Sonia Simone on The Autonomous Creative

Writing 1.3 million words (and learning how to slow down), with Sonia Simone

with your host Jessica Abel

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Why not put your best stuff in front of the biggest room?

On this episode, I’m joined by writer, marketer, teacher, and Creative Focus Workshop alumni, Sonia Simone.

Sonia goes into detail about her two major career pivots, including how she went from “fan-girl” to founding partner at Rainmaker Digital, formerly CopyBlogger Media. She describes the moment she realized she was “burnt to a crisp”, after years of stretching herself too thin, and her decision to focus on her own business, Remarkable Communication.

Sonia talks about her compassionate, human-centered approach to marketing, and her mission to help creative pros craft marketing content that doesn’t make them cringe. Plus, Sonia shares how she gained visibility for her personal work by embracing her geekiness (and being a little extra).

More from this episode…

  • Sonia describes feeling like a “square peg” at her corporate marketing job, and the drunk Twitter DM that transformed her career.
  • As a founding partner at Copyblogger, Sonia invented her own job. What caused her to invent one that was completely unsustainable?
  • Sonia shares how she divides her time between client work and other creative pursuits, and why it’s important for her to keep them separate.
  • Sonia talks about being an early user of the internet, and how bloggers eventually came to terms with content marketing: “There was a group of people saying you could use this internet thing to find clients without just being a villain.”
  • Why so many talented writers hate the work they do for themselves, and what should be at the core your marketing.
  • “So much of coaching is just holding up a mirror and saying, ‘This is how I see you.’” — How Sonia helps her clients harness what makes them unique.
  • We discuss the tendency of creatives to forget the depth of their experience, and the usefulness of reflecting on past work.
  • Why Sonia believes, “If you can find one or two new clients of a month you’re in great shape…As long as you’re charging enough.”

More from Sonia Simone

Sonia Simone was a founding partner of Copyblogger Media and is the owner of Remarkable Communication. She’s a longtime veteran of social media, having started out in online community in 1989. She’s worked for many years in marketing communication, both with startups and established corporate environments.

Sonia led the editorial direction on the Copyblogger blog, as well as developing the content and email strategies that supported the company’s software and e-learning lines of business. She sold her interest in Copyblogger in 2019.

Today, Sonia helps content writers get more writing done at a higher quality standard with her new project, Creative Fierce. She also has a free report on becoming more productive, which you can grab at UnlockYourWords.com

Connect with Sonia Simone:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/soniasimone/

https://www.remarkable-communication.com

http://twitter.com/soniasimone

https://copyblogger.com/author/sonia-simone/

Additional Links

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Transcript

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Writing 1.3 million words (and learning how to slow down), with Sonia Simone

Sonia Simone: I went to Norway to give a talk I was just telling people like, yeah, this is what my life kind of looks like. You know, this is how much content they create.

And they said, how are you not completely burned out? And I sorta stopped for a second. And I said, actually, I’m fried to a crisp.

What does it really take to become successful as a writer or artist?

There are a lot of destructive myths out there about what a creative career is supposed to look like. We’re told we shouldn’t care about worldly success or money. We’re told that if we’re good enough, everything would magically fall into place. That’s a lie and it keeps us struggling, baffled, and hungry for any shred of information that might shed light on how to keep making the work we love. That’s why I get any two artists or writers or any creatives really together in a room. And it’s a foregone conclusion that the conversation will turn to money and the nitty gritty reality of being a professional, creative.

I’m cartoonist and creative business. Coach Jessica Abel.

In my own life. The studio visit back channel conversations with other artists where we share our insights and hacks anxieties and red flags have been critical to any success I’ve achieved.

And now. I’m bringing that conversation to you. This is the autonomous creative.

Introducing Sonia Simone

My guest today is Sonia Simone.

Sonia is a writer, marketer, and teacher, and she was a founding partner of Rainmaker digital back when it formed as Copyblogger media in 2010. Sonia’s specialty is crafting marketing content that quote doesn’t require you to choose between your soul and the success of your business, which I love kind of a lot.

I met Sonia in 2017 when her podcast, Copyblogger, FM popped up in my mentions with a thoughtful response to my then new book Growing Gills. I reached out to thank her and ended up appearing on her podcast. It was a great conversation and it really opened my perspective to the way so many creative pros who are far outside my own background as cartoonist and writer really struggled with the same kind of issues of building and maintaining a creative practice.

Sonya has successfully navigated two major career pivots. One taking her from the corporate world to Copyblogger and the second, mostly leaving Copyblogger to build her own business or Remarkable Communication.

Now she’s running a community, launching a course and designing a new site, all about building an ethical business from a creative point of view.

And I’m so happy to have you here today to find out all the inner workings of a unique career that spans client work, teaching, coaching, and self-generated creative work.

We’ll get right into it after this.

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Now let’s start the show.

Interview begins

Jessica Abel: Sonia, welcome.

Sonia Simone: Thank you. I’m so excited. I will attempt to, uh, to be cool with my fan girling, but I just, I, I dig your work. I dig your voice. I dig your books. It’s just, um, super, super jazzed to be here.

Jessica Abel: Thank you so much. That’s awesome.

Okay, so let’s dive right in because I know there’s just, there’s a lot of story in your story and I want to get into all the details. So first of all, let’s just set the scene for today. What is your work life now like? What do you do all day?

What is your work life like?

Sonia Simone: Yeah these days, um, and of course, everything we all do is so informed by COVID and remote, et cetera, et cetera. My days are primarily spent, um, I lead a of mostly writers and mostly content writers. So people who write blog posts, freelance copywriters, that kind of thing. I lead, uh, multiple sessions a week where we do virtual coworking, which is kind of cool and crazy and weird.

Um, and we sit down together and get work done.

About every other month, I do a workshop for those people. So I’ve done workshops on, I do a lot on creative writing for business writers. So kinds of things like if you went to college and took a creative writing course, adding texture, working with metaphor, adding more music to your words. So that’s something I teach regularly. I teach journaling for business writers. I teach blogging strategy for more creative people, email strategy, the next workshop I’m going to be leading is on what I’m calling “path to client.” just creating website you can send clients there and not just cringe because I so many such talented writers in my community hate their own website.

I mean, it’s that cliche. The cobbler’s children have no shoes cliche. It’s so true. And so all these great, talented, capable writers, hate their own website because it’s got weird stuff in it. And it’s got a lot of the wrong thing and not enough of the right thing. And, um, and then when we start talking about something like reaching out to clients, they have to like down in a dark room with like compress.

And everything I’ve ever done, honestly, marketing space has been because it’s like, oh Lord, I understand how hard that is. It’s hard for me. It’s all been sort of self-care. So that’s what I do is I just help people who have the problems.

Jessica Abel: It seems like you’ve come at it from both ends. Like you come at it from the, make things more creative and infuse it with your own personality, your own voice. And other on the other hand, what is, what are the strategic objectives of the writing that you’re doing and how do you align those with your own voice, which is something I very much identify with.

And we do as much as we can as well in my own, my own work, and with my students. And we also do virtual coworking. So a lot of the same kind of stuff going on. I, I, I think it’s so powerful to be in a virtual room with people and having that chance to kind of be vulnerable and ask the questions that feel really embarrassing and really hard to ask.

Sonia Simone: Yeah, absolutely. And, in fact, I sent my email list. When I, when I reminded them about this event, I said, you know, you and I are sort of building the bridge from, from both banks of the river. And it’s not even opposite banks of the river. It’s just both banks of one river.

But the other thing that I have, I feel really privileged about is I have been a freelance business writer looking for clients And I have been the client. I have hired writers. have gone out and put out ads for writers and paid people to write things. And so helps a lot because, I know how awful it is. And I also know how tough it is to find good writers.

Jessica Abel: And to identify them, right? To know if the person you’re talking to, I mean, they may be great at something, but are they going to be the person you need? And that is really, really hard. I found that too, as hiring people, um, quite difficult. Yeah.

So compare this, if you could, to your life, like three years ago when you were working with Copyblogger?

How would you compare your life now to working with Copyblogger?

Sonia Simone: I think the tasks, a lot of the tasks are the same. I put on my mic, I log onto a system. I teach something. I answer some questions. Um, I connect with people. That is very similar.

I don’t write as much as I did. added it up and I’m, I know, dropping this number all the time because it blew my mind so much. I sat down and just with my calculator said, Okay well, I’ve done about this many, um, because I, I, I don’t know. I don’t know how many classes. I did this many podcasts ish.

I did this many blog posts. I know that cause I can go into my systems. If I kind of back of the envelope it, I wrote about 1.3 million words for Copyblogger and Remarkable Communication. You know I’m probably 1.1 for Copyblogger and the rest for, for my, my side. Whoa. You

Jessica Abel: Yeah.

Sonia Simone: A long time. That was 10 years too. you do something for 10 years it adds up.

Jessica Abel: It’s one of the things I think that writers forget or content creators, artists of any kind forget. They forget how much they have, how much they’ve done, how much experience they have, how much they know. It’s really easy to focus on the last little thing you did and say, did this hit? Did it not hit?

Did I reach my goals with it? Whatever. And forget that you, I mean, I, I, I’m developing a new coaching program right now and it’s made me go back to the beginning of my big pivot to doing what I’m doing now with Autonomous Creative. And this, I just actually, I literally was going through some stuff cause we’re gonna be moving soon.

I went through a notebook that was from, I think 2015. And it said, “Idea: have a podcast about how creatives make it work.” That was when I was working on my old podcast, Out on the Wire, I had this note to myself. And so, and there’s all of this. I wrote a blog post in 2015, couple of blog posts. There’s a whole Scrivener full of stuff that I haven’t even cracked yet that I know is full of me at that point.

And all of the thoughts that I had and all of the things that, that drove me then are exactly the things I need to know now. And it was really by chance that I stumbled on something, uh, on this blog post from 2015 and read it again instead of just going like, oh yeah, I did that blog post. I actually read it. And I was like, oh my God, that is it. That’s the moment.

And those kinds of resonances are so reinforcing. And I’m sure that you’ve had this too where it’s like, you go back and you think, wow, if I was thinking exactly the same way, six years ago, that I’m thinking now and identified exactly the same problem that I wanted to work on and fix for myself and for other people. It must be real, you know, to come back around to it organically like that.

Sonia Simone: Yeah. Well, I mean, if you have anybody in, like, if you have anybody in your life that you’ve known since they were little, we don’t change that much. You know, you, you know, somebody and he’s all 30 and big and hairy and has kids, he is just the same guy he was when he was a little, three year old guy, you know?

And I think we, we do. We have themes. We have, there’s sort of a, a core or a strand at the center of us. And, yeah, we keep it and rediscovering it.

Jessica Abel: Well, and that needs to be, I’m sure that’s what you help your clients with too. Is like find that thing. That is the thing. Like that is what needs to drive you and drive your communication with the world because that’s what’s most true. And there’ll be people who respond to that. And those are the right people. I mean, that’s kind of the basics, right?

How Sonia approaches her coaching

Sonia Simone: Yeah, exactly. And so much of coaching, and I know that you found the same thing is. I mean, there’s an old, there’s an old saying from corporate consulting, which is another thing I’ve done. I’ve done a lot of things. And that world, they say that a consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you what time it is.

It’s sort of a, it’s like a, an insult, but it’s like, no, if you can’t see your watch clearly, someone taking it and saying, me help you see what time it is is incredibly valuable. so much of coaching is just holding up a mirror and saying, “This is how I see you. Does any of this sound familiar?” And people’s minds are blown.

And we have to work. And I know this is such a theme for you. We have to work together. And the extent to which things are broken is because good people work together enough. We’re all trying to our own wheel. And dunno, it’s like, “It’s not hard enough. I think I’m going to make it a little harder for myself.” you know, like.

What I’m doing, can’t be the right thing because it feels natural. So let me hurt myself some more and see if that helps. And it’s really, you know, let’s work together. Let’s give each other a hand. We’re better than we think we are. We’ve done more than we think we’ve done. We’ve created value.

And we, but we have to remind one another because all the narcissists and sociopaths, like they’re clear, right? They’re super clear on what they’re going to do. And the people who are not narcissists and sociopaths, need a community to help us not feel lost.

Jessica Abel: For sure. Yes, very much. And so speaking of coaching, you’re going to be, uh, launching a course soon, right?

Her “path to client” course

Sonia Simone: Yeah. Yeah, this, uh, new platform they’re called Maven. Um, they’re, co-founded by a woman named Wes Kao who’s like this total gangster who worked with Seth Godin on his old MBA program, and it’s a platform specifically for cohort based learning.

And I’ve really done an informal cohort based learning for a long time where we just get small groups together and really talk to each other and, and communicate with each other and help each other out.

This just has a few tools that are interesting, so I’m trying them out, but yeah, the next course will be that path to client course about helping freelance business writers have a more natural, less cringe-worthy path to funding their clients. focused on, you know, find one, if you can find one or two new clients a month, you’re in great shape.

Jessica Abel: As long as you’re charging enough.

Sonia Simone: As long as you charging enough.

Jessica Abel: Yeah.

Sonia Simone: Finding one or two more like $200, 10 hour projects. Let’s not do that, but, um.

Jessica Abel: Um, okay. So let’s, let’s go back a little bit. So now we have a picture now. We kind of get a picture of what kind of teacher and coach you are, what you’re focused on. Let’s go back to the beginning. What were you doing?

The beginning of her career

Jessica Abel: So the story, this, the story out there, which you can tell us is that you were a fan girl for Brian Clark’s work with Copyblogger and you wrote him. You DM’ed him on Twitter or something like that. What were you doing then? Like, what was your life like? If you can tell us a little bit about it and how did it affect you?

Sonia Simone: Yeah.

Jessica Abel: That kind of thing.

Sonia Simone: Yeah. So I was, I had a very, you know, a quite good corporate gig. Uh, it was a content marketing gig, but we didn’t say content marketing back in the day. So I was managing a team of writers. We were writing. We were essentially writing guide books for a luxury travel company. pay was pretty decent. It was very creative. But I was, I was, it was not a great fit. Every, it just wasn’t a great fit from a couple of standpoints.

The CEO was like 20 years younger than I was, and he just, I just made him uncomfortable as hell. he was just like, you know, like. It was not a good match. I was sort of bored and terrified at the same time. And that seems like a weird combination if you haven’t worked in corporate recently, but it’s actually pretty normal for anybody who marches to a slightly different drummer in corporate. The work was kind of repetitive and was a ton of politics that I wasn’t very good at.

Jessica Abel: I get the bored and I, and I understand terrified in some ways, but what specifically was terrifying for you in that situation?

Sonia Simone: You know, at that time, uh, okay. I started working.. So I had my baby when I was at that job. So I had a little, a very small person. And I was constantly worried I was going to get fired I was such a weird, square peg in that, you know, everybody, there was just sort of like beautiful young people, doing beautiful young people things.

And like all the sales guys were sleeping with all the girls in marketing. just like, I was just not as, not like where I was in my life. Every single, so I was in the marketing department. Every other woman in marketing had been a cheerleader in high school. Yeah. Right. Wow.

And so I was gangster good at my job, but I still was pretty sure I was going to get fired any second. And I had this little person, you know, and my was a stay at home dad. And so, yeah, so I was really worried about getting the mortgage paid.

And then we hit 2008. So my son would have been three. Uh, global economic meltdown. We, my company, stopped being able to sell this a hundred thousand dollars travel, luxury travel product. And layoffs, cascading layoffs, and marketing. And I was sort of across between marketing and operations, but still, was very nervous and right kind of when my son was born, Copyblogger was born. Brian was birthing Copyblogger over on his world. Um, and I was a super fan girl and reading his stuff. I had a side hustle. I had a side, I had a blog.

I didn’t exactly know what to do with it, but it seemed like there was this thing called copywriting for businesses that I could probably do, maybe I was doing already. I didn’t even know. And so, yeah, so Brian’s, blog helped me be strategic about writing for businesses, writing to get clients, what needed to be on a website to convert into business. And I brought a lot of that into my day job and it really helped me be really good at my, really, really good at my day job. I wrote all of their website copy. It was good.

Um, I had a sales person come in one time. I wrote all of their website copy for the public. I also wrote all of their website copy for their super high dollar clients. So all the, you know, behind a paywall copy. And I had a sales person come in and say, who wrote the copy for this new release of this new, fabulous place? We had things. And I said, I did. And he said, wow, you’re a really good word put togetherer. like, I’m totally getting that on a business card at some point in my life

Jessica Abel: I think this is the right moment for that. like Really good word put togetherer.

Sonia Simone: Put togetherer. Yeah. I mean, I’ve been doing that ever since.

Let me, um, drill down a little bit though, because I feel like not everybody who’s listening will know what Copyblogger really is and what, who Brian Clark is. How is it, like this is 2008, 2000, whatever, seven. How is what he’s doing writing about copywriting and helping copywriters get better at what they do. How is it different from other things that are out there?

Jessica Abel: So the time and the thing about Copyblogger, I like to flatter wildly by saying he’s kind of like the Velvet Underground. when he started, he was like, what the hell is that even doing? And now it just looks like, yeah. You know, that looks like, yeah, that sounds like a lot of things. Because a lot of things sounded like that.

Sonia Simone: But he was, you know, Copyblogger was the intersection of copywriting, to persuade, writing to sell something and blogging, which at that time was very much writing for self-expression. to be part of the conversation.

And I actually came out of, I got online in 1989. Oh my Lord. and I was very part, much part of that wave of, you know, community and I was on The WELL, and I was on Genie, real early adopters. Actually before the world wide web, there was an internet, which is like, I know, what?

I was there.

It was all text. Like what? What? There was internet back in the day?

Yeah. You know, and, and so that was very text driven, very self-expression driven, very- commercialism was kind of like, you know, what was wrecking what we were doing. And that whole attitude of, you know, the bastards are wrecking it was a thing that people, those early, us early adopters of using the internet to talk to people far away had to wrestle with if we wanted to not starve.

So that I think was where Brian was really one of the first big names at that intersection. Darren Rowse was another one at ProBlogger. Eventually we ended up doing a cool project partnering with him. You know, Seth Godin’s like our, our patron Saint.

So yeah, there was just sort of, um, a group of people saying you could use this internet thing to find clients without just being a villain.

Yeah, offering value in a way that’s going to also help people understand what you can do. Yeah. So then, how did you reach out to him? I mean were, like did you lose your job? Or did you just try to

Transition to working for Copyblogger

Sonia Simone: I quit before I got fired. I quit before I got fired. The layoffs were massive. We went through, my company went through three layoffs, and three rounds of layoffs, many of which were in my department. That’s just a fun time for anybody. That’s really great. When you see good friends who are incredibly good at their jobs get laid off and you’re still there. That’s great. Um, so yeah, so I, um,

Jessica Abel: Said sarcastically, I assume.

Sonia Simone: Yes, it wasn’t great. It was very, very hard.

And you know, part of how we learned that we could do hard things is by surviving hard things. So yeah, so I, I reached out to, I was such a fan girl, it was, I was totally pathetic. It was pitiful. I had like linked to Copyblogger lots. Brian had noticed me.

I had bought his program, which was so cheap. It was like, might’ve been $50 a month back in the day. It was really cheap when he launched it. And then I was all over his forums. I’m a total geek is a thing you have to know about me. I am the world’s biggest dork, pretty much. I’m not. And I have, I have hyper-focused on things that excite me.

And so if I see something and I think that’s cool, I go like 150% on it. And I make an embarrassing fool of myself about it. And I was doing that with Copyblogger and I was in teaching cells and I was like the unpaid TA, which is always what I do. And like answering questions in the forums and like being extra, being too much.

And, um, so Brian, I was visible. He saw me. And I had to get a little bit drunk to send them a DM on Twitter and say, “Oh my god. You’re so amazing. Could I ever write for Copyblogger maybe sometime ever? I don’t know.” And he said, “Yeah, that sounds great. Why don’t you write for us every week?” I was like, fuck.

You know, so that ushered in the era of me writing for Copyblogger once a week, sending them my best stuff, because that’s where the biggest room was. The biggest room was there. He had a ton of traffic. He only, and that just kept accelerating, so why not put your best stuff in front of the biggest room?

I was really reliable. I never missed a deadline. I missed plenty of my own deadlines, but I never missed a deadline for Copyblogger. That meant I was in front of a lot of people every week. So when I decided it was safer to launch my own community than to stay in this job that was going to fire me any second and mess up my confidence, I did that.

I jumped. And as we know in the US, if you jump like the second of the month, you get health insurance for a whole month that you don’t have to pay for. I mean, the, the shenanigans we, we, uh, we learn. And, uh, yeah, and then just, just kept running.

Jessica Abel: So, were you freelance at that point? Or how did you join the co- join the company? I mean, you became, you know, a founder and then you were a part owner. So

how did that all work?

Sonia Simone: It just worked. I was first, I was contributor to Copyblogger, not paid. Just showing up once a week. Um, one of the things that I always

Jessica Abel: Oh, so when you first were writing, you weren’t getting paid you were just.

Sonia Simone: I wasn’t getting paid.

Jessica Abel: Oh, okay.

Sonia Simone: And their model was, and as far as I know still is, I don’t, I’m not sure, was they don’t, they occasionally pay contributors, but usually they don’t, but they are super cool about promoting your thing.

So you are there, you are there for exposure. You do right for exposure. And, and you get quality exposure because you put links in back to your stuff. And if you have something to sell, you can write a post that says, I have something to sell. This is what you’re going to get out of it. This is what you should do next.

And Brian doesn’t give you this, like, cause there are some sites out there that don’t pay you and they also don’t let you promote. That’s kind of BS, you know? I think. So I didn’t get paid for the posts I wrote for Copyblogger, but I could promote my stuff. I could promote my blog and I could promote my paid thing. And that filled my paid thing quite handily.

Jessica Abel: what was your paid thing?

Sonia Simone: That was the Remarkable Marketing Blueprint. That was the first thing. It was probably 2008. Was probably 2008. Might’ve been 2009 cause the meltdown was October, 2008. So it might have been like early 2009. It was just a little community, X dollars a month.

I would do a lesson every week, and then we talked a lot. We had a forum, and we talked a lot and there are still people who self identify as they were the original and Remarkables. And then there were the sort of, I dunno, evolving Remarkables. I don’t remember the second set. Um, but that was a cohort based course.

I mean, it wasn’t called that, but that’s what it was. And people had an identity and some awesome people. Pamela Wilson was an original Remarkable. Andrea [Uvall] was a Remarkable. There’s some varying gangster people. I think, I’m pretty sure Beth Hayden was a Remarkable. There are some super fabulous people, not all of them are women.

Hashim Warren, I think. So, yeah, I launched that community. And then I became part of the staff, the paid staff, the partner of teaching cells, which was brands, community.

And then, I would part, we just partnered on more and more projects. And at a certain point Brian had so many partners he was like, I can’t keep track of all these partnerships.

And we just put, we with sat down in a room. Five people. Me and four dudes, and created Copyblogger Media, LLC. And that’s what became Rainmaker Digital. And then I think it’s Copyblogger Media again. Um, but that was the we’re all in, you know, all for one and one for all.

Jessica Abel: So that’s when it became formalized. It wasn’t a partnership on like an individual course or something, but you were a part owner of

Sonia Simone: We were formal partners and teaching cells at some at a point. Yeah. We were former partners at teaching cells and I was running the Blueprint. And then at some point, we just kind of consolidated all of these agreements and, and structures into one and just everybody had a stake and everybody did what they were good at.

And that’s those, those were the big days of launching. We launched a community called The Third Tribe and it is the one time, you know, when they say like, “I opened the doors and the servers kept crashing cause so many people wanted in. That was that. that Yeah. It was tense. It was craziness.

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Okay. Back to the show.

Jessica Abel: So the Copyblogger LLC moment happens a couple years after you start working with Copyblogger?

Sonia Simone: Yeah. I think it was… Probably Somewhere between 2010, 2012. Somewhere in there.

How did she pay her bills when first starting out?

Jessica Abel: So you have a small child, and your spouse is a stay-at-home parent, right? Where are you getting a health insurance from? Like, how are you paying your mortgage? Is it that your own course was sufficiently robust from the very beginning that you could do that independently?

Sonia Simone: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s, it was, it was a squeak sometimes, but yeah. I stayed on Cobra for a little while, cause it was sort of good enough. So that’s six months maybe. So I was on my old business’s health insurance.

And then yeah, just self-employed health insurance for awhile. And then Copyblogger Media, once we consolidated, one of the things we did was, one of our partners was really smart about that. So he went out and got us like, got our company health insurance.

And one of our partners had a big team. So we had, uh, so one of our partners was Studio Press, Genesis WordPress, which is, you know, we were like, Brian and I were sort of talking and it’s like, if we could get anybody in WordPress to be a WordPress theme partner who would be our dream partner? It’s like, well, it would be Genesis, but we probably can’t get Genesis, but we can try. And we did. And we did.

Yeah. So we had a big enough team to make grownup health insurance makes sense and get an okay rate. But yeah, how, how do you get health insurance is the question. And it’s gotten, it’s also gotten harder since then. It was less. It was terrible then, but it was not as terrible as it is now.

Jessica Abel: That’s not good news.

Sonia Simone: No. Well, I mean, we, we have it. So we have the ACA now, so that’s, uh, that’s. That is helpful.

Jessica Abel: Yeah, for sure. So, okay. Let’s then move. So then you’re with Copyblogger officially for, you know, the company employed like a part owner and employee of the company for on the order of 10 ish years? When is the point at which you, and you started podcasts there, so you’re doing a bunch of different things. Did you invent your own role when you were there?

Sonia Simone: To some degree, I mean, to some degree, yes, I invented my own role because I’m so, I have such an inconvenient brain that sometimes the role that’s been assigned to me, I don’t really necessarily perceive. So I would just keep doing what I was good at. But yeah, I mean, there was time when I was doing two podcasts.

So, I had a Copyblogger FM, which was, you obvious enough. And then I had a, a podcast called the pink haired- Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. That was more my voice, my way of doing things. Uh, we had for a while we had a podcast network. So we had a couple of dozen podcasts that we were running.

Um, I was writing about a post a week and I was creating one piece of premium content a week for our community. And so that community underwent a few identity shifts. And it’s, I was talking about this in 2019. September, 2019. I went to Norway to give a talk at a, at a group called the Slow Business Adventure, which was another amazing pivot in my life. I was just telling people like, yeah, this is what my life kind of looks like. You know, this is how much content they create.

Realizing she was completely burnt out

Sonia Simone: And they said, how are you not completely burned out? And I sorta stopped for a second. And I said, actually, I’m fried to a crisp. Completely burned out.

I don’t know how I’m standing upright at the moment, but it was like, honestly, until that person asked me that question, I hadn’t really twigged to how creatively exhausted I was.

I was producing way too much work.

Jessica Abel: That’s a ton. I mean, two podcasts and two content, you know, significant content pieces per week, at least. And then sure whatever else. It’s a huge amount.

Sonia Simone: Yeah. Plus man, and you know, I’ve got an editorial meeting every week, so thank God I had Stephanie Flaxman, who’s still the editor in chief for Copyblogger. And she really takes that editor in chief role very seriously. And she’s really good at it. So she was thank God, managing what was getting onto the blog and making sure it was excellent.

But I still had sort of a publisher’s role of informing the vision, managing people, helping make sure that, the people who worked on our editorial side understood what, what do we stand for? What do we love? What do we not love so much? We know if something gets published, it’s like, we kind of don’t do that.

And, you know, doing that, hopefully in a, I hope in a compassionate way. In a respectful way. So yeah, I, I was, it’s absurd. Don’t do that. Please do not ever do that anybody It’s a stupid horrible thing to do.

Jessica Abel: And you had invented your own job and you invented this for yourself.

Sonia Simone: Yeah.

Jessica Abel: So how did that, I mean, like, did you ever look and go, like, what were the. Because at first you’re doing one free article a week and I’m sure each of these pieces got added bit by bit. Can you, can you think back to, like, was there a moment when you, you, you realized like you could have gone a different way?

Sonia Simone: I didn’t realize I could have gone a different way until I had sold my interest in the company. It’s a com- it’s like a combination of real major imposter syndrome and it doesn’t, it’s not logical at all because really Copyblogger is about the content. It’s about the creative work that we put out. The paid work and then the free work, which is how we get the paid work. And how it didn’t occur to me that I was doing this massive amount of this work.

I don’t know. But it was like, anytime anybody said, would you do that? So the podcast, we sort of wound the podcast network down because it was a massive amount of work and money. And it was like not generating tons of business. So to a certain point, Bruce, who was managing the podcast network was like, we’re contracting.

And we’re going to take you down to one. And I was like, super sad. I was like, okay, I’ll give up. I love that podcast. It makes me sad to give it up, but I’ll give it up. So yeah, they kind of pried it out of my hands, I guess. But no, I can’t tell you why, because now in retrospect it seems completely preposterous.

Why would I not? I was an owner why would I not, why would I keep doing that to myself? But

Jessica Abel: And so the, your answer to this. I mean, and again, I’m sure a lot of this is inchoate, like you’re not really thinking it through, but like you-

How did occur to you to, to leave and sell your interest? Like, what was that moment? Like, what was that moment where I need to, you needed to pivot. And obviously it didn’t occur to you until afterwards, like, oh, maybe I could have just changed my job.

Deciding to pivot and sell her interest in CopyBlogger

Jessica Abel: I mean, you know?

Sonia Simone: Right. Yeah. I mean, it was, um, it was a process. It was, it was actually, you know, I sold it the same way that I got into it, which was things kind of happened.

We developed an interest in selling part, and selling Studio Press, because were sort of all in on other things. And I think we could have done more for, for. I don’t know, we just. It’s, it wasn’t where we were focused as a company.

So it seemed to make more sense. Why don’t we sell Studio press to somebody who is just gonna like go, stay all in on Studio Press.

So we sold that piece first. And yeah, we sort of came to a moment where it was either we were either going to contract or sell. We were either going to simplify because things were way too complicated.

We had developed this big company because we had, and then we sold, we sold Rainmaker the platform. So we had this big infrastructure for this little company. It was sort of a strange thing. So yeah, we were either going to contract it radically or we were going to sell it. And those were both options.

And Darrell Vesterfelt showed up and said, I’d really like to buy it. I’d rather, I’d like to buy your interest. And it was, um, I don’t know. It was like hard for me to say goodbye to the traffic. Oh, oh, it’s so much traffic. So yeah, you know, I kind of almost flipped a coin. I almost flipped a coin.

Darrell showed up, and Darrell showed up and said I would buy this. And it seemed less exhausting to go ahead and sell that to Darrell. Rest for awhile. Just rest on the cash for a little while, which I did. I just really did, didn’t do a lot for about a year. And then of course we had a global pandemic. Um, so yeah, so I sold my interest summer of 2019.

I rested for awhile. I did some things, but I wasn’t, there wasn’t a lot of financial pressure cause I had the, a bit cash from the sale. I didn’t walk away with like Tahiti money. You know, I’m not buying an island, I’m not Richard Branson, but I had enough to take a break.

And, um, went to Slow Business Adventure, fell in love with them. Fell in love with that idea of slow business as a practice. Pandemic hit in January.

And, um, I started working with people on finding focus.

Pamela Wilson, once in a post, she wrote for Copyblogger said, quoted a quote from a song that’s in Spanish that “you find the path by walking” and that’s what I’ve doing.

Jessica Abel: I feel like it was around then that you joined Creative Focus Workshop too. And yeah, probably in that same moment of thinking, like how, which way am I going with this? And Iike, at the time I was like, wow, Sonia’s here. What’s she planning to do? I don’t even know.

Sonia Simone: I didn’t even know.

Jessica Abel: It sounds a little bit like, I mean, let me try to get my brain around this. Like you, as you joined Copyblogger and then grew your role there and took on various things and kind of ended up with this job that was bigger than it needed to be. It sounds like Copyblogger as a company almost did that, where it just kept taking on projects and people and ideas and became bigger and more sprawling than it needed to be. And then had to go through the same process of kind of paring away.

Sonia Simone: Yeah. I think that’s, I think that’s exactly right.

Jessica Abel: I think that happens a lot actually in creative careers. And I’m sure a lot of people who are here can resonate with that, that, you know, there’s a lot of things that we do almost automatically. We say yes to too many things we just kind of, and then they don’t go away unless you make them go away because we’re good at what we do.

What happens when you take on too much

Jessica Abel: And so people don’t want to get rid of us, you know? Then it’s like, if you want to end that part of your life, you have to take action to extricate it can hurt. Right. You’re saying like losing your podcast, it was painful.

Sonia Simone: It’s painful. Well, and I’ll tell you the part that, I’ll tell you the hardest one is when you it’s, when it’s an employee.

Jessica Abel: Hmm.

Sonia Simone: When you bring someone on to help you out, and they’re great, and they’re really wonderful at their job. And then you pair away the thing they used to do. I won’t say I got good at it, but I got a lot better at it.

That’s a very difficult thing to get better at. These things are not always like so pretty. And it’s not all, you know, and as so much of… so much of the time, what we call marketing, what we mean by marketing is lying about how everything is just great. And there’s that great phrase that growth for its own sake is the, is the ideology of the cancer cell.

I mean, you can’t keep growing. It doesn’t work that way. And things grow and then they get to a point where they then contract or die or split off or become something else. And it’s, it’s not a painless process.

Jessica Abel: Yeah. I always think of that, um, video game. What’s it called? Katamari Damacy where the little guy is like rolling stuff up. Have you

that one? It’s like a very funny video game. One of the few that I actually like, where there’s this little teeny weeny guy and he takes a little ball and he starts rolling it around on a desktop and he rolls up like paperclips and erasers and um, and then it’s like coffee cups and then it falls off the table and strolling up shoes and whatever.

And then eventually it’s rolling up like trees and houses and then the entire planet. And it’s just, this kind of just keeps. The point is to roll up the universe. And sometimes I feel like that’s what we’re doing when we create, I don’t know, a creative life period, but especially creative business where it’s like, oh, I love to have this offer and I’ll try that thing and I’ll bring this thing on and I’ll have that, you know, tactic and I’ll try whatever. And, um, you end up with this teeny weeny little person trying to push a giant ball around.

Sonia Simone: Yeah, Exactly.

Jessica Abel: Okay. So it seems very clear to me that you had reached a point with your second career at Copyblogger where you had unwittingly gotten too. You loved it, everything was great, but at the same time you had just like, it had gotten out of hand and you weren’t able to have balance, and then you needed to rebalance.

Um, so what does it look like now for you? I mean, we talked about what your day looks like, but then, you know, you are also are a major sower. You do quilting. You do visual art. How do those things play into your life now? And you must have a teenager or something, right too?

How she fits in time for family, other creative pursuits

Sonia Simone: I do. That little, that little baby is 16 now. So yeah, It’s kind of crazy.

It’s like a, it’s like living with Sasquatch, you know, you catch glimpses in the distance of this hulking creature.

Um, yeah. So, so now, I am and I’ve always, so I’ve always been very visual. I was always a visual person. I lived in Rome for a year. What a privilege. And when I did, I became a, an urban sketcher. So I, uh, for a while I was doing sketching. I was sketching illustrations for my business, which was cool.

You know, you can write off like all those really expensive watercolors and stuff? Um, that’s the main benefit, but, uh, oh man, sketchbooks are pricey, you know. Good ones.

I eventually came to a point where I, I enjoy the separation. So apart from like using quilts for backgrounds for video sessions, I keep my visual times my time off. And my writing time and my zoom time, and recording time is, is what I do for a living. And they, they, inform each other in some ways, but I also keep them kind of separate.

So it’s interesting because like you, tagged me on Instagram, which was cool. When we talked on Instagram. I don’t do to any business on Instagram yet. Now.

Jessica Abel: I noticed. I looked at your profile and I was like, is this the right Sonia?

Sonia Simone: I know, right? Like this is not

Jessica Abel: This is not what I

Sonia Simone: there, no There’s no marketing on this at all. Um, I will have, I have the account. The new business identity is called Creative Fierce, and it just, you know, it’s, it just happened, that combination of things.

Jessica Abel: This is the course that you’re talking about that you’re going to be building,

Sonia Simone: It’s the course, but it’s also the community. So we’ll have, we’ll have one of the things that I am making now. And we talked about this before the session. One of the things I’m making now is kind of a new platform.

And that actually also came Out of that Slow Business. So it’s Slow Business. It’s in Norway, it’s in the most beautiful, it’s in one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s absurd. I’m on the fricking, the speaking platform is on the fjord.

Like if I was better at throwing rocks, I could have thrown a rock into the fjord. It’s absurd. And, um, the speakers all sat around this long table, like the speaker dinner, you know, you always have a speaker dinner.

Jessica Abel: This is on a raft on the water? sticking out into the water?

Sonia Simone: It’s just a you’re right on the edge. You’re right on the edge. You’re on the bank. You’re on the bank of the fjord.

Jessica Abel: I just have this image of you guys chained on like a, like a thing in the middle of the plunging fjord.

Sonia Simone: Right, right, right. So the speaker dinner, we’re at this beautiful little, like ancient building. There’s a long table. Everything’s very Viking, but you can’t use the word Viking because they don’t like that. But I’m just like, I’ve got metaphorical corns coming into my head. I’m just digging this so much.

And we’re all sitting around the table. Most of- all of the speakers were women. And we’re, you know, we’re talking about things as one does, and we’re all like getting louder and louder and just like, why is it like this? Why is it so screwed up? Why are our politics so messed up? Why are male-female relationships so messed up?

This is before the pandemic. It’s like, why is the world not the way it should be? And we’re looking from side to side, like, well, who’s going to make it right? Well, maybe we should, you know, maybe that’s us, maybe it’s us. And that vibe, I keep waiting. Because there’s so many amazing people doing amazing things.

Women, men, straight, gay, trans, cis, whatever. There’s so many people doing amazing work pulling together that intersection of, you know, practical things and creative things. Because, creative people are very practical. Nobody knows how to fix a vacuum cleaner like an artist, you know, like

Jessica Abel: Their scrappy, man. They, yeah. They make it

Sonia Simone: scrap. They make it work. Creative people know how to make it work. And they know how to solve problems that at first seemed like it might be impossible to solve. It’s what we do. That is what we do. So, um, yeah, so Creative Fierce is this identity. It has been coming together slower than I would like, but that’s how I roll. Slow than I would like is the theme of mine. It’s my theme song.

Jessica Abel: Slow business. That’s what you

signed up for.

Sonia Simone: Slow business. And, but yeah, I’m putting together a platform where we can come together and be creative and be fierce. About a lot of things about business and creativity and politics and the dynamics between the privileged and the less privileged. And what do our privilege cards look like and how can we play the ones we have? And just the whole damn thing.

So, yeah. So I have a domain and a, and a website, you know. I was hoping to get that really launched that website in September. Slower than I would like, but it’s, it’s really close and it’ll be very much a co-creation. I mean, I’m, comfortable and I don’t even know why, but I’m very comfortable standing up and saying, let’s go do a thing.

I have no problem being the, you know, Derek Sivers says the difference between a lone nut and a movement is one follower. And I’m, I’m very comfortable being a lone nut to stand up and say, “Come on. Who’s with me?” And just doing it. And where I got that confidence, I couldn’t even tell you, I don’t know. Just doing it I guess, but not having a choice helps.

Jessica Abel: I love that. That’s awesome. Uh, well I think we need to wrap it up in a few minutes. If there are any questions, make sure you let us know.

But meanwhile, I’m going to look here for, yeah. So Sue Ann says slow business is often strong business in the end. I think that’s right. I think, you know, really paying attention to, and I think one of the things that that becomes is very vivid for me from your story, Sonia, is that your you became disconnected and maybe we’re never fully connected to what made sense for you as a human being, in terms of the way you were working. That you kind of slid from this corporate world into the content marketing world and enjoyed what you were doing.

Enjoy the content of what you’re doing much more, but maybe didn’t question the circumstances of the way that you were working enough until you’d been doing it for so long. And somebody asks you this question and boom, all of a sudden, it all kind of like the scales fall from your eyes. It sounds like.

Sonia Simone: Yeah, yeah for sure.

Jessica Abel: Well, thank you so much for being here with us today. It has been such a pleasure to talk to you again after all these years. How can people find you and find out more about Creative Fierce?

Sonia Simone: Yeah, so the best way, um, I put together a thing that helps writers be more prolific. Uh, and I just hosted it. It’s just unlockyourwords.com. So you can Google me. Find me all kinds of places. Find me on Twitter. That’s great. Come ask me, but that is a free thing. It will help you write a little bit more.

It’s very, it’s very helpful for people like me who have inconvenient brains, whether it’s officially ADHD or just something else. Um, but yeah, unlockyourwords.com will, will get you a little thing that I wrote about getting more writing done, but honestly, more creative work done of all kinds.

And, um, that, that, that signs you up for my email. You can go look up my stuff on Copyblogger. There’s lots and lots of it. Um, yeah. And it’s like, it’s good. I mean, like I look back and I’m like, I’m, I’m proud of that body of work. I think it’s, I think it’s good stuff.

So, but yeah, and now that will, if you pick up the PDF on getting more writing done that’s where I’ll, I’ll be letting people know about the next thing. And then the new website and the course and all the, all the cool things that are coming.

Jessica Abel: Awesome. Thank you.

Uh, that is very, very cool.

Thank you, Sonia. Thanks again. Great to have you

Sonia Simone: Thank you so much. It was really, really fun.

outro

Thank you so much for joining us today for the Autonomous Creative.

Our show is produced by Matt Madden, our production coordinator is Lousine Boyakhandjyan, and our production assistant is Rhiannon Sunday. Music is by Matt Madden, and I’m your host, Jessica Abel.

You can find all our takeaways as well as any links and extras we mentioned today plus transcripts, in the show notes. Find everything you need at acpod.show.

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