15 Takeaways that Take You From “Initial Success” to “Grow as Big as You Like”
It’s been two years since I wrote about My Best Month Ever. At the time, I was ecstatic about my first $5k+ of revenue in only one month and wanted to share how I got there. I also gave you my ideas on how I planned to continue to build traffic and generate revenue from my e-business.
Since then, my online business is continuing to grow every day. Just like most people who run their own businesses, I’ve had some great successes and some failures. Not everything works and that’s OK. I keep what works and drop the rest.
My niche, San Francisco tourism, has great potential. It’s also a hot-competitive niche. With my 7+ years of experience as a solopreneur I now have a much clearer vision about what I need to do to keep driving my online business…
6 Actions That Helped Me Grow My Online Business in the Past 2 Years
Like I said, I keep what works. Here is what I’ve been doing and will be doing more of. These key strategies have been proven in the crucible of the real world, so I’m confident that the steady growth of SF Tourism Tips will continue for years to come…
Action Plan #1: Adding Content-Rich Pages
With a competitive niche like mine, I add several keyword-focused, content-rich pages each week. I’m guided by SBI!’s Master Keyword List, so “keyword” merely means “high-quality topic that will be of genuine value to your visitor.”
I also have a list of about 600 more pages that are scheduled to be added in the next year or two. I’m always looking for new content ideas, which I get through keyword research, visitor requests, and travel forum questions.
- First, she uses SBI!’s Brainstorm It! tool to generate more keywords (aka topics) to write about.
- Second, she analyzes the feedback and questions she gets from her visitors.
- And third, she scours travel forums to learn about her potential customers’ pain points, needs and wishes.
Adding two pages of high quality content per week is a lot of work for one person, so we asked Jill if she writes all of her content herself. She explained…
I used to write it all myself, but I don’t anymore. It’s not possible to write that much content and manage the rest of the pieces on my own. I now have one person who works with me 15 hours a week. She helps me write the content and my fiancé helps edit.Jill Loeffler
That leads us to…
Action Plan #2: Creating Two Ebooks
In the last two years, I wrote and self-published two ebooks for my site. One is a general San Francisco guide and one is specific to those traveling with kids.
My first book took me several weeks to complete. The second one, focused on family visits, was much quicker to write, as I had pinned down the basics already. Both sell well and continue to be a great source of passive income for me.
Why not repurpose that content, format it nicely, add some in-depth, added-value material that’s not yet on your site, and sell it as an ebook?
SBI! members have access to a comprehensive help section about creating and selling e-goods, whether it’s books, audio files or a video course. We consider it “passive income” because once you have set it up, including your sales funnel, you can pretty much forget it (aside from the occasional promotion through your social media). There is little or no customer support if you do it right.
Action Plan #3: Optimizing My Monetization
For the past two years, this has been my main focus area. My SBI! site generates high traffic. That’s critical if you want to monetize, obviously.
But I owe it to my hard work (that built that traffic) to monetize it to the max. So I try various things and test, test, and retest the options to see what works best.
For example, I’ve tested almost every hotel booking site with an affiliate program that I could find. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t leave money on the table by using an underperforming vendor.
While I lost some money in the short term during these tests, I’m now confident that I’m using the right affiliate programs for my site. That being said, I still test every so often just to make sure I’m using the best hotel booking sites for my and my visitors’ needs.
“Test, test and retest.” Jill nails this all-important advice for the smart solopreneur. Whether it’s your newsletter open rate, the bounce rate on your home page, the click-through rate of your ads, or the conversion rate of your sales page, constantly test what works best; if you don’t, you’ll leave money on the table.
Think about it… let’s say you sell an ebook for $20. Your sales page gets 1000 visitors per day. Your current conversion rate is 1%. In one year, this ebook generates $73,000 of income (10 ebooks x $20 x 365 days).
Happy? Sure! But are you satisfied? We hope not. Instead, ask…
How can I double that income?
Either try to increase your daily visitors to 2000 or increase your conversion rate to 2%. Or hey! Do both!
While doubling your traffic is doable, it takes more effort and time than A/B testing your sales page to optimize its conversion rate. Google Content Experiments is an effective, simple and free tool to test and optimize your sales.
Action Plan #4: Removing AdSense
This was a big one for me. In 2014, I made quite a bit of money each month from AdSense. It was my second largest revenue stream for almost two years. As ad blockers became more and more popular, my AdSense revenue started to fall.
That’s why, after about 5 months of this downward trend, I decided it was time to drop AdSense and come up with a plan to replace this income. I spent about a week removing it all from my site. I made a few adjustments with my affiliate programs and my ebooks over the next few weeks.
Overall, this change increased the revenue from my site. Even though it was a risk for me, and it was scary to think of losing this income, it turned out to be a valuable change in my strategy.
However, it’s simple logic that replacing under-monetizing ad space for higher-earning models will generate more income. No contest if you think it through and then have the courage of your convictions.
There are other reasons too, but the bottom line is that Google pays too little for Jill’s precious traffic. They don’t deserve her business. Period, simple.
Are you frustrated about decreasing AdSense income, too? Follow Jill’s example. Have a plan in place to fill the income gap. Then take a deep breath and make the change.
We asked Jill to elaborate on the adjustments she made. Here’s what she said…
I’ve increased the use of some of my affiliates that offer discounts. This helped me quickly fill the gap. I also added a new banner in the upper right hand corner of my site to promote my ebooks better.
I replaced the AdSense banners with large images on the top of my pages, so my visitors are now greeted with an image about the place they will be visiting instead of an ad.
Jill focused on increasing the revenue from the other two income streams she already had: affiliate marketing and selling her ebooks. That’s the fastest strategy. But you could also develop completely new ways to monetize, e.g., negotiating site sponsorships or offering services.
Action Plan #5: Sending Weekly Emails
When I first started with email marketing, I sent emails only once a month. In August 2015, I moved over to AWeber and started sending my emails weekly. This has been a profitable change for me and my site.
My emails are neither fancy nor sophisticated, but my overall open and click-through, rates remain high. My revenue is also usually 3 times higher on email days vs. other days of the week.
Every SBI! subscription comes with an integrated MailOut Manager included. You can build an email list, create a template, schedule and publish newsletters, or send marketing emails to your list.
For more advanced features, like segmenting your email list or split-testing subject lines, you can easily integrate SBI! with two of the most popular email management systems, MailChimp and Aweber.
It only takes an hour per month to send your fans an attractive summary of what’s new on your website. They’re happy to get it. Then, one day, it happens…
You have a monetization model (ex., selling your own ebooks or services, etc.) that is perfect for email marketing. Wouldn’t you be delighted that you already had a list of 7,000 subscribers who WANT to hear from you?
You’ll progress from the super-simple to the sophisticated when the income warrants it, trust us on that! That’s exactly what Jill did.
Action Plan #6: Moving to a Responsive Design
In the summer of 2015, I decided it was time to move to a more up-to-date, responsive design. I spent a few months working on and implementing the new design.
At the time, I was using an older template and uploaded my own pages, so this took quite a bit of effort. It was a lot of hard work, but it was worth it to me to have a cleaner, mobile-friendly, easy-to-navigate site.
Phenomenal design may please your ego, but your visitor is task-focused. Yes, your design needs to be good enough to make you look credible and to get your visitors to hang around until they read your opening headline (5 seconds).
From there on, it’s all about your outstanding content, presented in a unique voice, that keeps them on your site, not your design.
In some industries it may even be an advantage to have a less slick-looking website. Want proof? Head over to Steve Kazella’s story… he built a 7-figure income with a template that is anything but modern.
We don’t recommend going that far but hey… whatever works, right?
At the time, I was using an older template and uploaded my own pages.
When we first started SBI!, the #1 wish was to enable folks to upload their own HTML pages (created by HTML editors such as DreamWeaver). That feature is used less and less often, especially since we launched the world-class BlockBuilder 2.
You can customize to your heart’s content and deliver a top-notch, responsive website (i.e., mobile-friendly) in a fraction of the time of “do it yourself” HTML. It’s the overwhelming favorite of new SBI! members, while die-hard “UYOHers” (“Upload Your Own HTML”) are slowly realizing the future is now.
Where I’m Headed in the Next Few Years
The six actions above are just a small piece of what I do daily, weekly and monthly to grow my business. What does the future hold?
The hard work I’ve put into my site is finally paying off. I see so much potential as I continue to build and explore my niche market. I have dozens of items on my “to do” list. Here is a sneak peek into my plan for the next few years…
1) Stay Focused on Content Creation
This is a big one for me. As I mentioned above, I have more than 600 pages on my list to write in the next few years. I will continue to focus on creating new and interesting pages for my visitors as a way to increase my traffic and revenue.
By monitoring the blogosphere, we enable Jill to focus totally on what matters, her business. In a sense, one of the biggest things you “get” when you start SBI! Is “free hours per week.”
2) Create Additional Products
I plan to add more of my own products to my site. This includes a few more eBooks. It also includes some additional ideas that I’m working on finalizing. I’ll give updates as I work through the details and begin to sell them to my visitors.
This is way ahead of you now, most likely. But you’d be amazed at how quickly you reach the stage where you have to make the pleasant decision…
“How big do I want to get?” If you think the answer is easy “bigger,” it’s not. You have to weigh it against what you need in terms of life balance. Nothing comes free. We’re there to help you with this, too.
3) Continue to Network With Local Businesses
I’m working with and talking to local businesses including hotels, attractions, event companies, and conferences every single day. My plan is to continue to work closely with them to help them build their business as well as my own. It takes time, which we all know is money, but it has a very large return on my investment.
4) Increase My Marketing Efforts
Email marketing and social media have been a great source of traffic for me over the last couple of years. I’ll continue to look at new ways to drive traffic and reach those coming to visit SF.
5) Build a Second Online Business
In March of this year, I decided to start my second online business with SBI!. It’s another travel site and, after 9 months, already has almost 100 pages. It’s a very different market, but will allow me to use what I’ve learned from my SF site to start driving traffic and revenue faster.
SBI! builds businesses. It’s not a “make money” opportunity. A site is just part of a serious process that builds a real business with income and equity.
SBI! teaches folks not to start a 2nd business, probably forever. But if you do, it should ideally be related in some way to the first and it should only be attempted when you have the time to devote to a new business.
One of the ways I built two large sites at one time is by outsourcing some of my work. I still do all the high-level site-building but I can save time by outsourcing copy and editing.
This costs more, in the short term, but in the long term it pays off since I have more pages, more quickly, and it saves me from doing the grunt work each and every day. Again, time is money, and I’d rather spend the money now, to have even more time now, and a lot more money, later.
Jill decided to outsource part of her content creation. She still does the keyword research and outlines the page structure, but a freelance writer fills in the gaps.
We cover this topic, including where to find good freelancers or part-time employees. For some niches, and depending on the role you hope to fill, your best employee will likely be among the visitors to your site, subscribers to your newsletter, social media fans/followers, etc. That’s how Carl, The Disney Dad, grew his team.
Others, like Jill, find their helpers at places like UpWork (a freelance marketplace) or in their personal circle. We asked Jill about her experiences with outsourcing. She said…
Outsourcing is the one piece I’ve really increased over the last year, and it’s helped me move my businesses along much faster. I used to work every day and couldn’t keep up with it. By outsourcing, I’m able to take off a day or two each week in addition to growing my businesses much faster. Jill Loeffler
Building websites and turning them into profitable businesses is hard work. However, the freedom they offer me is what motivates me to stay focused and work diligently to build an even more successful business.
The freedom to travel… one of the solopreneur perks that Jill enjoys to the fullest.
This time in Istanbul.
I also enjoy the feedback that customers give me after they have used my site and I have helped them make their dream trip come true.
Of course, there are always the few negative responses that I receive. These help me see my content gaps; I then build a new page that meets that unmet need. Even though these responses can hurt, when I first see them, I figure out a way to turn them into something positive, and ultimately they help me to make more money.
Does this seem impossible to you? Feeling overwhelmed? How did she do it? It’s not easy, but it is DO-ABLE.
She followed the Action Guide. She proceeded one step at a time, like every other SBIer. We love seeing how folks grow over time, not just financially, but in terms of genuine, personal growth.
We can’t say it without bragging, so what the heck…
We’re incredibly proud of these stories, of how SBI! enables good people with “BAM” to get what they deserve out of life.
- Know that an online business is never done. Have a system in place to collect ideas for new content and ways to monetize.
- Respect/maximize the value in your traffic. Test, test, test. And then test some more.