How to Start a Podcast With Almost No Money
From finding inexpensive equipment to booking great guests, Ralph Sutton, co-host of The SDR Show, breaks down everything you need to know about starting your own podcast.
12 min read
Podcasting Insights estimates that there are currently 750,000 podcasts in existence, with a combined archive of over 30 million episodes. That begs the question: Does the world really need another podcast?
The answer: yes!
The audience for podcasts is insatiable, always hungry for new insights, new experiences and new voices. And for the people on the other end of the earbuds — the creators — podcasts offer a ton of rewards, including bolstering their credentials as an expert, creating new revenue streams, building brand awareness for their business and, honestly, podcasting is just really fun to do.
So how do you start a podcast? We asked Ralph Sutton, co-host of comedy podcast The SDR Show and founder of the million+ subscriber GaS Digital Network to give us an overview, starting with day one. Whether you want to create a podcast dedicated to business, books, raunchy comedy or mindfulness techniques, the steps are pretty much the same. Here is Sutton’s breakdown of everything you need to know to get started.
Why do you want to start a podcast?
“The first thing I tell anybody is, if you’re in it for the money, don’t start a podcast. I started in radio and was pretty successful, but I didn’t start with the idea of, ‘Oh my God, I’m gonna make so much money on the radio!’ I just wanted to be on the radio. And it’s the same thing with podcasting. You have to want to do it, whether five people or five million people are listening.”
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The first step: Start talking!
“Before you do any research, before you start thinking about marketing or anything else, just start doing it. See if you like doing it and if you like listening to it. If you can’t listen back to yourself, if you don’t find yourself interesting, I promise you nobody else will. But don’t judge these early episodes too harshly. Plan on throwing them all out, they will likely be pretty bad. Nobody has the perfect gift of gab that allows them to just sit down, turn on their microphone and be entertaining on day one. But if there are glimmers of something good, or even if there aren’t but you’re having fun, keep going.”
Listen to similar podcasts
“If you want to do a marketing podcast, listen to the top five marketing podcasts and see what you like and what you don’t like. Do the same for comedy, movie reviews, whatever you’re into. Feel free to build off of their ideas and make them your own, make a list of segments and ideas to figure out your podcast’s format. If you understand what the competition is doing, you can differentiate your show from the others out there. And remember: This is a show. I’ve said a million times to people, three or four guys around microphones drinking and shooting the shit is not a show, and that’s 90 percent of podcasts out there. Come up with a format, plan a little.”
Get (cheap) recording equipment
“Buy a cheap microphone that plugs into your iPhone or Android. iRig is a good one, but there are a lot of companies that do this. You can get one for like $40 or $50. The ones we use on our show now are a couple of hundred bucks and, yes, there is a difference in quality, but not enough of a difference to spend that much when you start your podcast.”
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Download audio editing software and learn how to use it
“You want to be as self-contained as possible. You don’t want to be beholden to some college kid who decides he doesn’t want to edit your show this week and you don’t release an episode. Maybe you’re going to hire somebody down the road who is way better than you, but do it yourself when you start. There’s a great editing platform called Soundtrap, which costs less than $15 a month to use, and a great free audio editor called Audacity. Both are easy to learn, and editing will help you figure out what you can do better next time.”
Get a logo and a theme song
“Of course there are certain things that you’re not going to be able to do. You may want to hire a graphic artist to make your logo. And you may want to hire a musician to make your intro music. Fiverr.com is a great resource for this kind of stuff. Another great resource is Canva, which is like a poor man’s Photoshop. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can easily make cute logos. It’s free and it’s not watermarked, which is good because that cheapens your brand.”
Name your podcast
“You want get social symmetry with your name, meaning the name of the show is the name of the website, your Twitter handle, Instagram account, etc. There are great website resources like https://www.namecheckr.com/ and https://www.namecheck.com where you type in a name and it shows you if it is available on every single platform. I’m a big believer in having the same name across all platforms, rather than having to add underscores or numbers to some because it is already taken on Twitter or whatever. For my show, “The Sex, Drugs & Rock and Roll Show” was taken, which is how we landed on The SDR Show.”
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Get a web site
“This is hugely important. Google is really going big on podcasting, and they’re starting to make podcasts show up in searches, but only if the podcast has a web site with the same name in the header. So if someone is searching for marketing tips and that’s what your podcast is about, guess what? You just found yourself in a new listener.”
Cheap mics are fine, but audio quality matters
“Once you get up and running and you think you want to keep doing this, one thing you can do to stay one step ahead of everybody else is to make your audio quality better. Personally, I punch out if I hear shitty audio — I don’t care who’s talking. Most podcast listeners are auditory-based, so they want to hear good audio. There are websites like Soundtrap and Auphonic that will level your audio and make your files sound much better.”
Fly solo or do you want a co-host?
“A lot of people can’t ramble by themselves, and they’re going to need a co-host. If you decide to go with a co-host, make sure your co-host is going to be with you for a while. Nothing is worse than getting a whole thing going and then your co-host leaves. And make sure that all of your intros and your graphics don’t mention either of your names, because if you lose your co-host or something changes, then you have to redo everything.”
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“Obviously when you’re just starting out, you’re not going to email Mark Cuban and have him show up. Go to all of those sites I mentioned before, and reach out directly to podcast hosts that you like and say, ‘Hey I’ll go on your show if you’ll come on mine.'”
Posting your show
“So you have your show, now you need to figure out where you want to store it. There’s a bunch of hosting sites available, and you’ve got to pick a respectable one. There are free ones, but you know what? You get what you pay for. I’d recommend using Libsyn. It’s not free, but if you’re not going to spend the $15-20 a month for a media hosting provider, maybe you’re not that serious into doing a podcast. Do a Google search for a coupon code to get it free for a month or two. Libsyn creates an RSS Feed for your podcast and gives you a destinations page where you want it to go. You can manually input destinations, but they have all the major ones like Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher and a ton more. You want to be available in as many places as possible.”
“Launch with at least three episodes to allow for some binge listening and to build loyalty. And be consistent! If your show is a half hour, make sure they are all around 30 minutes long. Don’t come out on Monday one week and Friday the next. Even if it is just once or twice a month, be consistent so you train listeners when you look for new episodes. Don’t let your listeners down; they might forget to come back. I don’t mean to be depressing, but my father died about two years ago and I didn’t miss an episode, because that’s how much the show means to me. Keep an evergreen episode in the can so you have something to fall back on if shit hits the fan and you can’t record a new one in time. You can also do a “best of” featuring the five best clips of a guest you’ve had on a few times. Get creative. At the very least, if you really have nothing and no time to slap something together, put out a 30-second clip saying, “Hey guys, this thing happened and unfortunately I’m not getting a new show out this week, but I’ll have a new show next week.” If you don’t care, no one else will.”
Promoting your podcast — don’t be shy!
“I’m a crazy advocate of ABP — Always Be Promoting. Last year I had jury duty and by the end of my three-day stint, I think I got 25 people to listen. I don’t leave my house without stickers, and I consider every day a failure if I don’t talk to at least one barista or one person on the train platform about my podcast.”
Help your audience find you
“You should obviously promote on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff, but the truth is people are very platform loyal. If someone is scrolling away on Instagram, they’re not likely going to click off it to do something else. To me, the best way to promote your podcast is by being a guest on other podcasts. That’s where your audience is and that’s where you’re going to see the biggest bang for your buck. Reddit is great for getting yourself on other shows. Sub-Reddits like podcasting and podcasts have tons of people who are in the same boat as you. Then there’s a website called Podcast Guests where you can put yourself out there for free.”
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Monetizing your podcast through advertising
“There is a standard term called the CPM rate, which stands for Cost Per Thousand. (M is the Roman numeral for a thousand.) And generally, the industry standard is somewhere between $15 and $25 per thousand listeners. Not a huge payday if you have 1,000 listeners, and I don’t believe in it anyway. When SDR had 2,000 listeners, I was making like 300 bucks a show which shouldn’t be possible based on the CPM rate. But it is possible based on me going out and talking to people.
I noticed a lot of our listeners were in New Jersey, so I printed out the stats and I went to a club owner that I knew and offered them a ridiculous deal. I said, “We’ll talk about your club for a minute for $25 per episode, $100 bucks a month — if you just take three months.” The guy said no problem and gave me 300 bucks. And just like that, I was covered for the year for my hosting fees, some gas and beer money. So I advise people to go talk to relevant businesses. If it’s a D&D podcast, there’s a game store in your neighborhood. Drinking podcast, there are bars in your neighborhood. And if you tell your listeners to mention your podcast when they go into these places, those business owners will be advertisers for life.”
Want to start? Then start!
“My number one thing I advise anyone who asks is to just start. You’re in a day and age now where you can get a podcast up and running almost immediately. There are no excuses, nothing to figure out, it’s all ready to go for you. And once you start, keep at it. I tell everybody: You really are one great viral clip away from being a 100,000-listener podcast.”