It’s a classic conundrum: Quality vs. consistency.
Do you churn out piece after piece after piece, focusing on doing something every day to avoid perfection paralysis? Or do you focus on painstaking work delivered every once in a while?
As a creator, it often feels like you have to choose. But for podcaster Jay Clouse, it’s all about getting the best of both. “There's a lot of timing and luck involved,” he says. “But I think in order for timing and luck to align in your favor you just need to be really consistent, and as you grow your impact, grow your following, and grow your audience, you can begin to focus more and more on the quality of the work itself.”
Clouse isn’t new to podcasting—he launched his first podcast, Upside, with Eric Hornung in 2018—but he wanted to explore more around life as a creator. “I wanted to create a podcast more aligned to my core business, which helps artists and creatives,” he says. “I wanted to demystify how our favorite creators are actually paid and make a living from their art.”
In 2020, Creative Elements was born. Clouse set out to build something truly high quality and consistent, using ConvertKit to help drive listeners and downloads. His email list is now 6,500 people, and the podcast has 10,000 downloads per episode, reaching 25,000 unique listeners every month.
“I’ve interviewed more than 75 creators since then, from talking to James Clear about becoming a professional author to asking Seth Godin about writing and creating courses for a living. It’s the best,” says Clouse.
For timing and luck to align in your favor you just need to be really consistent.
— Jay Clouse
Here’s how he did it:
#1: Hold your art to the highest standard
The Internet is awash in stuff. There’s digital detritus and get-rich-quick schemes everywhere—and for listeners, that makes discovering new podcasts a challenge.
Clouse knew that in order to stand out, he had to make sure he produced something at the highest possible quality. “My biggest strategy from the beginning was that I wanted to create a really high-quality show,” he says. “I was willing to put in the extra effort in editing, just to make sure that it really stood out from an audio experience level because discovery in podcasting is really difficult.”
That meant investing in audio, artwork, and studio equipment that make the podcast sound professional—and building programming that makes it feel more like a show than a spartan interview. In fact, it takes Clouse more than 20 hours a week to create a single 45-minute episode.
When people start listening, they have to think, ‘Wow this is really good,’ and not just from an audio production level. It has to be something that would be difficult for them to find otherwise.
— Jay Clouse
Part of Clouse’s strategy is landing high-profile guests. He knew to stand out among his audience, he had to talk to the most successful creatives out there. “It’s a lot more compelling to listen to Seth Godin and James Clear than someone you’ve never heard of,” he laughs. “I knew I had to talk to people my listeners want to hear from.”
As a host, keep it conversational and natural. The best podcasts feel like you’re sitting right there with the host and the guest over coffee or drinks. “I think of podcast hosting just like hosting a dinner party,” says Clouse. “I want people to feel comfortable while they're there. I want them to enjoy themselves when they leave them to think, ‘I'm glad I did that.’”
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#2: Keep a consistent podcast structure and cadence
Pairing quality with consistency is what puts a podcast over the top. Every episode should follow a similar format so listeners know what to expect, from the number of guests to the accompanying music and number of commercial breaks.
For Creative Elements, that looks like:
- A highly produced and scripted intro that pulls in the best sound bites from the episode and makes listeners excited to hear the whole story
- One high-profile guest each week
- An interview that dives into a specific set of questions (with some slight variations): Where were you before this experience? Why did you start your creative work? What went right? What can other people learn from your experience?
- A consistent outro and call-to-action that closes out the podcast and gets listeners excited for the next installment
As with every interview-style podcast, much of the impact comes down to the quality of your questions. And while you can’t control what guests say, you can come prepared.
Even veterans like Clouse get a little nervous before chatting with creative heroes like Austin Kleon or Khe Hy. “I'm three years and two hundred interviews into podcasting, so I've had a lot of practice, but I’m nervous for every interview,” he admits. “The best way to overcome that is good preparation, because I think you honor the guests by making that experience good for them, asking thoughtful questions and actively listening as they're speaking.”
The best way to overcome [nervousness] is good preparation.
— Jay Clouse
Starting each interview with a goal in mind keeps the questions grounded without feeling stilted. “I have a very specific goal or topic for the interview because I can't possibly touch on any one piece of their long, successful careers,” he says. “I would rather have a very specific reason why I'm talking to this person and go deep on that, because that’s what’s going to be different.”
And when push comes to shove, it’s OK to use some creative editing and voiceover to make a narrative feel more cohesive. Says Clouse, “I relentlessly cut out redundant or irrelevant things, and follow a very clear chronological narrative arc. Even if the guest goes on a tangent, I’ll edit it so it flies by, and so listeners get very clear takeaways for their own creative lives.”
#3: Use email as the foundation of your promotional strategy
Of course, quality and consistency doesn’t matter if no-one knows about your podcast in the first place. That’s why Clouse uses his email newsletter, powered by ConvertKit, as the foundation of his promotional strategy.
Podcasts shouldn’t be transactional. Unlike getting listeners to click a CTA once, success stems from building a consistent listener base that wants to hear from you again and again. “I try to talk about [the newsletter] every day or every couple of days, because people need to be reminded to convert,” he says. “The marketing funnel needs to make people aware that the show exists, then you have to convince them to hit play, then you have to convince them to keep listening, and then someday hit play again. It’s a tough problem.”
That’s where Clouse uses ConvertKit to his advantage. “I’m always trying to continue to leverage listener word-of-mouth. That's where ConvertKit comes into play, because I need the people who like the show to further deepen how much they love the show, and then talk about it with their friends with other people.”
He does this with a two-pronged weekly email strategy to grow his podcast base and his email list at the same time. A typical week looks like this: new shows drop on Tuesdays, with a show release email sent to his list the same day. Then Clouse crafts social media posts on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn to sprinkle throughout the week.
“I use ConvertKit to make sure that people know there's a new episode, so every week when I release a new episode, I send out an email that has a little bit about the show, the custom episode artwork, and notes,” he says. “Then, I also include a behind-the-scenes look at how this episode came to be, where I'll share something that isn't even in the show itself. Adding this content gives subscribers a really clear reason why they should subscribe to those emails.”
Then, every Sunday, he promotes the podcast in his newsletter. “I have a section in my email newsletter that also calls it out, so I’m actually emailing the full segment of my list at least once a week. That way there’s only two touchpoints and it doesn’t fatigue my audience,” he says.
He’s not just trying to get more people listening. He wants the listeners to really get something out of it and build a deeper relationship with him and the material. “With the newsletter, now I have an extra touch point with those listeners. Not only are they hearing me, but they're reading about the show,” says Clouse. “I want to deepen their experience with it, which an email with ConvertKit does beautifully.”
#4: Treat listeners as part of your podcast ecosystem
Rather than continuing to use email for every communication, Clouse treats his listeners as part of a broader ecosystem, using ConvertKit to manage multiple parts of the funnel, from landing pages to welcome sequences.
That begins with rolling out the welcome mat through an automated email flow scheduled in ConvertKit. “I have a welcome sequence, so when people subscribe to my emails for my blog, they get everything they need up front,” he says. “I'll say, ‘By the way, if you're interested in my writing, you'll probably also love my podcast.’ It’s in the first email they get when they sign up for my newsletter.”
Automations make it easy to build a relationship with a listener—or turn a reader into a podcast subscriber. “It just keeps reminding people that I have the podcast in the first place,” he says. “The goal is really just to get them to try it once, because I know if they listen to it, they're gonna like it. So I think about how many times I can put the podcast in front of somebody so eventually they think, ‘Yeah, I'm going to hit play,’ and then realize, ‘Oh wow, this is actually really well done,’ and it becomes one of their favorite shows.”
It’s more important to engage a smaller community of listeners than it is to constantly get new ones. Focusing on engagement feels more authentic to your audience, and will naturally build on itself. “It’s all connected. I can call out on the podcast that I send an email every week, so it feeds on each other,” he says.
Clouse pulls it all together with a landing page that gives people one spot to go to, regardless of where they listen.
This is where it comes back to quality and consistency. By showing up every day for your community, at the highest quality you can, you’ll start to build momentum—and word-of-mouth.
#5: Build your own word-of-mouth
Podcast discovery still happens mostly through word-of-mouth. The final piece of Clouse’s promotional strategy is starting a conversation on social media and through major listening apps to kickstart the show’s success.
Says Clouse, “I knew that if I could get the show featured in podcast listening apps, then I would be in front of people who cared about podcasts. When we launched the show, that gave us a really great kickstart.”
That includes popular podcasting channels. Even if you’re a die-hard Spotify fan, make sure you’re available on every channel. You want to decrease friction for people to listen, since it’s more of a commitment than, say, reading a tweet.
Says Clouse, “I don't want to create any friction in listening to the show. So if I have convinced you to give it a shot, I want it to be as easy as possible for you to listen to that show in your preferred podcast player. No one wants to be forced to open up a different app than the one they like.”
Taking a community-first engagement approach matters across social media conversations, too. Don’t blast new episodes every few minutes on Twitter—think of ways to drip content throughout the week, whether it’s a juicy sound bite, a mini-bio of the special guest, or a sneak peek of cover art for the next week.
Offer social media as one CTA for listeners with a prompt to leave their best takeaway or any extra questions from the episode. “This gives people the option to share what they learned with other people, create more buzz, and then I can retweet or share it to show my appreciation that they’re talking about the show,” says Clouse.
That will help me grow on Twitter
— Ace Gucela ♠ SaaS Content Writer (@Ace_Gucela) September 8, 2021
Connecting social media to email magnifies the value. “I have this Twitter challenge now called Tweet 100,” explains Clouse. “I challenged myself to 100 days of just writing one good tweet per day, and posting it on Twitter. If someone signs up from that, that has its own welcome sequence where I share two episodes of the show, specifically people who create on Twitter, more than anything else.”
The more you tweet, the more your following grows.
But if you're like me…it's easy to de-prioritize writing on Twitter.
I wanted a system that forced me to write at least ONE tweet per day.
So I created the #Tweet100 Challenge. It's free, and you can join too (thread) 🧵…
— Jay Clouse (31/100) (@jayclouse) August 20, 2021
The best advice from the guests on Creative Elements
One of the best parts about the show is that it gives Jay a front-row seat to how top-tier creatives run their business—giving him a dose of inspiration and advice every day for his own operations.
You need to spend as much time marketing and sharing your work as you do creating it.
— Jay Clouse
The biggest advice that he hears from his guests? You don’t have to sacrifice quality to be consistent—and vice versa. “All these people are playing long-term games,” he says. “They're not creating to go viral. They're making because they want to make consistently for their entire life, so they really lean into making the things that they want to make, and in the way that they want to make them.”
The other recommendation that comes up the most? Most creatives don’t sign up to be marketers… but that’s what ends up taking most of their time, so it’s worth getting good at it. Says Clouse, “You need to spend as much time marketing and sharing your work as you do creating it. These creators spend as much time advocating for their work as they do creating the piece, and that comes up all the time, no matter who I’m talking to.”
That’s exactly why Clouse spends the other 20 hours of his week marketing the episodes he makes… and then the process begins again.
Marketing your creative work doesn’t have to be scary. ConvertKit can help you handle your podcast marketing without headaches—sign up today and start sharing your podcast with the world.