For the latest installment of Creators Unlocked, we speak to Josh Ho, a SaaS founder and creator – the latter a term he doesn't instinctually use, though it definitely applies.
Josh earned his founder title with Referral Rock, a software company that eases the process of collecting referrals. But he 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’re perceived
Josh will be the first one 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 somewhat taken aback. It's not my instinctive self-definition.” However, taking into account the amount of his creative output, from podcasts to newsletters and Twitter posts, the label is the perfect descriptor. “Despite my initial reservations, I do indeed embody the qualities of a creator, along with my entrepreneurial traits.”
Josh's hesitations to be labeled as a creator reminded me of Steph Smith’s insights about how she’s perceived in public – “I've built many things over the last couple of years, and you could say that those inputs have a level of intentionality. But I can't always control the things that people latch on to.”
While some people may immediately think “creator” when they think of Josh Ho, he’s more comfortable with his identity as an entrepreneur and founder. “Entrepreneurship came before content creation. I first identified as an entrepreneur and founder, and upon realizing that much of the advice circulating wasn't quite beneficial for many people, I felt compelled to step into the realm of content creation,” he explains.
Let the work you already do, feed your content
Across the different titles, formats, and styles of content that Josh works with, he’s found balance by thinking of each thing as part of a Venn diagram. Each part of Josh’s experiences and expertise feed into his content. “As I interact with other entrepreneurs, the questions that naturally arise feed into [my content], and after being asked the same question several times, I'll compile my responses into notes. This can spark other forms of content, like a Twitter thread or a podcast discussion. Since most founders are interested in marketing and customer acquisition, there's a significant overlap in content areas,” he explains.
Some people work well thinking up 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 as more of a built-in ritual than a separate effort to balance everything.
Regardless of perception, Josh is all about his audience, and his creativity shines when it’s knowledge-sharing first – everything else comes second to that.
“At my core, I have a strong desire to assist others, and I enjoy sharing the insights I've gained from my own experiences. My passion lies in delving deep into challenges, figuring out solutions, and then sharing those solutions in a packaged, digestible format. My aim is to save others from having to go through the same long and laborious process of discovery, potentially shaving off months of their time,” he explains. By sharing his experiences and insights, Josh hopes to guide his audience in the right direction with his content.
Pick a niche and create for the audience that comes with it
In a perfect example of picking a niche and doubling down on it, Josh’s content is very clearly geared toward founders. As he puts it, “I create content that aids 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 isn't to find 'the' answer because there isn't one universal solution that fits every type of founder. Instead, he encourages founders to embrace nuance and think critically about their unique challenges.
Josh’s clear approach to his own content means that he’s a big advocate for picking a niche. He says, “There are many topics I deliberately choose not to write about even though I’m interested in them. For example, I participate in handball tournaments and enjoy smoking meat, but if I incorporated all these facets into my content, it would become confusing for my audience.”
To Josh, niching down is essential to give your audience a clear idea of what to expect from you. That being said, he also understands that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this topic. What ultimately matters is that you land on something you care about enough to pursue, even without monetary incentives. Growth is inevitable if you can publish consistently, even with a small audience.
Adopt a sustainable approach to creating content
Josh’s content is directly fed by his day-to-day as a founder and entrepreneur, so much so that he refers to it as “the 'exhaust' emanating from the engine of work I'm already engaged in.”
He shared an example of a project for his company Referral Rock to revamp its homepage. He’d taken a course about the topic and wanted to put his newfound knowledge to use. His content also benefited as he explained, “I shared some insights from this experience on the marketing podcast, but it didn't end there. For the founder podcast with Nate, we recorded a session where I assisted him with his website design. This session was released via the newsletter as a video and we released a podcast episode about it”
Essentially, the work he was already going to do transformed into four distinct pieces of content. Josh spots opportunities for content 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. He uses a suite of different tools to aid his creative efforts, including:
- Wordpress for writing and publishing
- Substack for newsletters
- Riverside for recording and editing podcasts
- Twitter to build community with founders and share broad marketing insights
- LinkedIn for more advanced and specialized insights
Josh’s content is also powered by repurposing, which allows him to communicate the same idea across multiple platforms and mediums. He acknowledges the risk that the repetition might be too much for some people. Josh explains his perspective, “I would suggest creators not to shy away from cross-posting, especially when starting out. Remember, there will always be individuals who appreciate your content – but they need to be able to find it first.”
Start on social media, then build on a platform you own
Josh compares marketing platforms you don’t own to “borrowed land”, echoing a sentiment shared by other folks we’ve interviewed for Creators Unlocked. “Your incentives might not align perfectly with those of the platform,” he explains.
He advises creators who have seen any success secure some part of their audience – to own it somehow. This could be by building your email list or diversifying across various social media sites as protection. Direct access to your audience also allows you to nurture more profound relationships.
However, more platforms mean more challenges. You can't rely on algorithms for visibility once you manage a list or a community. Many creators attempt to monetize by offering courses or other products, and it's often a difficult transition. That 'borrowed land' is often what facilitated your success. So, while you might aim for ownership, remember that no one truly owns anyone's attention. You must consistently engage with your audience, maintain their interest, 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 plus for community building is that it offers a level of ownership that complements social media efforts rather than being directly equated with them.
Three tips for entrepreneurs-in-content, current and aspiring
Josh has an impressive creator portfolio, all on top of his work as a founder, and he’s always looking to share his advice. His content comes from a genuine want to help people and learn new skills or improve existing ones – all his content efforts fit one of these goals. He started Searching for SaaS to help his co-host Nate Bosscher in his journey as a new founder and practice speaking. He invested time in building his audience on Twitter because he was curious about what the best method would be.
Here are his tips for entrepreneurs looking to build an audience online:
- First off, I'd recommend leaning into your curiosities and interests, especially in your particular field. Even if your business seems mundane, like extermination services, there could be elements that intrigue you and could be fascinating to others. Be it certain bug behaviors or seasonal patterns, these seemingly ordinary details can provide compelling content. What's normal to you in your line of work may be new and exciting to others.
- Secondly, don't shy away from repurposing content. Many people feel pressure to produce original material but forget that not everyone sees or retains everything you put out. You can reuse content, maybe by changing the wording a bit or switching up the medium. Everyone interacts with different platforms for varied reasons, so don't be too concerned about repetition. In fact, repeating a message can emphasize its importance.
- If you struggle with generating fresh content or fear repetition, start by engaging with others on these platforms. Social media is, above all, a community, not a soapbox. View it as an opportunity to participate in conversations, reply, and interact with your audience. As you reply to your audience, you might realize you have more to say on a topic. You could then rephrase or expand upon this in a post on your own platform. Think of it as an 'AI prompt' – responding to a prompt is usually easier than creating content from scratch.
In summary, focus on your curiosities, don't fear repurposing content, and engage with your audience. These are Josh’s keys to growing and maintaining a meaningful presence online.
On his personal plans for the future, Josh shares that he’s working on a course for SaaS founders, saying, “It's not financial pressure driving me but a desire to share my knowledge and help others. My primary objective is to support founders who are interested in this journey, potentially expediting their learning process and sparing them a few missteps. Any income could be used to give back to the community, donate to a cause, or provide a little extra for my family.”
A lot of Josh’s content so far has been retrospective, recounting stories and lessons from as far back as a decade ago. The next phase will look towards the present, he explains, sharing his plans, “I want to share our evolution with our audience, showcasing the experiments we're running, what's working, what's not, on a month-to-month basis.” Expect to see more of Josh channeling his growth as a creator into growing the Referral Rock brand.