For the latest installment of Creators Unlocked, we talk to Josh Ho, a founder and creator of SaaS, the latter a term he doesn’t use instinctively, even though it definitely applies.
Josh earned his founder title with Referral Rock, a software company that facilitates the process of collecting referrals. But she also hosts two podcasts, writes a newsletter and tweets to more than 17,000 followers on Twitter.
In our conversation, he shares great advice for entrepreneurs and small business owners looking to grow on social media with limited time and resources.
Get used to the change in how you are perceived
Josh will be the first to tell you that he doesn’t necessarily see himself as a creator. “If someone initially labels me as a ‘creator’, I tend to be a bit taken aback. It’s not my instinctive self-definition.” However, given the amount of her creative output, from podcasts to newsletters to Twitter posts, the label is the perfect descriptor. “Despite my initial reservations, I do embody the qualities of a creator, along with my entrepreneurial traits.”
Josh’s hesitancy to be labeled a creator reminded me of Steph Smith’s thoughts on how he is perceived in public: “I’ve built a lot of stuff over the last couple of years, and you could tell these entries have a level of intentionality. But I can’t always control the things people latch on to.”
While some people may immediately think “creator” when they think of Josh Ho, he is more comfortable with his identity as an entrepreneur and founder. “Entrepreneurship came before content creation. I first identified myself as an entrepreneur and founder, and when I realized that much of the advice that was circulating was not entirely beneficial for many people, I felt compelled to enter the field of content creation,” he explains.
Let the work you already do feed your content
Between the different titles, formats and styles of content that Josh works with, he has found balance by thinking of each thing as part of a Venn diagram. Every part of Josh’s experiences and expertise is fueled by his content. “As I interact with other entrepreneurs, the questions that naturally arise are fueled [my content], and after asking the same question several times, I will compile my answers into notes. This can lead to other forms of content, such as a Twitter thread or a podcast discussion. Since most founders are interested in marketing and customer acquisition, there is significant overlap in content areas,” he explains.
Some people work well by coming up with ideas and executing them on the fly, but Josh has found success by sticking to a regular schedule. The rhythm of recording podcasts at set intervals helps maintain balance without consciously thinking about it. He sees it more as an integrated ritual than a separate effort to balance everything.
Regardless of perception, Josh is all about his audience, and his creativity shines when it comes to sharing knowledge first; everything else happens after that.
“At my core, I have a strong desire to help others and I like to share the insights I’ve gained from my own experiences. My passion lies in digging deep into challenges, finding solutions, and then sharing those solutions in a packaged, digestible format. My goal is to save others from having to go through the same long and laborious process of discovery, which could shave months off their time,” he explains. By sharing his experiences and knowledge, Josh hopes to guide his audience in the correct direction with its content.
Pick a niche and build for the audience that goes with it
In a perfect example of picking a niche and doubling down on it, Josh’s content is very clearly geared towards founders. As he puts it, “I create content that helps founders, specifically bootstrapped founders and SaaS entrepreneurs.” In other words, Josh has a clear premise for the content he creates that fits perfectly with Jay Acunzo’s ‘XY Premise Pitch’.
The point of Josh’s content is not to find “the” answer because there is no one-size-fits-all solution that fits every type of founder. Instead, he encourages founders to embrace the nuances and think critically about their unique challenges.
Josh’s clear focus on his own content means he’s a great advocate for choosing a niche. He says: “There are many subjects I deliberately choose not to write about even though they interest me. For example, I participate in handball tournaments and I like to smoke meat, but if I incorporated all these facets into my content, it would become confusing for my audience.”
For Josh, Niching is essential to give your audience a clear idea of what to expect from you. That said, also understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this issue. What ultimately matters is that you land on something you care enough to pursue, even without monetary incentives. Growth is inevitable if you can post consistently, even with a small audience.
Take a sustainable approach to creating content
Josh’s content feeds directly from his day-to-day life as a founder and entrepreneur, so much so that he refers to it as “the ‘exhaust’ that emanates from the engine of the work I’m already engaged in.”
He shared an example of a project for his company Referral Rock to revamp their home page. He had taken a course on the subject and wanted to use his new knowledge. His content also benefited, as he explained, “I shared some ideas from that experience on the marketing podcast, but it didn’t end there. For the founder podcast with Nate, we recorded a session where I helped him with the design of their website. This session was published through the newsletter as a video and we published a podcast episode about it”
Basically, the work I was already going to do was transformed into four different contents. Josh spots content opportunities by asking, “What am I going to talk about this week? Is what I’m currently working on interesting?”
So despite the many platforms Josh creates for, the ideas behind his content all have one root, making it easy for him to know what he’s creating and how. Use a range of different tools to aid your creative endeavours, including:
- WordPress for writing and publishing
- Subpile for newsletters
- Riverside for recording and editing podcasts
- Twitter to create a community with the founders and share extensive marketing knowledge
- LinkedIn for more advanced and specialized information
Josh’s content also relies on repurposing, which allows him to communicate the same idea across multiple platforms and mediums. He acknowledges the risk that the repetition may be too much for some people. Josh explains his perspective: “I would suggest to creators not to shy away from cross-posting, especially when starting out. Remember that there will always be people who appreciate your content, but first they have to be able to find it.”
Josh compares marketing platforms you don’t own to “borrowed land,” echoing a sentiment shared by others we’ve interviewed for Creators Unlocked. “Maybe your incentives don’t align perfectly with the platform’s,” he explains.
He advises creators who have seen some success secure a portion of their audience: get it somehow. This could be by building your email list or diversifying between various social media sites as protection. Direct access to your audience also allows you to nurture deeper relationships.
However, more platforms mean more challenges. You can’t rely on algorithms for visibility once you manage a list or community. Many creators try to monetize by offering courses or other products, and it’s often a difficult transition. This “borrowed land” is often what facilitated your success. So, even if you’re aiming for ownership, remember that no one really owns anyone’s attention. You need to constantly engage with your audience, keep them interested and provide value.
In addition to email lists, Josh recommends building a community as another strategy for audience ownership. Platforms like Discord or Slack can serve as a hub for your community, usually requiring an email address to sign up. Another benefit to community building is that it provides a level of ownership that complements social media efforts rather than being equated directly with them.
Three tips for current and aspiring content entrepreneurs
Josh has an impressive portfolio of creators, all aside from his work as a founder, and is always looking to share his advice. Its content comes from a genuine desire to help people and learn new skills or improve existing ones; all of your content efforts align with one of these goals. He started looking for SaaS to help him co-host Nate Bosscher on his journey as a new founder and practice speaking. He invested time in building his audience on Twitter because he was curious about what would be the best method.
Here are his tips for entrepreneurs looking to build an online audience:
- First, I would recommend leaning into your curiosities and interests, especially in your particular field. Even if your business seems mundane, like extermination services, there may be elements that intrigue you and may be fascinating to others. Whether it’s certain bug behaviors or seasonal patterns, these seemingly mundane details can provide compelling content. What is normal for you in your line of work may be new and exciting for others.
- Second, don’t shy away from content reuse. Many people feel pressure to produce original material, but forget that not everyone sees or keeps everything you post. You can reuse the content, perhaps changing the wording a bit or changing the medium. Everyone interacts with different platforms for different reasons, so don’t worry too much about repetition. In fact, repeating a message can emphasize its importance.
- If you have trouble generating new content or fear repetition, start by engaging with others on these platforms. Social media is, above all, a community, not a soapbox. See it as an opportunity to engage in conversations, respond and interact with your audience. As you respond to your audience, you may realize that you have more to say about a topic. You can then rephrase or expand on it in a post on your platform. Think of it as an “AI prompt” – responding to a prompt is usually easier than creating content from scratch.
In short, focus on your curiosities, don’t be afraid to reuse content and engage with your audience. Here are Josh’s keys to growing and maintaining a meaningful online presence.
About his personal plans for the future, Josh shares that he is working on a course for SaaS founders, saying, “It’s not the financial pressure that drives me, but the desire to share my knowledge and help others. My main goal is to support founders who are interested in this journey, possibly speeding up their learning process and saving them some missteps.Any income could be used to give back to the community, donate to a cause or contribute a little more to my family.”
Much of Josh’s content so far has been retrospective, telling stories and lessons from a decade ago. The next phase will look to the present, he explains, sharing his plans, “I want to share our evolution with our audience, showing the experiments we are doing, what works, what doesn’t, month by month. ” Expect to see more of Josh channeling his growth as a creator to grow the Referral Rock brand.