Ep. 156: How this remote entrepreneur uses organic marketing to help businesses grow with Jessica Thiefels
In this week’s episode, I speak with Jessica who is a content marketing consultant, coach, host of the Mindset Reset Radio podcast, and mindset shifter.
Her goal is to flip your perspective on what’s possible by teaching you how to get intentional in life, business, and career.
Jessica has also published her first book “10 Questions That Answer Life’s Biggest Questions”. 50% of the first month of the book’s proceeds go to Alight, an organization providing COVID support globally.
Listen on to find out his Jessica uses organic marketing and mindset shifting to help businesses grow.
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Hey everyone. Thank you so much for being here. I’m super excited to be with Jessica. Hey, Jessica, who are you?
I’m good. How are you?
I’m wonderful. Can you tell us a little bit about you and why you live an offbeat life?
Sure. I’m an organic content marketer. My whole career I’ve done content strategy, social media strategy, social media marketing – pretty much anything that falls under the umbrella of content marketing that’s not paid.
I run that as my business and I’m currently building out another sort of, I guess, a branch of my business. I just released a podcast, Mindset Reset Radio, which I’m super excited about. And on this other side of my business, it’s really mindset focused.
It came out of, I suppose, living an offbeat life. Living very intentionally has been something that’s always been important to me. I define living with intention as you don’t just have a plan or goals but you’re actively choosing to move toward those goals or move along that plan, even when it’s very difficult to do that.
So often it’s easier to choose the quick win or the immediate gratification rather than saying, “No, I want to stay focused and moving ahead towards what I really care about, what I really want.” You know that I have written a book that I’m hoping to secure a publisher for this year and then, release a podcast. Just building a community of what I call “Intention Getters” – people that want to live with intention and move with power towards whatever it is that they want.
And because I work for myself and I run my own business, in 2019, my husband and I actually traveled the world for 8 months. We did that while I was running my business and writing a book. So that was really, really incredible and it was just like one giant bucket list item that we have both been wanting to do for a long time and it finally seemed like the right time to do that.
We traveled everywhere from Australia to Southeast Asia to Europe and Northern Africa over the course of 8 months. So that’s part of my offbeat life and I moved cross-country twice about a week ago.
Well, that’s a lot of transition for you within the last year or so. That must have been a huge journey. How did you even prepare for that to make those huge changes and leaps with your life?
That’s a good question. It has definitely been a challenge. The leaps to travel and move weren’t the challenge, what’s been challenging is really settling in after having traveled for so long. I mean pre-traveling last year was definitely just a lot of, “I don’t know what this is going to look like. I don’t know if I’m even going to be able to get work done. Am I going to be able to keep my business afloat? What is that all look like?” Because pretty much every place we were going we’ve never been to before and I’ve run my business remotely for a long time, but not while traveling the world.
So, there was a bit of mental prep like, “Okay. We’re just going to figure this out as we go.” And for anyone who’s listening, who’s traveled on an extended trip globally: it’s actually not as difficult as it seems. It got to the point where we were just like poking our next location like three days before we were going there. It’s just so easy to actually do and then I moved back here was a little strange.
So I just moved from San Diego, where I live for 9 years, back to my home state of Vermont where I’m living over a month right now. And that was not bad because we were ready. We were very much ready to leave San Diego and come back here.
But being back here has been really challenging because, not only are we on quarantine, we can’t do any of the things that we know and love here in Burlington. But it’s the first time we were settling in a year. It’s been almost exactly a year the day that we moved here from when we left for Australia last year.
So it’s just been a challenge settling in and being okay with knowing that we aren’t going to be traveling anytime soon.
I think it’s a lot of challenges for people who are constantly on the go and then now they find themselves staying put and they have no choice but to do that as well.
Yeah. It’s really hard and especially not knowing when we are going to be able to travel. We were planning on spending the month of November in New Zealand this year. And if I knew like, “November will be fine.” Then, that would be great but it’s such an indefinite space that we are all in right now that it just makes it even harder ‘cause you just don’t know when we’re going to be able to do that again.
With all of the transitions that you have made from not just working remotely but being a digital Nomad to now moving cross-country, have you had any “what now?” moments after doing all of these different types of Journeys right now?
Well, I suppose right now feels like a “what now?” moment though there’s so much going on.
No, I think, honestly, at this point, it was probably the second full month of our trip that we realized we were thinking about moving. So, we owned a house in San Diego ‘cause we had no intention of leaving San Diego.
So, in about our second month of travel, my husband and I both realized we were sort of feeling pulled back to Vermont. We didn’t say anything to anybody for probably two or three months ‘cause we wanted to just like let it sit and see if that felt right.
So, once we decided it didn’t feel right, we are big planners, we made a plan to live in Vermont mid-December through the first week of March. My grandparents live in Florida for the winter so we were able to live in their house just to make sure we definitely want to be here.
We knew that was coming. And then when we were here, we knew that if we were feeling good about it we would want to try to get a lease for an apartment. So we had a place to come back to because we were planning on coming back in the early or late spring I guess.
We knew that was coming and then we knew this was coming. We’re only in San Diego for a little over a month before moving back. So I don’t feel like there are many of those moments but only because like we’re just big on planning things. So we always sort of knew what was coming up next.
What would you say has been the most helpful for you when you are making these changes? I know that you say you like to plan things. What are some of the things that you automatically go to when you are through these processes?
I suppose it always starts from a place of ideals. So like, “What do we want most? What would be the ideal scenario and how can we make a plan for that?” For example, we want to get an apartment, we want to sign a lease, we started looking at apartments, but there are few new apartments in the Burlington area, specifically the ones which are living in our rate on the water.
So Burlington Vermont is right on Lake Champlain, it’s very beautiful. I’m staring at the lake as we speak. So it was sort of like the ideal would be that we’re on the water because we’d like to be there for the summer. Traveling and just life in general, we both have always been drawn to the water.
Then, the plan was like, “Okay, let’s go and look for places that fit that description and then go backward from there.” So, we sort of have a “back into it” approach and only compromise as needed. So that’s generally where the planning starts and then it’s just figuring out what works and sticking to to-do lists.
I’m a big to-do list person. If it’s not on my to-do list, it won’t get done. Pros and cons list, checklist; any sort of list is usually a tool in our planning process.
I can definitely agree with that. I love checklists, it makes life so much easier.
Let’s go back to when you first started your company and starting organic content marketing. How did you decide to pinpoint that specific niche for yourself?
That’s a good question. I was sort of thrust into organic content marketing in my first job. My first salary job, I can’t believe I was getting paid full-time to write all day. In that position, that very first one, I started learning things that I use every day in my business now.
So, I was learning about SEO which is search engine optimization. I was learning about link building which is a tool that you can use to boost your website’s SEO. I was just sort of put into it and then one day, actually my entire team got fired except for me and they were like, “Okay, no one is here to do social media anymore so figure it out.”
So, I sort of just like trial by fire, learned as I went and I had, I think, six jobs in seven years. Each job, I was being very intentional and I was specifically leaving to move into a higher position or position where I would be happier and more fulfilled. But along that path, I was able to just learn such a variety of skills and all of them happen to fall under the organic umbrella.
I have done some paid advertising but I just didn’t like it. I’m not a math person, I’m not a budget person. So, for me, it just didn’t feel like a good fit, it just started actually really stressed me out. If you’ve ever run a paid campaign, you’ll know that it’s really stressful if you don’t know what you’re doing.
So, I just sort of made the decision like, “I’m good not doing paid. I don’t really want to learn about how that works or get better at it.” There are so many people that do paid advertising. So, I sort of fell into it and then I was working contract for a digital marketing agency – remote.
And because of the work I was doing for them, I was naturally starting to pick up clients on the side. And so, I sort of started building a side hustle with all these different things that I do like link building, freelance writing, and social media management. I, eventually, in July of 2018, got to a point where I didn’t know if I was ready to take it full time, but I was just sort of put in a position where it was like, “This is the only option.”
So, I already had some clients and I was like, “Okay. If I have 40 hours a week to do this and to be focused on this business, I’m pretty sure I can build it,” – and I did. So, I sort of just organically, I guess for lack of a better word, made my way there and then was able to turn into the business I run now.
When you first started out and you didn’t have a lot of experience, how are you able to find the people that you were going to be working for? And once you actually knew and had the experience, how did you land your first clients?
This is always a hard question for me to answer because it, honestly, just was happening. So I didn’t say to myself, “I want to start a business.” I didn’t know that I wanted to be a business owner. When I was working remotely, I just happened to be picking up clients and I’ve always done freelance writing on the side in addition to my full-time job just as a writer – why not?
I was able to get clients through friends that I worked with and stuff. They would just introduce me and I was doing freelance work for an old boss of mine. So when I started building my business, it just happened naturally because of the way that I run my business.
I feel like I’m talking circles around this. It happened naturally because I do a lot of link building. So, link building is a process where, the way that I do it, I write articles for websites and then I get links to my client’s website in that article. I write for really great websites like Business Insider, Fast Company, Virgin, and GlassDoor.
And so, because I’m doing so much outreach, because I need to be finding new sites to get to write for so I can get my clients links on them, I’m inherently, like basically, multiple times a week, doing sales outreach. That’s not the point of it but I’m reaching out to the people who are hiring freelance writers or contractors.
So, because of that I very often will get a response but I reach out saying, “Can I talk to the person who manages to blog? Someone to look at my website.” And I’ll get a response saying, “That’s me. We’re looking for freelance writers,” or, “We’re looking to hire a contractor. Are you interested in talking?
That is honestly how most of my clients have come to me. And now, as a more established business, I put a lot of focus on my website because as a business owner, if you put too much stock in social media and like let’s say Facebook blows up tomorrow, what do you have? If you’re not ranking for any terms, you’re not able to get people to your site. You’re going to have this massive gaping hole in how you actually drive leads.
So, as an organic marketer, I know that’s important. So I put a lot of focus on our website in creating fresh content and SEO. Because of that, I’m actually now starting to get a ton of leads through my site for both the coaching, I offer marketing coaching, and then also for consulting which is the writing, link building, and SEO work.
It’s so important to do that; to have your own content that you own because we don’t own anything else. Like you said: Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok – all of these places can just leave us any time and that’s a scary thought. So that’s a great tip that you just gave us there, Jessica.
Yeah. Absolutely. When you’re saying that, I’m seeing all my IGTV videos and how none of my stuff on my phone is organized and I’m like, “Shoot! Maybe I should start organizing that. So that if something happens I can find them all.”
There’s always something that you can find to do, right?
Yeah. Exactly. Put that on the to-do list.
I also love that you organically, not just your business, you’re doing organic marketing, but even for your own business, that’s what you do as well – just finding new clients and not doing it even super intentionally. They just come to you because of the actions that you have made for yourself.
For somebody who has never done this before and they’re interested in what you are doing, Jess, what kind of skills should they build in order to get to the point where you are or even close to it?
If you wanted to do organic content marketing as a business or as a freelance, the good news is there’s a lot of stuff in there. So, if you have skills in social media that you can work in this area, if you are a great writer, you can work in this area, if you’ve been in traditional PR, you can work in this area.
The outreach that I do is not traditional PR outreach. One of the benefits of what we do, in addition to SEO, is the brand authority and thought leadership of the people who I’m linking to and sourcing and quoting.
So, there are lots of skills and there’s a ton of sites like Upwork; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t in terms of finding work. But on any of those sites, it’s really, really easy to find this type of marketing work because so many businesses need it right now and so many businesses are looking to pay as little as possible.
Well, if you’re new, you can offer a lower price; you might start building that client base and get your testimonials and get that experience. And then, slowly start increasing your pricing and in building out clients that will be with you long term.
Yeah. And also I have to say there’s a lot of Facebook groups out there that are geared towards specific niches and you can definitely find jobs that way too. I mean, I see it all the time when we look for remote jobs for our sites, there are so many people just asking for a lot of different work that they are willing to pay for.
Yeah. I’m actually not a part of any but my husband is also in marketing, product marketing, and content, he is part of a Slack channel. That is a public Slack channel where he’s actually gotten one connection that just keeps bringing him clients and also has been extremely fruitful for him.
So, if you’re a Slack person, I know there’s a number of open Slack communities out there where you can find work as well.
I didn’t even know that so that’s another good tip from Jess.
When you and your husband decided to set off, to start your own businesses, to travel the world and do this remotely, how much money did you guys actually save and how were you able to make your income last?
Because I was running my business full-time, we didn’t save anything like not nothing extra outside of our normal savings routine because I wasn’t planning on doing anything differently. I have five contract writers, contractors that write for me.
So because I have people that work for me, this would be a tip out give, if you’re at a place in your business where you can hire a virtual assistant or you can hire someone to help with some of the work, you can really maintain a full business without actually working full-time.
Our goal was each to work 20 hours a week or less. Before we left, I was probably working like 25-30 hours a week. So when we started doing that, I realized that I can maintain everything that I was doing. Maybe assign a little bit more content to my writers and I did bring on one of my best friends who was one of my writers and also became a marketing coordinator.
So, I put a little bit more on her plate, but for the most part, I didn’t really change much. It was just about optimizing my time and prioritizing my day. Knowing that I feel like oftentimes we get in the weeds or we feel that there’s so much to do because we’re trying to over-promise or trying to do more than what needs to be done.
For me, a habit that I started while I was traveling was like, “What needs to be done today? What absolutely needs to be done right now?” That’s my priority for the day and then if I can slip one of these other things in – great! So, rather than taking up all my time on things that maybe weren’t like “mission-critical” important, I was focusing 100% on the things that needed to be done that day.
That allowed me to work about 20 hours a week. And in that time I was maintaining my full client load. I think last year was my biggest revenue year yet and I was traveling for 8 months of that time. And when we were in Europe, I also was working even less. I was working maybe 10 hours a week.
So, I think it’s all about knowing where you can delegate and also scaling, I guess that’s one other thing I would add: scaling up your pricing. I’ve been very conscious about increasing my pricing at pretty regular intervals even if just a little bit.
And then, either telling clients who aren’t paying that much, “I’m increasing my pricing,” or getting rid of them. Some sort of open up space for the clients that are willing to pay the rates that I’d like to make and that make it possible for me to live and work like this.
When do you actually decide to start raising your prices? Because that’s one of the things that a lot of freelancers are really afraid to do because they don’t want to lose money.
And it’s tough! It really, really is tough if you raise rates on current clients especially. So, I feel like there are a number of things to say here. The first being: I think raising your rates once a year at least with new clients. So like at the end of the year,, you write up your new rates and then a new client you bring on comes in at that rate. Assuming that you’re growing and offering more to the clients.
You always have to be able to say, especially with current clients, “This is why I’m charging you more. This is why it’s worth paying more because I earned these new contacts or I bought this new software that’s going to help you.”
But I think there’s nothing wrong with doing that once a year and that’s what I’ve been doing. Especially when you’re starting at the bottom. Because when you’re starting at the very beginning you’re probably charging very, very minimal.
Something that I really, really learned, someone said this to me and it’s not a really noble idea but it’s something that really stuck with me, is that when one client leaves or one client says “no” it’s because the Universe is opening up space for something better to come in. I don’t know if that sounds to woo whoever is listening but I firmly believe that if I’m moving toward what I want, the Universe is also supporting me in that.
So, for me, it’s really been a game of trust and trusting in my pricing, trusting that what I am charging is based on the value that I provide and if someone doesn’t want to pay that then, they are not a client that I want to have.
And trusting that no matter what, I will make it work. If I have to take a part-time job, – I will. If I have to pick up some work that I don’t really want to take from Upwork – I will. Knowing that there are options, if, for some reason, I reach such a low that I need to go that route – I can. So, I think there’s a big element of trust in raising your rates and in believing that you’ll get paid that.
And I suppose the last piece I’ll say, because this was big for me, let’s say you give your rates and the client says, “Oh! We can only pay this much,” when you take on work that you’re not getting properly paid for you’re just going to resent the client and the work. That happened to me so many times. I would be so irritated that I was working on something knowing that they should have been paying double but I was so scared to say “no” that I took it on anyway.
So, there’s a lot of moving pieces in there. But for me, I choose the route of trusting that if I value myself other people are going to value that. And knowing that people that don’t value that aren’t people that I want as clients anyway.
And I think once you do that, it just becomes easier and easier. So you just have to take that first step and just do it.
Yes, absolutely. And there have been. I’ve had a lot of clients or potential clients who have said, “We can’t pay that, we can only do this much.” And you know your wiggle room space like always, if you can, pitch higher reasonably. So if they come back and want to negotiate, you have space there.
And if there’s value in working with them outside of monetary, like they have some great connections or you think it’s someone who is running an agency to bring you multiple clients, you have to decide what’s worth it for you.
Once you do it once and you see that it’s going to be okay and you can sort of see the ups and the downs – it definitely becomes easier.
So, Jess, when you were traveling abroad and you were going from place to place and all of these different countries, what type of international insurance did you use?
I think it might have been insurance through Blue Shield, they have like digital nomad insurance. I think we had to do it for a full year or something or maybe we canceled that. I can’t remember but it was through a vetted company that we had, that we might have heard of. But there are so many Insurance options out there.
Absolutely. There’s definitely a lot of travel insurance and even now everyone is kind of clamoring and wishing they had done it. There’s a lot of also digital Nomads who are stuck somewhere and they find out that their insurance providers actually exclude things like pandemics or natural disasters in their policy cover.
So if you were to fall ill and the treatment for a coronavirus, for example, or something similar to this pandemic, they wouldn’t be covered and would need to pay for the treatment yourself. So that’s a horrible thing to do because you’re already freaking out about what’s happening around you, your family is far from you – that’s horrible.
That’s why I’m really glad to be working with Integra Global. They believe it’s their duty to support their members in uncertain times like these and really stand by them when they need Integra. They have no exclusions for pandemics or natural disasters in any of the plans.
So if you guys want to know more check out integraglobal.com and see how they can give you the coverage you’ll need and maybe some you never knew you would. Because, obviously, nobody knew that this was going to happen. I mean did any of us really? ‘Cause this is crazy.
Yeah. That is really scary that it wouldn’t cover a pandemic. Obviously, who would think about that before this happened?
It’s really nuts. And I think there have been a lot of insurance companies that people have been fighting with because of that. And, oh my goodness, that must be so scary, especially when you’re so far from home.
Yes. I can only imagine. My husband, Ben, we keep saying, “We’re so grateful. We traveled last year, ‘cause who knew this would have happened. If we’d put it off one year, we would not be doing that right now.
Yeah. That’s why you have to seize the moment, guys, when you can because you never know.
So, Jessica, let’s fast-forward to 30 to 40 years from now and you’re looking back at your life. What Legacy would you like to leave? And what do you want to be remembered for?
That’s quite a question? I want to be remembered for helping people realize their power. For me, that’s been one of the biggest things on this other side of my business as I’m publishing my book and building a community and figuring out what that all looks like.
The reason I started all of this was that when we were planning to travel, in the months leading up to that we would tell people what we’re doing and 99.9% of the people will respond back and say, “Oh! That sounds awesome. I wish I could do that.” My response was, “You can.”
I’m not special in any way other than the fact that I decided I wanted to do this and I’m doing it. So, for me, I really, really love flipping your perspective on what’s possible and helping you see that we all have the power to choose every single day. We have the power to choose what we want and where we want to go and who you want to be.
And by living with intention in choosing from that place of personal power, you can travel the world or start a business or write a book – whatever it is you want to do. So, I think I’d like to be known for helping people realize that. Like really, genuinely, making a difference in that way.
And there are so many people, especially now with what everybody is going through, need that motivation.
Yes, absolutely. And I’m happy to provide it.
Are you working on anything currently that is really exciting to you?
As I’ve mentioned, the podcast is very exciting to me. Actually, we met at New Media Summit, you and I, and I had no intention of starting a podcast at New Media Summit. I had been a guest on a number of podcasts including Melanie Denson which is how I ended up going to the event because she told me about it.
But lo and behold, for some reason, COVID hit and my creativity absolutely peaks. And I was just going through these bins of just so much inspiration and excitement. So, I’m really excited about that.
About my book that I will hopefully be getting a publisher for soon and in the process of building my audience around mindset. The book that I’ll be publishing I’m also, actually, gonna be releasing some Amazon shorts. So hopefully the first one will be released next week.
And I’m hoping to partner with a charity so half the proceeds will go toward the charity that I end up collaborating with. Really excited about that because I’ll be able to get some published work out there and reach some people. And also, help people who were struggling during COVID.
So that’s what’s going on with me.
There’s a lot of things that are definitely you need to be excited about and we’re excited about it too.
If our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?
They can find me on Instagram @jessicathiefels. They can find my marketing work at JessicaThiefels.com. I’m on Twitter, I love Twitter so I’m on Twitter @jthiefels actually.
And that’s basically it. Instagram is really my hub where I’m talking about all the stuff and announcing book updates and sharing tips. I also share a daily journal prompt in my Instagram stories every single day. So, if anyone’s listening and they like journals and they want to journal more, the prompts help to hold you accountable to actually making it happen.
Perfect. Thank you so much, Jessica, for being here today and giving us all of these amazing tips.
Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.
Listen to Jessica’s extended interview where she shares how to use link building to grow your site and business.
What you’ll find:
In this episode, Jessica shares an insightful way of using link building to take your website and business to new heights.