly.
We’re based in Brighton, and we have a Brighton & Hove Podcasters group on Facebook which has been helpful. I would recommend finding a small business podcast network like this in which you can ask all of your questions – it will save you hours of time trying to figure things out for yourself.
You’ll also need to create an episode thumbnail for each episode you upload. We use canva.com which is a brilliant, free (or around £10 per month for the paid version) tool that allows you to make graphics for your podcast artwork or for sharing on social media. You don’t even need to have any graphic design skills as there are loads of templates you can work with as well as royalty-free images you can use.
How we handled the podcast marketing
For marketing, we’ve mainly been focusing on social media promotion (my day job is a social media and content marketer) and we have embedded the podcast links on our website at so that visitors are directed to listen.
We ensure we mention the podcast at all our events and prompt people to check it out. Just keep telling people about it – on and offline!
Another great way to market a podcast is to have guests that also have podcasts and co-promote each other’s – we’re working on that. Remember to do a call-out to review and subscribe at the end of every episode. That will help your podcast get discovered in relevant categories and charts.
The biggest challenge, without a doubt, is marketing. There are a huge number of podcasts out there (over 600,000 it’s estimated, and that’s growing all the time) so you need to cut through the noise with yours by offering something different.
Podcasting most certainly isn’t a ‘build it and they will come’ exercise. As with all content or products, you need to actively market your podcast by sharing on social media, prompting your guests to share the podcast, having your podcast clearly linked to on your website and mentioning it at any events you host or speak at.
Another challenge is finding time and sticking to a schedule. If you’re serious about podcasting, then you need to schedule in the time to create your podcasts regularly. Currently, as a team of volunteers, we’re only able to commit to one episode per month – even though I would like to do more.
“Just keep telling people about it – on and offline!”
While it might only take an hour to record a 45-minute episode, if you’re just sitting down and having a one-to-one conversation like our episodes, editing and cleaning up the audio can take a good couple of hours and then on top of that you’ll want to record and edit together your intro, outro and music.
Then you need to upload it, add it to your website and share on social media. So, producing one episode and getting it out there can easily take a day of your time (or more, if you’re still getting to grips with the tech and processes).
How has it helped your marketing strategy?
It’s an extra way of getting our message out there and achieving the mission of BelongCon: to create a space for people to share their stories and help people feel less alone. Right now, we’ve only had around 500 listens, so we’re very much still growing and exploring ways to more effectively market ourselves.
Within the podcast, we give call-outs for people to follow us on social media, read our blog and attend upcoming events so we ensure that all our marketing channels are supporting each other.
The podcast is more than just part of your marketing strategy though – it can be a product in itself. Eventually, your podcast may become a revenue stream for you via advertising or sponsorship, so bear that in mind when you’re creating it. It deserves time, love, and attention.
I’m confident that The Belong Conversation Podcast is going to grow and be a valuable part of how we get the word out there about what BelongCon is all about and share important conversations that can really help people.
It’ll take a lot of time and potentially a large cost
Be realistic about the time and cost involved (time if you’re doing it all yourself, cost if you’re outsourcing some of it). You won’t be an overnight success; it takes work not only to produce the podcast, but then to market it and get people listening.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find an online podcast community and ask them for help if you get stuck. You can bet that if you’re going crazy trying to find an answer to something, someone else has been there and found it already. Don’t waste hours when someone can probably answer you in five minutes.
Make sure you’re passionate about it. If you’re not, then you won’t feel motivated to make it a success. Have conversations that excite you with people that excite you – that’s when people will love listening.
George Swift is a mindset coach offering advice to smaller businesses as part of his company, Bigger Brighter Bolder Success Groups. He added a podcast to bolster his business offering.
I listen to podcasts and have a clear idea of what I personally like and don’t like. I wanted to create a podcast I’d enjoy as a listener and one I’d have a lot of fun making. For inspiration, I listened to some short audiobooks on podcasting.
I’ve been producing audio content for my BBB Success Groups for some years and have basic technical knowledge on audio and video creation. I already possessed some decent microphones and laptop and was confident in creating audio recording with Apple’s GarageBand.
Despite my already having some useful knowledge, I secured the skills of someone who has a great deal of experience producing and scheduling podcast and broadcast material. He helped with the technical set up of the podcast and will assist me in editing and producing ongoing content.
I’m very much at the beginning of my podcasting journey so am initially using my current social media channels to promote. My immediate focus is in creating quality content that people want to listen to.
Working with longer podcast episodes
I opted to produce lengthier podcast episodes focused on interview and discussion. In each episode, I invite a successful business owner to join me in unpicking the problems entrepreneurs face in growing their businesses while sharing their own journey and experiences in creating their own success.
I want the interviews to take place in my studio face-to-face where I can control the quality of the recording. I also believe this dynamic translates better in the final recording.
It’s early days but initially the podcast has ‘stirred the pot’. People get used to seeing you and hearing you in certain ways and on certain platforms. They think they know you. It’s good to shake things up a bit.
“Your enthusiasm will wane if you’re not fully engaged in what you’re doing; your audience will sense that”
My future ambition is that I will be able to attract bigger names as guests so that I can reach their audiences. I’m also interested in appearing on other people’s podcasts to attract new audiences back to my own channel.
Don’t expect success right away
If you’re thinking of starting your own podcast, educate yourself while seeking help from someone who’s already doing it or who helps people launch.
Get clear on what you have to say and contribute as well as which format will serve your podcast best. I’d also recommend creating the show that inspires you. Your enthusiasm will wane if you’re not fully engaged in what you’re doing; your audience will sense that.
While there are stories of podcasts gaining millions of listeners almost overnight, the truth is that you need to play the long game. Be open to becoming the next phenomenon while being prepared to stick with it for the long term.
There are more stories of podcasts that ‘took off’ after being active for some time than there are of ones that gained a million subscribers in their first month. Be patient.