What does it take to have a really, really big podcast in 2022? More to the point, what would it take for you to have a really, really big podcast in 2022?
It'll take more than just making great content. Yes, I've talked previously about the importance of great content. And even though I'm sure you can point to many mediocre podcasts out there that managed to get big, those are exceptions to the rule. So yes, make great content. But it'll take more than that if you want a really, really big podcast.
It'll also take more than satisfying your audience. Yes, you've heard me talk about the importance of making podcast episodes that your audience craves. You've heard me repeat the mantra of know you who you are for and why they are there many, many times. And you should do that. But you have to do more than that if you want a really, really big podcast.
You've also heard me say that podcasts tend to get the audience they deserve, which balances both of those out. There's no guarantee, even if you've made great content that fits in perfectly with what your audience wants from your show. Again, you should do both of those things, because that means your show has the basics in place that makes it quite possible for the show to grow over time.
But what if you want more? What if you're not content to just let it grow over time? What if you want to have a really, really big podcast now? A podcast that's demonstrably big. How do you do that in 2022?
At the risk of disappointing you, I'm not going to give you an easy-to-follow recipe. Because an easy-to-follow recipe for making a really, really big show does not exist. If one existed, everyone would follow it.
Instead, I'm going to help you have a difficult and honest conversation with yourself. Specifically, I'm going to give you five realities that will help you figure out whether or not you are really prepared to do what it takes to have a big podcast in 2022.
Five Realities To Having A Really, Really Big Podcast
1. Realize That Reality Trumps A BHAG
BHAG: Big, hairy, audacious goal. And no, "I want a big podcast" is not, in fact, a BHAG. It's only a BHAG when you can get really specific, focusing on that goal, with clarity as important as its audaciousness.
But that "realize" portion means you also have to be very realistic about your ability to achieve that goal. It does you no good to set a goal if you don't know what it takes to achieve that goal, or if that goal is even remotely possible.
Perhaps you have the goal of being the number one podcast in your category, knocking the current leader out of their position on the Apple Podcasts charts. Maybe you just want to be in the top 10. That's pretty big, hairy, and audacious, for sure. And it's specific. But can you do it?
Do you know what it takes to get on that list? Do you know what the shows that are already on the list have done to get there? Do you know what sort of a new subscriber rate and engagement rate the shows on that list see? If not, how will you know that you're trending in the right direction?
Or maybe it's less about the competition and you want something like 100,000 downloads per episode, which should let you get plenty of monetization opportunities. A great goal, one that thousands of other podcasts have achieved, so it's clearly doable. And it is. But do you know how to do it? Do you have the first idea of what you need to do to make that happen? Do you know what other shows have done to gain that sort of traction? Where did they find their audience? Do you have the connections or the platform that will allow you to do something similar? Can you realistically and with a high degree of confidence achieve sizeable growth? Or are you banking on luck to get you there?
2. Become Undeniably Unique
I know that you and your show are special and different from the others with podcasts who talk about similar things as you. I hate to break it to you, but it's not enough to just be special and different. If you want to have a really big podcast that defines the category, it needs to be demonstrably different.
Note I didn't say better. I mean, sure, it needs to be better than the rest, obviously. But it's even more important that your show has marked distinctions that cause it to stand out—greatly—from the other shows in its category.
That means more than just developing your voice. It means making sure that your voice is strong and consistent throughout your episodes. You can't sit back and rely on guests or other contributors to do the heavy lifting. You have to put in the work. You have to figure out what you want to talk about, and then make sure that your voice is integral to the conversation. More than anyone else on the show.
But it doesn't stop with your voice on an episode. You have to ensure your undeniable uniqueness carries through to all aspects of your show: your website, your social media shares, heck even the emails you send. Your distinct, undeniably unique voice and point of view should shine through in everything you do.
Having a neutral voice won't cut it. Bring out what it is that makes you and your show truly and undeniably unique, and lean into it. Don't shy away from it. Ever. If that means changing how you communicate on other channels... Well, that's a price to pay for having a really big podcast.
3. Your Angle Is More Important Than Your Topic
With a few million podcasts at everyone's fingertips and more publishing every single day, we're way past the blue ocean paradigm. Podcasting is getting crowded. There. I said it. But that doesn't mean you missed your chance. It does, however, mean someone already has published a podcast that is covering the same topic as you want to cover on your podcast. Being one more voice in an already crowded space isn't going to rocket your show into the realm of the really big, now is it?
So what's your take? Why should anyone listen to what you have to say on a topic? Especially if it's a topic that already is well covered, as most topics already are.
If your immediate reaction is to point out your expertise in a given domain, I'm just going to stop you right there. Your expertise is not enough to convince someone to switch away from their trusted source to you unless you are already the recognized expert in your domain. And if not, you're just one more qualified expert in a field lousy with qualified experts.
To break out, you have to develop and pursue an angle that clearly demonstrates why you and your podcast are worthy of being called the authoritative voice. An angle that shows your perspective. A perspective that sets you apart from all others who have a podcast on this topic. An angle that makes it clear to listeners that they quite literally cannot get what you give from anywhere or anyone else.
4. This Is Going To Cost Money So Make Sure It's Worth It
Having a really big podcast today almost certainly means putting a sizeable marketing budget behind it. Depending on your skill set, it may also mean securing a budget to hiring a team to help make worthy-of-being-huge podcast episodes on a consistent basis. And by sizeable, I may mean jaw-dropping amounts of money on each of those. The biggest shows in podcasting today spend jaw-dropping amounts of money—or invest a jaw-dropping number of hours—to get where they are. This is today's reality.
Spending jaw-dropping amounts of money only makes sense if you know your ROPS—return on podcast spend. Today's biggest shows spend that money and time because they know, with a high degree of confidence, the revenues that will come from those efforts. Yes, there's always a risk, but it's a mitigated risk. So they've no problem spending serious money to produce and promote a seriously big podcast.
Do you have a problem with that? I guess the independently wealthy don't need to worry. But for the rest of us, we need to not only have a way to estimate the payoff but to measure if that payoff was hit. You could easily drop $10–15K per episode to engage a top-notch production firm to make your episode sound amazing. But how will you know that money was well spent? How will you know you made a profit? What's your specific plan to recoup those costs?
You could spend $50,000 per month on a promotional plan to grow your already amazing-sounding show, sure. But don't do that without having clear campaign measurement systems in place, allowing yourself plenty of time to check in on the progress of those campaigns. Before you write that big check, make sure you've set realistic revenue returns that aren't based on hope.
5. Keep Your Eye On The Prize
By now it should be pretty clear that making a really big podcast in 2022 isn't a set it and forget it proposition. While there are always exceptions, it takes conscious effort and massive investments to have a really big podcast today. Being fully focused on this effort is going to be a full-time job. Which is on top of your already full-time job of making the podcast. And you may already have a full-time real job, too. That's a lot.
But it's what it is. Execution every day, tracking back to that realistic goal you set forth. Yes, obsessively checking your stats—something I rarely tell anyone to do, but this is one of those times—is part of that. But not just download stats. All the stats that tell you how you're doing on all of your efforts across the board.
If you're investing seriously to get a really big podcast for yourself you need to ensure that your time and money are both well spent. You need to see actual, measurable results coming in on a timescale you're comfortable with. And if you're not seeing results quickly enough, or you're not seeing any at all, then prepare to make adjustments. Just because you put it in your plan doesn't mean it's going to work. In fact, many of the tactics and strategies you put in place won't work. So you'll have to adapt constantly.
Watch out for distractions. Just because you heard about something new and cool that someone else used to blow up their show quickly, it doesn't mean it's going to work for you. So don't drop everything to try it out. Keep your eye on the prize and only do what aligns with what you're trying to achieve. Don't go chasing crazy ideas without fully vetting them.
That's what think it takes to have a big podcast in 2022. A very different list of things than what it took five years ago, I'm sure you'll agree. And it's completely disassociated from any advice that you might've received 15 years ago back when just keep plugging along was all you had to do to have a really good shot at making a big podcast.
It's a new world out there, for sure. But keep this in mind: non of these are required to have a successful podcast. The five realities I just laid out are my views on what kind of mindset needs to be adopted today if you want to have a really, really big podcast.
But most podcasts aren't really big. And many of those not-very-big podcasts are quite successful without being in the top 10 list or getting 100s of 1000s of downloads.
However, if really, really big is what you want for your podcast, then I hope the realities I've laid out help you. Clearly, you've got your work cut out for you. Best of luck!
I shall be back next week with yet another Podcast Pontifications.