Author Archives: Heather Kenny

How making lists became this entrepreneur’s brand

The day Saya Hillman got fired from her last full-time job in 2004, she made two lists. One was of all the things she wished she could get paid to do, no matter how ridiculous. The other was a list of names, ones that gave her a “warm and fuzzy” feeling, for the company she decided she would start. And so Mac & Cheese Productions℠ was born — and lists would become a big part of its success.

Saya had always made lists as a way to connect with people. She’d been sending emails to friends for a while, “really random lists of ‘here are things that I have found interesting,’” such as articles, tech gadgets and books. The feedback was great, and Saya realized it could be a great sales tactic for her new business. “I don’t have that used-car salesman, ‘buy me buy me’ feeling,” she says. “I’m just doing what I already love to do.’”

Today Mac & Cheese Productions℠ offers a wide range of resources, events and content designed to connect people and help them live aLife of Yes℠, a concept Saya created and defines as “making life easy and more fulfilling.” Her lists — which she sends out in newsletters and posts on her website — continue to serve as a gateway to attract more “Cheese-Its,” as she calls her followers.

While some lists are humorous and lighthearted, like Saya’s boyfriend criteria, she also offers practical ones — including her popularservice provider list. Even that one abides by Saya’s community-minded credo: She only includes providers who she has worked with directly or have been recommended by someone she knows and trusts.

Saya shared some tips on how lists can help attract attention to a website, and why they’re so integral to her brand.

A handwritten list divided into two columns, one labeled “More” with items like “I tried” and “Connection”; the other labeled “Less” with items like “Stasis” and “I failed.”

One of Saya’s lists captures her “Life of Yes℠” philosophy.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel

“I don't think any of us are coming up with anything new — it's all how you put your own personal spin on the thing,” says Saya. So while her list concepts might not be a novel idea, her whimsical approach — where lists for home office equipment recommendations and her own pet peeves are on the same page — is.

Lists also help busy people make sense of an overwhelming amount of information. “People are hungry for curators,” she points out. “That’s why lists are so popular. They’re easy to share, they’re easy to consume.”

Lists also align with her overall ethos for Mac & Cheese Productions℠. “One of my favorite things is helping people to be more efficient and create systems,” she says. “The list format lends itself to be productive and efficient and good at time management.”

Be authentic — but it’s OK to make money too

Trustworthy referrals and recommendations have been a huge part of Saya’s success. “People know you’re doing it because you actually love the product or the person,” she says, explaining she has never received money from anyone that she’s put on her service provider list or other recommendation lists. Instead, it’s a “win-win” that spreads goodwill and website traffic all around, and can eventually result in opportunities and income, if not always directly or immediately.

That said, she’s unapologetic about taking a piece of the pie through affiliate marketing and her paid marketing services, as long as the products and services meet her requirements. “You just have to share that upfront,” she says.

Use lists to expand your network and draw visitors

Saya uses lists strategically to grow her network and draw more visitors to her site. “I’m spending all this time curating and creating for free, but to get that information, you need to go to my website, instead of me just giving you the information,” she points out.

Tying lists to holidays, seasons or other events can also forge connections and drive engagement. For example, while most of her lists are evergreen, Saya also offers an annual gift guide where she tags the businesses’ or individuals’ Instagram accounts — which helps expand her reach. “I’m always thinking, how can you make what you create easy to share?” she says.

This creator built an LGBTQ+-friendly site for car talk

Queer automotive educator, journalist and influencer Chaya Milchtein has carved out an unexpected niche at the intersection of the LGBTQ+ community, car repair and empowerment. Starting with blog posts that answered common questions about auto maintenance, she gradually built upher brand, Mechanic Shop Femme, into a mini-empire that spans workshops, one-on-one consultations, articles and podcasts, and more.

It wasn’t a path she ever expected. On her own at the age of 18, Chaya was “desperate” for a job. A connection landed her a position in the auto department at Sears, even though she didn’t even have a driver’s license when she interviewed for the job. But she really enjoyed working with customers and explaining what was wrong with their vehicles. “I’m what I like to call a translator — I translate complex car topics and information into language that the average consumer can understand,” she explains.

While she enjoyed the work, she felt she had reached a ceiling by 2017. Climbing the corporate ladder was a possibility, but she didn’t want to stop working directly with customers, the part of the job that gave her the most joy. Meanwhile, friends in the queer community were regularly reaching out for car advice. A career coach suggested starting a blog — and even though Chaya didn’t have a lot of confidence in her writing skills, she jumped in.

The blog section of the Mechanic Shop Femme website features thumbnails and preview text about two car-focused posts.

Chaya’s posts demystify all things automotive for an inclusive audience.

Almost immediately, Chaya started planning her next steps and trying to figure out how to turn her concept into something bigger. In addition to the blog, she started offering online classes on car topics, which led to more classes and speaking engagements. She also launched a career as a freelance writer, landing bylines in publications like Real Simple and Shondaland.

All of that came in handy when she got laid off from her job in April 2020 and decided to scale up her efforts. Mechanic Shop Femme is now her full-time gig. Chaya explains how she managed to build a following and unite a diverse range of interests under the umbrella of her website.

Show your whole self

From day one, Chaya was open about who she was, from the name of her site to posts about her wife. “It was important to me that I could show up as my full self,” she says. She also recognized that her unique point of view is an attraction. “There’s lots of places where you can learn about cars, but none quite from my perspective,” she points out. “Cars are what draws people to me. And they learned that I was queer and obviously saw that I was fat and where I come from, and they would stick around for the full meal. Because that's what was interesting.”

Showing that she’s part of the LGBTQ+ community also helps build trust among an audience that may feel intimidated by or excluded from car-centric settings. “I want to make sure that the people who come to my platform know that they’re not just there to learn about cars, that the space I created is not just something where they’re an afterthought, but that they’re welcome.”

Venture outside your niche

One piece of advice Chaya often heard was to focus on one topic. “While that might be great advice for some people, that's not necessarily good advice for everybody,” she says. On the blog, Chaya weaves in a queer or body-positivity angle on everything from fashion to travel in addition to her car content. Exploring different topics helps attract different and new readers, and it keeps her from burning out on car talk.

A tattooed woman in a swimsuit splashes in a pool. A headline below says, “I tried on 10 plus size swimsuits to help you find the perfect swimsuit for your body.”

Besides cars, Chaya regularly posts about fashion, body positivity and sex. Her plus-size swimsuit lookbook is one of the most popular posts on Mechanic Shop Femme.

Treat your site like a business

Chaya refers to her work as an octopus with different tentacles — her blog, her classes, her journalism and her consulting, with her website at the center. “If you want to book a call with me, if you want to pick a class, if you want to read my writing, my website is going to have all of those things,” she says. From the start, it was important for her to own her platform rather than focus solely on social media, where influencers have less control. “I’ve spent a lot of time on TikTok, it’s part of my overall business strategy,” she explains. “But I’m aware this platform can go away, unlike my site, where I own the content.”