A Podcast Network Business Plan to Copy
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You don't need big numbers to monetise your audio influence. You just need a plan. Try this one.

Last week Captivate launched professional podcast network features and cross-promotional feed drops to all podcasters using the platform.

It's a world-first innovation in podcasting but it's more than just a feature-set, it's part of a methodology for creating your own podcast ecosystem that can be scaled and monetised. 

Podcast listeners don't do what you think.

In my mind, someone who listens to my show enjoys it, tells people all about it and it's the ONLY podcast that they listen to without fail.

It's a beautiful world to live in but it's not reality. 

Instead, my podcast listeners might skip an episode if they're on holiday or get sick or a flat tyre or [insert inconvenience here...]. The only listeners that won't are the true fans, those who turn up every single time and for whom, I'm the favourite podcast.

That is only a percentage of listeners, though.

My show is enjoyed by a lot of people, but those true fans who will never, ever miss an episode number as a minority of the overall audience.

Your audience is the same, too.

But why is that?

First, building true fans is harder than acquiring drop-in listeners. I talk about it a heck of a lot in the "Listener Acquisition Flow" talk that I give at events like Podcast Movement and the basic premise is that you have to nurture people through a "funnel" to move them from being "lurkers" into being "listeners", "subscribers" and then "fans".

Inevitably, there are so many reasons that someone will move through that funnel: their own propensity to get involved in a community (if you have one, this person will stick around more), their desire to dive deep into your back catalogue of content, their own interest in the behind-the-scenes of your podcast - the list goes on.

But one of the main reasons, in my view, that someone won't move through your funnel and become a true fan is if they don't always find what they want when they want it.

That's not to say that your show isn't right for them, but how can one thing serve all purposes, moods or needs?

It can't, we know that.

Let me give you an example: I love the "Rockonteurs" podcast with Guy Pratt and Gary Kemp. I'm a big music fan, love 70s-90s rock and I'm really interested in how the music comes together, so an interview show where two highly-regarded musicians from my favourite era talk to other outstanding musicians from my favourite era is perfect.

I'm a fan. 

But I REALLY wish they'd release more episodes. I'd listen to them all!

But probably not when they came out. I'd binge them on a drive or "catch up" when I was ready for it.

But why? If I'm a fan why wouldn't I lap every piece of content the chaps put out instantly?

Because of my mood. 

I said I love music and as part of that, I also play music. I'm (loosely speaking) a bass player. I love it and lap up YouTube content on how to set up my Stingray, on Fender Jazz Standard basses vs American Deluxe basses and meme-style content from Davie504. I'm all over it. 

But when I get in my car to make the sixty-minute drive to our podcast studio and office, I can't take that with me and so, I turn to podcasts.

I may be in the mood to delve into something musical but it might be some bass guitar reviews or interviews with drummers or tear-downs of famous albums or song-writing theory breakdowns of popular songs.

I don't get that from "Rockonteurs". So I look elsewhere, try to find something and if I'm lucky, I do. But I'm harsh on my decision making when I do.

Nine times out of ten, when I do find a new show that I'm in the mood for I don't know the person who is creating the show and so I enter their listener acquisition funnel and start again and again and again every time I'm in the mood for something new.

To digress for ten seconds, now... in business, it's easier and cheaper to sell to an existing customer than it is to identify, warm-up and convert a new customer. That's a financial fact.

If the "Rockonteurs" team had a range of other podcasts adjacent to their main topic, it would be an instant choice for me to try them.

If "Rockonteurs on Bassists", or "Classic Album Rockontear-downs" or "How They Were Written, Rockonteurs on Classic Tracks" existed I would instantly give them the first listen when I was in the mood to satiate a musical content desire; Guy and Gary would have me continually in their ecosystem and they could cross-promote episodes to me to build my loyalty (see: "funnel").

Heck, they wouldn't even need to host those shows. They'd just need to get other great people on board, brand them as under the "Rockonteurs" banner and endorse them - such is the power of my trust in them as quality creators.

Let's get podcasty for a second, now.

We already know, thanks to the wonderful work of Tom and the Edison Research team, that podcast listeners subscribe to several shows at any one time so wouldn't it be better if I listened to more shows that YOU own as part of my habits than shows that other people produce that are in your niche, but that you aren't serving?

Instead of me trying to decide which podcast creator to give my monthly Patreon donation to because my loyalty is split, wouldn't it be easier to hit me with multiple "touchpoints" each week from one brand which, in turn, would help to sway me towards your Patreon as a supporter?

And what about sponsors?

What do they want? Well, right now the podcasting industry is selling "impressions" (the number of times an ad was 'sent' and 'heard') but as independent creators like you move towards becoming niche audio influencers, your voice becomes more valuable than just "impressions" - your influence becomes saleable.

The more opportunity that a sponsor has to engage with your audience and the more that you can prove that you have an engaged audience, the more valuable your audience becomes, regardless of its size. 

A real-life example.

I know a podcaster who has been podcasting for years now and runs a range of podcasts in a very specific and very tight niche.

The download numbers that the podcaster sees per episode aren't what you'd be able to sell to a CPM-based podcast sponsor looking for awareness to the general consumer.

But, they're useful to the right people in the same niche as the podcaster - to brands and companies looking to target this specific set of listeners.

And so, this podcaster got smart a few years ago and started listening to what their listeners were saying. As competitors cropped up in the space, typically creating podcasts that were of a different format or that included other types of content that the same listener in the niche industry wanted, the podcaster diversified.

Rather than create more episodes of one podcast which would have pushed their listener base elsewhere to get the fix of other types of content, the podcaster created solo shows (rather than the interview format that the original show is based around), short-form shows, educational shows and partner shows where the podcaster acted as show-runner but the on-air talent was someone else from the industry.

In short: this very smart podcaster created a range of podcast content that kept the listener inside their audio ecosystem and they did that by listening to their audience's needs.

The podcaster's podcast network easily clears six-figure annual revenue with download figures that you wouldn't expect to even get a sponsor using a CPM-based model.

Why?

Because the podcaster became an audio influencer in their niche and is the go-to resource in the industry that they serve purely because of the network of podcasts that they have created - you simply cannot search for any kind of content in that industry without finding this podcaster's content.

This happens a lot, too.

I see it every day on Captivate: indie podcast creators becoming influencers in their niche despite "low" download numbers and instead, where the sponsors focus on powerful positioning and the targeting of a tight niche.

That is very valuable.

Why?

Think back to what I said earlier: it's easier and more cost-effective to sell to returning customers than it is to identify, nurture and sell to new customers. Again, that's a fact of business.

Let's take my other great pop-culture love as an example, now: Star Wars.

I love Star Wars, so much so that I run a podcast about it with Garry here at Captivate. We talk about it every single week and I love finding out about the news, I love digging into the lore of Star Wars, the history of it, the future of it, the behind-the-scenes of it, the books, the games, the toys - everything.

As a podcast creator, I could cram all of that into one show. 

Or, I could get smarter. I could create a network of shows to target each portion of the Star Wars fandom and focus on keeping the ideal listener (erm, myself!) inside that audio content ecosystem more and more each week.

Let's assume a listener of one show in the network becomes a customer of one of my sponsors, let's say LootCrate was a sponsor, and that said listener buys a single LootCrate box. 

Is it easier and cheaper for that sponsor to move the customer up from being a single-box buyer to being a monthly subscriber through targeting my entire network than it is to go sponsor another podcast elsewhere and start to find a new customer all over again?

Of course. Because (see business lesson above).

A great sponsor has a healthy mix of up-sell and new customer acquisition marketing and your network (aka the range of owned, connected podcast properties based around your audio influence) can easily generate healthy, ongoing revenue from sitting right there in that mix.

That's a very simple example and it can apply more broadly than that, too. For example, Gaz and I are taking our own medicine and creating a Nerd Podcasts network (I have no idea how we got that domain, btw) because our Star Wars geekery crosses into other areas: overall gaming, DC and Marvel, movies, TV shows etc and we are certainly not alone. 

If I had put together a Venn diagram of our podcast audience, you'd see a huge overlap between these interests, where a percentage of Star Wars fans also love Destiny or where a percentage of fans also love The Flash (Wally West, please) and so on...

A basic podcast network business plan to get you started.

That sounds cool, right? Right!

But it has to be executable.

Like all good business memes, let's get one thing right from the start: begin with the end in mind.

Gah, I sound like I'm trying to sell you a course. Sorry. I'm not, I has no course.

The goal of podcast networks is to make money. Simples! Or, if you're less comfortable saying that (which you aren't alone in, lots of podcasters feel icky about money), it's about building a bigger audience around your brand - a connected audio experience with you at the centre.

In order to make money, you have to have something to sell, plus people willing to buy it.

I don't want to get too deep into what you could sell, that's another topic, but let's assume this falls into two categories: things that people buy from you (Patreon, merch, exclusive content) and things that people buy through you (sponsor products, affiliate stuff).

In order for someone to buy something, they have to know about it, they have to want it (either through desire or need), they have to know how to get it and be assured enough of its quality to risk a transaction on it.

To achieve all of that, a prospective buyer of anything must build trust and knowledge in the *thing* that they're buying and there are only two things that lead to that level of comfort: content and time.

Specifically a range of targeted content over a reasonable amount of time. 

The goal for you as a new podcast network creator is to create content that engages, entertains and educates the listener and to create a diverse range of it so that, regardless of the mood of that listener, you have content that they want, when they want it.

From there you can help them towards that purchase (for a sponsor, or for your Patreon, etc) every time they hear you but in a way that's accepted by them - you're giving them amazing free content (and lots of it) so of course, they're ok with you telling them about the thing in return.

In short: the goal is to keep a listener listening to your content as much as you can. 

To do that, you need to research what the listener is likely to listen to that is in your niche but that you don't produce.

To do that you have a few options, and employing a combination of them is best: a double question open-ended survey ("What other podcasts do you listen to?", "What podcasts do you wish existed?") and some competitor research (what other shows exist in your niche and what makes them stand out against yours?)

From there, it's a case of simply making a plan of the content that you're going to create in order to serve those needs or opportunities that arise from your research and picking a place to start that doesn't burden you with too much extra work.

For example, perhaps you run a long-form interview podcast and notice that your listeners tell you that they listen to another show in your niche that covers industry news. 

A great place to start your new podcast network could be to do a short, five minute, weekly news round-up podcast that doesn't add too much work to your week but that delivers something to that underserved portion of your listener base. Then, go ahead and cross-promote that new show to your existing audience.

Expanding from there by repeating the formula will help to harness your audio influence and lead to a connected brand that is financially attractive to you and to potential niche-focussed sponsors.

We know that podcasters like you create more shows the more they get into podcasting, because once you create you just want to keep creating (it's why Captivate has allowed you to create multiple podcasts from day one on one account).

If you can do that with a strategy in place, you'll be surprised at just how influential, and valuable, you become.

Your next steps

I teach podcasting a lot, and usually for free. So, here's what I'd recommend you do next:

P.S. you can start engaging with your listeners using AWeber. It's free, no credit card required: Mark.Live/Email



This podcast uses the following third-party services for analysis:

Podcorn - https://podcorn.com/privacy
Podtrac - https://analytics.podtrac.com/privacy-policy-gdrp
Chartable - https://chartable.com/privacy
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