The 5 Best Ways to Make Money with Your Podcast
I’m in a few Facebook Groups about podcasting, including She Podcasts, which I love. And there’s a lot of good information sharing going on there. But on a regular basis, someone new will pop in and say something like, “I want to start a podcast. How do I find a sponsor?” That’s the wrong question to start with. if you’ve been listening to Podcasting Step by Step, you know that you need to start with the ‘why’ behind your podcast and focus on offering value before worrying about making money.
But your podcast can help you generate income, especially if you use your show to build your brand and business in a way that serves listeners and potential clients. Here are the five primarily categories in which podcasters can make money with podcasts — plus a bonus.
The flawed model of traditional podcast sponsorship
Let’s start by talking about advertising since that is the way a lot of new podcasters assume they can monetize.
There’s this myth out there that anyone can start a podcast and the money will just start flowing in. As I mentioned in the episode on identifying your ideal listener, most podcasters do not make any money with the traditional CPM advertising model, which pays around $25 per 1,000 downloads per episode for a 60-second mid-roll ad (in the middle of the episode). Pre-roll and post-roll ads, which come before and after an episode, respectively, are generally shorter and pay less because people are more likely to skip over them.
They call this the CPM model: Cost Per Mille (mille means 1,000 in Latin; also M is the Roman numeral for 1,000). But most advertising networks — who will take a cut of your earnings — won’t even look at you unless you’re getting at least 5,000 downloads per episode within a 30-day period.
Can you guess how many podcasts qualify for this? About 7 percent. And let’s say you have 5,000 downloads per episode, that’s $125 before any fees are taken out. Three cheers for making some money as a podcaster, but you can’t live off that.
However, if you want to experiment with the CPM model, you can try an online service called Advertisecast. It’s a self-service platform where you add your podcast, choose what kind of host-read ads you want to do (60 or 30 seconds). Then you’ll hopefully get offers and can decide whether to accept or not. Last step is getting paid. It’s a 70/30 split, with you keeping 70 percent and Advertisecast keeping 30 percent. You need at least 1,000 downloads per episode to participate in this.
Bespoke sponsorship for the indie podcaster
Don’t feel bad if you don’t have 1,000 downloads per episode — most podcasts don’t come anywhere near this. The median number of downloads per podcast episode is under 200. And yet these small shows are able to make money through non-traditional sponsorship by building a show for a very specific audience, and then finding a sponsor that wants to reach that audience. These podcasters make their own deals and name their price. For example, if you have a show on vegan cooking, you could reach out to a company that supports the vegan lifestyle, maybe a company making cruelty-free fashion.
I will dive deeper into sponsorship for smaller podcasts on next week’s episode, when I’ll be interviewing Jess Kupferman, co-founder of She Podcasts, and wearer of several other podcasting hats.
In addition to co-managing the She Podcasts Facebook Group with Elsie Escobar, who you heard from on a previous episode, Jess is organizing She Podcasts Live, the first podcast conference focused on teaching female indie podcasters of all backgrounds “how to start podcasting, refine content, grow an audience, and achieve goals with a podcast.”
Hosting events around your area of expertise is another way to make money with your podcast. Not the easiest way and not something for beginner’s, but potentially a very rewarding experience that brings together community.
I’m proud to say that I will be speaking at She Podcasts Live in October, covering how to capture quality audio when you don’t have anything near studio-like conditions in your home, or van, or wherever you find yourself recording.
Your podcast event doesn’t have to be a multi-day conference. It could be you recording your show live in front of an audience — the guys from Pod Save America have done very well with this. Your event could be a week-long retreat in Saint Martin. In that case, I can’t wait to come.
And you don’t have to be the one hosting the event to make money. You could use the authority you’ve built up via your podcast to land paid speaking gigs in your field of expertise.
If you were not the winner of my She Podcasts Live ticket giveaway, I can still help you get a ticket to the conference through my affiliate link. Affiliate marketing, or referal sponsorship, is another way that podcasters can earn money for their show. It’s a good place to start with advertising because you don’t need a ton of listeners to become an affiliate.
In case you don’t know what affiliate marketing is, this is when someone mentions a product or service in a blog or on a podcast or on YouTube or another platform; their audience buys that product or service; then the referer receives a little commission from the company. It wouldn’t cost the purchaser any extra and, in fact, they could even get a discount.
In previous episodes, I’ve mentioned that I’m an affiliate for the podcast media host Libsyn, who I use for both of my shows. If you sign up for a Libsyn account using my code POSTCARD, you’ll get the rest of the month free and your next month free.
If you want to test out affiliate marketing, plenty of products and services have programs. Think of some subscriptions or courses or events or even clothing that you love — really any kind of product — and see if they’re looking for affiliates.
Audible.com is a very popular affiliate program for podcasters. Listeners can use your affiliate link to get a free audio book and a 30-day free trial, so win-win-win — your listener gets something free, you’ll potentially get a $15 referral fee, and Audible potentially gets a new customer.
You have to disclose if you have an affiliate relationship. When I first came across affiliate marketing on blog posts, I thought it seemed a little bit shady. I’d see people raving about some service and then see a message at the end saying something like, “the writer may have received compensation for the review.”
And I thought, “Why should I trust you? You’re getting paid to say this.” But I wasn’t this person’s audience. I didn’t know or trust this person; I had just stumbled upon their site.
Affiliate marketing works:
when you’ve built trust with your audience;
when you promote products and services that you really believe in; and
when those products and services are things that your audience wants to buy.
I hope you trust me. If you’d like to support this podcast, you can do so by purchasing your She Podcasts Live ticket via my affiliate link.
Selling products and services
For most people, your podcast on its own isn’t the money maker, rather your show is a marketing tool to sell products and services that your audience wants and/or needs. So, your podcast supports your business. Ways to make money in this category include:
Creating a membership site
Brendon Burchard, the best-selling author and high performance coach, hosts the HPX podcast with his wife Denise to promote his membership site and other programs. More importantly, his podcast helps spread his positive message, and that’s the thing. Your show can’t be one big ad or request for money. You might barely mention your products and services. You’re giving giving giving and then offering a product or service that could benefit your audience.
Offering coaching/consulting services
My friend Lyn hosts the Couch to Active podcast to support her business, which coaches regular folks on how to live a more active lifestyle.
Hosting a mastermind or mentoring group
Elsie Escobar runs a group mentoring program called the E-League, which I participated in. The podcasts she co-hosts, She Podcasts and Libsyn’s The Feed, build her authority as a leader in podcasting.
Building and selling an app
If Libsyn is your podcast media host, you can work with them to create an app for your show. Rob Walch, VP of Podcaster Relations at Libsyn, recommends creating an app as a way to grow your audience because more people are familiar with apps than they are with podcasts.
Once you start building a fan base, you could use the app to earn money with a freemium model. That is, some of the content is free, say the latest 20 or 30 episodes, and the rest is behind a paywall. Marc Maron offers this freemium option for his podcast WTF.
Selling physical products
Trader Joe’s, a grocery store chain in the U.S., has a podcast called Inside Trader Joe’s, which earns even more loyalty from their customers by taking them behind the scenes to share the history of the store, how they choose their products, and more.
Writing and selling a book
My friend Lyn, mentioned above, also published a book: Couch to Active. Same name as her podcast. Different revenue streams under the same ecosystem.
Creating an online course
I will soon be launching a podcasting course that will teach you everything you need to know to set up, launch, and grow a world-class podcast, including easy-to-understand videos on how to edit your podcast, which is something that is sorely missing out there right now. Get on the VIP wait list :)
By the way, you don’t have to create your own products and services. You can work with a company like TeePublic to design T-shirts, stickers, and other swag, and you’ll get a 31 percent commission on your designs. Or, if you don’t want to design anything, you can curate existing products and sell them in your own TeePublic Merch Store online and receive 11 percent commission. They take care of printing and shipping and all that. You create your shop and promote on your podcast and/or website.
The final way of making money that I’ll mention here is with listener support. You may have heard podcasters tell listeners that they can financially support their show by donating via a platform called Patreon. Making money this way works best after you’ve already been providing great content to your audience for a few months. You’ve built up that know, like, and trust factor with them.
Tim Ferriss, the author and podcaster, was famous for having a ton of ads front-loading his podcast. Like, 5-7 minutes of ads before getting to the content, which is generally a cardinal sin in podcasting, but his audience appreciates the work he creates, so they roll with it (and probably fast forward a lot).
Recently however, Tim decided to experiment with a listener-support model for his show. From June to December, he’s taking out all the ads from The Tim Ferriss Show and is asking listeners to contribute between $10 and $1,000 a month — if they want. The show will still be free to everyone. But he’ll be holding live Q&As once a month for patrons of his show. If he makes money with this model, he’ll stick with it. If not, he’ll go back to ads.
When it comes to listener support like this, some people create bonus content for patrons or offer access to themselves via Q&As like Tim. Other podcasters just express their gratitude for financial contributions.
David Kadavy, host of the podcast Love Your Work, has a very effective way of asking for money. At the end of a show — the end, not the beginning — he’ll say something like,
“Is Love Your Work helping you find your unique creative voice? Does it bring you the inspiration and motivation you need to become the creator and human you want to be? If so, please be part of making this a special and nourishing and thoughtful show. Support the show on Patreon. You’ll be an even bigger part of the show than you already are. If you contribute just a coffee a month, you’ll be helping to support the hosting and production of Love Your Work. Everyone has some unique, creative gift to offer the world. Together, we can give people the tools they need to bring that work into the world. The world will be better off for it.”
Very effective. He goes on a bit longer and mentions what his Patreon link is a few times. But then he goes one step further and says, “If you can’t contribute financially and you’ve listened to more than three episodes, please write a review on Apple Podcasts and consider that your donation.”
Asking for money feels weird for the majority of us and David does a nice job laying out the value he provides in a way that makes his audience pause and think, “Yes, these podcasts are meaningful to me. I want to contribute in some way.”
Bonus: Land your dream job
Here’s a bonus way a podcast can lead to money: by helping you land your dream job. If you’re talented enough to produce a great podcast, this will look excellent on your resume. A podcast is a great way to publicly build your authority and showcase your creativity, skills, and personality. Plus, podcasts are cool and businesses are taking notice.
A little homework
Be extra mindful of the podcasts you listen to this week. Note which ones make you want to take action, whether to buy something or to get a free download. What’s motivating you? What language are they using? How are they making you feel? As I mentioned in last week’s episode on how to take an idea and make it your own, study what you like and what makes it work.