The interview summary below was prepared for Compound Writing, a paid invite-only community of online writers. Apply here.
1. The more value you provide to other people, the more value you create for yourself.
Josh cannot emphasize this point enough. Everything he does in his professional life is designed to provide value to his audience.
“The more value you provide to other people -- to your audience, to your customers -- the more value that creates for you. I think it seems obvious, but the biggest mistake most people make is that they have it reversed.
[T]hey treat their social media posts as if they're just advertising their product, or pushing their article on people, etc. That's not the way it works.
If you set out with the goal of wanting to provide people (and ideally a specific group of people that's sort of niche versus broad) value, everything you do needs to be designed to do that. I know that the more value I provide them, the more value it creates for myself.”
2. Value is about transformation. Your content should help your audience transform into who they want to become.
At the end of the day, successful content creation is a very simple formula.
“A specific group of people are at Point A, and they want to get to Point B. Your content, your value that you're providing, is the bridge. If your content is not helping them make that transformation, if it is not transformational (which, by the way, a lot of content is just interesting, not transformational), if you're not actually helping them transform, it's not valuable enough for them to become super fans.
It’s not valuable enough for them to want to pay you money for things, for them to want to give you more of their time and attention, or for them to want to share and tell other people.”
3. Your ideal audience might be who you were two or three years ago.
If value creation is about transformation, think about who you were a few years ago. That might be who you can best serve.
“When you’re trying to figure out who your audience is, in a lot of cases, your audience is you, two or three or four years ago. It’s the stuff that you were trying to figure out, that you then figured out. So if you think about the transformations you've made in your own life, or work or career art or whatever, there's a lot of people that are just further down the line where you were trying to figure out how to make those same transformations.
I'm on here talking to you about how to grow an audience and a newsletter and provide value to people, because a few years ago, I was trying to figure that out."
4. Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to your audience. Think about who you’re trying to reach and work backwards from there.
Josh says that it’s very common for creators to pursue lots of followers and subscribers without considering whether the volume actually ladders up to their strategic goals.
“I've done a lot of work with comedians in the past. I would talk to them and they would always say, ‘I want more followers.’ And I would always ask them, ‘What is your actual goal?’ One of them said to me, ‘Oh, I want to be cast in a sitcom.’ And I said, ‘Okay, well, what's going to help you get there?’
I was like, ‘Do you think you're more likely to get cast on a sitcom if you have 10,000 random people following you on Instagram, or 50 casting directors and show runners following you? You need casting directors and show runners, not 10,000 random people.’
Once you know that, you can figure out what to do on Instagram and social media that's going to get casting directors and show runners to follow you. Because again, success comes from identifying your goal and working backwards."
5. If you’re struggling as a creator, you might be doing too much. Try focusing on one platform first.
In his professional experience working with thousands of creators, Josh notices two major issues that emerge time and time again.
“In almost all cases, the reason your audience is not growing, or the reason you're struggling to accomplish something, is because you're either not doing enough or you're doing too much. It almost always falls into one of those buckets. So when I talk to someone, and they say, ‘I'm doing all this social media stuff, but it's not going anywhere.’ One of the biggest reasons is that you're trying to use 20 different platforms. If you focused on one, you probably have more success.
For myself, I used social media for years, but when I focused on Twitter and stopped using the other stuff, Twitter took off, because I was able to post more. I was able to pay more attention to it. I was able to engage with people and build true relationships there."
6. Create constraints for your content to make the creative process easier.
Josh understands better than most that it’s not easy to ship content every week. It’s hard to stare at a blank page and create something from scratch each week. He suggests creating a template or format to simplify the creative process.
“I strongly recommend picking a format. It just makes it easier. And a lot of people over-complicate it by kind of free-forming it. This is fine when you're trying to figure it out in the beginning, but it's just easier to know how you're going to do it.
In terms of how I actually put it together and write my newsletter, it's the same format every time. Once I came up with that format, I know that it’s going to be a headline, quote, excerpt, and a three-sentence paragraph summary. Once you see it, you can't unsee it. I actually wrote it up in an edition of This is How You Do It. I show exactly how I write the summaries. I also write for people to skim. I know they skim the headline, and they skim clickable text. Having your clickable text say ‘10 ways to Grow your Podcast,’ -- that's for skimmers, right? And then I have a related link that’s just something from my archive. And then on to the next one.
The structure is there to help you. But you get to choose whatever structure you want.”