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It is possible to make money with a podcast. I’ve seen people do it. I’ve done it. But many podcasters struggle with this. Why is that? There are a few reasons.

First, a lot of podcasters don’t have a plan to make money outside of maybe selling ads. This brings up to the second problem; most podcasters don’t have a big enough audience to sell ads, and they struggle to get new listeners.

So what are some ways to make money with a podcast when you don’t have a large audience yet?

Highlights, Takeaways & Quick Wins:
  • To make money with a podcast, you have to have an audience.
  • People associate podcasts with free content because that’s the way it’s always been.
  • If you want to make money with your podcast, you need to treat it like a business, which means you have to consider what other people want and what they’d be willing to pay for.
  • If you’ll be recommending products and services you use and love anyways, then affiliate programs are an easy way to make a little money without costing your listeners anything.
  • If you give value to people, they’re going to want to give back.
  • Know who you’re creating for, what they value, what problems they’re having, and what they’re willing to pay for.
Show Notes
  • 03:03 Why do people struggle with making money with podcasting? I asked some people in the Community, “Who’s made money with podcasting and how?” Kyle Adams had asked, “Is it ok to determine that a podcast will not make money, but will instead be a marketing tool? Example; Twitter or Instagram.” I responded, “A marketing tool for what?” He said, “For whatever you’re selling. Your topic is focused on making money directly from a podcast. I’m wondering bringing into question if that matters or not.”
  • 03:54 The important part of what he said was “whatever you are selling”. Most people don’t know what they’re selling and that’s an issue. Kyle said, to rephrase, “Do you need to make money directly from a podcast? If it’s not generating income directly, where does it land in the sales process and why should it remain a priority?” Sean McCabe says, “A podcast is an acquisition channel.”
  • 04:36 Here at seanwes, we have a network that produces four podcast shows a week. Sean and I were talking about this recently. We do a lot of podcasts, but people don’t pay for podcasts. People aren’t used to paying for podcasts. A podcast ad company called Midroll recently launched a podcast app called Howl, which is being called “Netflix for Podcasts”. They charge $5 or $6 a month and it’s an interesting idea. The problem is that people are used to podcasts being free. This means that they will push back against the idea of paid podcasts.

People associate podcasts with free content because that’s the way it’s always been.

  • 05:34 What’s interesting to me is that people are still willing to pay for audio books, even thought it’s basically the same thing. I’ve got an Audible subscription that’s $15 a month for one or two audio books and I love it. There are some differences, and writing a book is a lot harder than making a podcast, but you’re still listening to an audio file on your phone. The difference is in perception. The people who are paying for audiobooks see them as valuable—worth paying money for. The people listening to podcasts see them as something that should be free.
  • 06:22 The problem then is, if you start asking, “How can I sell my podcast?” That’s an uphill battle. There are some ways to sell podcasts and I think more and more people are going to start doing this. I think it’ll take some time, but I do think eventually listeners will start paying for podcasts they love. The way around this is to think about what people find valuable and sell them that. Is it an eBook you read out loud? Could you record a mini audiobook? Can you make an online course? Of course you could. Then again, none of this matters if you don’t have an audience.

To make money with a podcast, you have to have an audience.

  • 07:17 It doesn’t have to be a huge audience. You can make money with a few hundred people if it’s the right few hundred people. You can make money with a few thousand and if you’re lucky, you’ll get 10,000, 20,000, or maybe 50,000. I really think only the big, successful podcasts get into the hundreds of thousands of people. Those aren’t the people I’m taking to, though—I’m talking to you with hundreds or thousands of people in your audience.
  • 07:49 Some people (read: celebrities) can launch a podcast and instantly start selling ads against it. This isn’t the case for many podcasters. You probably don’t have thousands or hundreds of thousands of loyal followers, and you can’t grow an audience that size overnight. So if selling ads is your only plan for making money with your podcast, what are you going to do in the time between now (when you only have a hundred or a thousand listeners) and the future you’re hoping for (when you have thousands or tens of thousands)? What are you going to do if those thousands of people never show up? Or what if it takes 5 years?

Many Podcasters Aren’t Asking the Right Question

  • 08:43 If you want to make money, you have to ask, “What are people willing to pay for?” That leads to the question, “What do the people listening to my podcast want?” Earlier, I jokingly said that I’ve made money in podcasting, but I think I’ve spent it all on coffee. I’ve had three or four cups of coffee already this morning and someone said, “You should start a coffee podcast.” Let’s say I was going to start a podcast about coffee. The first two things I would think about are: 1. Why would someone listen to this podcast? and 2. How could I make money with this podcast?
  • 09:44 I love coffee and I could start a podcast about it because I like it, but it would be more of a hobby. I tend to think of podcasts as part of a business. This podcast is part of my personal business, which is helping people make podcasts. I don’t necessarily do it for fun. I enjoy it, but it has to be something that supports me so I can pay bills. Why would people want to listen to a podcast about coffee? They want to learn what the best coffee is. They want to know where to find good coffee.
  • 10:21 They want to know about coffee that’s better than the coffee they’re getting right now. What could I sell that could help them reach their goal? Instantly, I thought I could sell a curated guide—The 10 Best Affordable Coffee Roasters. I could talk about how to find the best coffee, how to store coffee, etc. The problem is if you’re only thinking about what you want. Now, it’s not a bad thing to have goals, you should. But,

If you want to make money with your podcast, you need to treat it like a business, which means you have to consider what other people want and what they’d be willing to pay for.

  • 11:12 Asking the question, “What does my audience want?” will help you shape your content to be more appealing to them, but it will also generate ideas for additional streams of revenue. I’ve got a friend, Joe, (who does freelance photography) that I hadn’t seen in a long time, but we met up for lunch recently. He said he’s really struggling finding clients. He’s been working with some restaurants to shoot some product photos, but he’s also really good at shooting landscape. I said that he needed to curate his website to attract those kind of clients.
  • 12:25 Right now, he’s got a lot of portraits and random stuff on his site, so no one would know what he’s about. Something I noticed while hanging out with him was that he’s obsessed with growing his Instagram audience. He wants to get more paying clients, but he’s not sure how to do that, so he spends his time trying to get more followers. Huh? He even pays for a service that automatically likes and follows and unfollows other people. I think he’s wasting his time.
  • 13:41 His problem isn’t that he doesn’t have enough attention, it’s that he doesn’t have a plan for what to do with the attention that he already has. He’s not directing the attention he’s getting towards his paid products or services. I told him he should be teaching. He should be sharing what he’s learned about shooting photography. He’s not doing that. He can shoot photos for you, but he doesn’t have a page on his website where he explains the process for the clients he wants to work with. This is the problem so many podcasters have: They don’t know what to do with the attention they get on their shows.

Focus on What Your Audience Is Willing to Pay Money For

  • 14:48 I propose that you start thinking about ways to use your podcast to direct your audience to paid products that people are willing to pay money for, like courses, books, consulting time, or experiences. I think bands could do podcasts to grow closer with their fans and to get more people to come out to their shows. Do you know something that you can teach to someone to help them make money or save time? You could offer paid consulting.
  • 15:32 Affiliate marketing is another great way to make money. If you are going to be recommending any products or services on your podcast, setup up affiliate accounts. Amazon is the easiest, but many other companies offer affiliate accounts as well. Sign up for an Amazon affiliate account and then buy Affiliate from the Mac App store to help you quickly create amazon affiliate links. Check to see what other companies offer affiliate programs and sign up. This doesn’t cost the audience anything, but these things can add up over time.

If you’ll be recommending products and services you use and love anyways, then affiliate programs are an easy way to make a little money without costing your listeners anything.

  • 17:37 Start thinking about how you can repurpose the most valuable content you’ve created on your podcast into a different medium that people are willing to pay for. Sean McCabe did this recently with the book he wrote in July called Overlap. A lot of it is original, but he started off writing all these ideas down and then doing podcasts about them. Eventually, he turned the ideas into an 80,000 word book.
  • 19:04 I’m doing this by making a big online course called Successful Podcasting, a screencast series called Logic Pro X for Podcasters, and a mini-course called Garageband for Podcasters. And as time goes by, I’ll keep my eyes open for other courses and products that I can create and sell to my audience. Maybe a screencast series about EQ and Compression; maybe an ebook about writing show notes—whatever people tell me they’re going to find valuable. People are going to tell you these things if you’re listening and asking.
  • 20:19 And yes, it is going to be a lot of work. Most businesses are. It’d be nice if people gave you money to do whatever was fun to you, but that’s not the way the world works right now. Maybe it will in the future when robots take over our jobs, but that’s not our current reality. What you have to do instead is know who you’re creating for, what they value, what problems they’re having, and what they’re willing to pay for. Then create a product or offer a service that will solve that problem for them.
  • 20:52 It might be hard in the beginning if you don’t have an audience because you might not know what problems people are willing to pay for. I started by writing about the problems I had solved for myself, then I started doing research into what problems other people were talking about. This led to me writing blog posts, which led to client work, helping other people make podcasts. I paid close attention to the questions they asked and the problems they were having.
  • 21:33 A lot of times, I would notice problems that my clients didn’t even notice, so I started writing about those too. Then I started asking people what they were struggling with, which led to more questions, more clients, and eventually this podcast and the course that I’m shooting video for right now.
  • 21:51 This all took a couple of years to develop, so don’t expect things to happen overnight, but if you want your podcast to be a part of what you want to do professionally:

It’s important to keep your eyes open for the questions your audience members are asking and then create content that answers those questions.

  • 22:16 To go back to the question Kyle posed earlier—do you need to make money directly from a podcast? If it’s not generating income directly, where does it land in the sales process and why should it remain a priority?—I’d say that if your podcast acts as an attention-grabber or an acquisition channel, it’s bringing people in and growing an audience while making them trust you and giving you an opportunity to sell additional value to them, then you’re making money with podcasting.
  • 22:53 Let’s say you’re a designer and you do a podcast about design, at the end of your episodes, you should be telling people, “If you have a design problem and you want to collaborate, or you want to hire a designer, get in touch with me.” You should absolutely be promoting your other stuff. If you’re in a band and you make a podcast where you interview other people, you should be promoting your merch, upcoming shows, and finding ways to give more value to people.
  • 23:25 I didn’t even go into detail on ads or Patreon, but if you give value to people, they’re going to want to give back. You have to start from the place of wanting to give them valuable and that they want. You need to sell on your podcast and you need to ask people for iTunes reviews (Related: seanwes podcast e213 Sales Is Not a Dirty Word – Why You Need to Learn to Sell). Don’t be afraid to sell and don’t be afraid to ask.