In August 2021, I started the Singletrack Podcast. By October 2022 it was generating enough advertising revenue for me to quit my day job and do it full-time, so I did.
I’ve benefitted (immensely) over the last 4-5 years from all sorts of how-to blog posts en route to starting Singletrack. With the personal experience I’ve gained over the last 16 months, I figured I’d give back adding my perspective to the mix.
What follows is a blog post about lessons learned growing the show in 2022.
Note: These lessons are a few of many and ranked in no particular order.
You might already agree it’s too broad to be a running podcast. But it’s also insufficient to call it a day adding a single modifier like “trail” to that too. As Ken Kesey says, “go further”. Add at least 2 or 3 modifiers to the theme of your show. You won’t regret it.
With Singletrack, for example, we’re a podcast covering the professional mountain ultra trail running scene. Aspirationally, think of us like ESPN Sportscenter for our sport. We exclusively talk about the performances, business, and culture of our pro athletes. And that’s it - that’s the North Star. Except in rare cases where we’re fulfilling a sponsor obligation, we don’t deviate.
You won’t find us doing episodes on “how to run your next 100 miler” or telling stories from the middle or the back of the pack. No question, these topics and people are worthwhile podcast episodes, but they’re outside the scope of what we do.
Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, there are already shows that have mastered these topics and built trust and attention with applicable audiences. If we were to branch into these categories, we would be over-extending ourselves and undermining the quality of the content that audiences originally came to us for.
It’s painful to niche down because there’s an overwhelmingly strong human tendency to exalt optionality, try to be all things to all people, or to assume you have to cast a wide net for success. Part of your mindset as a podcast host is to override these tendencies and trust that “niches get riches”.
When I started the podcast in August 2021 I didn’t have name recognition or an audience to help grow the show. Because I was starting from scratch, I asked myself the following questions to determine a growth strategy:
The answers to these questions (and some others) produced the following strategy:
Think about all current and future brand relationships with this shortcut- help the Partnerships Manager (or whoever said “yes” to your proposal) get a raise and/or promotion by the end of the year.
Do this in the following manner:
At the start of the partnership, get on a call with as many folks from the marketing team as possible. Ask them about previous podcasts they’ve worked with, previous relevant campaigns they’ve executed, etc and take notes on what was applicable, what worked, and how it can all be incorporated into your content calendar with them.
From there, get on a bi-weekly or monthly call with your contact at the brand (probably the Partnerships Manager). Use this time to review performance, plan for the upcoming weeks and months, adjust as needed, and see if there are any other concurrent marketing activities you can tap into and assist with via your deliverables.
From there, send your Partnerships Manager a deck every 2-4 weeks with stories and metrics directly related to their KPIs (however they are measuring the success/failure of your deal) that they can easily forward to their boss and the rest of the team with little to no effort.
From there, keep brainstorming and executing on marketing ideas that can further deliver on these KPIs. Even if it wasn’t negotiated, I recommend going beyond standard ad reads in your podcasts and doing some natively designed shout outs and other content efforts on adjacent social platforms.
But why do all this? Why not just sign the contract, record the ad reads, collect your money, and call it a day? Here are a few reasons:
I have not always done this. In fact, there's at least one brand that comes to mind that I lost a renewal with in 2023 primarily because I didn’t follow this playbook. A lot of the best lessons are learned through failure.
It’s still incredibly hard to do attribution (the channels by which listeners are discovering and subscribing to the show), but the world of podcast analytics is becoming less of a black box.
For example, I can pop into Podcast Connect (Apple’s analytics platform) and look at data around listener versus subscriber count, geographic trends, demographic trends, individual episode engagement trends, and more. It’s all very helpful.
Here are a few examples of metrics I focus on to inform the ways I recruit guests, structure conversations, and edit episodes.
Yes, there are recommender systems within Apple, Spotify, and the other podcast ecosystems, as well as some search engine optimization you can do to increase the discoverability of your podcast there. But it isn’t easy. Like I said earlier, we’re still in the era where much of the marketing here is a black box.
That’s why I advise investing in (1) Youtube and from there, (2) in your podcast’s website, and (3) all other relevant social channels (IG, Twitter, TikTok, etc).
Note - do as I say, not as I do here. I have much work to do on all my internet touchpoints.
I quit my job on October 1st, 2022 and have been full-time on Singletrack for the last 3 months.
I took a 72% pay cut. There’s still enough to cover the bills, but it’s very tight and I’m not saving or investing anything. My current income sources are advertising revenue from long-term partners like Gnarly Nutrition and Rabbit, among others. Through the end of 2023, these sources are stable. I also make a trickle from Patreon (about $200/mo) and use these funds to pay for my podcasting tools like Descript, Riverside, and Buzzsprout.
What I like about the situation is that I’m focused on Singletrack - there aren’t any other responsibilities competing for my attention, which is hugely beneficial.
That said, my old job funded Singletrack. It was possible to pay for worthwhile growth levers like superior graphic design, for example. Now I have to do all those things independently or just discard them by the wayside until funds are available.
Essentially, I traded time for money. It remains to be seen whether it was a good tradeoff.