I recently celebrated five years of podcasting. I launched The Thought Card Podcast in 2018 after three years of blogging and months of procrastination and self-doubt. As an avid podcast listener, podcasting felt approachable. I figured audio would help me stand out in the travel space, assist with building a captive audience, and help me gain authority — all things I’ve accomplished using this medium. Naively, I thought audio would be less work than blogging, so it would be easier to publish content more often (LOL, it isn’t).
A 4x grant-funded show, The Thought Card is an affordable luxury travel podcast with a personal finance twist inspiring financially savvy travelers to travel more while building wealth. I create destination guides and cover topics like homeownership, investing, saving, remote work, and ultimately living life on your terms through mindfulness and making smart money moves.
Listen to The Thought Card Podcast on any podcast player – click here.
Over the last five years, I’ve experienced incredible highs and devastating lows — sometimes all on the same day, which threatened my will to keep going. Admittedly, I wanted to quit several times, but am so glad I didn’t. I credit my supportive podcasting community, WOC Podcasters, and loving husband for keeping me in the game.
Having recently shared my story as the keynote speaker at PodBox Memphis Festival, I’m writing this blog post so more people can access the takeaways from my talk. Keep reading as I share the five lessons I’ve learned over these years. I hope these insights encourage you, help you trust your gut, and inspire you to lean in on furthering your aspirations, whether you’re just getting started, want to pivot or turn your hobby into a career.
What Makes a Podcast Succesful (It’s Probably Not What You Think)
1. Filter Advice Wisely
As a new podcaster, we cling to the advice we hear from gurus, experts, and industry professionals. Since they know much more than us, we consider their suggestions gospel. Questioning our judgment, we ask what should I do vs. what can I do. We read every blog post, watch every YouTube video, and listen to podcasts to learn how to launch a podcast, how to market and grow a podcast, and more. We absorb everything without discernment, but not all advice is created equal.
Over the years, I’ve learned to filter advice from experts and the industry at large through the lens of my own values, goals, and understanding. What works for one podcaster may not work for another due to differences in content, audience, and the creator’s capacity. Two podcasters can implement the same strategy but achieve wildly different results.
Listen to the experts, but only absorb what feels right for your unique situation. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, like you aren’t doing enough, or to feel bad when you learn something new and have to start over from scratch to play catch up. As a podcast coach, this is something I’m very aware of. I guide my clients to make decisions that feel right to them but never dictate what they do.
2. Shed Toxic Traits and Beliefs
As podcasters, we are impressionable. We often seek permission and doubt our abilities. Before you know it, you’re brainwashed into toxic limiting beliefs that hold you back from achieving your full potential.
It doesn’t help that ‘the industry’ tries to dictate what we can and cannot do as indies (independent podcasters). While we’ve made many strides, there’s still a lot of gatekeeping and scarcity mindsets. I often see this at large industry conferences where, for example, the sentiment is that smaller shows with less than 10,000 downloads per episode are unable to seek sponsorships.
And while that may be true for those working with advertising agencies or following the CPM (cost per mille) model, this isn’t universally true. Especially if you customize each sponsorship — something I teach my students how to do in my signature course, ‘Stand Out and Secure Podcast Sponsorships.’ Listen to the first lesson of this course by clicking on the play button below.
To imagine what’s possible, I often look outside of the industry. I study what authors, speakers, bloggers, YouTubers, and even influencers are doing. Based on my observations, I create a blended strategy that serves me and pushes me toward my next level of achievement.
Remember you are the CEO of your business and the creative director of your podcast. Experiment, follow your intuition, and don’t be afraid to pivot.
3. Rethink the CPM Model
Want to monetize your podcast by working with brand partners? Lean in closer: it’s time for real talk.
The CPM (cost per mille) model is one sponsorship model, but it isn’t the only one.
With the average podcast gaining 125 downloads per episode, the CPM model doesn’t make financial sense for indie podcasters.
The CPM model benefits large shows with tens of thousands of monthly listeners. They make bank, and while I’m happy for them, what about the rest of us?
Downloads are an important metric sponsors care about, but that doesn’t mean our smaller shows are less valuable or that brands do not want to invest in working with us. On the contrary! Read about the common podcast sponsorhip myths holding you back.
Exploring alternative avenues for sponsorships, such as offering packages and leveraging my entire brand, has been a game-changer.
When you look at your podcast as more than the RSS feed, you realize you can help brand partners reach their goals by leveraging mentions in your newsletter, social posts, blog posts, and more.
Investing in courses like Brand Deal Wizard with Justin Moore helped me connect the dots, where I learned how to create a sustainable business model built on sponsorships. Read about why I chose to take this brand deals course and how it helped me further monetize my show.
In summary, once I started going left when everyone else was going right, I began to take off and grow in all areas: income to audience size and thought leadership.
4. Unlocking Success Year By Year
Every year I stick with podcasting has brought new levels of success.
In 2020 and 2021, I won four grants to fund my podcast.
In 2022, podcast sponsorships contributed to 40% of my income.
In 2023, I was nominated for four awards, spoke at dozens of events, keynoted a podcast festival, and worked with more tourism boards than ever before!
If I had given up in my earlier years, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to leave my corporate job and pursue podcasting full-time or guide others in growing and monetizing their shows as a podcast coach.
5. Podcasting Beyond Hosting
Lastly, podcasting is a multifaceted industry with opportunities beyond hosting. While podcast hosting is quite popular, remember other essential roles that drive success, such as editors, show note writers, podcast managers, producers, journalists, and coaches. There are numerous ways to be involved in podcasting and generate income. Consider parlaying your current skills to offer services to others or learn new skills.
Speaking of income, here are (4) additional income streams I leverage because of my podcasting skills:
- One-on-one podcast coaching – click here to learn how you can work with me.
- I run a paid podcasting community for Women of Color called ‘WOC Podcasters.’
- I sell digital products, like courses, podcast planners, templates, and more.
- I speak at events and offer consultations.
While my podcasting journey has been both challenging and rewarding, it’s completely changed my life. It opened more doors than I can count, and the lessons I’ve learned and the opportunities ahead are a testament to what can happen when you bet on YOU. As you embark on your podcasting journey, remember to filter advice wisely, identify and shed limiting beliefs, and explore the diverse opportunities this industry offers. Learn from your experiences, define what a successful podcast looks like, and keep creating content you enjoy.