After more than 80 episodes of his CPA Reviewed podcast, Jeff Elliott, CPA, has covered subjects ranging from a test-taking Q&A to "Marriage, Dating and the CPA Exam."
Yet Elliott, the Topeka, Kan.-based founder of Another71.com and the NINJA CPA Review, remembers all too well what it felt like out of the gate. "I started the podcast in 2011, and I didn't really know what I was doing," he recalled. Lesson learned? "You can't be a perfectionist. Make it good enough and then make the next episode better."
If you're considering your own accounting or finance podcast, here are 10 tips to get you started. In some areas potential tools are listed, but keep in mind there are a variety of resources available at a range of prices, so shopping around can be helpful.
- Pick a comfortable, quiet place to record and edit. Your study or office will work fine, but you'll want to note ambient noises that could make your podcast sound amateurish: running water, loud air vents, anything that will distract the listener (and you). If the room has too much reverberation, look at basic soundproofing foam, which Elliott used early on. You can also move to a place with more absorptive surfaces (carpet, curtains) and fewer reflective ones (hardwood, brick).
- Pick the right microphone. Don't settle for the built-in mic on your computer, or a cheap external mic. "Double down on your microphone," said Ed Kless, host of both the Sage Advice Podcast and The Soul of Enterprise. You can land bargains under $100. The Blue Snowball, a desktop mic that once retailed for $100, now sells for $69 and delivers clear, hi-fi sound. (A USB cable and mini stand are included.) If you want to go pro studio quality, make like a radio deejay and get a Shure SM7B for about $400. Keep in mind you'll need a stand, mic cable, and an "audio interface," a device that allows your recording software to read the signal from a standard mic. No matter what you choose, Elliott recommended buying a windscreen or "pop filter" to put in front of it.
- Get great earphones. If you have a good microphone, and if you are doing a podcast with Apple earbuds, then keep a good thing going. That noted, there are many benefits to a nice set of over-the-ear headphones (including less ear fatigue), and your goal here should be comfort and superior sound quality. Avoid fashion toys such as Beats, and check out established companies such as Sennheiser, Shure, Sony, or AKG. It makes sense to visit a music or consumer electronics store and try out some pairs, as personal preferences will always vary. A great all-around pick for sound and price: AKG's K 240 line runs just under $70.
- Learn your way around free basic recording software. Several options leverage the fastest learning curve possible, and they're free to boot. Apple's GarageBand is more than up to the task, and Apple Stores offer classes that teach beginner's editing and recording techniques. GarageBand can also mix audio down to a finished MP3 with one click. Another highly rated option for PC or Mac is Audacity, a popular open-source program.
- Consider recruiting a podcast producer. This isn't as hard as you might think, especially if you've used office interns. Many high school music and film students, for example, know their way around laptop recording software and would gladly take the helm for $15 an hour — or just to get experience. A producer can also help you book guests and post your podcast to outlets such as iTunes and SoundCloud. Look into using a syndication service like LibSyn or Podbean. These allow you to easily get the podcasts out to multiple sites at once. Also make sure anything you use for opening and closing theme music is either in the public domain or something you produce or commission yourself. Otherwise, you'll get a takedown notice.
- Learn how to record interviews. Call Recorder for Skype ($40) is a user-friendly software option that's as simple as clicking a red button. With it, you can record any interviewee who has a Skype connection. Just note that Skype can have audio issues, and everyone will want to turn cameras off to give the audio signal more bandwidth.
You can also purchase a second mic for in-studio interviews, which could require expanding your setup to include what's called a digital audio interface. Think of the interface as a mini mixer that allows two mic signals to record separately on your computer. Keep in mind that some great smartphone recording apps are available as well, including Bossjock Studio for iPhone ($9.99), Call Recorder for iPhone (free), Voice Recorder for Android (free), and Smart Recorder for Android (free).
- Practice your podcast diction. Having a conversation is not the same as hosting a show. You'll want to practice varying your voice cadence so that it moves up and down as opposed to maintaining a nasal monotone, for example. For interviews, ask short questions. You'll also need to watch for "verbal throat clearing" — the long windups we all indulge in before we get to the point. In the beginning, "You have to be comfortable with the fact that you'll use crutch phrases, smack your lips, stutter, and say 'um' every other word without knowing it," Elliott said.
- To start, keep it brief. Especially for beginners, 15 minutes is a good length that satisfies listeners and doesn't test your production patience. You can always go longer once you get the hang of things. (Elliott's podcasts last roughly 50 minutes.)
- Be patient with yourself and learn as you go. After seven years, Elliott has developed a confident and lively on-air personality and has expanded to produce videos as well. But he'd be the first to tell you that podcasting is a bit like accounting in that you can't have every skill and tool under your belt straight out of the box. Start simply and upgrade your equipment and production process gradually. In time, your style will blossom, too. A top-notch podcast will run at least eight seasons; commit to at least 13 weekly podcasts per season. If you can record all 13 before you launch, so much the better, though you will want to make allowances for the schedules of special guests.
- Most of all, have fun and be interesting. "Podcasts are entertainment," said Elliott, who on air identifies himself as "a CPA by the grace of God, and to the chagrin of many." To keep the topic of the CPA exam lively, interesting, and even fun, "I dress it up with ninjas, self-deprecating humor — plenty of material there — and all my videos end with a montage of me getting punched in the face. It's not your typical accountant behavior. But then again, that's the point."
Listen to episodes of Jeff Elliott's CPA Reviewed podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or via the Another71.com website.
Lou Carlozo is a freelance writer based in Chicago. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, associate director – content development, at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.