Podcast Alchemy: To Host or Guest

Should you appear on other podcasts, host your own, or do both? Each has a unique value proposition that should align to your business goals.

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Throughout my journey many people would ask me, “Why don’t you start your own podcast?” It seems like an obvious question. If you’re spending so much time appearing on podcasts, having your own seems like a logical next step. However, there’s an important distinction surprisingly not recognized by many in the business.

Before moving to New York City, I used to be a regular user of roads. Just about every day I would find myself driving on one. It got me to work, dance practice, social activities, the grocery store, and many places I needed to be. Despite being an avid user of roads, I never paved my own road. Using roads other people had made served my needs. Creating my own road (assuming the local towns wouldn’t object) could have led to a new revenue stream with the tolls it would have brought in, but also the headaches of maintaining a road. Given the costs and benefits, I just wasn’t interested in managing a road myself.

That may seem a silly example, but it illustrates the distinction. There are different values from owning a property than from using a property. We all use the cellular network to get value, but we don’t run a cellular network because most of us don’t want to run that type of business, even if it could bring in profit. (We’ll talk more about podcast revenue models in Podcast Alchemy 9. Who is Helping Whom?; for now, we’ll just look at hosting versus guesting.)


As a guest your reach is wide and shallow. It’s more public relations than advertising. The good news is there’s little work. You show up, guest, and are done. I’m oversimplifying a bit since there’s pitching, possibly some pre-interview discussion, and absolutely as a guest you should promote the episode on social media (it’s rude not to). Also, as I’ll say across these articles, you should deliver value to the audience, not a sales pitch. Still, it’s mostly one and done from an effort standpoint. You’re not building an audience or producing the episode.

As a guest you benefit from existing audiences the host has worked to build over time (appreciate them for that, the host and the audience). Justin Peters, Co-founder of SimplePod Studios, describes it as borrowing (as opposed to building) an audience. However, your engagement will be limited. You might be able to get them to buy a $20 book or other impulse level buy (possibly up to a few hundred dollars in value). You can certainly get some to follow you on social media or sign up for your email list. However, this episode alone likely won’t immediately land you a big client. Someone who hears you for thirty or sixty minutes simply isn’t ready to drop thousands of dollars on your product or service. They just don’t know you well enough yet. This is why it’s more PR than marketing, it builds awareness, but not deep trust.

When people go to your website and see you’ve been on a number of shows, it validates your authority. . . Similarly, it generates social media fodder to make you look more active.

The one other benefit to guesting (over hosting) is social proof. When people go to your website and see you’ve been on a number of shows, it validates your authority. If you’ve been on only two or three podcasts, or media in general, you may have gotten lucky or maybe had a connection to the show. Once you have a few dozen media appearances (podcast or other media) it’s enough that people checking you out see you have been validated by others. Obviously bigger names, like going on NPR, provide more credibility, but if it’s not a household name, then whether it has ten downloads or ten thousand will likely give this same social proof to most of the people scanning on websites or social media, since the people on your website aren’t likely to check the sizes of the audiences.

Similarly, it generates social media fodder to make you look more active. An episode will generate one to ten social media posts. (We’ll explore this more in #8 How to Get the Most Out of Your Podcast.) If you do one or two podcasts a month, plus your own activities, that social media account will look pretty active making your business look like it’s flourishing. At the very least, people following you will keep seeing you pop up over and over and it makes it seem like you’re in-demand.


The host is on the other side of that. As a host there’s more work. Not only is there the cost of producing and promoting the show, but you are building an audience. A guest may be good or bad, but if you want your audience to keep coming back your show needs to consistently be good and deliver value. Guests can help fill in some content and do some promotion, but the bulk of the work is on you. (Pew Research found that in 2022 76% of top ranked podcasts had guests on their show at least occasionally; guesting was most common on self-help, entertainment, sports, and political shows.) Just as a guest will get some email signups or social media follows from your show, but likely won’t get a huge number of sales, you may get some of their followers into your audience, but you won't immediately get their audience as customers of your products or services.

Pew Research found that in 2022 76% of top ranked podcasts had guests.

Immediately is the key word. For all this effort you get something else, though: brand trust. People who tune in repeatedly get to know you. It may be because you share things about yourself or your business. It may just be that they know you deliver value to them through your show. This is true whether you are a solo host, co-host, or have guests. The audience gets to know you and the value you provide on every single episode. By showing up regularly and repeatedly for them to deliver value (be it from you or your guests) your audience will gain trust in you. This allows you to sell those higher value products and services. Again, someone is unlikely to spend thousands of dollars on some coach or consultant they heard just once, but they are much more likely to do so with someone who repeatedly gives them value and who has engendered trust over multiple touchpoints (episodes).

Mutual Benefits

Networking is one of the hidden values not evident to people outside of podcasting (or even many in podcasting, sadly). Both parties, hosts and guests, can meet very interesting people, often in similar or adjacent fields, and expand their network. Dave Jackson of the School of Podcasting notes, “When you do a solo show you grow your influence. When you do an interview, you grow your network.” I’d argue even guests can help you grow your influence (after all, you found these folks), but I think his quote was more to contrast that in the latter case there is huge value from the networking that happens.

Dave Jackson of the School of Podcasting notes, “When you do an interview, you grow your network.”

For those who aren’t behind the scenes, know that the host and guest often have conversations outside the show itself. Usually it’s a few minutes before, to orient and coordinate. Afterwards, in addition to logistics (e.g., “send me your socials” or “the show will come out in three weeks, and we’ll send you the link”), often it’s a deeper discussion where the hosts and guests talk more personally and sometimes find opportunities to help each other or further the relationship. I’ve heard more than one host comment that sometimes the best parts of the conversation occur at this time, and not in the recorded episode (and I know one host who actively records the post-show conversation in case there’s a snippet to be pulled into the show).

There’s also content. Typically, the host owns the rights to the show’s IP. Even as a guest though, hosts of podcasts will not only let you, but encourage you, to share images, clips, and quotes from the show. Many will also let you put such clips on your website (some will even give you the rights to use the whole episode on your website). As noted earlier, a single show can generate a lot of content for both parties.

Ultimately, the question to ask when it comes to hosting or guesting is: what is your goal? If you want to raise awareness, guesting is the more efficient option since you can reach a larger audience by leveraging the existing audiences of the hosts. If you want to “sell” something low-cost, where “sell” can mean selling your free monthly email (i.e., get more people on your email list), guesting is ideal. (Also, once someone signs up, if that’s all you have to offer, then there’s no benefit to you of having them hear you over and over.) If you want to build a dedicated audience that you can monetize, be it through advertising (including sponsorship and referrals) or people who, over time, will buy your higher-priced products and services, hosting is a better option.

Personally, I don’t have much to sell. It’s true I do work as a fractional CTO / CPO and that’s a premium service, but that’s not what I talk about on the shows. I have multiple brands: A) Mark Herschberg the fractional CTO / CPO, B) Mark Herschberg the professional development expert who wrote The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You, and C) Mark Herschberg who created the free Brain Bump app to help you retain what you read and hear, and who speaks about the future of media (as with articles like these). If I wanted to market myself as a CTO / CPO, hosting a podcast would be a great way to do it, with or without guests. It would attract people with tech questions and allow me to promote myself as an expert in the field to this audience. Brain Bump is something I give away for free. As for the book, it’s a low-cost item and I very intentionally give away all other related resources for free and do not provide coaching services. Since I have nothing more to sell, there’s not much point to building my own audience. (Maybe this will change in the future.) Note that if I was a coach, hosting would be good to build the trust needed to sell such a high-value, intimate service.

I realize I’m unusual since I have independent brands; most authors, podcasters, bloggers, etc. have a product or service related to the content they generate and so are more aligned. I should also note that starting in 2023 there was some overlap, since as I spoke about careers I often got asked about AI and had the advantage of speaking about it both as a technology expert (I’ve run AI/ML teams and have multiple patents employing AI) and a career expert. But that was an unexpected overlap due to the popularity of generative AI starting in 2023.

I do technically have one high end service, which is professional speaking, something many readers of this blog may be interested in doing. Here again I have the branding challenge since I do both tech related talks (often on AI or cybersecurity) and professional development talks. Let’s look at the latter since that’s related to the content I put out on podcasts. While I do have a premium service offering (having over twenty years of teaching at MIT my fees are in the five figures for talks and workshops), podcasting is not the best place for selling speaking services. Yes, someone can hear me, on my own show or someone else’s and book me. On other shows I’d have more reach, on my own I’d create more trust. But honestly, I don’t recommend podcasting as a way to sell talks, since the people with the budget and authority to book those talks are typically not looking for such guests on podcasts. It can work and has for me a few times (mostly with colleges for whom I offer a greatly reduced fee), but across literally hundreds of appearances, it’s not cost effective. That doesn’t mean don’t do it. As a speaker you should do podcasts, and online ads, and other methods that together boost your brand and bring in leads. I simply mean don’t expect that going on shows to promote yourself as a speaker will make your phone suddenly start to ring. Speaking is often done through personal relationships and connections built over time. Guesting just raises awareness and while hosting builds trust in you, the odds that someone hiring a speaker has been listening for a while and will book you is low (and even then, they may rotate speakers every year, so it’s one and done for all that effort).

Tracy Hazzard, CEO of Podetize, recommends most hosts be guests, too.

There’s no reason you have to be just one or the other; you can, of course, both host and guest. Tracy Hazzard, CEO of Podetize, recommends most hosts be guests, too. As a guest you can reach more people and pull them to your show. Once they become listeners, as with an email subscriber, they get to know you and the brand value and trust built over time. And hosts are often welcomed by other hosts since you can cross promote on each other’s programs and it’s a win for everyone (both hosts and both audiences). The key is, whatever you do, make sure it fits into your goals, be it sales, PR, or just for fun.