EP 303: Creating A Curated Newsletter With #jesspicks Creator Jessica Williams | What Works

EP 303: Creating A Curated Newsletter With #jesspicks Creator Jessica Williams

Oct 20, 2020 | Community, Podcast

In This Episode:

  • Why Jessica Williams created #jesspicks, the curated weekly newsletter for sidehustlers who love their day job
  • How each edition of the newsletter is structured
  • Why going “all in” has been the key to growing her subscriber list
  • What her weekly workflow looks like to put the newsletter together
  • How curating the newsletter has helped her to find her confidence as a writer

When you think about someone sharing their message, you think about the writers, the speakers, the artists.

You think about people who are creating original work.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to constantly be creating original work and finding something new to say. After all, that’s how we prove how valuable we are, right?

But creating original work isn’t the only way to use your voice.

Curators use their unique perspective and keen eye for connecting the dots to create value. They build and share their message by surfacing the work of others. They tell stories through the relationships between the pieces they choose to display side by side.

I see my role as the host of this podcast as one of a curator. The way we choose the topics we’re going to cover, the conversations we’re going to showcase, and the small business owners we’re going to talk to is all an act of curation.

I take a lot of pride in curating this show and thinking through how each theme relates to the next, how each conversation builds on the last, and how each guest is the opportunity to highlight a different story.

I also send out a weekly newsletter where, yes, I do write an original little piece as a letter, but I also share a set of links that have caught my eye over the last week or so. It’s an opportunity for me to show my point of view by highlighting ideas and voices that don’t necessarily “make the rounds” in the small business space.

By the way, if you don’t get What Works Weekly, can can subscribe by going to explorewhatworks.com/weekly

I was inspired to add curation to my communication and marketing strategy by Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger and currently creating & curating at Unemployable.

Brian started talking about curation versus creation as a way to share your message and make an impact in the summer of 2019. He said that he had started to elevate the role of editor over writer because while there is a surplus of good writing, there was a poverty of attention.

In that way, curation does double duty.

It’s not only a way to share your perspective with your audience, it’s a way to do them the service of wading through the sea of original works to deliver what’s important to them.

I’m all in on curating. And I think it’s something that most small business owners should consider as a potential way to use their voice and highlight their perspective.

So to take things really meta, as I was curating this month’s Speak Up theme, I knew I wanted to include a curator.

Jessica Williams came to mind.

Jessica is the curator behind #jesspicks, a weekly newsletter for side hustlers. Jessica is herself a side hustler, working during the day at &yet, run by previous What Works guest Sarah Avenir. But on the side, she’s been helping small business owners for years.

Jessica and I talk about why she started the newsletter, what she includes each week, and how she manages her workflow to make sure it gets done. We also talk about what producing over 200 editions of the newsletter has taught her and how it’s impacted the level of confidence she feels in using her voice.

Now, let’s find out what works for Jessica Williams!

Jessica Williams: Narrowing that down to, "These are tips and resources for side hustlers," was a big leap for me. It's like, "Okay. My audience is side hustlers. Specifically my audience are side hustlers who also love their day jobs." And so I think that has helped sharpen my voice.

Tara McMullin: When you think about someone sharing their message, you think about the writers, the speakers, the artists. You think about people who are creating original work. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to constantly be creating original work, and finding something new to say. After all, that's how we prove we're valuable, right? But creating original work isn't the only way to use your voice and speak up.

I'm Tara McMullin, and this is What Works, the show that takes you behind the scenes of how small business owners are building stronger businesses through steadfast commitment and decisive action. Creating original work and dreaming up new things to say is certainly one way to use your voice. But it isn't the only way. Curators use their unique perspective and keen eye for connecting the dots to create value. They build and share their message by surfacing the work of others. They tell stories through the relationships between the pieces they choose to display side by side.

I see my role as the host of this podcast as one of a curator. The way we choose the topics we're going to cover, the conversations we're going to showcase, and the small business owners we're going to talk to, it's all an act of curation. I see my role as the host of this podcast as one of a curator. The way we choose the topics we're going to cover, the conversations we're going to showcase, and the small business owners we're going to talk to, it's all an act of curation. I take a lot of pride in curating this show and thinking through how each theme relates to the next, how each conversation builds on the last, and how each guest is the opportunity to highlight a different story.

I also send out a weekly newsletter where, sure, I do write an original little piece as a letter, but I also share a set of links that have caught my eye over the last week or so. It's an opportunity for me to show my point of view by highlighting ideas and voices that don't necessarily make the rounds in the small business space. By the way, if you don't already get What Works Weekly, you can subscribe by going to explorewhatworks.com/weekly.

I was inspired to add curation to my communication and marketing strategy by Brian Clark, the founder of Copyblogger and currently creating and curating and Unemployable. Brian started talking about curation versus creation as a way to share your message and make an impact in the summer of 2019. He said that he had started to elevate the role of editor over writer, because while there's a surplus of good writing, there was a poverty of attention. In that way, curation does double duty. It's not only a way to share your perspective with your audience. It's a way to do them the service of wading through the sea of original works to deliver what's important to them.

Now I'm all-in on curating. And I think it's something that most small business owners should consider as a potential way to use their voice and highlight their perspective. So to take things really meta, as I was curating this month's Speak Up theme, I knew I wanted to include a curator. And Jessica Williams came to mind. Jessica is the curator behind Jess Picks, a weekly newsletter for side hustlers. Jessica is, herself, a side hustler, working during the day at &Yet, run by previous What Works guest Sarah Avenir. But on the side, she's been helping side business owners for years.

Jessica and I talk about why she started the newsletter, what she includes each week, and how she manages her workflow to make sure it gets done. We also talk about what producing over 200 editions of the newsletter has taught her, and how it's impacted the level of confidence she feels in using her voice.

Now, let's find out what works for Jessica Williams.

Jessica Williams, welcome to What Works. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Jessica Williams: Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited.

Tara McMullin: I am excited too. As a newsletter writer, I am really excited to talk to another newsletter writer and find out more about your process and your vision and how you put the whole thing together. And you have a ton of experience with this. You have put together far more editions of your newsletter than I have put together of mine. So I am super duper excited. You have over 200 editions of Jess Picks. That's amazing. But before we get to where you are now, I'd like to go back to the beginning. Tell me about the decision to even start a newsletter in the first place.

Jessica Williams: Yeah sure. So my side hustle, which is Tech Biz Girl, has gone through an evolution of its own, and for a long time I was basically doing tech services for other solopreneurs. They were struggling with tech and I was their go-to tech person. But that shifted as my day job shifted, because I found myself having less time or dealing with challenging schedules and all that kind of stuff. And in all of that, in the midst of all of that, just my communication with my audience was suffering. I've always been on again, off again blogger. For some reason I can't get that consistent. I don't know what it is. Probably need to think about it.

But anyways, I had started a new job. So this was about four years ago. I had started a new job, which was very much in line with some of my passions. As my day job I was helping women build companies, which was amazing. But I still wanted to do something for my people, because I feel like I had been MIA at that point for a year or two. But my day job was also pretty demanding and mentally draining. So I'm like, "What can I do with a little bit of time that I have every week for my people so that I can still help them?" And I think it was a series of things that came together all at once. I'm a big fun of AppSumo, so I'm always trying to take advantage of their lifetime deals, and I had bought this subscription to this newsletter engine, so to speak, that was all about curating articles.

And I think at the same time, I had seen a few people do these curated types of newsletters, and I think I also had an epiphany of, I was already doing that anyways. It was just on social media, and there was not anything to tie them all together. So I think it was a series of things that happened that all came to me at once. And then it's like, maybe I can use this tool that I already have, do the things I'm already doing anyways, and just turn it into this newsletter. And Jess Picks, the name, I don't even know where that came from. It was just something that I had been using and it stuck. It's a thing with me and naming. And I'm just like, "Okay. I'm going to..." Because I had a list, at that time, but it was pretty stagnant.

So I'm like, "Okay I'm going to move to this new platform, and I'm going to call it Jess Picks and that's what's going to be the thing." And I basically sent an email, I imported my list over to this new newsletter tool called Review, and I wrote my first issue and I think the title of Updates and Jess Picks. And then I was like, "Hey I'm doing this thing. I'm going to curate stuff every week and I hope you like it." And that was the beginning of Jess Picks.

Tara McMullin: Awesome. Did you have a revenue... Did you have an idea of how you were going to make money from the thing from the beginning? Or were you just trying to talk with people again?

Jessica Williams: Yeah I was just trying to talk with people again. I think that it was... I was struggling at the time with what I wanted to do service-wise for my business, because I had a lack of time and I was struggling with how I could show up and serve my audience. So I'm like, "At least for now, let me just serve them in this way and just give them valuable, helpful content." And that was my plan. I didn't have anything in mind other than that.

Tara McMullin: Gotcha. So the time is issue, that seemed like a hurdle that you were getting over, but were there any fears or concerns or obstacles that were in your mind when you were thinking about getting the thing started or in the process of sending out those first few editions?

Jessica Williams: Yeah. I think a lot of it was probably mind stuff. I think I call it mind gunk. It's like, "Well who am I to do this curated newsletter? I'm not an authority in anything, so why are people going to listen to me?" So that was a fear. I think just being able to do it consistently, even though I was like, "If this is the one thing I can do consistently I'd be great." I think I still was afraid that I wouldn't be able to do it consistently and put it out week after week. And doing a newsletter in this way would actually be helpful. Those were some of the thoughts that were in my head. I don't know if doing it this way would be helpful because I think at the time, too.

I didn't see a lot of people doing that type of newsletter. I saw people doing very traditional newsletters, and I think even the whole curation thing just really has taken off a lot in the last couple years. And then I think it was still pretty new. I hadn't seen a lot of examples. So yeah. I think a lot of it was like, "Is this even going to be helpful? Will I be able to keep up with it? Will I be able to do it every week?"

Tara McMullin: Yeah. Can you describe how the newsletter is formatted today? If we were to open up an edition of Jess Picks, can you lay out what we would see in front of us?

Jessica Williams: Yes. So I do something untraditional with my subject lines, which probably breaks every marketing rule. My subject line is always a quote. It's something that I started doing probably some time in year one, and it just stuck. And I think it does pretty well. Weird, but it does.

Tara McMullin: I like it.

Jessica Williams: Right? I think it's fun and different. So once you read the quote, the top section is typically where I'll include a personal note about something I learned or something that happened that week. Like my newsletter subscribers know that I had an ankle injury recently, that I launched a new website. I talk a little bit about life and business in that section. After that, I have a "Loves" section. I've gone back and forth with this, but I'm starting to hear that people like it, so I'll typically round up some things that I'm watching, shows, movies, books that I'm reading, things I'm listening to which could be music or podcasts. And what else do I do? Oh, tool. A tech tool or something that I am geeking out about that week or something. And then after the "Loves" section. I have a "Reads."

So those are the articles that I've curated for that week. Typically I do between three and five, and I started pulling in some tweets, too, that I'm starting to see that are fun. Some of them are individual tweets. Some are tweet threads that I think are useful for people to read. And I do a, I call it my live vibes section. So I'll typically include some graphic goal quote or inspirational message or something like that. And then I have a, "In case you miss it" section, which typically I'll just highlight what the top pick from the previous week. So-

Tara McMullin: Oh that's such a good idea.

Jessica Williams: Yeah. The top-clicked link, I'll include that in that section. And then sometimes you see people click on it again in this issue, which is really cool.

Tara McMullin: I have not noticed that before. And now I'm like, "Oh my God I have to steal that."

Jessica Williams: Yeah. I saw a couple other newsletter writer, creators, do it and I was like, "I'm going to add this because this is fun." So that's what we do, right? We find things that other people are doing that are cool and try it out for ourselves.

Tara McMullin: Totally. Absolutely. So one thing that I know is in there is that you also put shoutouts to people who buy you coffee.

Jessica Williams: Oh that's right. Right. Thank you Tara. I forgot about that.

Tara McMullin: You're welcome. I curious about this part. I want to hear about it.

Jessica Williams: Yes. So buying me a coffee is essentially is, if you're familiar with Patreon or services like that where readers or supporters can give you financial donations. Buying me a coffee is very similar to that. So I have a page set up, and what I started doing... I didn't do this at the beginning, but I've started doing and I like it a lot is, whoever bought me coffee in that week, I'll give them a shoutout and say who they are, what they do, and link to something of theirs whether that's their website or their Twitter, LinkedIn account, something like that. One, I think it's good because it's a shoutout. They're also added to the supporters section, which I also failed to mention earlier. I have a supporters section at the bottom of my newsletter, so everyone who's ever bought me coffee I include their names. So I like doing it because it's a nice thank you. But I think it also indirectly reminds people that, "Hey I have this buy me a coffee page." So they can still buy me coffee.

Tara McMullin: Yeah. Totally. I love it. And it's so... There's a part of it that I think probably... If someone was considering shouting their customers out in their newsletter, they'd be like, "Ooh is that too direct? Is that too on the nose?" But there's something, to me anyway, really beautiful about it because you're celebrating the fact that people are supporting you. You are being completely up front about it. It makes so much sense, and I just really love it and thank you for sharing how you do it and why you do it, and what the result of it is because... Yeah. What a little, easy way to remind people that they can support you, and what an easy way to thank people who do support you. It's really brilliant in just a simple, beautiful way.

Jessica Williams: Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that.

Tara McMullin: Absolutely. So are you still delivering the newsletter on the same platform as when you started?

Jessica Williams: I am, surprisingly enough. Sometimes I want to move, but I like Review so much. It just makes a lot of, I guess, the operations of the newsletter just so much easier. So I just hesitate to move for some features.

Tara McMullin: Totally. Totally. How much growth have you seen over the years that you've been putting it together? You don't have to give us exact numbers, but even just an idea of, have you doubled your list size? Have you quadruple your list size? How has your subscriber count moved over the years?

Jessica Williams: Well that's what's interesting. So it's almost like when you really go all-in on something, you start to notice change. So I've been doing this newsletter for four years now, and I think probably for the last three years or so, it's hovered around this 250 to 350 subscriber count. It's small, but my engagement is great. But I'm like, "How do I grow?" I'm struggling to figure out how I grow, and I think at the end of last year it was very much, "Okay. My newsletter needs to be my number one call to action for anything that I do." Whether that's a podcast or a speaking gig or what have you. And I think even just focusing on that was helpful, but I think also just building up all of this street cred, if you will, over the years. I'm joining communities with other newsletter writers and all that kind of stuff. My newsletter jumped up... Because my goal for this year was to hit 500 subscribers, and I was a little over 300 in January. And I'm at 500 now.

Tara McMullin: Nice.

Jessica Williams: I hit my goal the same week I sent my 200th issue, which was gravy. It was amazing. It was a great week. I was dancing around the house. It was awesome. But I think a lot of that was certain people started shouting out my newsletter, right? Because sometimes I think it's like being consistent over time, people see that you're here and you're not going anywhere. And I think having more people share it really made a big difference in the growth this year.

Tara McMullin: Awesome. And congratulations on both milestones. So huge.

You'll hear about Jessica's workflow for putting the newsletter together each week in just a minute. But first, a word from our What Works partners.

What Works is brought to you but the What Works Network. You have a bold vision for your small business. You can see it all grown up with efficient systems, effective offers and a sustainable business model that pays you well. And the gap between where you're at and that bold vision can feel daunting. At times, you feel like you're spinning your wheels. You work in fits and starts on building that bold vision for your business, but as time passes, you realize you haven't made a ton of progress. You're hard at work, day in and day out, and you're largely doing the same things, getting the same results. Now it's really tempting to think that the key to picking up the pace is a magic formula or a shiny object. But you know better. You know the key to growing through this phase and into the next is consistent action and uncompromising commitment to making your business stronger every single day.

So what's stopping you? Well my guess is that it's a lack of focus, a lack of structure and a lack of support. And the What Works Network is designed to help with all three. Each month, we focus on a different aspect of building a stronger business, just like we do here on the show. This month, it's speaking up. Next month is leveling up. And in December, we're focused on leading yourself and your business. Now we layer a solid structure onto that focus by giving you an action planning kit you can use each month to commit to a project, process or principle. And then we check in with you throughout the month in weekly and monthly events to help you make progress and get unstuck. And of course we're here to support you with on demand, go at your own pace community support on our dedicated platform. Focus, structure and support. All to help you to take consistent action toward the bold vision you have for your business.

Now we're opening the doors to the What Works Network soon, and next month we're focusing on leveling up. How we can learn new skills to grow a stronger business. Get your invitation to the What Works Network by going to explorewhatworks.com/network. That's explorewhatworks.com/network.

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The thing I'm absolutely most curious about is your process for how you put your newsletter together. I am fascinated by people's process in general, but especially when it comes to this, because the whole world is available to you to put in your newsletter. How do you decide? Where do you look? How do you decide what goes in there? Just walk me through, from beginning to end, from where you find the stuff to how it actually gets in the newsletter. Walk me through it.

Jessica Williams: Okay. I will try. I will try to walk you throw it. So Review, which is my newsletter engine, one of the features that I love about it is that it has this thing called an inbox. I think that's the correct name. And they have these plugins that you can add on your phone and your browser. So if I see an article that I'm reading, I can just click "add to Review Inbox." So then it's in my queue, and I can pull it into my newsletter if I so decide. So just by virtue of me being a very curious person that's always learning and always browsing the internet and finding cool stuff, that feature is very helpful. So as I see things, I'll just add them to my inbox. Those won't necessarily make it in the issue now or in the future, but maybe. So those are potentials.

Also I've been following a lot of blogs over the years, so... Of course I can't think of any now. So Side Hustle Nation, Chris Guillebeau. Just a bunch of sites that I've found really helpful over the years. I use a tool called Feedly. It's an RSS aggregator. So any blog that I find that I love, I basically add it to Feedly so then that way when I'm in my bed, when I'm done for work, when I'm back in the days when we were commuting, when I'm community, I can just go through my Feedly and see what's new and happening and find articles that way as well. And then sometimes I will also add those articles to Pocket, which another tool that I love, which is basically a tool that you can use to save a webpage to read later. So a lot of different places, but Feedly is probably my number one place to find new content. I'm on a bunch of other newsletters too. But I'm always... I guess my brain is always looking for cool things I can include in Jess Picks.

Jess Picks is always top of mind for me, so as I find stuff I'm always like, "Okay. That's going to go in there." Or, "That's a potential for the week." Or whatever. So that's where I find I stuff. Even tweets and all that kind of stuff. I add it to the inbox, I add it to Pocket. And that's where I find my content. Then the actual newsletter, so basically as soon as I send a newsletter, I duplicate it and then just go through and erase all the stuff that's not going to be applicable for the next week. So every time I send a newsletter, I'll go in that Monday, duplicate the previous one, and then I'll start... For the personal notes section, I'll typically jot down some ideas of what I might cover that next week. The loves, I will typically... It depends.

Sometimes I'll know exactly what is happening. Sometimes I won't know, and it's very much, "What's going to happen next week? Oh, so I'll just figure it out on Friday," which is when I mostly put it together. And then the articles and all that kind of stuff, it's very much if I have some ideas that I already know are in my queue, I'll pull them in. And then that'll help me figure out, "Do I need to be actively looking for something else to pull in this week? Or can I chill out on that? I don't know. TBD." So that's how the process works. And then I basically have that tab open on my laptop always. So if I find something that... If I think of something, if I find something, I go to my review current issue and I just put it in there. I might now put a full description, but I'll put a little note.

And then typically on Fridays, sometime on Friday, I finish it up. So if I haven't written a personal section, if I haven't found articles, if I haven't done the loves. And honestly if I can't think of certain things, I probably will just delete it. So sometimes there have been love sections where I didn't have what I was reading that week, probably because I wasn't reading that week. So I do that too because one of the things that I think I've learned in doing this newsletter consistently is that it really forces you into that done versus perfect, I guess, methodology. Because it's like, "Okay people are expecting it Saturday at 6:00 AM, so I got to send it whether it's perfect or not." So even though it's not perfect in my mind, it has to be good enough to send out in the morning.

And sometimes it's just my perfectionism working against me, and the issue's still great and I'm just like, "No but I need to add more." So that's a good thing about having it being sent out at a certain time. So Fridays is typically my day to basically pull it all together, and then schedule it to go out. And I always send it Saturdays at 6:00 AM. That's my time, which is also kind of random. I wanted it to be a weekend thing since my target was side hustlers. Did that answer that question? I know I kind of went all around.

Tara McMullin: No, no. It was perfect. Thank you. There are so many parts of it that are similar to my process as well, but I think the biggest difference is, you working on it throughout the week. I can typically get the letter part of mine done ahead of time, in the day or two before, but I'm always working on the curation part at the last minute. I mean I'm curating all week long. I'm pulling... I use a lot of the same tools that you do and I'm pulling things in and looking through them, but that's always my last minute piece. It was my last minute piece today. It'll be my last minute piece next week. But maybe I can be inspired by you and try and work on it throughout the week instead of waiting until the last minute. Awesome. Okay so let's talk goals now. You mentioned at the beginning that your goal was mostly to connect with your audience and to start sharing things with them again. How has your goal for the newsletter changed? What's your goal today?

Jessica Williams: That's a good question. I mean I think I've been focused on growing it, so getting 500 subscribers was a huge milestone for me which I thought was pretty amazing. So of course now I'm like, "Okay next milestone. 750. 750 subscribers." And I think I would like to get it to a point where I feel like once I get to 1000 subscribers, I may be at a point where I can maybe look at some other revenue streams, like ads for example, or sponsorships. I'm still learning a lot about that side of revenue and newsletters and all that kind of stuff. But yeah, my goal now is continuing to make it the focal point of what I do. So it's going to continue to be my call to action for things, because it's the thing where I show up consistently for my people. So that's why I want to plug it and continue growing that subscriber base.

As far as support, the financial support I get, even from just the coffee subscribers. I think I average around 50 bucks a month, which is still really awesome. I actually just looked at that today and I was like, "Awesome."

Tara McMullin: That's a pretty great conversion rate, I mean honestly.

Jessica Williams: Yeah. I was just like, "I'll take that." So I mean I'm still continuing to learn more about just that. I feel like a lot of people are making businesses out of newsletters, and I'm continuing to learn about that to see what makes sense for what I'm doing. Because I like the idea of doing... Buy me a coffee is just so fun and I think it's a low lift for people. It'd be nice to maybe have some partnerships at some point, with people who want to target side hustlers and have those types of possible revenue opportunities. I think that will come with the subscriber growth. So for right now, it's continue putting out good content, continue to get clearer on, what are the people that get on my list really looking for help with and maybe even niching down those curated articles even more.

So just really refining it and improving it is really my focus because I think this newsletter has pretty much made me this side hustle resource because it's, again, my main way of showing up. And who knows what that can open for me. We're talking because of my newsletter, which is awesome. So there might open up other opportunities. Not hard growth goals I guess, but mostly about continuing to improve the process, continuing to grow my subscribers and really helping however I can, because what I realized through this is I love curation and I think I do it without thinking about it. So I just want to get better at it.

Tara McMullin: Yeah. Well okay so let's... That's a perfect segue into what I want to talk about next. So the theme on What Works for this month is speaking up and how we use our voices. And I really wanted to bring a curator into the show this month because I think it's not all about saying something new, or making something. Curating is incredibly valuable and it's an incredibly valuable way to use your voice. So I guess this is probably a hard question to answer and it's a hard question to ask, but what I really want to know is how your voice as a curator, your eye as a curator, has evolved over time. And maybe how you approach things differently today than maybe you did four years ago.

Jessica Williams: Yeah. Yeah that is a hard question to answer. I feel like it has improved. I think when I first started this newsletter, it was just like, "I'm going to share productivity tips and fun things that I found throughout the week." And even narrowing that down to, "These are tips and resources for side hustlers," was a big leap for me. But it was like, the more I do it, the clearer I'm getting even if I don't realize it at the time, if that makes sense.

Tara McMullin: Totally.

Jessica Williams: So even just that has been... It's like, "Okay my audience is side hustlers. Even specifically my audience are side hustlers who also love their day jobs, and that's okay. Side hustlers who don't necessarily want to go full-time." I think my voice and even my opinions around side hustlers have gotten better just by virtue of seeing all these articles and talking to side hustlers and seeing all these people feeling pressured to do things that they don't necessarily want to do. And so I think that has helped sharpen my voice, and I think even writing my personal notes every week, because that's the main piece of writing I'm putting out publicly. I just think even that's gotten better. And for a long time I was like, "I don't even know if people want to hear about my life or what's going on with me." But when I surveyed my subscribers, that was their favorite section. I was like, "Wow. That's not what I expected." Not what I expected at all. So, yeah. I think it's just putting stuff out there and getting feedback has been great.

The other thing that I'm trying to do a little bit better of is... So I'm pulling in a bunch of curated articles, and just curated things in general, really talking about why I love those things, or why I'm including it, or what I like about it, how I disagree with it. Really trying to make sure that I'm putting my opinion in it, because you can also say that anyone can curate anything, right? A lot of people want to know why you are including this particular thing, or why you think this needs to be read or watched or whatever. So I have power as a curator, so how do I use that power for good? I think those are some of the things that have been swirling in my mind in terms of growth.

And just really being comfortable just saying, "I'm going to share the favorite TV show I watched this week." And that's going to be okay and people love it. I think even just feeling more comfortable sharing those types of things, you never know how it's going to be received, but some people like that part. Also because it's fun. It's not all business. And it's like you're a person too.

Tara McMullin: Yeah. Well and just to bring things full circle back to one of the things you said at the very beginning, which is that you realized you had been curating things on social media for a long time. It was already part of what you were doing. And I think things like writing personal notes, sharing what you're watching on TV or what you're listening to. That's part of the curation that we naturally do on social media, and we don't think twice about it. But then we do start thinking twice about it when we ask for people's email address and promise to send them a newsletter every week. But that is the stuff that people love because they do love, not just the stuff you're sending them, but they love your point of view.

And I think that is, to me, that's why curation is an important part of how we learn to speak up, because if that's something you're interested in, if you have that eye for pulling things together and why they're important and why you might disagree with them like you said, that is its own part of your voice, your perspective. And that's what people want to hear, whether you have a teeny tiny, itty bitty business, or whether you have a giant business. People want that connection with you. And I just think newsletters are such a beautiful way to do it.

I'm trying to think. There's all sorts of more things I could ask you. One thing that we haven't covered that I'm curious about is, what is the state of your side hustle now? Is the newsletter your side hustle now? Or are there other things that you're doing in addition to that?

Jessica Williams: Yeah that is something that's constantly evolving, I think, just as I am personally. My newsletter's my main thing. I am experimenting with doing some coaching on the side. I don't think I want that to be a primary thing for me, also because I have limited time. So an offering that I'm really excited about promoting a little bit more... I need to promote myself a little bit better. That's a topic for another day. Is this side hustle office hours. It's essentially hire me for a day, we'll chat over Voxer. Talk about your side hustle. I'm really excited about it because it's a little bit different than traditional coaching type offerings, but it also fits the life of a side hustler. If you're not tied to your phone, but you are able to chat with a person back and forth using a tool that lets you do audio and text, that could be pretty cool.

So I think that's going to be a way for people to get one-on-one attention. I've also done a few workshops that I want to do more of as well. I've done workshops in partnership with a friend on starting a side hustle, and there might be some more that I host on my own. I'm still thinking through that. But yeah, I think I really want to try to reach as many people as I can in some way. I'm noodling this idea around an e-book or a course, but I'm not sure about that just yet. But yeah. I think the newsletter's the main thing, but there are some other things that I'm thinking about that still fit in with this life I'm trying to live. Because I do have a day job. I have a side hustle. I take care of grandma. So I have a lot of things going on, so I want to do something that I can still do, still be helpful, but fit within the wackiness that I have going on too.

Tara McMullin: Totally. Totally. I love that. And I just love how comfortable you are with the pace of things, too. So often the conversation is all about, how do you grow faster? How do you make more money? How do you do this, this, this, this, this? And it's just so frantic. And I love the consistency and pace and comfort and calmness that I hear you talking about this with. And I think those of us who are not side hustlers could learn from that a little bit I think.

Jessica Williams: Yeah. But what helps in that case is, I have a day job that's taking care of my expenses. So I don't feel this pressure to make money, make money, make money, or hustle. And that's really what I try to tell people that I work with. First of all, you don't have to take your side hustle full-time. I think there's a lot of pressure around that, and it's like, there are a lot of people that like their day jobs and still want to have something of their own, and it can be small and that's okay. I don't want people to get caught up in this hustle culture or team no sleep culture, which I hate, because you also have to have a life. You're doing all this so that you have a better life. So actually live that life, too, and take care of yourself.

Tara McMullin: Amen to that.

Jessica Williams: Right? So if anyone can learn from my example, somebody out there.

Tara McMullin: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. All right, so you've hinted at this a little bit but I'm curious specifically as the newsletter is related, if you were to look into your crystal ball, what are you seeing as the future of Jess Picks?

Jessica Williams: I don't see it going away. I feel like it's very much going to be around for years to come. I would love it to be this media empire almost. I've looked at other newsletter like The Skim or Girls Night In. They're making money from essentially their newsletter. Some of them have associated websites as well, but the newsletter is the main moneymaker. So I would love it to just be the go-to side hustler newsletter, and then become this media empire, so to speak. In a way. I'm not trying to take over the world or anything. But I would love to just have partnerships with friends, do affiliate marketing for my favorite stuff, and at least from a monetary standpoint, having money come in that way. But also to continue doing the things that I do best, which is curation. And writing. My writing has gotten so much better. And just showing up that way. Plus I think I can reach more people with my newsletter than I can just doing coaching, for example. So yeah. I think that's what I see. I don't know what the actual path is, but those are the things I've been thinking about. So I've really been trying to just surround myself with other newsletter creators and see what they're doing just to see, "Okay how can I position Jess Picks to make money that way, and just become this go-to resource for a certain group of people."

Tara McMullin: I love it. Jess, the question I ask everyone at the end of the interview is, what are you most excited about right now?

Jessica Williams: What am I most excited about right now? I just launched my new website, because I just love celebrating a lot of things at once, and I love it. The theme is really fun. It feels light. It feels like I can bring my full personality there. So I'm just excited to see how I can pull Jess Picks into that a little bit more. So one of things I've started doing is taking my curated articles from the past couple issues and including them as blog posts on my site, which I'm just really excited about, seeing what that does. It's just something news that I'm trying. So I'm really excited about that. I'm really excited about continuing to grow the newsletter and... yeah those are probably the main things. The other thing, on a personal note, is once the pandemic is over and people want to go to concerts and big events like that again, I'm excited to perform and dance to some Broadway songs on stage, hopefully next year. So that's also something I'm excited about.

Tara McMullin: Amazing. I can't wait to hear all about it. Jessica Williams, thank you so much for sharing your process and the mindset behind your newsletter and how that's helping you use your voice and use your amazing skills for curation. Thank you so much.

Jessica Williams: Thank you so much for having me. This has been awesome.

Tara McMullin: Creating original work is only one way to use your voice. Curation is another. Curating ideas, curating stories, curating links or resources or panels, is a truly valuable way to share your perspective and offer your audience something that can shift their world. The good news is that you don't have to commit to a weekly newsletter or a weekly podcast to try it out. You can experiment with curating right now on social media. Twitter, Instagram Stories, and LinkedIn are all great places to bring together work that others have created with your unique point of view. Let me know if you try it out. Find out more about Jessica Williams and sign up for Jess Picks by going to techbizgurl.com. That's T E C H B I Z G U R L dot com.

Next week on the show, I'm talking with rebel therapist Annie Shuessler about how she's found her voice as a podcaster and stretched to showcase her voice on other people's podcasts too.

What Works is produced by Yellow House Media. Our production coordinator is Shawn McMullin. This episode was edited by Marty Sefelt, and our production assistants are Kristen Runvik and Lou Blazer. Get more of What Works delivered to your inbox every Thursday. I share a letter on sharing a stronger business and becoming a stronger leader as well as hand-picked resources to help you grow in our free weekly newsletter. Go to explorewhatworks.com/weekly to sign up.

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Host of What Works

Tara is a podcaster, small business community leader, strategist, and speaker. She’s been helping small business owners build stronger businesses for over a decade.  

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