Stacking the Bricks Podcast EP39 - Grow your Audience with Kevin Chemidlin
27 min

In this episode…

This week The Tiny MBA podcast tour comes with a twist! Isn't there always a twist? Is it still a twist if you know a twist is coming? I guess M Night Shyamalan would say so.... ANYWAY.

I'm bringing you an episode from a brand new show called "Grow the Show" by my friend Kevin Chemidlin and his podcast company, Cue 9 productions.

As you might imagine from my repetition of the word "show" this is a podcast about...podcasts. More specifically, it's FOR podcasters. Ya see, Kevin is a professional podcaster himself, now producing successful shows of his own as well as for others. He recently started helping his fellow podcasters - as the title of his new podcast would suggest - grow their show.

GTS is a little less of an "interview' show and more focused on making sure each episode teaches a very specific lesson, from a very specific aspect of starting, growing, and even making money with podcasts. 

The expert just before me was Eric Nuzum, whos name you might not know but whose work you likely do: it includes a bunch of NPR shows like Invisibilia and TED radio hour.

On my episode of Grow the Show, we did something I hadn't had a chance to do yet: we looked at the lessons in The Tiny MBA through a very specific lens, exploring how the book applies to podcasters! We go very deep and specific into:

  • how to find your audience on the internet
  • the specific, concrete elements of audience building and effective self promotion
  • and how to reach them without feeling (or looking like) a spammer.

Kevin's new show is great, and I'm excited to see what he does with in the coming months, so if you enjoy this one go search out "grow the show" wherever you get podcasts.

If you enjoy this deep dive on audience building with Kevin Chemidlin, make sure you go check out my full episode of Grow the Show along with the other episodes. Here we go.


Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: What is up brick stackers! Welcome back to a brand-new episode of Stacking the Bricks. As always, I’m your host, Alex Hillman and this week we are back with another edition of The Tiny MBA Podcast Tour but with a twist. Isn’t there always a twist? Is it still a twist if you know a twist is coming? I guess M. Night Shyamalan would say so!

Anyway, this time, I’m bringing you an episode from a brand-new show called Grow The Show, by my friend, Kevin Chemidlin and his podcast company Cue9 Productions.

As you might imagine from my repetition of the word “show”, this is a podcast about podcasts – or more specifically, it’s for podcasters. You see, Kevin is a professional podcaster himself, now producing successful shows of his own, as well as for others, and has recently started helping his fellow podcasters grow their show. Kevin just launched this show, which is a little less of an interview show and more focused on making sure that each episode brings an expert who can teach us a very specific lesson from a very specific aspect of starting, growing or even making money with podcasts.

The expert just before me was Eric Newzum, whose name you might not know, but whose work you almost definitely do. It includes a bunch of NPR shows like Invisibilia and TED Radio Hour.

On my episode of Grow The Show, we did something I haven’t had a chance to do yet. We looked at the lessons of The Tiny MBA through a very specific lens, exploring how the book’s lessons apply to podcasters. This let us go really deep and get really specific on things like how to find your audience on the internet, the specific concrete elements of audience building and effective self-promotion and how to reach your audience without feeling or looking like a spammer.

Kevin’s new show is great, and I’m so excited to see what he does with it in the coming months. So if you enjoy this one, go search out Grow The Show wherever you get podcasts, but for today, I hope you enjoy this deep dive on audience building with my friend, Kevin Chemidlin from Cue9 productions. Here we go!

Hi, my name is Alex Hillman and I make things, put them on the internet so that people can buy them.

Kevin Chemidlin: Okay. Okay. So he’s being pretty modest there, even if you make the coolest and most amazing things that have ever been made and put them on the internet, if you don’t have an audience that knows and trusts you enough to buy those things, nobody’s going to buy those things.

But Alex is able to do that. That’s because he’s an absolute pro at building large-engaged audiences, both online and in person. But what’s even more impressive than the size of his audiences is just how much trust he’s built with these people. So today, we’re going to learn how Alex does that and we’ll be able to take those lessons and apply them directly to growing a large and trusting podcast audience.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: So we started writing more about what is different about our approach than the “common knowledge” approach to starting a startup. Everything came back to start with the people first, how do you center the other person as a core philosophy, as a core strategy and make sure all of your tactics align was really what seemed to be missing.

People would come up with a good idea and they were centered around the idea rather than who the idea was for. We have a flagship course called 30x500. 30x500 is actually a math equation that says, if you get 500 people on the entire internet to pay you $30 a month, you’re making $180,000 a year gross, which was a healthy software developer salary.

Philosophically and strategically, it’s more about taking the big goal of 180 grand and breaking it down into numbers that suddenly feel a lot more manageable and achievable. 500 people on the entire internet? $30 worth of value every month? Those numbers feel human scale and it’s not that you do them over night. You don’t flip a switch and suddenly you’re making 180 grand, so you can quit your job. You stack the bricks in that direction. You build this one small brick at a time, one small tweet at a time, one episode at a time, the small things add up to the big thing. This is sort of the through line in how you build big things.

Kevin Chemidlin: So through the past decade and a half of building multiple communities, helping hundreds of online entrepreneurs build their businesses, listening to their problems, their questions, their worries, Alex has seen insanely similar patterns.

So, this year he published a book. That book is called The Tiny MBA and it’s not like any other business book you’ll ever read. It’s only a little over a hundred pages and each page features only 240 characters. So rather than some sort of owner’s manual of new tactic advice that takes about six hours to read, The Tiny MBA is just 100 tweet-sized gems that give you food for thought. You can get through the whole book faster than this podcast episode. Really, you can read it in like 30 minutes max.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: People say writing a book is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. This wasn’t – it was challenging, but it was not the hardest thing I ever did by a long shot. I think it’s because I wasn’t trying to write a book. I was just trying to help the reader.

Then later I edited it down into something that was a bit more polished and provided a bit more framework and narrative and things in a package that people knew they wanted. If I had said, “Pay $10 to download my tweets”, nobody would have done it, but people know what a book is. Take this thing that clearly worked and say, “What would it look like to take a thing that I know works and put it in a format that people already desire? I think this will sell.” It turns out it did.

Kevin Chemidlin: So there are so many lessons in there that can be tied directly to podcasting, but just in general, helping people. Bringing to light the fact that this thing was just like – yes - it’s a new format; I haven’t read a book like this before, but it was just born in an exercise in getting your thoughts and getting your help out into the world and in front of people.

I’m going to call out two sets of three cards in the book, three pages, if you will. The first one is about audience building. If I go to page 38 of my copy, and I’m just going to read the three, “Lots of people get stuck on the idea of audience building, because it feels like an abstract outcome of self-promotion and for a lot of people, self-promotion holds serious negative connotations. This is because most people have only seen examples of bad self-promotion. Audience building should really just be called ‘earning trust at scale’, because that’s what it is”

Oh my goodness! So podcasters number one question. How do I grow my audience? How do I get more listeners? When you frame it like this, building trust at scale, it’s actually more clear, right? How do you build trust at scale?

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: I love this framing and podcasting and I certainly wasn’t thinking about it specifically when I wrote it. A couple of specific things come to mind for me in that podcasts require, I think, two things of the audience.

One of them is time, which is I think kind of obvious. The other is a little less obvious. I’m going to frame it as intimacy. There is something that podcasting does that I don’t think any other medium does because we listen to it and we only listen to it. We stick a thing in our ears or on our ears and we let somebody closer to our brain than literally anybody else in the world. And you combine that with the time factor – I have podcasts that I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of, that means that I’ve spent more time with that host than any movie star, most singers, and maybe any human being that I know personally. That’s wild!

So, what does it take to earn that? I think is a really cool way to frame this. Trust is the key to unlock.

When I think about trust in the context of podcasting, the first thing I think of is are you going to value my time as a listener? Which I know from a production perspective means editing, having editing even be a thing, but also just like, are you going to consider my time? Are you going to be thinking about where am I listening to this podcast?

A subtle thing that I hear podcasters do often that I feel like is subtle, but it fits into this category, is letting the listener know when there might be swearing. So, if they’ve got kids around, they can make the choice to listen to that show on their own or not. Or if there’s any sort of depictions of violence or abuse, what it says to me is you were thinking about my time and my space, where I’m listening to your show. That little thing earns a little bit of my trust.

The other thing that I think is broadly universal is why would I listen to you talk about the thing you’re talking about? You don’t get a lot of time to establish that. But I think the advantage of podcasts is once it’s established, you get to keep it, so long as you don’t undermine it.

If you put yourself in the shoes, maybe another exercise here is put yourself in the shoes of the audience member. What reason do they have to recommend you credibly as I listen to someone else? Because a big part of the way that audiences grow is word of mouth. Somebody goes, “I read this thing, you should read it.” “I listened to this thing. You should listen to it.” That only gets to happen if I trust that this creator can do that more than once.

I think there’s an element of the work of speaking direct to the audience. If you’re ambiguous, it’s not that you can’t earn that credibility, it’s that it’s just harder. You instantly get some credibility points when somebody goes, “Oh, this person is talking directly to me. They know who I am.”

I think people think about audience building as “I need to go get lots of people” and they skip over the one-on-one which it could be - in the case of growing an audience for a podcast – interacting with those listeners on social media, in a one-on-one fashion or on other platforms besides of the podcasts that have better discoverability.

Building trust and credibility off platform in places where maybe it’s a bit easier to do those one-on-one interactions and then bringing people over to the podcast because a) you’ve earned that trust and credibility and they go, “Well, I like what you did on TikTok. Let me see what your podcast is like” and then they’re coming in with an understanding of who you are, a context, a bit of trust. Not that you need to go on TikTok, but if you can learn from that and then bring that to a place where your audiences build that rapport and then use that to direct people to the podcast as your main long-form value delivery tool. I feel like that stack gives you the full repetition of that one-on-one that is needed to be build that trust. Again, it’s not just one time. it’s a pattern, to a bridge, to whatever the actual thing you want them to do.

Kevin Chemidlin: In our case, the thing we want them to do is to listen to our podcast and subscribe, become a repeat listener. So of course, the question then is where can we go online to find those dream listeners where they already are, where are they congregating? Where can we go start to build trust with them, so that they might be interested in becoming podcast listeners?

Well, to understand that, we’re going to borrow a concept from Amy and Alex’s course, 30x500. This was created to help business owners find their customers, but we can apply it to how we can go find our listeners, and the answer is that we have to go find them in the online watering holes.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Yeah, a watering hole can take so many forms and this is actually one of the harder parts about teaching a watering hole. I’ve got to give you like a really specific place to start and a good example. The trouble is, is most watering holes don’t look like the good example, a lot of the time.

Knowing whether or not you found a watering hole or a good one, can absolutely be difficult, but the key factors are, do you have the ability to observe people talking about their work, their interests, their questions? Are they asking each other questions is number one. And do they help each other? Do they come there when they have a problem?

I can give a really interesting example, that I bought a motorcycle a couple of years ago and it’s an all-electric motorcycle and it’s like a niche, but pretty intense fan base. And so there’s a Facebook group for this particular brand of motorcycle called Zero. I have zero interest in creating products for Zero motorcycle riders. But, darn it, if my brain didn’t kick into Safari mode, Safari is our approach of researching these watering holes, where I’m actively taking note of the problems that people talk about, the questions they ask as patterns, that you can then turn those answers or solutions, or we call them fixes, to those problems into either free things to give away, a blog post, a podcast, a cheat sheet, a diagnostic, whatever it is, something that is useful to solve a specific problem. Use that to earn trust and then down the road have something to sell, whatever that may be.

It took a lot of energy for me to resist doing that because this watering hole was just packed with people asking interesting to me questions because I was also a beginner who had these questions and that’s another thing that I hear people say all the time. It’s like, I’m new to this space and I’m not the expert, that is not your job. Your job is not to be the expert. Your job is to be helpful, which expertise is useful but sometimes being the person who points another peer – another newbie peer – in the direction of the expertise is equally or more valuable because people trust you and listen to you because you were like them – also a beginner.

Facebook forums can be an example, any kind of forum or discussion board or email list, Twitter itself, jump on a hashtag, right? Or just to set up search terms and see what’s happening. Don’t just look at the first tweets, but look at the entire conversation that’s happening. One of the more challenging ones now, especially as we’re in this sort of movement towards private communities is things like Slack and Discord and group message chats and stuff like that. Obviously, those are a place where trust is even more important because you’re being allowed in. But you know what the watering hole looks like, what tool it’s on, is not really the point. The point is, is this a place where people go out of habit to interact with people like them?

The watering hole Safari analogy is important because Sales Safari is this technique that my partner, Amy invented and basically takes ethnography – so observational research, not asking questions to get answers, but observing what people do and say when they don’t know that they’re being asked or observed. The act of ethnography, applying that to the internet is so much more valuable than asking questions because when people get asked the question, they answer the way they think they’re supposed to answer. But when people go into a watering hole and post a question, or even a statement to a room full of, in some cases, relative strangers and other cases of relative trust, instead of peers, you have to take a couple steps back and go what was going on in that person’s day, where their instinct was, “I’m going to go to this place on the internet and talk about this.”

If you can be there in that moment, or the beauty of this happening over text is you don’t have to be there in that moment. You can read the chat scroll back or the archives. The observability of those moments is incredible and the depth of the insights and understanding you can gain about your audience and what they want and need, they aren’t explicitly saying, but their actions are telling you is maybe one the most powerful, super powers. Also one of the things like once you learn how to do it, you can’t unsee it. Like I said, I joined a new forum on a personal interest. This happened, when I joined a wine class too. I joined a wine class to not be thinking about business. All of a sudden we’re talking about global markets and distribution and I’m like, “Dammit!” I’m at the extreme end of the spectrum, but watering holes can be anywhere so long as they are a place that people instinctively go to interact with their peers.

Kevin Chemidlin: It’s one thing to be able to identify the watering holes, while it’s another thing to observe. The next step is actually contributing to it, right? Helping these folks that went there to help. That I think many folks can understand.

There’s a card in the book where you say, “If you’re looking for your first clients or customers, start by asking yourself, where do they go when they have questions or need help? What resources do they trust? What communities do they belong to? Then go there, but don’t go there to sell.”

You are talking in this page of the book about watering holes. “Don’t go there to sell”. When do you sell? When can I say, “Hey, I have this podcast.”

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: So there’s two answers to this. One is a little more vague and I think the other is more of a never – and I’ll explain what that is in a second.

So the vague answer, I can give a concrete example here. A lot of the students in 30x500 find their audiences on Reddit. Reddit itself is not a watering hole. Subreddits on Reddit can be watering holes because they are those niche communities where we will go to interact with each other.

The important thing here is that because Reddit is not a monolith and it also proves the point that not every community has the same rules and guidelines. Some places are way more strict about anything that looks and smells like self-promotion. You mentioned one of the other pieces in the book talks about people’s reactions to self-promotion, or because they’ve mostly seen the worst. When you’re interacting in these communities you have to remember that there’s usually a team of moderators who are there keeping the place neat and tidy and keeping spammers and all kinds of other bad behavior out. Power can go to those moderators heads and some moderators can become jerks, but for the most part, moderators are doing a very difficult service for their community in guiding the right kinds of posts and away from the wrong ones.

Part one here is learning, participating, contributing, not to link to your stuff, but to be a part of the conversation to earn that credibility and trust become a regular, sort of like going to your favorite neighborhood restaurant or comic book shop – not that you would go to any of these places right now in 2020, but you get what I’m saying? To be a known regular, that earns you the trust, but also to get a sense of what are the social norms of that community.

As another piece of advice I often give is to get to know the moderators, and go from the perspective not of you want to win the ability to post whatever you want, but to make it clear to them, like, “Hey, I recognize you’ve got a hard job. If I’ve ever got something that I wanted to share here, is there a way you would prefer me to do that?” Then do what they say. Don’t talk back, don’t try to convince that you’re going to do it another way and it’ll be fine. Show them that you’re listening and show them that you deserve their trust because you’re there to participate and follow by those community guidelines.

Some of our students follow an unwritten unspoken rule of 10 posts, 10 comments or community interactions for every one self-post. Is that a useful number? I don’t know. That’s not really the way my brain works. I think it’s useful for some people. So if you’re looking for a rule of thumb, I think that’s a good maybe north star to show you like proportionally, 10 X more value than you’re trying to extract in terms of sending them a link to your latest episode or whatever it is. So it’s give 10 X more than you’re looking for, I think is perhaps a good starting point ratio. But again, that’s not a hard and fast rule. Depends on the norms. Depends on the mods. There are some places where that’s a hard and fast – no, never. Go find somewhere else. It’s a big internet.

So that’s the how to interact. Be there when people ask questions, be there in the comments. When people post successes, be there to cheer them on, be a part of the community that you wish to serve is the best way to become a leader in that community and ultimately what you want to be seen is as a leader in that community, because that’s the kind of people that new people will see as someone worth pointing to, referring to, they’ll share links for you so you don’t have to. That helps.

The other side of this is you can make a decision early on that you’re never going to share new episodes of your podcast into that watering hole. But what you can do is share things that are useful into that watering hole that aren’t the podcast, that get people over to your website and onto an email list and use the email list as your primary method of letting people know, “Hey, there’s a new episode for you to check out.”

In 30x500, we teach a technique called ebombs or educational bombs, dropping a bomb of education and knowledge on people and that’s sort of where you take your comments from a post that people that found useful, and you kind of pull it out of the comment, you drop it into a text editor and you put a little bit more work into it, maybe some graphics, maybe some additional resources, maybe a downloadable PDF. You know, “Here’s the three things to remember”, print out this cheat sheet, tape it to your wall so you don’t forget it. Those kinds of things. Again, the goal here is not to extract. The goal here is to earn trust. Once you’ve got that trust, then the ability to say, “Hey, I’ve got something useful, check this out.”

I personally really don’t see a lot of success from being the person to create an entire new post in that forum, or Facebook group or Reddit that says “I made an article.” In the same way, you don’t see as much traction from making a top post or a first post about your new thing, the real actions in the comments. So if I make that thing about a question that gets asked once a week, every time that question gets asked, I can be in the comments being like, “Here’s a helpful tip. If that was useful, here’s three more – link.” I never post without there being value, even if they never click on the link. That’s super important in terms of a rule of thumb. So, when that happens, what I’m really doing there is I’m building my own little place where I own the rules. I can send emails whenever I want, those people have opted in to hear from me, the mods aren’t in control and I’m playing by the rules. I’m only there to give, give, give. If somebody likes what I gave and they want more, I’ve given them a place to get it and that is a bridge to an email list, which in my experience continues to be the number one place to ensure that that repeat reach is available.

Kevin Chemidlin: Yeah. I’ve learned as well if we port this example to Facebook groups, a strategy that I’ve seen before is to have your Facebook profile, have every links right there in the headline, “I do this at this website.”

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Be so good that they click on your profile to see what you’re about and then make it easy for them to find the other thing.

Kevin Chemidlin: Exactly. Your profile is where you self-promote like crazy. You can get people to see it by just being incredibly helpful in the Facebook groups. And that goes everywhere.

Priority one, your audience. Who are they? Where can I go get them? How can I go find the watering holes?

By the way, this 40-minute podcast episode covered only three of the 100 pieces of business wisdom in Alex’s The Tiny MBA. So, if you want the other 97 pieces of business wisdom and want to become a better business owner in only 30 minutes, Grab The Tiny MBA. The link is in the show notes.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: If you enjoyed that episode and I hope you did, I’ve got a couple of quick things before you go. We’re going to be releasing more episodes like this one with other creators and entrepreneurs, just like you and I’m going to be talking with them about their favorite lessons in The Tiny MBA, learning what’s going on in their world and sharing it all with you. You can search for that by looking for Stacking the Bricks wherever you get podcasts.

And one last thing, check out the Stacking the Bricks website, we’ve got a great newsletter with new articles coming out every week or two following on a lot of the same topics and themes that we talk about right here on the show. You can do that by going to

I hope you have a great rest of your day and don’t forget to keep on stacking those bricks!

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