Digital Media Guru Dishes on How to Start a Podcast Business

Michael Essany Headshot by Michael Essany on March 7, 2011
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Gone are the days when the podcast community was marginalized as a digital repository of programming for people without adequate talent to break into mainstream radio or television broadcasting. Today, in fact, there are countless established media personalities abandoning traditional media platforms for the rich, emerging opportunities in online digital entertainment, particularly those that relate to podcasting.

What Is a Podcast?

A podcast is a series of digital media presentations that are released in episodic fashion on the web, commonly downloaded via web syndication. Although podcasts have existed for well over a decade, only in the last five years have they surged in quality, popularity, and profitability.

According to Dan Benjamin, a digital media expert and host of the hugely popular “Pipeline” podcast series, the explosion in podcasting is due in large part to Apple’s iTunes, iPods, and even the iPhone. It’s an ecosphere, Benjamin says, “that makes it incredibly easy and fun to find amazing and usually free content, and get it onto the device you already have with you.”

What Makes a Successful Podcast?

While the diversity within contemporary podcast programming is substantial, most successful podcasts exhibit a common link — programming that is both entertaining and informational. It’s a formula that Benjamin understands as host of the “Pipeline,” an interview show featuring in-depth conversations with “innovators, designers, geeks, newsmakers, entrepreneurs, and people who create amazing things.” For Benjamin, however, the impetus for the podcast was the dream to “bring together my love for talk radio with the technology industry.”

Yet, despite the apparent ease with which Benjamin and his peers have presented hundreds of hours of quality podcast content, starting a successful podcast business requires both time and commitment.

Starting a Podcast Business

“Assuming you’re serious about it and ready to commit,” Benjamin advises, there are seven basic steps that accompany establishing a podcast.

  1. Have something entertaining, insightful, and beneficial to offer, and make it unique.
  2. Buy the best microphone you can afford, and make your audio quality sound amazing.
  3. Be consistent: do a show every week, don’t skip weeks, and don’t sit on content or your audience will go someplace else.
  4. Keep things free for listeners, especially when you’re starting out.
  5. Don’t try to make money when you’re starting out, and don’t worry about sponsors until you have a decent number of listeners and a nice body of content.
  6. Hire a designer to do your show’s artwork. This is what people will see in iTunes, and it matters more than you might realize.
  7. Submit your show to iTunes. That’s where the biggest audience lives.

A Bumpy Path to Profitable Podcasting

Dan Benjamin, who founded 5 by 5 Studios (5 by 5) during his meteoric rise in digital content production, does warn that obstacles are not only possible when it comes to starting a podcast business, they are also highly probable. It’s an unfortunate situation with which the now-established podcasting sage was once personally acquainted.

“I suspect that some of the initial challenges I faced are the same that every independent business owner faces,” Benjamin admits. “Getting the word out about what you’re doing, getting clients — or in our case advertisers — interested in what we’re doing, and making the decision to focus 100 percent on something with the economy in the dumps and with a family to support.”

“There have also been big technological hurdles to overcome,” he adds, “from building our own content management system to building a tiny broadcast network out of duct tape and dental floss in a spare bedroom of my house.”

Today, as one of the pioneers of contemporary big-league podcasting, Benjamin sees no shortage of growth and opportunity in his medium during the next five years.

“I think this industry — which I often call Internet broadcasting because so many of our shows are in real-time to a live audience — is nothing less than the future of broadcasting,” Benjamin says. “Five years from now, the devices we use to deliver entertainment will aggregate content from a wide variety of sources, from NPR to CNN to HBO to the local weather report, and yes, from 5 by 5 and other indie networks as well. And the audience won’t (and shouldn’t!) have to care that those sources are so significantly different behind the scenes.”

Michael Essany Headshot

Michael Essany is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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