“Build a big podcast” is the title of a book (and a podcast) by my friend and fellow podcaster about podcasting David Hooper. His book came to mind last night as I sat in my little cactus garden contemplating a different but completely unrelated to podcasting book. I’d just read a chapter of the other book that questioned the concept of “growth at all costs!” that’s so prevalent in the startup world. As is often the case, my thoughts turned to podcasting and questioning the notion of focusing on growth for podcasts.
The need for a business -- even a podcast-based business, or a podcast with business goals -- to grow is assumed, right? Growth takes focus. And when you focus on growth, you see growth. Simple. That’s the assumed business model. Even for my clients, who are mostly businesses or professional service providers. They want to grow their own big podcast.
But as a professional contrarian, I'm going to question that assumption. Because maybe growth isn’t what you need for your podcast -- or the business your podcast supports -- at all.
In business, we look at the size of the market to figure out realistic (or wildly fictional in some cases) projections and targets. Thanks to our friends at Libsyn (Liberated Syndication, the podcast hosting company that I use personally and for the vast majority of my clients), good numbers for target listenership ranges. We can (and you should) use these numbers to know how your show is comparing against all other podcasts. And you can also use these numbers to set a realistic target goal.
For the sake of argument, let’s say you wanted to grow your podcast so that you were among the top 20% of all podcasts published. That means you have to be better than 80% of all other podcasts, so it’s certainly not an easy metric to hit. But with the right strategy, tactics, and resources, it’s certainly attainable. More than one of my clients is in this upper-echelon, so I know it’s possible.
Right now, in June of 2019, shows in the top 20% are seeing 1100 downloads on each of their episodes after 30 days. That doesn’t sound like a big number. Unless you’re getting something like 100 downloads of each of your episodes in 30 days, I suppose. Then you’re looking at a 10x growth, which is daunting. But again, not impossible. And certainly nothing a startup would be concerned about.
Let’s take this hypothetical one step further and assume this podcast you’ve grown to see 1100 downloads for each episode was your actual business. And you want to make money with your business, you're doing what most people do who try to make money with podcasting do: selling ads against your content.
Stretching the fictional world we’re creating, let's say you’re able to sell ads without going through an agency, and that you’re able to sell a single spot against every single episode. Even better, you’re producing shows every single week, never skipping an episode for an entire year.
Math says that you’ll make $1420 at the end of the year.
I don’t know of many businesses that can exist with $1420 of annual topline revenues.
But let's take advertising out of the picture, because you run a business and you want your podcast to support your business. Not as a small additional revenue stream, but as an active driver of getting more clients. What’s the value of those 1,100 downloaders of your episode? What if -- and this is highly unlikely but worth the thought exercise -- all of those downloaders converted and became customers. Can your business handle 1,100 new clients? The agency I worked at had about 90 full-time employees working for us, all drawing nice salaries. We supported those salaries, plus overhead and all the other vagaries of running a successful marketing agency, with between 25 - 35 total clients. We wanted -- and could only handle -- three to five new clients each year. Not 1,100.
The thought exercise I want you to go through is this: What if you took all the growth-focused efforts you're currently expending -- obsessing over stats, pushing out marketing campaigns, flooding your social channels -- and instead of doing all of that, you put those efforts toward making your show better?
If you made your show better, your audience would have a better response to your show. And when people grok what you are doing, you just might be able to hit your business goals with only 100 people listening instead of 1,100.
(Nota bene: While my high-touch business can't handle 100 new clients, your business may not be high-touch. Perhaps you can draw a direct line correlation between every new listener and a bump in revenue with little to no increase in your costs. That’s the promise of “passive income” streams and applaud you if you making that happen. But for the rest of us, new clients require more effort, and there’s a cap on the amount of effort we have to give.)
Back to the question I started with: Should you put effort into growing your podcast, or should you put effort into building a better podcast? I’m obviously on the side of Team Build It Better. I’m convinced that you have to start with a good, high-quality product.
The next time you read an article that talks about how you can achieve hyper-focused growth, sit back and ask yourself, “What would happen if every single person who was listening to my show right now took the action I wanted them to take? Could I handle the business?” That's not likely to happen, so what is the level of new business you think could handle? What's your upper-limit? And can you hit that upper limit with your current audience size, if only you focused more on building a better podcast?
We're trying to make things better for podcasting overall at the Advancing Podcasting Party. It's free to join and see what we’re up to. We want to make podcasting better, not just easier for all of us that are involved with it.
And if you are a business and you need some help figuring out where the growth of your podcast fits into your business, get in touch with me. firstname.lastname@example.org reaches me. We handle podcast production, distribution, and publication for clients all over the world. PodcastLaunch.pro for more information.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.