Top Five Podcast launch mistakes – and how to avoid them

Your podcast launch is exciting and fun – and so it should be.

But most people find it’s more involved or complicated than they expected, with a heck of a lot of decisions to make along the way.

In turn, that means it’s easier to trip over some of the hurdles in your path.

Here, I’m going to take you through five mistakes I regularly see new podcasters – and some existing podcasters – make, how to avoid them, and importantly, how you get those things right.

Mistake #1 – Diving straight in

There’s absolutely nothing to stop you picking up your phone, opening your voice notes app, hitting recording, and off you go. In fact, sometimes I suggest it to people, to whet their whistle somewhat and just get into the flow of speaking and listening back to their voice. But will that material really be good enough to then release to the world?

In a similar way, I’ve seen plenty of people who’ve decided to start a podcast, blow a grand on equipment, and then just dive straight in.

I get it – you decide you want to start a podcast and so YOU WANT TO START A PODCAST. But look, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right, isn’t it?

If you dive in without a proper plan, it’s not going to have much structure, or a format, and you’re miles away from having any processes in place. With more than two million podcasts out there, if you want to make an impact, you need to be good. I mean look, if you don’t want to make an impact, yeah go ahead, record it on your phone – but if you’re one of those who wants to do things right, and you have ambitions for your show to take off, then recording episode one is a fair few points down the checklist. 

If you dive straight in, you’ll have a great time. It’ll be brilliant fun, for a few weeks, or maybe a few months. Then reality will start to rear its head and you’ll start to get a bit disillusioned why you’re not getting many listeners, then it’ll start to feel like a chore doing episodes. You’ll miss one. Then you’ll miss a couple. We have a word for it – podfade. I don’t want to see you fall victim of the dreaded podfade.

Personally, I think the first thing to do is to really clarify your aim (or your ‘why’ as some people prefer to call it). Basically – be really clear and specific on your aim, and everything else falls into place much more easily.

By ‘aim’ we’re not really talking about ‘getting lots of listeners’. Every podcaster wants that, surely? But for your aim, you need to dig a little deeper. WHY do you want those listeners? What do you want them to do? What’s the bigger picture? Maybe making money from your podcast is your ultimate aim, so getting listeners means you can go out to sponsors or advertisers. For a lot of people now, their podcast is part of a wider business plan, so their aim might be to convert listeners to email subscribers. Spend time thinking about this, and be really clear on what your aim is.

That will then help you start pulling together the rest of your strategy. This blog isn’t a guide to creating a podcast strategy, but in short, we’re talking about stuff like the podcast idea, what it’s called, what the artwork looks like, how many people will be on it, whether it’s interview based, maybe a double header, how long it’s going to be, how often you’re going to do it, how you’re going to market and grow it, whether it’s in person or remote, what the call to action is going to be… all that stuff and there is so much more that makes up your strategy.

I specialise in working with clients to help them find the right answers to all those points so that they have a strategy which is entirely in tune with what they want to get out of podcasting – their aim.

Once you have your strategy, you can then start working on your processes – how you’re going to make it all happen and who will be doing what.

I absolutely promise you that doing things in the right order will mean you get a much much much better podcast out of the other side

Mistake #2 – Going after EVERYONE as listeners

So so so many times I talk to someone at the start of their podcast journey – or sometimes it might be someone who has been doing it for a while and can’t understand why it’s just not taking off for them – and I ask them who their target audience is and they don’t really understand what I mean. So I clarify – ‘who is your show aimed at?’ And their answer is… everyone.

Sorry – this is a mistake.

Let me be clear. You can absolutely make a podcast that you think might APPEAL to everyone, that’s fine. But if you AIM your show at everyone, you have a problem.

To explain why, let’s go back to the conversation mentioned above. I ask who they’re aiming their show at, they say ‘everyone’, then I say ‘off you go then, go and talk to everyone’.

It can’t be done – you can’t go and speak to EVERYONE and tell EVERYONE about your podcast, because EVERYONE is billions of people.

But that’s the point. Aiming a show at everyone doesn’t work.

Instead it’s all about figuring out who your audience is and where they are. Honestly, it’s that simple.

There are two steps to that. Firstly, figuring out who your audience is. So let’s say you’re doing a podcast about dog and general dog health. So your audience is dog owners.

Then, step two – where are they? Well you’ll probably find some in the park, but short of chasing them around telling them about your podcast, that’s not much use. But there are tons of Facebook group and online forums for dog owners, plus things like magazines and big dog events where hundreds of them go along in person.

So once you know where they are, you can start to figure out how you pitch the show towards them, and how you can reach them. We’re straying a little into marketing now which I’ll save for another now, but I hope you are starting to see the point here.

It’s such an important part of starting your podcasting journey: be really clear on who you are aiming your podcast at, and trust me, it isn’t EVERYONE.

Mistake #3 – spending too much time worrying about sound and not enough about content

I did a whole blog on this not long back and it’s subject that has been on my mind for a while.

You see, I’m a complete audiophile. My background is in broadcasting and radio, so I really can’t help it. It’s something ingrained into me.

So, It drives me mad when I hear a podcast which is clearly recorded in a room with a washing machine going like the clappers in the background. Or kids screaming their little heads off in the next room.  Or they’re using the internal mic on their MacBook and they’re miles away from it. Or the audio keeps glitching because they’re recording on Zoom and someone’s internet was having a bad day. Or it’s really badly edited and the intro music is way too loud over their voice. Or…. well, you get my point.

It could be that what they’re covering on their show is something I’m really interested in, but the sound quality is seriously low-fi. It really bugs me. They deserve so much better, and so many of those things are so easy to get right.

But now let’s think about content. As much as I can tell you about some equipment you can buy or platform you can subscribe to which will help improve your sound quality – there is no magic wand when it comes to content.

You can’t just pay for a service which instantly means that the stuff that comes out of your mouth gets better, or more engaging, or you suddenly become a kick ass storyteller.

You need the right people, the right spark, the right subjects to talk about, the right questions to ask. Sometimes even with the right people. if the spark isn’t there, it doesn’t quite work.

And ultimately, this is why content is more important.

If you get the wrong people and talk about the wrong stuff, no-one’s going to listen just because you sound crystal clear.

Not a single person has ever said “I find this podcast really boring but I listen because it’s really well edited.”

But I do think someone might persevere listening to a podcast with poor sound qualities if they find the content genuinely interesting, useful or entertaining.

It could be that there’s a limit to how long they will stick with you before they tire of bad production values. You don’t necessarily get a free pass forever, and to make that next step up, you will have to address your sound shortfalls. But that really isn’t as daunting as you think. There are loads of resources out there to help you pick the right equipment and programmes, and I’m always happy to jump on a call with anyone to help them find the right set-up.

The other side of this is people worrying too much about their voice. We’re humans and it’s quite natural for us to hate the sound of our own voice. That often comes up as a barrier to launching a podcast.

Look, you’re just going to have to trust me that your voice is fine. No-one cares that much about your voice – what they care about is the words that come out of it. If it’s something you really worry about, have a listen to this episode of Pod Almighty when we go deep into this exact issue.

Make no mistake: Content IS King. I never get bored of saying it, and it never becomes any less true. So spend MORE time worrying about what you’re going to talk about. Invest time doing pilot episodes and dummy runs. Listen back to them, find the areas you can improve. Call on trusted family and friends to give you their input, and consider getting some professional second opinion too.

If you can crack the content, you can get the rest to fall into place, trust me. But content is the bit you need to spending the lionshare of your time on – if you get that wrong, you’ve had it

Mistake #4 – Not having a website

There are so many reasons why having a website is right for most podcasts. Maybe not all podcasts – if you’re doing something that is completely just for fun, having a bit of a laugh, maybe you don’t need one.

But if you’ve read this far, I’m going to guess that you’re not in this just for the fun – you want to make some real impact with your podcast, and that puts you in the category where having a website is important.

It makes you look more professional – which is appealing to both listeners, guests and potential advertisers or sponsors when you get to that stage. Realistically, sponsors or agencies are not going to listen to your podcast before deciding if they want to be part of it – not at first, anyway. No, their first impression of you will be visual – and it’ll probably be your website. If you don’t have one – where do they go?

It’s a major part of your podcast being a brand (which it really is, or should be) and it gives you one simple, clear, call to action to include in your episodes, show notes, social media… everywhere.

The good news is it doesn’t need to be all-singing, all-dancing. It can be pretty simple and actually quite basic.

It needs to house your podcast episodes (yep, even though most people won’t listen via your website). I should be able to find out a bit more about you and the hosts of the show. It should neatly direct me to your social media and other ways of getting in touch. Maybe it should point me to where you’d like me to review your podcast, or you might link to Patreon or another platform where listeners can support you. It should definitely be consistent with your brand colours.

And maybe that’s about it. Everything else is optional. Yeah, for some podcasters it will be right to have a full blown WordPress site with plugins galore and blogs and membership areas – but that’s way more advanced than we’re looking at here.

A really easy solution here is to use a podcast host which provides an out-of-the-box site for you. I use Captivate for my hosting and their sites are simple but attractive. You can configure it in minutes – but I would suggest it’s worth an hour or two on.

What I would say is it’s really worth buying a custom domain to use with it. I mentioned earlier about one of my shows, Pod Almighty, which runs through the Captivate site but uses a custom domain – podalmighty.co.uk – which I registered separately through GoDaddy. Another example is singingtheblu.es, another of my shows.

It adds another layer of professionalism to have your own domain, and that’s what we’re aiming for.

It could be that you already have a really good website for your brand / business and in that situation, maybe you don’t need a separate site for your podcast. As long as the show is directly linked to your business, just add a new page onto your existing site.

However you do it – I think it’s really important to have a website for your podcast from the get-go.

Mistake #5 – Rubbish cover art

There’s an old saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’. There’s a problem with that saying. It’s nonsense. We live in a world where branding is king and design is everything.

I’m a reasonable guy, ok? I’m very open minded. But I will ABSOLUTELY walk straight past a book if the cover is rubbish.

That might reflect really badly on me, but it’s the truth. You won’t be surprised to hear that I will skip over a podcast if the cover art is badly designed.

I know it isn’t just me. Others will also judge your podcast on its cover art. Remember that point earlier about sponsors and their first impression of you likely to be visual? Well, listeners, sponsors, just about everyone will almost certainly see your cover art before they hear your voice. It has to be right.

Don’t use Word Art

Don’t use Microsoft Paint.

Canva is GREAT (I’m a Pro subscriber and I love it). You can take one of the template designs and make it your own. It’s easy, it’s free and there are some great templates on there. You can create something pretty good without too much stress.

But if you’re aiming high with your show, I think that means you probably want a level up from a Canva template that a ton of other podcasts might have also used.

There are so many things you can spend money on when you’re starting a podcast but I honestly believe it is a worthwhile investment to get someone who really understands design on board to do your cover art.

It won’t break the bank (quick plug – it is a service we offer, but plenty of other places do too) and for the cost involved, it’s a great route to go down.

A designer will understand the key principles of good design (I’m rubbish at it, I try to fill every single bit of space and end up making a mess).

But cover art is also quite unique, and a designer will know that. If you think about listening to a podcast on your iphone, on the screen the size you actually see the cover art is tiny – you’re talking the size of a sugarcube.

So you need simplicity. Don’t pack it with tiny text, I won’t be able to read it – and keep to as fewer elements as possible

Similarly, don’t make it too quirky or abstract. It’s my first impression of your show and your brand remember – so it needs to reflect you and what you’re all about. You’re not in competition with Jackson Pollock here.

Don’t just default to having a photo of you. Ask yourself whether you’re doing that for reasons of sanity, or vanity. Is someone going to click play on your podcast because there is a photo of you? I’m not sure. It might well be the right thing to do, but don’t do it for the sake of it.

You probably don’t need the word ‘podcast’ on your cover art. I’m not a complete idiot, even I can work out that something I’m looking at in Apple Podcasts is … a podcast.

And please, stay away from having an icon of a microphone on your cover art – it has been done to death.

Get a designer in and get some kick-ass cover art.

Need more help?

So there you have my five podcast launch mistakes. There are dozens of others and I’ve tried to avoid the super basic / obvious things like ‘make sure you press record (seriously, every podcaster makes that mistake at some point).

Let me point you to this episode of Pod Almighty where we go through the ten most common podcast launch barriers and how to overcome them.

I know launching a podcast is daunting. Hopefully some of these points will help you along the way, but don’t forget there is lots more help out there, and if you ever need a friendly ear to give you a bit of help, book a free chat into my calendar here.

If you need some more personalised help, drop me a line to find out more about Sound Media’s coaching programme.