Editor's Note: We have another in our 2007 trends series. This article looks at trends in small business podcasts, i.e., audio files that can be downloaded over the Web. By Steve Rucinski With forecasted sales of over 120 million MP3 players and 200 million MP3 enabled cell phones in 2007 the potential audience for podcasts continues to grow at a strong pace. A significant number of these devices will arrive into the hands of small business owners and employees which means if small businesses are a target market of yours you simply cannot ignore podcasts much longer. If you run a small business and are looking for a way to gain or present information in an efficient and cost effective manner you need to seriously explore podcasts as a tool. In the following paragraphs I will outline 10 small business podcast trends that you NEED to consider in 2007. 1) General podcast listenership will continue to grow Feedburner tracks over 1.6 million podcast subscribers today and that figure has doubled over the past 6 months. Podcast Alley, a top podcast directory, lists over 26,000 podcasts comprising over 1 million episodes, compared to fewer than 1,000 in 2004. A November 2006 PEW Internet Project report says that 12% of internet users have downloaded a podcast compared to 7% a year earlier. With 147 million Internet users in the United States, 12% would equate to 17.6 million people downloading podcasts. 2) Small business podcasts will continue to grow in number and quality The top three podcast directories list over 700 total podcasts whose focus is small business, including content from such mainstream media companies as The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Time and Crains. The vast majority of the podcasts available are provided by small businesses themselves -- authors, consultants, technology companies and others who all want to serve the small business audience. Tools and production values (good sound quality, prepared hosts, entertaining format) will continue to improve for those podcasters willing to invest to serve their audiences. 3) Podcast directories will continue to grow in number and improve in quality of their services With so much content available, podcast directories are working hard to provide tools to make it easier for listeners to find the podcasts that will best serve their needs. Using the latest in recommendation tools, ratings and social networking technologies they are doing a better job delivering the content their visitors want. I predict that during 2007 a small-business focused podcast directory will emerge to serve the market. 4) Producing a podcast will continue to get easier for everyone New tools and services like BlogTalkRadio and Podomatic will continue to grow to serve those who want to produce and distribute their own podcasts. These services make it as easy as a phone call to record your own podcast. They provide other distribution and promotional services that a potential podcaster might need. If you want to produce your own podcast there are several books and online sites dedicated to helping you get it done like Podcasting for Dummies or Podcast Solutions: The Complete Guide to Podcasting. You can even outfit your own studio for about US$500 with a podcast kit. 5) More large enterprises targeting small businesses will launch podcasts Following the lead of the mainstream media, IBM, Cisco and others, more large companies that want to market more effectively to the small business market will launch podcasts, or partner with those that already do. Office supply firms, banks, technology companies, legal and financial firms will lead the way in using podcasts to talk directly to the small business market. 6) Small business focused Internet radio stations will emerge that will aggregate small business podcasts for their programming With such a large potential audience, Internet based radio stations are emerging to serve the small business audience. WSRadio and Voice America are two such networks today. With new tools like those provided by Backbone Radio and World Vibrations the barriers to operating your very own Internet radio station are coming down rapidly. Many of these new Internet radio stations will provide content by aggregating multiple podcasts together to serve the small business audience. 7) Podcast enabled phones will emerge as a major device for podcast listening among small businesses With over 200 million MP3 enabled phones expected to sell in 2007 it is only natural that these new all-in-one tools will be scooped up by small businesses and used as both a phone and an information and learning device. With a cell phone you can move to receiving podcasts through wireless. Tools like Melodeo make it easy to get podcast content on your cell phone. 8) Top podcasts will augment their offerings with complementary products and services To better serve their audience, small business podcasters will offer additional ways to augment their content such as transcripts or bundled podcasts burned on a CD or even packaged on an iPod. This enables them to continue to serve the listeners and build loyalty for their programs. 9) Small business advertisers will discover the long-tail effect of podcasts As advertisers begin to understand that podcasts are perfect vehicles to reach a niche audience their ad spending will rise. In addition, advertisers will begin to understand that podcasts have no expiration to their shelf-life. A podcast done two years ago may be listened to as often to as one last week if the content is relevant and access to it is provided to the listener. This means advertisers can get months and years of exposure by leveraging a podcast to reach their target markets. 10) We have not yet left the early adopter phase of podcasting Forrester Research is projecting that the number of households using podcasts will grow from 700,000 to 12.3 million over the next four years in the United States alone. As we all adapt to the time-shifting technologies available to us, our lifestyles and work-styles will change in ways not yet discovered. Podcasts are another way to get just-in-time information when you choose to get it. Today finding and obtaining that information is still a little cumbersome but some of the tools and trends mentioned above will help make the ease-of-use and quality improvements happen. * * * * *About the author: Steve Rucinski has been in the technology industry since 1976 with such paradigm changing firms as Digital Equipment and US Robotics. He writes for several small business blogs including Small Business CEO. He is also a partner and Executive Producer of the Internet radio program and podcast, Small Business Trends Radio.