How Long Does it Take to Build a Following?

Grow your podcast audience, build a base and gain listeners.

It's one of the most frequently asked questions in podcasting. How can I grow my audience?

We all love the thought of reaching more people with our podcasts. There's a real satisfaction in seeing a steady increase in download numbers when you're checking your stats.

In this series, we're going to take a deep dive into establishing and building your fan base.

We'll start with the basics; who do you want to reach with your content, and why? Then we'll look at creating content people want to share, and how to get yourself out there.

We’ll then cover optimising your website, building a community, and how to enhance your “social proof” by getting more reviews for your show.

But before we begin, I think it's important to set some expectations. Many people start a podcast, only to give up a few months later because they are disappointed with their download numbers and audience engagement.

How Many Downloads Should I Be Getting?

There's no one-size-fits-all answer here, it depends on a lot of different factors. The biggest factor is your topic and niche.

It would be unfair to say a weight loss podcast with 2000 downloads an episode is doing better than a podcast about the appreciation of the naked mole rats at San Diego Zoo which gets 12 downloads per episode.

Launch your Podcast in 2020

Join our weekly live coaching, plus a huge range of courses & resources, to get your show out into the world!

Join our Academy

Audience engagement is a far better gauge of how you're doing than simple numbers. That's not to say download numbers aren't important though.

It's easy to be discouraged when you hear about some of the top podcasts getting 50,000 downloads an episode. Comparing your own numbers to a handful of the biggest shows in the world's numbers isn't going to do you any good though. Let's put things into perspective.

Rob Walch of Libsyn (the biggest podcast media host on the planet) gives regular breakdowns of podcasting statistics on the company's official show – The Feed.

In April 2017, he revealed their latest figures. These are based on the number of downloads in the 30 day period following the release of a new episode.

If your new episode gets, within 30 days of its release:

  • more than 212 downloads, you're in the top 50% of podcasts.
  • more than 1900 downloads, you're in the top 20% of podcasts.
  • more than 5800 downloads, you're in the top 10% of podcasts.
  • more than 14,000 downloads, you're in the top 5% of podcasts.
  • more than 41,000 downloads, you're in the top 2% of podcasts.
  • more than 88,000 downloads, you're in the top 1% of podcasts.

You can use these figures as a rough guide, but don't obsess over them. As I've said before, it's all about your topic and your reach.  If you have 30 hardcore listeners, your priority first and foremost, should be to create the best content you possibly can for them, rather than spending all your energy worrying about the people who aren't listening.

That in itself is a promotion strategy, because those 30 people will love your show so much that they'll want to share and recommend it at every opportunity. They'll effectively do your marketing for you.

Overnight Success – How Long Will It Take?

Gary Vaynerchuk is success personified to many people. He has a massive audience. But its important to remember that there was a point where he had no audience at all.

Vaynerchuk says himself that, for the first 18 months of his video series WineLibraryTV, “nobody was watching”.

18 months is a long time. Much longer than many new podcasters last before they give up due to having “low” download numbers and no audience engagement.

“I was thirty years old before anyone ever saw me. From fifteen to thirty, I was building businesses. I put in actual work.” Gary Vaynerchuk explains in one of his videos, which was titled ‘How to be an overnight success'.

“Because all those people you call an overnight success? They have the same story as me. They worked. Maybe you don’t see it. But you’re seeing it now.”

A famous podcasting example is John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneur on Fire. Nowadays, Dumas is a widely-cited example of someone making a lot of money from running a podcast. He is – but again, it wasn't always that way.

If you look at his early P&L reports, which he openly shares on his website, you'll see that he made a loss of nearly $10,000 between June 2012 and September 2012, and that was whilst putting a new podcast episode out every single day. During that period, he didn't earn one single dollar from his show.

Dumas persevered because he knew he was playing the long game, and it paid off for him in the end. Now you probably won't need to spend anywhere near what JLD did on his podcast (he was creating a full time business for himself and this was his sole focus), but the big lesson here is that things don't happen overnight. If you put the work in though, they do happen eventually.

I think Seth Godin sums up the overnight success label well in this short video.

One of the things that we see when we look at the work of people who have put really big ideas into the world, who have built online platforms, is that they got there by being patiently impatient.

If you look around at the blogs you read, or the people you respect online, or the organisations that you want to work with,  the myth of the overnight success is just that – a myth.

Growing Your Audience

So now we know that you're probably not going to be seeing huge numbers in the early days, and that there's no shortcut to any of this.

The good news is that there's still plenty you can be doing to increase your chances of picking up new subscribers though, and that's exactly the purpose of this series.

In the next chapter we're going to kick things off by getting back to basics. Who is your podcast for? What do you have to offer them? What pains or needs are you trying to solve?

In the words of the famous advertiser Bill Bernbach, “Nothing makes a bad product fail faster than good marketing.”, so we need to make sure we're on the right track before we go any further on the promotion front.

In the meantime, I'm interested to hear your feedback. Have you ever come close to, or actually quit producing your podcast because you were frustrated with your download numbers?

Guide Index