But first, what is podcasting?
Podcasting is a relatively new type of technology, so here is some background for those who have yet to come across this term. The definition on wikipedia is pretty good:
Podcasting makes audio files (most commonly in MP3 format) available online in a way that allows the software to automatically download the files for listening at the user’s convenience.
The way I view podcasting is a cross between a radio show and a blog. The good news is that anyone can produce a podcast with little expense and only very basic IT knowledge. Once you have produced a podcast, you can allow people to subscribe to receive updates when they are uploaded to your website. This is done in a very similar way to using an RSS reader to distribute blogs / 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 sounded like and what other people were doing (especially in my personal finance field). This was also a useful activity to eliminate any fear that all podcasts already produced were of a highly professional quality; some are, but most are not!
Once I realized that no one else was doing what I planned to do (with the exception of Martin Lewis, the money-saving expert, but it’s more about saving money than financial planning) it was time to figure out how to record. my first show. .
He planned to record ten minute shows that would cut down on production time and also keep the file size quite small. Because this is an audio file hosted on our website, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t too large (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 and then editing them all together. He also wouldn’t have allowed me to talk about the background music (something I felt was important for a professional sounding show / presentation).
I searched the web and found some free programs to try on download.com. This software is called Propaganda 1.0 and it offers a complete solution for the podcast creator. I downloaded the free trial to make sure it did everything I wanted, and then I spent the $ 49.95 to activate the full version.
I wanted to make sure my podcast didn’t have ten minutes of talking about pensions, so I asked my sister to record some sound bites for me. These were simple audio snippets that you could use to introduce the show, split up the content, and use to finish the podcast (my warning / regulatory 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 some backing music), and play with timing. This whole process took just under 2 hours before I was happy with the final version.
Publishing my podcast
The Propaganda software also makes this quite easy. Basically, there are three steps to publishing the podcast.
1 – create an MP3 file of the podcast. MP3 seems to be the most common file format for podcasts, so I stuck to tradition. The blurb 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 opted for something mid-range, not too low as 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 bit more about my podcast in general and more about this podcast show in particular.
3 – create an RSS feed. Once again, Propaganda did this for me with its publishing function. The RSS feed is the syndication feed that enables 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 I had a podcast I had to get some listeners! I posted a request for help on an online network, Ecademy.com, and got some very helpful responses. It seems that the main podcast directory is Apples iTunes, so I started there. It’s really easy to get listed as all they need to know is the links to your podcast, website, and RSS feed. There is a research process so I had to wait a couple of days for it to be listed, but on Sunday morning I found my link and was able to use iTunes to download, listen to, and subscribe to my podcast.
There are many other podcast directories, but one that caught my eye was Britcaster.com. Since this only lists UK podcasts (most directories, including iTunes, are US-centric), it should result in a more relevant audience.
In addition to listing them in various directories, I added a blog on my website and a mention in my Ecademy signature. The combined effect of these two elements is to score high on google.co.uk when the search term “personal finance podcast” is used.
I think I now have a good story to tell the press as this is the first time a podcast has been published in the UK (personal finance from an independent financial advisor). I have already had some positive responses from the trade press, so this week I plan to move on 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 output. There is of course a business reason for producing this podcast as it will (hopefully) lead to further inquiries and a higher profile on the web and in the press.
For anyone considering their own podcast (or have read this article and think it might be something they could do), I suggest you do it! Podcasting is still at a very early stage and not many people in the UK have found out about the technology yet. With the explosion of ownership of the iPod and other MP3 players, all predictions point to massive growth in the podcast market.
Because relatively few people produce their own podcasts, now is a good time to launch your own show before your competitors catch on to the idea.