The 8 Best Small Business Podcasts (and What They Taught Us)
I refuse to watch Game of Thrones.
Why? Because a surefire, tried-and-true way to guarantee that I won’t watch something is to tell me that I have to watch it.
Oh, do I have to watch Game of Thrones? Do I really? Is it really that important that I consume one of the most critically acclaimed, universally adored, and culturally relevant pieces of entertainment of this decade?
My refusal to watch the things people tell me to watch is probably tied to some deep, unrelenting psychological drive to maintain complete control over my own life. But that’s neither here nor there.
I’m breaking my own rule today. Although it’s something I’ve championed against for several years now, I’m going to recommend some podcasts I think you’ll all appreciate.
Do you have to listen to any of these? Nah. Would it behoove you to check some of them out? You better believe it, pal. Each one brings unique experiences and perspectives to the table, thus giving you tons of new ways to think about growth, marketing, and management.
Here are eight podcasts from which marketers and small business owners alike can glean actionable insights and, generally speaking, improve their lives—both professionally and personally.
1. The Growth Lab
We’ll kick off this list the same way my mom liked to kick off the weekends at Stonehill College: with the new kids on the block.
Launched in February 2019, the Growth Lab is the official podcast of LOCALiQ—a digital marketing firm that helps businesses grow online.
It’s a weekly podcast (available for download every Tuesday morning) hosted by SMB experts Tracy Oswald and André Archimbaud. Each week, they sit down with someone who’s achieved long-term success with his or her own business.
You can expect to walk away from each installment with at least one strategy or idea that you can implement at your own company.
I certainly did. The inaugural episode features an interview with Bryan Kramer—an American businessman and author who’s perhaps best known for initiating the H2H (human-to-human) movement in business.
Over the course of this episode, Tracy and André talk to Bryan about branding. More specifically, they discuss various strategies that SMBs can implement to focus less on selling products or services and more on making connections with people.
They recommend this approach for a number of reasons. Most importantly: prioritizing connections over sales helps differentiate you from your competitors. If you go the extra mile, you’re bound to stand out from the pack.
The conversation reminded me of something WordStream CEO Howard Kogan consistently talks about: customer-inspired growth. It’s a simple concept, really. Listen to what your customers (and prospective customers) are saying, and let that inform your strategies—whether it’s your sales strategies, your content marketing strategies, or your products or services themselves.
2. HBR IdeaCast
Co-hosted by Alison Beard and Curt Nickisch, IdeaCast is a Harvard Business Review podcast that aims to inspire people at every stage in their career paths with diverse and exciting stories from across the business world.
I use the word “diverse” because Alison and Curt cover a ton of different topics. Whether you want to learn more about the connections between sleep and efficiency or the identity-shifting strangeness of retirement, IdeaCast has you covered.
I recommend the episode titled “How One CEO Creates Joy at Work.” It features a 30-minute conversation between Curt and Richard Sheridan, co-founder and CEO of Menlo Innovations and author of Chief Joy Officer: How Great Leaders Elevate Human Energy and Eliminate Fear.
Sheridan reflects on the first decade or so of his professional life, marked by years of misery in workplaces that discouraged new ideas and tried to motivate employees with fear.
Ultimately, thanks to his wife’s frank observation that he looked tired and unhappy, Sheridan struck out on his own and founded Menlo Innovations—an enterprise software company named after Menlo Park, the site of Thomas Edison’s famously joyful laboratory.
Just guys being dudes. Via Rutgers University.
Throughout the interview, Sheridan talks about his ongoing drive to foster a healthy and happy workplace in which employees are encouraged to try new things and admit when they’re unsure of what to do next. He recalls the lessons he’s learned along the way and provides suggestions for others who want to proactively improve their everyday work lives.
3. She Did It Her Way
A few years ago, Amanda Boleyn, like Richard Sheridan, was unhappy at her corporate 9-5.
So she quit. She started doing full-time freelance work, and along the way she decided to launch a podcast called She Did It Her Way.
To use Amanda’s words, it’s a podcast “dedicated to helping you launch a business that allows you the freedom to create from anywhere, to design your own schedule in a way that supports you, and to pursue what it is that lights you up.”
At this point, Amanda works full-time helping women transition from their 9-5 jobs to running their own businesses. Accordingly, each episode of She Did It Her Way features a conversation between Amanda and another woman who’s successfully launched her own company.
The episode titled “How One Woman Created a Thriving Business by Solving Her Own Problem” features an interview with Poorvi Patodia, a food & beverage industry vet who launched Biena Snacks—the fifth-fastest growing business in Boston—in 2012.
Patodia’s story is a great one. One day, during her pregnancy, she realized that she wasn’t eating quite as healthy as she wanted to. Thanks to her Indian heritage, she had grown up eating a lot of roasted chickpeas. She did some research and walked away with two key pieces of information.
One, cultures all around the world eat chickpeas. Two, in terms of nutritional value, chickpeas check pretty much every box that Americans are looking for nowadays.
That was enough for Patodia to strike out on her own and build a healthy snack brand. The tale of how she took Biena from her kitchen—standing at her counter, unemployed, trying to figure out how to make a chickpea taste like a potato chip without sacrificing its nutritional value—to the Inc. 5,000 list is beyond inspiring.
And, yes—men should check out this podcast, too.
4. Duct Tape Marketing
Ever heard of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History? It’s, as you can probably surmise, a history podcast.
I have a lot of respect for Dan Carlin, but I have to say—the dude is insane. Each episode is at least four hours long. In fact, each one is such an undertaking that he only released two in 2018.
John Jantsch is the antithesis to Dan Carlin, and I mean that in the best way possible. He’s the founder of Duct Tape Marketing, a digital marketing agency and consulting firm that helps small businesses strategize and grow through website design, SEO, and PPC.
Jantsch is renowned for his public speaking engagements, his workshops, and his best-selling books. Once or twice a week, he releases a new, bite-sized episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast.
Nearly every episode centers around a conversation between John and a marketer or a business owner. Because each episode is relatively brief (somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes), the conversations typically focus on a single topic in particular.
John had a great conversation with Pamela Wilson in early 2019. Wilson is the founder of BIG Brand System, a consulting firm that helps people grow their businesses and establish differentiated, sustainable brands. She’s also the author of Master Content Strategy, a book dedicated to helping marketers and business owners develop content strategies that drive returns.
John and Pamela spoke about content for 15 minutes or so. The goal of this episode is provide marketers and SMBs with tips as to how they can successfully implement content into their broader marketing strategies.
For those who are just getting started with content, Pamela recommends writing one new article every week. She has a system to get each article done in four days. Day one, you craft your headline and subheads. Day two, you write the first draft. Day three, you polish the first draft into a final draft. Day four, you publish and promote the article.
Pamela emphasized that supplementing written content with videos and podcasts is a terrific idea for those with the time, resources, and skill sets.
5. Online Marketing Made Easy
Amy Porterfield has a story similar to Amanda Boleyn’s.
She was a marketer, working long hours to create and launch campaigns for massive brands like Harley Davidson. Eventually, despite the potentially tremendous opportunity costs, she left her firm in pursuit of running her own business.
Now, like Amanda, she makes a living as a mentor and a resource for other entrepreneurs. An important piece of her mission to help small business owners is her weekly podcast, Online Marketing Made Easy.
The goal, of course, is to demystify online marketing and to make it accessible to business owners, thus enabling them to run more effective campaigns and generate more revenue.
Episode 235, titled “How to Identify Your Ideal Customer Avatar,” is all about building an archetype of the person who needs and loves your product or service the most.
You need an ICA because otherwise you won’t have the focus required to launch and run a successful business. You need to create an experience that makes your ICA feel as if he or she has found the perfect solution to whatever it is he or she has been struggling with.
Accordingly, as Amy discusses at length, your ICA needs a lot of detail. You need to know her strengths, her weaknesses, her interests, and her pain points.
In other words: You can’t simply create something, go to market, and hope it works out. You need to first get a strong sense of what people are demanding and go from there.
Importantly, creating an ICA doesn’t solely inform your product or service; it informs your content, too. How can you expect to write engaging, insightful content if you don’t know what your ICA needs help with?
6. Social Media Marketing
Michael Stelzner is the founder of Social Media Examiner, a wonderful website that produces tons of awesome content dedicated to helping marketers and business owners better understand social media.
Stelzner is also the host of Social Media Marketing—a weekly, 45-minute podcast that anyone in any vertical can learn from. Each episode, Michael interviews a leading marketer and talks to him or her about specific platforms and strategies. The goal of the show is to provide insights we can all use to more successfully market on social media.
The episode titled “Phrases That Sell: 8 Copywriting Tips” features an interview with renowned copywriter Ray Edwards. Edwards is the author of How to Write Copy that Sells and the host of a podcast called the Ray Edwards Show.
As the episode title suggests, Stelzner and Edwards walk the listeners through eight strategies they can apply to their copywriting to more effectively move prospects to action.
As great as their recommended strategies are (and we’ll get to a few of them), I think the most important takeaway from this episode is what Edwards considers copywriters’ biggest mistake: forgetting about the pain point. Edwards explains that people are more inclined to eliminate pain than they are to pursue pleasure. As such, he says, copywriters need to address the problem before claiming to have the solution.
This Search ad addresses the pain point of payroll fees.
The first strategy Edwards recommends is the “if … then” template. For example, good copy for an exercise bike ad would be something along these lines: “If you’re determined to get in shape but you’re not ready to join a gym, then the Super Bike 3000 is just for you.”
Edwards also recommends using the word “imagine.” He uses the example of a purple elephant in a pink tutu wearing a party hat to illustrate the point that people will imagine something if you tell them to. So, if you sell deodorant, incorporating something like “Imagine smelling irresistible to everyone around you!” is a great idea.
7. Entrepreneurs on Fire
Fair warning: If you decide to check this one out, you’ll have to hear a man say the words “fire nation” way, way too much. That’s how he addresses his audience, I guess. It’s a minor thing, but I couldn’t stand idly by and say nothing.
During each episode of Entrepreneurs on Fire, host John Lee Dumas (affectionately known as JLD) interviews a successful entrepreneur with the intent of providing actionable insights to aspiring business owners.
Impressively, Dumas drops two episodes per week and sprinkles in some bonus episodes throughout the month. Episode 2048 centers around an interview with Ethan Sigmon, the founder of a Facebook Messenger automation software called Opesta.
The focus of the episode is what Sigmon calls the Flawless Facebook Ads Formula. He developed it out of necessity, really. The Facebook Ads agency he had started was gaining traction he hadn’t expected, and he had to figure out how to scale his operation.
He quickly learned that hiring an experienced Facebook Ads account manager is extremely expensive. So he took a different route: He hired someone who knew almost nothing about Facebook Ads and taught them himself.
Eventually, he had to streamline his teaching process. Hence, the formula.
Sigmon warns against what he calls the “shotgun method” of Facebook advertising. With this approach, you run a bunch of different ads, take note of which ones work the best, and pause the rest. The problem with this method is that it tells you nothing about why some ads worked and some ads didn’t.
Accordingly, Sigmon’s formula is all about testing, interpreting, and optimizing. Unfortunately, we don’t get it in full during the episode (you have to download the rest). But Sigmon certainly provides some useful insights as to what it takes to launch and scale a digital marketing agency.
Branded as “a podcast about what it’s really like to start a business,” StartUp is a bit confusing.
For one thing, it’s organized by seasons rather than simply by episodes—not something you see every day in the podcast realm. The first season focuses on the story of Gimlet Media—the podcast network that owns StartUp (and that was acquired by Spotify in early 2019)—and the second season discusses a company called Dating Ring.
The show pivots for seasons 3, 4, and 5, shrinking some companies’ stories down to single episodes and talking a bit more about Gimlet Media.
Ready to get meta? Season 6 of StartUp is about the making of the (now defunct) TV show that’s based on the podcast. Talk about multi-purpose content. And, finally, season 7 is a return to the show’s roots, focusing solely on the Success Academy Charter Schools in New York City.
StartUp is hosted by Alex Blumberg—founder and CEO of Gimlet Media—and Lisa Chow, former editor of FiveThirtyEight and reporter for NPR’s Planet Money.
Regardless of the confusing format shifts, StartUp is a good listen for entrepreneurs and business owners alike. I think there’s value in case study, and the good people at StartUp know how to present a compelling company profile.
If you’re looking to dive right in and go for a ride, I recommend the episode titled “New Money.” It tells the (initially happy but mostly sad) story of a messaging app called Kik.
At the heart of the Kik story is a pretty daunting question: What’s it like building a social media company in a world dominated by Facebook?
The short answer: difficult.
Ted Livingston launched Kik in 2010. Fast forward through a couple years of incredibly strong user growth and a lot of fundraising and it’s valued at $1 billion. What could go wrong?
How about Facebook buying rival messaging app WhatsApp in 2014 while simultaneously building out Messenger?
As you can imagine, Kik’s user growth took something of a nosedive after that. Livingston knew he had to get creative, and boy oh boy did that guy get creative.
His plan: an initial coin offering, typically shortened to ICO. Basically, Kik raised $100 million in two weeks by selling a cryptocurrency called Kin, which would allow those who had it to make purchases within Kik.
In essence, Livingston tried to create a small economy within his social messaging app. Like I said—it’s a ride of a podcast episode. It’s an exercise in boundary-pushing creativity (read: throwing a hail mary) that any business owner can appreciate.