The idea that your show could get to 100,000 downloads — and not all thanks to charity listening from your family —  seems outlandish when the entire podcast team is you and your co-host.

Arielle Nissenblatt and Shira Moskowitz weren’t aiming that high when they started Counter Programming, a podcast about a wide assortment of things that include the word “counter” or “count.”

(Full disclosure: You might recognize Arielle as SquadCast’s fearless Community Manager. She joined the company in August 2020, five months after launching Counter Programming).

In March 2020, like many others, Arielle and Shira were looking for a temporary project to take their minds off the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as Shira told an episode of Between 2 Mics, “We were naturally very strategic.”

Arielle worked in podcasting, so she knew better than most how to bootstrap a successful show. By the time Counter Programming published its final episode in June 2021, the show had been featured on Apple Podcasts’ prestigious New and Noteworthy section, and had over 100,000 downloads.

After Arielle tweeted an epic thread explaining how they got there, she and Shira joined Between 2 Mics to go into detail.

Be intentional about your podcast

It’s fine if the full extent of your vision for your podcast is capturing unrehearsed conversations with a friend or two over adult beverages. However, if you want your podcast to be part of a professional portfolio, or you plan to monetize your podcast, you need a plan.

Shira describes her and Arielle’s attitude as “intentional.” They wanted making the show to be fun, but they also wanted a consistent structure, and for their conversations to be built around research.

That’s why they picked a theme and stuck to it. They also wrote scripts, although these eventually turned into bullet points, since this allowed for more natural-sounding improv.

It was also important to them to use the right equipment and tools — a decision that can instantly improve your podcast’s quality. Arielle already had an idea of the industry standard, having worked at podcast companies. 

She set them both up with the best microphones and wired headphones, for a more professional sound. And from the start, Arielle was clear they were going to record using SquadCast — five months before she joined the company, note. Even when recording in person has been an option, the duo have stuck with SquadCast, because it was easier. 

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If you’re starting a podcast for fun, you don’t want to get too bogged down in details. But just hitting these basic requirements can give you a baseline of professionalism that appeals to listeners, podcast apps and sponsors.

Make your podcast stand out — when to hire an expert 

There are two aspects of your podcast that can really benefit from a professional hand: your logo and the editing.

It’s possible to do both of these yourself, especially if you aren’t planning to edit the show very much, or you’re a dab hand at using free programs like Canva.

However, hiring a professional for one or both of these tasks will elevate your show to another level of professionalism, which in turn can help you find a bigger audience.

🎨 Why you should consider a professionally created logo

Arielle and Shira decided from the start that they wanted to create a strong brand identity for the podcast. (More on the benefits of that in a second.) The logo is many user’s first interaction with a show, as they scroll through their podcast apps

Given the weight the logo has to carry, the pair decided that theirs had to instantly convey the right tone, and that it was worth hiring someone who was professionally trained to make that happen. Namely, Rio de Janeiro-based illustrator Caio Slikta. “That was a game changer: having someone who knew what they were doing make a logo, that wasn’t just us playing around,” Shira says.

🔊 Why you should consider a professional sound engineer

Since podcasting is Arielle’s job, she wanted to make sure that she was putting out a show that she could be proud of. But neither she nor Shira were keen to spend hours editing every recording.

Arielle and Shira credit their sound engineer Daniel Tureck for turning their raw conversations into comedy podcast gold. (So does Shira’s dad: “According to my dad, Daniel was the best part of our podcasts,” she says.)

It wasn’t just editing out pauses or mistakes. “We were like, go for it: add sound effects, do whatever you want,” Shira says. “He did things that never would have occurred to me, because I’m not a professional sound designer.”

It comes down to what you want from your podcast. If you like that raw, conversational quality, you probably don’t need to hire a professional editor. But if you like polish and some extra personality, they can make your podcast stand out.

Become besties with your listeners

You don’t get to 100,000 downloads by taking for granted the people who will get you there. Communicate clearly with your listeners from the moment your podcast pops up in their app. 

Here are some tips from Arielle and Shira:

1. Write a clear show description

Unless your listeners found you through an ad spot in a different podcast (more on that later), their first interaction with your podcast will likely be reading the description. 

Include:

  • What your show is about
  • Who the hosts are
  • How often it will be released

“You don’t really need to know everything else, because either you’re going to tune in or you’re not going to tune in,” Arielle says.

2. Create a branded social media account

Even though Shira and Arielle initially believed they were only going to make a few episodes of Counter Programming, they still created an Instagram account to promote the show. More than just creating the account, they made sure the branding was clear:

  • Have a logo. One that clearly communicates the feel of your show. Counter Programming’s cartoon duo might not be the right fit for, say, a hard-hitting investigative journalism podcast. As mentioned earlier, consider hiring a professional.
  • Choose a color scheme and font. This makes your show look intentional, rather than slapped together. Arielle and Shira used the same color scheme and font throughout their posts, including on their personal social media profiles, so listeners would be able to easily identify relevant information. When they spontaneously decided to split the show into seasons, they changed the color scheme for season two, so those posts would stand out.
  • Over-communicate. Life happens — sometimes in the form of rollerblading accidents. When Arielle and Shira had to cancel an episode, after Arielle broke her elbow rollerblading, they made an effort to let listeners know that there would be a delay and why. They published a short recording of Arielle in the hospital, and posted the news on their Instagram. 

Similarly, when Beyonce deservedly but inconveniently won a bunch of Grammys, the duo’s statistics for their next episode (on her song “Countdown”) were immediately out of date. Rather than re-record the entire episode, they added a short explanation at the start.

If you show your listeners that you appreciate their time and the faith they have in you to put out high quality content, they will be much more empathetic when things inevitably go off track.

  • Name your fanbase. Marc Maron’s WTF (recorded using SquadCast) has What the F***ers,  Failing Upwards has the Fail Gang, and Pod Save America has Friends of the Pod. Arielle and Shira call their fans Counties. Creating an identity for your fans helps build a community around your show — one way to engage your podcast listeners week after week. 
  • Be open to feedback. If you’re after downloads, you have to give the people what they want. And the way you find out what they want is by listening to their feedback. “We definitely evolved and grew from people who were willing to share feedback with us, and also from each other,” Shira says. That’s right: If you’re working with a co-host, be prepared to listen to their input. Recognize that comments like “That joke wasn’t funny” come from a place of wanting to make the best show possible.

Use scrappy (free!) tactics to get your podcast noticed

Contrary to what “Field of Dreams” taught us, just because you build it, doesn’t mean the fans will come. It takes more than recording and publishing a podcast — and even making a social media profile for your show — to convince people to listen.

However, the good news is that there are some scrappy paths you can take to get your show promoted to a larger audience, even if you don’t have a budget or lots of connections.

Create a compelling slide deck 

Before you start asking people to promote your podcast, it’s useful to have something to show them that summarizes what you’re all about, and why you’re a good fit for them. 

You can do this by creating a slide deck (also called a pitch deck). Arielle and Shira used Google Slides. Your deck should include:

  • Your logo and branding. Being consistent with your fonts and color schemes across everything your podcast is involved with indicates a level of effort and attention to detail that will impress the person you’re pitching.
  • Audio clips. A sample of your podcast that best summarizes the tone and content (because no one has time to listen to a full episode.)
  • Download forecasts: How many people are downloading your show, what audience do you hope to reach, and how do you hope to get there.
  • Media clips: If you’ve been featured on blogs or in other press — the more high profile the better — include links to those stories.

Reach out to people with larger audiences

If your Twitter following is just your mom, a Russian bot, and people you went to college with, reach out to people with larger platforms.

Make a list of people you follow or know about, who you think would like your show or have a similar theme, and send them your slide deck. That includes:

  • Blogs and websites
  • Microinfluencers
  • Other podcasters

 

Other podcasters can be particularly helpful — almost surprisingly so. “So many other industries are like, I have to be the best at this, and the podcast space feels really like, I want you to succeed and I also want to succeed,” Shira says. Offer to do a swap: You’ll promote their show and they can promote yours.

Apply for in-app promotion

There are so many podcasts out there now that it’s easy to get drowned out. An effective way to make sure yours floats to the top of listeners’ minds is by getting it promoted on podcast apps.

Most podcast apps give creators the chance to apply for these coveted spots. Full disclosure: Arielle had previously worked at Castbox when she pitched the company for the chance to appear on its Indie Picks list. In exchange, Arielle would tweet a link to the show via Castbox.

However, you don’t need connections to get your podcast promoted by these apps. Arielle and Shira applied to the New and Noteworthy section of Apple Podcasts via an Airtable form, the same as everyone else. They already had the necessary information because it was all in their slide deck.

This move saw Counter Programming promoted in one of the most popular podcast lists.

“We got a lot of hate, we got a lot of love,” Arielle says. “I got a lot of people reaching out to me that I hadn’t talked to since middle school, being like, Why are you on Apple? And I was like, This is who I am now.” 

It could be who you are too.

To hear more advice from Arielle Nissenblatt and Shira Moskowitz about how to boost your download numbers, listen to this episode of Between 2 Mics. Be sure to subscribe to get future episodes directly in your preferred podcast player.