The startup phase began a year after I started interviewing and felt ready to look for my first sponsor. At the time, I didn’t know what to charge. I didn’t even know how many people listened to my podcast because the publishing software I used didn’t keep track of listenership.
I first needed to answer a simple question: How much could I charge? There’s no ad platform for podcasts that will automatically tell you the value of your show. I had to find someone with some experience who would be friendly enough to help me. Scouring online message boards, I met Sunir Shah, an ads buyer from FreshBooks. At the time, FreshBooks bought a lot of advertising on podcasts similar to mine, so I asked Sunir if he’d help me understand ad sales. I sent him a link to all the interviews I had recorded to show I was serious. He and the FreshBooks team gave me invaluable advice. They taught me how they bought ads, which sites performed well for them, and what great ads looked like.
New content creators and publishers are intimidated by ad buyers. I’ve found it helps to remember that it’s an ad buyers’ job to find new, productive places to advertise. They want to work with us.
After talking to FreshBooks, I realized my interview podcast could get them customers, so I pitched them. I suggested a low price of $750. At that rate, they told me they needed 40 new customers to try their invoicing software. That information was more important to me than getting paid. If my ads generated only 20 users, I would know to charge $375 in the future. If they generated 80, I’d charge future sponsors $1,500. In the ad startup stage, it’s hard to know what your ads are worth without data from your sponsors.
FreshBooks was hesitant at first, even at that low price. I understood. They tried ads with other new publishers, and some didn’t work. Mine could be duds too. So I guaranteed my results. If I didn’t get them the number of customers they needed, they wouldn’t have to pay. I was fine giving a refund. The important thing to me was knowing the effectiveness of my ads.
I was so eager for numbers that I came up with a way to double-check their work. When I recorded the FreshBooks ads, I told my audience that if they signed up, they should send me a test invoice. Since my audience loves inside information about business, I said that if they invoiced me, I’d hit reply and tell them how much FreshBooks paid for the ads. The invoices started hitting my inbox immediately after I published their first ad.
Within days of the first ad run, FreshBooks told me they hit 38 users and that they expected more to trickle in. My ads really were worth $750. I started selling ad space to other sponsors at that price. I explained that FreshBooks tested them, and they worked. Once you get one well-known customer, it’s easier to get others to at least test you. By asking sponsors for metrics on the ad’s performance, I could gauge the best time to increase my rates.