My goal is that every listener gets at least one thing — one idea, one strategy or tactic, one takeaway — that they can use in their real estate business right away.
As a part of my series about the things 5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Very Successful Podcast, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt McGee, HomeLight Agent Editor and Host & Producer of HomeLight’s The Walkthrough
Matt McGee is HomeLight’s Agent Resource Center editor and host of The Walkthrough, HomeLight’s weekly podcast that offers actionable, no-hype advice from the best real estate agents and industry experts in the country. Listen to new episodes every Monday morning via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and everywhere podcasts are available. Matt previously served as Editor-In-Chief for three Third Door Media digital publications: Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, and MarTech Today. He’s a Pepperdine University grad who’s been surrounded by real estate his entire life: his wife and sister are active agents, as was his dad for almost 50 years.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit of your “personal backstory? What is your background and what eventually brought you to this particular career path?
Myrole at HomeLight combines the three things that have defined my professional and personal lives: real estate, marketing, and talking! I spent my first seven years after college doing TV and radio news and sports, including hosting a call-in sports radio show. In the late 1990s, I shifted careers into web design and digital marketing, eventually becoming a very successful SEO consultant. That combination of journalism and marketing led me to Third Door Media, where I worked for about a decade and eventually became editor-in-chief of three online marketing publications (Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, MarTech Today).
Before joining HomeLight in 2019, I spent two years as marketing director for my wife’s real estate team, helping to grow her transactions by 31% and her revenue by 44% in my first full year with her. It’s funny — I’ve had a real estate agent in my family almost every day I’ve been alive! My dad ran his own agency for almost 50 years. My sister runs her own real estate agency in Pennsylvania, and my wife’s been licensed since 2004. So what I’m doing now combines all of this personal and professional background in a fun, unique way!
Can you share a story about the most interesting thing that has happened to you since you started podcasting?
I think what we’re all living through right now is the most interesting period I’ve experienced in podcasting. The coronavirus and COVID-19 are changing real estate in dramatic ways, and forcing real estate agents to adapt their businesses in ways that seemed impractical, if not impossible, just a couple months ago.
If you think about it — real estate is such a personal and tactile experience. It’s not unusual for a buyer to spend weeks or months in close quarters with their agent, driving from home to home, walking through properties, opening every door, touching surfaces to feel the wood or marble or whatever it might be. And then there’s the inspections and follow-up meetings and signing all kinds of papers together in the office. If you’re selling, you may have dozens of strangers coming through your home during showings and open houses. And then some of those people will want to come back with their entire family, or their parents, for a second or third look.
Now, just about all of that is out the door! Agents are having to learn how to conduct as much of their business virtually as they can. In states where shelter-in-place orders are in effect, agents are having to run their business from home and without any face-to-face communication.
It’s fascinating to watch, and challenging to reflect in a weekly podcast because everything is changing so quickly. And then when you add in the fact that doing real estate can be very different from one state to the next, it makes for very interesting times as a podcaster.
Can you share a story about the biggest or funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaways you learned from that?
I’m guilty of a rookie mistake that I actually made well into my time as a podcaster — forgetting to hit the record button. I can laugh at it now, but it wasn’t too funny when it happened. I think this is a mistake that all podcasters have made at some point … at least that’s what I’m telling myself!
How long have you been podcasting and how many shows have you aired?
I started doing a hobby-focused podcast back in 2005, and have hosted or been part of a few different podcasts — both hobby and business — over the years. Some were weekly and some monthly. I’d guess I’ve done maybe 400 or so shows in all.
What are the main takeaways, lessons or messages that you want your listeners to walk away with after listening to your show?
My goal is that every listener gets at least one thing — one idea, one strategy or tactic, one takeaway — that they can use in their real estate business right away.
Our target audience is already-successful real estate agents, which makes our focus different than if we were creating shows for new agents. We don’t consider ourselves to be “real estate 101,” but here’s the thing: There are a LOT of different ways to be a successful agent. You can be an agent that sells 50–100 homes per year and yet not really understand how to use Instagram to grow your business. You can earn $250,000 in commissions every year, but maybe you’re risking burnout and need help implementing a healthy work-life balance.
I have a line in my “show bible” that says this: “Nothing we publish will appeal to every agent, but everything we publish will appeal to some agents.” I think that’s the reality of creating content for already-successful agents. We could do — and already did, actually — a show with great information about local SEO, for example, but I know that’s not going to appeal to every listener. And that’s okay.
In your opinion what makes your podcast binge-listenable? What do you think makes your podcast unique from the others in your category? What do you think is special about you as a host, your guests, or your content?
My sparkling wit and charming personality is definitely what makes our show binge-listenable. At least that’s what my wife says. When I’m being a good husband. 😉
What actually makes The Walkthrough unique is what makes HomeLight unique: We know who are the best agents in the country. We have all kinds of data about agent performance that gives us the confidence to say these are the best agents in the country. And so when we have an expert agent on the show, listeners can rest assured that this is an agent who’s more than just a good talker — it’s someone who’s already done it and is willing to share their smarts and experiences with others.
I suppose my background is somewhat unique, too. There are a lot of so-called marketing experts trying to pitch their “budget” and “get rich quick” services to real estate agents. (You should see and hear the emails and voicemails my wife gets every week!) I started doing SEO and online marketing before Google existed. I’ve consulted for companies as big as Target.com and The Weather Channel, and as small as a mom-and-pop married couple selling stuff out of their garage. I’ve had real estate around me since I was a baby. Then there’s the fact that we have an incredibly smart and talented team of content creators and marketers at HomeLight, so no one gets away with publishing below-par content. When it comes to our content, especially when we’re helping agents with their marketing, I’ll put The Walkthrough up against any other real estate podcast out there.
Doing something on a consistent basis is not easy. Podcasting every work-day, or even every week can be monotonous. What would you recommend to others about how to maintain discipline and consistency? What would you recommend to others about how to avoid burnout?
Consistency doesn’t mean sameness. What I mean is that we should all be willing to explore and try new things within the framework of whatever it is we’re making. I think that’s super important to avoid the monotony and burnout of scheduled content.
That plays out on The Walkthrough in a couple different ways. First, the main premise of our show is advice for successful real estate agents to grow their business even further. But the second episode we did wasn’t really an advice show, it was a celebration show. Our guest, an agent based in Texas named Raylene Lewis, told a remarkable story of the incredible hurdles she had to overcome to keep a client from going into foreclosure and potential bankruptcy. She only had 14 days to make this happen and was told “the deal is dead” just three days before closing. But she persisted and used her skills and smarts to keep the deal alive and get it closed on time. So we celebrated that in our second episode, and we’ll do more of that in the future as we discover similar stories.
The second way it plays out is on a more micro level. The structure of The Walkthrough has typically been pretty simple: Intro, single-guest interview, outro. But our 6th episode was different because we had two interview guests and I did a lot more narration to tell the story of both interviews. Writing it and putting it together was a lot like when I used to do news and sports reporting — mixing soundbites and my own narration. It was something different for me and for listeners, and I think things like that keep a show from getting stale for everyone involved.
Over time, we’ll continue to make little tweaks here and there. We’ll try new things and see what works.
What resources do you get your inspiration for materials from?
Having a wife who’s been licensed since 2004 really helps. I hear all the stories of things she goes through with clients, other agents, lenders, etc. I get a front-row seat to see all the challenges and friction points in her career. And then a big part of producing a weekly show is research — for me, that involves staying on top of real estate news, reading what agents are saying in Facebook groups, and pretty much anywhere else I can learn what’s going on in the industry.
Ok fantastic. Let’s now shift to the main questions of our discussion. Is there someone in the podcasting world who you think is a great model for how to run a really fantastic podcast?
There are so many great shows and people doing them. I enjoy Roman Mars and his crew on “99% Invisible” thanks to my wife constantly listening to that one in the car. The storytelling they do is wonderful. But since you’re asking me at a time when we’re still in the early days of our own show, I’ll give credit to Jay Acunzo. He runs a show called “3 Clips,” which is a podcast about podcasting for brand podcasters. 🙂 I’ve learned something new from every episode he and his team have published.
What are the ingredients that make that podcast so successful? If you could break that down into a blueprint, what would that blueprint look like?
The two I mentioned are very different, and I don’t think there’s a blueprint in general, because podcasts come in so many shapes and sizes — interview shows, monologue shows, scripted vs. un-scripted, some are recorded live and published with no edits, some are highly post-produced, etc. There are a lot of ways to make a successful podcast.
That said, if I were to offer some general thoughts regardless of the different formats, I’d say the first step towards success is realizing that a podcast is like nothing else you’ve ever created. You have to understand and respect what makes it different and learn how to take advantage of those differences. This is something I’m still learning, by the way — and probably always will be.
Podcasts are much more intimate than other forms of content — it’s very bare, just voices and ears. And for a lot of listeners, it’s something they consume in a car, at the gym, or while walking through the neighborhood. So it’s easy to get distracted as they drive or jog or whatever. And a lot of times, listeners will start a show, then stop and return to it later. We’re asking busy real estate agents to spend 30–60 minutes with us every week — that’s a much bigger commitment than reading a blog post or email newsletter, and I’d bet most brand videos aren’t that long, either.
A podcast is a journey. You have a starting point and a finishing point. As the host, you have to guide listeners if you want them to stick around for the whole thing, because it’s really easy for them to hit the “stop” button.
What all that means is that my job as a host is to guide the listener through the whole show, and give them multiple reasons as they listen to keep listening to the end. You have no visual clues like you get in a video. You can’t scan a podcast like you do with an article. So in the intro of our shows, I always like to mention at least 2–3 things the listener should expect to hear. And then during an interview, I’ll often drop signposts for the listener’s benefit — I’ll be talking with my guest about Topic A, but I’ll drop in something like, “I’m going to ask you about Topic B in a few moments, but first let’s go a little deeper on what you just said.” You’re guiding your audience in ways that you wouldn’t often do in a video or article.
There are a lot of little techniques like that when you’re making podcasts. Silence is another one. When I’m about to say something I really want everyone to hear, I’ll often go quiet for a second or two to grab their attention as they’re driving or on the treadmill. You can’t do that in an article, and there are other ways to grab attention on video, but when you’re creating audio a little bit of silence is a great tool for hosts.
I think pacing is really important no matter what kind of show you do. There’s a reason great rock bands mix in a ballad every 3–4 songs. In a podcast, you can’t hit people with a non-stop barrage of facts or tips or whatever it is you want them to consume. The brain needs time to process what the ears are hearing. It’s okay if the conversation slows down a bit — we’re humans, not machines. Recap what you or your guest just said. Give the listener a chance to file it away. And then move on.
You are a very successful podcaster yourself. Can you share with our readers the five things you need to know to create an extremely successful podcast? (Please share a story or example for each, if you can.)
Know your audience. Just like the marketing industry talks about creating personas to understand your target customers, I think it’s really important for podcasters to have a picture in your head of your typical listener(s). And that should be as specific as possible — demographics, interests, hobbies, and so forth. It really helps you focus your content when you can run all your ideas, planning, and preparation through the prism of this typical listener. What would our listener want to know about this topic? What would our listener ask this guest?
Be yourself. There’s a temptation, especially in business-focused content, to be as safe and generic as possible in order to appeal to more people. But what usually happens is that you end up being boring and appealing to no one. If you’re hosting a show, you have to allow some personality to shine through. You won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. But you’ll find your tribe and grow a loyal audience much faster.
Be patient. Unless you have a big, built-in audience and a fantastic marketing team and plan, you’re probably not going to be an overnight sensation. If people aren’t already familiar with you and/or your company, it’s a pretty big ask to expect them to want to spend 30–60 minutes with you every week. Building a successful podcast is a long-term play.
Prepare. I can’t emphasize this one enough. Unless you’re a spectacularly and unusually gifted host or interviewer, you’re going to need to spend a lot of time preparing for each show. By that I mean researching your topic, researching potential guests (or known guests), developing the actual show — i.e., the questions and/or topics you want to cover, and so forth. Of all the shows we’ve done so far, the most difficult one to write and edit after the interview is the one where I did the least preparation. I was interviewing someone I’ve known for 10+ years and assumed I didn’t need to prepare as much. I knew I was wrong about three minutes into the conversation.
Audio quality matters, but not as much as great content. If you have a great topic and/or guest, and you’ve built up enough trust with your audience that they know the content will be good, they’ll overlook less-than-perfect audio. But that’s not a license to publish aural garbage. You don’t have to sound perfect, but you can’t be unlistenable. And if your guest, topic, or content is boring, it doesn’t matter how perfect your audio sounds.
Can you share some insight from your experience about the best ways to: 1) book great guests; 2) increase listeners; 3) produce it in a professional way; 4) encourage engagement; and 5) the best way to monetize it? (Please share a story or example for each, if you can.)
1) Booking guests: To me, this is about the things I mentioned above — know your audience and do a lot of preparation. Every episode begins with questions like, What does our typical listener need to know right now? and Who’s the best person to bring that to them? That tells you who and what to do about guests. As far as the actual booking, I’m probably old school on this. I just track down email addresses and ask as politely as possible, trying to appeal to the guest’s desire to help others, or be seen as an expert, and so forth.
2) Increasing listeners: Podcasting is really trendy right now, so it’s harder to stand out. I want to say “just make a great show,” but it’s not that easy. If you’re creating a business-focused show for your company, you have to leverage all of your existing marketing tools — your blog, your email newsletter, your social media channels, and so forth. You should probably also be prepared to spend some money on digital ads.
Word-of-mouth is also an important way to earn new listeners, and so you’ll hear a lot of shows asking listeners for ratings and reviews. I think that’s smart to do because it’s a good way to get listener feedback and they create social proof for people who discover your show, but there’s very little evidence that ratings and reviews actually increase your show’s visibility.
3) Production: If you’re doing a hobby podcast or something where you’re not expecting to have huge listener numbers, you can use an app like Anchor and create a podcast as simply as talking into your phone.
But for a business-focused show presented by your company, like what I’m doing with HomeLight, I do think there’s value in putting effort and resources into production. I have pro-level audio gear at my desk — a great microphone (that makes me sound much better than my normal talking voice!), an audio pre-amplifier, and software that helps me easily record audio from any source that comes into my desktop computer. And then the biggest piece of advice I could give is to hire a pro to edit the show together for you. Sure, there’s GarageBand and other audio editing software if you want to try the D-I-Y route, but a good audio editor is worth his or weight in gold. They’ll make your show much cleaner, crisper, tighter, and more listenable.
4) Engagement: This is an interesting topic where podcasts are concerned because of what I said earlier — audio is the most intimate kind of content we can make. So if you get someone to listen to you for an hour every week, that alone is already an off-the-charts level of engagement. You can have someone read a blog post every day for a week and share it on Facebook, and they won’t have spent an hour with your content.
Beyond that, a lot of successful podcasts — hopefully ours included as we grow — create listener engagement with ongoing, consistent segments. Probably the most common one is the mailbag or inbox segment where the host reads listener emails or takes listener questions. For some shows, that can be super successful. But in my experience, that kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight. It really takes patience and a lot of encouraging listeners to engage with a show in that way. I suppose if you’re Gary V. and have a huge audience that always engages with your content, patience isn’t needed. Then again, if you’re like that, probably none of the regular rules apply!
For someone looking to start their own podcast, which equipment would you recommend that they start with?
I use a Shure SM7B microphone and Focusrite’s Scarlett 4i4 pre-amplifier — the latter connects to my iMac via USB. For recording audio, I use software called AudioHijack. You’ll also need headphones or earpods or something to limit incoming audio to your ears, because if your guest’s audio just comes into the room, it’ll get picked up by your own microphone and you’ll have a feedback/echo nightmare. That’s all I use in my home office. We’ve decided for now that we don’t need foam soundproofing on my walls, but that’s something to consider if you’re dealing with a lot of echo where you record.
There are all kinds of podcast gear guides online. Our show’s audio editor, Chris at Lemon Productions, published this one about a year-and-a-half ago.
Ok. We are almost done. 🙂 Because of your position and work, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I probably would’ve answered this differently 5–6 years ago, but perspective changes when you hit 50 years old and you lose both your parents within a couple years. I would want to inspire people to be more real and more human with one another. Life’s too short for all the games we play with each other. I wish we were all better at being our true selves — accepting our own faults and limitations, as well as others’. I wish we were all better at admitting when we need help or when we’re broken. If this ever came to pass, I think we’d all realize that everyone is struggling with something, everyone is fighting some battle. There’s nothing “weak” about admitting that — asking for help is a sign of strength. I wish everyone realized that we all need more empathy and compassion, and less cynicism and judgment.
How can our readers follow you online?