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Ten Steps to a Top Ten Podcast

Podcasts are the best - and everyone knows it. There are a gazillion of them and there is a podcast about anything and everything. Cashew dip, Plattsburgh NY, mouse lemurs, making crayons into candles. You imagine it, there is a podcast for it.

So if there are SO MANY podcasts, how does one make it to the top ten? Years and years of branding - sure. Leveraging a huge already established community - definitely. But what if you are just starting and you don’t have a big email list yet? How do you get on the top then if nobody knows you?

Here’s how - in ten easy steps.

The first five steps are about identity and the second five steps are nuts and bolts. Both are essential - you need to know what you are building before you build it and then you need the right materials.

Step One: Who are you and why are you here?

Take this seriously. Who are you and why do you want to make a podcast? Passion? Service? Money? Are you a teacher? A musician? A coach? Take a moment and write down as much as you can about why you want to subject yourself to a lot of work for no immediate and apparent reward.

Step Two: Write down 5 episodes.

This is to make sure you can do it. Ideas are one thing. Winging it is one thing. Talking ‘off the cuff’ is one thing. But if you see this project as sustainable, write it down. Even if you don’t plan on using any notes, just write down 5 episodes. You will learn something about Step One.

Step Three: Tell the truth.

People can’t lie anymore. The age of tricking people into buying something is over. Social media has trained us all to know what is authentic and what is snake oil - so just tell the truth. Even if your truth is a fictional story - be authentic, be real, be vulnerable. Even if you are an authority on civil war coins, be real - be yourself. We can tell if you are trying to be Ira Glass or Jad Abumrad - just talk like you and be you and the right people will find you.

Step Four: Get equipment and record - a lot.

This takes time and practice. But it doesn’t take a sound studio and expensive equipment. Truly, all you need is a laptop and a USB microphone plugged into it. We have regularly been in the top ten for the past three years and I still use a Blue Snowball Mic ($75) my laptop. Really - that’s it.

The real work is your voice. Figure out how close to be to the mic. Figure out how loud to speak. Get comfortable so your voice doesn’t sound stilted. Soften your ‘p’s’ and ‘s’s’. Speak slower than you normally speak. Let there be silence - long pauses. Don’t worry about being entertaining. Drop your shoulders and, again, tell the truth.

And then for editing, we use Garageband. It’s just easy.

Step Five: Have people listen to your recordings.

Ask lots of people to listen to them. You are not looking for compliments - you are looking for the moments where you lost them. Where were the sounds or pauses that interrupted the flow? What was annoying, upsetting, uncomfortable, curious? Listen to their opinions, take them seriously, and then record again, considering their feedback.

Step Six: Basic needs of Production.

You will need an icon that represents your podcast. Look at all the icons on iTunes or other libraries (such as PodGallery) and notice the ones that interest you. There are lots of services and websites available to help you create your icon. One easy service is Picmonkey. You will want to choose the right color, image and then title of your podcast. (The proper dimensions: 1400 x 1400 px in JPG or PNG format)

Intro music? Not necessary but with a a kids podcast, it becomes an identifier for children - something that calls them to order and prepares them. Do you have a friend who can create something for you? If not, there is a lot of free stuff. Even garageband has little ditties you can use. Tagging Software. You’ll want to “tag” each of your mp3 files with the right information (or metadata), so that mp3 players can have data for podcast name, copyright etc. We use ID3 Editor.

Step Seven: Choosing a Hosting Service

You’ll need to choose a Podcast Hosting Service -- where your podcast will “live” and from which it can be broadcast to iTunes or Stitcher, or wherever you choose! We really like Libsyn as they are affordable and really easy to use.

Step Eight: Submit your Podcast to iTunes First, if you don’t have the iTunes software, download it -- and create an Apple ID for yourself. Open iTunes, go to the iTunes Store and choose “Podcasts”. In the right hand menu, there’s a link that says “Submit a Podcast”.

In the application process you’ll need an RSS Feed -- you can go to your Hosting Service to find it. (For example, in Libsyn, you find it on the “Destinations” page.

You’ll be alerted by email when your Podcast has been accepted (and patience may be needed as it can take weeks). And then it’s time to share!

Step Nine: Gather your audience

Don’t think you have a ready audience? Actually you do - particularly if you’re on social media. It's OK to ask friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances to help. While you are waiting for iTunes approval, gather an email list of everyone you know. Tell them that the podcast is coming, share your exciting vision, and let them know you will be so very grateful if they share the word.

Step Ten: Launch (and motivate your audience to engage)

As you know, iTunes sets the standard distributing podcasts - it’s where most folks go to access podcast content. And success on iTunes = podcasting success!

You have four weeks to get into the “New & Notable” category on iTunes. This is where you want to be for visibility. But how do you get there? Their algorithm considers number of reviews + number of downloads, so here’s what you need to do:

First, when you launch, have several podcasts ready to go. We offered four episodes to start, and shortly after launched a fifth. That way, each new person that subscribes can download multiple things on their first visit.

Offer incentive for folks to listen, download and review as quickly as possible. As we have a website with products on offer, we did a giveaway - and encouraged folks in every single outlet we have, from social media, to our newsletter, to direct emails asking friends to share what we are up to. Now it's time to reach out to the audience you gathered above. Send them the iTunes preview link, and ask them to subscribe and and write a review. You can also ask them to share your podcast on their own social media accounts. Don’t be afraid to reach out directly and say “Look what I’m up to! Here’s how you can help.”

You have something to say, and if you say it for real, from an authentic place - a LOT of people will want to listen. We hope these ten steps help make that happen!


David and Lisabeth started Sparkle Stories in 2010 and over the past several years have written and recorded nearly 1000 original audio stories for children. You can enjoy a free 10 day trial of the streaming website and offline app - - or listen to the free iTunes podcast (voted best new iTunes podcast of 2013).

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