By now you’ve probably heard that the podcasting industry is projected to become a billion-dollar space in just a year. I don’t know about you, but when I first heard that, the first thing that came to mind was how in the world are some of my faves (The Read, Black Girl Podcast, Side Hustle Pro, and more) are making money and attributing to the scaling of the podcast industry.
Hearing about podcasting becoming a billion-dollar industry, I became really curious about how some of my favorite podcasters were making money – and I mean real money. I wanted to know things like, how were they monetizing well enough to pay everyday bills and a mortgage? How were they skillfully marketing their podcast? How did they go from their podcast being a side hustle to a full-time gig, and even for some podcasters, how did they gain enough interest to get backed by investors?
These were all valid questions, that deserved real answers.
In order to figure this all out, I knew I needed to speak with one of the leading podcasters out on the market. The first person that came to mind was Nicaila Matthews Okome.
Nicaila is the creator and host of the Side Hustle Pro podcast, which is the first and only podcast to spotlight bold, Black women entrepreneurs who have scaled from side hustle to profitable business. Launched in 2016, Nicaila’s podcast has been featured on the TODAY show, named “the perfect entrepreneurship podcast” by Mashable, has been highlighted on Auntie Oprah’s website, and has amassed over three million downloads and a loyal social media following of aspiring entrepreneurs.
Outside of hosting Black women entrepreneurs on her podcast, Nicaila is also the founder of Podcast Moguls, a podcasting accelerator program that helps emerging podcasters create and launch their podcasts, grow their influence through targeted social media marketing, and build a profitable business from podcasting.
In our recent chat, Nicaila shared her top tips for marketing a podcast, and how to scale it from a revenue and listenership standpoint.
Keep reading to get all of the gems!
Started from an idea, now we’re here
When I first started the podcast, I was still working at NPR and it eventually transitioned. Originally, my idea had been to have a blog and the goal when I started the blog, was completely different. I wanted to work on my personal brand and position myself as a marketing expert to attract a job and show employers my expertise. Once I started doing that I realized I was kind of bored with it and I really was more into storytelling and sharing the stories of other people who I thought were doing amazing things in their industry. Slowly from there, I started gravitating to side hustlers because I saw myself going the side hustle route and that’s how the Side Hustle Pro podcast, eventually evolved into a podcast.
It’s funny too when I think about it because I didn’t initially know that the podcast itself would become my side hustle. Even though I was doing the podcast on the side, I didn’t fully understand all of the business aspects of podcasting. As I started to do my research and learned more about it, I realized that I could monetize my podcast and that it was, and still is, in fact, a real business endeavor. As you know, I was working for NPR, who is one of the largest podcast publishers in the world, so I saw the business of podcasting directly every single day at work.
Podcasting was never a hobby; it’s always been a viable business idea
The premise of my show has always been wanting to get inside of the minds of Black women entrepreneurs who scaled their business from side hustle to being a full-time entrepreneur. My show outline started out by me sitting down and really thinking through what’s the best way to have a series of questions that’ll help me pull out the best in the people I interviewed.
On the show, I knew I wanted to have some consistency. I wanted people to know what to expect. That framework has pretty much stayed the same but as I’ve grown as an interviewer, I’ve learned how to frame questions even better to help people to share their stories, rather than giving short answers, or not elaborating enough. I’ve learned how to help people open up more in the beginning so that we can really get into a natural and robust convo.
Another thing that helped me, in the beginning, was the fact that I had a marketing and business background going into my podcast. For me, my podcast wasn’t a hobby. Even though I didn’t know from the jump how to exactly monetize, I knew I could be capable of monetizing so I sat down and took time to figure it out.
I think a lot of people start off with their podcast as a hobby, and then, later on, decide they want to monetize. When this happens, you realize you haven’t laid the branding foundation, you haven’t grown your audience, and you have no idea what the demographics of your audience are to even pitch sponsors and so forth. When I launched my podcast, I went in with the mindset of tracking all of that and making sure that I focused on growing my listenership, and tracking my downloads. By doing this, when it was time to present my media kit and my sponsorship kit, I was able to do so in a valuable, strategic way.
Know your product before you to try to sell your product
Before you even attempt to get sponsorships for your podcast, you should make sure you truly understand who is listening to your show. That means, before you even approach sponsors, take the first step of making sure you know who you’re talking to. From there, understand which brands want to talk to your audience and make sure it’s a natural fit. You’ll find that there will be lots of people who might want to talk to your podcast listeners but that doesn’t mean you should jump at every offer. You need to ask yourself, is this something you stand for and stand behind? Is this a product you vouch for?
As a podcaster, whoever and whatever we advertise on our show, our listeners will take it as we are vouching for it. You have to have strong ethics, and then work with only brands that you think is the best fit for your audience. Getting sponsors is more about just getting money and being able to monetize your show. When you’re looking for sponsors, you’ll find that they want to know more about your audience. They want to know the gender, age-range, topics you discuss, most listened to episodes, and of course, the number one thing, the average number of downloads, per episode, monthly. This should all go in your media or sponsorship kit.
In any business, especially in podcasting, you have to get scrappy
The podcasting sponsorship space is a little like the wild wild west right now. When I talk to people, I tell them that you want to start out with brands that are already doing podcasting sponsorship. Doing that, it’ll be a little easier. It’s one thing to convince someone to sponsor your show. It’s another thing to have to sell them on the idea of podcast advertising, and then having to try to sell them on sponsoring your show. You don’t want to spend time convincing someone that podcast advertising is a good investment; you want to reach out to people that have already been bought into the podcasting landscape and understand this medium.
Next, you want to listen to your competitors’ shows that discuss similar topics, see who’s advertising on those shows, and then reaching out to those brands. This will require some scrappiness. You’ll need to spend time searching on LinkedIn, searching on the website, starting out with the first contact email you find, and going from there. You want to knock on every door.
Test everything and don’t be afraid to pivot
When I started monetizing, I tested out different revenue streams. The first thing I tested was e-commerce because at the time I had a guest on the show and they made it seem so easy. I made my first t-shirt and put up my store online. What I soon discovered is one, the margins of e-commerce can be really tricky. In addition to that, the drop-shipping model, the taxes, and the shipping costs are all things that really cut into the margin. From there, I knew that e-commerce was something that would be helpful and would support the brand awareness of the show, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the thing that would allow me to leave my job, or at least at the scale that I was able to eventually do it.
After that, I started out testing other revenue streams. In podcasting, there are three main revenue streams that people tend to do. Sponsorships are one, selling your digital content and digital courses is another, and then e-commerce is the next revenue stream. My revenue streams now include sponsorships, live shows or events, creating my own digital content and courses, doing speaking engagements, and then I do some e-commerce.
Invest in your future
During the first year, I invested a lot of money into learning. Back in 2016, my major investment was learning from people who had a skill set that I was trying to master for my business. I was for sure nervous about investing large amounts, but I’m glad I did it. Looking back, I appreciate the way that I was strategic in the beginning and invested in things that we’re going to help me out with my business.
Marketing should be clear, not confusing
When it comes to marketing your podcast, before you even start putting out organic content, you need to focus on positioning your podcast well when you launch – that is half the marketing right there.
You want people to understand early on what your podcast is about and who it’s for. Too often, we tend to come up with these fancy play on words, metaphors, and graphics, and people just don’t get it. You want to be clear and keep it simple. By not doing that, it’s easy to alienate your listeners. People will scroll past your posts on social media because they don’t realize that your show is actually for them. Make it absolutely clear what you stand for and what your show is about.
Next, understand that you can be proactive about getting out there and helping people come back to your content. I like to think of social media networking as like any other form of networking. My favorite platform is Instagram because it allows you to do this so readily. Personally, I like to get out there and introduce people to my content and company by finding my person online, and I teach my students how to do this in Podcast Moguls.
Essentially, you need to determine who your ideal listener is for your show. Understand where they are on Instagram, and get out there by introducing yourself to them so that they will get your content, engage with it, and follow your page.
Having great content is half of the battle, but then being proactive about meeting those people and sharing the content with them is the next part.
To learn more about Nicaila and receive her business gems, find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @sidehustlepro or visit SideHustlePro.co.
*feature photo credit: DFinney Photography