Hosting a podcast is a brilliant way to get into the ears and minds of your target audience on a daily basis. Over time, listening to you becomes a habit and they feel like they know you really well. You build up trust and affinity and influence how they think and what they do.
But podcasts that hit the big time are few and far between. How do you make yours into a huge asset?
Lindsay McMahon is the founder and CEO of All Ears English, a podcast that provides English language training to international professionals. The podcast has achieved over 200 million downloads since launch and has been listed on the best of Apple Podcasts in multiple countries across several years. Lindsay and her team build online courses, develop apps and hold live events to change the way the world learns English by focusing on “connection over perfection”
McMahon has helped business owners launch their own show and build a loyal audience for their brand. You too can achieve millions of downloads by taking the right steps from day one. Here are her five strategies.
Find gaps in your market
Launching into a crowded marketplace and replicating what’s already there isn’t the way to go, explains McMahon. “When we launched our podcast we knew that language training podcasts were stiff, boring, and uninspiring. We saw that we had to capture students’ hearts before we could capture their minds in order to help them learn.” Follow the rule of opposites to test show formats. “If your industry produces podcasts that are 30 minutes, try a 15-minute format. If most podcasts use the interview format, use the story-telling format.”
Once you find the gaps, think about your show concept with your dream listener in mind, “and how this new format will add value for them.” McMahon did this with her podcast by thinking about the daily routine of her audience. “Most English language learners in Tokyo have a 15-minute commute, but most language learning podcasts were over 30 minutes. We built a 15-minute format to fit right into our listeners’ daily lives.”
Before you launch your show, look at podcasts in your industry and get a sense of what is missing. Read their reviews. This means you can, as McMahon said, “figure out how you can create your own unique space in the market.”
Show your personality
“As a podcaster you have an opportunity to build an intimate connection with your listener and to build fans and evangelists for your brand,” explained McMahon. So don’t waste it. When you are hosting your podcast, think of yourself as a performer or entertainer. See yourself as working to ensure your audience is having a great time.
McMahon said you should play to your personality’s strengths. “If you are naturally funny, find a way to bring humour into the format for your show.” Especially if you’re interviewing someone, be the person who asks the great questions and says the things your audience is thinking. See every part of your episode through their eyes and bring the personality to match. If you’re lovely and positive, let that shine through. If you’re detail oriented, go into the depths of the topic. If you’re a visionary, talk about what someone might achieve with what you teach them.
Finding a format that lets you demonstrate your personality can make each episode memorable. “Podcasting can be a form of acting,” added McMahon. “Put on a show and you will build a loyal community of listeners.”
Lead with a deeper vision
Why do want to grow your podcast? The answer has to be more than making money or being famous. What do you want for your listeners? “It becomes instantly clear if you are only in business to make money or if there is something deeper that drives you and your company. Your customers can hear it in your voice,” McMahon warned, before asking, “What is the change you want to make in your industry and in the world?”
For McMahon, she realised that adult language learners spend a “heart-breaking amount of time” focusing on their mistakes. McMahon wanted her podcast to focus on connection over perfection, and for listeners to stop being so hard on themselves along the way. The advice is that you figure out your vision, and “put it into words in a way that listeners will instantly understand.” After this, repetition is key, until the message goes in. “Repeat it over and over in the context of your episodes. This will instantly set you apart from other shows.”
Collaborate with other podcasts
In order to make your podcast a success, McMahon urges that you think of other podcasts as potential collaborators, not competition, because this will benefit your show. “Start collaborating with other podcasters immediately after you have about ten episodes in your feed. Find podcasts that would be a natural fit for collaboration and invite them on your show.”
This strategy helped All Ears English kickstart their way to millions of downloads. “Within our first 150 episodes, we hosted over 25 guests on our show,” recalled Mahon, “Many of these guests already had established podcasts. We got hundreds of new subscribers and built our show’s name quickly using this method.”
Not only did the show grow, but its host did too. “This is also a great way to grow your own professional network and have interesting conversations.”
Cover art matters
An overlooked and underestimated element of successful podcasting is the cover art. “When it comes to designing your cover art, you need to make sure your branding pops. As of mid 2021, there were 500,000 shows in Apple Podcasts.” How are you going to make sure you win new subscribers quickly?
McMahon wants you to use bright colours for your show. “We debated between yellow and blue. Choosing yellow made our show stand out among podcasts who chose safer colours like dark blue or green and it had a real impact on our downloads.”
Like books, podcasts are often judged by their cover (art). Use this small square strategically by adding your face. “Listeners want to get to know you as the podcaster. When you put your own face on the cover of your show, listeners will be more loyal and this will lead to more downloads.” Human nature means we have an urge to see who we are talking to. Don’t leave your listeners guessing, develop familiarity in all of their senses.
Find the gaps in your industry, whether that be format, length or style. Show your personality and play to its strengths and communicate the why behind what you’re doing. After that, design cover art that grabs attention and open your doors for collaboration. From a wildly successful podcast host, these are the steps that will win you downloads.