The following is a guest post from Ken Evoy.
Ken and his company, SiteSell, have been working with solopreneurs longer than anyone else online today. This is their 20th year in business. That’s a century in Internet years!
A lot has changed since 1997! His thoughts here provide unique perspective, not just about where we’ve been, but also the “future of solopreneurs” in a way that only someone with the perspective of 20 years of solopreneur data can bring.
Ken has always believed that any solopreneur should be able to succeed online, as long as they bring “the one factor that no one can teach.” We asked him whether that optimistic outlook was more or less true today, what solopreneurs need to do to succeed online, and why so many fail.
His perspective and peek into the future is an invaluable resource to give solopreneurs the big picture of how to run a profitable online business on their own.
Why Every Solopreneur Should Succeed (And Why Most Don’t)
Any individual who decides to build an online business from scratch should be able to succeed today. However, the following three imperatives must be true. The good news is that the first two are fairly simple and are under your control…
1. Define Success Correctly.
Define “success” in terms of goals that have emotional impact for you. “Make $2,000 per month” is a weak goal compared to “Enable the kids to go to college.” Funding a college education for your child, or retiring without a drop in your standard of living, or even the famous “quit the day job and be my own boss” is a powerful driver of motivation.
They all link back to the necessity of generating a certain level of income, of course. It doesn’t matter whether you’re just starting off, slogging through the detailed research before you even pick a domain name, or you’re suffering because your Google Traffic dropped by 10%, or you’re agonizing over dropping AdSense for a higher-paying, but more time-consuming, monetization model – no “number goal” can match the intensity of what success really means — the attainment of a goal that drives you emotionally.
2. Make Your Goal/Definition of Success Realistic.
This one is all about time, the solopreneur’s biggest enemy. As a “business of one,” you start with a limited number of available hours. If you only plan to allocate 10 hours per week to your online business, you won’t be replacing your $100,000 per year full-time job in the near future.
If your goal is big (e.g., “quit the day job and live life on my terms”), you either…
take a huge risk and quit the day job first, or
work your tail off at two jobs — the one you hate and your new business.
Both take courage. The first yields a greater chance of success. But we recommend the latter approach, unless you have a big nest egg that can absorb at least 2 years of negative net cash flow.
Remember, even the best, most well-financed startup is more likely than not to fail. But yours is not a dotcom startup.
In fact, if you do everything correctly, your odds of success are pretty good — the problem is that few actually nail everything down well. My goal with this post is to help you with that.
The third factor is the biggie, the first of several important potential stumbling blocks to come. Again, we have good news for you. This is the only one that “you’ve either got it or you don’t.”
3. Bring loads of BAM to the table.
This is the one element that cannot be taught. One of the greatest basketball coaches of all time, Geno Auriemma (of the legendary UConn women’s team), sums up our Solo Build It! philosophy perfectly…
The solopreneur equivalent is BAM…
Brain: knows a lot about a niche (no need to be “brainy”)
Attitude: positive, optimistic, excited
Motivation: high level of determination
Solo Build It! helps solopreneurs find, refine and position the perfect niche for themselves (“B”). That helps get folks really excited (Attitude) about what they’re doing. And we can help increase someone’s Motivation (with techniques such as choosing a goal that connects emotionally).
The SBI! Forums are not just “help and be helped” in terms of strategies or trouble-shooting — they excel at emotional support during down times, too (A and M). And yet…
Some folks simply don’t have BAM. You can bring it out of someone who didn’t know they had it. But you cannot plant a seed into a barren field. When faced with the entire scope of what it means to build a business online, the will to win in those people who don’t have BAM crumbles.
How important is BAM?
Nearly 20% of folks who start a business with Solo Build It! refund within 90 days. No matter what we do during the onboarding process, that’s the number. We can delay that, but we can’t change it.
Sooner or later, when they see the whole road map, some folks simply give up. When they first start their business, most solopreneurs pick up bits and pieces of the map as they go. With SBI!, you get the whole thing right away in the Action Guide.
If you’ve never truly challenged yourself, you may not know whether you have what it takes. You’ll find out pretty fast with SBI!. We give everyone the best chance possible to flourish. But the bottom line is always the same, with or without SBI!…
If you simply don’t have the will to work, even though your goals are important, you’re going to quit before you put yourself in a position to win.
The reasons not to continue with SBI! (specifically) usually fall into a lack of B, A, and/or M…
B – “can’t find a niche” or “I’ve never done anything and don’t have hobbies”
A – “your support staff wouldn’t give me free consulting”
M – “too much work” or “the Action Guide is too long” or “I thought it would be easier.”
BAM exists within the individual. Or not. Let’s take a look at the shortfalls we see, in the same order as above…
B — Almost everyone knows/has experienced something that others would love to know. Giving up at this level usually indicates either a hermit’s life (which itself is a niche!) or someone who won’t go through the detailed process to find it (occasionally, it’s been right under a solopreneur’s nose).
It’s not enough to find a niche — you have to assess it, widen or narrow it, refine it, and assess its monetization potential. Some folks give up at this early point (due to frustration, laziness or whatever — no judgments, it just “is what it is”).
A — Many people self-destruct with attitude issues. In our early years, I was intensely involved with customer support. SBI! is a big product with a lot to support. And SBIers are real flesh-and-blood individuals who have the courage to take a big step and put their confidence in us. They deserve empathetic, quality guidance.
Much of this type of support is about one type of “attitude disability” or another. Attitude issues were getting our support staff down. And some issues, such as nastiness or entitlement, were clearly hurting more than just our team — folks who really did want more out of life could not see how they were tripping themselves up with these attitudes.
As a physician who practiced and taught emergency medicine, I could recognize this type of “pain.” I wrote a set of notes in a lighthearted way, initially to support our support staff. They loved it — just being able to understand where anger or sub-clinical depression comes from makes it easier to be empathetic.
They also suggested that I clean it up and publish it. It has helped quite a few people recognize lifelong behavior as being “on them.” That’s the first step to managing what has probably hampered many folks’ adult life.
Sure, I get the occasional angry “FU” – as if the book was written to blame them. It’s kind of sad because there are some “types” who are so rigidly fixed that you can’t connect with them, and yet they’re the ones that would benefit the most. Anyway, it’s here for anyone interested.
M — If it turns out that you don’t want it badly enough, there’s no shame that you ultimately prioritize leisure or family over the sacrifice of investing a lot of time into building an online business. As a wise man once said, “Accept what you cannot change.”
Once you recognize that you just don’t have that type of drive, you can recalibrate. It’s fair enough to hold onto the “sure thing” of enjoying family TV time now, rather than risk those hours on the possibility of reaching a bigger goal later.
If you see and accept that, all is good. It’s sad, though, when SBI! turns out to be just one in a series of “Get Rich Quick” (GRQ) purchases (“I thought this would be easy”).
We’d all love the promise of GRQ to be true. The sales copy is so convincing. And some of these folks do, indeed, go on to purchase more “sure thing” GRQs.
The logic of “we’d all be rich if it were true” doesn’t seem to faze them. But you can only guide those who are ready to accept it.
Much like Coach Geno Auriemma talking about “energy level and effort” (above), we cannot magically infuse anyone with BAM. Coach Geno weeds them out of his program. 20% of new SBIers weed themselves out of ours.
If you do have BAM, following a strong process – like his basketball program or our solopreneurial one – can bring it out and enhance it. It just happens.
That was a long qualifier to the opening statement. But, given the above conditions, yes…
Any individual who decides to build an online business from scratch should be able to succeed today.
If an “emotional connection goal” is set, the size of the goal is realistic for the hours available, and if the solopreneur has BAM, then it is just as possible to succeed today as ever.
In fact, I expect many solopreneurs to do better than ever. Google’s increasing sophistication and the enormous (and still growing) importance of social media, especially when combined with mobile, virtually ensures it…
As Google continues to increase the importance of RankBrain (the Artificial Intelligence/machine learning part of its ranking algorithm), I expect solopreneurs who create high-value content that over-delivers on search intent to do better than ever. Certain flawed ranking advantages that now go to “artificial authorities” will disappear.
Social media is a wonderful leveler of the playing field if you know how to do it well. In fact, it tilts some advantage toward the solopreneur. Who would you expect to outperform on social media… an individual who is passionate about her niche or an employee of a large company in the same field?
For example, I’d bet on the solopreneur who knows and loves the Caribbean island of Anguilla (or someone who knows all about breeding and raising exotic turtles) over an employee of Fodor’s or Frommer’s (or Petsmart or Petco).
The brand-building power of social media enables you to reinforce the “like and trust” branding that your strong website starts. The discovery power further grows the business. It all adds up to increasing conversion rates and monetization.
So Why Do So Many Solopreneurs Fail?
Ah, that’s the $64,000,000 question! I have three $21,000,000 answers (with $1,000,000 left over for odds and ends 😉 ).
#1 $21,000,000 Answer: No BAM
Let’s finish the discussion on BAM first — we’ve covered most of it. If you don’t have it, you don’t win. Let’s assume (for the rest of this article) that folks have “real BAM” and not “temporary excitement” — it’s the same difference as love vs. infatuation. Neither temporary excitement nor infatuation last.
Let me put it this way… I don’t know of a single SBIer on our Results page who does not have BAM! However, while its presence is necessary, it’s far from a guarantee of success.
So why would anyone with BAM fail?
S/he should not. After all, if you think about the challenge in the simplest of terms, it’s winnable…
The Internet, boiled down, is a bunch of interconnected devices (computers, phones, etc.) that enable people to communicate. And people behave in predictably positive ways to those who deliver what they seek. If you do that optimally, you should achieve the goals of your business.
Why wouldn’t you?
The answer is pretty simple…
#2 $21,000,000 Answer: Misallocation of Time!
Solopreneurs don’t have enough time! Urban Dictionary defines “solopreneur” as “an entrepreneur who works alone, “solo,” you run a business single-handedly. You might hire contractors on a project-by-project basis, but you retain full responsibility for the running of the business.”
By definition, you have a time cap. After deducting time for sleep, eating, health, and a 9-to-5 (if you have one), your time is limited to the number of leisure hours that you are ready to invest in business-building activities.
The key to success? Allocate every second of that time to whatever best grows your business at that time.
We deal with “Everyday People.” When I talk of “solopreneurs” throughout this piece, that’s who I’m talking about.
I’m not talking about professional “Internet marketers” (“IMers”). While “Internet marketing” is an important part of what SBIers “do,” our clients are not “Internet marketers.”
Internet marketing (“IM”) is a huge field with many niches — search engine marketing (SEM), social media, advertising, email marketing, content marketing, monetization, and so forth.
Many of those can be broken down into more manageable sub-topics. For example, there are at least 15 discrete ways to monetize (e.g., from AdSense and affiliate marketing to creating and selling your own product).
In each of these fields, there are thousands of “experts,” perhaps tens of thousands in some. It amounts to a massive fire hose of information for the solopreneur who want to create a business around their knowledge of a niche (e.g., taking care of elderly parents at home).
Internet marketers have three audiences…
those who want to become Internet marketers
businesses that might want to hire them
Everyday People (“EP”) who are starting non-IM businesses.
EP earn income passively by selling ads and by recommending products (as affiliates), all the way up to the more active model of selling their services or speaking skills (e.g., this is how we discovered our CMO, Mike Allton of thesocialmediahat.com). Some create their own products (e.g., e-books).
Product coverage is a big part of their content — 10 top social media bloggers can recommend 5 different social media schedulers, all excellent. For a solopreneur, the workload of “keeping up” is growing – they not only have to read quite a bit, they must check out tons of products, often comparing 3 similar products, all of them highly recommended.
The fire hose flow grows and never stops, and they feel that they have to keep up. “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) keeps many solopreneurs focused on the fire hose.
What is the solopreneur to do?
Some of the material may be useful to them, but other ideas and strategies can be counter-productive, or even wrong, while others only work for the IMer audience (one with a very different dynamic than in “regular” niches).
Find 1 or 2 thought leaders in each topic area and stick with them. Try to assemble their information into a process that works. It’s not easy for a solopreneur to figure out who’s the best, and it’s even harder to turn it all into a step-by-step process that works.
Even for those who can do this, should they be doing it? Time, as mentioned, is finite. Think of it as what it really is…your most precious non-renewable resource.
Some of this time will produce useful ideas for your business, but much of it is lost (on bad info, or info that has been said by others, etc.). When you lose time, you have not lost “just time.” You have lost the opportunity to focus those hours on work that more directly grows your business.
So what type of resources should you follow (e.g., by newsletter, through social media, or via RSS feeds)?
There’s nothing wrong with reading a few (max) of your favorite thinkers in the online business world. But 98.35% (approximately) of your “business reading” time should be about…
Remember our example of the solopreneur whose passion is Anguilla? She should be following Anguilla-specific RSS feeds of Google News, Bing News, and Flickr. She should also track the top Anguilla sites and bloggers. (Using Feedly to track it all through RSS is highly time-efficient.)
She should also be doing daily searches on social media for “Anguilla,” and building a list of the best influencers in her niche to follow, slowly developing relationships.
Remember, your niche is your business, not Internet marketing! Isn’t your niche what you should stay on top of?!
Too many folks try to “keep up” with Internet marketing. This misallocation of time is a big problem.
Figuring it out on your own also causes other problems. Most solopreneurs don’t have the experience to separate out all the bad ideas/strategies. They miss some key points, too — they don’t think of everything they need to do. Nor do they have it in the right order.
The entire process of online-business-building is one type of Internet marketing or another. A solopreneur doesn’t “talk Internet marketing” — they don’t even “do” it. They use it at every stage of building a business, trying to form all the bits into a step-by-step process that works…
Solopreneurs need a rock-solid, proven process. When you get the whole road map to your destination, in one shot, it’s going to seem like a longer ride rather than when you encounter it in bits and pieces.
That’s an illusion — you save a ton of time when you know where you’re going, and how to get there. You execute better when totally focused on what best moves your business ahead at any given moment.
A Historical Segue
The above is not theory. SBI! was created when we made a crucial discovery that caused us to totally abandon an easier, more lucrative business model in 2002.
In 1996, I started an experiment to see if it was possible to sell anything online (this was in the days when many doubted that Amazon could succeed).
First, I learned SEO, how to write to communicate, how to write to sell (not the same thing), how to combine it all into an effective website, and how to program the software. I sold 1,000 copies of software at a price of $1,000 per unit in 18 months.
I stopped at that point since the official limit was 1,000 and it was only meant to be a test, but I had accumulated so much unique and proven info/ideas/strategies that it was a shame to waste it all. It took a full year to write and then publish the Make Your Site SELL! book in 1997.
MYSS! became “the bible of Internet marketing in the late 90s and early 2000s,” selling over 150,000 copies (and 15,000 hard copies). It was easy, lucrative, and had unanimously strong reviews. Still…
Many people said, “why pay $17 when I can figure it out on my own?” The value of their time somehow never factored into the equation. It struck me how little people valued their time, not to mention the experience of someone who had been there, done that.
There was, however, a deeper problem with selling all-encompassing books…
Even though folks loved MYSS! and the subsequent line of several more “Make Your _____ Sell!” books, 2002 was the final edition of MYSS!. We stopped selling all books shortly after that.
A survey showed us that most folks loved the books, but they never actually used them to build a business!
That is when Solo Build It! (SBI!) was born.
Building and maintaining SBI! is far more difficult than writing books that people will love but not use. We committed to solopreneur success, which is a great deal more work, focused on the deeper benefit.
The results of this new concept of creating a product that integrated process, tools, guidance/support, community, and auto-updating have been remarkable.
Real people, – “Everyday People” – some brand new to the concept of online business, others recovering from multiple failures despite extensive knowledge, actually do what we originally intended — build online businesses in specific niches, and succeed. We share and celebrate their success in three ways:
Results page features 500 of our top SBIers — all in the Alexa top 1,000,000.
Multi-Year SBI! Reviews features a smaller number of widely different successes followed (through updates from the SBIers) over a period of many years.
Real Life Success Lessons are recent stories featured in our blog, accompanied with valuable, experienced-based Takeaway Lessons.
We’re proud that folks use Solo Build It! as intended, at unmatched rates and levels of success. No one else offers this.
It validates the original non-use discovery of MYSS!. Most times, a solopreneur can’t take information and make it work. They need to be liberated from the barriers and enabled to focus on their niche by following a process and using the tools they require to execute, not to mention guidance and support.
The big cherry on top is the “auto-updating” that lets SBIers keep up to date on important matters, whether that’s a major new trend or a valuable new strategy that will stick.
The business-building process is called CTPM. The tools and guidance are important pieces of SBI!…
But it’s the process, explained step-by-step in the Action Guide, and the auto-updating, that enables SBIers to allocate their efforts/time where it matters most — building their business.
We track around 200 sources of news and information. Most of what we find falls into the following categories…
General consensus on what is correct and important: You can read variations on these themes several times per day. Click-bait pulls you to topics you’ve read before. This means a lot of reading for no new learning.
Areas of Active Debate: The problem here is that it’s almost all anecdotal. Few have the type of data needed to prove a correct answer, so it’s mostly people taking a position. This reading leads to confusion at best, and selection of bad ideas with counterproductive results at worst. Just because the majority are on one “side” of the coin does not necessarily indicate it’s “best.”
Golden Nuggets: These may be big trends or solid small ideas that are strong enough to either break into the core material of the Action Guide or become a software tool or must-read article in one of our supplementary repositories. The big trends are the most important, e.g.,…
We just launched “true” growth hacking into the first half of the Action Guide in a way that will help SBIers get off to a stronger start.
Another is https, a Google-pushed trend whose adoption rate we are tracking closely. It’s likely to become a development priority (other “Google pushes” like Authorship have fallen flat, so we watch to see what percentage of sites adopt this before locking in).
- An immense amount of minutiae: This is the wrong side of the 80/20. Most solopreneurs’ time is better spent on executing the basics.
The important point is that solopreneurs need a “partner” to monitor and filter the entire Internet marketing space and all of its sub-niches. The re-allocation of time to where it matters is a big advantage. In short, we have their backs – no need for FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)!
A few do succeed by doing what I suggested above. They find a few excellent sources of information in each of a wide variety of fields related to online business, then piece the puzzle together in a way that works for them. The trial-and-error is time-consuming, and the success rate is extremely low (see this study).
The rate of success by SBIers though is up to 100x the results of the average solopreneur. After 15 years with SBI!, it still amazes me how regular people progress from raw beginner to accomplished online business person. This survey of 10% of the 500 SBIers on our Results page confirms what delivers their biggest edge.
Finally, there’s a third major roadblock. It’s subtle, so there’s not much coverage of the topic. But in the “real world” of the solopreneur, the ramifications run deep…
#3 $21,000,000 Answer: Site Mindset vs Business Mindset
Most solopreneurs have “mindset failure.” Most people start out thinking that they’re “building a site,” which somehow equates to a business. A site, though, is merely the core of an online business. If you “think” business from Day 1, you…
think through decisions better (e.g., you don’t depend totally on third-party monetization platforms such as AdSense and Etsy — that dependency delivers income, but leaves you vulnerable to rule changes and fee increases). You must control your monetization, and use platforms as ancillary modes of income. In so doing, you also grow substantially more equity (more on this later).
respect what you’re doing more, and so will others. When asked what you do, do you tell folks that you “have a site” or “have a business?” It sounds like we’re splitting hairs, but the impact is big…
“Business” has gravitas. When you start an offline bakery, you spend a lot of time getting the shop’s “look and feel” and its merchandising right, sure. But you focus on delivering great “content” (baked goods) and growing your income. Why? Because you have serious financial skin in the game — equipment, lease, employees, etc.
You lose a lot of money in a hurry if not enough people buy your baked goods, so they better be outstanding. And you have to let folks know you exist. Your efforts go where they belong because the stakes are high.
Online? There’s little financial risk. And folks don’t value their time, not nearly the way they should. So they fiddle on too many things that don’t matter and don’t focus enough on what does.
The good news is that folks with BAM all love to create superb content, a main traffic-builder.
The bad news:
It might be the wrong content. Choose and refine your niche with the same care that you’d choose a location for your bakery, not to mention which baked goods you’ll offer.
They don’t put enough time into social media to deepen the “Brand of One” that their site content builds. Remember, I’m talking about “Everyday People” — pros get it, but most EP either don’t do it, don’t do it enough, or struggle needlessly.
They don’t put nearly enough time converting traffic into high “$-per-visitor” income.
We evolved Solo Build It! as these problems became obvious. “Luckily,” however, we “force” folks to take the right steps.
If you were to go to the explanation of the SBI! Action Guide, you would see how much preparation work is done before you even choose your domain name. It’s half of the guide! You will also see a ton of emphasis on monetization, both the planning stage and later, its execution.
Over time, we see SBIers mature into business people. The longer they have been SBIers, the more business-like the mindset and the questions.
The reality is that an online business is only complicated if you let yourself get drowned by that fire hose. Excelling at the fundamentals, doing all of them, and in the right order, is how most EPs succeed online.
We can boil all this down into one significant takeaway…
Solopreneurs Are Business People, Not “Internet Marketers”
Everyday People who become solopreneurs are individuals who use Internet marketing. They don’t talk about it. They shouldn’t even think about it. The primary thought in their head is…
“What’s my next business–building step?”
They are an incredibly diverse and fascinating group. Yet the winners are similar. The most successful “solo entrepreneur” (“solopreneur”) uses the 80/20 Internet marketing best practices correctly, while thinking “business” from the get-go.
As we discovered in the 90s, figuring it all out was too complicated for most, even back then. Can you imagine how hard it is today? The diameter of that fire hose is way wider and the water pressure is much greater.
If you are one of those Everyday People who wants to build a business, here’s a key piece of obvious, but so often forgotten, piece of advice…
All you want to do is build an honest-to-goodness business out of the knowledge and experience in your brain.
You’re not building a site – you’re growing a business.
You’re not a professional Internet marketer. You merely use some form of IM every step of the way. Don’t spend time learning it in bits, assembling it or keeping up with it (unless you are a pro).
Everything is Internet marketing, from the early days of niche research to late stages where you may be focusing your time on doubling your $-per-visitor ratio.
Your Return on Time Investment (“ROTI”) is highest when you focus on the single act that most moves your business ahead now.
The most successful follow a series of optimally ordered best practices…
starting with proper, early planning (best niche, topics to cover, site structure, monetization models, thumbnailing, personality-positioning)…
to picking the perfect, brandable domain name…
to crafting an exciting site design…
then creating content that over-delivers on search intent and connects …
to building a “Brand of One” through that content and through engaging social media…
and on and on until your are growing high volumes of targeted traffic that like and trust your “Brand of One”…
until they monetize exactly how you planned it out way before you developed your sharp, brandable domain name. That’s when it really becomes fun because…
the final never-ending step is maximizing income by moving to higher $-per-visitor ratios.
It’s all “Internet marketing.” Few have the time to figure it all out and keep up with what’s new, important, and will stick. Much like a business school graduate, you end up using the basics of what you learned while mastering the industry you choose to work in.
Consider just one part of the overall challenge as an example – social media.
Master the basics. Seriously, even in this ever-evolving field, you can grow a strong presence by perfecting a small number of “must-do’s.”
It’s easy to get lost in the branches and leaves and not see the trees, let alone the forest. Let’s look at the forest. Social media is much like search engine optimization (SEO) in that it’s all about “content first.” Content is the prime driver…
If you build high-value site content (text, images, video) that over-delivers on what the visitor wants, the traffic will come. Sure, get the snowball rolling by promoting it and securing a couple of high-value links, but the traffic process is inevitably productive if you know what to create and how to connect with it.
Human visitors react in hundreds of predictable ways to excellent content, and Google/Bing measure those ways. You can’t manipulate results anymore, not in any way that sustains artificially high rankings. We’re close to the days, with the rise of AI, where SEO manipulation will be impossible.
Great social media content engages. Again, get the snowball going, send folks to it, maximize exposure. Use hashtags smartly (not too broad, not too narrow – hashtags matter most on Instagram and Twitter). Facebook, Twitter and others recognize engagement and reward you with greater reach, which increases engagement.
There has been a lot of talk from the pros about decreasing reach, but accounts that are generating strong engagement are still getting excellent reach, even increasing it (from 25-100% of followers if built organically).
Keep It Real – No Tricks or Hot Tips
In both search and social, never use tricks. Think about both search and social from the search engines’ or algorithms’ point of view. If you were Google, wouldn’t you program your algorithms to rank the best/most relevant content for a topic (aka “keyword”) to the top?
It’s not about rewarding you, nor are the penalties designed to hurt you. Google does not care about you – it only wants to deliver the best SERPs possible to the users. That’s who who Google cares about.
Ditto for Facebook. If someone engages with your content, they’ll see more of you. And if enough people engage with it (taking the size of your follower base into account), Facebook will increase your reach – again, not as a reward but as a way of improving its product.
On that note, social media is a much easier win for the “non-Internet-marketing” niches (i.e,, appropriately sized solopreneur niches, such as the Caribbean island of Anguilla or “raising exotic turtles”).
Solopreneurs have a significant advantage in social media. We’ve seen how they should do better than “Bigco” employees due to their natural passion for a niche (vs. “doing the 9-to-5”).
A second advantage is that solopreneurs work smaller niches. No solopreneur is going to win the battle for “travel” or “pets” — those niches are just too broad.
But you have the advantage of focus over BigCo – competing for tight niches (like “Anguilla” or “breeding exotic turtles”) that BigCo can’t afford to “do” with the same level of intensity.
The third major edge for solopreneurs in social media? If you master the basics and execute well, you are likely competing against other solopreneurs who follow a lot of bad information.
For example, consider the continuing practice of growing followers based on indiscriminate tricks — all that does is hurt your engagement rate (since the denominator, “number of followers,” grows so large). It doesn’t help your engagement and looks silly to influencers (whom you would otherwise like to cultivate).
Once your social snowball gets rolling, experiment with various content approaches. Find out what works and what doesn’t. Build a set of winning “go-to” approaches. You can’t build real followers if you don’t engage, so focus on content. Don’t play automated games, not unless there’s a logic behind them that makes sense.
Two examples of “good accelerator automation”…
Instagress: It takes a while to tweak this software to “just right.” But you can “train” it to do what could take you hours per day, liking relevant posts selectively and adding appropriate comments. Supplement with a few minutes of review for accuracy and cultivating influencers (whom you exclude from automation).
This results in real followers, folks with an interest in your niche and who follow you because they want to – with no need for you to follow back. (Never use Instagress’s automated follow-me-follow-you option.)
Social Quant: You get the attention of folks who use keywords related to your niche. Your content must engage, of course. If it does, you accelerate growth through discovery, growing true reach (“Impressions”) and engagement numbers faster.
If you choose the keywords intelligently, you can boost discovery considerably. For example, Anguilla is a luxury island. “LuxuryTravel” and “luxury travel” are the highest-volume and highest converting keywords for @anguillabeaches. Caribbean travel-related words are next best. That’s high-value discovery of Anguilla.
Of course, if your content does not greet them with “wow” material, you’re wasting that benefit. They’ll just become part of a growing but non-engaging follower base.
Content drives both search and social. But social media has an even more pronounced snowball effect than search traffic. The stronger and more engaging your account, the faster your “Brand of One” grows.
Finally, social delivers, for the first time, the easy ability to reach out to “@influencers” who are “within your reach.” Before “influencer marketing” was a term, we called it “personal-social.”
Either way, you can now build personal connections with folks who matter in your niche. But remember, an elephant doesn’t notice a flea on its butt. Like, share, comment, reply to influencers who play at a level only “somewhat” above you. As you grow, reach higher.
The Most Fundamental of All Social Media Marketing
When we talk about “mastering the basics,” it’s as fundamental as knowing which network to use. Few solopreneurs, when starting out, have time for more than one. But which one?
Your social media marketing efforts start by understanding what each social network is for. Each has its particular strengths. For example, Twitter is widely viewed as a newsy social channel. But it’s also an excellent platform for pundit.
A good photo with clever text gets engagement. The same picture with bland commentary doesn’t.
Instagram, on the other hand, requires outstanding imagery above all. Good text helps, but folks move and click faster on Instagram. Use only your best images and videos.
No need for more basics here. These are just a few examples.
Just remember, all social media platforms share a small number of best practices, and each has a few specific ones. They all depend on outstanding content to drive true growth.
Getting the basics right is 90% of any “social niche” battle online. Master those and don’t worry about the endless amount of detail.
This 90-10, “master the basics,” time-optimizing big-picture approach is as true for social media as any other business-building activity. If you have the business mindset of “what matters most to my business now,” you’ll grow faster than those who suffer from FOMO. Don’t read — do!
And that brings us right back to why most solopreneurs fail – or worse, struggle along for years, hoping for something to change. Almost all solopreneurs need it figured out for them – best practices, tools, etc., all in the right order.
Using limited time optimally was the original impetus for creating Solo Build It!. As the amount of information related to “how to grow a business” increases and as new developments continue to wash across the Internet, we expect the SBI! advantage to grow ever greater.
We pull best practices together into the optimal process. That frees solopreneurs up to apply what they know best — using their niche knowledge to build a business. When you free up a solopreneur to focus on what they know and feel passion for, they build valuable businesses while doing what they love.
“That’s all fine and dandy,” you may be thinking. “But how does all this translate to a healthy bottom line?” Good question – we’re into the home stretch…
How to Maximize Monetization
Ultimately, a business is about making money. A meaningful goal is a powerful driver. But actual business progress is measured in dollars, euros, pounds, yen or pesos.
There are two types of “monetization”…
Not enough solopreneurs consider the second.
If you have a business mindset, strive to generate a profit level that enables you to reach your goals. Do not think of your business income as what’s left over after expenses, all of it going to you. In “real” business, your salary is an expense. Pay yourself a market-rate salary and include that it in “Expenses.”
Everything after all expenses (including your salary) is profit. Decide how much of that profit to distribute to your shareholders (e.g., probably you and your spouse) and how much to re-invest in the business to further grow income (more on this shortly).
Note: Even if you minimize salary so that you can maximize profit and dividends (for tax purposes), keep a second, “mental ledger” that measures true profit.
A serious business owes it to its shareholders (even if that’s you) to maximize profit. Not only does that enable you to hire others (if you want to), it also grows equity since the value of a company is based on a multiple of either gross income or net profit (a higher multiple of the latter).
To put yourself in a place to maximize both income and equity, you must plan for a realistic monetization mix well before finalizing your niche selection and domain name.
Once you have enough traffic to matter, monetization deserves an increased percentage of your time. Not a day should pass without at least reviewing basic metrics of the specific monetization models you use, specifically with the goal of increasing income.
As one monetization model proves itself up, you add a second, then a third. Diversification not only increases income, it reduces risk. Kill any model that does not deserve the amount of real estate you provide it on your site.
And ultimately, as your traffic and income grow, you face a major decision. To hire or not to hire? This decision is a cross-over point that seriously impacts the answer…
What are the best ways for solopreneurs to generate income?
To answer this, we return to the solopreneur’s biggest burden:
There simply isn’t enough of it. I can hire someone for SiteSell when we need more “time” for a specific role. Solopreneurs don’t have the cash flow to do that.
Sure they can outsource and even start hiring as they grow cash flow, but in the early year(s), it’s mostly them. And that puts a ceiling on time. So…
How a solopreneur monetizes, and how much they allocate to monetizing, should be a function of the stage of their business.
In the early months, your time is 100% focused on the research that refines your niche, topic selection, site architecture, voice, positioning, monetization plan, etc. (You can’t even get into the rest of SBI! until you do the final step of that process, developing a perfect, brandable domain name.)
You’ll come back to this research often, but once you have your domain name, time allocation moves 100% into building your site, filling it with high-value content. If you have a firm grasp of the CTPM process, you’ll understand where your focus belongs.
Until you’re getting at least 30 visitors per day, putting time into monetization is premature (unless you have an extremely high-paying model such as selling real estate in the Upper East Side of NYC!). There’s no point in chasing pennies when your time could be focused on activities that generate dollar-paying potential.
Instead, start allocating, say, 20% of your time into your first social channel. This should be carefully picked, based on your goals and how you plan to monetize.
Pick the one social platform that best fits with the thumbnail you have created for your audience. Shift an increasing percentage (30-40%) into social media as your site traffic grows. As your traffic and “Brand of One” grow, start implementing your monetization plan.
Many start with passive models (e.g., AdSense and affiliate programs), even if it’s just to start some cash flow. That takes far less time than selling services and much less time than creating/developing/making/selling/shipping/supporting your own product.
At this point, too, your personal goals matter. Many solopreneurs expressly want to stay solo. They have already managed a staff and don’t want to do it again. Or they know they simply want to keep it simple. Whatever the reason, they accept that they won’t have the time for intensively active but higher-paying monetization models.
Those who reach this level are getting thousands, tens of thousands, even over 100,000 visitors per day. Your monetization models should mature into higher-paying models as you grow (unless you have decided that “solo” is for you, in which case work to maximize passive income).
If monetization models stay passive, it’s not as critical to max out on a multi-pronged social media build. They’ll likely allocate 60-70% of their time to site work, the balance split between one social channel (like Facebook, although not always) and maximization of passive income.
If affiliate income becomes important, they’ll need to shift more time into…
finding, implementing and maximizing income from best-fit programs
growing their social presence to further grow their “Brand of One.”
This “PREselling” activity builds like and trust, which ultimately translates into a greater belief that your affiliate-paying recommendations are your best picks, that your content, including affiliate-generating recommendations and other coverage, is based on their best interests.
Now let’s assume you want to quit the day job and grow a high-income business. To do that, you’ll need to “buy” time by hiring at least one regular part-timer. This is a full step beyond the occasional outsourcing of special projects to consultants. It becomes a regular monthly expense.
Whom you hire is critically important, but that’s for another day. Ideally, the cash flow from passive income covers that expense. If not, you either accept going “cash flow negative” for a while to accelerate growth. Or grow more slowly by staying solo until you can afford to hire.
On a related note, you will eventually reach a monetization maximum, beyond which increasing effort yields little in the way of added income. That income can reach into 6 figures, but realize that there is only so much that you can do as one person.
To grow a larger business, at some point you’ll need do your business full-time and train and hire your first part-timer or full-timer. You should be able to grow cash flow sufficiently to cover that, but it may be healthier to absorb some negative cash flow sooner.
As we’ve seen in the offline business world, nothing focuses the mind more keenly than the risk of losing money. As you grow, you need to add more people to free you up from activities that are not the best use of your time, as well as to add skill sets that you do not have (e.g., sales).
Know why you’re adding staff (e.g., that $40,000 of salary will result in at least an extra $80,000 of income). We are, of course, now well beyond “quit your day job.” This is a direction to take only if it fits your original vision and goals or if the vision changes once you see the possibilities.
At this stage, you are now officially an “entrepreneur.” Solopreneurship has that type of potential – if you do. But this that takes solopreneur vs. entrepreneur topic – beyond the scope of this discussion.
Getting Back to Mindset
By now, the solopreneur has completed the maturation process into “full business mindset.” Most don’t start like this, but you must end here to fully leverage the value of your business. Part of that includes considering equity (the value of your business if/when you sell it).
Sooner or later, all businesses either die or get sold. Realize that. You won’t stay excited forever. Your kids may not want to take over the business.
But if you have done it right, your business is worth something to someone else in your niche, either another solopreneur or a mid-sized company that would love your site and its social presence. They may figure that they can use their presence to multiply the income from your site. Whatever the case.
Your business is worth a multiple of its income. That multiple is affected by.
your search and social metrics (the ones that matter – not vanity metrics)
the strength of your brand – a beloved and respected brand is hard to replicate
the types of monetization models you employ
how much you control your monetization (selling your own products through your own website is worth way more than selling generic, drop-shipped products)
who is buying your business and why
The details aren’t important for this discussion. But mindset is. Some solopreneurs don’t evolve to this point. They may have huge traffic, may be respected in their niche, and yet some seem to have a “thing” about making money.
In some cases, they even fall too much in love with their site. They may not want fans to think of them as being “out to make money.” They keep a high percentage of their time in “comfort zones,” like creating content and working on passive income.
An example should clarify…
I am currently doing a side project with one of our most helpful SBI! members in the forums. Her website about succulent plants gets over 6,000 unique visits per day, but still depends totally on the low earnings of passive income (AdSense, affiliate programs and one poor ad deal done directly).
She knew nothing about “Internet marketing” when she found SBI!. I’m proud to say that she (like most SBIers) still doesn’t know Internet marketing the way a “pro” does (nor like a regular solopreneur who misallocates time following the blogosphere intensively). Nor should she.
Her traffic is 100x more than the typical solopreneur’s (whose average is only about 50/day). That said, she is not close to our first target of generating at least $1,000/month per 1,000 visitors per day. That would/should amount to $6,000 per month – minimum.
She now works on her business full-time, so she has lots of time to focus on what matters most. Yet she puts little time into…
building a strong social presence (mild commitment to Facebook and only automated tweets — she gave up on Twitter. That’s on us — we’ll do better).
maximizing passive income and introducing more time-consuming but higher-paying models.
Hers would be a perfect business for landing deals for site sponsorship – a kinder way of “advertising” that transfers some of your brand karma to the company. A problem that has impeded developing these is that succulent growers can’t ship plants outside of the regions in which they reside. If a grower is situated in U.S.A., customers must be from there – ditto for Europe, Canada, Australia.
The solution, if you are thinking like a business person, is to pitch large growers in each region (starting with the largest) on the benefits of sponsorship-based exposure to this highly targeted traffic from each country/region. The plan is to deliver a custom ad/sponsorship in a specific location according to IP address.
She has to learn to expect rejection – repeatedly. It only takes one “Yes” to land a far juicier deal than AdSense pays. This would skyrocket the low-yielding income of an ad from a Canadian grower of succulents (most of that exposure is wasted on rest-of-world exposure).
This would be all the more valuable if she dropped low-yielding AdSense ads, so many of which are now re-targeted, which only reminds her visitors that Google is following them around the Web (remember when Google ads were contextually relevant?).
There’s also room for developing Amazon stores selling a selection of plant-growing tools, etc. Go beyond books.
But the biggest money lies in developing her own products. The easiest way is to source a collection of the best tools that she used when she grew the plants, put her own brand on them and either get the manufacturer to drop-ship or use a drop-shipping service. It takes more time to assemble this and solve the logistics. But it’s all doable and pays substantially more.
This story has just started, but I have high hopes of multiplying her $-per-visitor ratio. If your monetization models deliver true value, no one resents you. In fact, some SBIers have discovered that visitors and followers/subscribers choose to support them because they appreciate and trust the information, including opinions, so much. Never violate that trust.
Once you (and this succulent-focused SBIer) adopt a business mindset, you’ll come up with opportunities that you would never have dreamed of if you’re only focused on “monetizing a site.” Of course, once you do decide to ramp up monetization, more time needs to go into email marketing and social media.
She needs to build her social presence in the same way she built her traffic. Social media is much more about building a brand than driving traffic (except for specific, episodic monetization-focused purposes). If your site content does its job, traffic from social and email will usually be a much lower percentage of total traffic.
Still, grow both and use both to increase monetization. If you’re planning to monetize beyond the low amounts generated by Adsense and affiliates, the importance of email marketing and social media goes from “important” to being a vital part of the equation. That is why it’s important to have planned a graduation to higher-paying models sooner (before domain name selection) rather than spontaneously.
Building an online business is all about focusing on “what will push your business further ahead today.” Understand where you are in the process and allocate your time to the activity that accomplishes that best.
You do not need to be part of the vast majority who fail or flounder. Master the basics. Know the process. Focus your time. Think business…
Achieve the goals you set for your business!