Entrepreneur: Joanna Penn 

Biz: The Creative Penn 

Tilt: How to write, publish, and market books 

Primary Channels: Podcast (7.8M downloads across 228 countries), website, YouTube (49.1K)

Other Channels: Instagram (9.1K), Twitter (85K), Facebook (7.7K)

Time to First Dollar: First month after blog launch ($1.67 Amazon affiliate payment) 

Rev Streams: Books (including ebooks, print, and audio) with direct sales via CreativePennBooks.com; corporate sponsors and Patreon for podcast; courses; affiliate marketing

Our Favorite Actionable Advice:

  • Don’t follow trends: Video doesn’t come naturally to Joanna. That’s why she creates podcasts, not Instagram Reels or TikToks. “You need to choose what works for you and your personality and what is sustainable for the long term,” she says.
  • Create custom and relevant experiences: Joanna executes sponsorships only with brands that she already uses. She doesn’t host third-party advertising feeds on her platforms either. The result? Better negotiated sponsorship rates.
  • Think scalability: Create something you control, such as an ebook or an online course. Those content products can easily scale as you sell the same product over and over. That’s the basis of a sustainable business.

The Story of Joanna Penn

When it comes to content creation, Joanna Penn was ahead of her time. Blogs were just taking hold when she launched her own in 2008. Online courses, which she started teaching that same year, weren’t the billion-dollar industry they are today. And when she launched her podcast in 2009, they were referred to as “downloadable audio.”

Joanna wasn’t the first, of course. She says she took a page from the likes of Yaro and Brian Clark as she built her business. And the same business strategies and revenue streams she relied on in those early days continue to drive her highly successful content business, earning multiple six figures every year.

“I could see that this is a business model that works for them, so they were models for me,” Joanna says.

@TheCreativePenn created her successful business based on models from fellow entrepreneurs @YaroStarak and @BrianClark. #ContentEntrepreneur #CreatorEconomy Click To Tweet

Now a best-selling author of nearly three dozen fiction and nonfiction books, Joanna educates the writing community with tips and advice about how to write, publish, and market books, particularly self-published books. She has two brands – Joanna Penn for her book-writing advice and nonfiction work and J.F. Penn for her fiction writing. The mix of content and creativity required suits her perfectly.

“The whole thing about being an entrepreneur is, ‘What do you want to spend your time doing?’ says Joanna, whose income comes from her book sales, podcasting, courses, and affiliate marketing. “And I want to spend my time doing lots of different things.”

‘Not a risk-taker’

Back in 2006, Joanna was like a lot of other future content creators – miserable in her day job. She started writing a book about how to enjoy your job or find a new one. As she navigated through the scams, complexities, and missteps in the publishing industry, she stumbled on a content tilt.

“Initially, it was a problem of my own that I wanted to help other people with,” Joanna says. “That’s always what it was. I wanted to help people with what I’ve learned.”

First came the blog, and then the podcast and other assets and channels. She quit her day job in 2011 when her content business earned about $1,000 a month. As the main wage earner in her household, Joanna, who is based in England, had a plan: If she couldn’t make a go of being a full-time content entrepreneur within six months, she’d return to corporate life.

But, at the same time, Joanna and her husband prepared for the potential drop in income, paying off debt, selling their house, and downsizing. That smart planning allowed Joanna the freedom to keep plugging away. In 2015, her business surpassed the income she’d been making at her full-time job.

Four years after quitting her day job, @TheCreativePenn's business revenue surpassed her full-time job income. #CreatorEconomy Click To Tweet

“I’m not a risk-taker, and I think that’s really important,” she says.

Build a strong foundation

The business foundation Joanna built from day one has made it possible for her to grow and expand her content for more than a decade.

Case in point: Her earliest podcast episodes didn’t pull in millions of listeners, but they allowed interviewing the guests allowed her to grow her network. “Nobody was really listening,” she says. “But the connections I made in those early years, some of those people are still my friends.”

Now, her podcast draws in millions of listeners and provides the audio and transcripts that she shares on her website and YouTube page, helping her SEO for both platforms. “I almost stopped putting my stuff up on YouTube when I stopped doing video, but then discovered that the SEO for voice-only is great,” she says.

The email list, which she’s cultivated since 2008, is helpful in getting eyes on her content. In the early days, that might have been a blog post. Today, it might be a newly minted NFTs. “All these things, to me, still work,” she says.

Joanna’s timing also has been on point.

For generations, self-publishing was considered a costly vanity. But the iPhone, Kindle, and ebooks emerged just as Joanna found her footing. Suddenly, it became easier for authors to get published and noticed as blogging, podcasting and other online marketing tactics took hold.

“Web2 and technology enabled the ecosystem,” she says. “Suddenly, being an author was a viable business.”

Now, with the same business tools she started using more than a decade ago, she’s navigating the Web3 world – from her NFTs to a course on AI-assisted authors about using artificial intelligence tools to write and market books. She’s excited about what the future holds for creators with new and yet-to-launch tools. “It’s turning what we do into these multiple streams of income and using the tools to expand,” she says.

@TheCreativePenn created a course on #AI-assisted authors as she embraces the evolution of #Web3 on writing and marketing books. Click To Tweet

Advice for content entrepreneurs

Among Joanna’s advice for content creators building a business:

Find what works for you

A self-proclaimed introvert, Joanna finds video doesn’t come naturally. That’s why you will find her on podcasts, not Instagram Reels or TikTok. Don’t try to master every platform, she says. “You need to choose what works for you and your personality and what is sustainable for the long term,” she says.

Be authentic with your sponsors

Like other successful creators, Joanna gets plenty of offers for sponsorships. She only selects a few, and they are companies whose products she already uses. In fact, she doesn’t have any auto-populated advertising feeds on her platforms. “I only choose my advertising, and I do all that privately, which also means I’m making more money because I can negotiate better rates than the main platforms do,” she says.

Plan for scalability

To build a long-term and sustainable business, don’t rely simply on social media platforms. Create something that you fully control, such as an ebook or an online course. “All of this stuff is scalable,” she says. “You create it once, and then it sells over and over again – and you can change it into whatever format if you own the intellectual property. That becomes the basis to a sustainable career.”

Join your fellow serious content creators at the Creator Economy Expo May 5-7, 2024. Registration opening soon.

About the author

Sarah Lindenfeld Hall is a longtime journalist, freelance writer, and founding editor of two popular parenting websites in North Carolina. She frequently writes about parenting, aging, education, business management, and interesting people doing remarkable things.