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What podcasting taught me about how to run a successful business

By Colin Gray · June 6, 2024
Hero image of a Colin Gray recording a podcast

Running a podcast is a lot like running a small business: you're the content creator, host, editor, marketer, partnership manager—the list of fashionable hats you wear goes on. And for most independent podcasters, you're juggling all of this on top of your primary job. 

As someone who's been in the podcasting game for over 15 years (I own a podcast software and content business), I've learned a lot from the podcasting community. And these lessons extend beyond podcasting itself—I've also applied them to my business. 

Here are five tips I learned from podcasting about how to run a successful business.

1. Support your competitors

Any business textbook will teach you a similar growth principle: stay close to your competitors—keep a close eye on everything they're doing, and don't let them get a leg up. This mindset positions competitors as threats and barriers you have to overcome in order to be the best. 

In podcasting, however, staying close is far less adversarial. Instead, it means becoming a part of your community—learning from and supporting other creators in the space. For example, it's common for podcast hosts to promote shows that would otherwise be considered direct competition. One podcast might even play an episode from another to cross-promote that show.

The episode description page for Search Engine featuring an episode from another podcast called Heavyweight.
The podcast Search Engine cross-promoting another show called Heavyweight.

While it may seem counterintuitive—naive, even—to actively promote another business that operates in the same niche, it's not a zero-sum game. Some benefits of cross-promoting, for both sides, include: 

  • Audience expansion. You can reach a larger audience that you might not have had access to on your own. 

  • Knowledge sharing. Working with others—instead of against them—leads to sharing experiences and learning from each other, which can spark new and creative ideas. 

2. Go all in on your niche 

When it comes to growth, there's been an interesting development in podcasting over the last few years: by homing in on a niche topic that satisfies a specific and highly-engaged audience, you're more likely to land a brand sponsorship deal that's also aligned with your target audience, increasing engagement and revenue for all parties. 

For example, those that listen to a fitness myth-busting podcast are more likely to click on sponsored content from a protein shake company than, say, those that listen to interview-style podcasts that cover every topic under the sun. 

I've seen the same be true in business: the deeper you go into a niche, the healthier your growth, especially when you're just starting out. Because, as author Kevin Kelly put it, you don't need a million subscribers or customers from the jump. What you really need are 1,000 true fans

Of course, as you grow, you'll need to expand your target audience to support your growth plans or you'll hit a plateau. But until you've built a cult-like following, focus less on pleasing everyone, and focus more on pleasing your 1,000 true fans. 

3. Monetize every available income stream 

It's true that some celebrity podcasters are raking in an obscene amount of money through streaming platform exclusives these days—from Alex Cooper's $60 million deal in 2021 to Joe Rogan’s eye-watering $250 million contract in 2024, both with Spotify. But those deals are the exception, not the rule. 

Instead of banking on the dream of landing lucrative sponsorship deals, savvy independent podcasters monetize every revenue stream available to them—of which there are many. This way, they're able to generate enough accumulated income to keep their podcast running. 

This is the same approach I apply to generating revenue for my business. For example, apart from the revenue generated through Alitu, my podcast software, we also monetize our podcast academy, sell books and resources on podcasting, and take the occasional affiliate marketing opportunities on The Podcast Host.

If your business is currently generating revenue through only one source, consider additional income streams you could be dipping into. For example, brand partnerships, merchandising, or maybe even your own niche podcast. 

Ready to start a podcast, but you're not sure how? Check out my beginner's guide for how to start a podcast

4. Approach fads and trends with caution 

As a business owner, your inclination is to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to new technologies and strategies. This makes sense since it allows you to capitalize on early adoption and gain recognition as a company that's always on the cutting edge. 

What I've noticed in the podcasting industry, though, is that podcasters are often wary of jumping on trends unless there's concrete evidence to support it. For example, due to the influence of TikTok and celebrity interviews, there's been a lot of hype around video podcasts. 

Still from a full video interview from the podcast The Cutting Room Floor hosted on YouTube.
The Cutting Room Floor podcast hosted by OMONDI. 

Video podcasts are still so new, though, that there's not enough data to indicate that the extra work required to create them—there's a lot—will directly impact your bottom line. 

Instead, independent podcasters are being strategic about the rise of this trend and following the data. After surveying 100 independent podcasters, we found that instead of going to all the extra lengths to record, edit, and publish a full video for every episode, many publish only the audio with a static image or audiogram. This allows them to capitalize on the growth of video platforms like YouTube without overinvesting their resources. 

While it's easy—and sometimes crucial, like in the case of AI—to get caught up in the hype of a new trend, approach with caution. It doesn't have to be all or nothing, either. You can experiment with the latest trends to see if it makes sense for your business while continuing to focus the majority of your efforts in established strategies. 

5. Automate what you can

When it comes to podcasting, there's a low barrier to entry for sure. But running a successful podcast takes a lot of work: content ideation, recording, editing, publishing, and promotion—just to name a few. And if you're working alone, all of these tasks quickly add up. 

The key to doing it all without burning out? Automation. For example, you can use Alitu to automate episode transcriptions and show notes and Zapier to book guests (that's what we do at The Podcast Host). 

Regardless of the industry you operate in, running a successful business is no different. Not sure what to automate? Here are some ideas to get you started: 

  • Repetitive tasks or ones that you have to do on a schedule 

  • Tasks that involve moving information between apps 

  • Monotonous or boring tasks that don't require higher-order thinking 

Zapier is the leader in workflow automation—integrating with 6,000+ apps from partners like Google, Salesforce, and Microsoft. Use interfaces, data tables, and logic to build secure, automated systems for your business-critical workflows across your organization's technology stack. Learn more.

A rising tide lifts all businesses 

No matter how far removed you think the podcasting industry is from yours, it's still a business at the end of the day. And by looking to businesses operating outside of your own industry, you're more likely to gain fresh new perspectives and innovative ideas that can drive your business forward.

Related reading: 

  • How to start a podcast—and should you?

  • The best marketing podcasts

  • What is AI marketing—and how can you leverage it?

  • How to start a successful side hustle

This was a guest post from Colin Gray, founder of ThePodcastHost.com and Alitu. ThePodcastHost.com is a huge audio, video, and written resource on how to create a successful show. Alitu is a podcast maker tool, designed to help you create your podcast in the easiest way possible, and with full creative control, including call recording, audio cleanup, audio editing, building your episode, and hosting your show.

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