The "Secret Magic Trick" of Podcast Growth with Espree Devora

Oct 13, 2021
Jennifer Tribe

Podcast veteran Espree Devora shares some unconventional approaches to growing your podcast audience, from purpose & pressure to podcast SEO

Host, Jennifer Tribe: I’m Jennifer Tribe and this is Supercasters. On this show, we interview world-class podcasters and industry experts about practical podcast growth strategies and how to build sustainable independent businesses that thrive on a strong relationship with your listeners.

Finding your podcast purpose, protecting your energy, taking the marketing pressure off… these might not sound like ways to grow your audience. But they definitely are. And today, Espree Devora is here to share why they work.  Along the way, we dive into podcast SEO, Twitter hacks, mental versus physical subscription, and so much more. You’re going to want to stick around.

Espree is the founder and long-time host of two podcasts: We Are LA Tech and the Women In Tech show, which was named as a Harper’s Bazaar Top 10 podcast in 2019. Over the years, Espree has produced and published over 1,000 podcast episodes and as if that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, she’s also a prolific writer, speaker, YouTuber and consultant on podcasting and the podcast industry.


Jennifer: Welcome to Supercasters, Espree.

Guest, Espree Devora: So excited to be here. Love Supercast. 

Jennifer: When I first reached out to talk to you about coming on to the podcast, I had thought we were going to talk about how to grow your audience, because I know that's a topic that you speak on a lot and you have a lot of experience with. And I thought it was interesting when we started chatting that you sort of gently shifted me towards thinking more about building a bond with your audience versus audience growth. So I wanted to start by providing some context about the way that you think those two things are the same or different.

Espree: I think a lot of people get into podcasting. They're like, how can I be Joe Rogan? How can I get Joe Rogan numbers? And I share online a lot of different marketing tactics and experiments to try out to implement those. But I think the thing that people miss and it's... I teach a formula called the three Ps and the M and Ms. And the first P in the three Ps and the M and Ms is Purpose. I think you shouldn't be starting a podcast at all if you don't know the purpose of the podcast. I do weekly Clubhouse classes on podcasting. Yesterday somebody said, I want to start a podcast. I don't know what about, but should I start it anyway? And I'm like, no, no, don't just start one for the sake of starting one.... because here's why.

Espree: One, you'll get discouraged because you don't know why you're even doing it. So I would imagine someone who's starting a podcast for the sake of starting a podcast, in the back of their mind, even subconsciously, it's like, oh this is a get rich quick thing or this is something where I'll be famous overnight or something unrealistic. So you don't know your expectations. If you don't know your purpose, you don't know how to create value for the audience. And you don't know on the hard days when you don't feel like doing it, you won't do it because you don't have a why to show up for. And I particularly think the secret magic trick of success and growth and all the things, the thing that everybody is reading every book and listening to every podcast to find out is something really boring and vanilla: It's consistency. As long as you're consistent, you will win. But if you're not consistent, there's nothing for people to show up for, you know?

Jennifer: Yeah, so you mentioned 3Ps and the M and Ms and we talked about the first P, which is purpose. So what are the other two Ps?

Espree: Purpose, Process, Production and then Marketing and Monetization. So I think they should go in that order. You figure out the purpose of your podcast and then you dreamscape the process you want. What kind of lifestyle do you want with your podcast? Do you want to edit it yourself? Do you want to have music? Do you not want to have music? Do you want it to be scripted, not scripted? Do you want to be one host? Do you want to be multiple, have a co-host, all these things and then you choose. Only then, after that do you choose what mic to get, what equipment to get, whether to be in studio, whether to be remote. Everybody in podcasting that's new starts with what microphone should I get. I can't tell you how many talks I've had. You and I both have different mics. We both can have a successful podcast. It doesn't really matter. What matters is the purpose and then that you're producing it in a way that you enjoy it and that you thrive and that's within your resources. And then what equipment to get to match the other two things. And only after that can you start thinking about marketing and monetization, because then you'll know who to market to and what brands are the right fit to work with on a financial standpoint.

Why are they listening?

Jennifer: So assuming you're an established podcaster, you've been at this for two or three years, you've probably got the three Ps down, right. What comes next? What do they need to think about or should they first do an evaluation of whether they need to go back and tweak some of the three Ps?

Espree: Yeah, I actually think they should first go back and do an evaluation because I think most people kind of get lost in the hype of everything. So I think OK. Is the purpose still really clear? Am I producing in a way that I'm enjoying it? Is everything working out? Am I editing when I don't really want to be editing or am I not editing. Like Emma Chamberlin just shared, she's a huge YouTuber, she just shared she realized she lost her sense of purpose because she had outsourced her editing and it was her favorite part. And so now I believe she's editing again. So are you doing what you actually want to be doing, what's not being accomplished in that, and then what resources do you have to make sure everything is being done with fluidity?

Espree: If those three things are being tackled, I'd revisit what is your listener journey? Most people don't think about what... They just think about how do I get more listeners? They ask, how do I grow my audience? How do I get more listeners? But they don't think about what is the journey of the person listening? What are they doing before they're listening to my show? Why are they listening to my show? And then what are they doing, where are they going after they listen to my show and how am I showing up for them in between? Do I have meet ups? Do I have community calls? Do I have social posts with value? Do I have resource guides? Do I have newsletters? Are they on my email list? How am I supporting that person in between podcast episodes so that I'm a part of their journey? And how are they being led back to the podcast full circle. Why do they keep coming back? What's in it for them? I've always said this since I started podcasting in 2013, I much prefer somebody be mentally subscribed to my show than physically subscribed. If you're mentally subscribed, it means no matter what app you have, no matter how many times you switch your phone, no matter what day I air, you will mentally be thinking about if I've had an episode come out, because that's how much it means to you in your life.

Jennifer: How do you figure out that listener journey, especially if you've not had a lot of interaction from the people who are listening to your show and you don't have a mailing list, so you don't know who they are and and what they're experiencing on their side?

Espree:  I mean, that's the problem, right? If you don't put the things in place to have those things to connect with your audience, then you want to think about how can I put those things into place. A free way to do it that I just talked about on my new YouTube channel, you could just search Espree Devora and find it. It's focused on getting 10,000 listeners a month, like I did a whole video on how to utilize your Twitter profile. So now with a newsletter program called Revue - R E V U E, which is free, getrevue.co. You could have your newsletter right in your Twitter bio, all again free and people could subscribe to you right there. And when they subscribe to you, I go the extra mile and I create a Loom video, which is L O O M and I make a personal video for the person that just subscribed saying hello. And it usually turns into an organic conversation. So think about it.  I mean, usually when people are like, oh, I can't create a video for everybody. No, let's just start with one person and then let's just start with five people and then we'll go to 10 people. You don't have to think about everybody. Just what can you do right now? What can you do today that will create that closer bond with someone who can symbolize 100 of your listeners? One person can usually represent 100 of your listeners, which will start to cultivate and curate how you build that relationship with them.

The overlooked opportunity in podcast SEO

Jennifer: I'm also thinking, so for example I have been talking to a podcaster recently, she's been doing this for five, six years, maybe more. Very established audience. Has a list, they're very engaged. So she does one on one and group coaching calls. She's got a subscriber base, but she's also wondering now how do I take that and make that bigger. In the past she's not done any advertising or active promotion. What would be a next step for somebody like her?

Espree: Since I don't know her, I'm going to be just responding off the top of my head. I don't know if she already has a search engine optimization campaign, an SEO campaign where she could even be having her clips of her podcast on a YouTube channel, be targeting SEO keywords, search engine optimization. So be doing a lot of keyword research, be answering the questions to what people are searching online inside her YouTube channel with clips from her podcast. So that's just one of a zillion kinds of things that she could start reaching out. But I would suggest that she starts repurposing in other ways outside of that. Let's say she does have the SEO. Has she tried guesting on other shows? Has she signed up for matchmaker.fm? For podmatch.com, for guestio.com, created a free profile to guest on other podcasts so current podcast listeners of other shows so they already understand the medium of podcasting will then become aware that her show exists. So guesting campaigns. Has she tried running her trailer for her podcasts on other podcasts? Has she formed partnerships with Facebook groups to pin her podcast to the top of their Facebook groups in maybe a paid campaign with those Facebook group organizers? So those are just a few.

Jennifer: Yes, so many good ideas, and there are always so many directions that you could go in with marketing, right? There's always 100 different things you could try. 100 different platforms. So trying to get inside Espree's brain and figuring out, like you said, I don't know this person, but  let's say the person actually came to you. What is the thought process that you go through mentally to figure out, OK, what might be right for this person?

Espree: Well, first I listen. So I would literally have to hear you out through and through. And so the last consultation I did, she was struggling to get her numbers up. We did an SEO audit. Frst of all, she didn't really have a podcast website. She had a website. But then her website linked to podcast players like Apple rather than linking to her own domain owned website. So the first thing I suggested was hey, you really want to create your own website. The easiest way to do this is there's two ways, either using podpage.com, which is hands down one of the best podcast website builders ever, and they have a free plan. Or if you're using something like I am, I'm on Simplecast. There's also Libsyn. Having usually a hosting provides you a free website for your podcast. Now, the problem with these, though, is they usually don't integrate any form of email capture.

Espree: So you're limited, which is why I think if you're going to do it really right, do Podpage, because not having that email capture takes away from connecting with the audience. So that was the first thing we did. We saw that it was a problem. The other thing we started doing keyword research and saw she wasn't being populated for the main keywords that she wanted to rank for. She actually wasn't being found for any of the keywords that she wanted to rank for. So we did an SEO audit using a tool called Semrush. That's semrush.com, did an audit there both on her podcast as well as her competitors’ podcast to find out what kind of keywords her competitors are coming up for. And then we made sure to think about, OK, now that we know what keywords that she wants to come up for -- I'm not going to say them here because I don't want to give away all the work that she worked so hard to get -- but we found the keywords and  people were searching.... I'm not going to say her industry, but I'll say one thing. They were searching for quotes. It was crazy the volume of people searching for quotes in this industry. And I'm like, wow, you should on your podcast website just have a bunch of quotes, because that means people searching the internet for quotes based in your category will then, if you do it the right way, they'll end up finding your website.

Espree: You should also be having those quotes on your Instagram and be using these particular hashtags that we found out worked really well in your Instagram post. And so it's all becoming really keyword centric and make sure you're being found for those keywords. Again, this can feel kind of daunting and overwhelming in the beginning. I particularly think Semrush is one of the best tools ever to make it really easy. Literally, I'm going to walk you through this, go to semrush.com. Now, once you have an account in the upper left hand side, you can just search your keyword, your website. They make it really easy, even if you don't know how to use the whole tool, just press search and then the upper right press export PDF. Now you have a PDF. You don't even have to learn how Semrush works, but you have your PDF telling you everything. That's it. Three steps: Create an account, upper left put in your keywords or what you'd like to rank for your website, upper right export PDF. You have tons of information you didn't have before.

Jennifer: I don't think SEO is a tactic that a lot of podcasters immediately think of when they think of podcast marketing. So is this a bit of an overlooked hack, would you say?

Espree: I don't know if it's necessarily even a hack anymore because it's really well known in other industries. But yes, what's I think unknown in the podcasting industry is back in the day, it used to be Apple, Spotify, Google Play, all these things of like, OK, we have to get our podcast on this. Yes. Still 100%. You’ve got to be on all the platforms. However, people search now more for podcasts via websites and Google than they do the players. Podcast websites have become the main way people discover podcasts. Most people don't understand that. And so not having a properly SEO search engine optimization SEO optimized podcast on your website is, you're losing out on opportunity.

Call it an experiment

Espree: A hack, though. I don't know if you'd call this a hack. It's pretty simple. So many people search for podcast recommendations. So many people. So if you go to Twitter and you go to hashtag podcast recommendations, be recommending your podcast. I know one podcaster who creates a personalized video again with Loom to the people searching for recommendations, talking about his show. Amazing, amazing tactic. It’s just people don't take the time to curate and build that audience.

Espree: And Jennifer, I want to say one more thing, because when we're talking about marketing and we're talking about experiments and we're talking about, oh, my God, there's so many things, where do I start? What do I do first? How do I know if it's working? dadada. I like to take the pressure off of the word marketing because I feel like the word marketing, you think if I do a quote unquote email campaign, it's going to just work and then when you don't get any sign up at all, then you're like, oh my God, it failed, devastation. And it's really emotionally crippling. So I say, call them all experiments. Have a list of all the experiments that you personally find interesting. 

Espree: So if you don't like Instagram, don't do Instagram. If Twitter is your jam, do Twitter, whatever it is that's your jam, do that one. Write down all the experiments. Say here's what I'm getting right now from this, which for the most part is probably zero because you haven't tried. Here's how many things I'd like to get. You know, how many sign ups or whatever is. So you put your goal down and even for your podcast, put my podcast has 500 listeners this month. How many listeners do I want next month? I want 650. So you put that down as the goal, right. And then you put the actuality of what happened and then you just simply assess and observe. What worked, what didn't work? What can I tweak? What can I do differently? And just keep doing more of what works and get rid of what didn't work and take the pressure off. It's a curated building process. The last little marketing tip that I think gets underutilized that a lot of podcasters sleep on is putting your podcast trailers, which are really easy way to create podcast trailers is headliner.app, putting your podcast trailers on Pinterest. And again, making sure you're optimizing for your keywords. 

Architecting the world of your podcast

Jennifer: Now, we talked at the beginning about the two M's marketing and monetization, we've been talking about marketing. Let's get into the monetization. How do you monetize your shows right now? 

Espree : So, first of all, a lot of people think, I don't have enough listeners. Usually the concept of audience growth i has a really direct relationship with, if I don't have audience growth, I can't have a sponsor. I welcome you to take that out of your head. I got a $5,000 sponsorship before one of my shows was even launched. It's not about the podcast itself and the listenership. What is the world that you have access to? I call it architecting the world of your podcast. What is the world that you have access to and how can you make sure that what the brand needs is delivered? For example, if someone's looking to hire someone in tech, wouldn't it be cheaper for them to go through my organization rather than hire a recruiting firm for $30,000? So if my sponsorship amount was $5,000 and they were able to attract and hire the right person, they just saved $25,000 by sponsoring my podcast.So it becomes not about listenership, it becomes about deliverables.

Espree: It's about the confidence. Do you have the right listeners interested in the right things. The way I monetize my show has been in multiple ways. The best way has been sponsorship. So I have a lot of brand deals. I do charge a flat rate, not per listenership. And the reason I do that is because I include these sponsors in a lot of other things as well, like social media and all the other things that I do. So I charge a flat rate. That's what feels authentic to me. And I'm moving into different models as well that I'm experimenting with that I don't know will work. But the most lucrative model has been brand deals and sponsorships.

Process is pivotal to podcast success

Jennifer: You've been in podcasting for a long time, right? Your Women in Tech has been around for five years. We Are LA Tech seven years. Obviously, podcasting has changed a lot in that time. And I'm curious to know how you grew the audience in the early days and how that is different to what you're doing now that you've reached a certain level of success and longevity.

Espree: So I've never had that feeling: How do I grow my audience, how do I grow my audience? I have an innate desire, how do I impact lives on a deeper level? How do I help more people. And so the thinking changes for me. It's why when I'm in Bosnia and I'm 10 episodes deep and my eyes feel like they're going to spill out of my head, that I push myself to interview one more woman in tech because I want her to have the opportunity. And so the thing I think that's changed and the thing that I wish I knew when I started was actually not so much how do I grow my audience? It's how do I become more operationally fluid? How do I do things more effortlessly on the backend? That's what inspired the Purpose, Process, Production. I started with production and then I went straight into execution and I left out…. I mean, I should say I did start with purpose. I went purpose, production, and then just execute, execute, execute. And I left out process. I mean, I left out process entirely.

Espree: And I think process is one of the most pivotal parts. Because process is, am I producing this in a way that's energetically sustainable? Am I enjoying how I'm building it? Am I leaving anything out? Do I have a fluid marketing campaign. Do I have a fluid production campaign or process? Do I have a few fluid editing process? Do I have a fluid booking process? Are all the processes fluid across the board? And if they're not, how do I make them more fluid so that I could operate on a more graceful timeline? And I think in doing that actually leads to more audience growth, because you're allowed more space to form those relationships on social media, to create more meaningful content. You're analyzing your results with more calmness so that you can be tracking what is working and what's not rather than just being this core executer diving in, doing everything, losing all your energy. Oh, my God, why isn't anything working?

Espree: You know, it's like this panic versus, all right, January. I am doing this, this, and this. Here's what I want out of this, this, and this. Oh, the email didn't work. How can I do it differently? Did I format it not well? Is this content not working? How can I tweak this a little bit in a very calm, thoughtful process that leads to more audience audience growth rather than like being all over the place.

Showing up too much is detrimental

Jennifer: Yeah, I love that, and we're going to talk more about hitting the wall and burnout in the private interview room in a couple of minutes, but I love this idea of getting more efficient with your content production so that you then have more time to spend on the other stuff. Because I have read stats that content entrepreneurs or people who are making a full time income from their podcasts are spending less than half of their time on content production and most of their time on distribution of the content. And I know you do a lot of that yourself. I mean, here you are appearing on other podcasts. You do a lot of speaking. You do a lot of consulting. To what extent do you think that presence has been instrumental to growing your podcast audience?

Espree: Yeah, so I want to answer this in a roundabout way, because there's something really important in that. So in having been a podcaster for so long and being a person that's really driven by community building and helping, the thing that I missed for the majority of my career was setting boundaries. So the question you asked is, how has showing up been helpful in my audience growth? The way I think that is most useful to answer for everybody is, showing up too much is detrimental to you as a creator, which will then make your audience growth suffer, because you won't be able to have the energy and the spirit to create. My example is so many people ask me how to podcast, how to podcast, how to podcast. And for years I would just answer every single Instagram DM, Twitter DM, everything. And then I started to become kind of resentful because I was so energetically taxed.

Espree: And I realized the hard way that I just wasn't setting boundaries. So now when someone asks me... They usually say, can you jump on a call with me real quick and imagine, really imagine if you jumped on a call with every single person that asked you, can you jump on a call real quick? I worked out the numbers once. I'd never have time to do my own work. But do you know that for the majority of my career, that's what I was doing. And I didn't have the awareness to understand why was I always so tired and why wasn't my company going where I wanted my company to go. It's because I wasn't setting the boundaries. I wasn't being aware of my own energetic tank. 

Espree: And so now if someone asks me, a podcasting question, which, by the way, I welcome because I'm driven, I'm wired by helping people. I typically say, if it's quick, I'll answer really quick or if it's really lengthy, which some of them are, or, hey, can I pick your brain kind of thing. They have the choice of having a a mini consult or a free community class on Clubhouse that I do every single week for podcast classes. And then I'm able to have my energetic abilities to do the whole picture. So you can't grow an audience if you're not taking care of yourself first in order to have the energy to serve.

Espree: Does showing up on a lot of stuff help? Sure. It helps. Do I have a direct — what's it called — see through line of when I am on Supercasters and then I see audience growth. No. Do I show up right now to get even one person to listen to my podcast. Zero percent, like zero percent. I love podcasting so much that I'm showing up to Supercasters, that I show up to anything that I do because I genuinely, just emphatically love podcasting. I love supporting you and I love seeing everybody's dreams come true. And I do that to the best of my ability. I don't do any of these for podcast audience growth.

Jennifer: Just doing that for the love of it, and I think that goes back to the first P that we talked about, right? And knowing why it is that you're showing up. ... I'm wondering If you are doing those things with deliberateness. So you're going to say I'm going to go out and I am going to try and find other podcasts that I can appear on because I want to grow my audience. Yeah. Do you think it still works or do you think you have to give up the expectation of return?

Espree: No, I totally think it can work. It's just I was asked why I show up. That's just my authenticity. But I just met with the founder of Guestio, he had someone sign up for Guestio and in two weeks booked himself on over 20 podcasts. I am sure that would lead to listenership for that podcaster. I'm sure that that can work, but how I would grow my audience or suggest you grow your audience is enhancing the value, the core pain point of why your podcast exists and the core target market. So if my target market is women in tech or it's people in the Los Angeles tech community, because I have multiple shows, so I have Women In Tech and WeAreLATech. So WeAreLATech focuses on Los Angeles startups. Women In Tech focuses on women tech globally. Am I doing everything I could possibly do to let every single woman in tech on the planet know that this show exists? 

Espree: And is it worth their time? Am I creating it in a way that this is truly worth their time? And how am I making that really clear? And how is it really clear to them without thinking much about it? Same with Los Angeles. Am I reaching out to every single person, both moving to Los Angeles as well as in the Los Angeles tech space, working in tech and startups here, and am I letting them know it exists? And what is the value in it for them? Is it produced in a way that's valuable for them? Is it formatted in a way that's valuable? And what complementary resources do I have adjacent to the podcast that carries them through that listener journey?

Jennifer: You talked about protecting your energy boundaries, knowing when to say no. What kind of team do you have around you?

Espree: Oh, my God, a beautiful, wonderful team. First of all, Janice, who's worked with me since 2012, bless her heart, she's just amazing. And I have Cori and Adam and Moran and Carl. And they're amazing. So essentially, my teammates cover virtual assistant like administrative tasks, editing, which I actually love editing. And so I just don't have the time to edit. And I ask myself all the time, do I want to be a professional editor? And the answer keeps coming back no. I'm like, OK, even though I love editing, it's not the best use of my time. But that is a hard one to outsource because I enjoy it, but I do. And then I have Adam, who used to be my main editor, who now oversees the editing process. But yeah. So editing and virtual. And then I do most other things myself.

Jennifer Thanks for all of your insights, Espree. 

Espree: Oh, my gosh. Thank you so much for having me on the show. I'm such a fan of Supercast and I'm so excited to be a part of your Supercast world.


Jennifer If you’d like to hear the rest of the interview with Espree, all you need to do is become a premium subscriber to this podcast. It's free. Click the free sign up button here, and in just a couple of taps, you'll have the extended episode in your favorite podcast player. 

There are other benefits to becoming a premium Supercasters subscriber as well, including audio versions of all our blog posts and access to our new podcaster peer networking community. 

In the extended interview, I talk to Espree about managing burnout and the importance of running your podcast in a way that’s operationally fluid.

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