March 15, 2024

How to start a podcast with no audience or money: 12 tips

Learn how to start a podcast with no audience and no budget. Discover essential tips for growing your podcast from scratch.
March 15, 2024

How to start a podcast with no audience or money: 12 tips

Learn how to start a podcast with no audience and no budget. Discover essential tips for growing your podcast from scratch.
March 15, 2024
Erin Ollila
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Having a large audience before launching a podcast is incredibly helpful. The more people who are already tuned into what you’re doing in other spaces, the easier it will be to encourage them to also listen to your podcast.

But most people don’t have the advantage of beginning with a large audience—and that’s okay. There’s something about knowing that everyone is starting from the same place that makes building an audience easier. 

A perspective shift is helpful, too. Ross Sutherland, host of Imaginary Advice, suggests that in some instances, what may seem like a small number can be huge in different circumstances or to different people. 

“I come from the world of poetry readings. If you had a poetry gig that had a hundred people at it, that would be the best poetry reading of your career," Ross said. 

Plus, a small number of engaged listeners can be better than a large audience who doesn’t show up and listen to your published episodes.

Here are a few suggestions for growing a listenership from scratch.

1. Get the basics down

It goes without saying that before you can grow a podcast audience, you need to have a solid podcast. Use the right podcast equipment, choose a good podcast hosting platform, and decide on a unique premise and point of view for your show. It's also a good idea to invest in podcast branding, such as well-designed cover art and maybe even a custom theme song.

Once you've got the basics covered, it's time to grow your show.

2. Identify your target audience

The very first step to getting started growing an audience is knowing who you want to attract. Identifying your target listeners will help you get a better idea of who you’re “speaking” to when you sit down to record. Podcasting can, at times, feel lonely, especially if you aren’t getting feedback on your episodes. When you can conceptualize a listener persona, it’s easier to feel like you aren’t so alone. It’s more motivating to show up consistently and work toward growing your audience as the show matures.

But that’s not the only benefit. When you’re confident that you understand who is tuning in, you’ll be better able to tailor your content to the right audience, and you’ll also have insight that can help you develop effective marketing strategies.

3. Make sure there's demand

Now that you know who you want to attract, it’s important to make sure those people actually want to listen. Social media makes validating demand relatively easy. 

Once you’ve done enough audience research to know where your potential listeners are spending their time, social listening—that is, seeing what your potential audience is posting about online—can help you identify what their needs, interests, or aspirations are. The insight you gleam from reading posts and comments will help you to come up with episode topics and outline your talking points. You may even learn about things you should avoid in your show if your social searching has brought up listener frustration or annoyances.


LinkedIn post from podcaster Tania Bhattacharyya
Podcaster Tania Bhattacharyya polls her audience on LinkedIn to plan future episodes

‎Social media can also help you do competitor research. Knowing what’s working (and what may not be working) for your competition will give you insight into how you should be doing things. 

Social media isn’t the only option for making sure there’s demand for a podcast like yours. Tech tools, such as online surveys, can help you poll the people in your current network or more widely on social media and in podcast groups. These people should be able to give you feedback on your premise, even if they aren’t the exact version of your ideal audience.

4. Build social buzz before you launch

No one cares more about your podcast than you do, which is exactly why you need to be your own PR team. But you can’t wait until your show launches to start to build buzz. You need to build interest before you launch your very first episode.

You might think that creating interest starts with actively reaching out to media outlets and journalists or writing a press release to announce your launch. It’s not. Those are all key pre-launch activities that you absolutely shouldn’t skip, but there’s something integral that comes first.


Erin Ollila
This is a social media countdown I did before launching my show a couple years ago

You need to get your overall marketing and messaging in order. Have you written a clear, yet enticing, podcast description? Did you create a podcast website and create social media accounts for your show? What about the artwork or any other branding elements? You want to be sure the look and feel of your podcast is professional and catches the attention of your ideal audience. 

Once you’ve done that, you can follow through on some of those previously mentioned PR tactics. And don’t forget to get a bit creative in your efforts. Heather Li of It’s Nice to Hear You took an interesting approach to getting the word out about her show before it went live. In an interview, she said, 

I got someone to scrape email addresses from comparable Instagram accounts…he scraped all the followers’ email addresses if they were public. I sent thousands of people this email blast, and that created the initial set of people to listen to it.

What ways could you reach your target audience before you’re ready to hit publish on your first episode? Is there anything unexpected that would grab their attention? If so, don’t shy away from trying it.

5. Make sure your content is good

It goes without saying, but the best way to attract new listeners—and most importantly, keep them tuning in—is to create high-quality content that’s both interesting and sounds good. 

High quality audio is a must-have for any new show. But you don’t need to go broke buying the most expensive tech and software to produce a great podcast. Investing in basic equipment and editing software will get you a clear and professional sound that you’ll feel proud to share with any listener.

The content doesn’t simply have to sound good; it has to be interesting as well. Your listeners want the best information, insights, or entertainment possible. Learning storytelling techniques, practicing your pacing, and cutting extraneous content from the final track will set the stage for quality episodes now and into the future.

6. Pitch to newsletters

Now that you know who you’re talking to, what you’re talking to them about, and feel confident your content is good, it’s time to scratch pitching your show—and heavily.

Be strategic and pitch your show to podcast newsletters. This is a great first step, as both the writers and the readers of these newsletters are already podcast listeners. They’re actively seeking out new shows to try out—yours could be next.

EarBuds Podcast Collective website
EarBuds Podcast Collective sends weekly lists of podcast episodes based on a theme.

But before you begin pitching newsletters, take the time to subscribe to them first. It’s important to get a feel on what the newsletter publishes and what they’re looking for from the people who pitch them. Plus, some podcast newsletters are niche, and you don’t want to waste their time, or your time, by pitching a newsletter your show wouldn’t be a good fit for.

Once you know what newsletters you’d like to pitch to, follow Lauren Passell's suggestion for getting their attention. She says, “Don’t cold pitch a newsletter writer; write your pitch in a response to their last email. The writer will know that you’re a reader of their stuff and a supporter of their work.”

You can find a list of podcast newsletters (with links!) in Lauren's article 3 ways to market your brand-new show from scratch.

7. Pitch to podcast apps

Wish you showed up on Apple’s New & Noteworthy list of shows or were recommended on Spotify’s main podcast feed? It’s possible you could earn a spot there by pitching the podcast apps directly. 

Apple
Apple's New & Noteworthy feature page

‎Most podcast apps have their own forms that you can complete to ask for promotional help. These forms will want information such as your podcast name, the link to your show, and your podcast description. They’ll also ask the dates your trailer and your first episode went live, with maybe a few additional questions. 

Here’s your chance to wow them. Make sure you research pitching requirements and follow their guidelines carefully. If there’s room to explain why your show deserves promotion, use that space to make your podcast stand out.

One quick note, be sure the links you share match the app you’re pitching. You wouldn’t want to share an Apple Podcasts link with Spotify or vice versa.

8. Pitch collaboration opportunities to other podcasters

Podcast collaborations may be the best way to get new listeners on your show, and if you find the right show to work with, those listeners will likely be in your target audience. Niche podcasts can share niche listeners. And there are many ways to do this. 

Podcast parties and feed swaps are two similar, yet different ways you can collaborate with another podcast host. In a podcast feed swap, you and another host agree to share each other’s episodes on your own podcast’s feed. This means that podcast A will be sharing podcast B’s content and vice versa, usually with an intro by the host that owns the feed to let listeners know what's happening. A podcast party is similar, but instead of switching feeds altogether, the hosts encourage their audiences to tune into both shows for the full listening experience. While there are many ways to do this, one option would be to split a long episode in half and publish one half on each podcast.

Don’t have the bandwidth to collaborate on a full episode? Pitch promo swaps instead. These short advertisement-like clips can help get your podcast in front of your ideal audience, and other podcast hosts may be more willing to participate because it’s not as heavy as a lift for them, either.

9. Pitch yourself as a guest on other shows

Once you’ve started pitching promotional opportunities regularly, it’s time to try a different visibility approach: being a guest on other podcasts. There’s a fine line between promotion and visibility, which is why it’s extremely important to be strategic with your guest pitches. It’s important that the podcast host you’re reaching out to sees value in your pitch. 

Unlike collaborative promotions, being the guest expert on someone else’s show is all about what value you bring. Does your pitched topic align with their audience’s interests? Will you educate or entertain their audience? How does your idea or your expertise stand out from former guests or other people pitching to come on the show?

Most podcast hosts will allow for light promotion either in the beginning or end of the episode, which gives you a chance to mention your podcast. If they don’t, they’ll often allow guests to share links to promotional content that will be shared in the show notes or in an email newsletter. Use that prime real estate wisely. You could choose to send them to your podcast website, the show notes for a specific episode, or maybe even a landing page that’s personalized to the  specific podcast’s audience.

10. Publish consistently

While everyone worries about growing their audience, many podcasters underestimate how many listeners stop listening to their show over time. The one thing that the most successful podcasters focus on is how to encourage the people who are already listening to keep coming back for more.

High-quality content and a professional sounding episode is a good way to influence listeners to tune back in. But developing a podcasting cadence and publishing consistently will teach listeners what they can expect from you. 

Start by determining what day of the week your episodes will go live. Then, figure out how often you’ll publish. Once you’ve set the cadence, then it’s your responsibility to show up…and keep showing up.

If you’re inconsistent, you’re going to lose listeners, and it’s much more difficult to draw them back in once they’ve found another show that’s better held their attention.

Common mistakes to avoid if you’re trying to build a podcast audience

  • Launching a podcast without a plan. Know who you’re talking to and what you plan to share with them.
  • Accidentally copying another show's name or premise. Do your research to make sure your idea isn’t already taken. If it is, pivot or adjust as needed to stay original.
  • Winging it. Research your topic; create quality outlines; practice your delivery, and cut unnecessary content from the final track
  • Not editing your recording. Sound quality is vital to gaining a captivated audience; they’ll tune out if it doesn’t sound professional.
  • Copying what other podcasters are doing. What works for one show won’t necessarily work for another.
  • Comparing yourself to established shows. Podcasting success is rooted in quality and consistency over time. Put in the effort now and you'll eventually join the ranks of established shows.

Starting a podcast with no audience FAQ

Can you start a successful podcast as a nobody?

It’s absolutely possible to be unknown and start a podcast that grows into being a popular show. Putting effort into the content and sound quality and dedicating yourself to promoting the show will help you get your podcast in more listener’s ears.

How do you start a podcast with no experience?

Starting a podcast is as simple as having an idea and putting in the steps to record, edit, and publish your show! There are many guides that will explain how to start a podcast, but the basic things you’ll need to do include coming up with topics, recording and editing episodes, creating podcast cover art and promotional assets, and promoting your new show far and wide.

Can you start a podcast with no money?

Yes, you can start a podcast with no money. There are many options for free tools to record and publish your episodes, including Descript for recording and editing, Spotify for Podcasters for hosting, and Canva for cover art.

What is the bare minimum to start a podcast?

The bare minimum to start a podcast is $0. Use your phone to record, a free app like Descript to edit, a free podcast host like Spotify for Podcasters to host your show, and the free version of a graphics program like Canva to make your cover art.

Erin Ollila
Erin Ollila is an SEO copywriter, lover of pretzel bread, and host of the Talk Copy to Me podcast. Learn more and connect: https://erinollila.com
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How to start a podcast with no audience or money: 12 tips

Having a large audience before launching a podcast is incredibly helpful. The more people who are already tuned into what you’re doing in other spaces, the easier it will be to encourage them to also listen to your podcast.

But most people don’t have the advantage of beginning with a large audience—and that’s okay. There’s something about knowing that everyone is starting from the same place that makes building an audience easier. 

A perspective shift is helpful, too. Ross Sutherland, host of Imaginary Advice, suggests that in some instances, what may seem like a small number can be huge in different circumstances or to different people. 

“I come from the world of poetry readings. If you had a poetry gig that had a hundred people at it, that would be the best poetry reading of your career," Ross said. 

Plus, a small number of engaged listeners can be better than a large audience who doesn’t show up and listen to your published episodes.

Here are a few suggestions for growing a listenership from scratch.

1. Get the basics down

It goes without saying that before you can grow a podcast audience, you need to have a solid podcast. Use the right podcast equipment, choose a good podcast hosting platform, and decide on a unique premise and point of view for your show. It's also a good idea to invest in podcast branding, such as well-designed cover art and maybe even a custom theme song.

Once you've got the basics covered, it's time to grow your show.

2. Identify your target audience

The very first step to getting started growing an audience is knowing who you want to attract. Identifying your target listeners will help you get a better idea of who you’re “speaking” to when you sit down to record. Podcasting can, at times, feel lonely, especially if you aren’t getting feedback on your episodes. When you can conceptualize a listener persona, it’s easier to feel like you aren’t so alone. It’s more motivating to show up consistently and work toward growing your audience as the show matures.

But that’s not the only benefit. When you’re confident that you understand who is tuning in, you’ll be better able to tailor your content to the right audience, and you’ll also have insight that can help you develop effective marketing strategies.

3. Make sure there's demand

Now that you know who you want to attract, it’s important to make sure those people actually want to listen. Social media makes validating demand relatively easy. 

Once you’ve done enough audience research to know where your potential listeners are spending their time, social listening—that is, seeing what your potential audience is posting about online—can help you identify what their needs, interests, or aspirations are. The insight you gleam from reading posts and comments will help you to come up with episode topics and outline your talking points. You may even learn about things you should avoid in your show if your social searching has brought up listener frustration or annoyances.


LinkedIn post from podcaster Tania Bhattacharyya
Podcaster Tania Bhattacharyya polls her audience on LinkedIn to plan future episodes

‎Social media can also help you do competitor research. Knowing what’s working (and what may not be working) for your competition will give you insight into how you should be doing things. 

Social media isn’t the only option for making sure there’s demand for a podcast like yours. Tech tools, such as online surveys, can help you poll the people in your current network or more widely on social media and in podcast groups. These people should be able to give you feedback on your premise, even if they aren’t the exact version of your ideal audience.

4. Build social buzz before you launch

No one cares more about your podcast than you do, which is exactly why you need to be your own PR team. But you can’t wait until your show launches to start to build buzz. You need to build interest before you launch your very first episode.

You might think that creating interest starts with actively reaching out to media outlets and journalists or writing a press release to announce your launch. It’s not. Those are all key pre-launch activities that you absolutely shouldn’t skip, but there’s something integral that comes first.


Erin Ollila
This is a social media countdown I did before launching my show a couple years ago

You need to get your overall marketing and messaging in order. Have you written a clear, yet enticing, podcast description? Did you create a podcast website and create social media accounts for your show? What about the artwork or any other branding elements? You want to be sure the look and feel of your podcast is professional and catches the attention of your ideal audience. 

Once you’ve done that, you can follow through on some of those previously mentioned PR tactics. And don’t forget to get a bit creative in your efforts. Heather Li of It’s Nice to Hear You took an interesting approach to getting the word out about her show before it went live. In an interview, she said, 

I got someone to scrape email addresses from comparable Instagram accounts…he scraped all the followers’ email addresses if they were public. I sent thousands of people this email blast, and that created the initial set of people to listen to it.

What ways could you reach your target audience before you’re ready to hit publish on your first episode? Is there anything unexpected that would grab their attention? If so, don’t shy away from trying it.

5. Make sure your content is good

It goes without saying, but the best way to attract new listeners—and most importantly, keep them tuning in—is to create high-quality content that’s both interesting and sounds good. 

High quality audio is a must-have for any new show. But you don’t need to go broke buying the most expensive tech and software to produce a great podcast. Investing in basic equipment and editing software will get you a clear and professional sound that you’ll feel proud to share with any listener.

The content doesn’t simply have to sound good; it has to be interesting as well. Your listeners want the best information, insights, or entertainment possible. Learning storytelling techniques, practicing your pacing, and cutting extraneous content from the final track will set the stage for quality episodes now and into the future.

6. Pitch to newsletters

Now that you know who you’re talking to, what you’re talking to them about, and feel confident your content is good, it’s time to scratch pitching your show—and heavily.

Be strategic and pitch your show to podcast newsletters. This is a great first step, as both the writers and the readers of these newsletters are already podcast listeners. They’re actively seeking out new shows to try out—yours could be next.

EarBuds Podcast Collective website
EarBuds Podcast Collective sends weekly lists of podcast episodes based on a theme.

But before you begin pitching newsletters, take the time to subscribe to them first. It’s important to get a feel on what the newsletter publishes and what they’re looking for from the people who pitch them. Plus, some podcast newsletters are niche, and you don’t want to waste their time, or your time, by pitching a newsletter your show wouldn’t be a good fit for.

Once you know what newsletters you’d like to pitch to, follow Lauren Passell's suggestion for getting their attention. She says, “Don’t cold pitch a newsletter writer; write your pitch in a response to their last email. The writer will know that you’re a reader of their stuff and a supporter of their work.”

You can find a list of podcast newsletters (with links!) in Lauren's article 3 ways to market your brand-new show from scratch.

7. Pitch to podcast apps

Wish you showed up on Apple’s New & Noteworthy list of shows or were recommended on Spotify’s main podcast feed? It’s possible you could earn a spot there by pitching the podcast apps directly. 

Apple
Apple's New & Noteworthy feature page

‎Most podcast apps have their own forms that you can complete to ask for promotional help. These forms will want information such as your podcast name, the link to your show, and your podcast description. They’ll also ask the dates your trailer and your first episode went live, with maybe a few additional questions. 

Here’s your chance to wow them. Make sure you research pitching requirements and follow their guidelines carefully. If there’s room to explain why your show deserves promotion, use that space to make your podcast stand out.

One quick note, be sure the links you share match the app you’re pitching. You wouldn’t want to share an Apple Podcasts link with Spotify or vice versa.

8. Pitch collaboration opportunities to other podcasters

Podcast collaborations may be the best way to get new listeners on your show, and if you find the right show to work with, those listeners will likely be in your target audience. Niche podcasts can share niche listeners. And there are many ways to do this. 

Podcast parties and feed swaps are two similar, yet different ways you can collaborate with another podcast host. In a podcast feed swap, you and another host agree to share each other’s episodes on your own podcast’s feed. This means that podcast A will be sharing podcast B’s content and vice versa, usually with an intro by the host that owns the feed to let listeners know what's happening. A podcast party is similar, but instead of switching feeds altogether, the hosts encourage their audiences to tune into both shows for the full listening experience. While there are many ways to do this, one option would be to split a long episode in half and publish one half on each podcast.

Don’t have the bandwidth to collaborate on a full episode? Pitch promo swaps instead. These short advertisement-like clips can help get your podcast in front of your ideal audience, and other podcast hosts may be more willing to participate because it’s not as heavy as a lift for them, either.

9. Pitch yourself as a guest on other shows

Once you’ve started pitching promotional opportunities regularly, it’s time to try a different visibility approach: being a guest on other podcasts. There’s a fine line between promotion and visibility, which is why it’s extremely important to be strategic with your guest pitches. It’s important that the podcast host you’re reaching out to sees value in your pitch. 

Unlike collaborative promotions, being the guest expert on someone else’s show is all about what value you bring. Does your pitched topic align with their audience’s interests? Will you educate or entertain their audience? How does your idea or your expertise stand out from former guests or other people pitching to come on the show?

Most podcast hosts will allow for light promotion either in the beginning or end of the episode, which gives you a chance to mention your podcast. If they don’t, they’ll often allow guests to share links to promotional content that will be shared in the show notes or in an email newsletter. Use that prime real estate wisely. You could choose to send them to your podcast website, the show notes for a specific episode, or maybe even a landing page that’s personalized to the  specific podcast’s audience.

10. Publish consistently

While everyone worries about growing their audience, many podcasters underestimate how many listeners stop listening to their show over time. The one thing that the most successful podcasters focus on is how to encourage the people who are already listening to keep coming back for more.

High-quality content and a professional sounding episode is a good way to influence listeners to tune back in. But developing a podcasting cadence and publishing consistently will teach listeners what they can expect from you. 

Start by determining what day of the week your episodes will go live. Then, figure out how often you’ll publish. Once you’ve set the cadence, then it’s your responsibility to show up…and keep showing up.

If you’re inconsistent, you’re going to lose listeners, and it’s much more difficult to draw them back in once they’ve found another show that’s better held their attention.

Common mistakes to avoid if you’re trying to build a podcast audience

  • Launching a podcast without a plan. Know who you’re talking to and what you plan to share with them.
  • Accidentally copying another show's name or premise. Do your research to make sure your idea isn’t already taken. If it is, pivot or adjust as needed to stay original.
  • Winging it. Research your topic; create quality outlines; practice your delivery, and cut unnecessary content from the final track
  • Not editing your recording. Sound quality is vital to gaining a captivated audience; they’ll tune out if it doesn’t sound professional.
  • Copying what other podcasters are doing. What works for one show won’t necessarily work for another.
  • Comparing yourself to established shows. Podcasting success is rooted in quality and consistency over time. Put in the effort now and you'll eventually join the ranks of established shows.

Starting a podcast with no audience FAQ

Can you start a successful podcast as a nobody?

It’s absolutely possible to be unknown and start a podcast that grows into being a popular show. Putting effort into the content and sound quality and dedicating yourself to promoting the show will help you get your podcast in more listener’s ears.

How do you start a podcast with no experience?

Starting a podcast is as simple as having an idea and putting in the steps to record, edit, and publish your show! There are many guides that will explain how to start a podcast, but the basic things you’ll need to do include coming up with topics, recording and editing episodes, creating podcast cover art and promotional assets, and promoting your new show far and wide.

Can you start a podcast with no money?

Yes, you can start a podcast with no money. There are many options for free tools to record and publish your episodes, including Descript for recording and editing, Spotify for Podcasters for hosting, and Canva for cover art.

What is the bare minimum to start a podcast?

The bare minimum to start a podcast is $0. Use your phone to record, a free app like Descript to edit, a free podcast host like Spotify for Podcasters to host your show, and the free version of a graphics program like Canva to make your cover art.

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