Producing your own podcast can be a fun and rewarding hobby that enables you to tap into your creativity. However, if you’re planning to start one as a means of generating income or to promote an existing business, then you’re going to need more than just a USB mic. In this episode, Gene Marks and Nora McInereny, the creator and host of “Terrible, Thanks for Asking,” provide an in-depth guide on how to create and finance a high-production-value podcast.
Podcast Key Highlights
- What Can Self-Producing a Podcast Teach Us?
- Creating your own podcast enables you to deepen your skills as a storyteller, not only in terms of your writing, but also in the way you connect with your listeners.
- The motivation for producing content should always stem from your audience’s needs, not yours.
- Podcasts are not a “get rich quick” scheme. You’ll need to invest a lot of time and effort before you start generating any significant revenue.
- Your podcast has to have a certain level of production value in order to compete on today’s platforms.
- How Do I Finance My Podcast?
- Listener Support
- Advertiser Support
- Independent Wealth
- Who Do I Need on My Team as a Podcast Host?
- Video and Writing Editors
- Sound Engineers
- IT Managers
- Project Managers
- Promotional Team Members
- What Does the Podcast Production Process Actually Entail?
- The pre-production process consists primarily of brainstorming ideas, writing, and conducting pre-interviews with potential guests.
- Once the actual interview for the podcast is recorded, the host and other creatives will review it and select the best portions. These highlights will be incorporated into the larger structure of the show along with some additional narration and audio.
- During post-production, there needs to be a sound engineer who can edit the final audio before it gets uploaded to another platform.
- In some instances, the host may have someone transcribe the podcast to make it accessible for those with a hearing impairment.
- Are There Any Additional Ways for Podcast Hosts to Connect With Their Audiences?
- One of the most common ways to connect with your audience is through social media, which enables your listeners to comment on your posts or message you directly.
- Touring and doing live shows is another effective strategy since it enables podcast hosts to interact with their listeners in person.
- Do Podcasts Need a Video Element?
- While some larger podcasts have a video component, keep in mind that not all topics lend themselves to a video format.
- Furthermore, allotting additional time and resources to include a video element is not always the most cost effective strategy.
- What Are the Best Strategies for Monetizing My Podcast Through Ad Support?
- When it comes to ad support, it’s best to have a specific deal in place with two or three different sponsors.
- While diversifying your sponsors might seem like an effective strategy, constantly switching sponsors may cause your listeners to question the authenticity of your endorsements.
- There are two kinds of ads: host reads and programmatic ads.
- As the name suggests, host reads are when a company pays the podcast host to read an advertisement and then, tracks their performance using a specific code or URL; these pay a premium CPM or cost per 1,000 listeners.
- Programmatic ads are pre-recorded commercial spots that you include during your podcast; these typically pay a lower CPM rate.
- What Are the Best Strategies for Financing My Podcast Through Listener Support?
- Podcast creators can follow the public radio model to generate revenue from their listeners.
- This model offers listeners several subscription levels to choose from, with each level incentivized using different types of bonus content or merchandise.
- What Valuable Lessons Can Audience Members Learn From Nora’s Journey?
- Focus on the things that you can do on your own and don’t be afraid to hire other people for additional support.
- Be prepared to do any part of this job; don’t let your ego get in the way.
- Trust that you know what you’re doing and that you can always find a way to succeed.
- Know when it’s time to quit your current project and move unto the next one.
The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only, and solely those of the podcast participants, contributors, and guests, and do not constitute an endorsement by or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates.
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Gene: Welcome to The Small Biz Ahead Podcast. We interview great experts, but offer advice and tips to help you run your business better. Hey, everybody, and welcome back to another episode of the Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. My name is Gene Marks. Thank you so much for joining us. I am here with the wonderful and great Nora McInerney, who I just figured out how to pronounce your last name, McInerney, because I’m such a fan of the Wrexham Show with Rob McInerney. That name was rattling around on my head, Nora. This just made it a lot easier. You can thank him if you ever do meet him or see him.
Nora: I will.
Gene: Yeah. It just makes it that much smoother. Thank you so much for joining us. Nora, you have a very, very fascinating story that I’m going to ask you to share with our audience and give us an idea of the kind of content that you create and then we want to talk about business. But first, let’s just start with your story as well. It all started with, I believe, an obituary, correct?
Nora: Yes, yes. My husband Aaron and I wrote his obituary together when he went on hospice after three years of treatment for stage four glioblastoma, which is just another way of saying incurable brain cancer. And his obituary went viral in 2014, which was, I’m sure you remember, a simpler time. We were all on one algorithm, we were all on the same internet. If I asked you if you’d seen, oh, have you seen that video of whatever? Yes, you had. Yes, you had. You weren’t like, wait, which one is that? Yeah,
Gene: Yeah. Now ChatGPT could write the obituary for you.
Nora: Right, right.
Gene: Different era in 2014.
Nora: Right. It went viral, and that was… I mean, I don’t know if it was really the start of something. It brought attention to things that I was already doing and who we already were beforehand, but I went from being a person who would’ve likely been voted least likely to ever have her own business. I could not think of anything that would interest me less than just the word business, no, thank you, to being a person who had several businesses. And not all of them winners, I’ll be honest.
Gene: No, no, that’s fair enough. What’s your product?
Nora: I should know that, right? And this is how I think maybe I’m not a real business person, or maybe that’s just my insecurity talking.
Gene: No, you’re joining the crowd.
Nora: Yeah. I think the product is story. The product is sometimes books. I’m an author, so I’ve written five books for myself, and I also do collaborations with other people where I am not on the book title itself. I’ve written five of my own books and a few for other people as well. I’ve written screenplays and television shows, and I write and produce now two different podcasts. “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” and “It’s Going to Be Okay.”
Gene: There is a lot of things that you’ve got your fingers in, and that’s how you’re generating revenue for yourself. And a lot of it’s based on your story of grief and handling some of the moments of grief that have happened in your life and providing inspiration for a lot of other people. And you’re doing it through a lot of different vehicles. The podcast that you have, I know you had an original podcast, now you have another one it’s called…
Gene: Tell me about that podcast. How often is it on now, what platforms is it on? And I’m most interested in how you’re monetizing it.
Nora: “Terrible, Thanks for Asking,” has been around, we are coming up on seven years. We launched November 2016, which is also when I had my youngest child. They both came out at about the same time. It’s pretty easy to remember how old it is, and yet, I forget all the time, it has been seasonal. We launched with 10 episodes at a time. It has been weekly, it has been more than weekly. At this point, we’ve produced over 250 episodes of the podcast. It launched as a part of a public media institution. It was a lot of the decisions on how often the podcast came out, how long it was and how it was monetized I had no say in for quite a long time. And now I own that podcast. I’ve launched others and I’ve created a company around that, around creating media of all kinds, primarily audio, that helps people feel seen and heard and known called “Feelings & Co.”
Gene: The good news is that you started in the podcast world really in the days even before Joe Rogan. I mean, people were learning podcasting. As you were learning it from scratch, the whole world was learning it from scratch as well. Now here you are, you now own it and you’ve develop into other things. For those of us that are doing podcasts, as well as others in our audience are thinking of doing podcasts, what have you learned? What mistakes have you made?
Nora: I mean, I’ve learned story.
Nora: I became a better storyteller through making audio and through making podcasts. Our podcast is narrative interview. I have a conversation with a person on “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” and we know when we go into the conversation, oh, we’re talking to Sarah today and we’re going to talk to Sarah about this specific time in her life, and we think the episode is going to be about this. And through the interview, it becomes clear what the story is, how we’re going to present it, and we spend a lot of time on the writing and the creation of the story itself beyond just the interview. We’re writing an arc for it, we’re writing narration, we’re thinking about when music comes in, we’re thinking about when we do take breaks to have an advertisements in it. I learned a lot about what makes a story, and it’s not just what happened, it’s what it means or what it has meant to somebody.
Nora: And I’ve also learned a lot about motivation, and I don’t know how to put this. I’ve learned that your motivation for creating, if it is something in the artistic realm, if you are creating media, if you are creating something that is designed to make somebody feel, that is designed to connect with somebody, you have to think about your audience more than you think about yourself.
Nora: Podcasting went through several already, several sort of bubbles and booms, none of which I have really participated in, even though I have a top 5% podcast in “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”
Nora: The vast majority of podcasts nobody listens to.
Nora: There are millions of podcasts that get 10, 100, 200 downloads.
Nora: When you’re thinking about, there’s a lot of, I’m just going to call them charlatans. There are a lot of people out in the world who want to tell you that you can make a podcast and just turn on the money hose.
Nora: You’re going to make a show, and the whole world is waiting to hear your show. And it should really only take you a couple hours a week to produce it. And then you just monetize it, which is the easiest thing in the world, right? You just choose to monetize it. And how hard can it be?
Nora: And it’s that the podcasting industry has changed a lot since the very beginning. In public media, you support your station, you support your public radio station, or you support NPR and all the money you donate supports all those shows. Or maybe you’re donating to a specific show and in exchange you get a tote bag or a t-shirt or a sticker or whatever that thing is, and you’re a member of it. And for the time when we are part of public media, that was a part of the monetization and the support of this podcast was listener support, was tax-deductible listener support that you can’t do a tax-deductible gift if you are not a nonprofit. And my podcast is not a nonprofit. Podcasts make money in just, there’s very few ways for them to do that. And one is, similar to the public media model, but now anybody can do it on Patreon or whatever platform you want. There’s listener support or there’s advertiser support, or there’s independent wealth, I suppose.
Nora: But there’s really just those two ways to support a podcast financially. And I think people who listen to podcasts might not even truly know or understand that if you are doing it seriously, if you are doing it right, it really is something that should take a significant amount of time to produce, and it should be something that can support you and can support a team of people. And to do that, you will need money. I didn’t start this show thinking, oh, this will be how I make my living. I started this show because I had a very specific thing that I wanted to make, and I wanted to make something called “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”
Nora: And I wanted it to be real conversations with actual people who had been through or were going through something difficult. And I wanted to give them the space to speak honestly about that experience. To answer that hypothetical question we all ask and answer constantly, how are you, honestly. And in a way where it wasn’t just about grief and it wasn’t just about death. And I had experienced grief in my own life, and that had become, in a lot of ways, the center of my life. And I wanted to get outside of myself and into other people’s stories. That first season came from my inbox, that came from people who had reached out to me, not because I had a podcast, but because I’d gone through something. They had read the obituary and they just wanted to say that they saw me and that they’d been through something also.
Nora: I wasn’t anticipating how the podcast would do or what the potential of it was. I was creating it for the sake of creating it. And I was working several other jobs at the time. I was freelance writing, I was freelance copywriting, I had a ton of clients and I worked constantly. And this was just sort of an extra thing that I was doing. It wasn’t a serious part of my income.
Gene: You bring up a lot of topics and I do want to ask about monetizing, but before we even get to that, I want to talk a little bit about the money involved, about the investing, the time, the commitment. First of all, regardless of everything else, you did grow up in a world with your initial podcast, almost like the Ivy League of podcasts. I think you agree. As a podcaster, you listen is like the NPR of podcasts. They’re really good. Some of them, I mean they’re really well-produced journalistic stuff and sometimes I listen to… Yeah. It’s really good. And it comes from the radio background, and then the investment goes into it with music, pre-production, post-production, narrative and arc and all that. You did learn all of that, and a lot of people didn’t have that. But I think it’s an important thing that if anybody’s looking to start a podcast, there really has to be a certain level of quality. It cannot be Wayne’s World nowadays.
Nora: Yeah, yeah.
Gene: Because people expect a certain level of quality when they’re listening to a podcast. You also mention “we.” We put together a script and a narrative when we want to build a story. Talk a little bit about the “we” behind your podcast, your team.
Nora: Yeah. It’s a huge team, not a huge team. It’s actually a really small team for what we make and how much we make.
Gene: Compared to NPR, yeah.
Nora: It is, it is.
Gene: Yeah, yeah.
Nora: And I would say also, if you want to make anything, if you want to write a book, read a book, read a lot of books. If you want to make a podcast, listen to a lot of podcasts. Be really clear about what you like, listen to how they’re structured, listen to how they begin, how they end, what sort of wayfinding is there for you as a listener, or is there any? When does music come in, when is it out, what are the levels like? And it is hard. It’s hard to do. Not every episode we’ve made has been perfect. And we are talking with regular people who don’t have professional microphones who are in whatever environment that they’re in. And sometimes we’ve gone to their homes and sometimes it’s just been over the internet on a call like this. The team is now five people including myself, who work on our shows primarily. And then a few people who step in as sort of pinch hitters for maybe production or engineering, or my husband does my invoicing.
Gene: Okay, fair enough.
Nora: I don’t know if I could count him as a part of the team, okay. He’s not compensated, but he’s the person who is doing that because that part is so deeply disinteresting to me, and…
Gene: And yet critical, remember, Nora.
Nora: And yet Accountant. You’re an accountant. Yeah, I have an accountant. Yeah.
Gene: I’m with your husband on this.
Gene: Tell me about what your members of your team actually do.
Nora: Yeah. Another thing too is I love that you’re asking these questions because it is really easy for people to compare their situation to another person’s situation or how they’re doing it or how it looks. Every single…
Nora: Everybody has…
Gene: Let’s share a note.
Nora: Yeah. And people are a little bit cagey, I would say, in the podcasting community. I have a few people where we really do share real information and workflows and how we’re doing stuff. And a lot of people guard that really closely. And I really don’t believe in secrets, I don’t believe in… I just don’t know. I don’t believe that there’s a secret to it. I do think anyone could learn it and anyone could learn how to do it. Yeah. We’re talking about the people and we’re talking about what everybody does. We have always been very small. We’ve always been very, very small. And everybody has always had to do more than one thing. There are situations where a host, and I also don’t like this, I don’t like in podcasting where you don’t hear credits where you know what people do. I hate that. If I listen to a podcast and you don’t tell me who did your editing, even if it’s just you-
Gene: I agree.
Nora: I don’t like it, I don’t like it. Give your producers credit.
Gene: I agree.
Gene: Not only that, I kind of like, and I’m pushing for this hard, even on this podcast. I would like to have Alyssa or our producer appear on here, even if she’s off camera, kind of like Howard Stern and Robin. Just a little bit of the banter.
Gene: Kind of fun to do. Why not?
Nora: Let her. Yes. And also, it’s good for people to understand it’s the work that goes into it. Everybody’s basically a producer. Everybody’s a producer because everybody works on an episode. I’m a producer. There are situations and hosts who literally just come in and they talk and they don’t touch anything else about the episode. That is not me. I’ve always been a writing producer. I will listen to tape. I don’t go into Pro Tools. That’s not something I was ever taught, but I will learn it at some point. I don’t do the physical editing, but I do basically a paper edit of the episode. We do that collaboratively in Google Documents. We have four people on our team. Everybody has to do more than one thing. Jordan does a lot of project management, which means keeping all of our processes up to date, checking to make sure that everything is on track, that we’re publishing on the right dates, that everyone has what they need to do their jobs, and that everyone is doing their jobs.
Nora: Because if I miss a deadline, someone else misses a deadline, someone else misses a deadline, and the episode doesn’t come out. Claire and Megan and Marcel are doing pre-interviews. Before I sit down to talk to a person, a producer talks to that person and susses out what it is, what the potential for the story is, is this a person who’s really ready to talk? Do they just think they’re ready to talk, what’s the story? And by the way,
Gene: And by the way, if I can interrupt. Whenever I’ve done TV stuff for the better networks and the more higher watched shows, there’s always a pre-interview.
Gene: You’ll hear anybody that’s on Jimmy Fallon or whatever. I mean, they mention the biggest celebrities, they get pre-interviewed. You know what you’re going to talk about and you can also suss out if the guest is communicative or not, or if they’re a dud or what might bring them out.
Nora: Yeah. Or what you need, and it just helps you feel prepared for the actual interview itself. I was late to this interview because I was also late to the first interview that I did for my podcast because I reset up every computer. Would you believe that as the IT person for this company, I did not do it correctly? I do IT, right? Everybody is doing at least five or six different things at any given point in time. But an episode is touched by every single person on the team and sometimes people outside the team. I will send an episode to a friend, I will send an episode to a peer that I respect and say, what do you think about this? I was thinking about actually starting it here. We have meetings where we go through upcoming stories where we’ll dissect a story that we’re working on. And then we have other meetings where we’re literally just talking about deadlines and to-do’s.
Gene: And this is all pre-production stuff, including the writing. Then there’s the actual recording of the podcast itself. And then tell me about then all the work that goes into post-production.
Nora: I don’t know. There’s a pre-interview. When somebody does a pre-interview, they’re taking notes and they’re writing almost a skeleton of what the episode could be. We’ll then discuss that. I’ll discuss it with a producer. I just did an interview before this. We did the interview, afterwards we hung up, we called each other back, and we talked through the best parts of the interview that I did and how they would fit into what we had already sort of constructed and what we needed to reconstruct. That producer is going to work on that today and tomorrow. And then I’ll see a draft of what came together early next week. I’ll go in, I’ll do some more writing, I’ll record my narration, she’ll assemble that all into a file. We’ll listen to a rough version of it, and then it will go to an engineer who can smooth it all out, make sure the levels are correct, maybe remove any egregious background noise. There’s been a couple episodes where there’s just literally nothing that we can do about some of the environmental noise. Or I went from going into a studio every week before COVID, going into a soundproof room…
Gene: Right. To doing this from your bathroom.
Nora: Yeah. And doing it from my closet.
Nora: And I normally would be recording in my closet, but if there’s a camera on, I can’t be in my closet because I look like a ghost. And then, yeah. And there’s so much afterwards. There’s putting it on your hosting platform, making sure it is going out to all of the different ways that people receive podcasts. We do a transcript of every single episode so that if you’re hearing impaired, you can still get something out of our podcast, or if you want to read it, if you want something like that, that it’s there and it’s available for you. Every episode has its own landing page on the websites that when you’re looking through our show notes, you can go to that page, you can get the transcript for it. God, what else?
Gene: If I can interrupt you while you collect your thoughts, somebody’s got to set up the landing page, somebody has got to make sure the transcript gets done and then upload it on the landing page. Somebody has to take the raw file of the actual episode and make sure it gets distributed to Spotify and Apple and all the other… Somebody physically has to do all of that.
Nora: All of those things.
Gene: After it’s been packaged up. And then you do engage with your community as well, right. How do you do that? And is that you or is that your team?
Nora: It’s everyone. And I mean, we’ve had to deprioritize the social media stuff because we don’t have a person to do it. And if the choice is focusing our time on promoting the show or making the show, we’re just going to make the show.
Nora: We’re just going to make the show.
Nora: The social media stuff across everything that I’ve ever done has been primarily me forever, because there’s just something that you can’t teach people or I don’t really know what it is until I get into my phone and I decide to do it. And I can’t templatize almost anything.
Gene: Right. It’s got to be authentic anyway.
Nora: Yeah. I don’t know.
Gene: I mean, people will see through if you have some PR person doing it for you.
Gene: People on social media are smarter than that and they can figure it out pretty quickly. The team of people that you’re using, did you hire all these people yourself? Did they come with you from your previous life?
Nora: Everybody, I’ve already worked with them. Everybody I’d already worked with. And so they came from my previous life. There’s a new addition to the team who is my second cousin.
Nora: And so I had not worked with her before, but I did know her work. And she also worked in public radio, and she was a radio reporter and she came in to just pinch hit on a couple things and hit the ground running. And now she’s going to be full-time with us in June, which is great. Everybody was somebody that I had worked with before. And I do think that we will be hiring, at some point in the future, probably another producer who can also step in more on the other digital stuff, on website things, on newsletter stuff. We used to have a texting program. I don’t know what happened to that or where any of that went, but there are other things. I’d never just wanted to make a podcast. I have always loved the connection aspect of it. Nothing makes me feel more connected to my job and my work and the people that I do it for than touring, than going on tour and really performing the shows, which is something that I love, but also something that takes a lot of work and takes us away from making the episodes.
Gene: Glad you brought that up, because you do live shows. And again, if people go to your website, which we’ll give out the end of the episode, people can watch you do your thing live. And I’m curious what your thoughts are on doing live shows. I’m sure you get a rush meeting your audience, but it’s got to be a huge pain in the neck.
Nora: I love it. I just love it. I really do. We have worked really hard on our live show format, and there are a lot of podcasts where you show up and it’s two people sitting around casually with a mic, and then you can hear that episode on their feed later. And I don’t do that, we don’t do that. We don’t air them. If you’re there, you’re there and if you’re not, we write a whole new show that has audiovisual elements, that has me, that has Marcel, that has interactive storytelling and audience engagement. And once we are done touring that show, we never do it again. We just did the very last show for “Bad Vibes Only” in Ann Arbor, and those were the last people who will see that show.
Gene: Okay. Fair enough.
Gene: Let’s talk a little bit, oh, you know what? Before you even get to monetization, one other question is video versus audio.
Gene: Most podcasts like this one, but most of the large podcasts have video components. Some of them like “Smart Lists,” I don’t know if you ever listened to “Smart Lists,” but…
Nora: Yeah, of course. Yeah.
Gene: But they just did a deal with, it’s no longer HBO Max, it’s now Max. And they’re doing some, I know, some show on that, but give me your thoughts on a video. Do you think that’s, for those doing pods, important?
Nora: Good for them. And I don’t know, people have been saying forever, that’s the future of podcasts and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. What I do just doesn’t translate to video. There’s no way for me to do it. If I was making a different kind of show, sure. But the cost benefit analysis, which is something I’ve learned from people like you, it doesn’t make sense. I also…
Gene: Did you say cost benefit analysis like an accountant would say?
Nora: I did say that. I don’t use, and if this is something that is vital to your business, I’m not saying this to judge you, but I don’t use low paid labor from other countries. I don’t do that. I pay people what they’re worth and I pay people a living wage and I pay people enough that if this is all that they wanted to do, they could make a living doing it. And there would be no way to make my show in a video format unless it were a television show, unless we had that…
Gene: Actors portraying something.
Nora: Level. And not even that. If we were creating every episode and editing every episode with a true video editor and recording the interviews and assembling, we’re often talking to people about their past. Assembling tape and photos of their past, but as it stands now, every episode takes over 40 hours of people’s time. And it’s enough for me. If that’s a train that I miss, that’s fine. And something that I’ve learned is you cannot do everything just because that’s the opportunity, right. That’s where it’s going. You really do have to know who you are and what you do and do it well.
Gene: Yeah. If it’s not right, it’s not right. And honestly, we’re talking about some of the NPR, Planet Money and things that I love. They really can’t be TV shows either. I mean, I’ve listened to your podcast for your podcast to be on video, you would almost have to hire actors. I mean, you’re telling stories and you’re right. From other periods, I mean, there’d have to be sets. There would have to be…
Gene: It’s just a completely different thing.
Gene: Okay. That’s really, really helpful. And really the takeaway is for people watching and listening to this that want to go into the podcast business, first of all, it is a business.
Gene: It’s not a hobby. It’s a big commitment that you got to make.
Gene: You got to have capital and cash to invest in this, and you got to surround yourself with a team of people that are going to be doing everything from pre-production to recording to post-production. It’s a big freaking deal.
Gene: It’s a lot, it’s a lot of work.
Nora: And by the way, it can be a hobby. I do believe in a minimum viable product and in trying stuff out and being like, oh. In a lot of ways, I thought I would just make 10 episodes of “Terrible, Thanks for Asking,” and that would be a thing that I’d made and okay. And on to the next thing and that’s how I think about even creative projects. And I’ve never sat down and thought, wow, what is the next big thing? That doesn’t inspire me. I have to have an idea and chase it down that rabbit hole, and that works for me. And I do love, if you have an idea for something, get in and you’ll find out if it’s real. You’ll find out if it’s real. You’ll find out if it’s real. I had a friend text me three nights ago, he was like, this is the show.
Nora: This is the format. I fully get it. A day later, he said, absolutely not. I got in to try it. That was the dumbest idea I’ve ever had. And I’m embarrassed that I texted you. I was like, no, I’m glad you tried. I’m glad you tried. I’m glad we’re not sitting around five years from now being like, oh man, I wish we would’ve chased down that idea. No, you just tried that idea. And now you know it’s not that. It could be a different version of that, but it just needs some more thinking. We’re working on new shows all the time. We’re working on new shows all the time that might not ever see the light of day.
Gene: Right, right. Okay. Let’s talk about monetization of all of this.
Gene: You’ve made the investment, you put in the time. You’re creating a great quality, you’re like, this is a great podcast.
Gene: Now you got to make money off it because you got to pay the bills and you got to pay your people. That’s what it is. I’m gathering from your live show, let’s just start with the easy stuff. I think your live shows, you sell tickets, right? You charge admission for people when it comes to that.
Gene: You can monetize those so that’s easy, that makes sense. I mean, you said at the beginning of this conversation, there’s a bazillion podcasts that are out there. There’s a lot of noise that’s out there. If you were giving advice to people that want to do their own podcast and say that they’re willing to spend the money and make the investment and make a quality product though, what advice would you have for people that want to make money off it? You said advertising is a big part of that. Talk to me a little bit about how you’re monetizing this.
Nora: I mean, we’re ad supported and we’re listener supported.
Nora: The skew has always been more ad supported than listener supported, which is very, very normal. I would love to shift that completely. I’d also love to have maybe two or three, two would be ideal, advertisers that we work with, period, right.
Nora: Where it’s like, these are just the people I work with.
Gene: Not ideal. That’s not ideal, because then you’re stuck with those two. You’re not diversified enough and any one of those pull out and then you’re in trouble.
Nora: Yeah. Yeah. I think if you have a specific deal in place, whereas there’s contingencies for that too. But yeah, I mean, you’re also not diversified if your income is advertising dependent and it’s a different client every week and they want something different and your audience doesn’t trust that you really do take those vitamins, even though I am extremely picky with our advertisers to my own financial detriment, and I need the product first. I need to decide if I like it or I go to a company and say, I’ve already spent 1,000 of my own dollars on this. Do you want to come in and support the show and the things that we’re making? There’s so many ways to talk about podcast advertising, but I mean, there’s primarily two kinds of ads. There are host reads where a company pays a host to read the advertisement. Those are the ones that you hear on larger podcasts and you typically don’t get those deals until you have, I would say, at least 50,000 downloads per episode.
Nora: And those they pay a premium for, they’re paying a CPM, just a cost per 1,000 listeners. Some of them also will have a way to track. You get a code, you get a special URL, they’re tracking the efficacy of these ads.
Gene: You like this, go to this website to buy. They know that, heard it on your show.
Nora: Right. Imagine, it’s hard, it’s hard to support all the content that you like, but listening to someone’s ad, listening to someone’s ad is a way of supporting them. Listening to the ad. If you want to buy something through that link and support somebody, even just listening to the ad is a way to support them. And the second are called programmatic ads. I’ve heard them called other things, but those are the ads that sound like radio commercials.
Nora: And all of a sudden it’s just someone else’s voice telling you about, and they’re usually pretty localized too. They’d be telling me about Camelback Ford, which is the Ford dealership near my house, not whatever Ford dealership is by your house. They’d be telling me about Sprouts, they might be telling you about Kroger, whatever it is. You get less money for those, but they’re also, depending on your hosting platform, something that you can just turn on, essentially. And they might have a lower CPM, but they also might have a lower entry so that if you have less listeners, you might still be able to turn those on. But that would just depend on the platform. And that’s not really something that I can speak to, but when you can monetize something, because I only have the shows that I have, which are monetized the way that they are. And I think, did I answer the question? Was that enough?
Gene: No you did.
Gene: No, you did. But more to even add on. The advertisers themselves, are you now at a stage with your shows where the advertisers are coming to you or are you still pitching company advertising?
Nora: There’s both, there’s both. It’s still-
Gene: Because it never ends, right?
Nora: Yeah, yeah.
Nora: Yes, yes. And there are so many shows. And so yeah, there are companies that we’ve been working with for years, and then there are companies that are newer. And there’s some companies that I’ve approached, and there are companies who have approached us.
Gene: I know you go through a vetting process to make sure that you like the products, that you can approve the products that are being advertised on your show. Do they vet you? I mean-
Nora: I’m sure they do.
Gene: And do they get involved at all in your content? Say, oh, well, okay.
Nora: We never talk to them directly, that’s through an agency and a salesperson and, no. Not at all.
Gene: And who’s talking to that agency and salesperson? You must have somebody on your team that handles that, not necessarily you. Unless it gets…
Nora: Sometimes me. Sometimes me, sometimes a producer, it really varies. I get all the requests so I can say yes, no, or send it to me and I’ll think about it.
Nora: And then we send the ad back to the salesperson, and they listen to it and they approve it, and then we put it in our show.
Gene: Got it. Okay. That’s ads.
Gene: Tell me about listener support. Patreon is a big sort of platform.
Nora: Patreon’s a huge one. There are a lot of different versions. People are using Substack now. We are on a white label product for now, and we do a few levels. And one is just ad free and bonus content. Hold on. I should actually look these up while I’m…
Gene: But no, while you look it up… I mean, the whole point with the Substack and Patreon is that, because people can get your podcast through the normal platforms, but you’ve gotta put in extra effort with bonus content and additional stuff on those platforms to entice me to subscribe, unless I just am a nice guy and I’m going to support the show…
Nora: Yeah. The public radio model was just like, you’ll get a tote bag or you’ll get this thing. And there was no bonus content. And now we do monthly bonus content.
Gene: By the way the coffee mugs from NPR were very good. Just saying.
Nora: They’re so good. They’re so good. I love a tote and I love a mug. I still have a lot of them.
Gene: So, do you give away little gifts and trinkets and whatever?
Nora: Yeah, at certain levels. At the highest level, we send out quarterly mail and the very highest level, which is $1,000 a year, we send a box of merch and you get VIP event tickets and also quarterly mail. Every quarter, I get together with my merch person, they think about a little present to send our subscribers, and it’s really fun.
Gene: Okay. That’s cool. That is very cool. Those are all the different ways that you monetize. And these are for both of your podcasts as well.
Gene: And would you say that right now, and again, you’re a content provider. The podcasts are providing the majority of your revenue? I know that you’ve got both…
Nora: Yeah. I have things set up. My universe is set up where the podcasts are their own business under “Feelings & Co.” If we make any other media that is related to those things, that is a part of the “Feelings & Co.” business. If I do a speaking event, that’s me, that’s my business, that’s my personal LLC. If I write a book, that’s my personal LLC. If I write a TV show, that’s my personal income. And having that sort of flexibility also did make it easier when I wanted to establish “Feelings & Co..” “Terrible, Thanks for Asking,” as its own thing. I had the money to be able to support myself while the business was not making money. Ad revenue comes in 30, 60 or 90 days after the ad runs.
Nora: There was a period of time where it was all just runway, but I’ve never taken a loan to support those businesses and I have done it all cashflow. And we are revenue positive.
Gene: You’ve been great. And this information, I think, is super helpful for anybody that wants to kind of monetize themselves, Nora. I mean, you said at the beginning, and I got to imagine, your high school friends probably would be in disbelief that you’re actually running a business, multiple businesses here, right.
Gene: And you’re in disbelief as well. You look at yourself in the mirror and say, I can’t believe…
Nora: Who’s the boss? I can’t do this. Yeah, yeah.
Gene: What have you learned by all this? How have you changed just in the past few years of doing this?
Nora: Well, this is not the first thing that I started. I learned a lot and I learned that I have to hire and keep people around me who can do things that I cannot. And that I should focus on the things that I alone can do. And also, I’m not too good for anything. There’s nothing I’m too good for. I can and will do any part of this job. There are parts of it that I am still learning because there are parts that I did not have visibility into and I did not even know existed. And now I do, and I will. And I can learn anything, and I am down to learn anything.
Gene: Except accounting.
Nora: Except accounting, except accounting. But I respect accounting and I love accounting.
Gene: I don’t believe you.
Nora: I do, I love my accountant. And the first major change that I did was I got a fractional CFO immediately, immediately, immediately. And she did a full financial picture for all of my different income things, for “Feelings & Co.” as a potential business.
Nora: I could make decisions that I’m a heart-focused person, but decisions that were aligned with all of it, right, that made sense for where we were and where we wanted to go. I never want to be the smartest person in the room. I always want to be learning. And the second thing is too, I think as creative people, as a creative woman, I do have a tendency to minimize what I know or act as though, oh God, I don’t know how it happened. I’m not a dumb person. I do know what I am doing. And I didn’t intend to have this be my career or my business, but it’s a real one, and it’s one that I am so grateful to be able to do. I’ve got this poster on my wall that I had my friend make me that says, shut up and do your fun job. Because I wrote that on a post-it note to myself. I’m like, oh my God, shut up. Do your fun job. You have such a fun job. You have a fun job. But you also do have to respect it and treat it as though it’s a job.
Nora: Nobody cares. My friend Kate Baer is a poet, and people ask her all the time, well, oh God. How do I get started writing? And she says, nobody cares if you write or not. You are the only person who cares if you write or not. You are the only person who cares if you have a business. Who cares if you start a podcast? Who cares if you do the thing that you want to do? No one else cares. You have to care enough to actually do it and to learn about it. And I’m all for jumping into something, but while you’re in there, read a book, look it up, know what you’re doing.
Gene: It’s great advice. Obviously we don’t know each other at all or in this conversation, but you strike me as somebody that you surprised yourself, I think.
Gene: I mean, I think you look at yourself, and the fact that you also said that you can learn anything and you can figure it out.
Gene: Again, we didn’t know each other before today, but I bet you 10 years ago, I’m not quite sure you would’ve said that about yourself.
Nora: Oh no.
Gene: Things seem to…
Gene: And that’s inspiration for a lot of people. You have to realize that most people have to understand that they can do this stuff too. We all have the capacity to learn. It’s not that complicated to do.
Nora: Yeah. I mean, I think all the time, all this stuff felt so mysterious like, oh, well that must be something that only a specific kind of person does. And that person already knows this stuff. If I don’t already know it, I can’t do it. And it’s like, well, truly, I do believe anyone can learn how to do anything. And also, here’s what I really learned. Here’s what I really learned. I learned when to quit. I learned when to quit. As much as I love this, when it is no longer working, I’ll be done with it. I’ll be done with it. And I will be proud of what I made and I will leave it here for everybody to enjoy. And I will go do something else.
Gene: That is great. That is great to hear. Before I let you go, only because you’re in the world of podcasting, give us three of your favorite podcasts. What do you listen to?
Nora: Oh, God. Okay.
Gene: I’ll share a couple. Keep going.
Nora: Okay. I like so many different kinds of things, but I listen mostly to things that are a completely different genre that are constructed totally different from what I listen to. There’s a new podcast that is coming out. There’s only one episode of it right now called “Search Engine.”
Nora: By PJ Vogt, formerly of “Reply All.” And it answers questions that you would typically only…
Gene: I love that guy, by the way, on “Reply All.”
Nora: And this first episode is called “How Happy or How Sad Are the Monkeys at the Zoo?” It’s just an exploration of a question that you might get if you got really deep into a search engine, but it might be hard to find, okay. I really like that. I really love the podcast “Scam Goddess.” I listen to that every week. And it’s a podcast about scams that people have run, and it’s hosted by a comedian named Laci Mosley. And it is so funny. I do not like murder podcasts, I’m sorry. I’m just not entertained by horrific violence at all.
Gene: Everybody listens to the murder podcasts, and I don’t get that.
Nora: People love it, and I hate it. I hate it. But I love a scam, I love a scam. And I also listen every week to this podcast called “Who Weekly.” It’s everything you need to know, but the celebrities you don’t. I never know what celebrities they’re talking about because it’s all who’s, right? Who’s that? And it’s so funny, and it’s so entertaining. It’s just a soothing sort of thing to have on. It’s very, very light, which I like.
Gene: Okay. Let me give you a couple of mine.
Gene: I love BBC podcasts. Just this morning, there’s a BBC “HistoryExtra” podcast. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Jane Seymour, not the actress.
Nora: Yes, yes, yes.
Gene: The third wife of Henry VII, right. We heard her whole story this morning, and it’s just that stuff absolutely fascinating to me.
Nora: Oh, okay.
Gene: It’s a very, very cool podcast. “Song Exploder” is another one I love.
Nora: I love “Song Exploder.”
Nora: I forgot about “Song Exploder.”
Gene: Yep. They go back and take, I just listened to Rick Astley’s “Never Going To Give You Up,” and how that all… From the very beginning.
Nora: I got to listen to that because my child loves that song.
Gene: Yeah. The guy was serving coffee in his music producer’s place, and now he’s singing this song. That is also an extra. And the other one I just started listening to is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Elaine from Seinfeld.
Nora: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Gene: She has a new podcast that’s out and she interviews women that are over the age of 60. She interviewed Fran Lebowitz, who I don’t know if you ever heard of her.
Nora: I love Fran Lebowitz. So funny.
Gene: Absolutely hysterical.
Gene: And it was a really funny conversation. Those are my three recommendations.
Gene: Nora, you’ve been great. Thank you very much for all…
Nora: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Gene: And I’ve been speaking to Nora McInerney, who’s the creator and host of the podcast, “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” And author, speaker, selling lots of good stuff on her online store as well. Nora, give me your…
Nora: Nora. It’s noraborealis.com or noramcinerney.com, they go to the same place, but it’s a play on the Aurora Borealis. A lot of people don’t get it. And I’ll never change it because I came from the era of the internet where you made a screen name. You made a screen name.
Nora: We didn’t even talk about merch. We didn’t talk about merch.
Gene: That’ll have to be for next time.
Gene: It’s not only for merch. The other whole conversation I want to have with you at some point is just about writing and being an author, because I am convinced that nobody makes money off of books.
Gene: And I don’t know if you made any money off of your books or what it’s served, but it’s a whole other thing we can get into.
Nora: Yeah. Most people don’t. I don’t know if you saw those hearings when they were trying to do that merger, but the vast majority of others don’t sell any books.
Gene: Yeah. It’s four people. Jeffrey Archer and Barack Obama made money off their books and nobody else did. Thank you very much for your time. It was great.
Nora: Thank you. Thank you
Gene: Everyone, you have been watching and listening to the Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. Thank you for paying attention to this great information that we were getting from Nora. My name is Gene Marks. If you need any help or advice or tips or running your business, please visit us at SmallBizAhead.com or SBA.TheHartford.com. Again, thanks for watching or listening. We’ll see you again soon. Take care. Thanks so much for joining us on this week’s episode of The Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. You like what you hear, please give us a shout-out on your favorite podcast platform. Your range, reviews and your comments really help us formulate our topics and help us grow this podcast. Thank you so much. It’s been great spending time with you. We’ll see you again soon.
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