There's an old joke that the best way to monetize a podcast is to sell your equipment. Yet, despite what many claim, it's absolutely possible to make money with a podcast. Plenty of show-runners are making a living doing that, right now. Others are happy to bring in enough to cover their hosting costs, or pay for a takeaway every few weeks. Where else can you get paid to talk about your favourite things, after all?
Whatever your aims are when it comes to making money, I'm going to cover all of the options in this article, and show you how to monetize a podcast.
Bear in mind, as with nearly any way you can make a living, this is a long game. You've probably heard a lot about big-name podcasters earning big chunks of cash. In the vast majority of cases though, they've been at this a long time… OR, they came to podcasting with an established audience already.
Don't let that put you off, though. With the right approach, it's totally possible to start making a bit of income within the first 6 months and build that to something greater over a year and beyond.
Let's get to it! Read on, or watch the video version below.
What to Have in Place BEFORE Podcast Monetization
I know, I know, you want to get to the cash. But you'll only get there if you think of these first. Here are the 3 big factors we came up with which determine whether you'll be able to make money from your podcast:
- Presentation, Delivery, & Performance
- Building Relationships & Community
Are you being “the best you?” Is your content and your podcast sustainable?
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Get this right, and you'll have the opportunity to profit, not just financially, but from relationships and by making a difference in people’s lives.
2. Presentation, Delivery, & Performance
How do you come across when you are behind the microphone? You can have the best topic and message in the world, but if the listener is bored, they either won’t care, or won’t listen.
This doesn’t mean you should act like someone else, but be aware that in audio, your body language is channelled through your voice and your vocal inflexions. Audiences are drawn to passion and enthusiasm, so make sure that comes across in your presentation, and always strive to improve your performance.
Remember we've got a course on podcast presentation skills by pro voice coach, Donald Pirie, inside our Academy.
3. Building Relationships & Community
It's often said that if you don’t have time to build a community, then you don’t have time to do a podcast.
Audiences are galvanised by interactions and conversations, not only with you as the podcast host, but with other listeners who share a passion for your topic. If you have no community and no interactions then it isn’t a conversation, and you are just talking at your audience and not with them.
People want to feel involved, and if you give them that, they will like you all the more for it. They will trust you more, and they will strive to support you.
When Should I Think About Monetizing My Podcast?
There's no “typical” example of someone monetizing their podcast. It can range from a hobbyist covering their hosting costs, to someone who's now earning enough to actually make podcasting their full-time job.
If you have a podcast with a captive audience though, then it should be possible to monetize it on some level.
An “audience” could be anything from five people to five thousand. But there are too many variables in podcasting to put hard numbers on these things. Instead, it's better to look at listener engagement.
So how do you gauge that? Well, if you have more than, say, 10 people get in touch, each month, to tell you how much they enjoyed your latest episode then you've definitely built a captive audience.
To put harder numbers on it, many sponsorship agencies look for 3000 to 5000 listeners, per episode, before they'll take you on. But, if you're doing it yourself, it's perfectly possible to earn a decent sponsorship income once you pass the 200 to 300 mark, especially if you have a particularly niche audience. For more on this, of course, check out our podcast sponsorship article.
How to Choose a Method of Podcast Monetization
Firstly, ask yourself what your strengths are.
- a teacher?
- a coach?
- a thought leader?
- a performer?
- a creator?
What kind of podcast do you do?
What is your topic, and who is your audience?
These are all relevant questions to the various podcast monetization options available to you. Once you know where you excel, you'll be much better placed to choose the method that suits you below.
How to Monetize a Podcast – Your Options
Let's assume you've satisfied the requirements above – you know you're creating something great, and you've thought about your strengths.
There are a few different options available to you. You can try as little or as many of them as you like, though it's arguably better to focus on fewer and do them well rather than spread yourself too thin.
Besides, some of these methods will suit your show and your content much more than others.
So let's dive into these 12 tried and tested ways of how to monetize a podcast…
1. Creating Courses
If you like to teach others the nuts and bolts of your subject matter, then this could be the method for you.
Here, you'll break things down and explain them in a simple way in the form of a full course. This could be in video, audio, or written form. There's a wide range of platforms out there that can help you do it, too.
These can be high-value products that can bring in three (even four) figure sums.
They can take a lot of time to put together, which can eat heavily into your podcast creation time. Depending on your topic, they might need to be updated regularly, too.
2. One on One Coaching
If you’d like to get on calls and talk people through processes, teaching them live, instead of online, then this could work for you. It's an easier start than creating a full course since you don't have to build anything. All you need is a booking form that can take payment, and schedule a time!
For this, I use Book Like a Boss. It lets you set up times in your calendar, tie that to different types of appointment and manage the whole process really easy.
This route can create deep meaningful relationships with high-value clients over many years. These relationships can lead to other opportunities, too.
One on one coaching relies on you being available. This can mean less flexibility and freedom when it comes to holidays and time off.
Sponsorship and advertising is often seen as the “default” method when it comes to podcast monetization.
One problem with sponsorship, though, is that many companies are still fixated on numbers rather than interaction and engagement. You and I know that 500 engaged listeners are far more valuable than 5000 casual listeners.
So, if you’d like to get a sponsor for your show, choose someone that fits with your topic and your audience and approach them with real stories of the engagement you've generated. Explain how well this can turn into conversions for their sponsorship.
Try smaller or local companies, and talk to them about the ways they can benefit by supporting your podcast.
For much more detail on how to set up sponsorship, check out our full article on how to do podcast sponsorship. And if you want to see if from the other side, take a look at the “sponsor” point of view, here: Should I Sponsor a Podcast?
If you're able to find a sponsor that's extremely relevant to your audience and topic, then there's the potential to create a lucrative and valuable partnership for both parties, long term.
Unless you're getting thousands of downloads, or have a hyper-niche topic, sponsorship doesn't pay all that well. You need to ask yourself if what you'd stand to earn is worth potentially interrupting your audience over.
4. Write an eBook
A popular ‘how to monetize a podcast' option. A good eBook can be short and sweet, and pretty easy to create if you know your stuff.
You can self publish an eBook on virtually anything. Find something that’s hot in your topic and write about it, but make sure the benefit for the reader is really, really clear. Can you identify a problem and solve it?
Or, take a lead out of Tim Ferriss' book (pun intended…) and write a book that simply summarises the ‘best bits' from your podcast, like Tools of Titans!
You can use your episodes as a framework for the book, especially if you podcast in focused seasons.
Books are ridiculously low-value. A book that costs $20 will be seen as expensive – even if it contains the bulk of the authors lifetime expertise. On the flip side, a course containing 20% of the info on the book can sell for 20 times the price and nobody bats an eyelid!
5. Sell a Product
Again, think hard about the problems your listeners face. Or better still, set up a survey and ask them. Can you create a product that will make life easier for them?
An example of this is Alitu: the Podcast Maker. We kept hearing that you, our readers, were struggling a lot with podcast editing and production. For some, they could do it, but they didn't have the time. For others, they just weren't interested in learning about normalisation, bitrates, compression, file formats, and on, and on….
Either way, we create a product called Alitu that can produce a podcast for you. It solves that problem, taking your raw audio (or letting you record solo segments or calls) and automating a whole lot of the production process, including publishing the final file to the web.
You're 100% in control. Everything is on your own terms, and you'll generally receive the biggest percentage of income generated as compared to all other monetisation methods.
It can be a heavy workload. Creating a product of value will take time and effort.
6. Sell a Service
This is a step beyond the coaching we talked about earlier. Instead of teaching them how, you can do it for them, and call it a service!
A classic example is our very own Podcraft Podcast – it's a show that teaches people everything they need to know about how to run a podcast. But, inevitably, there are plenty of people who heard our advice and realise they just don't have the time or the inclination to do it themselves. So, instead, who do they ask to do it? The person they've just gotten to know on the podcast of course – us! We used to get a lot of production work that way, back when we offered it. These days, many listeners like to work with us inside The Podcast Host Academy.
A service can have the all the benefits of one on one coaching, but this time you can hire staff to work alongside you. Building a team means your business can keep on scaling.
Growth and scaling aren't without their challenges. You can end up spending all your time working on the business as opposed to creating content on the topic you love. This route can grow arms and legs and go way beyond just how to monetize a podcast.
7. Affiliate Income
Every podcaster talks about the stuff they love, and in a lot of cases, that includes products or services. On Podcraft, we talk about microphones, hosting services, podcasting tools, and a tonne more. That's just because we're interested, and we know our listeners are too.
Now, every time you mention these products, your listeners might be interested in buying them. This is your chance to start earning some affiliate income.
Think of the products or services you love most and see if they have an affiliate programme. If it's on Amazon, then that makes things easy – you can sign up for their affiliate programme in just a few minutes. If your beloved brand does sell on there, though, approach the company directly to request becoming an affiliate partner.
You can take this a step further, and combine it with the other methods too. There's no reason not to create a free (or paid!) course or eBook which have affiliate links in them.
Here's our full guide on affiliates for podcasters. There you'll find programs you can sign up to and start earning with right away!
You don't need to create the products or run the services. The income you make isn't quite work-free, but it's lower maintenance for sure.
You don't own or ultimately control these streams. If you begin to rely on them as your main source of income, be aware that they could all be cut off tomorrow.
8. Premium Content
Here's a simple one, sell the podcast itself! You can't sell the whole thing, though, since you need people to listen for free, so they get to like it enough to pay.
To solve that, some podcasters sell their back catalogue. For example, keep the most recent 50 episodes free, but to access the older ones, you have to pay.
Other podcasters create extra episodes which are for sale above and beyond their free content.
You created a product that you own 100%. And you create it by doing what you were already doing anyway.
Is it doing you more harm than good, by limiting your free content? If you're in a position to do this, you're also in a position to try any of the other podcast monetization methods. Is this really the best fit?
9. Sell Yourself as a Podcaster
It could be that the answer to the question “how to monetize a podcast?” is staring back at you when you look in the mirror.
For example, are there any businesses in your niche who don’t have a podcast already? If you have the expertise, offer to make one for them.
If you're a great host, you can tell a good story. And if you have the production chops to make it sound good, then you can generate a really good living that way. In fact, we've written on how to get a job in podcasting before.
In this case, your own podcast acts as a portfolio piece, showing the businesses what you can do.
This is a great way to get paid for talking about your passion.
If someone else hires you, will you still have time to run your own podcast?
10. Patreon, Crowdfunding & Donations
This one is well suited to content creators and hobbyist podcasts. If you've built up a loyal listening community, ask them to help support you by pledging a small amount of money to the show on a regular basis. We're written about how to use Patreon in Podcasting here.
The work needed to get donations is the work you're already doing – trying to create a brilliant podcast. That said, you can go a little further and create rewards and incentives to encourage listeners to support you too.
They can be fickle and hard to build any solid foundations around. You're also relying on third-party platforms that you don't own or control.
11. Create an Email List
Many a seasoned podcaster will tell you this is the most important thing you can do when figuring out how to monetize a podcast.
No matter what strategy you choose, make sure you have an email list. Not only do they help strengthen connections and interactions with your audience, they also help supplement each of the monetization methods we’ve mentioned above. I use Convertkit for my email, because it lets you set up automatic sequences really easy, which can help you engage with and teach new subscribers. That's a great way to grow a loyal and action-taking list.
You can see how it all works (as well as alternative options) in our email marketing for podcasters article.
One of the most tried and tested ways of keeping in touch with your audience and building relationships with them. Many other community platforms have come and gone, but email is as old as the web itself.
Building an email list takes time and work. You need to put out good written content regularly for this to work, and that can potentially take time away from running your actual podcast.
12. Sell Merchandise
A middle ground between selling a product you 100% own, and affiliate or commission sales, is running a merch store on a third-party platform.
There are services out there that let you set up your own shop. You add your own designs, logos, or artwork to their products, then they handle the sales and shipping for you.
Many hobby and entertainment podcasters go down this route and sell things like t-shirts, hoodies, stickers, posters, mugs, and phone cases. Find out how to run your own podcast merch store right here.
It's an “arms-length” way of making some money. You just need to promote and link to your merch store and the rest will happen in the background. Monetisation aside, it can also be good for promotion and marketing. You have listeners walking around advertising your podcast.
Commission rates for these services are typically very low. You're unlikely to make much money this way, even if you have a large and engaged audience
How to Monetize a Podcast: Where Should I Start?
Most likely, in the early days, you're going to throw a lot at the wall to see what sticks. And you'll likely end up doing quite a few methods, running a few in parallel.
Here's a common sequence, which can work particularly well for podcasters who are teaching something.
A Common Podcast Monetization Path:
- affiliate marketing – You can get started really quickly, recommending products and services that your audience might like
- sponsorship – once the affiliate is working, you can use those conversion stats to justify charging sponsors a good rate
- coaching – start this up once your audience knows you well and are willing to pay for your time
- course – eventually, you'll start to see the questions that come up again and again. Build a course to answer them
- product – last, you might build a product to help your coaching and course students to solve their biggest problem
Finally, if you want to go much deeper on this, you can see exactly how to set many of these methods up inside our own ’How to Earn from Your Podcast’ course, which is inside The Podcast Host Academy.
When you sign up, you'll also get access to a bunch of other courses and resources, plus weekly live Q&As. You can ask us anything from “how to monetize a podcast?”, to “how do I plug in these 46 cables and stop hating the sound of my own voice?”.
We'd love to see you in there!