But first, what is podcasting?
Podcasting is a relatively new type of technology, so here’s some background for those who haven’t come across the term yet. The definition on wikipedia is pretty good:
“Podcasting” makes audio files (most commonly in MP3 format) available online in a way that allows software to automatically download the files for listening at the user’s convenience.
The way I see podcasting is a cross between a radio show and a blog. The best thing is that anyone can produce a podcast with little out of pocket and only a very basic knowledge of IT. Once you’ve produced a podcast, you can allow people to subscribe to receive updates when they’re uploaded to your website. This is done in much the same way as using an RSS reader to syndicate blog/news feeds (more on this later).
How did I make and publish my first podcast?
The first step for me was research. I wanted to know what other podcasts were sounding like and what other people were doing (particularly in my field of personal finance). This was also a useful activity to remove fears that all podcasts already produced would be of a very professional quality; some are, but most are not!
Once I established that no one else was doing what I was planning to do (with the exception of Martin Lewis, the money-saving expert, but this is more about saving money than financial planning), it was time to figure out how to record my first show.
I planned to record ten minute shows, which would reduce production time and also keep the file size quite small. Since this is an audio file hosted on our website, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t too big (to keep download times fast but also to save on bandwidth restrictions).
To record my podcast content, I first tried using ‘Sound Recorder’ that comes with Windows XP. This was not ideal for a couple of reasons. Recording time is limited to 60 seconds, which would have meant cutting my planned show into ten perfectly timed segments, then editing them all together. He also wouldn’t have allowed me to talk over background music (something I felt was important for a professional sounding show/intro).
I searched the web and found free software to try at download.com. This software is called Propaganda 1.0 and it offers a complete solution for the would-be podcaster. I downloaded the free trial to make sure it did everything I wanted and then paid $49.95 to activate the full version.
I wanted to make sure my podcast wasn’t ten minutes on pensions, so I had my sister record some sound bites for me. These were just simple audio snippets that I could use to introduce the show, break up the content, and use them to end the podcast (my regulatory warning/disclaimer).
In terms of hardware, I only used a headset with a microphone; the same system I use for Skype. This cost me £10 at Dixons and it does a good job in terms of recording a single voice.
Using Propaganda I was able to record content for the show, line up up to 16 different audio tracks (including background music), and play around with time. This entire process took less than 2 hours before I was satisfied with the final version.
publishing my podcast
The Propaganda software also makes it quite easy. Essentially, there are three steps to publishing your podcast.
1 – Create an MP3 file of the podcast. MP3 seems to be the most common file format for podcasts, so I stuck with tradition. Propaganda allowed me to convert the 16 audio tracks I had lined up into a single MP3 file and choose the most suitable file quality. I went for something in the mid-range, not too low because the sound quality suffered, and not too high to keep the file size reasonable (less than 4MB).
2 – Host the MP3 file on your website. I use MS Frontpage to design my website and some free FTP software to transfer files from my PC to the Internet. To host the archive, I also built a basic web page that would tell potential listeners a little more about my podcast in general, and more about this podcast show in particular.
3 – make an RSS feed. Again, Propaganda did this for me with their post feature. The RSS feed is the syndication feed that allows podcast players to find your podcast and subscribe to updates. When you produce a new podcast show, you update this RSS feed (which is hosted on your website) and the various podcast players notice the update and download the new podcast for the listener.
promoting my podcast
Now that he had a podcast, he had to get some listeners! I posted a help request on an online network, Ecademy.com, and got some very helpful responses. It seems that the main directory for podcasts is Apple’s iTunes, so I started there. It’s very easy to get listed as all they need to know are the links to your podcast, website and RSS feed. There is a vetting process going on so I had to wait a couple of days to get listed, but on Sunday morning I found my link and was able to use iTunes to download, listen and subscribe to my podcast.
There are many other podcast directories out there, but one that caught my eye was Britcaster.com. As this only lists UK podcasts (most directories, including iTunes, are US-focused), it should result in a more relevant audience.
In addition to being listed in various directories, I’ve added a blog to my website and a mention in my Ecademy signature. The combined effect of these two elements is to rank highly on google.co.uk when the search term ‘personal finance podcast’ is used.
I think I had a pretty good story to tell the press now as this is the first time a podcast has been published from the UK (personal finance from an independent financial adviser). I’ve already gotten some positive responses from the business press, so this week I plan to turn to the consumer financial press.
Well, in addition to working on show number two, I plan to improve the production quality of the show as time goes on. You might consider producing some ‘jingles’ that you can mix into the show to improve the feel and quality of the production. There is, of course, a business reason for producing this podcast as it will (hopefully) generate new inquiries and a higher profile on the web and in the press.
For anyone considering their own podcast (or who has read this article and thinks it might be something you could do), I suggest you go for it! Podcasting is still at a very early stage and not many people in the UK have caught on to the technology yet. With the explosion in ownership of the iPod and other MP3 players, all predictions point to massive growth in the podcast market.
Since relatively few people produce their own podcasts, now is a great time to launch your own show before your competitors catch on to the idea.