No. 069 How to Identify Potential Guests for Your Show

We’re back! And, we hope, better than ever. In our triumphant return to the mics for the beginning of Season 2 of The Showrunner, we tackle a listener topic idea that we’ve had percolating for a while and discuss the best methods for identifying potential guests for your show.

Here is the idea, submitted by loyal listener Chris Conner, who hosts Life Science Marketing Radio.

I know that it can be hard to find guests to sustain a podcast. Last week I came within an inch of having to do a solo show. Yikes! 

But then I look around and realize I have other opportunities. The best source of guests for me have been 1) past guests, and 2)listeners who contact me. It works because my audience are the type of people I interview. 

Maybe it’s worth a mention or a whole episode that interviewing the peers of your audience is a strategy to ensure a long running show. Obviously HTE does this too so it’s not a new idea, but for folks starting out, it may be a consideration.

Chris’ suggestion — about interviewing the peers of your audience — is a smart strategy. It can lead to useful stories and lessons, because ostensible your guests will naturally empathize and relate with your audience, and vice versa. Well said Chris.

We take Chris’ suggestion to the next step and identify additional strategies for finding guests for shows, including:

  • Jonny’s “Barnes and Noble strategy”
  • How Caroline Early identifies guests for The Digital Entrepreneur and Unemployable
  • How Will DeWitt booked his biggest interview yet by simply doing something nice

Plus, we discuss the importance of balancing aspirational guests with “move-the-chain” guests, and we provide some useful wisdom on how to approach the possibility of bringing on a co-host.

All of this, and more, on the latest edition of The Showrunner.

Listen, learn, enjoy …

The Show Notes

No. 69 How to Identify Potential Guests for Your Show

Jerod Morris: This is Rainmaker FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free, 14-day trial at

Welcome to The Showrunner, where we have one goal: teach you how to develop, launch, and run a remarkable show. Ready?

Welcome back to The Showrunner, the podcast about podcasting from Rainmaker.FM. I’m your host, Jerod Morris, joined as always by my co-host, Jonny Nastor. Jonny, we took a little bit of a hiatus, but we are back, ready for Season 2, and better than ever. How are you doing?

Jonny Nastor: I’m doing awesome. Thank you so much, man.

Jerod Morris: Me too. We both mentioned to each other earlier today how much we’ve missed these recordings and how excited we are to get back to it. I’m quite excited to be here with you, the listener, and with you, Mr. Nastor.

Jonny Nastor: Yeah, and before we go too far, on behalf of myself, my family, and everybody listening, I want to congratulate you on the new addition to your family.

Jerod Morris: Thank you very much. She has been quite the bundle of joy. It’s been a whirlwind, but an amazing … Gosh, it’s already been 6 weeks. She already feels so old.

Jonny Nastor: Yeah, that’s the way it is. But it’s awesome, man. It’s awesome. It’s cool to be back, but I’m glad you got to take the time to enjoy it.

Jerod Morris: Yes, me too. All right, are you ready to jump in and talk about a very important main topic today?

Jonny Nastor: Yeah, totally. Let’s do it.

Jerod Morris: Let’s do it.

Today’s main topic was actually submitted to us from a Showrunner listener. Actually, a member of a Showrunner podcasting course, Chris Conner. I’d love to just begin this by issuing you listening a call-out to submit questions and submit comments to us. I know it’s been a while since we’ve done this, and now that we’re back for Season 2 we want to make sure that these episodes that we’re recording are exactly what you want to hear and what will help move you forward as a Showrunner. If you ever have an idea for an episode, email us at or Or you can tweet us @JerodMorris and @JonNastor.

We’d love to get your ideas, like this one from Chris. He says, “Howdy Gents, I know that it can be hard to find guests to sustain a podcast. Last week I came within an inch of having to do a solo show. Yikes! But then I look around and realize I have other opportunities. The best source of guests for me have been 1) past guests, and 2) listeners who contact me. It works because my audience are the type of people I interview. Maybe it’s worth a mention or whole episode that interviewing the peers of your audience is a strategy to ensure a long running show. Obviously HTE does this too, so it’s not a new idea, but for folks starting out it may be a consideration. Cheers, Chris.”

Chris, thank you for sending this to us. Hopefully you didn’t think that we had forgotten about it. I think this is a great question, a great point, and a great jumping off point for an interview, Jonny. Let’s talk about how to identify candidates to be guests and/or co-hosts for your show, obviously something that you and I both have a lot of experience with. I’ll kick it over to you to lead off. As Chris says, obviously what he has suggested is something that you do. How do you identify candidates to be guests on Hack the Entrepreneur?

Jonny Nastor: Yeah, that’s a really good question that I’ve actually been thinking about. I definitely don’t have a written process anymore. I have a written process for how to reach out once we’ve identified the person, but not for actually identifying. It’s really flowed in a weird way, kind of with my own interests, but keeping them always in line with my audience. There’s been a real flow where I’ll go through people — like music/tech-based sort of stuff and then solo entrepreneur sort of things. It’s like I go down this little rabbit hole of those kind of people because I’m just fascinated by their businesses and what they’re doing.

I don’t know if I should be bunching them all together like that, but it seems to be working. It could possibly work if I kept them more varied so that I don’t follow those rabbit holes, but it’s worked for me. I enjoy it because it allows me to — when I’m pulling out my hacks and there’s a bunch back to back, I feel like I can go deeper on ideas with people, which helps. It’s totally an iterative process that I’ve been going through. I feel like I’m so invested in the conversations where I have to really enjoy it and I have to want to talk to this person, so I’ve let it follow my own personal intuition in who I want to talk to, just trusting that my listeners want to come on that journey with me. I feel like I need to make it more structured, but so far it’s worked for me.

That’s kind of what I’ve been doing, but I get overwhelmed. I’m at 270 episodes, so I don’t have to — I don’t remember that last time I actually went out and actively looked for somebody in that way. I get so many referrals. People in my inbox and PR companies. Daily, just non-stop. I was at an awesome conference this past weekend and then met 10 people that are perfect guests. “You have to be on my show. You have to be on my show. You have to be on my show,” and they’re like, “Wow, that’s awesome, that’s awesome!” There’s two weeks’ worth of shows, or three weeks’ worth of shows, it just happens that way. I guess that’s what it is.

I’m working this all out in my head, Jerod. But I guess I’m identifying people as I’m going throughout my day and throughout my business and throughout what I’m doing. I’m not like, “Okay, this is the two hours this week where I have to go identify guests.” When I happen to hear somebody on a show or I read about somebody on Forbes I’m like, “She needs to be on my show.” I’ll just reach out to her. Luckily I have the benefit where — because of how many episodes I have and because of my audience — people are like, “Yeah, of course. I’ll totally be on your show. I’ll do that next week.” So it’s easier. But that’s what’s worked for me. That’s changed, obviously, since the beginning until now.

Jonny’s “Barnes and Noble Strategy”

Jerod Morris: What’s interesting, Jonny, is you’ve reached this next level with your show. Like you said, you have people that are reaching out and contacting you, and you’re now building up this great network of folks that you have. Correct me if I’m wrong, but back when you began, when you were first identifying people for Hack the Entrepreneur, didn’t you have some strategies? For example, go to and and see who had books coming out and reach out to those folks? Was that you that was telling me that you did that as kind of a strategy?

It identified to you someone who’s a thought leader or has something to say because they’ve written a book, and then also someone who probably is ready to be marketing that book and would be willing to come on a podcast, which helped you identify not just who would be interesting to you but also who might be willing to come on a show and even take a chance on a new show that was just getting started.

Jonny Nastor: There we go, okay. I totally answered the wrong question for you. I was taking you on my journey, but I’m two years into it. The biggest, coolest, thing I ever figured out two years ago was, which is a website I only ever go to for this very purpose. Sorry Barnes and Noble, but I buy my books from Amazon.

Barnes and Noble has a “new releases and upcoming releases” section. The books that are coming out for the next year, it has them already. They’re placing them on the site. You can go through your category and categories around your category that would be interesting. I’m in the business space, so I wouldn’t just go to business, I would go to technology, I would maybe even go to sports or music — because there will be people in there building cool stuff or cool sites or doing things. It spreads out who you’re looking at a little bit further than possibly other people or other hosts in your space might be doing.

You can create a spreadsheet. If I know that it’s September now and I know that somebody’s putting out a book six months from now, I know that in four months from now with two months lead up to that book coming out, that person is looking to be on as many shows as possible. If I reach out to that person right now, they’re just getting ready for this big media blitz. They’re going to either ignore my email or they’re going to say no, so don’t bother.

You meet them at this opportunity where it’s a win-win. It’s literally this crossroads where you need good guests, and you might be an up and coming show but they don’t care, they need to be on as many shows as possible. It’s part of their contract. You meet them right when they almost can’t say no to you. It works so well to get big-name people that you see do these big blitzes that are just on bigger shows. They will reach out to all the bigger shows, that happens, but you can meet them at that time.

To get even more granular on it, when you see that book that’s coming out it’ll say right on Barnes and Noble who the imprint or the actual publishing house that’s doing it is. You can click on it and you can search for the press version of this, because sometimes the authors themselves might want to say no to you if you are just too up and coming. To me there’s no too up and coming, you’re on your way to being a real Showrunner. But if you reach out to the press agent of that company, that persons literally has a checklist of a certain number of people they have to get his author on, and they will force that person to come onto your show.

It sounds like it’s a back way, but this is how press works. Make it work for yourself. I did this so many times up and coming. All the top shows in my market would have this author and I would also have it, and it would just be like, “Oh!” And then you kind of just get lumped into the top shows, like, “He also gets … That’s cool!” It’s this trick of looking at the books coming out, making note of them in a spreadsheet and then reaching out to guests about two months to six weeks in advance. That’s when you want to start getting them to book a time with you and come on to the show.

Jerod Morris: When you’re new and you’re starting out, who cares why the person is coming on your show? Does it really matter? No, it doesn’t, because you’re trying to build momentum. You’re trying to get that snowball rolling down the mountain. What’s great about that is it gets people onto your show. If we go back to this original question from Chris there where he talked about how the best source of his guests have been past guests — I don’t know if you did this Jonny, but certainly it’s something that you could do.

You have a guest on, and especially if the interview goes well and there’s a little bit of rapport there, after you’ve stopped the recording and you’re closing up usually there’s a minute or two of chit-chat at the end. Why not ask the person, “Hey, is there anybody else that you know that would be a good fit for the show, that I might be able to ask?” Something like that. Maybe they recommend something, maybe they don’t. But also, when you reach out to the person again when the episode is posted, “Hey Bill, thanks so much for coming on the show. We just released it, here’s the link where it’s out.” You can ask them then, too — again, if you have rapport with this person. That’s just another way to get that snowball rolling.

You’re a new show, but you’ve gotten some guests on that are doing something. You’ve built a little rapport with them and now maybe two out of seven guests is giving you a recommendation for someone else that you can interview that’s probably a like-minded person. You get that person on, and you can see how the snowball just starts rolling and how you start building up that momentum. But obviously you’ve got to start somewhere, and it can be really intimidating at the beginning, so why not give yourself the best odds of succeeding by — Jonny, as you said — meeting people in the middle or meeting them at that place where not only do they have a reason to get on shows but they need to be getting on shows. It’s a great strategy.

Jonny Nastor: Yeah, exactly. To even extend that a bit further, when I mention PR agents — I was apprehensive to reach out to them because I was like, “Oh, they’re not going to want to talk to me, I’m just a brand new podcaster.” But trust me, to PR agents you are the press, whether you want to believe that or not. You have a platform and you are now the press. That’s what you are. PR or press release, they don’t have a job without you. You really have to internalize that and take that in, because this isn’t them doing you a favor. You are absolutely essential to them even having a job any more.

Reach out to them, be confident, and tell them what you have. Don’t lie and don’t make up stuff — they don’t care. They need you. And then, when you pull through for that person and publish it and it looks good and it gets shared, that PR agent is going to add you to their spreadsheet, trust me. They’re going to be reaching out to you with, “Okay, well this guest?” And then, “What about this guest? What about this guest?” They will start sending you free books. Trust me, these people need you. It’s mutual. Don’t tell them that, they don’t need to know that, but it is mutual and they absolutely are nothing without you. You need to believe that when you’re reaching out to these people.

How Will DeWitt Booked His Biggest Interview Yet by Simply Doing Something Nice

Jerod Morris: You know something else too — Jonny, this goes back to what you’ve always said about, “just be human and do human things.” You don’t always want to look at someone as just a potential guest for you show. Sometimes just viewing someone as a person or even someone that you admire and liking and sharing something that they’ve done can lead to them eventually coming on your show.

I’ll tell you a quick story. Will DeWitt, Jonny, who’s been doing some editorial assistant work for us on The Showrunner, he works with us now at Rainmaker Digital and started out as one of my interns on The Assembly Call. He started his own sports post-game show called the Bears Brothers. He’s a big Chicago Bears fan, that’s an NFL team, so he started a post-game show for them.

One of the great Bears players of all time, Charles “Peanut” Tillman, he’s a defensive back, just retired and he has a kids foundation that he runs and is really big into now that he’s retired. Will — just wanting to support the foundation, not even with a thought of bringing on Charles Tillman as a guest — bought one of the shirts for his foundation and tweeted it out to his followers and encouraged those people to go and support Charles Tillman. He, of course, tagged Charles Tillman in the tweet. Charles Tillman saw it, re-tweeted him and they start talking. Just yesterday from when we’re recording this, he had Charles Tillman on his show, which was a huge get for Will.

We’re going to talk in a second about having aspirational guests and what that means. This would have been one of those pie-in-the-sky, “Man, could I ever get this guy as a guest?” And the way he ended up getting him as a guest is not treating him like a potential guest. Now, you can certainly say, “Well, now you’re telling me to treat people like I don’t want them as guests to get them as guests.” You know how that works, the whole pay-it-forward, do a favor thing. You want it to be genuine, so you don’t want it to come across like, “Okay, I’m doing this because I hope that I can someday get something from this person.” You know there’s a fine line there, but I think you all know what I’m talking about.

Just doing that and striking up a real conversation, a real social interaction with the guy, that eventually led to him being on the show. Will got that because he did it in a very human way. That’s the other thing to think about too, especially when you start getting into aspirational guests, people who, if you had their email address, they might not email you back right away because they don’t know you are — paying it forward in some way or just doing something nice for them for no other reason than to do something nice can be the first step toward a relationship developing that could eventually lead to them being a guest on your show.

Jonny Nastor: Absolutely. I don’t know why I forgot the whole “be human” thing.

Jerod Morris: It’s very important. But hey, you know what? We’ve been off for like six weeks, we’re a little rusty, so it’s all good.

Jonny Nastor: Right. It’s so true. Yeah, there are a lot of guests. I guess it’s also really about — we talk about audience of one for your listener, but there’s also like that perfect guest, right? You need to know who that person is. As I said at the beginning, mine changes a bit and goes off the path a little bit. But I’m 270 episodes in, so I feel like it kind of needs to keep that going. But when you’re starting … Before I had even interviewed anybody in my life — I didn’t even have a name for my show yet — I sat down and immediately wrote out 30 people that I was like, “If I could just talk to these people, I’m good.” This is cool.

I’ve now talked to every single one of them except for one. I was scheduled to talk to him twice, but that’s okay. I will get him on. I’m not worried about it right now. That’s it. Those were, to me, going to be the exact perfect person. If you have that, even as you’re going around like how Jerod said with your aspirational list, this should be that aspirational list. Because you can find people related to them as well who might also be great guests, and then that could also be your introduction to that person.

How Caroline Early Identifies Guests for The Digital Entrepreneur and Unemployable

Jerod Morris: Yeah. So Caroling Early, who does a lot of the scheduling for The Digital Entrepreneur and for Brian Clark’s show, Unemployable, I asked her what her strategies are for getting guests. I knew she would have some good insight, and here’s what she said. She said, “Usually I start with my own network of contacts and research who they’re following on Twitter or who they’re posting about on their own blogs to see if it’s a fit for us.” She said, “For both shows we’re really only looking for digital businesses, so that helps narrow it down quite a bit.” Obviously, understanding your niche, knowing the people that you’re serving so that you know who will be the best guest to bring on, that will help you narrow it down so it’s not quite so overwhelming.

She said she’ll do things like check regularly to see who’s posting about digital business and marketing, and then see if their business is applicable to our audience. It’s all about going where the conversations are happening that would be relevant conversations for your show and seeing who the prominent people are that are taking part in those conversations. That gives you an idea of who to reach out to. Of course, you’re not going to be able to book everybody. You cast that net out there, but you do it in a very targeted way and have some strategies like these. Maybe it’s Twitter. Maybe for you and your audience it’s a more active group on Pinterest, so you go there and that’s how you do this.

You’ve got to tailor what we’re saying to your specific situation. But adopting some of these strategies like Jonny’s with Barnes and Noble or Caroline’s with Twitter and, that will help to make this a simpler process. A less overwhelming process. Because when you actually have a process or a system there to rely on and fall back on — maybe you’re looking at your calendar and you’ve got your episodes lined up, but two weeks out and beyond now you have no guests. You can start to get that little panicked feeling. Having something to fall back on that’s worked for you can really help to alleviate some of that anxiety and then, instead of being paralyzed by what the next step is that you should take, it makes that next step obvious and gives you some steps that you can take to keep moving forward.

Jonny Nastor: Boom. It feels good to be back, man.

Jerod Morris: It does feel good to be back. Very good. Okay, so you mentioned and I mentioned this idea of having aspirational guests. Like I mentioned for Will, having Charles Tillman on was an aspirational guest. You have this guest that’s an aspirational guest. Same thing that I’ve had with The Digital Entrepreneur and for The Assembly Call and for Podcast on the Brink and some of these shows, there are these guests that are up there that I really want to get. They’re on a list and I’m constantly trying to see if we can make it work.

But there can be a downside there, a danger that if you only focus on your aspirational guests and maybe you can’t get them. You get discouraged. Or you’re not reaching out to enough other people so now you have gaps in your schedule. You’ve got to balance those aspirational guests with what I’m crudely calling “chain-moving” guests. What I mean by that, it’s a football analogy — American football, Jonny. When you get a first down the chains move so it keeps your drive going. If you don’t get the first down, you have to punt it and the other team gets the ball. I call them chain-moving guests because they keep you on your schedule, they keep you moving forward.

No, this might not be the person that has 100,000 Twitter followers that can expose you to a whole new audience, it may not be the person who’s written 10 books that you’ve been dying to talk to since you were 15 years old. It may not be that person, but it’s someone who has a story, your audience can relate to them, they’re going to give you some good nuggets, and they fill that slot on Wednesday at 10:00 AM and they keep you going. It’s another rep for your show. It’s another week where you’re top-of-mind for your audience.

Again, they may not be the people that make you feel like the kid on Christmas morning with that kind of excitement, but they’re willing to come on your show, they’re excited, they have something to share — you need those people too. You can’t always have your head in the clouds, you’ve also got to know who your chain-moving guests are.

The other thing, Jonny, that’s important — and this goes back to the originally question from Chris where he said that he came within an inch of having to do a solo show — is have some fail-safe plans. Maybe that’s a monologue that you can fall back on, maybe that is a previous guest that you have a really good rapport with that you want to bring back on. Maybe they’ve even said, “Hey, I’ll come back on again.” Maybe it’s just someone else that you work with that you have a rapport with that can come on and do a little guest hosting with you.

I think having something in all three of these columns, your aspirational guests, your chain-moving guests, and then your fail-safe plans helps you make sure that you’ve always got something for that next episode. And again, it just helps you alleviate some of that anxiety that can come up when it comes to scheduling. It can get difficult. It can get tough. It’s easier some weeks than others. But if you have a plan for all three of these, it’ll help at least alleviate that fear that you won’t have anything for you audience. Once you remove that, it makes the rest of it a lot easier.

Jonny Nastor: I like it. It’s good man, you’ve completely given me a new perspective on my guests and the booking of them now. It’s cool.

Jerod Morris: Cool. The other thing in here too, and maybe we should cover this real quick, is when it comes to co-hosts. There’s a big difference between a guest and a co-host. A guest is someone that comes on and I don’t think your audience necessarily demands this great level of rapport, because it’s a guest, it’s an interview. Yes, you want to develop that, but it’s different with a co-host, someone who’s going to be on the show regularly or even every single time. Those are not decisions that I would take lightly.

I think if you’re going to introduce someone to your audience on a regular basis, you really want to know that there’s some chemistry there. You really want to know that they’re going to bring something to the table. I would just say — and this could be an entire episode — I would caution you against making that decision lightly. Because a poor co-host can really sabotage the show if they don’t have anything to bring to the table or if you don’t have a good rapport with them.

Before you do that, make sure that you vet the, properly. Just remember that you are the caretaker of you content for your audience, so make the decision in the interest of your audience, not necessarily, “This is my friend and I want to bring them on,” or “They asked to be a co-host” and bring them on. I know that can get kind of awkward sometimes, but your responsibility needs to be to your audience first.

Jonny Nastor: Absolutely. Absolutely. If you’re thinking about getting an audience –not an audience, if you’re thinking about getting a co-host …

Jerod Morris: I hope you’re thinking about getting an audience.

Jonny Nastor: Yeah, exactly. At least that one person, and then you can multiply from there. But if you are thinking about getting a co-host, really stop and go for walk. You can’t stop and go for a walk, but stop and then go for a walk. Really try and be honest with yourself. Is it just fear of doing the show yourself? Is that the only reason you’re thinking about doing a co-hosted show? Honestly, the very first show I ever had was with a co-host because of that reason. I had to do it to get over that. I had a plan of doing 15 episodes and then moving on, which I did, but it was literally that fear of just getting started and not knowing how to do all of it.

I honestly don’t think most shows need a co-host. I could not do this show … this show is done without Jerod, and I think it’s amazing, so it’s kind of ironic that I’m saying that. We were put together by somebody else who I think felt that we would work really well together, and we have. There’s nobody else in this world that I would honestly run a show with and want to. It would just be a nightmare. I don’t think it would be better, the show, with the co-host. Really think about that.

There’s people like Jared Easley, who has a great show, Star of the Doubts. He brings in guest co-hosts all the time. He does it for a strategic reason, because those people will promote it to the show which makes it better, plus they probably will bring the guest with them, who he can’t get on his show. That’s smart and that’s cool. He’s very strategic about it and he’s a great relationship-builder, that helps. You can do something like that. But I really want you to think about why you would want a co-host, and try if you can to convince yourself not to do it. Just ease those fears, man. Head them straight on, because your show will be better for it. I honestly believe that, in 99% of the cases.

Jerod Morris: Yeah, I like that. Default to it being you, and make it that you have to convince yourself to have the co-host, not the other way around. Put the burden of proof on the reasons why you should have one. I think that’s great. I think it’ll work out much better for you that way in the long run.

Jonny Nastor: We did it, man. Episode 69.

Jerod Morris: We did it. We’re back. Season 2 has begun. By the way, we were talking before we started about what will make season 2 different. We’re really going to commit to making these episodes all 30 minutes or less — that’s one of our big goals. I think you’ll notice us getting in and out of the episodes a little bit quicker, that was some of the feedback that we got. And if we coach you on responding and listening to your audience feedback, then we certainly need to lead by example and do the same, and that is what we are doing.

If you want to get more from The Showrunner, including our weekly newsletter, which we also just talked about revamping a little bit, go to Showrunner.FM. You will get our newsletter, which also will include announcements of public events that we host. We do some public Q&As every now and then, so we’ll let you know. We also alert you to new Showrunner episodes and recommend cool things. But get on the newsletter, we do a lot. We alternate weeks and it’s our chance to go one-on-one with you in email format, tell you what’s on our mind, and give you additional insight about showrunning and podcasting in addition to what we do here on the podcast. So go to Showrunner.FM. Plus we’re going to have those mini-courses out soon, because they’re almost done and we’re looking forward to that.

Jonny Nastor: Yeah, so we’re not going to be doing Blab sessions anymore.

Jerod Morris: No, because Blab is no longer. I was just thinking about that.

Jonny Nastor: As you said it, I was like, “But what if they just go to Blab?” It’s like “Oh, they can’t.” They have to find out where we’re going to be hanging out now for our office hours.

Jerod Morris: I know. I guess we’ll have to figure that out.

Jonny Nastor: We will, and so will you. Go to Showrunner.FM.

Jerod Morris: That’s right.

Jonny Nastor: Get the newsletter and we’ll tell you where.

Jerod Morris: That’s right, and then come back here next week, because we’ll be back with episode number 70 as Season 2 of The Showrunner continues. We can’t wait to talk to you then, take care.