John Sonmez is the Author of the Best-selling book Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual and a life coach for software developers who strongly believe in making the complex simple. He blogs and teaches software developers how to market themselves at simpleprogrammer.com.
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Worst Entrepreneur Moment
- John spent COUNTLESS hours – both time and energy – creating this one perfect product… and then, it got REJECTED. Fire Nation, this is how he SHOULD have gone about it… Tune in for a great lesson learned!
Entrepreneur AH-HA Moment
- Compare and despair, Fire Nation. The ONLY person you should compare yourself to is: the YOU of yesterday!
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Best Business Book
- Soft Skills by John Sonmez
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Interviewer: Oh, yeah. John is the author of the bestselling book Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual, and he's a life coach for software developers who strongly believes in making the complex simple. He blogs and teaches software developers how to market themselves at simpleprogrammer.com. John, take a minute. Fill in some gaps from that intro and give us a little glimpse into your personal life.
John: Sure. So, I've been a software developer for about 15 years or so and I've always been interested in motivational speaking and helping people and mentoring and so I got a good opportunity in my career to sort of help software developers in ways that are beyond the technical. So, I took it and I found no one else was doing that so that's pretty much what I do. I really just help software developers to be better and I love it. I mean, I love helping people. I love talking and just inspiring people to do better and to realize they can become entrepreneurs too.
Software developers are in such a perfect position to do that.
Interviewer: Now, what about the personal side? Let's hear about where you're at – family or whatever.
John: So, I live in Tampa, Florida. I have a beautiful wife named Heather and a lovely daughter named Sophia who is 4 years old. We travel the world together and we all just have a great time here.
Interviewer: Sweet. I've heard some great things about Tampa and about entrepreneurship. Is that kind of a little unknown gem that's starting to blow off or is that just not the case?
John: Yeah, I think so. I think especially in the kind of bigger startups and the funded startup – not as much in the bootstrap as far as I know but, yeah, there's definitely a lot in the health market here I've noticed. I'm actually an advisor on the startup in the health industry, so yeah, it's definitely – there's a bunch of things going on here all the time, so –
Interviewer: Well, John, I want to talk dollars and cents now because we're entrepreneurs looking to make viable businesses. Looking to generate revenue so we can keep doing what we love doing and really impact the world in a positive way. So, how do you, John, today generate revenue?
John: Okay, my theory – my biggest thing behind generating revenue is that it should come from lots of sources. I have a very diverse source of revenue from my real estate investment but within the – to the business and within the business I get a lot of royalties from pluralsight courses that I did, which is like online training for developers. So, that comes in and that's kind of a continual thing. I also – my primary money that comes in from the simple programmer side of the business from the blog and everything comes from a course I sell called How to Market Yourself as a Software Developer.
That teaches software developers kind of marketing skills and how to build a personal brand and all that and how valuable that is. Then I also generate some ad in the affiliate revenue through that and then I've got book royalties of course from my book and I've got some apps out there. Basically, it comes down to a simple model that I have, which is the primary model that I used to generate all this revenue is that you focus on building this audience.
So, I have this audience that I've built by generating a lot of great content from blog posts to YouTube videos to podcast and then get people to subscribe to my email courses, which gives them more great content for free. Then I sell them products to take things to the next level and then I supplement that where appropriate with advertising and affiliate revenue kind of in that stream. But it's all generating around giving people a lot of value and building up this audience so that I can help them.
Interviewer: I love that model. Fire Nation, I hope you're taking some notes here. Now, John, I want to talk about your journey. I mean, you haven't always been, you know, best-selling author with courses and all these different revenue streams. Take us back to a time in your entrepreneurial journey that you consider your worst entrepreneurial moments and, John, don't pull any punches. Open up that window, take us inside. I want to be there with you during those moments. Tell us that story.
John: Okay, so I was thinking about this one a lot because I knew you were going to ask this question and, you know, I wanted to take just like a little spot in time when I was first getting started out, I was doing Pluralsight courses. This was before Simpleprogrammer. I had my – doing training videos for Pluralsight trying to get out of the rat race and I remember distinctly I had – I had just worked on this course. I had spent all this time creating this course on basically the basics of how computers work and I put a lot of effort into this thing. I thought this was going to be one of my killer courses that was going to get me free. I have my wife and my daughter and we're at Disneyworld and I remember the spot. I can tell you why I remember the spot because when I walk past that spot even today, it's where in Disneyworld where they do these dole whips – where they serve these dole whips. And as I walk there, I get a little ping in my stomach just because of the heartache I felt there because that was the moment when I had submitted my course.
We were going to Disneyworld and I had looked at my phone to check my messages and I got this email, this long email, from Pluralsight, the company that basically hosts the course and I get the royalty – I'm the author for that and so they send me this email and they said that they were rejecting the course and they gave all these reasons, you know, kind of why. So, basically all this work and effort that I had put in was just gone. It evaporated. It just – I mean, it's the entrepreneurial thing, right. You invest and then you pray and you hope but there's no guarantee that you're going to get paid.
It just broke my heart. Even to this day, I can take myself right back to that moment and just – if I walk past there when we go to Disneyworld, I just feel that pain of that pain, of that failure, you know, something that I really believed in and someone basically said this sucks.
Interviewer: Yeah. We're all at Fire Nation going to have that moment at some point in our journey. For most of it, it's at the very beginning because we don't really know what we're doing. It's like the blind leading the blind. I mean, we just throw something against the wall and it doesn’t stick. It fails. It bursts into flames and we're like oh, that's the worst and we have nothing to fall back on, nowhere to go and it can be scary and terrifying. That’s the reality and then that happens again.
Like, it happens to me all the time but, you know, I always have things to go back to – revenue streams I can rely on so it's not that devastating of a blow, which is why I love talking about revenue at the beginning because I want to give you ideas, Fire Nation, on how to really get those revenue streams rolling so, John, that was my big takeaway is that this is just kind of part of being an entrepreneur and why it's important to diversify as soon as possible and not just count everything on that one throw – that one bowling ball – whatever that might be.
What do you want to make sure Fire Nation gets from your story? Sum it up for us in just one or two sentences.
John: So, the big thing is you're going to get kicked in the face. You're going to get punched in the stomach but when that happens, the defining moment, the thing that's going to determine in life and in entrepreneurship – ultimately whether or not you succeed is whether you can just suck up that wind that got knocked out of you and just keep moving forward. Know that you'll eventually get there. The only way that you can fail with a capital "F" is if you stop. As long as you keep going, you will get there. That's what I did after that course. I made another course and another course and another course until I made 55 courses and I achieved my dream.
Interviewer: Love that and it kind of brings up a great quote by Rocky Balboa, you know, one of the great movie series of all times. He goes, "Yeah, well would you ever punch in the face 500 times a night?" Fire Nation, that is sometimes how it feels when you starting off being an entrepreneur. You feel like you're just getting punched in the face over and over again and guess what? It’s the person that gets back up often that keeps coming back and keeps persevering is going to get to that point where you're looking back on it and smiling instead of just cringing and being like oh, this is the worst!
So, John, let's shift to another moment in your life. This one is going to be an epiphany, an aha moment, a lightbulb that you've had turn on at some point. And, John, you've had a ton of these, my friend, but you know Fire Nation. We are entrepreneurs. What's an epiphany moment that you've had that you know our listeners are going to resonate with and really tell us that story.
John: Sure. So, I was trying to think of the most valuable one that would connect with entrepreneurs here, especially ones that are trying to get started. For me, and this was really a pivotal moment in my life. So, I have a mastermind group, which everyone should have a mastermind group. It absolutely changed my business life but in this mastermind group, we actually make it a podcast. It's entreprogrammers. You can find it at entreprogrammers.com but we just display it out for everyone but anyway, when we start out this mastermind group, we were basically – it was a couple of developers.
We are all developers. We're developer-neurs – entreprogrammers, right. So, we started this up and we didn't really know what we were doing. None of us were really making any money online so we came up with idea of this $100 entrepreneur challenge, so the idea was basically that you can't use any of your connections. You can't use any of your blog or email lists or any of this stuff and you have to make $100 online in 24 hours – $100 or more. I had no idea how to do this. I was like how could I make $100? What can I do? So, I spent 24 hours awake, you know – that was the duration of the contest – brainstorming ways and figuring out and coming up with a plan to do this.
What I ended up doing was I ended up pre-selling the course that I eventually created How to Market Yourself as a Software Developer? I ended up creating like landing page and learning how to write a little bit of the copy and then I figured out ways to advertise it to be able to send out some tweets and to try and send emails to people, just make cold contacts, and I ending up selling like $700 worth of the course at $75 each and that was the moment that I said wow, I can make money online.
It's not that hard as long as you provide something of value and that totally changed my perspective in life because I was in this limiting mindset that making $100 in a day online seemed like a challenge. Once I had blown past that, I realized that it's not that – it's actually – it wasn't that it was so hard. It was that I didn't believe it was possible and now that my belief as so much larger, it became easy and so it really was that moment to me to realize that a lot of the things that we think are difficult or hard or not achievable, it's just a mindset thing.
When you see on the other side of the wall – when you open up that mindset, all of a sudden this whole world opens up and all these possibilities open up and that's what happened for me.
Interviewer: Fire Nation, believe me, you are your biggest ally in this life but you are also your biggest enemy. It's that mindset shift that we need to have. It's the blocks that we put into place and it's a lot of times, John, it is subconscious. You didn't even know that it was there but it was there for you and then when you actually kind of broke through and you looked back and you were like man, I didn't even realize that barrier was there but now that it's there, it's so silly. Like, why would I have that and a great book that I always recommend about this is Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker, great past guest of EOFire.
So, many of us sabotage our own success, Fire Nation. You know, we look and, you know, I'll be honest – Podcaster's Paradise now is really impressive. I mean, there's over 200 video tutorials. I do monthly webinars with all our podcasters. We have a 2,000 person plus Facebook group. It is amazing but guess what? It didn't start out that way. So many people think that if they're going to make a dollar, they're going to have to create this amazing huge intricate community and then open the doors. No, it's the opposite.
I sold $3,500 of Podcaster's Paradise membership sales before I even did a minute of work – before I even created one tutorial and that's what you can do in this world. You can create something out of nothing and then once it's a proven concept, you can honor that commitment and then deliver that value. So, John, that's my big takeaway from your aha moment. What do you want to make sure Fire Nation gets from your story?
John: Yeah, I think what you said very much – I think that's where I was going to go. Basically, you don't have to like spend six months. I guess I'll just expand upon it. You don't have to spend six months or a year and quit your job and take it, you know, roll the dice on one shot or like put one bullet in the chamber and not even know how to shoot a gun and hope that you hit the target.
Interviewer: This isn't Russian Roulette, Fire Nation, come on.
John: You can take multiple shots and you can be sure of your success ahead of time by pre-selling and by just starting small, doing little things. Like, just do something. Take some kind of action and then you learn and you adapt. You're not going to hit it out of the park on the first try or maybe you could but most people don't and you have to realize that. Sometimes you see everyone else's highlight reel in life and you get disappointed. You feel so bad and you compare yourself to others instead of comparing yourself to where you were yesterday and that’s what you really got to do. Just try to go one step forward.
Every day is either you move forward or you move backwards. Make every day moving forward.
Interviewer: John, I love that. Compare and despair, Fire Nation – period. That's a sentence. Compare and despair – period. In all things, if you compare yourself to somebody else, you will despair on some level, so just realize this. Compare yourself to you yesterday. There's nothing better than that. That was so well put, John. Now, kind of quick side note – whenever the word Russian Roulette comes up and I know that I brought it up but that bullet in the chamber comment really kind of brought my thoughts to that. Have you ever seen the movie Deer Hunter, John?
John: Oh, yeah, yeah, a while ago.
Interviewer: Yeah, it's a doozy. It's like a three or four hour movie, Fire Nation. It's one of those like back in the video cassette days. Like, there was four of them. They were so long. That's whenever I think about side note with Russian Roulette. It kind of gives me the chills. But, John, what I want to talk about now is your biggest weakness as an entrepreneur.
John: Okay, so I would say my biggest weakness is really that I want to move too fast and I don't want to get all the details in place. Like, I'm working on trying to get perfect audience working for retargeting for my website. I just want to throw ads out there. I don't want to like get an ad designed and think about the copy. I just want to start seeing the results. So, I've got to slow down. I have to go and plan things out and get all the details in place and then I can ride the ride and see what happens. I just – I tend to just want to jump and go and don't spend enough time on the details sometimes.
Interviewer: Yeah, well Facebook advertising and other forums, Fire Nation, you have to know your numbers. You have to know what your click-through rate is. You have to know what your conversion per click is, what your ROI – that overall return on investment; otherwise, you might just be throwing money to the wind. You can't be doing that as an entrepreneur. What is your biggest strength?
John: So, that one I would have to say is consistency in discipline. I like the author you just mentioned. I think my favorite quote from him is how you do anything is how you do everything. That's what I kind of base my life around is keep producing no matter what. Every day I have to be consistent in discipline because how I live that day is how I live every day of my life. So, I'm really good at getting a plan and sticking to it rain or shine. I mean, I produce three YouTube videos or more every single week; blogposts consistently; podcasts consistently; never missed that and that's the thing.
Over time, over like three, four or five years, that consistency and discipline is the thing that causes people to be successful. So, I'm blessed that I have those as my strength. Not that I didn't have to develop them but I definitely hold those my biggest strengths right now.
Interviewer: Yeah, that's a great quote by T. Harv and, Fire Nation, that's a book that you need to read about this if you just really want to get it hammered home. It's called The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. It's about just not doing the little things every day will add up to greatness down the line. John, you have a lot of things going on right now but what is the one thing above everything else that has you most fired up today?
John: So, this is – I'm scared. So, this is how I know this should be good. This is where I have to go but I'm fired up now about expanding beyond software developers and programmers. I have realized that a lot of this stuff that I'm doing just applies to the general population but I did a smart strategic thing of picking a niche initially but now I want to go out and expand that because I feel I’m fired up about bringing this to more people. I want to reach more people and just get more people excited in getting to become better versions of themselves. So, that's what I'm fired up about.
Interviewer: Fire Nation, we should all be working every single day to become better versions of ourselves. I love this theme John is developing – if you are going to compare yourself to something or someone, compare yourself to you yesterday – period. Now, we're about to drop some value bombs in the lightning round but first let's take a minute to thank our sponsors. John, are you prepared for the lightning rounds?
John: I'm ready.
Interviewer: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
John: Not finishing things. Once I became a finisher, everything started changing. I had a lot of – open up your closet and you've got the yellow belt from karate, you've got all of these broken – I call it the closet of broken dreams. It's all unfinished projects. Once I completed my first project all the way and I stuck to it, I was like I am going to build this android app – like, I will put it out in the market, everything changed. I saw myself as a finisher and I started finishing things and when you get 99 percent done with something, it has zero value but when you click that one percent to 100 percent, it suddenly has value and that was the turning point.
Interviewer: What's the best advice you've ever received?
John: Trust the process. At one point, I was going to take – I was going to become a professional poker player. I learned a lot from the poker world, which is that you can't look at the results. You have to know what is the correct play and how to do the correct thing and what that is. Don't get focused on the results because a lot of times you're going to do the right thing and you're going to get a bad result because that happens, right. But if you're focusing on the results, if you're focusing on what happened, then you're going to have a problem.
But if you go back and you say no, no, I'm going to get the process right and I know I'm doing the right thing, then that leads to success.
Interviewer: What's a personal habit that contributes to your success?
John: I would say that committing and making decisions ahead of time and never quitting in the moment. So, I've got this habit – so, this maybe comes from doing body building type of, you know, planning out diets but I always know what I'm eating. I know what I'm doing that day. I have a schedule. I know exactly so I prevent myself from making judgement calls in the moment because when you're hungry, when you're tired, when you feel like watching cat videos on YouTube, you make that decision. So, plan it all ahead of time.
Oh, the other thing I do with that is I never quit in the moment, so one day I came up with this crazy running plan where I was going to run 10K every single day and I did that for that week. I didn't wake up one morning and say oh, I'm not going to do it. What I did was if I decide to quit anything, I quit it after careful consideration – never in the moment. When I am supposed to do the thing, I do what I said I was going to do, what I committed to but I can reevaluate it later on. That has saved me a lot of heartache.
Interviewer: Fire Nation, is there any question why John is a success is all I have to say. Now, John, sharing an internet resource like Evernotes with Fire Nation.
John: Drip and it's at getdrip.com. I've been using that to create my email courses in order to, you know, for when people come on to my mailing list, they get this free email course and I found that it's really nice. It works really nice. It does exactly what you want to do. If you want to educate people via email through your list.
Interviewer: If you could recommend just one book for our listeners, what would it be and why?
John: Gosh, this is such a hard one because I love books. I would have to say though the War of Art. As an entrepreneur, the War of Art is a book that changed my life because it made me feel like I wasn't alone in the world and I had a solution for my problem because I think most people struggle with this procrastination of not being able to just sit down and do the work. And that really inspired me to just sit down every day and do the work and that – yeah, so, War of Art I would highly recommend that.
Interviewer: And, of course, Fire Nation, Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual. If that's of interest, that will be linked up on the show notes page. Fire Nation, I know that you love audio, so I teamed up with audible, so if you haven't already, you can get an amazing audiobook for free at eofirebook.com. John, this is the last question of the lightning round but it is a doozy. Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning in a brand new world identical to Earth but you knew no one. You still have all the experience and knowledge you currently have.
Your food and shelter is taken care of but all you have is a laptop and $500. What would you do in the next seven days?
John: I would start off by picking a niche that I was going to serve in an audience-segmented target. I'd try to be as narrowly focused as possible because I have no reputation, no connections, nothing. Then I would create a blog, a YouTube channel and a podcast. Then I'd create a schedule to create a certain volume of content every week that I would commit to. Then I'd plan out a low-level, a mid-level and a high-level product to sell and then I'd start collecting email addresses, build an email list and with email courses that sold those low-level, mid-level and high-level products.
Interviewer: Fire Nation – that is a recipe for success. John, we started on fire so let's end on fire with a parting piece of guidance from you the best way that we can connect with you and then we'll say bye-bye.
John: All right, so I'd say the best way to connect with me is just to go to simpleprogrammer.com and one thing if you don't mind me saying, Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual, it says software developer but it is really just for anyone. Like, it's just Soft Skills and it is available on audible too. I love audible, but yeah, I would say just go to simpleprogrammer.com. You can check out my YouTube video podcast. Everything is all there in that place so –
Interviewer: And a parting piece of guidance?
John: Parting piece of guidance? I'm going to stick with our theme here because I love our theme. I'm going to say don’t compare yourself to others. Go back and compare yourself to the earlier version of yourself. Think about – think ahead. Think about the person you want to be five years from now and step into that role. Start acting like that person. I like to use the think it until you make it. I use it in a positive way. I say imagine the person you want to become. Imagine how that person talks, how they eat, how they put on their clothes in the morning.
Start acting like that person and you will eventually become that person because that is the ultimate goal. It doesn't matter what someone else is doing. It doesn't matter what everyone else is doing and how you compare. You compare to yourself and your goal in life should always be to become a better version of yourself every single day.
Interviewer: Fire Nation, you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with and you have been hanging out with JS and JLD today, so keep up the heat and head over to eofire.com and just type John (J-O-H-N) in the search bar on the show notes page. We'll pop right up with everything that we've been talking about today. Of course, you can go directly to simpleprogrammer.com. You can snag his book Soft Skills. Everything will be linked up on the show notes page as well and, John, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today and for that, we salute you and we'll catch you on the flip side.
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