How to Start a Solopreneur Career at Any Age and Be Proud of It

How to Start a Solopreneur Career at Any Age and Be Proud of It

“Instead of working at Walmart, I now have a new career that I am proud of,” Bobby Don Johnson beams at me at the end of our interview. Bobby used to work as a consultant field engineer in the oil industry. The ups and downs in this line of work gave him more “down time” than he had bargained for.

He was forced to make a decision… take a boring, but “safe” temporary job, or build his own online business.

Let’s hear why he decided to go the solopreneur route, and how this has worked out for him. After reading his story, you may want to follow in “Mob Barley’s” footsteps!

1. Tell us a little about yourself, about your professional background, and how and why you decided to start your online business with SBI!.

bobbydonjohnson_atworkinalaskaMy name is Bobby Don Johnson. I was born and raised in the desert of West Texas but now live in the swamps of South Louisiana. I have a B.B.A. in Finance from Texas State University but my professional career has been in the oil industry where I worked as a consultant field engineer, most recently on the North Slope in Alaska.

I’m also a veteran, having served in the US Army during President Reagan’s last term from 1984 to 1988.

As you know, the oil industry has a lot of ups and downs. We are currently in a down cycle, one of the worst in my lifetime. During the down-cycle of 2009, I was out of work for a full year.

So, I decided to use that time building a website. I’ve always been interested in winemaking and had recently began making beer and mead. There wasn’t much information on the internet at that time so I decided that I would build a website about homebrewing.  

Homebrewing beer starts out as just a hobby, but as most homebrewers will attest, the hobby soon becomes an all-consuming passion. I chose SBI! for many reasons, but mostly because it offered someone with no web skills a chance to build not just a professional, well-designed website, but a web business.

Being a big Bob Marley fan, and the fact that Marley rhymes with Barley, I chose Mob Barley as my pseudonym and the name of my brewery became Mob Barley’s Brewery.

One of Bobby's own beer label designs.
One of Bobby’s own beer label designs.

2. What were your initial goals when you started winning-homebrew.com? Have these goals changed over time?

When I originally began building winning-homebrew.com, my goals were to get the information that was locked away in brewing books and magazines on the web so everyone could access it all in one place. I was learning the technical side of brewing, brewing science, as I wrote content. I looked at the problems and questions I had as a homebrewer and figured everyone else probably had the same problems.  

So, I began writing content by researching answers to my homebrewing problems in books mostly because that was what available to me. The craft beer industry has grown a lot since I started my website. There are more and more websites popping up with beer-related themes. I still rank well for a lot of my keywords but competition is getting tougher, primarily since the major homebrew supply stores are all publishing “How-To” guides and beer rating sites are publishing reviews about every craft beer in the market.

My goals these days are to keep my website relevant to the homebrewing hobbyist. I regularly review and update my pages. I’ve also done a lot of SEO work, cleaning up my pages, adding alt descriptions to my images, re-analyzing each page and making the adjustments required to get them up-to-date as far as Google is concerned.

bobbydonjohnson_rims-system
Bobby built this impressive stainless steel home brewery himself.

KEYNOTE: Bobby hits upon an important point for solopreneur success. As an online business owner, your work is never done. Even though you are creating evergreen content (as opposed to blogging about time-sensitive topics), you still need to regularly check your content. Is it up-to-date? How can you make it better? Does the article have enough visuals?

Your best chance for being successful in an increasingly competitive environment? Follow a proven process during each stage of your business-building journey. That’s why so many SBI! users are in the top half of one percent of all active websites.

3. How did you settle upon your niche? How did you know it was the right one?

I decided to make my niche about homebrewing because…

  1. it was something I was very passionate about, and
  2. there weren’t many sites catering to the market. I could count the number of sites about homebrewing on one hand, and some of those hadn’t been updated in years.

I knew winning-homebrew was the right site for me because the content just rolled out of the computer. I was ranking quickly for most of my pages and I felt energized writing new content almost every day. I wrote so much content that I lost track of keyword demand and just wrote about what I thought homebrewers wanted to know.

I’ve recently had to go back through a lot of my pages and re-name them in hopes of getting better results at the search engines. So instead of a page called “attenuation,” the page is now called “beer-attenuation.”

KEYNOTE:  Bobby fell into a well-known beginner’s trap. He was so excited about his new “baby” (his website) that he rushed through an all-important preparation stage… developing a solid Site Content Blueprint.

An architect creates a blueprint for the design of a building. The contractor does not start construction of the building when the architect has the plans only half done. He waits for the entire set of plans so that he has an idea of what needs to go here, what there, when he needs concrete, etc.

As the architect of your online business, you need to organize your site’s subtopics (aka keywords) into a logical structure before you begin writing you first page, even before you register your domain name. The SBI! Action Guide walks you through this process, step-by-step.

Sometimes however, the excitement takes over, and you may skip some steps, like Bobby did. This isn’t the end of your business, but it will take you longer to achieve success.   

4. One question we get asked often is “How can I make money with a website?” It is an excellent question but it misses a key point… We explain to people, and to SBI! owners as they build their businesses, that a web BUSINESS is much more than a web SITE. 

Bobby, could you explain how you monetize and if your monetization models have evolved over time?

When I started my site, I really didn’t have any idea how I would make money with it. I had no product to sell, so I would have to rely on selling other people’s products in exchange for a commission (the so-called affiliate marketing model). But in the beginning, I didn’t know if there were any good vendors in my niche. So I put Infolinks code on the pages and hoped that would make enough to pay my subscription fees.

As my website grew, I realized that I had a real asset here and began researching more intensely how I could monetize my site about homebrewing.

KEYNOTE: Bobby hits the nail on the head by recognizing his site as a “real asset.” The value of any business is measured in two ways…

1) INCOME: This is what everyone thinks about when they start an online business.  But if this is all you think about, then all you have done is created a job for yourself.  That’s OK, but there’s so much more to being a business owner. That brings us to…

2) EQUITY: A well-built business takes on a value that others will pay for (should you ever decide to sell your online business). Let’s say that an SBIer nets an income of $40,000 profit per year (i.e., above salary and expenses), on gross income of $120,000.  Your business could be worth anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000, depending on several factors!

Google AdSense has never done much for me, although I have ads on my site now and a Google Search bar as well. So I became serious about doing affiliate marketing. I started emailing the different major supply stores to inquire about the possibility of becoming an affiliate.

I got a call one day from MoreBeer.com, a major homebrew and winemaking supply chain in California. We worked up a deal and soon I was adding links to all my pages and getting 10% commission on my affiliate sales.

Of course that didn’t last long, because after about two years, they dropped my affiliate commissions from 10% down to 6%, almost in half.

I’m still open to new monetization plans, but the thought of re-working a thousand links on 200 pages seems a little daunting right now.

KEYNOTE: Bobby says: “When I started my site, I really didn’t have any idea how I would make money with it.”  Sound familiar? That’s how most solopreneurs feel when they start out. And that’s precisely why the SBI! Action Guide devotes a whole section to planning your monetization before you begin building your site.

In his excitement about getting his ideas about home brewing out into the world, Bobby seems to have skipped that part!.

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