How do podcasts make money?
Producing a show takes real work, and if you want to keep your show running, you’ve got to find a way to make it work for you too.
The truth is most shows don’t make any money at all — and it took years before my podcast, The Side Hustle Show, could reasonably be considered a business on its own.
Monetize a Podcast: 12 Real Ways to Make Money From Your Show
Since I launched the show in 2013, I’ve tried a bunch of different monetization strategies. I’ll share my experience and results with those below.
Today, the show brings in over $1500 an episode on average, which is awesome! But it also took a long time to get there.
Now in fairness, I’ve heard from other podcasters that don’t care about monetization at all. They do their shows for other benefits, such as:
- Building relationships.
- Building authority.
- A creative outlet.
And it’s true — a podcast can certainly do all that and more.
But let’s talk dollars and cents. Here are some real ways podcast hosts can make money from their work.
1. Referral Sponsorships
Early on, I experimented with some “affiliate sponsorships” on The Side Hustle Show.
This is a great way for podcasters to get started because you don’t need to have any minimum number of listeners to begin. All you need is a product or service that you like and can recommend to your listeners with an affiliate or referral link.
For example, you might have heard me say, “This episode is brought to you by Ting … visit sidehustlenation.com/ting to claim your free $25 sign-up credit…,” that’s what I mean by a referral sponsorship.
The story goes I’d never even heard of Ting, but heard them advertised on Entrepreneur on Fire. I checked them out and signed up through John’s link — cutting my cell phone bill in half and saving over $800 a year.
Living proof that podcast advertising works!
How Referral Sponsorships Work
This strategy generated few hundred dollars in revenue for the show – nothing amazing but not too bad either. These are companies I tested with:
- Ting – New customers get a $25 credit and so do I.
- Airbnb – New customers get a $25 account credit and so do I.
- Website Magazine – New customers get a free subscription to the magazine and I earn $2 per sign-up.
- Aubible.com – New customers get a free audiobook and I earn $10-25 per sign-up.
And these were my results:
- Ting – $175 (woohoo for free cell phone service!)
- Airbnb – $25 (I only earn my $25 AFTER someone completes their first stay, so I have several more potential $25 credits pending.)
- Website Magazine – $182
- Audible.com – $0.
So yeah, $382. I’ll chalk that up in the “better than nothing” category.
Benefits of Referral Sponsorships
One cool thing is that since these links are still “live” and active, they have the potential to continue earning for months or even years down the road as more people download back-episodes of the show.
In contrast, traditional sponsorships (see below) will earn you a flat fee without that upside potential.
This referral sponsorship strategy is the exact method that Scott Oldford used monetize his Executive Minute podcast right from the start (much more effectively than me, I might add), and probably what I would do from the very beginning if I was starting over.
I think it gives the perception that the show is perhaps bigger or more established than it really is, which can help build credibility and authority. Listeners might think, oh wow, this guy already has a sponsor, he must be legit!
At least that’s what I might think. Am I way off-base on that assumption?
Risks of Referral Sponsorships
The biggest risk in referral sponsorships is the company discontinues their referral program.
This is exactly what happened with Website Magazine. It’s frustrating because I have several episodes promoting them that are no longer earning anything.
I should probably go through the archives and strip out that segment of the audio files.
2. Traditional Sponsorships
These are sold on a CPM, or cost-per-thousand basis, and generally* priced as follows:
- $18 per 1000 downloads for a 15-second “pre-roll” mention at the beginning of your show.
- $25 per 1000 downloads for a 60-second “mid-roll” mention during the middle of your show.
A weekly show with 1000 listeners could generate $43 an episode, or $172 per month.
(*But of course you’re free to negotiate whatever rate you can!)
You can see how these numbers can become quite significant in a hurry, as:
- your listenership increases
- the frequency of episodes increases
- you become more comfortable with including multiple ad spots
If your weekly show has 5000 listeners, you’re up to $860 per month, or a little over $10,000 a year from just one sponsorship spot at the beginning of your show and another one in the middle.
Not a bad side hustle, right?
The same audience for a daily show would yield over $50k a year.
I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Podcast Sponsorship himself, John Lee Dumas, in 2013 and he explained how it all works and how you can begin seeking out sponsors for your show.
My Experience with Traditional Sponsorships
Beginning in 2016, several companies began reaching out to see if they could sponsor The Side Hustle Show.
At that time, new episodes were reaching 5,000-10,000 downloads.
The first ad deal I did was with Teachable, the online course-hosting platform, and we did a 4-episode run for $1000.
After almost 3 years of producing the show every week, it was really cool to earn that kind of cash directly!
Today the show reaches over 30,000 listeners a week and typically earns $1200-2000 per episode from traditional sponsorships.
I currently have 2 sponsors per show and have 2 ad breaks: one a couple minutes in, and one a few minutes before the end of the show.
How to Find Sponsors for Your Show
In addition to the companies that reach out directly, I have several different sources feeding me advertising deals.
- AdvertiseCast – A really cool podcast advertising marketplace where you can create you own listings. (Here’s my listing.)
- Libsyn – My podcast host occasionally sends me deals.
- True Native Media – A podcast advertising broker.
- Adopter Media – A podcast advertising broker.
- Ad Results Media – Kind of a pain to work with and super slow to pay, but can bring in bigger advertisers.
These companies take a commission from every ad they book on your show, ranging from 20-50%.
There are also companies like Midroll that can act as a liaison between you and advertising partners. However, I believe you may be able to negotiate better rates and find more relevant sponsors by reaching out directly.
For instance, if you hear a company sponsoring another podcast, you know they are at least open to the discussion.
Otherwise, it doesn’t hurt to ask!
3. Sell Your Own Products
Selling my own products is another podcast monetization angle I’ve done over the years.
Make it an Easy Call to Action
I think it’s a good idea to register product-specific domain names that are easy for people to remember and type in. I use GoDaddy for all my domain registrations, and Bluehost to redirect them wherever they need to go.
For example, for the Udemy course, I registered the vanity domain KindleLaunchCourse.com, and redirected that to the Udemy landing page, with a built-in special offer for podcast listeners.
In 2016, 14 people signed up through that link, earning me $350. (Pricing has changed since then.)
For the book, I used another vanity domain, BuyButtonsBook.com, which redirects to Amazon.
This is also super handy when you’re a guest on other shows; you’ve got an easy-to-say URL to mention.
Unfortunately I can’t track which purchases come directly from the podcast, but I’m sure it’s a number greater than zero.
And in total, the book earned over $18,000 in its first year.
4. Sell Your Own Services (to Listeners)
The first service I ever sold on Side Hustle Nation was a private mastermind group with me for $97 a month.
It’s hard to say how many mastermind members came through as a result of the podcast, but my guess is I would have been hard-pressed to generate any applications without building that trust over time through the show.
In 2015, the last full-year I hosted the masterminds, they earned $5200.
Coaching and Consulting
In the past, I did a “public coaching” series on the show, where I would coach side hustlers on air through certain problems in their business. I invited listeners to reach out if they were interested in coaching services themselves.
That was a $3100 income stream in 2015.
I think it worked because listeners could get a sense for my style and methodology for free, and then pay if they wanted the one-on-one attention.
5. Sell Your Own Services (to Guests)
Here’s an interesting tactic that can work even if no one is listening.
Josh Elledge runs an influencer agency, and uses his Thoughtful Entrepreneur show as “speed dating” prospecting tool to have conversations with interesting people who just might be ideal clients for his service.
He explained that the daily show costs him around $40 to produce each episode, but that 1 in every 4 or 5 guests becomes a client.
“Every $200 I put in the machine, I get $4000-6000 out,” Josh said. “I can do that all day over and over again. And honestly, it feels at this point infinitely scalable.”
You can learn more about Josh’s unique “podcast prospecting” process in our interview below:
6. Sell Your Guests’ Products as an Affiliate
In a couple instances, my guests have a product or course they’re selling, and after them spending 30-45 minutes dropping some useful value, I have no problem with them inviting listeners to check it out if they want to learn more about the topic.
I don’t always have an affiliate link for these types of offers, but I’ve found it’s most effective when the guest creates a special offer for Side Hustle Show listeners, as Sean Marshall did with his “Clone My Business” Udemy course.
On top of delivering an awesome episode, Sean offered Side Hustle Nation 70% off his Udemy course, and 46 people took advantage of that, earning me $619.50 in affiliate revenue.
As a Jungle Scout affiliate, I earned over $300 a month in commissions for almost a year after those episodes aired.
Pitfalls to Avoid
Of course, the risk in pushing this strategy too far is your show becomes a thinly veiled pitch-fest with everyone just looking for a new audience to sell to.
Be sure to disclose your affiliate relationship if you have one.
7. Sell Your Guests’ Services as an Affiliate
Several of my guests haven’t had any product to sell, but did have a service business the audience found compelling.
At the end of the show, he offered listeners a special deal on the service if they were interested.
After the show aired, it generated a couple dozen new customers and earned me a few hundred dollars in affiliate commissions.
Another example was Russ Perry from Design Pickle, an unlimited graphic design service. In our interview, Russ shared how he built this productized service to 6-figures a month in recurring revenue.
But naturally, some listeners were interested in hiring the Design Pickle service for their own business–and signed up through my affiliate link.
8. Listener Donations
One fascinating way to monetize your show is from your listeners themselves.
Joshua Sheats from Radical Personal Finance is an awesome example of this. Joshua set up a pledge page on Patreon.com, and now has over 200 backers contributing a total of more than $1200 per month at press time.
He puts out a killer show almost every day and asks his fans to consider a monthly donation to support the cause.
How to Accept Donations
Patreon takes a 5% fee on top of any credit card payment processing fees. According their site, “We’re happy if a creator sees around $0.90 of every dollar!”
Theoretically you could accomplish the same thing with fewer fees by hosting the donation campaign yourself, although their platform looks really nice and has some fun social proof elements.
It’s essentially a pay-what-you-want pricing model. The content will still be available for free, but if you find value in it, there’s at least an avenue to collect on that goodwill.
Jen Briney of The Congressional Dish earns several thousand dollars a month from her show, which is entirely listener-supported. She accepts donations via Patreon, PayPal, Zelle, Venmo, and even paper checks in the mail!
I’ve yet to try this myself (it seems weird for a business show to ask for money, right?), though listeners have voluntarily PayPal’d me a few dollars or sent Amazon gift cards my way. Pretty sweet!
9. Re-Purpose Your Content
So far most of these podcast monetization strategies have relied on at least some listeners tuning in.
This content re-purposing strategy can earn you money even if no one ever listens to your show.
How it works is you take the information from your episodes and turn it into other products like books or courses. Think Tim Ferriss and Tools of Titans, right?
For example, my original Side Hustle Path series on Amazon was almost entirely derived from podcast content. And despite the first book being free to download in digital form, over 400 people have ordered the paperback version, earning me over $1100 in the last 3 years.
(I’ve since updated the book and removed the rest of the series.)
10. Syndicate Your Show to YouTube
Not all podcasters are fans of this strategy, but for years I syndicated my episodes to YouTube.
(I used a tool called TunestoTube.com to get this done.)
I joked I had the world’s worst YouTube channel because there were very few actual videos — my “videos” are mostly just placeholder images and the mp3 podcast episodes.
And while most episodes don’t get a ton of traction on YouTube, some have tens of thousands of views.
Because it’s such a quick and easy process, even just a handful of incremental listeners would be worthwhile. It’s another search engine and another channel for people to potentially discover (and hopefully fall in love with) my content.
You never know where you’ll find your next biggest fan!
I monetize my YouTube channel with the built-in advertising service and now earn around $200 a month in passive income.
(I’ve since switched up my YouTube strategy a bit but am still excited about the platform as a podcast discovery channel.)
11. Charge Your Guests
Actually charging your interviewees is an interesting — if controversial — podcast monetization strategy. I’ve never attempted this and have a hard time imagining doing it in the future.
However, my friend Joe Pardo charges guests on The Business Podcast $500-3000 per episode — and explains why here.
John Lee Dumas does this as well, and commands a $6500 “appearance fee” because of the loyal audience he’s built over the years:
I suppose if you’ve built the exact audience your guest needs to reach, it could be a small price to pay to spend 45 minutes in their earbuds.
Still, to do this and not have your show come across as a feature-length ad seems like it would be a challenge. Plus there are probably some disclosures you’d want to be upfront with your audience about.
12. Paywall Old Episodes
Finally, some shows keep their recent episodes free but charge for archive content.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is an example. His most recent work is available to download free, but older episodes cost $1.99 each on his website.
(He also sells bundles of episodes and accepts listener donations.)
Monetization is Nice, but Remember: Listeners First
Every podcaster needs a way to support their show, but the most successful ones have found ways to do so that still respect the listener.
After all, the audience is what makes your show viable. It’s not about you; it’s not about your guest; it’s about the listener and what they can gain from investing their valuable time with you.
My Podcast Monetization Totals
I wish I could give you the clear-cut answer as to how much The Side Hustle Show makes each week.
Right now, my money-makers are:
- Traditional sponsorships ($1000-2000 per episode)
- Affiliate partnerships with guests ($0-1500 per episode)
- YouTube ($0-25 per episode)
- Email list growth (20-1000+ new subscribers per show; which leads to revenue down the road)
If I had to guess, I’d say each show I produce is worth an average of $1500-3000 to my business. There are also production costs of around $100 a week, not counting my time.
And to be sure, it’s taken several years to get here, but it’s incredibly exciting to have built a revenue engine like that from the ground up. I’m completely serious when I say starting a podcast has been a life-changing experience.
If you have a show, how do you (or how do you plan to) monetize it?
As a podcast listener, which of the above monetization angles do you prefer?
Frequently Asked Questions
How do podcasts make money?
The most obvious way podcasts make money is through sponsorship deals with advertisers. However, that just scratches the surface of podcast monetization strategies. Be sure to check out the full list at Side Hustle Nation to learn more.
How much money do top podcasts make?
The world’s most popular podcasts can make hundreds of thousands of dollars per episode. For example, UFC Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping reported that Joe Rogan makes $750,000 for every episode of The Joe Rogan Experience! Of course he reaches millions of people with his show, so if you’re looking for ways to monetize a podcast of your own, be sure to check out the full list of ideas at Side Hustle Nation.
How many downloads does it take to monetize a podcast?
Many sponsors want to see at least 5000 downloads per episode before they’ll start working with you, but if you serve a highly-targeted niche audience, you can probably get deals with less than that. On Side Hustle Nation, you’ll find a list of creative ways to monetize your show, even if you don’t have a large listener base (yet!).
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