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John Lee Dumas Explains How He Built a Top-Ranked Entrepreneurship Podcast
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In this keynote post, John Lee Dumas, host of the wildly popular podcast Entrepreneurs on Fire, shares the secrets of his success and reveals how he turned a daily podcast into an empire. In this conversation, John shares his journey as a podcaster and offers valuable insights and recommendations for anyone looking to follow in his footsteps. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from one of the most successful entrepreneurship podcasters in the industry!
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Alex Sanfilippo: John, welcome back to Podcasting Made Simple. It’s good to have you here.
John Lee Dumas: I’m fired up and ready to get started.
Alex Sanfilippo: Our audience probably doesn’t know this, but I had the pleasure of meeting you for the first time at a conference in Orlando, Florida. I was a table leader at a networking event and had high hopes for my group. As everyone gathered around, I noticed one chair was empty. Suddenly, I heard a loud voice calling out, “Table 23!” and turned around to see you standing there. I was both excited and a bit intimidated to have such a well-known figure at my table. However, I soon realized that despite your success, you were down-to-earth and eager to connect with other podcasters, regardless of their experience level. It was a privilege to sit at the same table as you and share in your passion for podcasting. Overall, I am grateful for your contributions to the industry and for the opportunity to meet you in such a memorable way.
John Lee Dumas: It sounds like something I would do, and I’m sure we had a great time. I relish interacting with other podcasters, as I consider it to be a great space. The remarkable evolution of this medium over the past decade is truly astonishing.
Other Remarkable Success Stories: Pat Flynn, Jasmine Star
Alex Sanfilippo: I want to start with your journey as a podcaster, which goes back more than 10 years. Statistically, most of us reading this have been podcasters for three to five years. How different was podcasting back then? Can you go back for a moment and tell that story?
John Lee Dumas: In the early days of podcasting, many people were unsure of what a podcast actually was. They had heard of it but weren’t quite sure how to access it. So I would say, “Listen, pull out your iPhone. Click on that purple icon, and subscribe to my show.” This was back in 2012/13.
Come 2014, Serial was launched and quickly went viral. This helped push podcasting into the mainstream. People began talking about podcasts around the water cooler, and it became a topic of conversation, just like TV shows or movies. As podcasting grew in popularity, smart money recognized the trend and started investing in the medium.
Here we are ten years later. Entrepreneurs on Fire has launched over 3,700 episodes and has had over 130 million listens to date, with over two and a half million listens on a month-to-month basis. I have no plans to stop because I enjoy talking to interesting people. As an extrovert, I find the process of interviewing guests to be fun and engaging.
Alex Sanfilippo: When you started, Serial hadn’t come out yet. How did you have that foresight before podcasting was really a thing? I’d love to know how you launched Entrepreneurs on Fire.
John Lee Dumas: Before I launched my podcast, I was a consumer of podcasts. I’d listened to podcasts in the background when I was at my computer, on walks and runs, driving in my car, etc. As a podcast listener, I understood the platform of podcasting. One day, while listening to a podcast, a quote stood out to me: “What do you love about an industry, and what do you hate about it?” This made me reflect on my passion for podcasting and what I disliked about it. I realized that some of my favorite shows only released new episodes once a week. This left me craving more content. I wanted to be inspired by entrepreneurial stories and strategies every day of the week. I need it.
That’s when I had my lightbulb moment. I decided to launch the first daily podcast that interviewed entrepreneurs. When I launched Entrepreneurs on Fire, it was the only daily podcast of its kind. While I understand that it may sound boastful to say it was the best, it was true at the time. My show was the best because it was the only one of its kind.
Whenever I speak to aspiring podcasters joining Podcasters’ Paradise or one of my courses, I always encourage them to find something unique and fill a void in the market. Rather than being a pale imitation of countless other shows, strive to be the best in your niche. For me, that meant being the best daily podcast interviewing entrepreneurs. By doing so, I was able to stand out from the crowd and make my mark on the industry.
Alex Sanfilippo: Starting a daily podcast must have been a daunting task, especially in the early days of the medium when there wasn’t a clear roadmap for how to do it. I’d love for you to speak about that issue. Too many people give up too soon, and they’re not even trying to do a daily show.
The churn rate in podcasting is crazy! 10 people start a show, and nine of them give up the next day.
John Lee Dumas: I don’t care about what people said, especially if they haven’t accomplished anything notable in the field I’m interested in. But there were two people whose opinion mattered to me: my podcast coach, Jamie Masters, and the leader of my podcast mastermind, Cliff Ravenscraft. They both discouraged me from starting a daily show, saying it was not feasible, that I would burn out, and that my listeners would get bored.
But I asked myself a question that I think is relevant to many entrepreneurs: what if the top people in my industry say something can’t be done, and I figure out how to do it anyway? The opportunity for success is tremendous because a high barrier means less competition. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to find something that’s challenging to replicate and build a moat around it.
When my podcast started earning hundreds of thousands of dollars per month, many people wanted to copy me. But it was difficult to replicate because of the daily format and the high-profile guests. It took a lot of time, effort, and work, which made it worthwhile. If it had been easy to replicate, we would have been flooded with competitors and saturated the market.
Alex Sanfilippo: A quote from Jerry Rice comes to mind: “Today I’ll do what others won’t. So that tomorrow I can have what others can’t.” You really embody that in podcasting. Talk a little bit more about consistency. If you had done this for two weeks and then taken a month off, your podcast wouldn’t have excelled the way it has over the last few years. What are some practical things podcasters can do to stick with it?
John Lee Dumas: To build an audience, it’s essential to consistently deliver real value to them by offering practical solutions to their problems. People often ask me how often they should release their show and what type of content they should create. My advice is to have a show going live at least three days a week – Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The length of each episode doesn’t matter as much as the consistency of the schedule.
When you establish a rhythm, you’ll find that producing three shows a week is not as daunting as you thought. This approach allows you to avoid the stress of doing long-form interviews or solo episodes, which can be time-consuming and exhausting. Once you get into the habit of releasing content consistently, you’ll likely increase your output to four or five shows a week.
I’m not advocating for everyone to start a daily show, but I do believe that there’s a minimum frequency required to stand out and build a loyal audience. Two days a week used to be my recommendation, but given the increasingly competitive landscape, I suggest going with three days a week. Additionally, you can surprise and delight your listeners by dropping a Saturday or Sunday show occasionally. However, make sure not to leave your audience hanging by missing your scheduled releases.
Alex Sanfilippo It seems here’s where batching podcast content might work well. Is that something you’ve implemented within Entrepreneurs on Fire?
John Lee Dumas: When I first had the idea to start a daily show interviewing entrepreneurs, some individuals expressed doubts about the feasibility of the project. They were concerned that the daily schedule would be too demanding and that I would have no time for anything else.
After giving it some thought, I realized that they were right. I didn’t want to sacrifice my personal life for the show, and I wanted to be able to travel and enjoy other experiences. So, I came up with a solution: batching. Batching involves scheduling a block of time to complete similar tasks all at once. I decided to schedule all of my interviews for Entrepreneurs on Fire on Thursdays, so I could record seven interviews in one day and then be done for the week. This way, I could still produce a daily show without sacrificing my personal life.
When I was preparing to go on extended trips, I would even stretch my batching schedule to record 16 interviews in one day. This allowed me to take 45, 75, or even 90-day European trips while Entrepreneurs on Fire continued to air flawlessly. To this day, batching remains an essential part of my workflow. I schedule interviews for other shows on one day and interviews for Entrepreneurs on Fire on another. This way, I can be efficient with my time and still produce quality content.
Alex Sanfilippo: I don’t even want to ask about the 16. So we’re going to just stick with the seven. How do you do that throughout the day and keep the level of quality up? I get that in the first interview. You can have all the energy in the world. But by number seven, how are you able to keep the momentum up?
John Lee Dumas: Being an interviewer or podcast host is not for everyone. It requires a certain personality type that can connect with guests and keep the conversation engaging. Personally, I thrive on the energy of conversations, and I feel like a vampire in that way, feeding off the enthusiasm of my guests.
Sometimes, when I reach my final interview of the day, I tell them that they’re my seventh and last guest, and they express disappointment that they didn’t get me earlier in the day. However, I feel differently. By the time I reach my final interview, I’m more energized than ever before. I feel like I’ve been sharpening my skills and getting more and more comfortable with each conversation. In fact, I’m on fire, and sometimes when I’m done, I think, “Oh man, I could do a few more right now.”
Alex Sanfilippo: Let’s shift gears here a little bit. In your book, The Common Path to Uncommon Success— I’ve read multiple times and highly recommend —you speak to the importance of having an avatar. This is something that I’ve since adopted and truly live by. I have my avatar Adam all figured out, and I know everything about him. I’d love for you just to share what your avatar has played in the success of Entrepreneurs on Fire and your podcast guesting.
John Lee Dumas and I cover the topic of creating your ideal customer avatar more in-depth in this podcast episode.
John Lee Dumas: You’re not the perfect listener for your podcast. That’s a major reason why podcasters make mistakes. If I understand my avatar, I can make quick and accurate decisions that align with my audience’s needs. When I come to a crossroads, I don’t have to take the time, energy, mental bandwidth, and possibly money to decide whether to go left or right. I just have to ask myself, “Hey, what would my avatar want?” I created my avatar, Jimmy, and talked to many people in my audience who have the same traits and interests. So I know better what they want, and that serves as my North Star.
Alex Sanfilippo: Do you have a different avatar when you’re going on podcasts as a guest, or do you always still have that same avatar in mind?
John Lee Dumas: No, I definitely have other avatars when I guest on other shows. Who are these listeners? How should I talk to them? Of course, that’s not really my job. It’s the host’s job to guide the conversation and ask the right questions because they know their avatars. Otherwise, they’ve failed as a podcast host. So I just sit back and let the host ask the questions. Then I answer those questions as succinctly and thoroughly as possible.
Alex Sanfilippo Is one of these avatars an aspiring podcaster?
John Lee Dumas: Absolutely.
Alex Sanfilippo: I mention this because the very first podcast I listened to was an interview with you on a show called Duct Tape Marketing. You had your avatar dialed in completely. It was that episode that got me into podcasting. A follow-up question. Every single episode of your show is listened to by millions of people. But the podcasts you guest on are probably much smaller than that. Have you been able to find that your business is also driven by guest appearances?
John Lee Dumas: When you listened to that episode, did you then go listen to Entrepreneurs on Fire?
Alex Sanfilippo: I did and subscribed immediately.
John Lee Dumas: I know one truth. “Podcast listeners listen to podcasts.” I’ll say that one more time. Podcast listeners listen to podcasts. When I am podcast guesting, I’m looking for podcast listeners to come to Entrepreneurs on Fire. I know the average podcast listener listens to seven podcasts. If I drop enough value, then a certain percentage of them will become Entrepreneurs on Fire subscribers, listeners, and potentially evangelists. That adds up over the days, weeks, months, and years. It’s a good use of my time and always will be.
Alex Sanfilippo: If you were starting over with podcasting. Would you approach it the same way, or would you have a different idea, strategy, or approach that works in today’s world?
John Lee Dumas: Entrepreneurs on Fire, launched with my 2012 skillset in 2022, fails because it’s not a new, unique concept. Rather, I would sit back and ask myself, “What’s a really unique, underserved void in the market that I can be the best solution for?” And I’d create this podcast. I’d niche down aggressively until I dominated the competition and became number one in that category. People don’t do it because they’re scared. They think to themselves, “The podcast will have too narrowly defined a niche and not enough potential listeners. If I don’t get a lot of listeners, I won’t get sponsors and won’t make money.” So they launch these vague, broad-based topics. They interview entrepreneurs about their stories and then wonder why there’s no traction. No one wants to hear a rookie podcast host interview a successful entrepreneur who’s been interviewed a million times by a million better podcast hosts.
Alex Sanfilippo: I love that, John. That is so helpful. You’re the value bomb guy, so I’ve to ask you, do you have a value bomb that we can close with today?
John Lee Dumas: The value bomb is going to come from Albert Einstein. “Try not to become a person of success but rather a person of value.”
Too many people chase after the success they have seen in others, trying to copy and imitate them. All they do is end up in these pale, weak imitations of these people. Take a step back and ask yourself: How can I be a person of value on a consistent basis? Answer that question and go forth and conquer.
About John Lee Dumas
John Lee Dumas is the host of Entrepreneurs on Fire, an award-winning podcast where he interviews inspiring Entrepreneurs who are truly ON FIRE. With over 2500 episodes, 1 million + listens a month, and seven figures of annual revenue, JLD is just getting started. Visit EOFire.com to set YOUR Entrepreneurial journey ON FIRE!
- Listen to Entrepreneurs on Fire
- Get John Lee Dumas’ Book, The Common Path to Uncommon Success
- John Lee Dumas on Social Media: Instagram | LinkedIn | YouTube | Facebook