The Side Hustle Show just hit 428 episodes and 15 million lifetime downloads! It’s all pretty crazy for what started as a little side project experiment in 2013 with a $50 mic from my living room.
(I upgraded the mic around Episode 300, but I’m not sure if I can tell the difference.)
Podcasting is an incredibly powerful medium and it’s honestly been life-changing for me.
I wish I could give you a definitive answer on how to grow a podcast but the truth is I don’t know. I think there’s a combination of factors at play, and I’ll do my best to outline those in this post.
How do people discover new shows?
- Some search in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Overcast by keyword or category.
- Some people will find you through social media or SEO.
- But I think an overlooked factor is good old-fashioned word of mouth.
Has that ever happened to you? That you hear or watch something so good, you just have to share it?
(Seriously, even if you’re not a baseball fan, you’ll laugh your face off listening to that last one.)
So outside of the Apple Podcasts optimization and social media strategies, here are a few “best practices” I think contribute to the most powerful marketing engine of all: word of mouth referrals.
I definitely did NOT do all of these at the beginning, which is one reason I’m embarrassed by the first several dozen episodes. But like anything, it’s a learning process and I’d like to think I’ve improved as a host and interviewer over the years.
1. Above all else, consistency…
Commit to a consistent production schedule and stick to it. The Side Hustle Show comes out every Thursday rain or shine, and I don’t think I’ve missed in over 7 years.
Here’s what that meant in terms of daily downloads the first few years:
On top of the publishing consistency, there’s also consistency in format and structure. I believe this helps breed familiarity and comfort among listeners.
This isn’t anything new. In fact, it’s just taking a page out of radio’s playbook.
I remember listening to 107.7 The End in Seattle every morning in high school, and looking forward to recurring segments like their daily trivia quiz, Beat the Producer.
Some elements of structural consistency in The Side Hustle Show include:
- “What’s up what’s up? Nick Loper here …”
- “Ready? Lllleeeeet’s do it!”
- Bumper music.
- “Let’s wrap this thing up with your #1 tip for Side Hustle Nation.”
- “Until next time, let’s go out there and make something happen.”
- “Hustle on.”
- Outro music.
2. …but change it up every now and then
Consistency is important, but variety is the spice of life, right? Even the amazingly consistent John Lee Dumas changes it up every now and then.
I attempt to do this with:
- solo shows
- Q&A episodes (example)
- coaching episodes (example)
- roundtables to get multiple perspectives on the same topic (example)
- the “Side Hustle Showdown” series of friendly debate-style episodes (example)
- listener voicemail round-ups (example)
- the “where are they now?” series featuring past guests (example)
Start a Podcast that Gets Results
My buddy Pete from DoYouEvenBlog.com has put together a fantastic free training on how to start a podcast that grows your business.
Check it out to learn:
- Why now is the best time get started in podcasting
- The 3 critical tools to make editing a breeze
- The exact steps to creating a show people want to listen to.
- How to get sponsors (even if you haven't launched yet)
3. Climb the pyramid
My aim is to convert strangers into listeners, listeners into subscribers, and subscribers into fans.
This is the listener journey from someone who doesn’t know you exist to someone who buys everything you create and tells all their friends how awesome you are.
With every episode you create, and really every segment in each episode, ask yourself how this would help someone climb the ladder.
4. Tell people about your show
Early on, you need to put in the effort to spread the word about your show. Apple and other apps may help people discover you down the road, but only if you give the algorithms a little nudge.
The way I did this was to send a personal email to dozens of friends and colleagues asking them to check it out.
Lacking self confidence (probably for good reason!), I even said something like “you don’t even have to listen — but every download helps!”
You may not have an “audience” per se, but you probably have hundreds of Facebook, Gmail, and LinkedIn connections who would at least be somewhat curious what you’re working on. Rekindle those connections, ask what they’ve been up to, and when they ask what you’re excited about, you can tell them about your new podcast project.
5. Reference past and future episodes
After you’ve overcome the hurdle of getting someone to tune in, now you’ve got to keep them!
One way to do that is to point out the juicy stuff you’ve got in your archives or encourage subscriptions by teasing what’s coming next.
6. Get to the point
Tell people what’s in it for them, and do it quickly. Within the first 2 minutes of the show, I attempt to:
- Introduce myself and who the show is for (“because your 9-5 may make you a living, but your 5-9 makes you alive” or another similar “why” tagline that’s different every week.
- Introduce you to the guest and tell you why they’re on the show and why you should care.
- What you can expect to gain in exchange for your listening time.
- Where you can find the show notes and lead magnet for the episode.
- Plug a sponsor.
- Begin rolling the interview.
I went through a phase where I did very little editing. As I began to listen to more tightly edited shows, I realized I was missing the boat big time. It’s a completely different listening experience.
Now I have an editing service (PodcastFastTrack.com) that helps clean up my often rambling and disjointed raw audio.
Basically I’m looking to make my guest sound amazing and bring as much useful and relevant information forward as possible.
8. Listen to other shows
It was from listening to other shows like Tropical MBA and Serial that I realized I needed to step up my production.
You’ll also begin to notice what you like and dislike about other shows. You’ll find yourself playing armchair quarterback and thinking about what follow-up questions you would have asked. Tim Ferriss has turned into a great interviewer because he presses guests for the details.
I think it’s a good idea both to listen to shows in your niche (to hear what else is in your audience’s earbuds) and unrelated shows as well. You’ll get good ideas from both.
9. It’s not about you, and it’s not about your guest
It’s about the listener!
I try to keep that in mind when sourcing guests, outlining the show, recording, and editing. Be respectful of their time and intelligence.
10. There’s no such thing as too long; only too boring.
Hat tip to Joe Saul-Sehy from Stacking Benjamins for that one. When I hear hosts say they’re running long and abruptly cut off a call in an attempt to hit some arbitrary length target, I cringe a little.
If I’ve stuck with your for 45 minutes, another 10 or 15 or 45 isn’t going to be a dealbreaker. If I’m interested in what you’re saying, I’ll keep listening.
The exception to that rule is when you’re starting out. The length of the show is definitely a decision factor for new listeners trying you out and I believe shorter episodes tend to see more downloads.
11. When in doubt, script it
I still script probably 90% of what I say on the show (not counting the interviews). In the end it saves me time from having to do multiple re-takes if I don’t like how something sounds, and reduces the rambling.
There’s a reason all the top-rated TV shows and even the best performing narrative podcasts are scripted: it’s a better listener experience and makes for a tighter story.
At the very least, it’s better than me stuttering through an intro.
12. Be an audio snob … but not too much
Insist on quality audio from your guests. Even my favorite shows will sometimes have people on with horrible audio; background noise or static. I tune out almost immediately and imagine many others do to, so I strive for good audio.
After all, it’s an audio-only medium! It’s all you’ve got.
Now you can take this to extremes as well, and I’m by no means an advanced audio engineer. Since the biggest unknown variable is your guest’s audio, I actually have a loaner mic kit I offer to mail to guests who need it. Then I reimburse the shipping expense to the next guest.
13. Practice the craft
The Side Hustle Show has become my art. It’s a creative outlet and something I absolutely love doing. I probably don’t have my 10,000 hours yet, but I’m getting there and feel like I’m getting better each week.
The artist at work … recording the intro and outro for an episode from our Airbnb in Amalfi, Italy.
14. Be you
By all means, incorporate elements you like from other shows, but make them your own. I once had a new podcast host send me some pre-interview questions that were literally copied and pasted from EOFire.
Why is anyone going to listen to you when they could just listen to the original?
15. Double check your recording software
I’ve only lost one recording so far, but it was a pretty sucky feeling.
Another time, I recorded a whole episode using my webcam mic instead of my actual podcast mic. Not ideal!
16. You don’t need “celebrity” guests
Actually, you don’t need guests at all, but the interview format worked for me (introverted Nick is always happy to let someone else do the talking).
But if you do run an interview show, you might be attempted to reach out the “big names.” You don’t need them.
I can tell you the most popular episodes in the history of the show aren’t with the most famous people I’ve had on, but are with the people who had the most interesting, compelling, or actionable stories.
Especially if you target “famous” guests, expecting your guests to share the episode with their audience can set yourself up for a big disappointment.
It’s not a “good” share for them. Their audience probably already knows their story!
What I mean by that is put some effort behind your episode titles. You only have a few characters visible in Apple Podcasts and other podcatcher apps to convince someone to download.
In most cases, that means NOT titling your My Awesome Podcast episode something like “MAP 036 – Nick Loper”.
Instead, give it a title that reflects what you talked about and what the audience can learn by tuning in. The best titles invoke curiosity.
Here are some examples from The Side Hustle Show:
- $3500 a Day in Etsy Sales in 6 Months
- $1000 a Week Cash Flow … From a Semi Truck?
- $6k a Month Blogging About Gray Hair
(And yes, my son is addicted to Story Pirates. Gasp!)
Note: I include the episode number at the front of my title to make it easier to find specific episodes in the archives.
19. Syndicate far and wide
While Apple Podcasts is certainly the largest podcast directory, it’s not the only game in town. Android devices have a 50% market share. How are you reaching those listeners?
Here’s a cool directory of podcast directories where you can submit your show, and I’ve also had some success in syndicating to YouTube.
Most of the videos don’t get much action but some have tens of thousands of views!
You never know where your next big fan is going to discover you, and YouTube makes it easier for people to discover your content through search.
Lately, I’ve been using a free tool called Headliner to turn my podcast episodes into wave-form videos for YouTube, so there’s at least some motion on the screen.
I use Canva to create the thumbnails.
20. Pay attention to the topics that perform best
What types of episodes are your audience most interested in? Which episodes were duds?
In the Side Hustle Show archives, I can tell you the more universal or accessible the topic, the better it tends to perform.
On the flip side, the coaching, public speaking, and software-related episodes I’ve done haven’t performed as well.
21. It’s OK to scrap an episode
There have been several interviews I’ve recorded that never made it off the editing room floor. Most of the time, it was my bad for not having a clear enough outline or direction for the call.
Yes, it’s a little awkward … but better to be awkward between two people than thousands.
“The best artists know what to leave out.”
–Charles de Lint
22. Repeat after me: Your podcast is NOT a business
The most important moment for The Side Hustle Show didn’t happen when I:
- hit #1 in New and Noteworthy
- landed some “big name” guest
- was nominated for Best Business Podcast in 2015 or 2016
- or when I landed my first sponsor.
The most important moment for The Side Hustle Show happened in episode 64 with Scott Britton, when I finally realized the podcast was NOT a business; but rather was content marketing.
From that point on, I made a conscious effort that the primary goal of the show — outside of providing awesome actionable content — was to turn listeners into email subscribers.
I did that by creating an episode-specific lead magnet for each episode. Time consuming? Absolutely. But 1000% worth it.
Within 3 months, I’d tripled my email list. Within 12 months it was 12x.
Now I’ve scaled back from that strategy in favor of putting a full text summary of the episode in blog post format, but I’m exploring different ways to create complementary lead magnets and calls to action that will resonate with listeners.
23. Guest on complementary shows
Some of the biggest spikes I’ve seen on the download charts have come following guest appearances on other relevant podcasts.
You probably already know the major players in your space, so see if you can build relationships with them over time and figure out ways to serve their audience.
The other way to find shows to potentially target is at the bottom of your iTunes listing, there’s a slider of shows “listeners also subscribed to”:
But as someone who’s now on the receiving end of plenty of bad guest pitches, do your homework and come up with a compelling case as to why you’d make a great guest.
24. Leverage what you have
I email my list to promote just about every episode.
Why? Because for the lists I’m on that do the same thing, it makes me tune in more often!
Those hosts are getting me to spend more time with them in my earbuds, and building a stronger relationship.
The advantage of email is now subscribers have something in their inbox they can easily forward to friends. It makes word of mouth sharing a little easier, but you could also encourage listeners to text a friend to tell them about your latest episode.
In any case, use whatever assets you have to spread the word. Maybe it’s a Facebook group or an offline network. Maybe you’re a Pinterest pro.
25. Don’t ignore SEO
One thing I think has worked in my favor is having several articles — and even specific episode show notes — rank well in Google. In those posts, I can reference the podcast and encourage specific episodes for people to check out.
For individual episodes, detailed show notes can help, and embedding your mp3 player on the page signals to Google that there’s some multimedia content there as well.
What would you add to this list? Any other podcast production or marketing best practices I’m missing the boat on?
As always, I aim to practice this craft and get better each week. Let me know in the comments below!