GDPR – What Solopreneurs Need To Know And Do

GDPR – What Solopreneurs Need To Know And Do

You must have heard all the buzz about it. The General Data Protection Regulation: GDPR. It’s coming into force on May 25 – just one week away.

You may be one of those people who sees the emails and just shudders… because, let’s face it – the sky is going to fall in.

On May 25th 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will take effect.  It promises especially to wreak havoc on the once lucrative email marketing industry.(1)

Days are about to get very, very dark for every brand and soul in the digital marketing game. For those who use “email marketing” heavily, the sky is, quite literally, falling.(1)

But what about all the rest of GDPR?

Maybe the sky isn't fallingIs your sky falling? Is GDPR going to be the end of doing online business as we know it? As a small, one-person business – a solopreneur – do you even have to be concerned?

Won’t it all go away if you ignore it for long enough? Will the “EU police” come knocking at your door if you skip all this? Does it affect you if you’re not a citizen of the EU?  

Sadly, this has not been well presented by those in charge. The result for most solopreneurs has been fear, confusion, and anger – with little coherent help.

Your web host or sitebuilding service gives you a bundle of articles and a “good luck.”  Google (which is involved as a major player who must become GDPR) turfs their obligation onto us. Figuring it all out is tough.

Online, solopreneurs are gnashing their teeth. You’ll find loads of misinformation and negative emotions sparked by this legislation (and by Google not being of much help)…

  • Some solopreneurs are choosing the “ostrich head-in-the-sand” approach.  
  • Others tried but are so confused that they finally gave up and join the ostriches.
  • Non-Europeans think it doesn’t involve them.
  • And many are just peeved as heck. I don’t blame them. There’s a ton to learn and it’s hard to know what to do when you read conflicting advice.

It’s enough to anger a monk. We may not be blessed with profound inner peace, but we can chop this down to size and calmly approach GDPR, step by step. Ready?

OK, Big Breath…

Breathe out all the negative emotion, then take a hard look at the real facts. Let’s narrow down the risks – and maybe even surprise ourselves by finding some benefits.

As with all other laws and regulations, you’re supposed to comply. If you don’t,  the consequences could be heavy, particularly with Google, who shifts some of its burden onto you.

I believe that solopreneurs should have been exempted from this. Most solopreneurs are already within the spirit of the law…

Solopreneurs are not the ones with massive databases and data-mining operations that could compromise a user’s rights.  

Large companies like Facebook and Google, the ones responsible, are also the ones that have the resources to implement and manage GDPR. Meanwhile, solopreneurs face a disproportionate burden to solve a problem that they didn’t make.

Here’s a brief outline of what you need to be compliant…

  1. You must have a way for visitors to consent to your collection of their data. And this must be an opt-in by default, not an opt-out. It must also have a link to your privacy policy (which is also required).
  2. Your privacy policy must outline all the ways that you collect personal information, and what you do with it. It must also outline how they can view, change, download and/or delete their data.
  3. Each form you have on your site must tell users what their data will be used for (e.g., receiving a 7-part e-course or a monthly newsletter).
  4. Each form must give them a way to review your privacy policy.
  5. If you don’t want to deal with collecting parental consent for those under 16, you need a way for form users to tell you that they are 16 years of age or older.

That’s why many solopreneurs are weighing the risks and potential consequences of non-compliance. Our advice?  

Hold your nose and get it done.  

That’s why we developed our new GDPR tools for Solo Build It! (SBI!). As far as we know, no web host or sitebuilder (e.g., Wix and Weebly) have turned this complicated implementation into a single, comprehensive solution. Nor has WordPress, although there are a few dozen plugins that all say they’ll help with compliance.

SBI!’s job has always been to filter out what doesn’t matter and to “get it right” for what does count. This allows SBI! members to focus their so limited “solopreneur time” on what matters the most – building their business.

The results speak for themselves, with SBIers outperforming others by 10X to >100X. But I digress. Back to the matter at hand…

We’ve chopped GDPR down to size, slicing it into a step-by-step process that gets SBIers where they need to be with the least amount of aggravation, and in as little time as possible. We created this release, though, not so much to move SBIers further ahead, but to eliminate the risk of being set back.

While I prefer the carrot over the stick, it is what it is. Let’s think this through and then take the necessary action…

Decision #1: Do You Care About the Law?

GDPR goes into effect within the European Economic Area on May 25. The fines for not complying are pretty steep. Depending on the specific infringement, they can be up to €20 million, or 4% of your annual global turnover – whichever is higher.

Did I just hear you gulp? 20 million Euros? Maybe we should all close down right now – or at least follow the example of Unroll.Me…

No soup for EU!

Our service is intended to serve users in the U.S. Because it was not designed to comply with all GDPR requirements, Unroll.Me will not be available to EU residents.

This means we may not serve users we believe are residents of the EU, and we must delete any EU user accounts by May 24. We are truly sorry that we are unable to offer our service to you.

But wait. Are GDPR fines going to put us all, not just out of business, but in the bankruptcy court? Is it genuinely impossible for small businesses to comply? Is that the real story?

Of course it’s not. It’s the story that makes for good headlines.

So what’s the real deal? The real deal is that those fines are discretionary, not mandatory. Penalties will be imposed on a case-by-case basis and must be “effective, proportionate and dissuasive.”

Note the word “proportionate.” Are online solopreneurs going to face fines of €20 million for an infringement?

It’s so unlikely as to be farcical. In fact, the potential level of those fines is a sign that GDPR was written with the “big guys” in mind: Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc., as well as those spammy marketers you dread seeing in your inbox.

Its problem is that it doesn’t distinguish between the big guys and small business: work-at-home moms, conscientious entrepreneurs, solopreneurs. Everyone, large or small, is required to comply.

GDPR will impact “…every entity that holds or uses European personal data both inside and outside of Europe” (Stewart Room, PricewaterhouseCoopers). In other words, all of us.

Furthermore, facing any amount of Euro fines won’t happen as a first resort. Why?

Before any fine is levied, the EU is most likely to give, in writing, a warning about which part of the regulations are not being complied with. They’ll allow time for you to put the breach(es) right.

In the words of IT Governance, one of the leading EU trainers in GDPR compliance…

Besides the power to impose fines, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has a range of corrective powers and sanctions to enforce the GDPR. These include issuing warnings and reprimands; imposing a temporary or permanent ban on data processing; ordering the rectification, restriction or erasure of data; and suspending data transfers to third countries.(4)

In other words, if a company refuses to comply with GDPR, only then will a fine be imposed.

Suppose you live outside the EU – in Australia, for example, or in the US. Is a police officer going to come knocking at your door with a warrant for your arrest, or a bill for payment of €20 million? Unlikely.

You’re much more likely to receive an email saying that you face a range of corrective sanctions: a warning or reprimand, a ban on data processing, an order to put things right. And, still in the real world, they’re much more likely to go after the big fish than you.

Given that, should you really do nothing and wait to see what happens? That’s up to you.

If you and/or your business live in a European country, remember that any fine against you can be enforced. Assess the risk and decide for yourself.

What might that risk be?

In a recent webinar, this was said to be the potential consequence for a deliberate avoidance of the GDPR requirements:

… if it gets as far as the compliance system, the penalties for any sized business which hasn’t bothered even to try to implement GDPR because they thought they could get away with it are likely to be very steep.

SIDEBAR: This reminds me of the legislation forcing affiliates to include a prominent notification that they receive commissions for sales of products mentioned on the page. A small minority comply. Some don’t do it at all. Some bury it on the bottom of a page – or the visitor has to link to it. It was announced with great fanfare, but is not enforced.

The quote strikes me as a scare tactic. But that, too, is for you to weigh.

So – decision #1.

For you and your business, are the potential consequences of ignoring GDPR worth the risk of breaking European Union law?

  • Do you believe that the GDPR would make solopreneurs a priority compared to the giant companies that have made it necessary?  
  • Do you believe that, in the unlikely event that they stumble upon you, you’d face some huge fine right off the bat, especially if you’re already doing nothing to violate the spirit of GDPR?
  • And if the worst of the worst outcomes were to happen, how would they enforce it if neither you nor your business reside in the EU?

Important: We built our GDPR tools because our basic advice is to just get it done, regardless of where you reside, and for all visitors, not just Europeans. Be done with it.

On the other hand, we’re not going to fail to bring options to mind. So…

It’s your call. If you’re prepared to take the risk, you’d be finished now, except for the genuine problem that leaves you with little choice…

Decision #2: Do You Care About Google Analytics, Google Maps, Google Pay, Gmail, Google Cloud Platform or G Suite?

Why would any of those be an issue?

Because Google has invested a major amount of time and money in ensuring its services are GDPR-compliant from the get-go. And Google wants to make sure that everyone who uses those services is compliant, too.

Is Google helping the solopreneur become compliant? Well, its GDPR-compliant tools will all be available by the implementation date.

But, like many companies, Google is putting responsibility for using those tools in a compliant manner fairly (or some would say, not so fairly) and squarely with the individual.

Google calls this “shared responsibility.” I call it “turfing responsibility.”

GDPR Passing The Buck

To try better to understand it, let’s just take the case of Google Analytics (GA).

You (via your website or blog) send information to GA. It’s not personal information in the sense of names and email addresses. But it’s still data under the terms of GDPR.

GA takes that information from your site and processes it.

That, in GDPR terms, makes you – the solopreneur, blogger, stay-at-home-mom – the “data controller” and GA the “data processor.”

But here’s the thing. You have no realistic way of tracing that data back to the individual on your site. But Google does, once it collects the data from your site.  

In order for GA to be compliant, Google has already published revised data processing terms that, as the data controller, you must accept in order to continue to use their services.(2)

If you don’t accept the terms, you won’t be able to use GA – or any of their other processing services above – after May 24. Pretty much all solopreneurs use at least one GA service on their sites…

Suddenly, that “shared” responsibility doesn’t seem so fair. They put the onus on you…

Sign or switch.

So – decision #2.

Do you care? And what’s the downside?

You could switch to another analytics platform, another email / map-building / cloud service – if you can find one that’s not so particular about GDPR. That’s not likely, and it’s going to mean work to learn a new system and switch.

Or maybe you don’t use any of those products anyway. You don’t really care about any of the Google tools mentioned so far. If not, take them off.  

If you do care about those things.. if you find GA offers a wealth of information to help focus your business… if you store information on Google Cloud Platform… or if you use Google Maps on your site?

You have to become GDPR compliant. Because Google knows you’re stuck.

If you don’t care, you’re a step closer to your non-compliance decision. Take off the Google tools. No need to agree to their terms.

But you’re not done yet.

It’s time to move on and look at the next most important risk.

Decision #3: Do You Care About AdSense?

When it comes to AdSense, Google views itself as an “independent Controller of personal data” and states clearly:  

We are committing through these terms to comply with our obligations under GDPR when we use any personal data in connection with these services, and the terms require you to make the same commitment.(3)

Not prepared to make that commitment? Then your AdSense account is in jeopardy and likely will be disabled or shut down.

Do you care? How much does AdSense income matter to you? Have your AdSense earnings tanked anyway? Or maybe you use another ad network that handles your commitments for you, building it into revised code? (No, I don’t know of one.)

Up to you. If you don’t care about anything we’ve covered so far – the EU regulation, the use of Google services, or the placement of AdSense ads on your site – then maybe GDPR won’t be such a big thing for you, after all.

Maybe the sky isn’t falling.

Except…

Decision #4: Do You Care About Your Customers?

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.Albert Einstein

Do you view GDPR as a huge pain in the butt, one that should be the problem of the large companies that generate and store all the data? Or, like the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), do you view it as a way to…

“increase public trust and confidence in the way personal data is handled”?(4)

Think about this as a site visitor and customer for a second (instead of as a solopreneur). You become someone who is, in GDPR terms, a “Data Subject.”  

You give companies your data, some of it personal, some of it happening without you seeing what’s going on (e.g., cookies, IP address). Or it could be more obvious and personal – a newsletter signup, a hotel booking, or completing any one of countless forms for insurance companies, banks, health services, even your employer…

Laptop Forgotten on TrainDo you care what happens to your own personal information? Do you care that invisible data can be traced back to you when combined with data from other sources? Do you care that your medical information may have been shared between the insurance company and doctors in a series of unencrypted emails?

Or that confidential information about your employee status may be sitting on someone’s laptop – which they’ve left on a train?

Or that your signup for the latest webinar about how to make a million on YouTube has just been sold to a mailorder company that’s about to spam you with countless emails from which you can’t unsubscribe?

It helps to see “the other side,” doesn’t it? GDPR was not created to give businesses a hard time, although to you that’s certainly a by-product. Its aim is primarily to give ordinary people control over their personal information, to make businesses have more respect for your data, and mine, and our customers’ than they have in the past.

It’s as simple as that. But the fix isn’t.

That said, I still believe that the solopreneur was not considered in “the fix” of a legitimate problem. I think too much has been put on them, with no recognition of their limited resources.

Now think again about your customers and about you, as a controller of their information.  You blog because you have a following who like and trust you – but you’d like that following to be bigger.

Or perhaps, you write an evergreen, informational website because you have a real passion for your subject, and like nothing more than to share your experience and knowledge with those who visit your site.

You care about people, about your customers.

And you want their data to be safe. That does not mean, though, that you should be responsible for some of the work that you are being asked to do. Solopreneurs should have been exempted or at least considered when drafting this law, along with its spinoff that impacts third-party services that you are now locked into.

On the other hand, some aspects do obviously belong to you. If you want to keep collecting email addresses and first names for your newsletter, you have to do it right. Basically, if you collect and store data on your own server/web host, you are responsible for it.

If, on the other hand, you use an intermediary party such as Google AdSense or MailChimp, and don’t store any of the data on your own, your work should have been reduced as much as possible. Don’t get us wrong…

No one argues the need for our visitors, subscribers and customers to be better protected. It’s good for them, and boosts confidence.

And that gives everyone more confidence in both “the system” and you. On the flip side..

Email SellerIf you’re part of a very small minority of “bad guys” (e.g., sellers of email addresses), you have a problem now. A law with teeth increases your risks substantially. And, of course, Google and Facebook are going to have to control their data better – few were considering that at these companies, in their drive for ad dollars to ever-more-highly-targeted visitors.

Compare that to solopreneurs. Most solopreneurs have good and noble reasons to put themselves out there and try to improve their lot in life. I believe that you care about the folks you reach through your site and social media. You are closer to them than any of the multi-billion dollar conglomerates.

While I believe that as a solopreneur you, too, have to handle the data that you collect and store, you have been given the short shrift for much of this. You sure didn’t cause the problem. Nor were you consulted in the creation of this regulation.

However, as responsible citizens of the online business community, we still recommend that you put GDPR in place, regardless of where you live. It’s a one-time effort that will, together with widespread adoption, reassure the “data subjects” (i.e., your visitors, customers, etc.) who give you their information.

You care about their personal information. You want to do everything you can to keep it safe. You want them to know that you’ll treat their data as carefully as if it were your own.

Now you know how!

According to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office,(4) research has shown that only one in five people in the UK trust companies to use their personal data responsibly. There’s no reason to suppose other countries will be any different.

The reassurance of being GDPR-compliant will result in increased trust, which increases their willingness to interact with you, sign up for your newsletter, and ultimately to purchase something.

Whether you consider it from your point of view as a solopreneur or as a user of the Internet, something was needed to stanch the loss of confidence. No, you didn’t cause it. But you and I should be part of the solution.

SIDEBAR: Of course, this does absolutely nothing about the plague of fake reviews online.  In our view, this is growing so quickly that it is becoming as serious a problem as GDPR.  

Google is totally ignoring how easily its algo is tricked into ranking fake reviews to the top. Subscribe to our mailing list for an upcoming blockbuster post on the next big threat to Google’s reputation. It’s going to take a whole new Panda to fix this problem.

But I digress again. Back to GDPR.

On to our next decision…

Decision #5: The Carrot: Do You Care About Your Business?

Maybe I should have started with this one, because it’s the single decision that could trump all the rest.

How much information does your business hold on its servers, its databases, its spreadsheets, even its filing cabinets, that it doesn’t need?

How many outdated webinar presentations, obsolete images, unused apps, emails from 5 years (or more) ago are sitting on your laptop, helping make your machine run so slowly it feels like the bad old days of dial-up?

How much of that outdated data are you using to base decisions in the here and now? Is it still correct? Do you even remember gathering it?

When was the last time you cleared out your email list, got rid of those subscribers who haven’t opened your emails for the last two years? How much are all those subscribers – who, by the way, will never buy anything from you – costing?

Part of following GDPR’s processes is the need to assess your current methods of data collection, and how the data is used. Most businesses are viewing it as a hassle – an interruption to their day-to-day operations that they could do without.

Is that you?

If so, how about turning that opinion on its head? How about seeing it as an opportunity for spring cleaning? To ditch the old data and make space for the new? To streamline your business, to make decisions based on reliable information?

I know it’s one of those things that can be put off until “tomorrow”… forever. Why not take advantage of this opportunity to do a thorough “spring data cleaning.” It is spring, right? 😀

Putting off until tomorrow

In the process, you’ll save you and your business time and money down the road.

Decision #6: The Stick: Do You Care About Being Sued?

Let’s suppose you don’t care about…

  • The law
  • Google Analytics (etc.)
  • Google AdSense
  • Your customers
  • Your business

Do you care about the potential for being sued?

Perhaps it will never happen. After all, who would take the trouble?

Your competition, that’s who!

A competitor might see your non-compliance as a way to do some damage. This is more likely, of course, as you grow and become a force within your niche – it’s not as much of a worry if you’re just starting out.  

By the way, if you are just starting out, you have it easy. You just have to follow the new rules, which is pretty easy compared to those who have loads of changes to make.

But back to that nasty competitor.

The co-founder of blockchain-based media agency Truth, Mary Keane-Dawson recently had this to say…

I’ve heard murmurs of activist consumers targeting brands and organisations because they don’t like what they do globally; GDPR is a way to go after them. It’s all rumours at the moment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few PR disasters.

So once again, this is more of a worry if you’re a force within your niche. It’s more of a concern for the large and mid-sized companies.

Still, if your site is growing to thousands of visitors per day with solid monetization, becoming compliant starts to look like a good financial investment in your business.

So maybe you should stick around and talk about the last key point….

Decision #7: Does Your Business Partner Care About You?

So you want to make your site as GDPR-compliant as you can. I agree… there are more reasons to get it done and move on. And the larger your business, the more reasons there are to do it.

What’s next?

Our suggestion is to get it done as soon as you can. Realistically, loads of solopreneurs won’t be done in time. Following all the confusion and emotions out there, you can afford to integrate the most important pieces first, as close to May 25 as possible.

For the rest, being a few days or weeks late is not going to be the end of the world. I can’t absolutely promise that, especially given the help that many solopreneurs are getting from their ISPs and/or sitebuilding-software companies. More on “timing” to come.

Judging from what we’ve been reading, there are lots of heads spinning out there right now.  Some folks feel like their business is about to fall off the edge of a cliff. Others feel like they want to give up now – the task seems so daunting.  

So what’s next is this question…

Does your host or website-building company, whoever it is, care about you? What are they doing to throw you a lifeline that keeps you from falling off that cliff?

And if you’re not sure about either of those things, what can you do?

  • The more progressive companies, GoDaddy, for example, have given some information already. Are you finding it easy to follow? Are there step-by-step instructions that lead you through the entire process, concentrating on the “must-dos” for blogs and small online businesses, and leaving the rest alone?
  • Are they providing tools? Are those tools on the same platform, or do you have to go somewhere else to find them? And are you sure the tools are GDPR-compliant?

Take WordPress plugins, for example. There are a lot of them, and that’s part of the problem.

GDPR WordPress Plugins

Which will help you become compliant – and how will you know? Will they work together? Which are actually necessary – and how will you know that?

Or perhaps your provider is simply saying it’s your responsibility. Or not saying anything at all.

Are you seeing vague statements like this?

For many, it will be a moot issue. For others, there will be some updates.

Some are promising information “soon” – but time’s running short. Solopreneurs range from panicked and unhappy with the help they’re getting from their providers, to blissfully unaware that this involves them. And then, of course, there’s Google (we’re all still waiting on them for much).

Will you be ready? There’s just one more week before your users – or competitors – could come knocking at your door.

Let’s be blunt about this.

It’s a week before GDPR goes into effect. Some companies – particularly the larger, corporate organizations – have been preparing for GDPR for two years.   

SIDEBAR: We’ve found companies online claiming to be GDPR-compliant – but their sites were not even secure (httpS)! That’s a prerequisite if you plan to protect user data.

A week is probably not going to cut it, even for a small business with relatively simple processes (like yours). It can take longer than that to read through all the documentation.

So here’s the question you need to ask now: what are the priority steps, and what is your web development platform doing to help?

Is It All Too Little, Too Late?

It’s been made clear that businesses that have – at least – made an attempt to comply are likely to be given more leeway than those that have made no effort at all. And not even the greatest champion of GDPR expects businesses to be completely compliant on May 25.

So yes, there’s still time. How efficiently you can use that time will depend in large part on what help you get. GDPR is no walk in the park. It takes time, energy and commitment to understand the basics, let alone to set up your site to enable smooth compliance.

Here at Solo Build It! (SBI!), we’re providing an integrated range of tools, information and step-by-step updates to help SBI! members become compliant in time for the deadline date.

We’ve always been the only platform that offers everything under one umbrella. In short…

We condense the overwhelming and ever-changing complexity into one all-you’ll-ever-need, business-building approach.

And that doesn’t apply only to our hosting, software tools and guidance. It applies to helping solopreneurs…

  • fix external nightmares such as Panda and Penguin
  • get the most out of the ever-changing world of social media
  • and now, integrate the confusing world of GDPR in an organized and efficient way.

As far as I know, and please excuse us for tooting our own horn, we’re the only platform providing GDPR compliance tools, all under one umbrella. No need to fight through the jungle of information (good and bad), nor to glue info from various sources, etc.

As usual, “we do it all for you.”

We’d like to help other people, too – people who’ve not found SBI! yet. People who might be reading this and wondering whether to throw in the towel altogether…

Is that you?

Do not throw in the towel. I understand. As much as you may support the goals of GDPR, your business is likely already compliant in most ways, if not all.  

So it may not feel like time well spent. But what if I could present a clean “to do” – you’d be doing everyone a favor while helping to re-grow trust, while eliminating risk.

So, let’s get you off that cliff and back on solid ground.

We at SiteSell can’t help you become totally GDPR-compliant in the space of one article. But we can start, by sharing with you just four basic steps that will help your website or blog on its way to becoming GDPR-compliant. That’s an 80-20 that everyone can live with.

Before Data Collection

Step 1: HTTPS

If your website or blog is not secure, data sent through your site or blog is not secure either. So the first step is to make sure your site or blog is HTTPS.

To throw that lifeline to our own customers, here at Solo Build It! we made sure there was a quick and easy way to change sites from HTTP to HTTPS. A pre-switch checker, the “switch” itself, articles supplemented with videos to lead people step-by-step through the process, and 24/7 support.

Task 1

Make sure your site is secure.

How do you know? Look for the little green padlock next to the URL…

Make sure your site is secure

If it’s not secure, you’ll see this or something like it, with a warning in red if the information icon is clicked…

Non Secure Connection

The question to ask of your website host if you don’t see that little green padlock?

What are you doing to help my site be secure?

Step 2: Data Audit

You have data coming into and going out again from our blog or website in a lot of different directions. Just when you think you’ve nailed it, something else occurs to you and you have to start all over again.

But to implement GDPR it’s critical to understand where data is coming from and going to – and what happens in between. It’s the foundation of everything that follows.

There’s a way of dealing with that. It’s called a data audit. The purpose of the data audit is to tie down…

  • Where your data comes from
  • What and where it is
  • How it’s processed
  • How long it’s kept
  • Where it goes to
  • How secure it is
  • What needs to happen to make it GDPR-compliant.

And it can be done in bite-sized stages.

Task 2

The first thing to do is simple: sit down with your favorite beverage and ask yourself what you remember about the information you collect. Just brainstorm it.

There are some obvious places, like newsletter signups, where people have to enter their name and email address, and contact forms, so people can communicate with you directly.

And some not so obvious, like Google Analytics, which takes browsing data without needing more personalized information like name and email address.

Consider both types of data – information you actively request, and information that’s taken automatically by, for example, our old friend Google.

Write down what you think you collect.   

Task 3

When you’ve finished brainstorming, go over to your website / blog and take another look. Check exactly what you collect, and from where.

Maintain a worksheet about your data processes. It’s evidence, should evidence be required, that you’ve assessed your site to the best of your ability.

Keeping a reasonably thorough note now will make the process much easier.

You might be surprised at what you find. For example, “Who is Hotjar and what are they doing on my website?” is a question one of our employees had to ask herself when she found a long-forgotten code in her site’s head section, sitting there collecting data she had never used and never told anyone about…

What you need to ask: is your website builder (Wix, for example, or GoDaddy – or even WordPress) providing you with a way of planning and analyzing your data audit?

If not, Download This Free Data Audit Template Worksheet.

Data Collection

Step 3: Form Compliance and Obtaining Consent

Consent: Under Article 5 of GDPR, businesses (large and small) must have a valid reason for collecting data. For some companies, it’s a contractual or legal reason – courts, for example, have to collect and process data on offenders appearing before them. And payment processors need a lot of personal information.

There are a number of other lawful processing conditions, but the one solopreneurs will normally use will be “consent.”

GDPR says consent must be a:

freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the data subject’s wishes by which he or she, by a statement or by a clear affirmative action, signifies agreement to the processing of personal data relating to him or her.

It also requires that you give privacy-related information at the time you’re obtaining the data, in other words at the point where the person fills in, for example, a contact form or a newsletter / course subscription form.

This has implications for all our forms, and for our freebie signup giveaways. You’ll be able to find advice about the giveaways elsewhere on the Internet. Of course, it’s not always accurate, so be careful.

So for now, let’s deal with the forms themselves.  

Contact forms and newsletter signups: You may be forgiven for thinking that if people contact you, they’re giving their consent to you having their data. After all, it would be hard to reply to someone without having their email address.

But “consent” goes all the way back to the first interaction someone has with your website. If that’s via the contact form, the fact that you’ll collect and store personal details, even for a short time, means that you need to get clear consent from each individual…

They must agree with your privacy policy and they must give permission for you to reply to them about their query. If you don’t want to deal with parental consent for those under 16, you must also ask for confirmation that they’re over 16 years old.

And all that must happen before each individual submits the contact form, or signs up for our newsletter, webinar or paid-for course.

What Does That Mean, In Practice?

The simplest way to do that is:

  • A checkbox to confirm that the person is over 16 years old.
  • A link to the privacy policy, and another checkbox to say s/he has read and understood it.
  • A checkbox through which the individual gives consent to the collection of the data for the intended purpose.

Each checkbox must only capture one piece of information. So you can’t use just one checkbox to say “I am over 16, I’ve read and agree to the privacy policy and I accept you storing my data.”

GDPR CheckmarksWhy are checkboxes necessary? Consent must be “verifiable.” If a site visitor has to tick the boxes before submitting the form, that information can be stored and acts as verification.

The form itself must collect no more information than absolutely necessary – in the case of contact forms this will usually be a name, an email address and a text box for the query.

Will people who want to contact you like having to check three boxes? Maybe not. But visitors are going to get as used to checking those boxes as they are “agreeing” to cookie warnings. In any event, ticking boxes helps qualify the serious contact, weeding out the frivolous.

Will some people who may otherwise have signed up for your newsletter just click away? Maybe. But again, those checkboxes will become commonplace. And those people who did not want to tick… would they have been truly engaged? Probably not.

Task 4

Check whether your email provider has the capacity to add checkboxes to your forms.

Some companies, like MailChimp, are already compliant; many are not.

If it’s unclear, write and ask them. In particular, ask them to clarify what they’re doing about allowing you to add checkboxes to your contact forms and signups. Be clear – ask for a timeline.

If they’re not going to be compliant by May 25, you have another decision to make.

And if they tell you, as some do, that it’s the publisher’s responsibility (that’s you!) – think about whether you’re with the right provider. As I noted above, MailChimp will be compliant, and is making it as easy and understandable as possible.

For Solo Build It!, we view this as totally our job, simplifying the lives of SBI! members. SBIers can customize or translate the default messaging, so making forms, including email subscription forms, GDPR-compliant is clean and fast.

After Data Collection

Step 4: Rights of the “Data Subject”

General: GDPR says that “data should be collected for a specific purpose, used only for that purpose and retained for only as long as it meets that purpose.”

So don’t collect more information than you absolutely need.

Task 5

Look through your site or blog’s forms now. Are all the fields you have strictly necessary for the task you need to complete? If not, remove them.

The less personal data you collect, the less impact of possible data breaches.

Data Subject rights: What about when the data has been given? We’ve already seen that publicity is starting to raise awareness in the public – your site visitors / customers – people who trust you with their information.

So how do you deal with their rights?

GDPR says “data subjects” – those who give you their information – have the right (among other things) to:

  • have access to all the personal data you hold about them (“right to access”)
  • modify any details of that information, for example if it’s out of date or incorrect (“right to rectification”)
  • have their data deleted from your system (“right to erasure,” also known as the “right to be forgotten”)
  • download their data from your system (“right to portability”).

Sounds like a nightmare? It shouldn’t be. What’s your sitebuilder company or hosting platform doing to help you through this? How easy is it for you to access information from, for example, your email provider’s database?

If a subscriber comes to you in two weeks’ time asking to change or download her information, will you know what to do and how to do it? Where to find it, even?

For most providers, accessing the information will lie squarely with the solopreneur.

What – another job on top of being CEO, marketing director, content writer, social media manager, customer service officer and chief coffee-maker?

Yep. Another one to add to the list.

Unless…

SBIers won’t need to go anywhere near their customer’s data.

GDPR Solo Build It!How’s that?

One of the main philosophies of everyone who works for the company is to provide our customers – SBIers – with tools that will save them time. Because we know that time is the single most precious commodity for the solopreneur.

So when it comes to GDPR, that tool will mean all subscribers – the data subjects – will be able to access, alter, download and delete their own data.

The SBIer will not have anything to do with it, unless contacted directly by a visitor or customer.

More time saved and, more importantly, another worry resolved.

Here at SBI!, we don’t want to leave anything to chance. If we can help SBIers, we do.

So we did.

We invested a ton of time, energy and money into getting this right. If you think it’s hard enough for one person, imagine how tricky it is to develop a new module that fits the needs of thousands.

Needless to say, it grew into one of those “bigger than we thought” projects. That said…

By May 25, every SBIer who has been through that decision tree and has made the decision that she wants to comply, will have all s/he needs to do so. We’ll have a far higher compliance rate because we’ve made it more doable than anywhere else.

And all this at no additional cost to the SBIer.

THIS is the reason I love SBI (and came back!) because you take care of all the “extra”, providing tools and practical ways of meeting demands, not just waffle.

I too have spent many hours reading, going to real-world workshops, watching webinars and getting overwhelmed [by GDPR]… until I saw that SBI was taking care of it, and I chilled out.Adele from crafting4good.org

This law un-levels the playing field against solopreneurs. Our job is to help level it again for SBIers. Our GDPR tools make it doable in the least amount of time possible. It’s the only resource they’ll ever need.

All because we love to see SBIers succeed. When we see a hurdle in their way, we do our best to remove it.

When we see our SBI! family feel like they’re falling off a cliff, we throw them all the lifelines they need, to save themselves and their business. It’s a great example of what SBI! does…

We care about solopreneur success, about visitor security and about eliminating the risk of disobeying the law – even if we don’t believe that solopreneurs have received fair treatment.

Most of all, we care about our SBI! family. They have proven to us that everyday people can do amazing things if we simply remove the barriers (like GDPR!) that overcome most people online. It’s why rigorous, reproducible-by-anyone studies show how we generate from 10X to 100X more high-traffic successes than Wix, WordPress, GoDaddy and Squarespace.

Do you already have a blog or a website? How are you doing with GDPR?

More specifically, how much does your website company care about you?

If you don’t yet have a site or blog – if you’re just at the point of thinking what it might be like to start your own online business and all this GDPR stuff is pretty much gobbledygook…

We don’t feel like the sky is falling.

GDPR or no GDPR – we feel like the sky’s the limit.

Resources
  1. GDPR: The sky is falling
  2. Google Analytics: Data Processing Terms
  3. Google: Google Ads Data Processing Terms
  4. Information Commissioner’s Office: Your Data Matters
  5. The Drum, ICO readies campaign to educate UK public around GDPR, The Drum, February 2018
  6. Google: EU user consent policy</a

Author information

Ken Evoy (CEO, SiteSell)

Ken Evoy is the Founder, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of SiteSell Inc. He is the creator of SBI!, SiteSell’s comprehensive Web business-building system. Ken is also a successful inventor, author, and emergency physician. He feels strongly that solopreneurs can be empowered by leveraging their income building potential online.

The post GDPR – What Solopreneurs Need To Know And Do appeared first on Solo Build It! Blog – Proven Real-World Advice for Solopreneurs.

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5 Ways to Hold Shorter Meetings

Take Things to the Next Level, in Half the Time

5 Ways to Hold Shorter Meetings

When Bryan Stockton was pushed out as CEO of toymaker Mattel, he fingered a complacent company culture for dipping profits. In fact, he went one step further and blamed the lack of innovation on bad meetings.

Stockton’s story has been on my mind because I’m releasing a new book today called No Fail Meetings. Meetings are important but the way they’re being conducted in many organizations today is incredibly wasteful.

How wasteful? Some estimates peg the loss to American businesses of bad meetings as high as $37 billion annually. Many large companies lose as much as $75 million a year to bad meetings. I don’t care how big the company is – $75 million is a huge hit to the bottom line. In my book, I lay out a detailed plan for holding fewer, more effective meetings, and would encourage all leaders who are looking to get a handle on meetings to give it a read.

Fewer AND shorter

For this column, I want to focus on the shortening those important meetings that have to be held. It may be a challenge to both cut the number of meetings and their length at the same time. With fewer meetings, you might feel pressure to make the remaining meetings longer to make up for it, but that is a huge mistake.

Time on the clock is money. In meetings, that compounds. If you have a meeting of a half dozen or more people, one hour-long meeting can cost your organization hundreds of dollars. If it’s a meeting of the executive staff, thousands. If you halve not only the number but also the length of meetings, you’ll save a lot of company time and money for better uses.

Here are five tested ideas for how to get out of those meetings faster:

1. Schedule shorter meetings

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to the time allotted to it. That is absolutely true of meetings. One reason we spend so much time in them is that we schedule them too long. Consequently, conversations that should have taken ten minutes instead frequently stretch to fill a whole hour-and people’s eyes glaze over about halfway through.

One reason we spend so much time in meetings is that we schedule them too long.

-MICHAEL HYATT

Tweet Quote

A solution to this problem is simply to schedule shorter meetings. However, since the boss or manager usually runs a meeting, we can run into an obvious problem. Let’s say the half hour is up and she wants to keep talking?

2. Stick to the time limit

Don’t just cut her off and say, “Time’s up!” but a reminder that you’re going over doesn’t hurt. If you want to hack down the length of meetings, it’s best to have that conversation well in advance and agree that, in almost all cases, you’ll stick to the time limit or even break early.

It also helps to appoint a meeting facilitator, one of whose jobs is to say that time has almost been reached and is now up, people. The meeting facilitator serves other, vital functions for effective meetings that I detail in the book.

3. Have meetings off-site

You can use the venue to help enforce this time limit. At your office, there’s little to keep you from running long. But if you have a meeting room reserved off-site for a limited time, others can help you enforce the time limits. After all, others may need the space after. Or you can use virtual space to hold meetings and use applications with automatic cutoff times. When the app quits, the meeting’s over.

4. and 5. Plan and read ahead

Two other major reasons that meetings run so long is that we don’t do enough planning or reading ahead. If you go into the meeting with a detailed agenda and with people already up to speed on the issues up for discussion, you will better know where you’re going and what the obstacles are that have to be cleared out of the way.

Good meetings can be great

Meetings can be one of the greatest wastes of time and money in business, but they can also be some of the most effective ways to pool talent and collaborate on key projects. In other words, meetings can make or break your business. No Fail Meetings offers a proven process to stage high-level, successful meetings and avoid all the rest. What are you waiting for?

Get Your Copy Today!

 


 

How a Love for Grammar Funds this Family’s Work at Home Lifestyle

How a Love for Grammar Funds this Family's Work at Home Lifestyle

My husband and I were able to be full-time parents for the birth of our two daughters. It’s been amazing to focus on my children with my husband by my side rather than having one or both of us out of the house working.

Elizabeth O’Brien used to hate grammar. Throughout her school years, and even in college she thought she wasn’t smart enough to “get it.”

So, one day she decided to make a change. She took a grammar class at her university, determined to do anything to understand grammar. Luckily, she had an excellent professor who taught grammar in a logical, structured way.

Finally, Elizabeth “got it.” Eureka! Not only did she understand grammar now, but she enjoyed it so much that she decided to teach others. She wanted to help people teach and learn grammar in an approachable, interesting, fun, visual way.

Teaching grammar in a fun way? Is that even possible? It is, as you’ll see in our interview with Elizabeth. You’ll be amazed what else is possible with a love for teaching grammar rules. A fully funded work from home lifestyle for example, with enough income to support a family of four.

Excited to hear more? Here you go…

1. Elizabeth, you started www.english-grammar-revolution.com because you used to hate grammar. Can you explain that puzzling development?

I never understood grammar growing up, and I began to think of my difficulty with the subject as some sort of mysterious intellectual shortcoming. It wasn’t until I was taking a grammar class in college that I grasped my problem: I was never actually taught grammar. My IQ had nothing to do with it!

Once I had been taught, I realized how easy – and even interesting – learning grammar could be. Over the course of a semester, I managed to master the bulk of grammar and get rid of my self-limiting beliefs about it. How silly that I had spent years feeling bad about something that took a few weeks to learn!

After spending a few years teaching grammar with a fresh love of the subject, I wanted to have a wider impact. I was upset that this material wasn’t being covered in most classrooms, and I wanted to offer support to people who wanted to learn it.

TAKEAWAY #1: One of the concerns our SBI! Advisors often get to hear is this: “I would love to start an online business, but I have no idea about what.” Many people fear that they know nothing that could be of value to others, even if the topic sits right under their nose.

Everything that has ever happened to you, good or bad, is a possible seed for a business – especially the bad.

Take Susan Gast, for example. After she and her family had been without power for weeks during an especially bad hurricane season in 2004, she became obsessed with having enough food prepared in a manner that it would not go to waste. She learned all she could about food dehydrating. And – you guessed it – she had found her perfect business niche.

What expertise or skills have you acquired, either on your job or by tackling a personal problem? It doesn’t have to be big or important or sexy to turn into a great business.

Even a topic as seemingly dry as English grammar can be the basis for a fabulously profitable and rewarding business, as we shall hear from Elizabeth.

Work at Home Lifestyle - Elizabeth with baby

2. How did you know that teaching English grammar online had great business potential?

I started my online business journey without a definite idea of what I wanted to do. I had a few interests, but I didn’t know the first thing about assessing which of them had the best business potential.

An acquaintance of mine was building an online business with SBI! and making $6,000 a month. That was more than I had been making working at my 9+ hours a day teaching job!

I signed up with SBI!, and I went through all of the steps just as they are outlined in the Action Guide. Using SBI!’s tools, I was able to see that the supply and demand for “English grammar” was a good fit for me, and I dove right in!

TAKEAWAY #2: The decision to start a web based business is the first step in that thrilling journey to becoming your own boss. What’s the logical next step?

  1. Find a hosting company, register your domain and start writing.

    or

  2. Research your ideas’ business potential, carefully plan how you could differentiate yourself from the competition, evaluate your monetization options and then register your domain and start writing.

If you answered B, congrats! You just multiplied your chances for success. Unfortunately, far too many solopreneurs still follow path A. They are so enthusiastic about their idea that they jump right in without having a plan.

The initial research and planning phase might not be very exciting, but it is crucial for your business success. Elizabeth did it the right way. She followed the steps outlined in the SBI! Action Guide to evaluate her business idea(s).

When she talks about “supply and demand,” she refers to keyword brainstorming as part of her research. Brainstorm It!, the tool that comes with every SBI! subscription, brings back hundreds of search terms (aka keywords) related to your “seed word” or topic. (In Elizabeth’s case, her “seed word” was “English grammar.”)

It tells you how often each term is searched for (“demand”), and how strong the competition is (“supply”). With smart filter and analysis functions, Brainstorm It! helps you assess whether your niche is too small, too big or just right.

Work at Home Lifestyle
Elizabeth’s husband and daughter hard at work.

How to Lead High Achievers

How to Lead High Achievers

Every leader would love to have a team of all-stars. But we sometimes discourage and frustrate our high performers without even realizing it. In this episode, we’ll show you how to manage the three tensions you face when leading high achievers. When we’re done, you will have the confidence to lead a highly engaged and productive team that produces way beyond your expectations.

How Understanding Cement Paves the Way to Semi-Retirement

How Understanding Cement Paves the Way to Semi-Retirement

Before I came across SBI!, I was completely dependent on my consulting work and my clients to pay the mortgage and buy food. Now I have two sources of income and the ability to create others if I want to and this has changed my attitude to work.

Nick Winter examines cement for a living. Through 30 years of consulting practice and giving seminars, he amassed a ton of specialized knowledge – knowledge that he was sure companies and people working in the construction industry would pay for.

Well, people did already pay for it, in his seminars. But how could he scale his business to a larger audience and beyond his limited consulting hours?

He turned online, and was surprised to gain so much more than new income opportunities. He made friends all over the world, feels much more relaxed about his financial future, and enjoys making money while he sleeps.

Follow along as we interview Nick about his online business journey, which started back in 2005.

1. “Understanding Cement” is a rather unusual topic for an online business.  How did you know it was the right topic for you and had great business potential?

That’s easy! I already had an offline business in this niche.

Nick Working with an Electron Microscope
Nick working with an electron microscope.

I’ve worked for myself as an independent consultant to the construction industry for around 30 years. I have an electron microscope and optical microscopes and I examine cement and concrete for companies who make cement and concrete products, also for engineers, other laboratories and people who restore historical buildings – anyone with an interest in cement-related materials.

In the 1990s I ran a series of seminars in the UK called “Understanding Cement,” usually either in hotel conference rooms or for a specific client at their premises. The understanding-cement.com website grew out of these seminars.

I knew from my experience of the seminars and from my clients in the construction industry that there was a demand for this specialized knowledge and that people were prepared to pay for it. Most of my experience was in the UK but there was no reason to suppose that demand would be any different elsewhere in the world.

I set up www.understanding-cement.com in 2005 as an experiment to see if there really was a demand worldwide for this kind of information, and if it might also help me to attract consulting work from clients outside the UK.

TAKEAWAY #1: Not only is Nick’s topic an unusual one, but the way he decided which niche to concentrate on is, too. The typical niche selection process for an SBI! member looks like this:

  • Write down a list of your passions, hobbies, skills and areas of interest.
  • Narrow down this list to your top 3.
  • Research the business potential for these 3 topics, using SBI!’s keyword tool Brainstorm It! and other methods.
  • Decide which topic makes most sense for you, based on research results and other factors, like your passion for the topic and your time availability.

Nick’s topic was predetermined, because he wanted his online business to complement his offline work. When we asked him whether keyword research played any role in this decision-making, he explained:

I did use Brainstorm It! but it was less than encouraging. The volume of searches for my techie cement keywords was very low and, if I remember correctly, showed as not really worth doing.

However, I wanted the site to complement my offline work so my niche was self-selected, as it were, and I went ahead with it anyway, based on my experience of knowing what my offline clients were interested in.

So, if you have an offline business, or a passion so dear to your heart that you simply know “this is it,” then go for it even if the keyword numbers aren’t great. Just be aware that, usually, your niche’s overall income potential will most likely be lower than for a more “in demand” topic.

2. Tell us about your philosophy regarding content. How do you know what your prospective customers are looking for? Where does this information come from?

Everyone with a website needs an avatar – a concept of the ideal customer. For me that was fairly straightforward. My avatar is an amalgam of my consulting work clients. They are looking for the kind of information that I include as background information in the reports I write for them about their cement or concrete products.

Perhaps more accurately, they are looking for information that saves them time. Often, their jobs are very stressful (I wouldn’t want the level of stress some of them have to live with!). If anything goes wrong with the production process it is up to them to find out what the problem is and how to fix it at an economic cost.

My job with understanding-cement.com is to provide the right free and paid-for information that helps them to do that.

The information is quite specialized. I publish a combination of basic information that someone new to the industry would need as an essential starting point, plus some more detailed content.

The more detailed information is partly in the technical publications related to cement, often written by high-powered academics but generally not very “user-friendly.” It is also based on my experience over the years of trying to get the right balance between what my consulting clients actually want and what is “too much information.”

I see my role as an interpreter or facilitator. I don’t invent the stuff but I can sift through it and decide what my visitors want to know, or need to know (not always the same thing!). That’s my content for the website.

TAKEAWAY #2: Nick mentions an important requirement for your business success – having an “avatar,” also called a “persona” or “customer thumbnail.” The more you know your niche, the easier it will be for you to create this thumbnail.

If you don’t have a clear picture of your “ideal customer” in mind, there are techniques for researching your target audience online. It’s part of the research and preparation phase you’ll go through when you build your online business with SBI!.

Knowing your audience helps you develop and fine-tune your content and monetization plans. If you don’t get it right at first, you will as you dig further into your business.

Robin Hoods Bay
Apart from helping people with his specialized cement knowledge, Nick enjoys hiking in his home country, the United Kingdom

3. How do you make a fact-based topic like understanding cement attractive and visually appealing for today’s audience?

To most people, cement may seem dull and boring. Like anything though, when you know something about it, it is actually really interesting.

As for making it visually appealing, lots of microscope images help, especially electron microscope photographs and X-ray spectra.

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with video from the electron microscope (you can look at an electron microscope as just a large video camera). I’m planning to do more videos, both free on the website and as paid-for courses.

It also helps that technical readers tend to be both educated and strongly motivated and are used to digging out information. They don’t want bells and whistles, “just the facts, ma’am.”

Microscope image of cement clinker.
Microscope image of cement clinker.
TAKEAWAY #3: Using videos from an electron microscope to educate people about cement – how’s that for a creative approach to making a seemingly “dull” topic more appealing?

You can find a visual angle for any topic. You just need to keep an open mind and think outside the box.

4. You provide lots of information and resources for free. How do you “upgrade” people from being free content seekers to paying customers?

I look at the content as a pyramid. At the bottom is basic content that is free. As you go up the pyramid, it gradually transitions into more detailed or specialized paid-for information.

When a visitor arrives at the website, I hope they think this is the sort of site where they might find something useful and so they stay awhile and explore. I also encourage them to sign up to the newsletter.

In the past, I’ve done this mainly by giving away freebies in exchange for their email address, although I’m moving away from that and more towards video with good content that makes them not want to miss the next one so they sign up anyway. I think that gets “better quality” signups and fewer freebie-seekers.

Once they are on the newsletter list, I can let them know when there’s a new blog post, for example, or a new paid-for product.

There will always be a lot of freebie-seekers who will never buy anything, although they do help the search engine rankings if they browse a few pages. The visitors I want to sign up to the newsletter and to establish a good relationship with are those who value quality information and are prepared to pay for it if it saves them time or gives them fresh ideas.

TAKEAWAY #4: Nick’s approach is the perfect real-life example of SBI!’s Content Traffic PRESell Monetize process.

What is the C T P M process? Here’s a high level summary:

You publish high quality unique content on your site, tailored to your ideal customer’s needs and desires. This free content gets found in the search engines, and attracts an increasing number of the “right” visitors to your site. Your traffic builds up.

Because you provide such great information for free, presented in your unique “been there, done that” voice, your visitors start to trust you. Some of them will find your content so valuable that they want more. They subscribe to your newsletter. They follow you on social media.

This gives you the chance to build up a relationship with them. You keep sharing great content with them, which strengthens your audience’s trust in you as an authority in your field. We call this “PREselling,” and it’s a crucial element in your business strategy.

Only when a visitor trusts and likes you, will you be able to monetize. Now she will be much more willing to open her wallet and pay for your products or services.

Will all of your visitors buy from you? No, of course not. But you have a much higher chance of converting enough visitors into paying customers when you follow the C T P M approach. Too many solopreneurs fail because they start at the wrong end of this process. Monetization comes last, not first.

5. You sell two books on your site, in print and digital format. Can you share some experiences with publishing these books? Why did you decide not to offer them via a marketplace like Amazon?

I first produced the “Understanding Cement” ebook in 2009. It contains a mix of information: some of the content of the ebook is the same as, or similar to, that on the website, some covers the same subject areas but in more detail, and some of the ebook content is completely new.

I did the ebook before the printed version because a PDF is obviously a lot easier to produce than a printed book and because I didn’t know how it would sell. After a couple of years, I’d had so many requests for a printed version that it was clearly worth doing, even though this meant a substantial re-editing of diagrams and images.

A full color printed book was, I thought, prohibitively expensive so I had to convert all the color images and diagrams in the ebook into black and white. This wasn’t too limiting because electron microscope images are black-and-white anyway. But there were other color photos and diagrams that had to be altered, so it was quite a big job.

Next thing was to decide how to produce the printed book. I didn’t want a cupboard full of stock so I went for a print-on-demand solution. I use Vervante, based in Utah, USA, and they have been excellent. Books are typically printed and shipped the day after the customer places an order and their customer service is superb.

In most cases, I don’t have to actually do anything regarding order fulfilment, which is great. Occasionally, there are customer service issues if, for example, a book gets lost in the post.

That said, there are also customer service issues with ebooks, typically when a customer complains he hasn’t received his download link for the ebook. Almost always, this is because he mistyped his email address so of course his download link never arrives.

Occasionally, of course, customers ask for refunds. I initially expected that I would get refund requests from people who just wanted a free ebook but, happily, I’ve had almost none of those. Indeed, the total refund rate from printed books and ebooks has been well under 1%.

Understanding Cement Books
The two books that Nick currently sells on his site. More are in the works!

I use FastSpring, based in California, for the ebook sales mainly because they handle all the hassles relating to VAT and other sales taxes. They have also been excellent.

I don’t use Amazon for two reasons. First, they take a big chunk of the proceeds of the sale. And I reckon my niche is so small that anyone interested will be able to find me easily enough anyway because, with SBI!’s guidance, understanding-cement.com ranks very well in the search engines.

The second reason is more important: if a customer buys through Amazon, you don’t know who that customer is. He/she is Amazon’s customer, not yours, so you have no way of keeping in contact with them and you can’t build a list of buyers. That list of buyers is arguably the biggest asset of any business.

TAKEAWAY #5: Some smart business advice in here from Nick.

Test the waters: Before you jump into creating a printed book, test how well a digital version sells. Producing an eBook and offering it for sale in PDF format on your site is one of the easiest ways to create a sellable product.

It still takes time and effort, of course, but there will be no big “expenses” other than having a professional cover photo created (unless you’re a graphic wizard yourself).

Work with reputable companies: When you start selling any kind of products or services on your site, you need a way to process payments and deliver the orders. There are many providers out there, for example PayPal, e-Junkie, Gumroad or – as mentioned by Nick – FastSpring.

Which one is right for you depends on various factors, such as:

  • the nature of your product (e.g., digital or physical, one-time or recurring payments)
  • whether you want to have access to an affiliate program (i.e. recruiting others to sell your product for a commission) and
  • personal preferences (e.g., do you prefer paying a fixed monthly fee or a percentage of every sale?).

SBI! members have access to articles to help them find the best provider, as well as to a list of vetted companies.

Decide where to sell your eBook or printed book: There are pros and cons for selling your book through a marketplace like Amazon. Amazon offers you the possibility to reach a much wider audience than with your website. But you trade that wider reach against a lower profit per sale and – as Nick explained – against the opportunity to grow your customer list instead of Amazon’s.

The article “You’ve Written an Ebook – Now What?” dives deeper into this topic.

6. What other income streams do you have, in addition to your book sales, and how do they perform?

Book sales are the only source of income from the website. I used to do AdSense but the income from that gradually decreased to the point where it wasn’t worth having the ads on the site. They disrupt the visitors’ flow so if they aren’t earning their keep I think you are better off without them.

I do also get some consulting work on the back of the website and book sales.

TAKEAWAY #6: Nick’s case is different from the majority of solopreneurs we talk to. He created his online business as an extension of his offline consulting firm. Consequently, he had one way of monetizing already built-in: getting clients for his consulting work. He then added a second one: selling his books.

We recommend that you have more than one monetization stream from your website. Planning your monetization strategy forms an important part of your business research and preparation.

In fact, two whole sections (we call them “DAYs”) of the step-by-step SBI! Action Guide are dedicated to researching and evaluating the best ways to monetize, based on your niche, audience and other factors (like your time availability).

7. How long did it take to start earning income from your online business?  Is it a full-time or a part-time income?

Four years. I was very slow at monetizing the website! It could have been a lot quicker but I wasn’t relying on it for my income and I guess I was a bit lazy about it.

Also, once I decided to write the Understanding Cement eBook, it took me a lot longer than I expected. Partly, this was because I was busy with my consulting work and partly because I was probably too much of a perfectionist.

Due to the ebook’s technical subject, I had to make quite sure there were no major errors. I sent draft versions to reviewers who were incredibly kind, patient and helpful; their comments were invaluable. All this took time, of course.

At the moment, the website is part of my consulting business so the boundaries can get a bit blurred. Basically, it brings in a part-time income, or about the equivalent of the State Pension here in the UK. If I were retired, it would be very useful as it is, but I have plans to grow it!

TAKEAWAY #7: How long does it take to make money with an online business? If you’ve ever pondered that question, you’ll probably have arrived at the same answer as we: it depends! The only sure thing is that it doesn’t happen overnight. Or in a month.

It depends on your niche, the time you can and do spend on building your business, your monetization models, even your level of perfectionism, as Nick mentioned.

As a rule of thumb, expect the first earnings to come in after about 6 months unless you are – for whatever reasons – a particularly slow tortoise. 😉

8. What has been your biggest challenge so far as a solopreneur?

With particular regard to the understanding-cement.com website, my biggest challenge is making the time to produce new content for products to sell.

CairnIt takes me weeks or months to create a new product. Whenever I try to set aside a week for “Deep Work” (as Cal Newport describes concentrated effort) on the website, something happens like a client has a crisis and needs me to do some urgent work for him. I have a great relationship with most of my consulting clients and I don’t want to let them down, but it can sometimes be inconvenient!

That said, at least when I’ve created a product I know it is all my own work, that I’m happy with it and that it is unique. Also, my products have a long “shelf life” – cement knowledge doesn’t evolve that quickly – and I reckon that my products should be good for at least ten years before I need to revisit them.

TAKEAWAY #8: Time! It’s the solopreneur’s nemesis. By definition, a solopreneur runs his or her business single-handedly, often in addition to a traditional job. That makes time a solopreneur’s most restricted and most precious resource.

We can’t help you make more time, but we can help you make the most of the time you do have. How? By guiding you through the business-building process in the most efficient way possible.

SBI! provides the information you need, at every step of your business journey, plus the tools and the “how-to” instructions to apply what you have learned. As one of our customers put it in a recent survey:

I made websites on my own but didn’t know what to do or how to do it. But SBI! tells you what to do! So you can save tremendous time.Masahiro Imafuji, http://www.kendo-guide.co

But SBI! doesn’t stop there. It stays by your side as long for as you pursue your solopreneur career. It keeps you up-to-date with the ever changing online business world, so that you can focus on what you do best: grow your business.

Your team’s efforts at keeping us abreast of stuff we need to do to be current (HTTPS for one) saves us solopreneurs a TON of time.Susan Gast, http://www.easy-food-dehydrating.com

Nick on a hike with his wife, Nicky
Nick on a hike with his wife, Nicky. The couple plan to do much more of this when Nick “semi retires,” thanks to the additional income from his online business.

9. What do you enjoy most about being an online business owner? How has it changed your life so far, and how do you see its impact for your retirement?

It always makes my day when I open my emails and someone thanks me, saying how much the website, or one of my books, has helped them. They may well be on the other side of the world to me and so I’ll never meet them, but knowing I’ve made a small difference in their lives is very rewarding.

On a more mundane level, having both online and offline businesses, the advantages of an online business are very clear to me, in particular, low overheads – no rent, electricity, maintenance issues, etc. That’s a major practical advantage of an online business.

What I also really enjoy from a business perspective is the degree of control you have compared with an offline business. In my consulting “day job,” I have to wait for a client to have a problem I can help him/her with, then examine materials relating to the problem and write a report, then wait for the client’s accounts department to feel like paying my bill. Often, I have to wait up to three months to get paid. I can’t control much, if any, of that.

With an online business you have much more control. For example, I’m working on a new product now, and have a page on the website where people can ask me to tell them when it is ready.

I’ve already got several hundred people interested. Not all will buy of course, but suppose just half of them do: that email telling them it is available could be a very profitable email! The timing is entirely in my control, assuming of course I have created the product.

You know what else I like about having an online business? That it earns me money while I’m asleep! In my consulting work, I am selling my time on a daily rate and it is difficult to scale that. But, if you are selling information products online there’s no limit to how many you can sell, and you can make sales any time of day – or when you are on holiday!

I am also very lucky in that I’ve made quite a few “efriends” in many parts of the world through the website. I’ve never met most of these people but we exchange emails on technical issues and I have standing invitations to visit them if I’m in their part of the world. That is really lovely.

How has it (online business) changed my life so far? Money-wise, it makes a significant financial contribution. But I know it can do a lot better than that.

For now, though, the main way it has changed my life is that it has given me new skills. With SBI!’s help, I’ve set up a website that the search engines love and I’ve created products to sell on the site.

More recently, I’ve learned the basics of video and video editing and this has been great fun. These skills are transferable so if, for some reason, I stopped doing anything to do with cement, I am pretty confident that I could earn a living online in some other niche.

Before I came across SBI!, I was completely dependent on my consulting work and my clients to pay the mortgage and buy food. Now I have two sources of income and the ability to create others if I want to, and this has changed my attitude to work.

I no longer get stressed about it and lie awake at 3 am worrying about where the next job is coming from – not that I ever did a huge amount of that, but I am much more relaxed and happy, and more confident about the future.

As for retirement, I’m 61 now and I enjoy working with my lovely clients and on the website. I don’t want a fixed retirement date but I would like to spend more time with my wife and family and friends, and doing other things like hillwalking, camping and fishing while I still can.

My plan is semi-retirement – maybe working two weeks a month for clients and creating new products, and then heading for the hills. An online business makes it much easier to do that.

I’d like to climb all the Scottish mountains over 3000 feet (the “Munros”) and my SBI! site has changed that from a mere aspiration to a near-certainty (with most of any residual uncertainty focused on my fitness rather than the website!).

If the main limiting factor is now me – how quickly I can finish my info products and how fit I am – that’s great because I can work on both of those.

TAKEWAY #9: That’s a whole bunch of solopreneur benefits. Let’s recap them:

  • You make a difference in people’s lives, even if they live on the other side of the globe.
  • Compared to an offline business, your online business has a much lower overhead (no rent, electricity, maintenance issues).
  • You are in control of your online business.
  • Your online business earns you money while you sleep. Yay!
  • You make new friends, with similar interests, all over the world.
  • You learn new skills.
  • You diversify your income, giving you more financial security.
  • Knowing that you don’t rely on a single source of income, you feel more relaxed and worry less about the future.
  • Having an online business makes “semi-retirement” much more doable. You can divide your time between working on something you enjoy and pursuing other hobbies, spending time with family, traveling, etc.

Ready to enjoy the good life of an online business owner?

Author information

Nick Winter

Nick Winter has a degree in geophysical sciences. He worked for a cement company (Blue Circle) before founding his own consulting business. His wife, Nicky, is a bookkeeper and priest in the Church of England. They live near the Suffolk coast in the East of England.

The post How Understanding Cement Paves the Way to Semi-Retirement appeared first on Solo Build It! Blog – Proven Real-World Advice for Solopreneurs.

A Culture of Rising to the Challenge

Never Settle for “Good” if You Want to Grow

A Culture of Rising to the Challenge

Building an internal culture that loves a challenge is not just a good thing for businesses to do. It is actually essential if that company is going to grow. Employees that are never pushed or challenged grow bored, and surveys have reported that a stagnant work environment is the number one reason that workers look elsewhere.

Creating a positive culture has lots of benefits, both to the business and to the people that work for them. Making a change in an organization’s culture is difficult but doing so is quite necessary if an organization wants to grow and succeed. Whether your business is just starting out, or the current culture has been established for a while now, it is never too early (or too late) to make a change.

Never settle for “good”

A company that wants to improve must continually look for ways to improve current results. This is done by constantly improving the current standards and “ways of doing things” to find better alternatives.

Embracing an entirely different mindset approach may be the best way to challenge an organization towards improvement. Many businesses have found that taking an Agile approach to team projects has improved success rates by 28%, primarily because of its people over process approach to facing difficult projects head-on.

The Agile approach is a unique take on the process of working together. It even has its own vocabulary and variations within the mindset so that it can be tweaked and modified to fit every team’s needs. There is no hierarchy within an Agile team, allowing everyone to share their opinions and encourage self-management and teamwork.

In order to support such a big change, it is wise to provide your team with the proper tools to make the transition as easy as possible. Nutcache is a project management software system that supports an Agile workflow. Teams can communicate and organize projects through the connected dashboards to define team roles and keep everyone on track to hit deadlines.

There is nothing more limiting than sticking to the status quo because that is the way that things have always been done. A truly innovative and challenge-embracing culture must seek and try out new ideas that push for growth and progress.

Setting and resetting workflows throughout the organization can help teams to find the systems that work best for them. But, it is also important that each change is implemented correctly with the systems and tools that support the new way of doing things.

Encourage industry conversations

If your team is going to challenge itself and push for innovation and growth, it is necessary that they stay knowledgeable about their business and industry. Being the first to know when big changes occur can also mean that your organization is the first to find a new solution. It is not up to company leaders alone to stay up to date with the latest changes. Everyone in the organization should do their best to stay aware of the conversations and trends that are going on related to the business.

In order to keep everyone actively engaged with industry news, setting up an alert system that tracks company mentions or industry-related content can be very helpful. Social listening tools like Talkwalker Alerts can be programmed to send out alerts whenever specific keywords (like your company name) or general information (industry-related news) is posted online. It not only monitors social media mentions, but blog posts and online articles as well.

You can then go on to use Talkwalker to measure the impact that specific stories are having with various audiences so that your team is prepared to address any possible issues or questions that customers may have.

Creating a company-wide network that makes it easy to share stories and industry updates is a great starting point, such as a Slack thread or a private Facebook page. Make sure that employees are encouraged to share their opinions, ideas, and thoughts on the matter to cultivate a culture of learning that helps everyone stay on the top of their game.

Base hiring decisions on “people analytics”

Company culture is affected and changed by every single person who is a part of the organization. Therefore, hiring decisions must be made very carefully to ensure no one infects the dynamic of the internal environment.

For this reason, incorporating “people analytics” into the recruiting process is the best way to ensure that every new hire is a good one. “People analytics” is essentially a way to put a person’s soft skills, aptitudes, and even their personality traits into defined metrics to see if they qualify as an ideal fit.

Recruiting tools powered by AI can actually “learn” what qualities a good candidate needs in order to mesh with the company culture. Data-driven recruiting systems like Arya screen applicants and use people analytics to identify skills and personality traits that signal a strong fit. The analytical reports from these systems measure each applicant’s skill levels and aptitudes against a plethora of historical data to help recruiters make more informed decisions from the get-go.

The secret to hiring top talent is to have a recruiting strategy in place that will make it easy to determine who the ideal candidate will be. So, before you go looking for new employees, ensure that your hiring team understands the qualities that are necessary for building a challenge-driven culture. Out-of-the-box thinking skills, creativity, and ambition are all qualities that may not be listed out right on a resume, but they are nevertheless important to possess if a candidate is going challenge your company in a good way.

Turn off that auto-pilot

It is impossible to grow if you are not challenged, so maintaining a culture that embraces challenges rather than avoid them is essential for innovation. As a leader, it is up to you to make this mindset an innate part of the company culture.

Coasting by on auto-pilot is simply not an option for a company that wants to succeed. It is up to leaders to create a work environment that faces challenges head-on by building a strong culture from the very beginning with great talent who will push the status quo.

From there, teams should take it upon themselves to push for innovation and improvement by testing various workflows and finding a system that works for everyone. Finally, staying informed and educated is the best way to stay prepared for future opportunities and challenges that may lie ahead.

Elements of a Great Team Culture

Elements of a Great Team Culture

All of us want to motivate our team to achieve at a higher level, but sometimes the atmosphere around us works against us. In this episode, you’ll learn how some leaders unwittingly allow a toxic culture to derail their team’s success. And you’ll discover how to create a healthy, functional work environment by incorporating three key characteristics of great culture. When we’re done, you’ll have the tools you need to create an environment where your team can thrive.