How to Monetize a Small Podcast

The Ultimate Guide to Making Money Podcasting With 10,000 Downloads a Month or Less

In the past 14 months, from March 2021 through early May 2022 I made $19,500 with three podcast sponsors. My award winning podcast “Michelle is Money Hungry” is a small, but mighty show that has solid downloads but I’m not hitting 10,000 downloads a month…much less an episode. In fact, I’m about to hit 100,000 downloads sometime in mid-June. These collaborations were 100% on brand, fun to do, paid well and most importantly-helped the community I serve with my content. So, how does a small podcast with 10,000 downloads or less a month actually make money and what am I doing? I thought I would share below.

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F$CK The CPM Monetization Model!

For podcasts getting 10,000 or fewer downloads a month, it makes no sense to approach show monetization from a CPM framework. What’s so frustrating about this is that the majority of conversations around podcast monetization are lead from the perspective of how can larger shows make money. What about the smaller shows and what in the hell does CPM actually mean?

What’s CPM?

CPM stands for “Cost Per Milles” or the amount an ad agency will pay for every 1,000 impressions of an ad on your show. In podcasting groups CPM is ALWAYS brought up and it drives me crazy because podcasters (new and established) fail to monetize their work because they believe that there’s only one way to monetize.

That one way would be collaborating with ad networks to get low paying ads. Ad networks won’t even touch smaller shows that have 10,000 downloads or fewer per month because it’s just not a good return on investment and a lot of work. I like to think of this in the context of affiliate marketing. Not enough people will interact initially with the ad unless the podcaster has a solid marketing strategy, community, email list or all of the above.

At Podcast Movement 2021 in Nashville I brought this up during one of the many monetization panels with industry experts on it. I was in the audience and I just finally raised my hand and expressed my frustration that the average podcaster who was getting 10,000 or fewer downloads a month could be monetizing their projects but that every time I attend a panel or session on show monetization the content presented is an incomplete story.

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Small Shows CAN Monetize

I have a a small podcast about Colorado that I launched several years ago. When I initially launched it for some reason I decided to ask for a sponsor.

Pretty sure I was broke tbh.

And, I landed a sponsor aligned with the project for $150 for one episode. I was gettin 15 downloads an episode because it was a brand new show. And real talk, that money made a difference to me which is why I still remember that moment. I learned a very valuable lesson.

A Closed Mouth Doesn’t Get Fed.

How to Prepare For Podcast Monetization

There’s an initial step that everyone needs to take which is to decide that you’re going to commit to monetizing your show. Some very important things to be aware of once you make this decision.

  • It will take awhile for you to figure out the right monetization strategies
  • You will be surprised to find that even smaller amounts that you earn consistently WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE to how you feel about monetization.
  • Rejection is part of the process. Figure out how to manage your emotions when being told “no” or “no” for right now.
  • Just like a garden, a lot of seeds have to be planted in order to grow. It takes a small number of seeds to become a massive garden. Same thing with monetization-you will have to take A LOT of intentional and sustained action in order to get results.
  • Design a media kit
  • For sponsors you need a sponsorship kit-basically a visual resource that breaks down what you’re proposing AND HOW IT MAKES SENSE FOR THEM to work with you.
  • It’s important to have clarity around who your listener avatar is. What’s that? The people who listen to you. You need to have an idea of:
    • The age range-are they GenX/GenZ/Boomers/Millennials?
    • What content are your listeners responding to?
    • Do you have an idea of their education level
    • What do your listeners earn and are likely to invest in?
  • When beginning the monetization process, managing your self-talk is HUGE. Nothing will make or break this process faster than not believing you can do it.
  • Be VERY CAREFUL of who you share your monetization goals with. People will tell you that you can’t do it because they can’t imagine doing it.
  • Join a mastermind or community that is aligned with your goals and that you can share strategies and collaborate with.
  • Write down a list of potential partners and their contact information. You want to find their social media handles, email addresses and organizational rolls.
  • Begin adding pre-roll or end-roll in your shows so that future sponsors will have an idea of how their sponsorship would be placed. This could be done with affiliates or products that you’ve created.
  • Pitch and understand that there are two types of leads
    • Warm leads-Folks that you’ve already connected with
    • Cold leads-People that you’re new to
  • Create a pitching system
    • Do you spend 8 hours a month pitching? Would that be 2 hours a week?
    • How many pitches can you realistically send out without burning out?
    • What is the conversion rate that you’re looking at? Is your goal 5% of outreach turning into an opportunity? What does the money look like?

How to Negotiate a Deal (General Tips)

Once you’ve put in the work, you will begin attracting collaborations. The next step is to figure out how to negotiate terms that serve you well and make your monetization partners happy.

Never show your hand when negotiating.

  • Have a minimum earn per project and be mindful that this minimum could change based on who you’re working with.
  • Design a collaboration that benefits all parties including (and most importantly) your listeners
  • Don’t “stuff” your deal. Don’t add a billion things to your collaboration because you’re worried that they are paying “so much” and they’re getting “only XYZ”
  • Create a document where you can add details as you complete each task agreed upon so that you and your partner(s) are on the same page.
  • Always, always be willing to WALK AWAY from a deal. When you’re first starting if you really need the money, find a side-hustle. This will change the energy around negotiations and what you will agree to.

27 Podcast Monetization Ideas

I recently shared these ideas during a session that I ran at Podcast Movement Evolutions 2022 in L.A. Here’s the list below:

  • Freelance writing-Establish yourself as an expert while getting paid and growing your brand  (Caution: has the potential of being very lucrative can be a distraction)
  • Develop unique projects within your brand that may be easier to get funding for
  • Pitch for sponsors-Even BEFORE you launch a show. How many of you have set up a system to pitch? It’s like planting seeds in a garden. Just a small percentage of those seeds will grow but that could be enough to impact your life and brand. 
  • Write Ebooks and self-sponsor your shows
  • Leverage your skills to uplevel your 9-5 career
  • Create a course
  • Design a supplemental product that compliments your show content. Example: At the end of Game of Thrones Aria decides to go beyond the map of Westeros as they knew it. Maybe a fandom host would have a map created via FIVERR that is what they imagined the world beyond Westeros to be
  • Host  a conference and have it sponsored
  • Create a YouTube channel and monetize the episode notes through: affiliate marketing, a cookie strategy and growing your email list 
  • Consulting
  • An online store with merch that compliments your show
  • Ad revenue from your site OR a NICHE site
  • Podcast consultant 
  • Podcast editing
  • Coaching-Do your due diligence but there are a lot of people who can help you speed up your process and connect with a goal. 
  • Grow your email list and negotiate a sponsorship that includes being shared with your list
  • Public Speaking
  • Host events for people who interested in your topic-online and offline
  • Affiliate marketing-Sponsor with an affiliate 
  • Create a subscription product 
  • Apply for grants
  • Membership communities with special benefits
  • Sell t-shirts
  • Crowdfund 
  • Branding consultant 
  • Sell stock photos in the space that your show is in

Leverage Your Transferable Skills from Your 9-5 or Digital Projects

  • Podcasting-Podcast development, editing, show note creation
  • Writing-Online content, books, proposals, grant writing, website content
  • Online Brand Building-Brand cohesiveness, coaching, course creation
  • Research Skills-Danielle Desire’s Grants for Creators resource 
  • Niche Projects-This year I’m building out my Colorado website. The goal is to grow ad revenue from the website. While it DOES have a podcast that compliments the content, the goal is to earn money through ad revenue and local collaborations. The SEO that I learned growing my personal finance brand will help me with this goal. 

Top Tips

I realize that I shared a lot here, but these are the things that I think podcasters who are thinking about monetizing should know.

  • F$ck the CPM model (if you’re a smaller show)
  • Create a process to manage your feelings
  • Monetize a little before you feel like you’re ready.
  • Think of monetization like planting a garden. It just takes a few seeds (deals) to make money
  • Be careful who you tell your monetization plans to-Naysayers will make you doubt yourself.
  • Be creative
  • Design a framework defining who you would like to work with OR the different ways that you could begin monetizing
  • Always, always walk away from a project or collaboration if it doesn’t feel right, compromises your integrity or doesn’t clearly serve your audience
  • Projects and partnerships have to make sense to your audience.
  • Be clear to yourself why you’re monetizing. What’s the purpose of doing it?
    • To pay for the cost of running your project?
    • Money for social good initiatives that you’re supporting
    • Earn your way out of a job

You DON’T Have To Monetize

I do want to bring up something very important. Not everyone wants to monetize their creative projects. For many people there is joy in the creative process and their lives are such that monetization doesn’t align with their beliefs, goals or needs.

This guide is specifically for folks who want to monetize for whatever reason. I hope this was helpful and I look forward to hearing about your projects.

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