Zoe Simmons is a writer with a passion for making a difference. As an experienced journalist who’s been published hundreds of times around the globe—including by News.com.au, Daily Mail, Kidspot, Mamamia, the Sydney Morning Herald, the New York Post and That’s Life and New Idea magazines—Zoe knows how to captivate audiences through the raw power of storytelling.
At the age of 24, Zoe began building her copywriting and editing business, where she now works full-time, helping businesses small and large to find their perfect words. She’s had words on ethical journalism published in Kathy Divine’s book Golden Age Politics, poems published in Beyond The Veil Press’s mental health anthology, and made her speaker debut at the 2021 National Young Writer’s Festival. She is also the Silver winner of the Young Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the 2021 Stevie Awards for Women in Business and was listed as Highly Commended in the 2022 Pocketry Prize for Unpublished Poets.
When not running her business, Zoe can be found writing poems, advocating for chronic pain and mental illness, and working on her first book about her hometown’s survival in the Black Summer bushfires.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us. Our readers would like to know more about you. Why did you choose this career?
Zoe Simmons: I think my career kind of chose me.
I’ve always loved words, and their power to convey such deep emotions–and their power to make a genuine difference in the world.
When I was young, I wanted to be an author–but I decided to go into journalism, because I figured it would have better job prospects. Now I’m a journalist who runs my own copywriting and editing business, and I write books and poems. So I guess I got my dream career in the end, anyway! Which feels pretty darn awesome, considering my age!
I write to make a difference in the world, so advocacy is a part of everything I do. It might be by helping an organisation or business that’s making a positive impact on the world to find their perfect words. It might be through my journalism, where I share stories that matter, often raising awareness for important causes and perspectives. Or it might be through sharing my own experiences, and helping others to know they aren’t alone.
Either way—I know words have power. And I’m committed to using that power to change the world. That’s why I chose this career, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Can you share a story that happened to you since you became the leader of your company?
Zoe Simmons: Becoming disabled is a rather big thing that’s happened to me since becoming the leader of my company. I mean, technically, due to mental illness, I’ve been disabled my whole life–but it wasn’t until the last few years that I realised my chronic pain was a disability, too.
It has well and truly turned my life upside down. I am always in pain. Sometimes, it’s so bad, I can’t walk. I also experience a lot of other pesky symptoms, like chronic fatigue, brain fog, insomnia, and pins and needles that regularly make my limbs go numb. It’s meant I’ve had to completely change the way I work, putting my health first, and stopping the ridiculous hustle. Before I was disabled, I’d sometimes be working 17-hour days–that just isn’t feasible. Now, I work in a way that works best for me. And while it does suck to be in agonising pain all the time–especially when I’m in my mid-20s–there are positives.
Like that I can now use my lived experience to make a difference. I can highlight and call out the invisible barriers faced by disabled people, especially when it comes to the workplace. And most importantly, I can help others going through the same thing to know we aren’t alone–and we can still kick butt, and have a beautiful life, filled with success, even in pain.
Please share with us an outstanding woman that you have never met, who inspires you? Tell us how she inspired you?
Zoe Simmons: There are a lot of incredible women who inspire me. But I think one person who stands out is the phenomenal Tara Moss. I’ve read almost all of her books, and have been following her own disability and chronic pain journey.
Calling someone “inspiring” can be a pretty ick thing when you’re disabled, but seeing Tara post about her struggles with pain, while still managing to write incredible books, makes me feel like I can do it too. And because my own experiences with invisible pain are pretty similar, it makes me feel like I’m not alone. It also gives me the bravery to speak out and add my voice to the sea of advocates already doing amazing things in the world.
She is also a fantastic advocate for using mobility aids, and it’s because of her that I had the confidence to try mobility aids for the first time. She even took the time to message me once about it, which meant the world to me.
I know you only said ONE outstanding woman, but I’d also like to mention my amazing Mum. She raised me on her own, while working three jobs and studying for a degree. She is a WARRIOR and inspires me every day to be strong. She is my biggest fan, and I am so grateful for all she’s done and sacrificed for me.
People who have helped us achieve success are very important to us. We should be grateful for everything they do for us. Can you share a story about how someone who PERSONALLY helped you succeed?
Zoe Simmons: Oh gosh, there are SO many people who have helped me succeed. From everyone that follows me online and have supported my work, to all my beautiful clients and mentors over the years.
Someone who has had a big impact on my life is definitely Kate Toon. I did her Recipe for SEO Success course back in 2018, before joining her Clever Copywriting School. Before Kate, I didn’t realise I could make a business from my writing! It inspired the heck out of me. Kate’s group has so much love and support, and she herself has helped a lot over the years–including chats, advice, and helping me to have the courage to take the leap into my own business. I can’t thank her enough for that.
Disability advocate and author Carly Findlay has also had a huge impact. I’ve been to a few workshops where she presented and I follow her online. The support she gives disabled writers is second to none. I feel very lucky that Carly has also given me advice, supported and encouraged me, and even shared my work online. Whenever Carly shares my work, I always get a bunch more followers–and have gotten a lot of opportunities as a result! It blows my mind, especially because we’ve never actually met. But I am so very grateful, and I know hundreds of other young writers are in the same boat.
Women are more prominent in business than ever, however, there is plenty room for improvement. What can people do on their own, what can society do, and what can the government do? What are your suggestions?
Zoe Simmons: I think society kind of thinks that we have gender equality, and that we don’t need feminism anymore. I think that is absolutely ridiculous, and there is so much more that can be done.
For starters, there needs to be an acceptance that there are still so many issues faced by women (including transgender women). The gender pay gap still exists. Women are still conditioned to “not be bossy”. Women are still penalised for needing to look after children, and elderly women are experiencing homelessness at alarming rates, often as a result of taking time off to have kids. We also experience high rates of sexual assault and violence, especially in the workplace.
Yet when we speak out, we are ridiculed, or ignored. I don’t have answers to all the issues women in business and the workplace face, but we can start by accepting that a lot of work still needs to be done. We can address our unconscious bias towards women. We can make accessibility and flexibility a priority, which benefits EVERYONE, especially disabled women. We can educate people on these issues, and provide ways to change. We can call out bad behaviour, and provide ways for women to be heard, especially when it comes to assault and violence. We can encourage women to pursue leadership, and support them through their career journeys. Lifting women up does not mean dragging men down–it means we even the playing field.
I think it’s also very important to be inclusive, particularly with women who are disabled, who are in the LGBTQIA+ community, and those who are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Because action means nothing if it only benefits white women.
There are many reasons why more women should become CEOs, Entrepreneurs, and founders. Some of these reasons may be obvious to you, but I think it is helpful to list them out. So, can you share a few reasons why more women should become business leaders?
Zoe Simmons: There are so many great reasons for becoming a business leader–and I think one reason that appeals to a lot of women, especially disabled women, is flexibility.
As my own boss, I can give myself the flexibility to work how works best for me. I can rest. I can put my health first. I can schedule my work around my health, and take meaningful action when I have the capacity. I think this flexibility would benefit so many people, especially those with caring responsibilities, or those who live rurally. Not having to commute to a traditional workplace has been an absolute godsend!
I also love that I can choose what projects I do and don’t want to work on. And because I work with a lot of different clients, no day is ever the same. It’s exciting!
I can also focus more on my own professional development, which has been fun. It’s nice to have that space to be strategic, to be creative, and to try things I probably wouldn’t if I wasn’t my own boss!
What are some things people think about being a business leader that isn’t true? Can you give examples?
Zoe Simmons: I think a lot of people think being a business leader is easy. It’s true: as my own boss, I can take days off when I need to, and work when I have the capacity to. But you’re also in charge of so much more than just your role. You’re in charge of your marketing, your PR, your admin, your finances, your customer relations AND your work. It’s a lot! And it can be very overwhelming to juggle so many different things. It takes a lot of discipline to be able to sit down and do the things that need to get done.
In your opinion, what type of person is likely to be successful as a business leader? What are the specific traits that increase the chance of success? And do you think everyone is cut out to be a business leader? Can you explain what you mean?
Zoe Simmons: I think anyone can be a successful business leader. But it’s hard.
You need to be someone that is cut out for the highs and lows–the feast and the famine of business. You need to be able to handle rejection, and keep going forward anyway. You need to be able to feel the fear, and tell your imposter syndrome to take a hike. It takes guts and determination. Your “why” needs to be stronger than anything else. And if you fall down, you have to be able to pick yourself back up, and put one foot in front of the other.
And there’s no “right” way to be a leader! All you need is belief in yourself, and the opportunity to take the leap and grow.
What are some things you wish someone had told you before you started your business? Why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Zoe Simmons: I wish someone had told me the realities of how challenging it can be to build a business. I’m a great writer and I love my craft, but I don’t like some of the other things that come with running a business–like admin and finances. Marketing also becomes rather exhausting when you’re busy trying to support your clients! It is definitely worth it to hire subcontractors who are experts in their fields. When I started out, I didn’t have the budget for this–but I’ve been able to enlist support throughout my business journey, and it’s made an enormous difference.
I also wish someone had told me that I was ridiculous for working 17-hour days. It’s not sustainable. Hard work and the “hustle” often gets a lot of praise, and people would compliment me on how much I seemed to get done–but it came at the cost of my health. Burnout is not worth your success. It’s a horrible place to be in, and it certainly worsened my chronic pain and chronic fatigue. You ALWAYS NEED TO PUT YOUR WELL-BEING FIRST, and don’t feel guilty for it. Especially if you’re disabled!
What do you plan on tackling during the year 2022? Share your goals and battles you expect to face.
Zoe Simmons: I’m planning to keep helping businesses and organisations that make a difference to find their perfect words, and I’m planning on continuing to use my lived experience to write articles that help others to feel not so alone.
My BIG goal for 2022 . . . is to get a book deal. I’ve been writing a book about my town’s survival in the horrific 2019/2020 Black Summer Bushfires. It’s been a lot slower than I’d hoped, because I’ve needed to work, and because I’m the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. I often feel like I should give up. I often feel like I’m failing my community for taking so long. But I’m going to keep pushing. Because even though we’ve been forgotten, and even though we are no longer on your screens, our stories matter. It’s our history, and I’m determined to get these stories out into the world.
I’d also love to be involved in other books, and keep building my skills as a speaker. I spoke last year at the National Young Writers’ Festival and loved it, so it’s something I’m really eager to keep doing.
I’m really keen to delve further into advocacy, too–particularly when it comes to chronic pain, chronic illness, chronic fatigue, mental illness and more. It scares me a lot to share so candidly about my experiences, but we need to smash the stigma. And talking about it is the first step! I started doing some advocacy work on TV and radio last year. It would be awesome to continue doing in 2022 and beyond
Thank you so much for your time but before we finish things off, I do have one more question for you. What was the last book you read that had a great impact on you, please tell us how?
Zoe Simmons: I’m currently reading Carly Findlay’s book Say Hello, which I loved.
But Growing Up Disabled in Australia (edited by Carly Findlay) is a wonderful read. I didn’t realise I was disabled for a long time, but these stories resonated with me so much. It made me realise the battles I’ve been facing my whole life, and that I’m not alone. I cried reading it. I think it’s a vital read for anyone that wants to understand more what it’s like to be disabled!
Jerome Knyszewski, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Zoe Simmons for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Zoe Simmons or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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