March 01, 2020 The Marketing Issue

Should You Start a Podcast?

How to decide whether a podcast as a marketing tool makes sense for you, and practical tips for getting started.

Sam Glover

So, you want to start a podcast. Maybe you heard it’s a good idea. But you can’t just go start a podcast and expect new clients to come calling any more than you can with a blog or a YouTube channel.

Why should you listen to me about making a podcast? Well, on the one hand, I host The Lawyerist Podcast, and it’s pretty popular, especially among small-firm lawyers. On the other hand, I’m not trying to get clients from my podcast; I’m trying to reach small-firm lawyers who want to build successful, future-oriented law firms. On the other other hand, I’ve talked with plenty of lawyer-podcasters who are trying to get clients from their podcasts. In this article I’ll draw on what I know about making a podcast lots of people listen to as well as what I’ve learned from lawyers about what it takes to get clients with a podcast.

The Audience

First, you should consider the audience you hope to attract. Who do you believe will listen to your podcast, subscribe to it and become a client or a source of referrals? And do those people even listen to podcasts? For context, according to a 2019 Edison Research survey, about a third of the U.S. population listened to a podcast in the past month and about a fifth in the past week, but your target demographic may vary.

Reaching people who don’t already listen to podcasts is more difficult than trying to reach those who already have a podcast habit. New listeners are most likely to find your podcast by word-of-mouth—and they are more likely to take that advice if they already listen to podcasts. Otherwise, someone has to figure out how to listen to podcasts. It’s not a huge learning curve, but it is a barrier to adoption.

Next, consider your target demographic and what kind of podcast would be appealing to it. If you haven’t already created a profile of your ideal client or referral source, now is a good time to do that. It will help you get a good idea of the kind of person who might be in your target audience.

Then, ask your current clients and referral sources if they listen to podcasts and what kind of podcasts they like. Keep their answers in mind as you think about the podcast you want to create.

The Topic

Next, can you come up with a topic that will interest your target audience and keep them engaged, episode after episode? And specifically, can you come up with a topic they will want to listen to as opposed to one they would rather read about?

In thinking about your subject matter, be creative. A weekly or monthly lecture about new developments in small business tax law would likely attract a small audience, except perhaps other small business tax lawyers. But adding in practical business tips with a bit of celebrity divorce drama viewed through a tax law lens could expand your potential reach.

Think of your ideal client again. What kinds of interests do your clients generally have in common? Can you find an overlap between those interests and your practice area that you believe would keep listeners’ interest?

Be skeptical of your own ideas. Test your concepts by asking clients, friends and family members if they would listen to a weekly podcast about “X.” You’ll quickly learn whether your idea has potential.

The Host(s)

Not everyone makes a good podcast host. Not everyone makes a good trial lawyer, either. In both cases, though, a wide range of approaches can be effective.

When I started a podcast, I wasn’t sure if anyone would want to listen to me, but I thought it might work because I had gotten a lot of positive feedback on my presentations at conferences and CLE seminars. So I thought people might listen through their headphones, too (especially if I weren’t the only one talking). I also felt confident I could bring a sense of fun to the often-dry topic of small-firm law practice.

In the world of legal podcasts, I enjoy The Gen Y Lawyer’s Nicole Abboud, Building NewLaw’s Peter Aprile and Natalie Worsfold, and Make No Law’s Ken White, among others. If I had to identify a common thread among those hosts (which is difficult since they are all very different), I would say that all of them are enthusiastic about their subject matter and organized in their delivery, whether that means a scripted, edited show or a well road-mapped interview.

The bottom line is that just about anyone can be a good podcast host if they play to their strengths. And, different hosts appeal to different listeners. There’s no magic formula, as long as you aren’t boring.

The Format

How will you present your podcast? The easiest format—just talking into your microphone—is probably also the least effective. Dan Carlin made the “lecture” format work for his podcast Hardcore History, but otherwise it’s difficult to listen to just one person for an entire episode.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are highly produced, scripted podcasts like many of the shows produced by Gimlet Media and Malcolm Gladwell’s Pushkin Industries, and Ken White’s Make No Law. These podcasts are a lot of work.

Fortunately, there is a lot of room in between.

When deciding on a format, make sure to consider production time and control over the message. With an interview podcast, for example, it takes time to line up guests, prep them and record them. If you intend to do remote interviews, you must also contend with different kinds of communication setups on your guests’ end.

Also consider whether you will be the strongest draw for new listeners. Inviting guests onto your podcast is a great way to get new people interested.

For The Lawyerist Podcast, the discussion/interview format felt natural. I have spent years buying coffee, lunch and cocktails for other lawyers and business leaders and pumping them for information. I decided to bring the same approach to the podcast. I try to have a loosely organized discussion with my guests in which I aim to learn as much as I can from each of them.

All this may sound like I am pushing the interview/discussion format, but it also has its downsides. It’s difficult to control your message when you aren’t the central character. You can frame your interviews with an introduction and conclusion, but in between your guest may not stick to the game plan. It also doesn’t work well to just deliver a question, listen to the answer and deliver the next question. If you aren’t comfortable on your feet following up your guest’s answers with more questions, it probably isn’t the best format for you. Finally, interviews should be about your guest. Hosts who interrupt their guests with monologues might as well just skip the guests.

Look for a format that complements your topic by listening to similar podcasts to see what seems to work best.

The Quality

It takes a lot of time to plan, produce and edit a decent quality podcast, but the good news is, you don’t need a lot of equipment for recording one. A quiet room and a good USB microphone will do the trick.

You need to care about how you sound. People will probably listen to your podcast on headphones or in their car, which are intimate listening environments where low-quality audio stands out. You don’t have to have NPR-quality sound, but you should aim for clear audio without distracting background noise.

Several hard-of-hearing lawyers also mentioned the importance of enunciation and volume, so plan to be in a quiet room without echoes. Conference rooms, for example, tend to have lots of echoes, but a carpeted office usually works fine. Make sure you can be comfortable. Listeners can hear if your mouth moves away from the receiver or microphone or if you tap your fingers on the table, so you must sit fairly still throughout the recording session, with your mouth close to the phone’s receiver or your microphone. Arrange not to be interrupted—by co-workers, construction workers next to your window or whatever. Sometimes you can edit out interruptions, but we can’t always restore the flow of a good conversation.

For a microphone, it’s fine to use a good-quality USB mic like the popular Blue Yeti. I will not get into more details on hardware and software and settings; there are many alternatives and price points. And do lots of testing before you try to use your setup in production. (Checklists are your friend!)

Editing is also essential. You’ll want to assemble the pieces of the episode, subtract any constant background noise and edit out mistakes, awkward silences, coughs and sneezes. You (or your editor) will have to listen to the entire episode at least once to do this, so plan to spend 2–3 times the duration of the episode on editing. You can learn to edit your own podcasts, but consider hiring a professional who can do a better job in less time.

Finally, consider a test run, which can be done at relatively low cost. You can identify your audience, settle on a topic and format, get a microphone and record a “pilot” episode. Then you can share it with clients, friends and family to see what they think. If you are serious about starting a podcast, it’s worth spending a little money to prove your concept before you spend a lot of time and money.

Promotion

Finally, you’ve recorded and uploaded your first episode and there it is, on your website and in iTunes and Google Play! But if that’s all you do, the chances anyone will find it are slim. Most people find podcasts by word-of-mouth, which means you need to find listeners for yours who can recommend it.

At a minimum, share new episodes to your networks on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and consider Pinterest and Instagram as well. If you have guests on your show, ask them to share the episode. Provide your guests with a link, a graphic and some sample language to make it easier to share.

Also, put yourself out there as a guest. One of the best ways to get people to listen to your podcast is to be a guest on other podcasts with complementary audiences.

If you put in the work, you should see your download numbers grow—probably in fits and starts, at first, but steadily if you keep at it.

Conclusion

So, should you start a podcast? If you got this far in this article, I hope you understood several things from it, such as (a) not everyone listens to podcasts or wants to hear you talk about your practice area on a podcast; and (b) even if they do, not every idea for a podcast is a good one; (c) not everyone makes for a good podcast host; and (d) it takes a fair amount of time, money, or both, to plan, record, edit and promote a successful podcast.

In other words, there is no low-hanging fruit here. You’ll need to put in the time and the work and keep at it long enough to see the return on your investment.

That said, if you have a good concept for a podcast, if you turn out to be a good podcast host, if you ensure your podcast will be good quality, if you will promote it, and if you are willing to invest the time and money to see if your podcast can be successful, give it a go!

Sam Glover

Sam Glover is the founder of Lawyerist.com and co-host of The Lawyerist Podcast. sam@lawyerist.com