My guest today is Josh Spector, a writer, podcaster, and consultant. He also runs an engaging newsletter over at fortheinterested.com.
Josh has been publishing the For The Interested Newsletter for almost seven years. It exists to help creative entrepreneurs grow their audience and business.
Around a year ago, Josh launched the podcast I Want to Know. It's a three-question podcast. Guests come on and ask three questions about things they're struggling with, trying to figure out how to grow their audience or business.
Josh also operates as a consultant, offering clarity calls where he takes people through his framework to help them develop their strategy for audience growth.
In Josh's words, "In order to build an audience, you have to provide value."
"You want to help a specific person who's at point A get to point B. And your content, your product, your social posts, your services, whatever you're doing — free or paid — is the bridge that gets them from point A to point B."
In this episode, we discuss:
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Josh: This is, I think, a key to actually building an audience or business in general. But in order to build an audience, you have to provide value. When I say that to people, a lot of times they ask me, "Well, how do I define value? How do I know what value is?" And to me, value is transformation. You want to help a specific person who's at point A get to point B. And your content, your product, your social posts, your services, whatever you're doing — free or paid — is the bridge that gets them from point A to point B.
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: My guest today is Josh Spector, who is a writer, podcaster and consultant. He also runs a really engaging newsletter over at fortheinterested.com. Welcome to the show, Josh.
Josh: Hey, thanks for having me.
Bryan: I've been on your newsletter for quite a while, Josh, and I really enjoy some of the actionable insights and thought-provoking articles that you share about growing an audience online. So I'm going to ask you a little bit about that in a few moments. But could you give our listeners a flavor about your journey, from somebody who is creating content to now somebody who helps other people grow their audiences as well?
Josh: Sure. Basically, like you said, I'm a writer, podcaster and consultant. My For The Interested Newsletter, I've published now for about almost seven years. It exists to help creative entrepreneurs grow their audience and business. It's sort of two newsletters in one. There's a Sunday version which, for the first four years, it was just a weekly newsletter, which shares a combination of original content I've created — blog posts, that kind of thing, and curated links to other resources that I find about audience and business growth. Then a couple of years ago, I added to that a daily weekday edition that is literally a one-paragraph newsletter and sometimes a single sentence. So that has been kind of unique. People really like it. With everything I do, I'm always trying to share as much actionable advice as possible and give the most value per minute invested. So that's what leads to a one-paragraph, sometimes one-sentence newsletter.
Then about a year or so ago, I launched the podcast called I Want to Know. Again, very similar. Everything I do sort of no fluff just get right to the sort of actionable stuff. That one, it's a three-question podcast. Guests come on. They ask me three questions about things that they're struggling with trying to figure out in terms of how to grow their audience or business. We spend about 10 minutes talking about each of them and, hopefully, I give them some good advice. And that's that. Then as a consultant and as a coach, I primarily these days do clarity calls, which people can read about at joshspector.com/consulting.
On a clarity call, basically, it's a 90-minute call. I take people through this framework that I came up with that helps them get really clear on what they want and how to go about doing it. They come out of it at the end of the call with a document we've created together, which very specifically explains based on what their own intentions. Like, here's who you're trying to reach. Here's how to reach them. Here's what your content, your messaging, your products, your services, your marketing. Like I said, I call them clarity calls because you come out of it completely clear on where you're trying to go and how to get there. I think, in the big picture, that's one of the things that I've seen. I talk about my audience as — I describe them as creative entrepreneurs. What I mean by that is, it's people who are trying to build businesses around their creations or people who are trying to get more creative in their business.
One of the things that I think people struggle with the most in that space is clarity, right? There are so many options these days. There are so many social platforms. There are so many. You can do it on YouTube, and you can do newsletters. You can sell courses, and you can sell coaching. You can do a million different things. I think people really struggle with getting clear on what they want, how to go about doing it and then maybe, most importantly, alignment between the content they're creating and the goals and the people that they want to serve. A lot of times, you'll see people that are putting a lot of time and effort into things. Maybe they're even growing an audience, but the audience they're growing is not aligned with the product they're serving or the goal that they ultimately are trying to accomplish. So, in some ways, that's how I help people through all my work, both free and paid. It's help them get that clarity and figure out that alignment.
Bryan: Yeah, that's a mistake that I made when I was starting out. I wrote a lot of content about productivity. I realized later that people who were trying to become more productive at work weren't really my ideal audience. So I shifted a lot of contents to being about writing and creativity and creating content online. So is your audience, Josh, are they people who are about to start off their journey, or are they farther along?
Josh: I would say it's both. I definitely see it as a sort of spectrum. So I would say they've at least decided that this is a thing they want to pursue. And so they're not super beginners, and they're not just thinking about, "Well, should I do something? Should I not?" And I don't even necessarily mean full time. A lot of them are doing it on the side, but they've taken a step. Maybe they've started a newsletter, or they've at least decided, "I definitely want to start a newsletter." They're a step beyond sort of, "Oh, maybe I should do something." The other thing I would say is, they're doing it for a specific reason that isn't just the vanity metrics and the likes and that kind of stuff. It's not just that they want an audience or they want attention. It's that they want that because they want to accomplish some other goal. Maybe, in most cases, it tends to be some sort of business revenue related. But it also might be a cause. They're passionate about some cause, and they want to draw attention to that. They want to do it in an efficient way.
What they're not doing is they're not using a blog as a diary. They're doing it because they want to help someone and get to something. This is, I think, a key to actually building an audience or a business in general. But I think, to me, in order to build an audience, you have to provide value. You have to provide specific value to a specific audience. When I say that to people, a lot of times, they ask me, "Well, how do I define value? How do I know what value is?" And to me, value is transformation. You want to help a specific person who's at point A get to point B. And your content, your product, your social posts, your services, whatever you're doing — free or paid — is the bridge that gets them from point A to point B. If you're not trying to help people make a transformation, you're more likely creating something that might be interesting but isn't valuable.
I see a lot of people creating content that isn't actually helping people make a transformation, and then wondering why it's not working. They go, "I'm publishing a newsletter every week. I'm blogging every week. I'm posting on social all the time, and it's not doing anything." Or, "People like it, but it's not getting the clients or sales or whatever." In most cases, it's because they're creating stuff that might be interesting, isn't valuable, isn't helping anybody with a transformation. And that leads to a ton of frustration from people who are genuinely putting in the time and effort. But it's that missing piece that's why it's not working.
Bryan: I guess unless it's a Mr. Beast or a Tim Ferriss type personality, it's better off to focus on a topic or some transformation that you can help your audience achieve. Based on that line of thinking, are content creators today better off building around a brand rather than themselves or their personal brand?
Josh: I think it depends what you want to do. I actually prefer and sort of what I do is a hybrid approach. For example, my newsletter is called For The Interested. My podcast is called I Want to Know. It's not The Josh Spector Newsletter, The Josh Spector Podcast. But when I send my newsletter, it comes from my personal email. The name you see in the inbox is Josh Spector. You don't see For The Interested. Everybody that reads my newsletter knows it's me. I'm not Morning Brew, right? It's not a company. It's not a bunch of other writers. Same thing with my podcast. It's not called The Josh Podcast, but they know it's my podcast. The reason I recommend this approach in most cases is because, for people who don't know who you are, there's an advantage to a brand name, especially if that brand name can associate with whatever your niche is.
So let's say that your niche is gardening — The Gardening Tips Newsletter. It doesn't matter who you are. If someone who doesn't know you is like, "Oh, I'm interested in gardening tips. I'm interested in signing up to that," they don't know who Josh Spector is. They're not interested in the Josh Spector Newsletter. The brand name can help you attract the audience initially. But once they connect with you, once they subscribe to, in this example, The Gardening Tips Newsletter, you want them to feel they will be a stronger connection to an individual than they will to a brand. So the brand name draws them in. But then, the newsletter comes from you individually.
I see this all the time. People who are sort of solopreneurs or one-person content creators, why are you writing in your newsletter like you're some big company? Why did you say, "Oh, we're so glad to have you here." There is no we. It's you. They think that doing that makes it feel more professional and bigger. But what they don't realize is your goal is to have a stronger connection. They're always going to have a stronger connection with you if they feel like they know you. People are more connected to me and my content because in their inbox, they see my name than seeing the name For The Interested. Same thing on social. My social accounts that I use are my own personal accounts. I don't have a For The Interested account. I did initially, by the way. It was a mistake I made, and then you're juggling multiple accounts. What goes on my personal account, and what goes on the brand account? But I want people to connect with me. The brand names are just to help people who don't know who I am initially come in. So that's how I think about it. I think you sort of split the difference and do both.
Bryan: Interesting. I was listening to a talk with Gary Vee the other day. He was describing how all brands are built on social media these days, and it's much harder to do it the traditional way via SEO and blogging. Do you believe that social media is the best place to build a brand? And if so, are there any particular channels that are quite good for content creators at the moment?
Josh: Yeah, I mean, I think that social media is certainly good. It's funny. A lot of times, social media is great and helpful, but it's hard. And to succeed with it, it takes a significant amount of time and resources and patience and commitment to it. So if you're not prepared to do that, the idea that just throwing up an account and occasionally posting is going to somehow build your audience, it's not magic. It takes effort. So if you're not interested, or willing, or able to put that effort in it, you might want to invest your time and resources in other channels. You certainly can succeed without social media, although it's an incredible tool if you use it right.
With that in mind, I think you can succeed on any channel. But my advice to most people is you should pick one social platform, two at most, to focus on. I think it is a massive mistake and one that I have made in the past. Again, everything I share is based on my own experiences and lessons that I have learned from doing this stuff. I think it is a huge mistake to try to be on every platform. Because, like I said, to succeed and grow an audience on social media requires a significant amount of time and effort. So if you, let's say, have an account on Twitter, and Instagram, and TikTok, and Snapchat, and whatever, you're spreading your "social media time" across four channels. You will grow much faster if you put all of that time into one channel.
The reason why people feel like they need to be on all these different platforms is twofold. One, they see opportunity everywhere. They're right about that. They're like, "Oh, there's people on Instagram that would find me. There's people on Twitter that would find me. There's people on Facebook that would find me." That's correct. But that's rooted in an assumption that there's not enough people on any one platform for you to succeed. There's more than enough. I don't care what business you're building. There's more than enough people on Instagram or more than enough people on Twitter for you to succeed beyond your wildest dreams. So all you're actually doing is spreading yourself thin. And if you think about it, focusing all that time on one platform allows you to not only create better content for that platform. It allows you to better understand how that platform works. It allows you to engage with your audience on that platform, which is ultimately how you grow more so than — because the other thing people think is, they think, "Well, I created this post. Why wouldn't I just put it everywhere?" Well, yeah, you can do that. But growth doesn't just come from posting. Growth comes from engaging. So just throwing stuff on a bunch of channels isn't actually going to help you grow.
So my advice is less. I personally am focused on Twitter, and I use LinkedIn a little bit. But basically, I'm focused on Twitter. When I stopped posting on Instagram and Facebook and other stuff, and just focused on Twitter after years of doing it the other way, all of a sudden, everything took off. So my recommendation is pick one channel to focus all your energy on. I also think no matter what your niche is, you can succeed on any of these channels. Pick the channel that you most enjoy using, as opposed to forcing yourself into something else. I much prefer Twitter. I much prefer writing than I do image-based stuff, so I don't care how popular Instagram is. I'm going to focus on Twitter. Again, it has worked great for me.
Bryan: Yeah, people also forget that bigger content creators, for example, Gary Vee, has an entire team of social media managers and copywriters, and assistants who are helping him create and distribute across all of the networks. So you mentioned that you focused quite a bit on Twitter. I know Twitter is going through a lot of controversial and problematic changes right now. So how are you feeling about Twitter as your primary channel?
Josh: Well, a couple things. One, I certainly don't love the direction it's going. I'm not thrilled about that. But I do think with all these platforms, even before Elon and all the changes that have gone on at Twitter, your feed and your experience on any of these social platforms is what you make it. So if your feed sucks, it's your fault. Not the platform's fault. You're following the wrong people. You're engaging with the wrong content, et cetera.
I've never had an issue with trolls and haters. My feed is not filled with poison. My feed is filled with super valuable information from really smart, really nice, generous people, because that's who I've let into my feed. I'm not on there ranting about politics and a million other things. So that's not what I'm attracting. So that's the first thing. Even now, even though I'm not happy with the direction that Twitter is going or any of that stuff, the truth is my day-to-day experience on the platform is still really good because my Twitter bubble is a good bubble. It's people that are doing the kinds of things that I'm doing and helping each other and learning from them and et cetera.
The other thing I would say is, I think, you referenced it as my primary platform. It is my primary social platform. But for me, my primary platform is always email. It's always my newsletter. So I am not worried. I have about 40,000 subscribers to my newsletter. I have about 30,000 Twitter followers. I don't care if Twitter were to explode tomorrow. It'd be a bummer because I like it, and I have good relationships there with people and whatever. But the idea that I'm worried about losing my audience, I don't. I have 40,000 newsletter subscribers. My audience is just as likely to — those people that I'm connecting with on Twitter also subscribe to my newsletter. So I'm not worried about that sort of platform risk.
The other thing, and I have no idea what the future of Twitter is. Predictions are a dangerous game. But my guess is this sort of Elon experiment is a moment. Based on what I've seen, what he's doing is not going to work. He's sort of running it into the ground, and there's going to come a time where he's going to have to cut his losses and get rid of it. I think someone else is going to come in and basically buy it on the cheap. The people that are like, "Twitter is doomed, and Twitter is going away," I don't see that happening. Again, this is a complete guess based on nothing. But if you were to ask me five years from now where is Twitter, I think Elon is not owning it. Someone else is owning it. I think you have a rise of Twitter coming out of what, at some point, will be ashes. I could be wrong. That's just my random prediction. So I'm not really concerned about it.
My day-to-day experience on the platform is still good. I still get value out of it. And even worst-case scenario, if it were to completely go away, I have my newsletter. I could always go to another platform. I could do whatever I want. That's the other thing I should say also in terms of focusing on one platform. It's very easy to expand. Most people start and they go, "Okay, I'm going to use Instagram and TikTok and Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn. I'm going to be on these four or five platforms. I'm going to try to grow." But if you focus all that energy on one, and then a year or two, three years from now, you decide, "Okay. Now actually, I'm using Twitter. It's gone well. I built an audience there. Now I want to go to LinkedIn," it's actually very easy. Because to take your existing audience and go, "Hey, guys, I'm on LinkedIn, I'm going to start posting there. Let's connect." People don't realize once you've built an audience — in my case, a newsletter as well — I could go on any platform and pretty quickly start to build an audience there. So you're really not missing out on anything by not being on those multiple platforms.
But again, ultimately, I think everybody's primary should be email and newsletter because it's the most — it's the strongest connection you can have to an audience. By the way, I'll share links to my tweets in my newsletter. It's the biggest driver of traction even on the platform because it's algorithm proof. The biggest driver of downloads to my podcast and views on my YouTube videos from the podcast is my newsletter. It's a complete sort of a newsletter and an email is a complete cheat code for everything else.
Bryan: Yeah, you don't have to worry so much about an algorithm. Plus, you can take your content and reuse it on a different platform providing you with just it. So I was curious. You send your daily newsletter, your Sunday newsletter. Then you're also creating content for Twitter and your podcast as well. How much time do you spend creating content on a weekly basis versus running other parts of your business?
Josh: Not as much as you would probably think. I repurpose lots of stuff. I've actually done one of my skill sessions, which people can check out at joshspector.com/sessions. My skill sessions are basically a series of one-hour video presentations where I take a very specific topic and share my systems for how I do things. And so I did one called the content maximizer, which is really about how to get more value out of your content that you create. I have found that most people don't get nearly the value out of what they create that they should. Whatever it is, a blog post, a video, a podcast and anything, even a social post, they create it. They post it once. They share it on their social platforms once or twice. That's it. They're leaving so much on the table.
So much of my content, if I write a blog post, not only is that blog post going to get shared in my newsletter and shared on social posts. I'm going to pull apart individual sentences that are going to become social posts. I'm going to reshare it over and over again. I'm going to repackage it. Here's another example of repackaging things. Every year at the end of the year, I pull every link I've shared in my newsletter over the course of the year, organize it by topics, and create a PDF e-book called The Secrets of Successful Creators.
Bryan: Excellent. I like that.
Josh: And I sell it. I offer it as a pay-what-you-want product. Anyone can get it for free. And if you want to thank me for putting it together and whatever, you can pay something. Donate whatever, however you want to call it. It makes thousands of dollars every year. About 10% to 15% of the people that download it, pay something for it. The average payment, I think it's a little over $10. Literally, that is a product that is just repurposed and reorganized newsletter content.
With my tweets, I tweet a thread a day on Twitter, which people look at and go, "Oh my God. That's a lot. How are you coming up with a thread every day?" Well, a lot of those threads are repurposed blog posts. The threads that work, I repost again three months from now. So this week, for example, my seven threads or whatever that are going to go out this week, five of them, I think I posted three months ago. I'm literally copying and pasting them and reposting them. And they will do well every single time. People don't realize that, especially on social.
When you post something, number one, your audience doesn't remember it. Number two, most of them didn't see it because you have new followers. And because of the algorithms, they didn't see it the first time anyway. I literally have never had a single person say, like, "Why are you posting this again?" Never happens. And I know it worked before so I know it will work again. Where most people, if you said to them, "Okay, I want you to start posting a thread a day on Twitter," that's going to take me 10 hours a week. How am I going to do that? But if you get smart about it and smart about how you're repurposing and reusing content, completely different. And so it's tough for me to say this is how much time I spent. I can tell you also the example of my newsletter. I spend zero time specifically sitting down and looking for stuff to share in my newsletter. All I do is, throughout the week, again, having a good curated Twitter feed, subscribing to good newsletters myself. When I come across something that I see that's interesting, I just save the link. Then when I sit down to write it, I go, "What did I come across this week that was interesting?"
Bryan: Are you saving that into the Notes app on your phone or some other?
Josh: I use an app called Workflowy, which is literally just—
Bryan: A great app.
Josh: Yeah, I love it. And I love the simplicity of it. It's really just like a bunch of bullet points, like a to-do list app. Incredibly basic. You could do it in the notes in your phone. You could do it in anything. But yeah, nothing complicated. Then the other thing I would say is, from a format perspective, I'm very conscious of when I create things, the format's that I use. I would not do a daily newsletter if I was writing essays every day. But it doesn't take that long to write a paragraph or to write a sentence.
My podcast, the fact that it's three questions, the fact that it's about 10 minutes on each question, I don't do long intros. I don't do any of the — we get right to it. I don't have a guest on and go, "Hey, talk to me." Literally, when I have a guest on, before the show, I tell them give me a three-sentence intro for yourself. I read the three sentences, and we get to the first question. Don't tell me the whole backstory of your whatever. Don't tell me what you did in kindergarten. I'm very focused on — an episode that came out today was with a PR expert. I do occasionally about once a month, I do what I call flip the script episode where I bring on an expert, and I ask them the three questions, as opposed to people asking me the three questions.
So I had a PR expert on. It's sort of three-sentences intro, and we get right to it and very tactical. My first question for her is like, what are the three biggest mistakes people make when pitching media? Like, boom. We're in it. Not how did you become a publicist? Not tell me about your career. Because in my mind, again, I'm just focused on actionable stuff. I always ask myself — this is also true in my newsletter — what can someone do after reading, or listening, or watching this? Beyond going, oh, that's interesting. You will not see me in my newsletter share articles that are like The State of the Creator Economy. That might be interesting. But what's somebody's going to do with that? I'm going to share an article that's like How to Title Your YouTube Videos to Get More Views. Something that if you read it, you consume it, you watch my stuff, you can immediately go put it into action.
Bryan: Something specific and actionable.
Josh: Yeah, exactly. I'm very big on specifics. I was talking to somebody the other day. They had posted something on a medium. They were like, "I spent all this time writing this article, and no one's really reading it. It's not really working." The article was titled The Ultimate Guide to Growing a Newsletter. That kind of stuff, it doesn't matter if it's valuable. It sounds super generic. I think her sub headline was something about how to get to 10,000 subscribers or whatever. I was like, your sub headline is better than your headline. There's a million blog posts out there about how to grow a newsletter.
Bryan: There's a million ultimate guides. The place is saturated with them.
Josh: Right. Exactly. If you have actually grown your newsletter to 10,000 subscribers which, PS, if you haven't, you should not be writing a post about how to get 10,000 subscribers. But if you have actually done that, your headline should be that. It should be How I Grew to 10,000 Subscribers from Scratch. Your article should not be — this is the other thing you see. You see so much content that is advice that is generic. "Publish consistently. Get engagement. Pick a niche." No, tell me exactly what you did. Get more specific.
This is also what I do in my skill sessions. I show the exact tactics. I got one called the 'relationship builder,' which is about how to build relationships with 50 people who can speed up your audience or business growth. I'm literally showing DM exchanges that I had with people. Justin Welsh is now everywhere. It's crazy. But I showed the DM exchange where we first connected with each other, and exactly what he had said to me and I had said to him, and what happened there and how that — the difference between that and the typical post which is like, relationships are important. You need to network with people. You know what I mean? As opposed to saying like, "Hey, reach out to somebody," literally show them. Give them templates. Show them. This is exactly what you can say. This is how you can do this thing. And so with all my stuff and I think with all truly valuable content, it's always the more specific it is, the more likely it is to be valuable.
Bryan: Finally, if a creator today or a writer had to focus on just one thing, something specific to grow their audience or to find readers, what would you suggest to them?
Josh: I mean, not to be repetitive. But again, I think, getting really clear on specific value that you want to provide to a specific audience. I have found, if you don't do that — well, once you do that, everything's easier. Because now you know what kind of content to create. If you're clear on that, I'm going to help these specific people do this specific thing. It's so much easier to come up with content ideas. It's so much easier to get specific. It's the difference between — a lot of it has to do with sort of how you define your niche and all of that. But if you think about it, there's a lot of people where you go, "Okay, well, what do you write about?" They go, "Oh, I write about self-improvement." Okay. Like, who doesn't?
Even as a creator, it's actually hard when the topic is that broad. Self-improvement could be anything. Versus I write about how I'm making this up. But within that self-improvement space, you can go, "I write about how female CEOs can increase their confidence and leadership skills to better manage people." Im making this up. That's not going to be for everyone. But for a female CEO who struggles with confidence, you're a home run, right? They're going to read every single thing you do. And with that level of specificity, it's very easy for you to start coming up with content ideas. I'm making this up. But if that were my niche, how to handle being the only female executive in a room full of men? How to handle being a female CEO who manages male employees? How to be a female CEO who mentors lower-level female executives? There's a million things that you can do. How to overcome imposter syndrome as a female CEO? Once you niche down, everything becomes more specific. It becomes more valuable.
I think that's the key. I think a lot of times when people are stuck, the root of that being stuck is they don't really know who they're trying to help and how. That can be either very paralyzing, or they start creating stuff that's all over the place. Nothing really clicks. They get frustrated and feel like a failure, when it really has nothing to do with their content creating ability and everything to do with, they haven't gotten clarity on what they're trying to do.
Actually, I'll just add one last thing on that, one last example that I give. It's that if I give you a blank piece of paper and I say, draw something, it's kind of paralyzing. If I give you a blank piece of paper and say draw a cat, you'll start right away, even if the cat is terrible and you have no drawing skills. That's the difference. It's very, very difficult to create content without a specific goal and thing that you're trying to do. The more specific you get, the easier it becomes. Even if you're not good at it, you can get better at it. But that gets you started.
Bryan: Yeah, creativity thrives within constraints. So, Josh, if listeners want to join your newsletter, or perhaps work with you, or learn more about your work, where should they go?
Josh: Go to fortheinterested.com/subscribe to get my newsletter. Go to joshspector.com/sessions to get my skill sessions. You can either buy them individually which, by the way, if you want one of them, anyone who's listening to this, feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell me which one of the sessions you want, and I will give you a code to get it for just $25. Or you can get all of them by becoming a member, which is an even better deal. You end up paying like less than $15 per session. And I'm on Twitter @jspector.
Bryan: I'll put the links in the show notes. Thanks very much for your time, Josh.
Josh: Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
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