But first, what is podcasting?
Podcasting is a relatively new kind of technology so here is a bit of background for those who haven't come across this term yet. The definition on wikipedia is pretty good:
"Podcasting" is making 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 great thing is anyone can produce a podcast with little outlay and only very basic knowledge of IT. 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 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 find out what other podcasts sounded like and what other people were already doing (particularly in my field of personal finance). This was also a useful activity to remove any fears that all of the podcasts already produced would be of a highly professional quality – some are, but most are not!
Once I had established that nobody else was doing what I planned 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 work out how to record my first show .
I planned to record ten minute shows which 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 ensure that it was not too large (to keep download times fast but also save on bandwidth restraints).
To record the content for my podcast I first tried using 'Sound Recorder' that comes with Windows XP. This was ideal for a couple of reasons. The 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. It also wouldn't have allowed me to speak over backing music (something I felt was important for a professional sounding show / introduction).
I searched the web and found some free to try software on download.com. This software is called Propaganda 1.0 and it offers a complete solution to the would be podcast creator. I downloaded the free trial to ensure it did everything I wanted it to and then shelled out the $ 49.95 to activate the full version.
I wanted to ensure that my podcast wasn't ten minutes of me talking about pensions so I asked my sister to record some sound bites for me. These were just simple bits of audio that I could use to introduce the show, break up the content and use to finish the podcast (my regulatory warning / disclaimer).
In terms of hardware I just used a microphone headset; the same system I use for Skype. This cost me £ 10 in Dixons and does a good job in terms of recording a single voice.
Using Propaganda I could record content for the show, line up as many as 16 different audio tracks (including some backing music) and play with the timing. This whole process took just under 2 hours before I was happy with the final version.
Publishing my podcast
The Propaganda software makes this pretty easy as well. Essentially 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 with tradition. Propaganda allowed me to convert the 16 tracks of audio I had lined up into a single MP3 file and choose the most appropriate 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 (under 4MB).
2 – host the MP3 file on your website. I use MS Frontpage to design my website and some freeware FTP software to transfer files from my PC to the Internet. To host the file I also built a basic website page that would tell prospective listeners a bit more about my podcast in general and more about this particular podcast show.
3 – make an RSS feed. Again, Propaganda did this for me with its publication 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 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 useful responses. It seems that the main podcast directory is Apples iTunes so I started there. It is really easy to get listed as all they need to know is the links to your podcast, website and RSS feed. There is a vetting process so I had to wait a couple of days to get listed but by Sunday morning I found my link and was able to use iTunes to download, listen to and subscribe to my podcast.
There are loads of other podcast directories but one that caught my attention was Britcaster.com. As this only lists UK podcasts (most of the directories, including iTunes, are US centric) it should result in a more relevant audience.
As well as listing in the various directories I added a blog on my website and a mention on my Ecademy signature. The combined effect of these two items is to get a high result on google.co.uk when the search term 'personal finance podcast' is used.
I think that I had a fairly good story to tell the press now as this is a first for a UK podcast (personal finance from an Independent Financial Adviser). I have already had some positive responses from the trade press so this week I plan to move onto the consumer financial press.
Well, apart from working on show number two I plan to improve the production quality of the show as time goes on. I might consider getting some 'jingles' produced that I can mix into the show to improve the feel and quality of the production. There is, of course, a business motive for producing this podcast as (I hope) it will lead to new inquiries and a higher profile on the web and in the press.
For anyone who is considering their own podcast (or has read this article and thinks it might be something they could do) I would suggest go for it! Podcasting is still in a very early stage and not many people in the UK have caught onto the technology just yet. With the explosion in iPod and other MP3 player ownership all of the predictions are for massive growth in the podcast market.
Because relatively few people produce their own podcasts now is a good time to get your own show up and running before your competitors catch onto the idea.