By Tom Nixon, Certified Volunteer Mentor, SCORE of Southeast Michigan

Podcasts aren’t just for fun anymore. Increasingly, sellers of sophisticated services and other business professionals are turning to podcast production as a way to market their businesses, services and products, and ultimately, generate new business opportunities.

Everywhere you look, research and data keep pointing to the same new reality: Decision makers are increasingly turning to audio formats to consume content and mine expertise. If consultants, professionals and business owners are not claiming their seats at the table, there is a good chance their competitors are.

Consider this, then, your roadmap to get you from positing to podcasting...from production to promotion.

Step One: Find Your Niche

The first step is to establish and document your podcasting strategy, which begins with clearly defining your audience. While your intuition might tell you to build as large an audience as possible, my advice is to delineate your intended listenership as narrowly as possible. The goal (at least, realistically) is not to amass a large audience of lightly engaged, occasional listeners, but rather, a deeply engaged cadre of true fans who make your content a priority in their otherwise time-pressed lives. You’re not endeavoring to be the next Joe Rogan or Adam Corolla. You are trying to attract devoted fans in a narrow but deep domain of specific subject matter in which you can be positioned credibly as a true expert and thought leader. Remind yourself that this is a business development initiative, not a vanity project or popularity contest. 

Once the niche has been articulated, everything going forward becomes easier. It’s more intuitive to build a content calendar (because you’ll know what a very specific audience truly cares about), it will feel natural to market your podcast to more easily identifiable decision makers, and it will open doors for future syndication opportunities in target-market media outlets. If, alternatively, you try to create a platform that attempts to appeal to an ill-defined, broadly brushed and nebulous audience of “business owners” or the like, you’ll be met with greater competition, increased user skepticism, and far more difficulty staking claim to the mantle of “thought leader.”

Step Two: Content Calendar

Once you know who you’re talking to, and what that audience cares about, you’ll be able to formulate a content strategy that answers the questions your constituents grapple with professionally. Start by creating a list of questions you believe these individuals are asking, or what problems they are looking to solve. If you get stuck, start jotting down the questions your clients or customers pose in meetings or via email. Chances are, if your clients are asking those questions, so are your prospects. And so, too, will your podcast audience tune in to learn about. Next, take that list and prioritize them as best you can. Your top-five are the topics of your first five episodes.

Step Three: Form and Format

You’ll next want to outline a format and frequency to which you can reasonably commit for the foreseeable future. Things you should define before commiting your valuable time and resources—so you don’t fall victim to the “podfade” phenomenon — include:

  • Format: Am I interviewing guests? Do I have a host interviewing me? Do I solo-cast? I typically caution against solo-casting, as being the lone voice on a microphone is a very uncommon skill. Typically, we encourage a conversational format, with two or more personalities casting at once—whether this is you and a colleague or you and a guest (who may be a prospect you can invite on the show!).
  • Frequency: How often can you find the time to carve out for recording an episode per month? Usually, busy professionals can at least do this monthly, but no more than weekly. Somewhere in that range, you will find the frequency that’s right for you. But, whatever you choose, stick to the commitment you’ve made to your audience!
  • Episode Architecture: Determine an intended length for each episode, and stick to that as well. Be honest about the audience you’re looking to attract, in terms of how much time that likely busy individual will be willing to spend on your podcast. In my experience, 30 minutes is a good place to start...about the same duration as a typical office commute.

Step Four: Get the Tech Right

Based on how you’ve defined your podcast’s formatting (above), you’ll need to make modest investments in hardware and, possibly, software, to produce your podcast as professionally as possible. Remember, this podcast is an expression of your (and your company’s) brand. Handle with care.

  • Microphone: Though you can find “free” ways to get audio input into editing software, we strongly encourage that podcasters purchase a good microphone. It doesn't even have to be a professional-grade microphone used in recording studios. But for $100-200, you can find decent-sounding mics that integrate with the USB ports on your computer, or good-quality microphones you can use for live recordings (say, in a conference room setting). For my podcast, The Thought Leadership Project, we like the Blue Yeti mic, which is a compression microphone ideal for podcasting and which plugs right into your USB port. 
  • Audio Interfacing: Again, depending on your formatting decisions established earlier, you will likely be interviewing guests or conducting a conversation with a co-host. If those guests are remote to your office location, you’ll want to invest in a high-quality Web conferencing software solution, such as Zoom, which allows for session recording and audio compression. If you plan to record your episodes face-to-face in a conference room location or similar, you may need to invest $100-$200 in a four- or six-channel audio mixer with USB interface capability. (I recommend starting your search at Sweetwater.)
  • Editing Software: If you’re on a Mac platform, the Garage Band software that comes on board with your computer offers more than enough editing capability to produce and publish your podcast. There are other free or low-cost options out there for non-Apple users as well, such as Audacity.

Step Five: Invest in the Brand

A podcast is every bit important as any other brand asset your firm will launch into the marketplace, and should be regarded as such. In your zeal to get your podcast launched, don’t overlook the branding basics that will help to properly position and promote your podcast:

  • Naming: Not only should you ideate to come up with a unique name for your podcast that is both descriptive and alluring, you need to do some advanced planning to make sure you’re landing on something distinctive. As you create your short list of possible names, do some searching in Apple Podcasts to make sure it’s not already taken, nor that there are too many others with similar sounding names.
  • Domain: A great way to promote your podcast is to promote it as its own distinct entity, and not some obvious marketing initiative that could potentially scare away potential listeners. One way to do that is to secure and ultimately promote a domain name that markets your podcast by name, such as “The Thought Leadership Project Dot Com,” or the like. Invest in the domain, even if you ultimately decide to map that URL to a podcast page on your firm’s website. It’s far better than directing listeners to “visit our firm’s website, scroll to the bottom of the page, then click on Podcasts, then click on the The Thought Leadership Project,” for example.
  • Branding: You’ll also need some identity assets developed, such as a logo. Once you’ve established a visual image that matches the tone and intent of your podcast, you can deploy that brand into your podcast’s thumbnail photo (the image that appears in Apple Podcasts, etc.), and a “cover photo,” which is like a header image for your podcast in publishing directories (similar to your header image on LinkedIn or Facebook).

Step Six: Hosting and Syndication

Once you’ve produced the first four to five episodes of your podcast, you can launch into the podverse. You’ll need to establish two primary properties, one for hosting and one for syndication:

  • Hosting: Your audio files will need to live somewhere — somewhere that can produce a subscription feed for the syndicators (such as Apple Podcasts and Google Play) to pull your content from as you publish it. WordPress websites can be configured with popular plugins to accommodate the hosting of a podcast, and Squarespace sites offer this capability as part of most subscription packages. Third-party hosting providers will host your podcast at no (Anchor) or little (Podbean, Soundcloud, and others) cost, as well.
  • Syndication: To get your project on the popular apps that syndicate podcasts, you will need to establish and configure accounts on Apple and Google Play. Once configured, you will connect these services to the RSS or subscription feeds where your podcast is hosted and — voila! — your podcast is available for listeners to hear, download and subscribe to. Other popular podcasting apps, such as Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast and others will automatically pick up podcasts syndicated by Apple and Google.

You’ve Only Just Begun

Congratulations! You’re a published podcaster! Of course, the project doesn’t end there, but rather moves on to the next chapter: promotion. You’ll want to take active steps to grow your audience in perpetuity. This includes activities like:

  • Promoting your podcast on social media, and announcing new episodes as they go live.
  • Using your company’s existing marketing channels to gain attention for your content, such as a prominent position on the company home page and regular notifications in firm emails and newsletters.
  • Finding syndication opportunities. Remember that narrowly defined audience you identified earlier? Seek out the content communities and trade media to which that audience flocks. Inquire into opportunities to have your podcasts featured or promoted via those channels. If your content is targeted to a niche and legitimately provides subject matter expertise and insights, you might be surprised how willing industry influencers are to share or even syndicate your podcast.
  • Leveraging your podcast as a business development initiative. Looking to open a dialogue with a targeted prospect that’s difficult to reach? Invite him or her to be a guest on your podcast. That’s an invitation that’s unlikely to go unanswered!

Before you know it, you’ll be reaching decision makers where they prefer to spend their time...and just for fun — for business!

About the Author

Tom Nixon is a Certified Volunteer Mentor with the Southeast Michigan chapter of SCORE, as well as a principal with HARRINGTON, a content marketing firm for professionals. He hosts his own podcast, The Thought Leadership Project, weekly.

How to Launch a Business Development Podcast in Six Steps