Professional Podcasting: When Audience Numbers Don’t Matter

Professional Podcasting: When Audience Numbers Don't MatterI’ve worked with podcasters who have spent months doing full-fledged productions involving a half-dozen people and hours upon hours of their time for an audience that hovered in the double digits. On the surface, this could be quite discouraging and would likely result in a cancellation from a network (if that network is investing in production). However, for independent podcasters seeking to make a mark in the world, these numbers don’t usually matter as much as you might think.

For many independent podcasters, the dream is to have a show that gains enough traction to attract sponsors and perhaps build a reputation for the podcaster that translates to a career down the line. Well, finding sponsors does mean proving at least some level of saturation. Building a career or finding clients does not.

In this article, we’ll take a look at why early audience numbers don’t matter as much as many people believe. It’s because of this fact that so many podcasters give up after a relatively short amount of time despite having all the promise of reaching their desired level of success.

The More You Do, the Better Your Chances of Discovery

If you’ve only produced your show for a few months, or even nine months, there will only be so much content out there for people to stumble across. Podcasting is a lot like blogging in that your potential for growth builds as you continue to add content. If someone is searching for a specific topic you covered in an episode, there is a chance that they may come across your show and give it a look. With enough time and content, more and more people are likely to stumble across your podcast and check it out. It takes only a few key individuals enjoying what they find enough to share it with their friends through social networks and blogs to trigger a chain reaction.

Going viral isn’t something that happens overnight. Only in a handful of isolated cases does this happen, and if you try to make it happen, the chances of failing increase.

Look at some of the most popular podcasts out there produced by people who didn’t have an existing audience going into it. WineLibrary.TV was produced daily for a year before it took off. That’s three bottles of wine per day, five days per week, for a year. That type of growth took a lot of investment over a long period of time. The result, however, was a multimillion dollar growth in business and the founding of a new company that has made a considerable impact on what’s commonly referred to as new media.

Our own YouTube channel here at LockerGnome wasn’t an overnight success, despite the host being pretty well-known going into it. After almost 5,000 videos on subjects ranging from specific technologies to broader social topics, the channel has grown significantly and continues to generate great traffic on videos that were produced quite a long time ago. The key to combining quality with quantity over time is longevity. Everything you produce should exist on the Web for as long as you can host it.

Your Portfolio Doesn’t Depend on Audience Numbers

If your goal in podcasting is to build a portfolio and parlay it into a career, then audience numbers really don’t matter very much. What matters most is the quality and consistency of your content, how it’s made available, and what you’re talking about.

I spent two years doing machinima for a virtual television station to an audience that ranged from dozens to hundreds of people per day. It wasn’t exactly a viral blockbuster. In fact, the show itself made no money for myself or the network I produced it for. What it did do, however, was enable me to land a job working for a nationally syndicated radio/TV show as a producer/director. This happened because I had proven my ability to produce consistent content. This was aided by a few years of FM radio I did during high school (seven years prior), but it was those cartoons I made during my spare time that helped me land that interview.

That job gave me the experience I needed to do a lot of the things I do today. If I hadn’t spent that time producing content for a relatively small audience, I might still be working in customer service today instead of writing this out of my home office.

You Never Know when the Right Person Might Find You

Earlier, I mentioned how having more content out there makes it easier for folks to find you and subscribe to your work. To add to that, you really never know when the right person might find you and change your life. I was doing some live streaming back in 2007-2008 when someone stumbled into my stream’s chatroom. We had a conversation that eventually evolved into a discussion about technology and podcasting. She mentioned a live stream being hosted by a former TechTV personality and recommended that I check it out. After my stream was over, I decided to visit to find out what all the fuss was about.

From there, I connected with the community and discovered that Chris Pirillo also ran a blogging platform for independent technology writers called LockerGnome. That’s when I started blogging here, and over time it became my primary method for paying the bills.

In short, it was that one person that found me online that got the ball rolling on a series of events that would lead to a life-changing career shift. I’ve been able to travel to interesting places, meet incredible people, and build a personal brand in a way I never could have otherwise. It’s because I produced content for a very small audience (she was my only viewer at the time) that I was able to find a job that combined what I love about broadcasting with my passion for technology.

Today, my day is spent editing video, writing about tech, and enjoying life from my own home. If I hadn’t done what I had done 5+ years ago, I would probably still be sitting a call center listening to complaints about electric bills.

What about you? Have you converted your passions into a career? Do you feel that the size of your audience made as big of a difference in that change as you might have imagined before?

The Audience by Peter Griffin

1 comments On Professional Podcasting: When Audience Numbers Don’t Matter

  • Awesome article! And you’re right, the same applies when you’re a baby DJ starting out at a radio station, video editor, writer or even a starting musician. The key is to keep going and trying.

    I try to live by the words of a famous New York City radio personality, Scott Shannon:
    ‘If you’re willing to work hard enough, you’ll accomplish whatever the hell you want to. All you really need is focus and determination; the rest is up to you.’

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