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Podcasting 101: Grow a Small Podcast (Without Buying Ads)

Growing a podcast is really hard.

I’ve been doing Noah Kagan Presents since 2017.

A few years later, with nearly 2 million downloads, we’ve figured out a few things about what works and what doesn’t. 

Here is how to start and grow a podcast.

Set a Goal 

Pick a target for yourself within the year. 

Here are our goals:

  • 2017: 100k downloads an episode = failed
  • 2018: none = downloads dropped 50%
  • 2019: release 1 episode a week = success
  • 2020: grow active readers = in progress

Be Consistent

This is the number 1 thing with podcasting for anyone wanting to grow a show. 

My downloads dropped in HALF by not being consistent in 2018. It still hasn’t fully recovered. 

If you get bored (you will), then mix it up.

If you are tired, take a SHORT break.

When you’re ready to quit, DON’T. 

Batch record episodes. 

Have someone else take over hosting. 

Talk about why you’re burnt out or re-run old episodes. 

I regret being inconsistent in 2018 but I won’t do it again.

Come up with a topic

Brainstorm topics.

Create 3 columns in Google Sheets: Topics, Potential Guests & SEO


List out all the most interesting topics YOU would love to discuss. 

This will also help you come up with ideas for potential guests.  

Potential Guests

Remember you don’t need a guest for each episode. 

Solo episodes help show more of your personality. 

Having a general idea of topics will help with your pitches to guests to come on the show to discuss a specific topic. 


I would not worry about this starting out. 

Again just focus on topics YOU are most interested in. 

After you exhaust that initial list, then look at what topics and questions people in your audience might be already asking in Google searches. 

Individual podcast episodes now show up in Google searches so this could be a great opportunity for discoverability and to grow your show. 

You can also use tools like Ahrefs or Google Keyword Planner to find topics. 

Perfect Topics = HIGH search volume, LOW keyword difficulty and GREAT fit with you/audience


Email your audience or post in your Facebook group, join mine:

Ask them the questions they need help with. 

Make those episodes. 


Make Great Content

Attention is a zero-sum game. 

Most people have a commute, a bath time (hi Neville), or another set time they listen to podcasts. 

You need to be SO damn great a person would want to add your show over someone else’s. 

My suggestion is to target a more narrow audience that begs for your type of content.

What makes you unique?

Why is someone going to listen to you? 

Are you the Jewish real estate team person? Are you the gay mariachi band guy? 

You need to have some reason people will listen to you. 

You won’t beat Joe Rogan so figure out the small group of people who’ll listen to you.

Word of cast

Think about the last podcast you heard…what was it? 

And how did you hear about that one? 

It’s word of mouth. 

Think about that with each episode. 

Why would someone tell a friend about this episode?


Read our blog post on launching an episode or series. 

How can you make your episodes or podcast an experience a group of people want to talk about?

More episodes 

Last year I started releasing two episodes a week.

One was an appetizer (10 minutes) and the other was a full entree (30-60).  

It doubled my downloads (surprise) but it had two other nice bonus effects. 

It kept my show top of mind for people and gave a lighter episode.

Serial-ize your show 

I’m working more on this.

How can you create a series of 3-5 consecutive episodes that people LOOK FORWARD to hearing? 

Instead of just releasing an interview episode, do 5 interviews of people that are in order.

Tell a story so people want to complete the cycle. 

Titles are key

This literally the most under-optimized piece of every episode. 

It makes the difference if people jump in a show or not. 

We come up with 10-15 per episode and spend a lot of time tweaking them.  

Name drop.

When I got Bo Jackson on my podcast I was like, finally I’ll hit the million download per episode mark.

It didn’t really do much for expanding my audience. 

BUT I have noticed that more known people like Tim Ferriss or Ryan Holiday get 20-30% more downloads than my regular episodes. 

SO it’s important to talk to them, talk ABOUT them, or frankly just pay attention to your podcast titles. 


Be careful here. 

It can be SUPER easy to waste tons of time on the perfect podcast icon or logo or design. 

Use a free tool like and just get something out there. 

You can always change it later. 

Great content with okay design is WAY better than no content because you’re still over-designing.. 

The main image of this post is a little 🌮man with a megaphone… 

Promote, Promote, Promote

Growing the podcast has been the HARDEST marketing thing I’ve ever done. 

BUT growing the YouTube, email list, social channels = significantly easier. 

You should be taking every episode and doing:

  • A full or partial clip on YouTube. WAY more people listen / watch podcast episodes on YouTube than you imagine. 
  • A write up on LinkedIn
  • Stories and posts on Instagram
  • Quora snippets
  • Blog post

Then share the hell out of that content.

  • Pull out nuggets to share on social media and your email list. 
  • You HAVE to go to Facebook groups and post it.
  • Mention it in relevant Reddit groups
  • Email directly people you think will benefit from the episode. 

Yea, it never ends. 

A great way to do this is to create a proactive dashboard so it’s just part of your podcast creation process.

Use your existing audience. 

It’s WAY easier for someone to like your tweet than subscribe to your podcast. 

Same with getting on your email list. 

The people who listen to the Noah Kagan Presents show are more committed compared to Twitter followers who are casual observers. 

I think it’s nearly impossible to build a podcast following WITHOUT having an established audience first. 

Email your list. 

I won’t spend a bunch of time on why email is important. 

Read this article on Sumo for how to grow an email list. 

Use to send emails. to help capture them. 

Email out every episode, control the information to your audience. 

Find new audiences

Consider how are you expanding your Venn diagram of attention by exposing yourself as a guest on other verticals. 

If you are focused on productivity, get on health shows or real estate shows and showcase productivity in new verticals. 

Be a guest on someone else’s show.

What are you DOING or have you DONE that others will want to talk to you about?

Emailing or hiring an agency to get on other shows almost NEVER works. 

I’ve been on some of the largest podcasts and everyone had at least one of three components: 

  • I’ve known the person for years 
  • I’ve helped that person in some capacity or sponsored their show 
  • I’ve been persistent in sharing WHY I’d be a great guest and coordinating a time to be on their show.

Harry, The Rideshare Guy, approached me and got on my show. 

Check out this post to see how he did it. 

Being on other shows is probably the number one way to grow your podcast. 

I always think of reducing friction in marketing.

If someone’s listening to a podcast it’s MUCH easier for them to then check out another podcast. 

But if they are reading an email to then transition to a podcast = hard.

Things That Work:

Pre-show calls to action

I’ve tested this and frankly think it’s WAY underutilized. 

Really early in each episode you can give the audience a call to action. 

Realize they are on a train, driving, working out or something active so it can’t be a heavy thing.

But texting you, hitting a star button in Overcast or other lightweight things = can do. 

Try a bunch out to encourage people to tell their friends.

Manual downloads

This will sound silly or stupid but frankly this is what works. 

When I meet people, I say I have a show. 

Then I download it for them on their phone and highlight a few episodes I think are relevant to them. 

Is it awkward at times? Yes. 

But it works.

Email signature

IN your email signature it should have a link to your show. Yup.

Things that don’t work:

Guest promotion

It’s super powerful but DO NOT COUNT on it. 

I HATE when people expect me to promote when I’m on their show. 

I think you SHOULD email suggestions they can do, but do it WITHOUT expectation. 

Show notes

We have written 150+ show notes and the overall site traffic from them is negligible. 

It’s better to not do them and just write up a great article around specific keywords or content when you have them ready.


I’ve tried it on Overcast and ListenNotes. 

None did meaningful download changes. 

Think of the shows you listen to or emails you read. 

Almost NONE came through advertisements. 

Here’s what I think DOES work for ads related to podcasting: 

  1. Advertise blog posts that have email opt-ins = way less friction and once you get them addicted to your content you can push them to your podcast
  2. Have monetization in your business so you know what your cost / LTV is. 

Tools & Trends


Getting high-quality audio is KEY. 

Zencastr records remote interviews with studio quality. 

It also integrates with cloud drives so it automatically goes into Dropbox or Google Drive. 

This has been one of the most reliable and quality ways to record episodes. 

One of the nice things is that it records the other person locally so it reduces the “oh shit” did it record fear that we get after recording an episode. 


I interviewed the founder, Andrew Mason (also founded Groupon). 

Descript makes it SUPER easy to record, transcribe and edit audio with simple drag and drop.

This tool is super helpful for both the editing process AND the promotion process. 

Being able to read the transcription (and search) allows us to quickly come up with the summary descriptions, intro/outros, 3 big takeaways, and titles. 

Have Fun

Sure a podcast can be part of your job or an extension of your business. But if you’re not having fun with it, then… What’s the point?!



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2 responses to “Podcasting 101: Grow a Small Podcast (Without Buying Ads)”

March 3, 2022 at 5:43 am

So, so, so real and helpful— you just now saved me a few years of learning some things the hard way , from your experience. You’ve worked hard!

Scott Ayres
May 21, 2020 at 11:44 am

Do you have a download sample of your proactive dashboard?

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