You want to start a podcast and you just want a simple and clear plan to get started. That was me in the January of 2016. In this post I'll share the exact 7 step podcast planning worksheet template I used to launch my first podcast.
The show went on to do more than a million downloads. In hindsight, there were a few things I did right, but was never a part of the original worksheet. So I updated my podcast planning template with those learnings too. Ready to get 'em all? Let's jump right in.
Caught unaware, I had no idea where to start.
It was February of 2016, and my then new blog suddenly started to get traffic. It was a blog post I wrote that turned out to make "the rounds". My email list had started to grow, and my readers were looking for more content.
It definitely seemed like the right time to start a podcast. But I had no idea where to start. Being a big fan of worksheets, I hoped to come across a podcast planning worksheet. But there were none. So I created mine. In this post I share the seven steps to starting a podcast from scratch.
A little aside: If this is the first article you're reading on starting a podcast, please don't miss reading my post on how to outline your podcast. It's a great place to start your journey to podcasting.
7 step podcast planning worksheet Overview
Yes, there is work before you start a podcast. Well, you can still start a podcast using an app like Anchor without needing to do anything of what's described in this post.
But if you want to start a podcast that helps you build a loyal listenership, you will find tremendous value in the seven steps you will find below. Even if you act on the first three steps, your podcast will be more successful than 90% of podcasts launched.
1. Good Podcast Idea + Focused Target Audience
Many podcasters spend a lot less time on nailing a good podcast idea or thinking about the target audience. If you look at Apple Podcasts, you’ll find a lot of “entrepreneur interview” podcasts, for instance. Many of them would’ve been discontinued.
One of the biggest reasons why podcasters stop podcasting is because they run out of topics. Like one of them put it "I didn't know what to talk about."
Finding an idea that resonates with both you and your target audience is very important to the success of your podcast. In this post, I walk you through an exercise to help you come up with a podcast idea that works for you and your target audience.
2. Pick a Podcast Name and Category
If you’ve come this far and I’m sure you’ve started to think through your podcast idea. You may not have an idea yet, but I’m hoping you have an idea cloud floating in your head. That's a good start.
When you are done picking your podcast idea, it's important to give it a name. A podcast name helps people, including you, connect with the podcast.
How to pick my podcast name?
Does it need to sound fancy? Or should it be simple and straight? I’ve seen so many people get stuck here for days! No, don’t worry though. Let me share a little secret with you.
Simplicity eats fancy names for breakfast!
Seriously. Let me elaborate on that in 3 simple points:
- If you have an established online presence, you can use that name (because people are already familiar with that name). Someone like Seth Godin can afford to use a fancy name like Akimbo. What does that even mean? Who cares? Listeners already trust his content because of reading his blog!
- But if you are new to the online world like how I was in 2016, pick a simple name that cannot be misinterpreted. That's one thing I struggled with - "Design Your Thinking" had some explaining to do - hopefully, yours won't!
- No matter which camp you fall into, consider using words (and "keywords") that your target audience understands (and uses). Keep it simple, because simplicity works!
How to pick my podcast category?
In podcast directories like Apple Podcasts and Spotify, you need to pick up to three categories for your podcast. Picking the right category can get you exposed to more listeners. Here are some tips to help you pick the right category:
- Pick a category that contains 60-80% of podcasts that your target audience listens to.
- For the second category, pick one that best matches the result your target audience will get from listening to your podcast.
- Finally, pick the third category that closely aligns with a "shoulder topic" to your core topic. Eg. if your core topic is "business", shoulder topics could be "mindset", "books", "entrepreneurship", etc. Most of these are also categories in Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
3. Plan Podcast Episodes
If you jumped to this step without acting on the first two steps, you are wasting time. But if you did work on your target audience, podcast idea, podcast name, and category, this step will attract more listeners to your podcast.
How to plan my podcast episodes?
What you're about to do, is like growing a giant forest. Let's say you spotted a giant patch of fertile land and decide to grow a forest. How would you do it?
Breakdown creates clarity
You'll start by listing down everything you need for a sustainable forest. This includes trees, plants, water bodies, insects, birds, animals, and the list goes on. Then you break down this list further. You will break down plants into flowering plants, shrubs, and so on. Now that you get an idea, let's try creating a fictional wedding planning podcast.
To plan episodes for the wedding planning podcast, we'll break down weddings. You have the ritual, people, venue, clothes, accessories, and so on. Once we do the first-level breakdown, we do the second-level breakdown. We can break down "people" into the bride, groom, family, guests, makeup artists, photographers, and so on.
Breakdown Podcast Topic to identify Podcast Episodes
When you start to break down your podcast topic, you start to see ideas for podcast episodes. No matter what your podcast topic idea is, you will unearth unlimited podcast episode ideas when you just follow this process.
4. Pick a Publishing Schedule
Podcasts work similarly to blog posts.
Once you record your episode, you need to put that MP3 file into some secure place in the cloud, just like web pages. That’s called publishing.
So, how frequently will listeners get to hear you with fresh content? More than once a week? Every week? Or, lesser frequently?
From best practices, I suggest once a week. But I leave that decision to you. Pick one and stick to it. Here are some tips to pick your publishing schedule:
- If your podcast topic is one that has a lot going on and changes fast, consider putting out a new episode more frequently. Eg. Social media, and technology.
- Your podcast publishing frequency can be directly proportional to your target audience's content consumption patterns.
- If you are playing "catching up" on your podcast topic, you can decide to create more content initially by putting up episodes more frequently before changing the schedule at a later point in time.
5. Pick a Podcast Hosting Platform
A podcast hosting platform is where you upload your episodes. The MP3 files sit here, and the podcast directories like Apple Podcasts and Spotify render content from your podcast hosting platform using an RSS Feed.
Picking the right podcast hosting service can be challenging. But let me simplify that for you.
How to Pick a Podcast Host?
Let me bust the most complicated part of the selection – the criterion for selecting a podcast host. Below are a few parameters you’ll need to look for when it comes to picking a podcast host:
- Number of episodes per month
- Platform compatibility
- Metrics and analytics
- Ease of distribution
- Ease of listening
Let's look at each of them in detail below.
1. Number (and Duration) of Episodes Per Month
How many episodes would you be publishing every month? How long would each episode be? This defines the size of each MP3 file, and the total size of uploaded files every month.
In my experience, every minute of a 128-bit MP3 file would be about 1MB. So, if each episode is 30 minutes long and you publish once per week, the total would be about 120MB/month.
Some hosts have different plans based on this monthly upload size. So you need to look out for that.
2. Platform Compatibility
Most platforms would offer you a feed of all your episode MP3 files that you can submit to directories like Apple iTunes, Castbox, Stitcher, and more.
Some platforms however are more compatible and tested with platforms like WordPress. If you have a blog hosted on WordPress and intend to have your podcast episodes available there, some hosting platforms work better than others.
3. Metrics / Analytics
How much of metrics and analytics do you have access to? This is a major factor in deciding which hosting platform you pick.
Some hosting platforms differentiate tiers by the level and depth of metrics and analytics you have access to.
4. Ease of Distribution
Once you upload your podcast episode to your podcast host, they need to be distributed to various directories so that it reaches various kinds of listeners.
Some podcast hosting providers help you distribute to directories. Directories like Google Play or TuneIn allow people using Android phones and Amazon Alexa respectively to listen to your podcast.
5. Ease of Listening
Can people listen to your episode from inside social feeds? Can they play from within your website? In other words, how easy is it for listeners to listen to your episode?
For example, Soundcloud allows your episodes to be listened to from your Twitter feed itself, without having to open the episode in a new window.
What Hosting Provider Should You Pick From?
There are a number of podcast hosting providers today. There are more coming up too, and I’ll have them included here in the future.
I host all my shows on Buzzsprout. While I started with Libsyn back in 2016, Buzzsprout turned out to be my natural go-to podcast hosting provider. Here are the reasons why I made the switch (and decided to stay) to Buzzsprout:
- Easy to use if you're a non-techie
- Offer a very good podcast page (see thelaunchplan.buzzsprout.com for example)
- Their embeddable player is good
- Buzzsprout integrates well with Descript, my podcast editing tool
- Includes some very good features to insert ads dynamically and monetize your podcast with affiliate marketing (even if you have never done it before)
So, if you are looking for a podcast hosting platform, I’d recommend Buzzsprout any day.
That said, below are some other podcast hosting providers that I’ve heard good reviews about. They are:
A word of caution.
I strongly suggest you read the Terms and Conditions on any new podcast hosting platform before you sign up for their service.
In a step toward being different and more helpful for podcasters, to improve distribution, some platforms may place small clauses including content exclusivity and revenue sharing on sponsorships or advertisements.
6. Get the Right Tools for Producing Your Podcast
So now you have some idea of what your podcast is going to be about, a name for your podcast, your podcast topics and episodes, and a podcast hosting provider.
In this section let me help you with something many new podcasters spend too much of time on. Tools.
You don’t have to run from pillar to post.
People spend countless hours browsing Amazon, reading reviews and forums. They either end up being confused or picking and buying the wrong tools.
But what’s that you’ll really need to get rolling? You just need a lean podcasting setup.
What’s a Lean Podcasting Setup?
To get a quality podcast recorded, all you’ll need is a computer, a microphone, a pair of headphones, and an audio editing software.
1. Audio Editing Software
Fancy terms are sometimes belittling, and I used it here because you’ll see other podcasters use that term in forums too. So, what’s a DAW?
Simply put, a DAW is a piece of software (or an electronic device) with which you can record, edit and produce any audio content (like your podcast).
That must be expensive, right?
Nope, it’s not. Audacity is one of the best DAWs available in the market, and it’s open-source! It runs on both Mac and Windows. Just head over to the Audacity website and download the software, and you are good to go!
If you are using a Mac computer, you can take advantage of GarageBand, a DAW that Apple offers out of the box on all Mac computers.
A Tool I Recommend (Update)
I use a tool called Descript for podcast editing (and recording solo episodes). Here's what I like about the tool: It has reduced my editing time by two-thirds. For episodes that tool me 6 hours to edit and master with Garageband, Descript helps me do that in 2 hours.
With Descript you don't edit the complex sound waves like in Garageband or Audacity. Instead, Descript transcribes the audio and lets you edit the sound by editing the transcribed text.
The second thing you’ll need is a microphone. Like I said in my earlier article on Why you Should Start a Podcast, there are many options for a microphone.
Here’s how I’d recommend you do it.
- If you are testing the waters with starting a podcast, I suggest you can pick up this microphone for just under $10. And when you get more interested in podcasting, you can always pick the one below.
- If you are pretty sure of your interest in podcasting, I highly recommend you pick up this microphone for around $60. I use it in my kit and it’s actually all you need to produce very good quality audio.
- Well, if you have some disposable cash and want to try something even better (and pricier!), you should consider picking up this microphone from Heil Sound. I use this in my kit and would recommend it any day.
There are several other microphones on the market. But remember, all you’ll need is a microphone that will make your voice sound good, loud enough, and works like a charm.
Now, that’s all you’ll need to spend time on when it comes to picking a microphone. Let’s move on.
The next thing you’ll need is a pair of decent headphones. That’s it. If you have a decent pair of headphones, just use them.
Headphones help you listen to the sound levels while you are recording, editing, and producing the episodes.
A word of caution!
Please don’t use noise-canceling headphones. If you own one of those Bose QuietComfort headphones, please don’t use them for producing your audio!
Your listeners would listen to your podcast in their cars while taking their dogs for a walk, or while on a run. They would not be wearing noise-canceling headphones.
If you wore them while producing your audio, the sound levels may end up being lower than what need to be. The audio quality will suffer.
What headphones will I recommend?
Like I said, just use a decent pair of headphones that you may have.
But that said, if you insist on picking up a new pair, I’d recommend picking up a headphone that goes around your ear. Remember, you’ll need to be comfortable with them for longer periods of time.
Here are some good headphones for every budget:
- Neewer NW-3000 Professional Monitoring Headphones (around $35)
- Sennheiser HD 200 Professional Monitoring Headphones (around $69)
- Sony MDR-7506 Professional Headphones (around $80) <- I use this
Again, you don’t necessarily need Professional Monitoring headphones. You can do it with regular earphones like Beats too.
You are actually good to go. Unless you are looking for something more, you are free to skip the following section and go to Creating a Website for your Podcast section.
Optional Podcasting Setup
Good going so far! In this section of this post, I will talk about a few tools that will help enhance your podcast.
You’ll not need them unless you are an audiophile or your listeners are asking for even better audio.
So let’s talk about the challenges first.
I want to specifically talk about the four most common challenges that you might face with a Lean Podcasting Setup:
- Uneven sound levels.
- Multiple Microphones (and other inputs).
- Mics that you need to literally shout into – Gain-hungry Microphones.
- I need to be mobile, and my laptop is too clunky/slow.
1. Uneven Sound Levels
Say you have an interview-based podcast and you are recording the episode over a Skype conversation. You have a great conversation, and finally, you listen to the recording.
Horrible! Your guest/co-host’s voice is feeble!
That’s a horrible feeling. You are pretty much paralyzed now. If you try to work on the audio file inside your DAW to increase the volume selectively, you will end up screwing your audio.
So here’s the solution.
Use ECamm Call Recorder for Skype (works only on Mac). It’s a piece of software that runs alongside Skype, to record the conversation. The best part is that it facilitates multi-track recordings too.
So, if you have multiple guests speaking, Call Recorder for Skype will help you split them into separate MP3 files. This allows you to play with the volume of each speaker individually.
In case you have a Skype Video call, Call Recorder for Skype also separates the video from the audio files so you have a great level of control on the final episode audio output from your DAW.
You can get a copy of Ecamm Call Recorder for Skype for $39.95 to save you hours of hard work and great audio quality.
Update: Ever since 2021, I have used Riverside.fm
Riverside.fm is a browser-based tool that allows you to record HD audio and video. I became an instant fan the moment I started to use Riverside.fm. So when it comes to picking a platform for recording your podcast episodes, I recommend Riverside.fm.
2. Multiple Microphones / Speakers / Music Mix
I know of a few podcasters who have co-hosts for their show. The co-hosts can sometimes be sitting next to you, or sometimes connect remotely.
Some shows I know of, play a little background music even while recording the show. The best way to record these multiple inputs is by using a Mixer.
A Mixer, as the name says, is an electronic device that takes multiple inputs (microphones, line-ins, mixes these inputs to give you one output that can go into a recorder or a computer.
How to Choose Between Mixers?
There are many of them in the market. And, there are many brands that make it.
They are fundamentally differentiated based on the number of inputs they can take, the special capabilities they have (like introducing special effects / FX), having a built-in equalizer, etc.
Some high-end Mixers also have software sliders and knobs, instead of the classical hardware ones.
What Mixer Should You Pick?
A word of caution about Behringer mixers
If you are using a gain-hungry microphone like Heil PR 40, I recommend you don’t pick Behringer mixers. The preamps on these mixers are not great. Mackies have great preamps.
3. Microphones You Need to Shout Into
I just mentioned the phrase “gain-hungry microphones”. What are they?
Gain is the measure if how powerful the signal is. The output gain of microphones, when lower than the input gain, they are termed “gain-hungry”.
If you have a microphone that’s gain-hungry, what do you do? Should you get a mixer?
No, you don’t need a Mixer to just improve gain.
Use an audio interface instead. What’s that?
An audio interface, as the name suggests, interfaces between your audio input (if that’s a microphone) and the recording system (computer or recorder). The audio interface has preamps that will help improve gain of the incoming audio.
Preamps, as the name suggests, are pre-amplifiers and their job is to amplify the sound.
What audio interface should you pick?
Scarlett audio interfaces are the best ones in the market. They work well with most microphones, and is used by amateurs and professionals alike.
4. I need to be mobile, and my laptop is too clunky / slow.
If you have a slow laptop or an unreliable laptop, and you still need to record interviews (and sometimes take the setup with you), you aren’t alone.
What you need is a good recorder.
Yes, recorders are small electronic devices that you can carry around and record audio into. Recorders are extremely useful for 3 reasons.
- You need to record while being mobile.
- They can record each microphone in separate tracks.
- They are relatively quiet cheaper than getting a laptop.
What I like about recorders is they are custom-built to record. That’s their primary function, unlike a laptop. So, they are far more dependable than a laptop.
What Recorder should I pick for my podcast?
7. Prepare Your Podcast Artwork and Creatives
Awesome. You are almost there. You know what your podcast is going to be about. You’ve picked up all the necessary tools as well.
It’s time to start recording your podcast, right?
Yes, technically it is. But there is one other thing you’ll need to get out of your way before you consider yourself fully ready to record and publish episodes.
You’ve got to create your podcast artwork or cover art!
What is podcast artwork or cover art?
Remember seeing the square image that shows up for every podcast in your podcast player or in Apple Podcasts?
Those are podcast artworks.
You need to have a podcast cover art too. This helps listeners identify your podcast and differentiate it from the other podcasts.
How to create your podcast artwork?
Your podcast artwork needs to be 3000×3000 pixels in size. And a JPEG image works best.
You can create it by yourself using an image editing tool, or you can get some help. Here are the best places to find someone to help you with creating your podcast artwork.
Here are 2 places where you can find designers to help you with your podcast artwork:
- Fiverr Pro
Fiverr is a marketplace where you can find designers, look at their portfolios and hire the one you like to create your podcast artwork.
Both are good services and similar to each other.
8. Bonus: Create a Website for Your Podcast
Wonderful. You’ve come this far!
Know what? You are actually good to go. You can skip this entire section, and yet record, edit and publish your new podcast.
But if you are someone who already has a blog or a website, you might be interested in showcasing your new podcast with your website audience. Wouldn’t you?
Integrate Podcasts into Your WordPress Website
There are multiple website platforms out there. We’ll discuss WordPress and how to integrate your podcast with an existing WordPress website.
Perhaps you already have a blog, and you want your podcast episodes to be visible alongside your blog posts.
How to Integrate Podcasts Into Your WordPress Website?
You can start to integrate your podcasts into your WordPress website in 3 different ways:
- Use a Podcast Player
- Create a Podcast Category
- Design a Podcast Website
Use a Podcast Player
Using a podcast player is the simplest way to integrate your podcast into your website. Podcast players are also available as plugins in the WordPress marketplace.
Here are a few players I recommend:
- Smart Podcast Player (about $8/mo)
- Blubrry Player (FREE; you need to be a Blubrry customer)
- Libsyn Player (FREE; you need to be a Libsyn customer)
Embed Podcasts in WordPress
You can take this a step further by actually showing podcasts alongside your blog posts. To do this, you can use a plugin called Powerpress.
What Powerpress does, is it creates a new category for your podcasts and also gives you an option to insert your episode MP3 files into posts and publish them.
With this, you can now start to see every episode appear as another post on your WordPress website.
Design a Podcast Website
You can design your website from scratch to make it look super professional. Now you can do it in two ways:
- Download a readymade Podcast website WordPress theme
- Create your own Podcast website from scratch or use readymade templates
Download Readymade Podcast Website Theme
You can download a readymade Podcast Website Theme for WordPress. Themeforest has the best collection of WordPress themes for Podcast Websites.
It’s my favorite place for a lot of creative resources, and they are priced reasonably. Get your Podcast Website Theme from Themeforest.
Create Your Own Podcast website from Templates
If you want to have more control over the way your podcast shows up on your website, use a good page builder like Thrive Architect from Thrive Themes.
For a negligible price, Thrive Architect gives you access to hundreds of web page templates. You can take complete control of your website with Thrive Architect.
Your Next Steps to Starting a Podcast?
That brings us to the end of this post. I hope you found this useful. I have written a detailed guide on how to start a podcast if you're interested in diving deeper into the other elements of starting a podcast like content planning, recording podcast, podcast editing, and publishing.
We have also created a two-day podcasting course called Podience where you'll learn how to create a podcast that attracts listeners. In two days, you'll learn how to create a podcast from scratch. You will implement all the steps from this blog post, record your episode, and publish your podcast in 48 hours.