Pilgrims’ Progress: The Real Thanksgiving Story

Reconciling Gratitude and the Power of Creative Discontent

Many extended families will gather this Thanksgiving in the biggest home of the brood; take their places under that roof, around long tables; have each member specify some small thing that they are “thankful for”; and then gorge themselves on turkey, cranberry salad, and other standards. After, they might loll around in food comas in front of the television, play Yahtzee, catch up, horse around outside, or go see a movie.

It’s hard for us to understand today just how precarious the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Plantation was. So try this: Take the above picture and subtract the roof, the table, the cranberry salad, even the turkey. Also, imagine that over the last year, half of your family had died. Now: What are you thankful for?

In late 1621, the Pilgrims were thankful that they just might make it through another winter. Their first one in the New World had been a deadly disaster. Their voyage was delayed because one of their ships sprung several leaks, likely due to sabotage. Then, instead of the moderate weather they expected in America, they were hammered by a harsh and relentless New England winter.

The ship that finally ferried them across the Atlantic, the Mayflower, returned to London far later than planned with nothing to show for the trouble. The ship was supposed to return with produce to pay back their creditors, but the new colonists had nothing to spare. The Mayflower stayed anchored throughout the winter out of necessity. The Pilgrims used it for shelter because they had precious little of that to give them a reprieve from the snow, the winds, and the cold.

In late 1621, the Pilgrims were thankful that they just might make it through another winter. What are you thankful for?

-JEREMY LOTT

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They had some shelter almost a year later-but not much. We see this reflected in many Thanksgiving paintings in which Pilgrims eat outdoors at a long table. But the truth is they probably didn’t even have that much.

“Tables and even chairs were scarce…knives were rare…and forks were nonexistent” at Plymouth Plantation, explains Robert Tracy McKenzie in the book The First Thanksgiving. When we think of that first Thanksgiving meal, he says, “we should picture an outdoor feast in which almost everyone was sitting on the ground and eating with their hands.”

It was indeed a feast-one that featured:

  • fish, shellfish, and possibly eel
  • birds, though probably not turkeys; venison supplied by their guests, the Wampanoag Indians
  • maize, grown from a native stash the Pilgrims found and, well, let’s go with borrowed
  • plus various herbs and root vegetables

But that had to taste bittersweet to many of these new settlers. The deaths had leveled off but the toll was high: 102 people had set sail; only 51 or 52 remained that first Thanksgiving. “As many as two or three people died each day during the first two months on land,” explains the Plantation’s official website.

That attrition left many husbands wifeless, many children parentless, and was especially tough on both the very old and the very young. Only three people over 40 were left standing. Two babies had been born en route to and in this new world; one of them had already died.

I bring up this material gulf between the Pilgrims and Americans in the present not to shame us in our food comas- though really, turkey? We can do better! Bring back eel!-but rather to show how things have progressed. By the standards of history and in the eyes of most of the rest of the world, Americans are incredibly wealthy. We have shelter, heating, food, non-leaky ships, and kitchen utensils in abundance. And we have a pretty good handle on disease. Our lives are long and we have made horrific things such as infant mortality rare.

The great thing about the American experiment that the Pilgrims accidentally helped launch is that even those successes are not enough. We ought to be thankful for what we have, and the example of the Pilgrims helped to cement that in our national DNA. But another strand of that DNA, which the Pilgrims also had something to do with, tells us that we can go further, take chances, do something that will leave a mark that folks 400 years from now will still be talking about.

Gratitude and creative discontent are not mutually exclusive. These are the twin lessons I leave leaders to chew on this Thanksgiving.

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The Surprising Power of Thank You

6 Ways to Leverage the Gratitude Advantage for Yourself

“Thank you.” These are two words that have the power to transform our health, happiness, performance, and success. Research tells us grateful people are happier and more likely to maintain good friendships. It reduces stress, improves our sleep, and floods our bodies with endorphins that energize us, instead of hormones that leave us feeling drained and depleted.

Gratitude and appreciation are also essential for a healthy work environment. In fact, the number one reason why people leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated. A simple thank you and a show of appreciation can make all the difference. That’s why it’s important not only to practice gratitude yourself but also to foster a culture of gratitude with your team and organization.

Thankfully, gratitude is like a muscle. The more we do with it the stronger it gets. In this spirit here are five ways to put the power of “thank you” to work today:

1. Take a daily thank you walk

I started this practice fifteen years ago and it has changed my life. It’s simple, it’s powerful, and it’s a great way to feed yourself with positivity. How does it work? You simply take a ten-to-thirty minute walk outside, in a mall, around your office, on a treadmill, or anywhere else you can think of and think about all the things-big and small-you are grateful for.

When you combine gratitude with physical exercise you give yourself a double boost of positive energy. You flood your brain and body with positive emotions and natural antidepressants that uplift you rather than the stress hormones that drain your energy and slowly kill you.

2. Practice meal-time thank you’s

When having a meal with your friends and family or coworkers, go around the table and have each person say what they are thankful for. Encourage people to expand on why they are thankful. Not only will this help frame the meal towards a positive perspective, it’s also an opportunity for you to get to know each other better by understanding what each other values.

3. Make a gratitude visit

Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, suggests we write a letter expressing our gratitude to someone. Then we visit this person and read them the letter. His research shows that people who do this are measurably happier and less depressed a month later.

Yes, it might feel odd-but it works. Try it. Today schedule and make a gratitude visit to an old boss or mentor, a friend who helped you through a tough time, a family member or someone who made a difference in your life.

4. Say thank you at work

According to a John Templeton study of 2,000 Americans, we are least likely to feel or express gratitude at work. And when we’re listing what we’re grateful for, or jobs come in dead last. It doesn’t have to be like that.

When Doug Conant was CEO of Campbell Soup he wrote approximately 30,000 thank you notes to his employees and energized the company in the process. Leaders can energize and engage their teams by letting them know you are grateful for them and their work.

Organizations spend billions of dollars collectively on recognition programs. But the best and cheapest recognition program of all consists of a sincere “thank you.” And of course, don’t forget to say thank you to your clients and customers too.

5. Be positively contagious

Research shows that emotions are contagious. Sincere smiles, kind words, encouragement, praise and positive energy infect people in a positive way. On the flip side, your people are just as likely to catch your bad mood as the flu.

So each day you come to work you have a choice: You can be a germ or a big dose of Vitamin C. When you choose to be positively contagious your positive energy has a positive impact on your colleagues and ultimately your culture. Your team will remember very little of what you said, but they will remember 100 percent of how you made them feel.

Your team will remember very little of what you said but they will remember 100% of how you made them feel.

-JON GORDON

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6. Celebrate daily success

According to research conducted at Harvard University, the last thirty minutes of every waking day is recorded and replayed that night by our subconscious minds fifteen to seventeen times. This replay occurs five times more often than any other thought at any other time. Thus it’s important to go to bed thinking positive thoughts. If you go to bed thinking and feeling like a champion you’ll wake up thinking and feeling like a champion, optimistic and ready to win.

Today, before you go to bed, celebrate your success of the day. Identify the one great thing about your day-the one great conversation, accomplishment, or win that you are most proud of. Or identify the one person you helped most today or the one thing that made you smile. Focus on your success, and look forward to creating more success tomorrow.

If you have kids, make sure you this with them to help foster the kind of gratitude that will fuel a lifetime of significance and success.

Steady Income From The Arts? This Calligraphy Lover Shows It’s Doable

Steady Income From The Arts? This Calligraphy Lover Shows It's Doable

The thing I enjoy the most is the pure satisfaction of converting calligraphy into cash – the excitement of knowing that my personal enjoyment and interest in letterforms and helping others improve their calligraphy can be expressed in words and images which sit out there on a web page and generate income while I’m asleep.

Since early childhood, Katharine Scarfe Beckett’s two biggest passions were writing and art. When, at the tender age of 7, she tagged along after school to “calligraphy class,” her fate was sealed. She’d found it – the perfect union of writing and art.

Throughout school, college and her PhD studies, Katharine kept practicing and learning more about calligraphy. Her skills didn’t go unnoticed. She was commissioned to produce calligraphy artwork for books, greeting cards and personalized gifts. Among her customers were royalty, ambassadors, political, religious and business leaders around the world.

With such an illustrious clientele, why didn’t Katharine pursue a career as a professional calligrapher? Why did she instead choose to teach others and generously share her formidable skills  – mostly for free – with a global audience? That’s what we are about to find out!

1. Katharine, despite (or perhaps because of) your deep passion for calligraphy, you didn’t pursue a career as a professional calligrapher. Instead, you built www.calligraphy-skills.com. Can you tell us more about that?

‘Because of’ is about right. I don’t much like trying to force creativity into a nine-to-five every day.

I learned my first calligraphy at age seven, and I’ve been selling my calligraphy since I was fourteen –  birthday cards, wedding invitations, certificates, presentation pieces and so forth. By word of mouth, I also got work delivering workshops and lessons.

As my skills have increased, so have my fees. And my commissioned calligraphy and artwork has ended up in the hands of princes and duchesses, authors and opinion leaders, and good friends, which I am proud of.

But being a self-taught, part-time, semi-professional calligrapher never provided a reliable income, and I couldn’t charge my market enough to cover the time it took to do a good job. It was utterly unscalable! So I have maintained my passion for calligraphy, along with miniature-painting, as a sideline. I did it (and still do) alongside my regular writing and editing work which is paid by the hour.

Beautiful example of Katharine's commissioned calligraphy artwork.
Beautiful example of Katharine’s commissioned calligraphy artwork.

At a certain point along the way I realised two things about the internet. It was a way (a) to earn steady, passive income and (b) to provide useful, needed information and skills to an audience according to their demand.

It was a way to put together my passion for calligraphy with others’ interest – beyond the constraints of ‘I’m in England, she’s in Hong Kong’. I saw the potential in that. I’d love eventually to have put all my own knowledge about calligraphy in one place so that others can use it if it’s useful to them. SBI! gives me a way to do that profitably.

TAKEAWAY #1: Katharine beautifully captures the essence of what the Internet has enabled us “everyday people with a passion” to do – we can share what we know and love with anyone looking for exactly this information, skill, product or service (even if he or she lives across the globe), and we can earn an income by doing so.

Is it easy to do? Nope. Is it doable at all? Very much so, if you have the right combination of tools, guidance and support.

2. What were your initial goals when you started http://www.calligraphy-skills.com. Have these goals changed over time?

My initial goal was to achieve any passive income at all from calligraphy. Anything which didn’t require me to sit at the desk to try to make a reasonable income per hour. That was it. That already looked like a unicorn. (Steady income from the arts is quite a goal.)

Still, vaguely, in the back of my mind I was aware that I might also use SBI! to put some income in place for my later years when I would really not want anymore to pull all-nighters doing ‘urgent edits’ on my laptop.

My goals have changed. One of the worst things that happened to me was that I set too low a goal and then achieved it. And then didn’t know what to do, and didn’t have the nerve to abandon that achievement for a better goal.

But now I’m working out how to simultaneously bring my income more under my own control, improve my offering to my visitors, and get an edge on the competition by introducing new content and revenue streams.

TAKEAWAY #2: We’ve all heard that setting clear goals for yourself is one of the keys to success in any area of life. And just as you grow and evolve, your goals should grow with you. Katharine realized that she set her goals too low when she started her website. All she wanted to achieve was “any passive income at all” from her calligraphy skills. It sounds as if she was so surprised to have actually achieved that goal that at first she wasn’t sure what to do next.

Luckily, when you are an SBI! member, you have two great places to turn to for guidance and inspiration:

1) The Solo Build It! Action Guide

As your smart partner in business, the Action Guide “coaches” you during every step of your online business journey. It helps you define and develop your best site concept. It shows you how to evaluate a niche’s profitability. It teaches you how to create content that gets found. It enables you to grow traffic from a variety of sources. It helps you plan and implement the best ways to monetize that traffic.

So, in Katharine’s case, to help her set new and bigger goals for calligraphy-skills.com, she would specifically revisit DAYS 4 and 10 of the Action Guide. These two DAYS (or chapters) are focused on researching and implementing different monetization methods, from fully passive (like Google Adsense or affiliate marketing) to fully active (like selling your own products or services).

2) The Solo Build It! Forums

There is nothing better than asking a group of people for help and receiving what you need right away. SBIers have been called “the most helpful group of individuals in the world.” Or, as long term SBI! member Tracy Scorzafava puts it

The forums are indispensable. It’s a safe place to discuss issues you may be having with your site, ask for help, and give your input on someone else’s questions. It really does feel like a family that truly understands what you are doing. And that shouldn’t be taken lightly because none of my offline family or friends really understands what I do on a daily basis. I have never felt alone in my online ventures.

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

This is a very interesting question. Finding the right balance between what visitors want to read and what I want to write is a challenge.

My philosophy regarding content is shaped by a basic principle in the Solo Build It! Action Guide that I continually refer to: that the brilliant minds who spend their days refining and honing the world’s most advanced search engines are trying their hardest to make them able to think like human beings.

So, simply, we should write very well for our visitors. The search engines can evolve only into increasing certainty that such a site is just what these visitors are looking for.

TAKEAWAY #3: “Write well for your visitors.” Sounds like such a simple concept that you’d think every webmaster and publisher would adhere to it, right? Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. A whole industry has sprung up to explore and exploit every angle of so-called “search engine optimization” (SEO, for short).

Instead of providing the best possible content for the human visitor, the SEO school of thought focuses on  “optimizing” a page’s content for the search engines. This often includes manipulation and “black hat” techniques to trick the search engines. In the long run, and as the search engines are getting smarter, these techniques can only fail.

SBI!’s philosophy has always been to “keep it real” and “add value.” Create your content first and foremost for your visitor. When they love your content, the search engines will, too.

That doesn’t mean to ignore search engines when you create content. On the contrary, the engines (or rather the people who use the search engine to find answers to whatever questions they have) play a big role in deciding what to write about.

Katharine lists 3 factors that influence her content creation…

Regarding calligraphy skills content, I see three factors:

  • what people think they want and therefore what they search for
  • what people actually need in order to improve their calligraphy skills
  • the particular nature of my own knowledge and approach – my advantages and limitations as a source of information and teaching.

From those three factors, hopefully, emerges an answer, which is what is going to be good for the website – to make it useful to visitors, visible to search engines, and true to my voice.

SBI! Brainstorm It!In terms of how I know what my prospective customers are looking for, I try to start where my visitors are, with what they are looking for: that has meant many, many hours with Brainstorm It!. I purchased extra credits for searches when I was pretty broke and it looked like quite an investment, and I’ve never regretted that. I regularly re-searched and refined my keyword list to guide me in my content creation.

I also used the Google AdWords keyword tool to see what they thought of various search terms. And then I’d run my own more obscure searches for some aspect of calligraphy I was interested in myself and I’d see what I could find. I’d compare the sites that I respected and could learn from with the sites that came up when I put in my Brainstorm It! keywords.

That gave me a kind of index of what’s out there, and also a sense of how online amateur calligraphers think. It’s not the whole answer but it proved a reliable foundation.

In terms of writing the content, I write as myself – while recognising that that isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste! I tend to write long, so I have to consider how that fits with mobile and online attention span.

But I myself really appreciate long, informative, old-fashioned pages with plenty of explanation and plenty of images, and so I tend to favour that mode. Honestly, I’m willing to lose some readers who want ‘fast and dirty’ info for the sake of the lovely, interesting people who’ll take the time to write in and thank me for talking to them like a real person.

Ultimately, I want Calligraphy-Skills.com to be the site that I would want to find if I was teaching myself calligraphy.

Katharine at work in her home office.
Katharine at work in her home office.
TAKEAWAY #4: Katharine bases her content decisions on a sound mix of quantitative and qualitative research. SBI!’s keyword brainstorming and analysis tool, Brainstorm It!, helps her determine which phrases and words people use to find answers to their calligraphy questions.

Brainstorm It! not only finds way more search terms that you could ever think up, it also returns supply and demand numbers to point out which topics you should write about.

But, no matter how sophisticated a keyword tool is, it cannot think. So you need to evaluate the topics and numbers that Brainstorm It! (or any other tool, like AdWords Keyword Planner) brings back based on your intimate niche knowledge.

In other words, don’t become number bound. Apply your human judgement in the final decision as to whether writing about a certain topic makes sense for your visitors.  

By the way, there are more than enough search credits included in your SBI! subscription to cover your initial brainstorming. As you expand your business, you may want to do additional searches, which you can purchase for a low cost. Most SBIers don’t need this, but – as Katharine points out – if you do, you won’t regret the extra small expense.

Katharine touches on another aspect of content writing. She says “I write as myself.” She prefers to write long pages with lots of information and images over shorter “snackable” content, even if that means losing some visitors.

That’s what we call “writing in your voice.” You can never please everyone, so don’t even try. Instead, let your personality shine through your content. The right part of your audience will connect with you on a much deeper level if they get to know you as a real human being rather than some bland, WikiPedia style information provider.

Want to learn more about how to develop your unique voice when writing for the web? Our free eBook Make Your Content PREsell! is just the resource you need!

4. How many different income streams do you have? Which ones perform best?

I have three: AdSense, and two affiliate relationships, with Amazon and Dick Blick art supplies. They’re all small income streams but they’re all steady.

AdSense performs best month on month. The others have potential but I’m also realizing various limitations and thinking (slowly) about new income streams which will be more under my own control.

It means a lot of work but the payoff will be worth it, both literally and metaphorically.

TAKEAWAY #5: In terms of monetization, Katharine is still pretty much at the beginning of the typical “solopreneur cycle.” Most start out monetizing their website passively, with Google AdSense and affiliate marketing.

A few years ago, you could make good money with these methods, even with moderate traffic numbers. Nowadays, you need a ton of traffic to make a decent income. And even then you are at the mercy of Google, Amazon and other affiliate companies.

Katharine realized this. Now she’s slowly working her way up to implementing additional income streams that will be more under her control and have a higher profit margin. What kind of income streams? We’ll get back to that in her answer to question 6.

Another example of Katharine's commissioned art work, including a gilded initial.
Another example of Katharine’s commissioned art work, including a gilded initial.

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

I followed the SBI! Action Guide and it happened pretty much as predicted. Just bear in mind  that many fellow SBI! members move faster than I did.

The first income was a few AdSense pennies one day, which was terribly exciting. I would have to look it up … OK, here we are: Friday, September 24, 2010: nineteen English pence. Yay! The historic moment when I earned myself almost exactly two dimes to rub together. That took a long time.

My very first traffic report is from two years earlier in November 2008 when, according to the SBI! traffic stats, I had nine visitors per day. By the time I was earning nineteen pennies I had around fifty pages and my traffic was up to about 300 per day. After that the income climbed steadily: on occasion, I’ve made nearly ninety times that in a day, without adding pages.

TAKEAWAY #6: That moment when the first cents or pence come in from your online business is the turning point for many solopreneurs. You put a fat red cross in your calendar and think to yourself, “Hey, this thing really works.” All these hours of hard work start to pay off.

How long does it take you to get there? That depends on your niche (the more competitive it is, the longer it will take for your pages to rank) and on your time availability (if you work full-time on your business, you’ll get there much faster than if you only have a few hours per week).

It took Katharine almost 2 years to make her first income. She could have added AdSense ads a bit earlier. We typically advise SBIers to start monetizing when they have at least 25 pages of high value content and a steady stream of about 100 visitors per day.

Overall, Katharine’s progress towards monetization was slower than that of the average SBI! member. Partly, this was due to time constraints. But we believe that Katharine’s mindset played a major role in her slow monetization progress. She didn’t have a business mindset right from the start. She “set her goals too low,” as she freely admits.

Still, the income she’s earned so far with calligraphy-skills.com contributed vastly to her “peace of mind,” as she explains below…

If you do the math you can see that it remains very much part-time income but, since I work freelance, the great virtue of a regular income-stream is its regularity – I can count on it, and that takes pressure off. That income took hits from various algorithms but it has always steadied back up again to around the same level.

I have often not had time right away to react to Penguin or Panda or Patootie or whatever and the virtue of my slowness is that I could watch the site right itself without my direct input, which kept my cortisol levels down and gave me real faith in the Google dance: its end goal really is to sift the authentic sites from the manipulative search engine optimizers.

Right now the site income is wavering slightly and I know I need to change things for mobile and https. I got distracted over the past couple of years with moving house, health issues, getting married and getting a family. You have to watch out for these little distractions.

One of life's ''little distractions,'' as Katharine put it.
One of life’s ”little distractions,” as Katharine put it.
TAKEAWAY #7: What’s the best thing about owning an online business compared to having a “regular” job, or even freelance work? It adapts to your life situation. You can’t work on your online business for a while due to “little distractions” like getting married and starting a family? Your business will still be there when you’re ready to get back to it.

Sure, it won’t progress much during that time. Depending on how strong a foundation you had built until taking the break, it may also take a hit in terms of traffic and income. But it won’t disappear completely.

Katharine’s business has survived her time-out and the various Google algorithm updates over the past years because she followed the SBI! principles – keep it real, add value – from the beginning.

Now, as she’s ready to move forward again, SBI! is right by her side, giving her the tools and guidance she needs to make her website mobile friendly and secure. To ensure that your content looks good and works well on all types of devices and screen sizes, SBI! provides fully responsive templates and a module called “Mobilize It!”.

To comply with Google’s recent push to move websites to a more secure structure (from http to https), we developed an HTTPS Conversion Tool for our members to make the switch to https as quick, painless and safe as possible.

6. You offer lots of calligraphy tutorials on your site for free. Have you considered turning those into paid online courses? If not, why not?

Have you been reading my diary? Yes, I am considering how to introduce paid online courses in various forms. I’m still working on a lasting monetisation model for that.

But I am not going to take away the tutorials that I already offer for free. One of the items my visitors search for (and appreciate when they find it) is online tuition. Ultimately, I need something up there for people to see so that they can judge my style and know what they’ll be getting for their money if they pay for a download or a distance-learning course.

I do very much believe that, in an information world, you have to give good content away for free in order to advertise yourself.

Example of the free calligraphy tutorial images on Katharine's site.
Example of the free calligraphy tutorial images on Katharine’s site.

Why haven’t I created those courses already? I think it’s a combination of wanting to be convinced over time about which content really works, and just being a slow thinker when it comes to developing a product of my own that I’m going to charge money for.

I’m a worker-by-the-hour, and concepts like scalability and marginal costs and minimum viable product percolate through my skull very slowly.

(I feel like I’m setting you up pretty well for the revelation that I am literally a tortoise. You know how, on the internet, no-one can tell…?)

TAKEAWAY #8: Giving good content away for free in order to advertise yourself, and your paid offers, is a neat way of describing SBI!’s Content Traffic PRESell Monetize process.

First, you provide the Content that prospective customers in your niche are looking for. Your high-quality topical content gets found (search) or discovered (social), attracting free targeted Traffic (aka interested visitors). Once on the page, your visitors are hooked because you OVERdeliver; you present the best possible answer to what your visitors are looking for, in a unique “been there, done that” voice.

This PREsold visitor loves your free content so much that she is happy to exchange some of her hard-earned money for your paid products or services. You Monetize!

How-to topics like Katharine’s are ideal for offering tutorials and online courses as paid products. She could, for example, turn some of the tutorials she has already on her site, into a free 5 to 7 part email course. This free course would act as a “lead magnet” to grow a subscriber list of people interested in her teachings. She can then market her paid course(s) to her subscribers.

Need some inspiration how to best implement and use an email course (also called autoresponder series) to increase traffic and sales? Check out our article “Chickens By Email? How an Auto-Responder Series Helped this Solopreneur Rise to the Top of her Niche.”

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

Well! There have been some big ones. Can I give you the top three? And I will be extremely honest.

Challenge #1: Doubt leading to sloth or, perhaps, sloth leading to doubt.

I don’t feel like a natural entrepreneur. I was driven to entrepreneurial activity by my burning desire for any kind of freedom to make steady money from the arts. So I sometimes find I’m using ‘Oh, well, I just lack BAM’ to avoid the next tough decision.

Meanwhile life makes its usual urgent and important demands; paying clients always seem to require your time and attention first; and ‘it’s only my website and it’s not all that’. That insidious self-sabotage can be tough to challenge head-on. I recommend Ken Evoy’s ‘Why People Fail’ which is, to put it politely, a bracing read.

Challenge #2: Getting over my own earnings. Seriously.

I’ve mentioned this a couple of times: I only recently realised it. It was such a shock to the system to make any passive income at all from calligraphy that for years I have meekly settled for the good instead of pursuing the better. Do not make this mistake.

Challenge #3: Keeping up.

Reading the weekly info, staying in touch on the forums, doing the work, re-studying the Action Guide. It is a full-time job to do it properly and I do throw my hands up from time to time.

TAKEAWAY #9: First, an explanation. “BAM” is a term we use within the SBI! community. It expresses what we believe to be the essence of a solopreneur…

Brain – you have experience/knowledge in a field that others would want

Attitude – you have a positive attitude/ability to bounce back, and

Motivation – you persist, hanging in until you win.

From what Katharine has told us so far, it doesn’t seem like she lacks any of these three ingredients. It’s more likely that she got in her own way of achieving the success she deserves. In the “Why People Fail” booklet mentioned by Katharine, Ken Evoy describes 10+ personality types and attributes that will doom you to failure if left unchecked.

The good news? Once your realize one or more of these self-sabotaging patterns in yourself, you can overcome them. Intrigued to learn more? Here’s that download link to “Why People Fail” again.

8. What do you enjoy most about being an online business owner? How has it changed you, your life, your family?

The thing I enjoy the most is the pure satisfaction of converting calligraphy into cash – the excitement of knowing that my personal enjoyment and interest in letterforms and helping others improve their calligraphy can be expressed in words and images which sit out there on a web page and generate income while I’m asleep.

It still blows me away. It makes me able to communicate far beyond my physical limitations, and I love communicating. I find that exhilarating.

SBI! Action GuideRelated to that, offsetting my sense that I sometimes get in my own way, I really enjoy knowing what I’m doing. The Action Guide is daunting, no doubt about it. But it works. You do have to study it, understand it, and then (as it is an action guide) apply it, in detail.

So it is no picnic. But as a teacher and student I know that there is no substitute for knowing what you are doing. That sense of certainty is available through the Action Guide. So hats off. It is a brilliant piece of work.

In terms of family life, SBI! opens your eyes to the possibilities out there for children, friends, parents who could do something similar. It frees you up from thinking, ‘You have to have a day-job, you have to have a career’ and lets you think about different ways that a valuable, earning life can work out.

More immediately in terms of my own family and their quality of life, the extra income means every week I have a big box of organic fruit and vegetables delivered fresh to the door from a local farm – along with a few other high-ticket food items for the family.

I save up leftover money for my own art courses every year. I get a lot of credit for maintaining the quality of our nutrition. So even a relatively small part-time income, leveraged, makes a very direct difference to quality of life.

TAKEAWAY #10: Next to the financial rewards from your online business, and the freedom to work on your own terms, that sense of satisfaction that Katharine describes is possibly the third biggest benefit of being a solopreneur:

  • The satisfaction that you’ve created something of value to yourself and countless other people all over the world out of nothing.
  • The satisfaction that you’ve gained the equivalent of a college degree in business (for a fraction of the cost) by following and applying the SBI! Action Guide process.
  • The satisfaction that you’ll pass on invaluable career advice to your children, other family members or friends… yes, there are viable alternatives to the traditional 9-to-5 job!

9. And finally… What’s your top tip for someone who is just starting a solopreneur career?

Persist.

Persist.

Persist, persist, persist.

(Sleep. Eat. Be nice.)

Persist.

TAKEAWAY #11: That’s one fabulous piece of business advice! Not much to add here except this well-known proverb by 30th U.S. President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933):

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.

Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.

Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.

Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.

Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Author information

Katharine Scarfe Beckett

Katharine has been fascinated by calligraphy and illuminated pages since childhood, when she learned basic italic script at the age of seven after school in Abu Dhabi. She began creating decorated initials and calligraphed quotations for friends as a teenager, and continued self-taught calligraphic work in gothic, roundhand and Old English scripts through her university years. Katharine promotes amateur calligraphy through her website, calligraphy-skills.com and continues to improve her own calligraphy skills through study of teaching manuals and short courses at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts (London) and West Dean College. In her (not so copious!) spare time Katharine paints miniatures and travels with her husband. She loves having long conversations about the relationship between art and craft.

The post Steady Income From The Arts? This Calligraphy Lover Shows It’s Doable appeared first on Solo Build It! Blog – Proven Real-World Advice for Solopreneurs.

The Best Way to Deliver Bad News

An Expert’s Guide to the Do’s and Don’ts of Tough Conversations

If anything is certain in leadership-whether you’re leading a large company, a mid-sized team, or a family of four-it’s that bad things will happen. Ultimately, you will bear the responsibility of sharing the news.

Shouldering the burden is the mark of a leader committed to gaining control of an unfavorable situation before it devolves into utter chaos. “In most cases, the person who is slated to receive bad news already knows it’s coming, but rather than facing it, he puts his head in the sand, pretending not to be seen and hoping it will go away,” says Marian Thier, an executive coach who works with senior-level executives and high-potential employees at Fortune 500 firms.

“That results in a lack of communication, isolation, and low performance-probably the very things causing the bad news in the first place,” she says. “The problems will only fester, grow and make it less possible to rectify if avoided. The closer to a problem situation, the closer bad news feedback should be.”

Unfortunately, knowing the importance of delivering bad news in a timely and effective manner doesn’t actually produce the know-how to do so. But the following tips can help.

Don’t be vague in your messaging

Delivering an unwelcome message is never easy, and it can be tempting to pad the dialogue with unnecessary praise that may obscure the key point. One specific example of this is called the “sandwich method,” in which employers are instructed to couch bad news between two compliments or other positive remarks. (For instance, “You’ve been a valuable employee for four years, but we have to let you go, even though I’m sure you’ll find another job and we’d be happy to put in a good word for you.”)

While noble in its efforts, this approach can often create confusion and make it less likely that the receiver will actually understand the gravity of the news being delivered.

“The purpose of delivering bad news is to gain a mutual and clear understanding of the situation, what has gone wrong, and any next steps,” says Thier. “Starting and ending with good news obfuscates that intention and minimizes the importance of the bad news.”

Don’t try to be overly compassionate

If not using the “sandwich method” specifically, some leaders may also find themselves over-talking in tense moments in an attempt to find the right thing to say to ease any discord between themselves and the other party. This, too, is pointless, says Jean Palmer Heck, author of Tough Talks in Tough Times.

“Nothing clears the mind faster than getting bad news,” Heck explains. “When people hear it-no matter what else they were thinking at the time-all communication processing shuts down. You can keep talking, but the other person won’t hear what you are saying.”

Not only will this excess dialogue fail to add anything of value to the conversation, but it can actually backfire and heighten any tension in the air. Heck suggests remaining quiet while giving the other person time to process the information. And it’s often a good idea to let the other person have the last word. According to Thier, “The deliverer of the bad news has the power and control of the conversation, so it might reduce tension to give some of it up to the recipient.”

Do plan what you’re going to say in advance

To avoid any inclination to ramble and make an already difficult conversation exponentially harder, preparing in advance is key. To this end, There has developed a communication model that she shares with clients faced with the task of delivering bad news. Each bulleted point frames a key discussion point and serves to keep the deliverer of bad news focused throughout the conversation:

  • Define the purpose of this conversation (e.g., to tell an employee that her job will end in two weeks).
  • Explain the behaviors/actions that lead to this decision (e.g., “You owe three reports to Finance that are now four weeks behind schedule”).
  • Ask for a response to any presented facts (given the particular conversation, this step may not be necessary).
  • Give additional facts (given the particular conversation, this step may not be necessary).
  • Share next steps (e.g. “HR is aware of the situation and is expecting you to make an appointment with the department immediately”).
  • Check for understanding (e.g. “So we are clear, please repeat what you heard and what your next steps are”).

Do prepare to follow up

In Tough Talks in Tough Times, Heck details her CHECK system for delivering bad news in both professional and personal settings. And one of the system’s core tenets is the idea that tough talks typically involve a series of conversations, as opposed to a single discussion.

“It may be understandable to consider a tough talk the demise of something, like a job or a relationship, but it should also be thought of as a new start or a new beginning,” says Heck. “Everyone involved directly or indirectly in a tough talk will move forward-that’s a given. But the time it takes to adjust and adapt to the new situation will vary with the individual personalities and the circumstances surrounding the event.” And those adjustments and adaptations often require additional leadership.

Using an example of a fired employee, Heck notes that even after the terminated individual has left the company, there may still be questions to answer and concerns to address amongst remaining staffers. “In the absence of giving employees answers to their questions, rumors will run rampant,” she explains. “Rumors take a toll on productivity and morale, but a follow-up to bad news, if handled well, can actually help in motivating a workforce to pull together and succeed.”

In short, adds Heck, “It’s essential to understand that one conversation will not take care of all the subsequent issues, reactions and problems.”

Beat the Fake – How to Gather Authentic Reviews for Your Business

Beat the Fake: How to Gather Authentic Reviews for Your Business

whack-a-moleLet’s you and I play a game of “Whack-a-Mole.”

I know – you think this is an article about how to get great reviews for your online business, right?

Stay with me on this.

Take a look at this statement on the information page of a hotel:

Please know that despite the fact that wedding couples love Hudson and our inn, your friends and families may not. If you have booked the inn for a wedding or other type of event and given us a deposit of any kind … there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review placed on any internet site by anyone in your party.

If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500 fine for each negative review.

If you take down the nasty review, you’ll get your money back.

Wow! Did I just make this up? Is it fake news?

Nope. This was the official policy of a real hotel in Hudson, New York. Apparently the owners  felt it was a great way to get glowing recommendations.

Here’s how it worked. Every time someone popped up with a negative review, the owners got that trusty mallet out and beat the person over the head. Here’s what that looked like:

“Please note that your recent on-line review of our Inn will cost the wedding party that left us a deposit $500. This money will be charged via the deposit they have left us unless/until it is removed. Any other or future reviews will also be charged to the wedding party (bride & groom) from the guarantee they have provided us.”

Wham! Whack ’em down! It’s not even penalizing the reviewer, but the guys whose event it was!

Mole Fights Back!That’ll teach them to write negative reviews!

Except…

Perhaps not surprisingly, the “moles” – aka customers – fought back.

The story of young newlyweds threatened with the loss of their deposit if their guests wrote bad reviews went viral.

The business was flooded with negative reviews. Over 3 thousand of them, all one star. They were closely followed by negative press releases – dozens of them, from all over the world.

The end result? In just a few months, the hotel was forced to close down.

The lesson for us all? Threatening customers to get positive reviews is a sure way to see your business close down!

So, what’s a better way? And is it really worth all the hassle?

Why Bother?

Let’s be honest: getting reviews means work. And it can be hard work. How to ask for them without either begging or threatening, how to sift out the fakes, how to deal with the less than favorable comments, how to use any reviews without feeling “salesy”…

It can feel like a nightmare.

So here’s the first question you need to consider: why bother even trying to get reviews of your business or your product(s)?

In the first of our articles delving into the murky world of fake reviews, we looked at the evidence that online endorsements are key in the decision-making process:

“America’s Federal Trade Commission found that over 70% of consumers read product reviews before buying. In a 2016 survey, as many as 84% said they trust an online review as much as they would trust a personal recommendation from a friend – a rise from 80% in 2015.”

And those figures cover every niche. Reviews are no longer important only for that beautiful hotel you stayed in or the dreadful meal you ate.

Your customer’s voice is equally important whether you’re selling your own product or recommending an affiliate’s; whether you have an informational blog or a brick and mortar store; whether you’re a tiny operation with just you as an employee or a large corporate conglomerate.

In every business, reviews are now an expectation, not an option. Authentic reviews establish trust between business and customer.

So, if you’re in the business of selling anything – your knowledge, your services, your products (or other people’s) – high quality, honest reviews are critical to your success.

Are Even Negative Reviews Important?

Notice I said: “high quality, honest reviews.” I purposely didn’t say “positive reviews.”

Why?

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learningLet’s look at Bill Gates’s take on that:

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”

The best way to achieve great reviews, of course, is to provide an excellent product coupled with an exceptional level of customer service. Make sure your customers are happy and super reviews are likely to follow.

But what about when they’re not happy? Of course, you would never threaten to withhold a payment in the manner of the Hudson hotel (you’d never do that – right?).

But is your first instinct to delete a negative online review? Or to throw it in the bin, if it comes in offline? Pretend it never happened?

Or worse – are you tempted to get defensive – aggressive, even? Start a war of words with the customer, which can only spiral downwards?

It’s hard not to feel resistant when someone criticizes some aspect of your hard work. It triggers a whole range of emotions, most of them negative.

But here’s what you need to do in order to retain your professionalism and dignity…

Breathe.

You have two ways of looking at honest, negative reviews: as a battle, or a learning experience.

Let’s be like Bill. Choose to see them as a real opportunity.

How?

First, stand back, and remember that one or two bad reviews do not mean your entire business is bad. Nor does it mean that no one will ever trust you again.

In fact, we saw in our fourth article in the “Fake Reviews” series (“Tired of Fake Reviews? Let’s Steer a Different Path!“) evidence that people are more trusting of products that do not a perfect set of 5-star reviews. As John McAteer, Director of Google’s retail arm, comments:Remember, when considering

“No one trusts all positive reviews.”

So take heart. Being as objective as you can, look at what your customer is telling you.

Is it justified? Is she pointing out a gap in your business that could be improved? If there are consistent problems with the same issue, it’s something you need to look at.

And if not? If you’re sure it’s not justified?

Be gracious. Maybe the reviewer is just having a bad day. Acknowledge her point of view. If possible, offer to remedy the situation.

It may go against the grain and it may cost you money in the short-term. But acknowledging and trying to help demonstrates your commitment to customer care – not just to the disgruntled reviewer, but to your wider customer base.

So whatever you do, do not hide negative reviews. Respond, immediately and with dignity.

And then, work hard to make sure your positive reviews outweigh the negative.

What About Fake Reviews?

Fake ReviewFake reviews are a different issue altogether. They’re not just a feature of modern life – they were a common problem as far back as  Ancient Roman times! Want to know more? Take a look at “What Is a Fake Review, and Why Should You Care?

What is a fake review? Put simply, it’s a review that’s dishonest about a product or service. The hotel and restaurant industries have suffered from them for years. Here’s what happens:

A staff member of hotel A – let’s call him Armand and the hotel, the Gutterata – is asked by the proprietor to write a negative review of hotel B – the Hotel Continental.

Armand has never so much as entered the doorway of Hotel Continental. He has no idea what it’s like. But his boss has asked him to do it and, let’s be honest, his job may be at stake.

So he writes a negative review.

Fake negative reviews can happen for all kinds of reasons. Armand is fearful for his job. A staff member has been fired for poor productivity and is determined to get his revenge. A company wants to push their product at the expense of a competitor with a product proven to be more successful (1).

Fake positive reviews have the same effect: Armand is now asked to add a review of the Hotel Gutterata. He knows it’s not great. The bathrooms are small and smell bad. The food is fine when it’s delivered but destroyed once Chef gets his hands on it. The staff are unhelpful and have no idea of customer service.

But Armand’s job is at risk… So he writes a glowing review of the Gutterata, knowing it to be fake.

Fake positive or fake negative – both are part of a corrupt system that, generally speaking, aims to discredit one company or product in order to boost a lesser quality brand. The underlying aim is always to make money.

There are two potential victims of the fake review: your company, whether that’s a blog or a physical entity, and your customer, who is lured into buying a lesser quality product.

Companies like Amazon have the resources to take legal action against fake reviewers – and do. But what about handling fake reviews as a small business?

It’s something Solo Build It! has had to deal with. And as a result of that we’ve learned some hard lessons. Hard for us, but a bonus for you – because you don’t need to go through the (very unpleasant) learning curve. You can learn directly from our experience.

Take a look at “How Does This Relate to Your Business?” for detailed actions applicable to any business, large or small, online or bricks and mortar.

How to Avoid Fake Reviews

Simple. Don’t ask anyone to write a review unless they have tried and tested your business. And don’t pre-empt what they say. No honorable business would. If you ask for reviews, expect a mix of good and not so good.

And yet you’ll see ads online like this one:

We need a person who can post multiple positive reviews on major review sites. Example:  Google Maps, Yelp, CitySearch. Must be from different IP addresses so you must be able to have multiple IPs. The reviews will be only a few sentences long. Need to have some understanding on how Yelp filters works.(2)

See what they’re doing? They want someone who will:

“post multiple positive reviews on major review sites.”

Whether or not they have tried the product. Whether or not they consider the product worthy of a positive review. Just write something that says this product – which they have never tried – is better than anything else on the market.

Sometimes they’re posted by companies wanting to flood the market with positive reviews. Sometimes individuals on sites like Fiverr and Craigslist advertise these services at a very low cost.

Sometimes people even set up their own business specifically to write fake reviews, as CBC News discovered. Do take a look at their video. It’s a fascinating insight into a murky world.

Or try it for yourself. Search online and find web pages devoted to stories like: “I Created a Fake Business and Bought It an Amazing Online Reputation.”

Here’s our advice: do not do it. Keep your reviews real.

You do not want your business to be regarded as untrustworthy. And untrustworthy is how you’ll be seen once your customers realize these reviews are fake, based not on an authentic experience but a wish to deceive.

The law is cracking down on this practice. Companies that use fake reviews, and individuals who write for them, have already been fined large amounts of money.

Don’t risk your business by becoming one of them.

How to Get Real Reviews?

One of the most powerful pages on your website, blog or product sales page should be your testimonials page. Great testimonials tell prospective customers that other people, who had the same problem or need as they do, have found a perfect solution with awesome results.

The best way to get real reviews of your product, as we’ve already said, is to provide both an excellent product and an outstanding level of customer service. Customers should then be pleased to leave a review.

But the fact is that not everyone does. Think about your own experience. You’ve stayed in a hotel recently. The travel site or the hotel itself asks you to leave a review. You had a great stay, so you have every intention of doing a positive review but…

Time goes on. Life is hectic. The review slips to the bottom of your priority list. That’s life. And it applies to your customer as much as it does to you.

So: how to encourage customers to leave a review without actually badgering them?

Let’s take a look at some possibilities.

Remember, when considering any form of written review, you need to:

  • Make it clear that you may include submissions on your website.
  • Say that you reserve the right to edit material. Content should not be altered, but errors in spelling or punctuation should be.

Reviews on Your Website or Blog

Mole TimekeepingTime is the greatest enemy when it comes to encouraging written reviews. So a critically important issue is to make it easy for your visitors to leave their comments on your site as and when they’re there.

How? Consider some of these options:

  • Facebook commenting: Do your customers hang out on Facebook? If you have a Facebook business page, you’ll know how much engagement you get.

Consider enabling Facebook commenting directly on your website. Whether asking for comments on a particular article, or on your site overall, it’s an easy way of allowing reviews without much work on your part. And it’s free.

But remember: it’s not an entirely passive option. You’ll need to respond quickly to comments and questions.

  • Other commenting: If your demographic is not likely to use Facebook commenting, why not try a company like Disqus or Review Buddy? There are drawbacks – they’re both paid services if you don’t want ads, and for Disqus to work, customers have to sign up. Will they want to?

    If your blog information is star quality, the answer to that is – perhaps.

  • Newsletter: You have a newsletter, right? Use it. Highlight a new article with a link. Ask your readers to let you know what they think either by hitting the reply button on  your mail, or by taking them to your comments section.
  • Customer survey: Include one in your newsletter. Ask open questions: “What do you like most about my website / blog / this article? What could I do to improve?”
  • Set up notifications: Bear in mind that there may be helpful comments about your site on other people’s blogs, or on social media. Use Google Alerts to notify you of brand mentions. Quote the comment on your website, giving a link to its origin.
  • Remember, too, that Twitter users may comment on your business if you publicize its username. Create and save a regular search. Use the quote and link to it. Reply to comments. Where appropriate, ask for permission to use on your website or blog.
  • Some site visitors won’t use social media and will be reluctant to sign up to a commenting platform. Why not set up a dedicated comments page on your website?

Solo Build It! makes this easy by providing just such an option, called  “Content 2.0.” Visitors can leave comments and even upload their own images. It’s a popular way for SBIers to engage with their audience.

Reviews of Local Businesses

If yours is a bricks and mortar business, or if you are a local service provider, such as an attorney, a dentist or a plumber, it’s important to be found in local searches. So enabling reviews in places other than your own website or blog is important.

  • Don’t dismiss platforms such as Yelp and Trip Advisor. Just be prepared to set aside time to answer comments – and develop a thick skin. Take a deep breath, think about what you’re going to write and remember: customers are human beings. And those who have something negative to say may just have a point from which you could learn.

    Yelp has a great section about showcasing your business, here. And if you find a fake – as opposed to a negative – review about your business? Report it!

  • Facebook Reviews: If you have a Facebook page in the category “Local Business,” you’ll find a “Reviews” tab as a social proof option on your page. Visitors to your page can give a star rating and leave comments.

    Facebook Reviews

    Use it! And, as with all commenting, make sure you post replies. It’s better to have no review option available if you can’t at least thank your reviewers for taking the time!

  • Google My Business: Add your listing so that potential customers find you easily when searching for something, for example, somewhere to eat.

Google My Business

Or a dentist. Or a plumber. Or any local business.

This is a particularly helpful option.

Why? Because you don’t even have to ask customers for a review.

Facebook logs that they’ve checked in at your business and, 24 hours or so later, they’ll be invited by Facebook to leave a review.

All you have to do is facilitate it. Provide free wifi. Make sure your fliers, menus and information / business cards invite customers to “check in on Facebook.”

Again, make sure comments are answered. The more check-ins, reviews and interaction, the more likely your business is to move to the top of a local search.

Got great reviews from local searches or directories? Excellent! Share them on your website – making sure you link to the review page so that other customers are encouraged to do the same.

  • On Twitter? Use your fliers to advertise your Twitter name and encourage people to tweet their experiences of your business. Make it fun!
  • Questionnaires: Customers love filling in questionnaires. If you’re a local service provider, like a dentist or counselor, where customers may have to wait, give them something to do! Make sure, once again, you’re clear that comments may be used on your blog.
  • Video clips: Let’s really think outside the box here! If you meet with customers regularly and they’re happy with your business or service, why not bite the bullet and ask if they’d mind doing a short video clip? Keep it under 30 seconds, and have some fun questions ready: “What is it about [name of your business] that’s making you smile today?” is a great opener!
  • Is this all feeling a little too high-tech for your business? Fine! Leave a simple comment card on reception desks and in waiting-rooms. Ask a straightforward  question such as “What did you love about your visit today?” “What could we have done better?” Provide a secure box for completed cards so that customers feel safe to say what they think.

Low-tech? Yep! But you’ll discover that customers love them.

Reviews of Your Product(s) or Services

The time-honored way of collecting information about products is a follow-up email or questionnaire. You’ll no doubt have experienced it yourself:

“What was it about our pasta maker that you particularly like? What did you make with it?”

Asking those questions, and using the answers on your website, on a testimonials page or directly on your sales page, is, of course, common.

But it can be a little – um – tedious.

So let’s get more creative. And let’s start by returning to the subject of fake reviews.

Research of fake product reviews shows that they’re often written by people who have never used the product. Often they have never even seen it. So the reviews provide no direct evidence of use. There’s generally no full name, no images, and the content itself will be vague or completely unrelated.

For example, how often have you seen this kind of comment:

“I bought this as a present for my Aunt Bessie. She loved it! [Signed] LS, USA”?

Take a lesson from that when you’re inviting reviews of your own product(s). Find ways to make sure that reviewers leave their full name, and that their reviews are specific to the product.

How?

Solopreneur “Cake Fairy” Shows You How to Have Your Cake and Eat It, TooLet’s look at the imaginative way one of our successful SBIers, Lorelie Carvey – known as “The Cake Fairy” on her site, “Wedding Cakes for You” – does it.

This is the testimonials page for one of Lorelie’s books. See how she’s made leaving reviews both easy and fun for her customers, and made sure there’s ample evidence that they’re authentic?

Lorelie has turned her customers into wildly appreciative fans – and given them a name by

inventing a fun group: “Lorelie’s Cake Crew.”

Let’s join Lorelie’s Cake Crew for a minute to see how it works.

  • Firstly, buy a copy of Lorelie’s amazing recipe book.
  • Then, make a cake!
  • Now submit a photo of your cake to Lorelie.
  • Maybe you’d like to submit a video of you making said cake!
  • And of course you need to submit a photo of yourself, holding the very book that taught you how to make such an amazing creation!

Brilliant! What could be more genuine than excited customers displaying the product, with their very own creation as a testimonial?!

Think about how you could apply this to your own niche. How could you turn your customers into the kind of raving fans Lorelie has? What will encourage them to leave not just a written review but to include images?

Might they even be prepared to shoot a short video? What about asking happy customers to upload a short testimonial to their own YouTube channel? Which, of course, you can add to your channel in a playlist of customer reviews.

But wait – I can hear you asking: “Why would people be prepared to go to those lengths?”

It’s a great question.

In Lorelie’s case, it’s because she’s spent time growing an excited fan base. Her customers love the high quality, detailed information she gives them.

But more than that. Her personal support and encouragement, using a mix of commenting, newsletters and videos of her own, adds to their confidence.

In helping them achieve the satisfaction of making an astonishing cake, Lorelie gives them something very personal: a sense of accomplishment. Having that, they will be prepared to do almost anything in return.

What are you offering your customers that helps them feel that sense of achievement? Or what solutions are you offering to a problem no one else has been able to help them with? And how can you tap into that?

In fact, Joey Coleman, one of the top experts on customer satisfaction and retention, suggests that ideally you will determine the exact point at which your customers “achieve success” and ask for a review at that time.

It makes sense that it’s only after someone has accomplished something with your product or service that they’d be in a position to speak honestly about you. And by timing your ask just right, you leverage the excitement of the moment.

What About Those Customers Who Just Won’t Leave a Review?

It’s true to say that, although consumers rely heavily on reviews when they purchase, not every customer will leave a review.

It’s difficult to get precise and up-to-date figures, but what evidence there is suggests a feedback or review rate of between 2% and 5% is average.

We get it. People are busy.

Maybe offering something in return would work? We are, after all, asking for a chunk of our customers’ time. Perhaps they should have some form of compensation?

But wait – isn’t that a bit on the – well – fake side?

Let’s examine incentives more closely.

Is It OK to Offer Incentives for Reviews?

Offer IncentivesReviews take time. Customers often don’t have a lot of time. They have busy jobs, lead busy lives. They have families who also are busy, busy, busy…

They just don’t have the time, or the inclination, to sit down and write a review. Unless, that is, there’s something in it for them…

So some businesses offer incentives in return for reviews.

Those “incentives” can range from simply – as in Lorelie’s case – being featured on a well-known, successful website that has been featured in national magazines. For many people, that’s enough.

You’ll no doubt have experienced that most travel sites you do business with send out requests for reviews after you return from your trip. Nothing wrong with that. They’re not offering any incentive, just asking politely if you’d help out other travelers by describing your experience. People do it simply from a sense of enjoying helping others – and giving credit where it’s due.

Taking it up a level, Facebook allows businesses to share “special offers” for fans who leave a review – a free giveaway, for example. Something as simple as a downloadable “Remember to take these with you when you pack for your vacation” checklist can be enough.

Upping the stakes even more, some local businesses offer physical incentives in return for a testimonial. You’ll probably have come across this as a consumer. Perhaps a coupon for your next acupuncture session, or money off your next meal if you log onto the restaurant’s website and leave a review. Some even encourage you to call their phone line and leave an audio review.

Is any of this “black hat”? Our view is, not if you’re asking for a genuine review – warts and all. An incentive is simply telling the customer: “We know your time is precious, and we value your perspective.”

Where it becomes distinctly “fake” is giving specific incentives for a positive review, or asking a customer to change their review in return for an incentive.

It’s the flip side of the Hudson hotel: “We’ll give you a voucher for $50 if you leave us a positive review.”

Our advice? Offer small incentives for leaving a review – but don’t imply it only refers to a positive review.  Give the incentive, even if the review turns out to be negative. And never, never offer an incentive to someone for removing a critical review.

What Next?

So you have your testimonials. You’ve worked hard to provide a quality product – whether that’s your online business or a physical entity – and you’ve worked out ways in which you can gather real reviews.

Now what?

The first step, clearly, is to use them on your website and in your publicity. How you do that is up to you:

  • on a testimonials page
  • on a sales page
  • in your newsletter campaigns
  • in your offline publicity.

But how to make it catch the attention of the wider world?

Promote your success. Shout it to the world! Make sure your potential customers know you’re a force to be reckoned with – an honest, reputable force.

Social media is an obvious way to do it. Put a comment about your business into an appropriate image and post it to Facebook. Got some nice comments about your new online course? Tweet them out!

Did someone leave a particularly complimentary comment about a member of your staff? Why not have a “Staff member of the week” board prominently displayed? Perhaps a photo of the staff member surrounded by cards displaying the comments.

And now, I can almost hear you dragging your feet…

time to deal with it allIs it all feeling a bit too much like hard work? Never mind your customers not having the time to review your business – when are you going to have the time to deal with it all? After all, you’re a solopreneur, not a large company with a specially designated staff group!

If that’s you, why not consider contracting this work to someone?

It’s well within the capabilities of a Virtual Assistant, for example, to pull comments together into a testimonials page on your blog. It’s easy enough for a receptionist to ask customers whether they’d mind taking a few minutes to complete a questionnaire or a comments card.

And if you want even more help, why not consider testing out a company to do the work for you?

A business like e-endorsements will see the whole process through, from start to finish. Tell them what you need and allow them to help you build trust, engage customers and promote your business.

Does it cost? It does. But then, so does your time. It’s all a question of balance – and it may not be as financially hard as you might think.

Is It the Same Old Story?

Smacking your customers over the head with a mallet is never a good way to go. Learn from the experience of the Hudson hotel.

Never, never engage in fake review practice. It may pay short-term dividends, but in the end your sins will catch you out.

Offer a great value product. Offer second-to-none customer service. Offer easy ways for your customers to pay you compliments. Talk to your customers, and be prepared to take a hard look at your business when they say there’s room for improvement – because there always is.

And then, be prepared to blow your own horn. Splash those reviews wherever and whenever you get the chance. But keep it measured. Don’t go overboard. Don’t exaggerate.

If it all becomes too much of a task, employ a person or a business to help you through. It will pay you back in spades.

And Finally…

Fake news is not new. It’s been around since time immemorial. Fake reviews have become an insidious part of online business life in today’s cut-throat world of internet marketing.

And we all have a moral responsibility to ensure that we’re not part of the poisonous process by which our customers are deceived and led down paths which are not advantageous to them.

Paths which can, in some circumstances, ruin lives.

One of the cornerstone philosophies of Solo Build It! is “Keep it real.” That’s what this whole article – this whole series of articles – is about.

And it’s what you need to practice in your own business. Customers who are “raving fans” have the ability, simply by dint of being raving fans, finally to slay the fake reviews beast.

Because here’s the bottom line: the only cure for the poison of fake reviews is the antidote of real reviews, from real people, about real success.

Become part of the solution. Make “keep it real” the very core of your business practice.

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Cath Andrews

Cath Andrews

Cath is Head of SiteSell’s Content Team, where she writes on a wide variety of topics for new and experienced Solopreneurs. She lives between her homes in Italy and Scotland, and in her spare time writes prolifically for her two SBI! websites.

The post Beat the Fake – How to Gather Authentic Reviews for Your Business appeared first on Solo Build It! Blog – Proven Real-World Advice for Solopreneurs.

Hobbies of Highly Effective People

How Five Different CEOs Get the Rest and Relaxation They Need

Let’s play a word-association game: Toss out the first several words or phrases that come to mind when you hear the name “Bill Gates.” Don’t overthink it. Just say them out loud or write them down. Ready?

From an informal survey I conducted, some of the terms you might have come up with include: a) computers; b) Microsoft; c) Windows; d) Word; e) Office; f) money; g) rich; h) billionaire; i) Seattle; j) smart; k) nerd; l) coder; or m) charity.

Now, how many of you said “tennis”? If you did, congratulations. You know a part of the Microsoft founder’s life that most people missed. Last year, Gates wrote on Facebook, “I’ve loved tennis ever since I was a kid,” and included the potentially embarrassing youthful pictures to prove it.

In an essay about a book on the game, Gates also admitted that he “gave up tennis when I got fanatical about Microsoft.” He hinted that rediscovering it had helped him to recover some sense of balance in his life. “I am now back on the court at least once a week and have built a pretty solid game,” he bragged.

How solid? This year, he teamed up with tennis great Roger Federer to play doubles in a celebrity charity match against pro John Isner and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready. The four battled in Key Arena in front of sixteen thousand people. Federer and Gates carried the day, but not without some tense moments. “It is hard to describe being on the receiving end of a tennis ball going 123 mph,” Gates admitted.

While the Microsoft founder rediscovered an old method of getting some R&R, many younger CEOs better understand the need throughout their careers. Dick Costolo, who once topped the pecking order at Twitter, has a background in comedy that comes through in interviews and loves to be in the outdoors. He broke his collarbone on a ski trip and was known around the social media company’s offices as an avid beekeeper.

“The whole way the hive works and what’s going on and the crazy stuff that happens as the seasons change, and the way they build and everything, is fascinating. I love just hanging out and watching them,” Costolo told Bloomberg TV. He was known for bringing honey into the office for colleagues, though he teased, “There’s not an infinite supply so some people get it, and some people don’t.”

Costolo’s hobbies aren’t particularly perilous-broken collarbone notwithstanding. But some executives push the envelope much further. Google co-founder Sergey Brin is a daredevil who enjoys roller hockey, springboard diving, gymnastics, and the high-flying trapeze. According to Business Insider, at an annual holiday party Brin once “tried to address party guests from the top of a giant red rubber ball” and lost his balance.

Google Inc. co-founder Sergey Brin bicycling in Mountain View, California

That’s unlikely to happen to Warren Buffett as he pursues his great non-business obsession. The Berkshire Hathaway CEO is so invested in one card game he exaggerated to CBS News, “You know, if I’m playing bridge and a naked woman walks by, I don’t even see her.” Alternately, he mused, “I wouldn’t mind going to jail if I had the right three cell mates, so we could play bridge all the time.”

These pursuits don’t have to be either/or. Buffett’s billionaire peer Gates, for instance, is both enthusiastic about tennis and regularly plays bridge. Yet, given the relentless demands of American business culture today, leaders do have to be intentional about getting away to do just about anything, from hobbies to exercise, even sleeping.

Given the relentless demands of business, leaders have to be intentional about getting away to do just about anything.

-JEREMY LOTT

Tweet Quote

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is one of the most relentlessly competitive leaders you’ll ever encounter. That doesn’t mean he’s burning the midnight oil (even if some of his employees are). “Eight hours of sleep makes a big difference for me, and I try hard to make that a priority. For me, that’s the needed amount to feel energized and excited,” he told Thrive Global.

Bezos even rejects the term “work-life balance” because he doesn’t like the trade-off it implies, saying, “if I’m happy at work, I’m better at home-a better husband and better father.” And a better home life feeds back into work life as well. Amazon’s boss thinks the extra hours of productivity some folks steal by shortchanging their sleep are largely “an illusion” because “quality is more important than quantity” when it comes to making key decisions.

To make great choices, leaders have to have be clearheaded. And the best way to clear their minds is through rest and recreation.

To make great choices, leaders have to have be clearheaded. And the best way to clear their minds is through R&R.

-JEREMY LOTT

Tweet Quote

The lives of these CEOs show there is no set formula. It may take some experimenting to learn what works best for you. And the pursuit may seem annoyingly like goofing off. But we’ve seen how “goofing off” often goes right along with intense focus, drive, and execution. That’s not an accident.

How Do Solopreneurs Really Do at GoDaddy? An In-Depth Look

How Do Solopreneurs Really Do at GoDaddy? An In-Depth Look.

In 1930, a young engineer and consumer activist by the name of Arthur Kallet published an interesting book titled 100,000,000 Guinea Pigs: Dangers in Everyday Foods, Drugs, and Cosmetics.

In the book, Kallet famously stated (emphasis added):

If these foods and medicines were-to most of the people who use them-merely worthless; if there were no other charge to be made than that the manufacturers’, sales managers’, and advertising agents’ claims for them were false, this book would not have been written. But many of them, including some of the most widely advertised and sold, are not only worthless, but are actually dangerous.

That was the start of a nearly 40 year career for Kallet, and one of the key catalysts for the consumer movement – an ongoing attempt by activists to educate the public and influence the manufacturing of goods.

In 1936, Kallet left an organization called Consumer Research to create a new, more aggressive group called Consumers Union. CU is a non-profit organization focusing on product testing, investigative journalism, and consumer advocacy in an attempt to help consumers to make informed decisions in the marketplace and to encourage market actors to place the needs of consumers first.1

They’re far more well known for their magazine and website, Consumer Reports. That impactful publication has been in distribution since the very first days of Consumers Union. Through the ensuing decades, it has established a reputation for unbiased testing and reporting.

They rigorously test products and services, according to their home page, in order to help consumers make the smart choice. It employs rigorous and can’t be bought testing to cut through the marketing claims of a wide variety of products to identify which is the best of its kind. That raises the question

Why Not Apply CU’s Principles to Make Money Online Products?

If ever there was an industry in need of rigorous reviewing, it is ours.

That’s why we called out Kallet’s famous quote above and bolded the final sentence

Many of them, including some of the most widely advertised and sold, are not only worthless, but are actually dangerous.

The world of web hosts (e.g., GoDaddy), site builders (e.g., Wix), internet marketing and business-building, bombards would-be solopreneurs with everything from Super Bowl ads to fake online reviews. But do they deliver results?

Products that claim to help solopreneurs build successful online businesses should be reviewed with CU-level objectivity. Why?

Individuals risk much more than just the cost of the product. They invest serious amounts of time to achieve goals and dreams that are important to them and their families.

The industry does not self-regulate by developing a standard measure of effectiveness, publishing real results according to protocols agreed upon by all. The reason is simple most solopreneurs fail.

We have long been the the only company that publishes verifiable proof of success. Verifiable means that the domain name is provided. This enables you to check that the site is a client and that s/he receives high levels of traffic.

Even though this proof is overwhelming in the number, levels and types of success, it’s not the same as a rigorous study that allows the solopreneur to directly compare one product against another.

As mentioned in the State of Solopreneurship, we did not realize the need for this ground-breaking series until we discovered we were the victim of countless affiliate-written fake reviews.

Debating and combating the falsehoods of every fake review would have been pointless. The replies by fraudulent authors would have been more of the same untruths.

Fake Reviews? Show Us the Real Proof!

The writing of fake reviews is a widespread issue that impacts many different businesses, and consumers!

And it happens from both perspectives:

A Fake Review is a positive, neutral or negative review that is not an actual consumer’s honest and impartial opinion, or that does not reflect a consumer’s genuine experience of a product, service or business.European Parliamentary Research Service

Fake reviews give readers incorrect information and inaccurate opinions that result in missed opportunities, or worse. One business may profit from fake reviews in its favor, while another suffers. Either way, the consumer loses.

That’s why studies like this one are not only essential, they should become the agreed-upon norm that prospective solopreneurs can trust.

The solution? Bypass the fake review game of fake claims, undocumented stories (e.g., John Smith, NY, NY) and hearsay. Instead, conduct an objective, transparent, head-to-head study that compares the only thing that matters, results.

Our study was as rigorous as scientific studies, including a detailed methodology. That was especially important because it enables anyone to do the study. No one, not even the company being promoted by fake reviews, has published results different from ours.

Sidebar: As an example of the importance of this, we refer you to the apparent discovery of cold fusion, announced in 1989.

Free EnergyIf true, near-free energy, the only byproduct of which is water, would have changed the world.

The release of this information was accompanied by the full methodology.

Think of it as pre-Internet crowd-sourcing to verify important findings.

Labs around the world tried. Sadly, no one could reproduce the results. Cold fusion was soon discredited.

Authors of studies may be honest, biased (seeing what they want to see) or outright liars. Heck, they may even be marketers! So

Enabling colleagues, competitors or anyone with an interest to perform the same experiment soon gets to the truth.

So our head-to-head study included instructions (a.k.a. methodology) to enable the company in question, any affiliate, anyone with doubts, and even you, to test the test and confirm or refute the results.

The results shocked us so much that we repeated them. The repeat was spot-on, and neither the competing company nor any of its many fake reviewers have published any rebuttals of the following results

We discovered that SBI! is 33 times (33X) more effective at generating high-traffic websites than the make money online product being pushed onto solopreneurs. It’s important, so we repeat

Neither the competing company nor any of those fake review authors have ever debated the results, nor published their own results.

This was true Consumer Reports type of material, with one big difference. The results were so extreme that they sparked us to wonder how solopreneurs do with other products. Furthermore

If we did a full series of studies that covered all the major types of products that solopreneurs use, we could, for the first time ever, document the state of solopreneurship:

  • What percent succeed and at what levels?
  • What types of products deliver the highest success rates?

No marketing hype, this is 100% objective data. This series will, we hope, open an important discussion. Does the solopreneur’s choice of business-building product affect outcome? By how much?

SPOILER: We’ll see that most solopreneurs fail and that choice of product makes a big difference. If they learn to ignore marketing and sales efforts, and instead insist upon data-supported proof of results, they will:

  1. choose the best product for them
  2. force companies to actually help people succeed

After all, if you are ready to make the serious commitment of starting an online business, you deserve to start with the best chance of success. Data-supported proof of success gives you that.

Anyone whose main goal is to create a profitable business is, frankly, foolish to believe marketing over actual study-generated data.

There's a sucker born every minute.P.T. Barnum is known for the famous phrase:

There’s a sucker born every minute.

Unfortunately, the Internet makes it easy for today’s Barnums to find you, and for you to find (without realizing it) some of the worst con artists who fool people into believing how much they care.

The search for information on how to make money online (or pain relief, weight control, etc.) impacts our lives at primal emotional NEED levels. A skilled marketer can make a sucker out of almost anyone because most of us really WANT to believe.

Scam artists don’t think of you as a real person with a face, a family, goals and dreams. You’re just a challenge. They dream up ways to separate you from your money.

Even the worst product can sound wonderful in the hands of sharp copywriters and advertisers. But the life-changing potential of starting your own online business can disappear so quickly. All you have to do is believe the marketing.

That realization, sparked by the 33X superiority of SBI! vs the competitor’s high fail rate, led to this wider mission of determining how solopreneurs do, and how the industry can improve those results.

We designed a series of tests, similar in nature to the original one that studied fake reviews. Each study has been customized to adjust to the nature of the business of each product.

We sought to answer two questions:

  1. How are solopreneurs doing with each product? This helps the would-be solopreneur to make the best decision possible, using data, while ignoring marketing.
  2. What is the level of overall solopreneur success? By studying a wide variety of products, we will approach an estimate of overall solopreneur success. Also, we’ll discover which products overpromise and underdeliver.

If you insist on data instead of marketing, you will provide the push necessary for the solopreneur industry to care more about client success, which is the big picture goal make the industry more accountable to you. So let’s start

Let’s focus on what matters – your success!

Rigorous Testing

These studies ignore claims, marketing, features & benefits, anecdotes and so forth. The only thing that matters is data-proven results.

This series of studies reveal the success rates of solopreneurs who use various website hosts, site builders and online business-building products. Think about it

When you want to build an online business to fulfill important goals, does anything else matter? For example, web hosts may market and compete on technical specs, with one bragging to have an uptime that is 0.1% better than another.

What difference would it make if its uptime was way better, say 1-2%? That is an important factor in success. But it’s not actual success consider this hypothetical situation

Would you trade a loss of 1% uptime (about 15 minutes per day downtime) if that same host delivered sites with 20X more traffic?

Ditto for site builders that emphasize stunning design and build a site in 24 hours. Who cares about that if you’re almost sure to fail?

In both cases, it’s results that count (NOT the marketing approach).

We’re not downplaying the importance of uptime and design, by the way. We’re just putting the emphasis on what matters most (success).

To do that, we need to answer the most important question:

What Product(s) Best Enable Solopreneur Success?

Forget the marketing. Whatever its positioning may be (ease of use, tech, design, etc.), it’s all just marketing – intended to sell. Ignore exciting claims and irresistible make money sales copy. Instead?

Use well-constructed studies that verifiably show you what works best. Whatever your reasons for starting an online business, bottom line results matter more than everything else.

Oddly, these types of studies are the only thing you won’t find when researching which product to use to build an online business (until now). Why would that be? Perhaps we’ll see.

The beauty of this approach is not only its relevance. It’s simple

If a provider (hosts, sitebuilders, etc.) suggest that they’ll enable your success, you have the right to know how much success other solopreneurs have experienced using that provider.

  • You’ll use these studies to make the best choice possible for you.
  • If your insistence grows, it will motivate businesses that serve solopreneurs to focus more on the success of their clients

So if you are interested in a product, chat or email for data-backed proof of the success of their clients. Pass on it if they don’t/won’t. If enough people do this, they’ll feel the pressure.

Our industry deals with real people, each of whom takes a risk to improve his or her lot in life. That makes these products among the most important that exist. So

  1. Providers should have an obligation to share success data.
  2. Be careful of the promises and hype insist on success data.

Delivering results matters. If success data became widely used, the following principle would result in ever-improving results by solopreneurs

Anything that is measured and watched, improves.Bob Parsons, GoDaddy founder

Imagine a world where your success is the top goal of providers of products to solopreneurs, where scammers are exposed! Perfect!

DISCLOSURE

Our flagship product Solo Build It! is such a product. It focuses on solopreneurs reaching their full potential. So, in the name of full disclosure, we advise you to consider

  1. Are we biased? Heck yes!

    We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t believe we had the best combination of education, tools and processes designed to help solopreneurs succeed. That doesn’t matter, though. Here’s why

    The studies eliminate all bias. If you examine the studies’ logic, construction and reporting, you’ll find that their results cannot be faked. It would be too easy to expose. When the data is independently verifiable, the results cannot be biased.

  2. Shouldn’t we be showing proof of success too?

    We do

    Solo Build It! Proof of Success

We long wondered why other companies didn’t do this. After the fake review story, we started to understand did every product get such bad results? How do solopreneurs perform, overall?

The first study is the first step toward answering those big picture questions. Let’s see how GoDaddy solopreneurs perform

Why Solopreneurs Need & Deserve (the Right Kind of) Proof of Success

You lack access to hard data for online business-building products and services. The companies have the data but don’t share it.

See the mismatch? Knowledge is power, and you have none of the right type of knowledge when choosing a product.

Worse, our industry is full of immoral marketing, from outright con artistry to subtly misleading mass-market messaging.

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.These marketers don’t need to fool all of the people all of the time, not even some of the people all of the time (or vice-versa).

Companies grow large simply by fooling enough of the people enough of the time.

And that, it turns it, is pretty easy to do because folks want to believe and fail to insist on the data that matters. Either that, or they grow so cynical after being fooled that nothing convinces them, not even this type and amount of proof.

Solopreneurs fail because they choose the wrong product to build a business. They do that for all the wrong reasons. Having the right data is the only solution to wasting countless hours.

While some prospective solopreneurs expect to get rich quick, most understand that it takes work to build a business, one that lasts

They deserve true Proof of Success. That phrase can mean many different things to different people. The accepted minimal definition would be that it works – but we need to go deeper than that

  • Hosts (e.g., GoDaddy, BlueHost, etc.) work if they host
  • Sitebuilders (e.g., Wix, Yola), work if you build a site.

It works is not nearly good enough for business-building products. Heck, it’s inadequate even when buying a product with an everyday purpose, like a rake. Sure, it has a solid wood handle, the appropriate number of flexible, plastic prongs. And it well rakes. So it works.

The Best Rake

But don’t you want to know how heavy it is, whether the wood splinters as it ages, how durable those prongs are? Most important

Can you rake more leaves per hour, with less effort?

Many product often claim to rake best. That’s fine it’s not of major cost or importance no big study needed! In any event, free online legitimate reviews or Consumer Reports keep you on the right track.

How we define and prove success is infinitely more important when it comes to business-building. In a field where even well-meaning opinions (buried among the fake reviews and other unreliable information) aren’t enough, only true, verifiable success data delivers the help you need to maximize your odds of winning.

What is Success?

As we said before, success means different things to different people. For some, a successful online business is one that provides a nice bit of extra income to help with bills, while others may depend on that business for their livelihood and require greater revenue.

Net profits would be the best measure. However, we don’t have access to solopreneurs’ bank accounts. And few are likely to grant that access. There’s no way to verify audited income from any given website.

The best indirect way to measure income is to measure traffic. No matter how you plan to monetize via your website, no matter what the goal may be, income is proportionate to traffic (with rare exception)

If you sell ads, you’ll need more traffic to make $100,000 per year than if you sell expensive real estate. But again – however you monetize, you’ll earn more as your targeted traffic grows.

Or, the other way to look at it no traffic = no income.

Another advantage unlike income, traffic is easily verifiable, thanks to tools like Alexa, SEMrush and SimilarWeb. Using these allows us to accurately compare traffic of websites. (We’ll talk more about these tools and why they’re useful in a moment.)

By using tools that anyone can use to measure traffic

  1. we’re able to conclusively show how successful solopreneurs are with each online business-building platform.
  2. anyone can use those same tools to verify results.

How To Do A Solopreneur Success Study

First, a quick bit of background

In March of 2017, we were shocked to discover that representatives of Wealthy Affiliate (WA) had been publishing fake reviews about Solo Build It! to lead their readers into affiliate-linked recommendations for WA (usually without any legal notification).

These reviews were fake because, as the European Parliamentary definition stated (above), they were not impartial opinions, nor were they genuine experiences with the product.

None of these reviewers had truly tried Solo Build It! themselves. They used the reviews to create content to gain search rankings for solo build it reviews. Those who clicked through from Google were led from the SBI! review to their #1 recommendation, Wealthy Affiliate.

None of those reviews contained any proof of success, such as we provide for SBI!. There were no links to live sites – could it be that, out of all their members, there were very few successful businesses? Surely, if a company has success, Marketing 101 says to flaunt it.

Our proof had never compared SBI! to any other product because none could accurately claim to deliver better results. To disprove the fake claims, we developed a head-to-head study, a data-supported comparison between Wealthy Affiliate and Solo Build It!.

The results were stunning

Wealthy Affiliate has approximately 17,000 active, hosted sites while Solo Build It! has approximately 10,000. The study found that:

  • SBI! sites are 33 times (33X) more likely to achieve Outstanding Excellent levels of traffic than Wealthy Affiliate sites.
  • SBI! sites are 10 times (10X) more likely to achieve Medium levels of traffic than Wealthy Affiliate sites.
  • The only category where Wealthy Affiliate beats SBI! is in the worst level of failure, Invisible (i.e., they get no detectable traffic). 87% of Wealthy Affiliate sites are Invisible.

The superiority of SBI! is so high that these results will seem unbelievable to some. We repeated the study one month later with near-identical results.

One happy byproduct of this study and the results was to perform a series of similar studies that would ultimately lead to the true State of Solopreneurship. We all see the super-popular bloggers or vloggers, but how many fail, unseen for every successful solopreneur.

We had accidentally developed a way to find out. We’ll use the original study methodology to show you how it’s done. And then we’ll explain how the GoDaddy study differs.

Methodology

Each study begins by using BuiltWith to determine currently active websites hosted by, or that uses, each product.

Sidebar: While we have access to our own customer list and data, of course. But, we used the same third-party tool for Solo Build It!, too. This ensures an equitable comparison, eliminating any selection bias.

We used 3 tools to measure site traffic. Since we don’t have access to those sites’ Google Analytics or log file analyzers, we use tools that do so indirectly We chose Alexa, SEMrush and SimilarWeb for this study

  1. they’re the three largest metrics providers that do this
  2. each of them uses a different technique to measure the behavior of large samples of the web population. That means that each has its own potential selection bias (more info here).

For example, Alexa is widely thought to favor Internet-savvy marketers. It is smaller than once thought, but using it alone would put SBI! sites at a disadvantage because we advise SBIers to avoid make money and Internet marketing niches and stick to what they already know and love. Wealthy Affiliate pushes client in that direction.

The second tool, SimilarWeb, also measures total traffic, but using different techniques. And the third tool, SEMrush focuses on search traffic, so it will favor systems that get superior search results.

Each tool samples a sufficiently large subset of the population to generate statistically significant results. Then, given its sample size, it extrapolates the data to reflect real traffic across the entire web.

By using and averaging all 3 tools, we end up with the most accurate, least biased results. Let’s see how that works

SBI! was 22X better than Wealthy Affiliate with Alexa, 33X better with SimilarWeb and 43X better with SEMrush. Each tool provides some useful info on its own (if you know the bias). Examples

  1. Alexa and SimilarWeb should be closer since both measure total traffic. Alexa’s Internet-savvy bias is under-reporting SBI! Traffic because Wealthy Affiliate encourages MMO niches.
  2. SEMrush showed the highest difference (43X), meaning SBI! Is particularly strong at delivering organic search traffic.

While the breakdown is interesting, the average of the 3 tools (33X) is the best overall indication of overall traffic superiority.

There are other tools that are said to provide better data (e.g., Hitwise, Quantcast, comScore). However:

  • any difference would not change the level of accuracy so significantly that it was worth the considerable expense.
  • the high expense of these tools would also make this study less accessible for those who want to reproduce our methodology. The more people who can reproduce the studies, the more the study can be trusted.

In this comprehensive review of Alexa (with coverage of SimilarWeb and SEMrush), we found that these tools provide a reasonable ballpark estimate of a site’s traffic. Using all 3 is optimal.

That means anyone can do this study. To summarize

  1. Use BuiltWith to gather website domain names that meet the definition of active websites for each study.
  2. Use all 3 tools to measure the traffic of all sites.
  3. Tabulate data and compare results.

Simple, logical, clean and easy for anyone to do. If you lack simple programming skills, hire a programmer to do certain steps.

If you have more questions or concerns about how these studies are conducted, please leave your questions in the comments below. You may also want to review this more detailed discussion in Part 2 of our first study, where we go into more detail. It covers:

  • How the Study Measures Traffic
  • Original Process Used to Filter Data
  • Discussion of Our Choice of Traffic Metrics Services
  • Minimization of Scatter
  • Minimization of Sampling Bias
More On Alexa, SEMrush and SimilarWeb

It’s important to note that two of the three traffic analysis services do not provide actual traffic numbers, but rather a relative ranking based on their traffic estimates.

Alexa: Domain name ranking, with ranking order (e.g., #1 (Google) has the most traffic, #1,000,000 is the millionth most-trafficked). It is based on sampling and data from 25,000+ sources.

SimilarWeb: Domain name ranking, also using ranking order. It is based on data from web crawlers, ISPs, and user-installed apps.

SEMrush: Actual search traffic, with higher estimates signifying more traffic, based on data gathered from the top 100 search results of Google, per keyword.

We then classify three ranges for each of the rankings into Outstanding Excellent, Medium and Poor to Invisible.

Using all three tools together eliminates data bias and provides a high degree of overall performance measurement accuracy.

Like any solid, scientific study, it’s tedious, and important, to explain the logic and methodology. Flaws in the method can invalidate the results. So the reader must fully understand the how.

Now it’s time to study GoDaddy.

GoDaddy – The Focus of This Study

So far we’ve talked about the need to deliver would-be solopreneurs a measure of success (traffic). We’ve also reviewed how to conduct studies like this for yourself.

Before we talk about how we approached GoDaddy, though, we should stop and ask Why GoDaddy, specifically?

Much like a price or feature comparison, this study has been designed to be an unbiased look at how each platform stacks up when it comes to offering solopreneurs the best chance for success.

GoDaddy is a reputable company with a variety of services (and funny, occasionally controversial, commercials!). It is large, with 72.2 million sites hosted for 16.9 million paying customers (data from Q2 2017 filing). The majority are solopreneurs (based on average revenue per customer of $129).

While SBI! and Wealthy Affiliate users are 100% solopreneurs, GoDaddy likely has some larger customers. So we expect a slight bias in favor of GoDaddy for this reason (larger businesses, overall, have more traffic). We accepted this slight bias rather than complicate the study (which would make it less reproducible).

Ditto for sites that build traffic using PPC to sell products. Few SBIers buy ads because they build traffic organically. This would also tend to favor GoDaddy sites. Again, it would be too complicated to sort these out of the study.

Overall, GoDaddy starts with some traffic bias in its favor.

The study asks 2 questions:

  1. How successful are solopreneurs who use GoDaddy’s website hosting and building products, as well as related services and information (which they now refer to as GoCentral).
  2. How do these results compare to the suite of services included within Solo Build It! (process & training, domain name registration, hosting, website builder, ongoing education and updating, tools, community)?

GoDaddy claims that with their tools you can, Build a better website in under an hour. Most people make the mistake of equating website with web business. The difference, though, is huge.

It’s clearly not possible to build an effective, traffic-building, income-generating website in an hour. The ultimate goal is to have a successful business.

Let’s proceed to the study, its data, then the analysis.

GoDaddy Data and Analysis

Not all of GoDaddy’s domain names represent online businesses. Many domain names are parked (inactive), while many others are pointed to landing pages or websites that are a work in progress.

Ten thousand sites were randomly selected from a list of forty-five million domain names listed at BuiltWith. Even after filtering these out, more than 30% of all GoDaddy-built websites had no content, were in the process of being built, or had setup errors.

This would have provided SBI! results with an unfair advantage. In order to ensure an equitable test, we created a more stringent definition of active website than used in Wealthy Affiliate study.

We use the term Real Effort to designate websites that have a home page and at least five links to internal pages on the same domain name.

We had to parse through 195,000 domain names in order to find ten thousand Real Effort websites at GoDaddy. This suggests that only 5% of GoDaddy websites (10K/195K) fulfill the Real Effort definition.

By comparison, SBI!’s Real Effort website percentage was 92%, which is the dataset we used for this study. Qualitative conclusion

SBIers advance through the early steps significantly better. Successful early progress is one of the most important success factors.

GoDaddy Site Distribution

We conducted a manual review and analysis of 500 randomly selected Real Effort GoDaddy websites (out of the ten thousand) to verify if our filter had selected comparable populations for comparison.

This review confirmed that. It showed this distribution:

  • 205 service businesses (lawyers, dentists, etc.)
  • 189 content businesses (blogs, infopreneurs, etc.)
  • 59 online stores (micro to small retailers)
  • 22 brochure websites (basic company information only)
  • 16 junk websites (websites with poor/no content)

The Real Effort criterion successfully narrowed the study’s focus to that of legitimate business-oriented, solopreneur-built websites. Some exceeded solopreneur size and scope, but we accept that and other skews in favor of GoDaddy in order to keep the study simple and reproducible.

Armed with a sufficient sample of active websites from GoDaddy, we were ready to compare them against online businesses built by solopreneurs using Solo Build It!.

GoDaddy vs. Solo Build It! – The Results

We’ll review how GoDaddy and Solo Build It! Real Effort websites performed for each of the three traffic metric tools. First, we summarize the overall results:

  1. SBI! websites are 10 times (10X) more likely to achieve Outstanding Excellent levels of traffic than GoDaddy.

    Outstanding Excellent is defined as being among the top one million websites on the Internet (<1M).

  2. SBI! websites are 3.7 times (3.7X) more likely to achieve Medium levels of traffic than GoDaddy.

    Medium level of traffic is defined as websites having traffic that places them among the top one million to ten million websites (1M 10M)

  3. 74% of GoDaddy Real Effort websites are Invisible.

    The Poor to Invisible is the lowest traffic category. GoDaddy beats Solo Build It! in the lowest traffic range within this category (called Invisible, these sites get no detectable traffic). By comparison, Solo Build It!’s Invisible rate is only 40%.

Note: Invisible (the lowest traffic range of the Poor to Invisible category) has Alexa rankings of greater than 20 million (>20M). At these levels, sites get zero to near-zero traffic. Previously, Alexa offered a ranking of sites between 20M 30M, which meant that it was only sites ranked higher than 30M that were invisible. The shift in Alexa’s ranking is what accounts for a 3% increase in Solo Build It!’s Invisible rate compared to the Wealthy affiliate study.

How Do We Calculate These Numbers?

We reach those conclusions by averaging the results for each of the three traffic metric tools (Alexa, SEMrush, SimilarWeb) for each traffic range.

Now let’s break down the results of the 10,000 Real Effort GoDaddy websites versus Solo Build It! websites.

Alexa

First, let’s look across the entire range of website traffic according to Alexa. Alexa ranking ranges appear on the X-axis and the % of sites in each of those ranges on the Y-axis.

The points on the chart below indicate, of the combined total number of websites that fall within each range, what percentage are GoDaddy and what percentage are Solo Build It!.

Percent of Total Real Effort - Alexa Rank Ranges

Remember: Alexa Ranking’s lowest numbers have the highest traffic. For example, #1 (Google.com) has the most traffic, so would be included in the 1 to 100K range. Traffic decreases as we move across the graph to the right (i.e., increasing Alexa Ranking reflects decreasing traffic).

A clear pattern emerges, where SBI! significantly, and roughly to the same degree, outperforms GoDaddy results until we reach the Alexa ranking range of 1M 2M (the high end of Medium). For example, within the best possible Alexa range, 0 100K, we found 21 Solo Build It! websites and 3 GoDaddy websites – 88% SBI! (21/24) and 12% GoDaddy (3/24).

From 1M 2M until 9M 10M (Medium ranges), SBI! continues to outperform. The gap narrows at a fairly steady rate along these ranges until we reach the Poor to Invisible ranges.

As we approach Poor to Invisible, the slopes steepen, with the percent of low-traffic SBI! sites decreasing rapidly, while increasing with a higher slope at GoDaddy. The crossover point (50-50) occurs at 10M 20M. Beyond that, the lines diverge faster than ever.

Next, let’s use bar charts to look at the total number of sites that fall within each of the three major categories of traffic (Outstanding Excellent, Medium, Poor to Invisible).

Count of websites vs. Alexa Traffic rank of 1 1M (Outstanding Excellent)

Alexa Rank Ranges - Outstanding to Excellent

SBI! sites are 7.2X more likely to achieve these traffic levels.

Count of websites vs. Alexa Traffic rank of 1M 10M (Medium)

Alexa Rank Ranges - Medium

SBI! sites are 3.2X more likely to achieve these traffic levels.

Count of websites vs. Alexa Traffic rank of 10M 20M+ (Poor to Invisible)

Alexa Rank Ranges - Poor to Visible

GoDaddy sites are 1.5X more likely to achieve these traffic levels.

SimilarWeb

Here’s how the spectrum of websites ranks according to SimilarWeb:

Recall that, like Alexa, SimilarWeb ranking starts with #1 at the top and goes down from there. So as you move across the graph to the right, the SimilarWeb rank goes down, reflecting sites that get less and less traffic.

The points on the chart indicate, of the combined total number of websites that fall within each range, what percentage are GoDaddy and what percentage are Solo Build It!.

For example, within the best possible SimilarWeb range, 1 100K, we found 20 Solo Build It! websites and 3 GoDaddy websites that fit our criterion for Real Effort. That equates to 87% Solo Build It! (20 websites out of 23 total) and 13% GoDaddy (3 out of 23).

Next, let’s look at the total number of sites that fall within each of the three major categories of traffic (Outstanding Excellent, Medium, Poor Invisible).

Count of websites vs. SimilarWeb Traffic rank of 1 1M (Outstanding Excellent)

Total Real Effort Websites - SimilarWeb Rank Ranges - Outstanding to Excellent

SBI! sites are 6.9X more likely to achieve these traffic levels.

Count of websites vs. SimilarWeb Traffic rank of 1M 10M (Medium)

Total Real Effort Websites - SimilarWeb Rank Ranges - Medium

SBI! sites are 3.5X more likely to achieve these traffic levels.

Count of websites vs. SimilarWeb Traffic rank of 10M 30M+ (Poor to Invisible)

Total Real Effort Websites - SimilarWeb Rank Ranges - Poor

GoDaddy sites are 1.4X more likely to achieve these traffic levels.

Note: Unlike the Wealthy Affiliate study, Alexa and GoDaddy results are similar. This suggests that GoDaddy’s clients cover a wide range of niches, with no large push into MMO sites. (Otherwise, Alexa would be less than SimilarWeb.)

SEMrush

Finally, here’s how the spectrum of websites ranks according to SEMrush:

Percent Total Real Effort Websites - SEMrush Organic Traffic Ranges

Recall that SEMrush presents counts, not traffic ranking (as do Alexa and Similar Web). So 0 means no organic search traffic.

The points on the chart indicate, of the combined total number of websites that fall within each range, what percentage are GoDaddy and what percentage are Solo Build It!.

For example, within one of the highest possible SEMrush ranges, 100K 200K, we found 15 Solo Build It! websites and 1 GoDaddy website that fit our criterion for Real Effort. That equates to 94% Solo Build It! (15 websites out of 16 total) and 6% GoDaddy (1 out of 16).

You can see how SBI! dominates at the high-traffic (right) side of the chart while GoDaddy takes an increasingly large share as traffic decreases (left).

Note: In the SEMrush bar charts, traffic increases as you move to the right, reflecting more and more traffic from the search engines. In our Wealthy Affiliate study, we performed an analysis that correlated SEMrush organic search traffic numbers to Alexa’s and SimilarWeb’s traffic ranking
  1. SEMrush traffic of greater than 5,000 was the equivalent of being in the Top 1M sites (Outstanding to Excellent)
  2. 100-5,000 was equivalent to Medium (1M 10M)
  3. 0-100 was equivalent to Poor to Invisible. (>10M).

We don’t chart these here, but search traffic correlates well with the total traffic of Alexa and SimilarWeb. In fact, the above chart shows the same patterns described in the previous line graph at the change from Top 1M 2M to 10M and with a sudden burst in percentage of GoDaddy sites at 0 (no search traffic).

Next, let’s look at the total number of sites that fall within each of the three major categories of traffic (Outstanding Excellent, Medium, Poor to Invisible).

Count of websites vs. SEMrush Organic Traffic of 5000 400K+ (Outstanding Excellent)

Total Real Effort Websites - SEMrush Organic Traffic Rank Ranges - Outstanding to Excellent

SBI! sites are 16.1X more likely to achieve these traffic levels.

Count of websites vs. SEMrush Organic Traffic of 100 5000 (Medium)

Total Real Effort Websites - SEMrush Organic Traffic Rank Ranges - Medium

SBI! sites are 3.0X more likely to achieve these traffic levels.

Count of websites vs. SEMrush Organic Traffic of 0 100 (Invisible to Poor)

Total Real Effort Websites - SEMrush Organic Traffic Rank Ranges - Invisible to Poor

GoDaddy sites are 1.7X more likely to achieve these traffic levels.

GoDaddy vs. Wealthy Affiliate vs. Solo Build It! – Conclusions

As we complete each study, it’s helpful to compare the results to previous studies as there are new conclusions that can be reached.

For reference, here are two of the key charts:

 GoDaddy Alexa Overall Results

Alexa Rank Ranges Overview - Wealthy Affiliate Review

Data for R1 was sampled April, 2017. R2 data was sampled one month later.

That comparison details the percentage of each platform’s sites within the Alexa traffic ranges.

Clearly, whether you choose to use GoDaddy or Wealthy Affiliate, your chance of building a successful site that drives significant traffic levels is significantly higher with Solo Build It!.

Another interesting conclusion comes from looking at how GoDaddy and Wealthy Affiliate compared to each other.

Since GoDaddy never claims to provide the education solopreneurs need to succeed, and Wealthy Affiliate does, we would have expected solopreneurs to find more success using Wealthy Affiliate, if the guidance was valid.

That was not the case.

While GoDaddy sites were found to be 10X less likely to achieve outstanding levels of traffic compared to Solo Build It! sites, Wealthy Affiliate members were found to be 33X less likely to achieve those levels!

In other words, GoDaddy users did over 3X better than WA.

Why is there such a big difference?

One of the major flaws we discovered and pointed out in the Wealthy Affiliate review was that the system pushes over of its clients into Make Money Online. There’s nothing inherently wrong with MMO, but it has evolved into a scammy niche with loads of unscrupulous professionals trying to part you from your money.

You are more likely to succeed at non-MMO niches that you know and love. Instead of competing against pros with blogs about affiliate marketing, Get Rich Quick, etc., build a site about breeding exotic turtles or Caribbean cruising.

For honest people who want to deliver high-value content that OVER-delivers on what people want to know, the scammy MMO environment gets discouraging. Do you really want to write fake reviews to fool good people into buying products that don’t work?

Making money is the driving goal of MMO. There is precious little verifiable proof by MMO companies that folks succeed. At best, it’s anecdotal and usually can’t be checked. For example, instead of creating real online businesses, many Wealthy Affiliate users end up writing fake reviews. Then they engage with each other’s fake reviews. Other meaningless activities waste their time. It’s all counter-productive to solopreneur success.

The average 33X superiority of SBI!, compared to 10X over GoDaddy, says it all. The WA process actually seems to hurt your chances, compared to just taking GoDaddy hosting and figuring it all out.

Wealthy Affiliate’s preponderance of MMO sites can also be seen by breaking down the overall average of 33X superiority into its separate components:

  1. Alexa vs. SimilarWeb traffic. In the Wealthy Affiliate review, we saw how Alexa concludes that SBI! is 22X better at delivering high-traffic sites. SimilarWeb gave us a 33X difference. We postulated that this may be due to some remaining Alexa bias that favors net marketing/MMO/etc. sites (there are many at WA, none at SBI!).

GoDaddy should, we reasoned, show no such difference. Alexa showed SBI! To be 7.2X better, with Similar Web showing 6.9. The difference is negligible because GoDaddy’s vast clientele covers niches of all types, with no significant push into MMO.

  1. SEMrush vs Alexa & SimilarWeb. SBI! Was 16X better than GoDaddy, 33X better than WA, when we use SEMrush to measure traffic. It focuses on search traffic. So once again, GoDaddy beats WA. And here’s another important conclusion:

The consistent pattern in the WA study continues to this SBI!’s highest multiple (of the 3 metrics) comes from SEMrush. That means SBI! does best (vs both WA and GoDaddy) at search traffic. This disproves a recurrent theme in WA affiliate fake reviews, that SBI! Used to work, but it does not work at Google anymore. FALSE.

Given the choice between GoDaddy or Wealthy Affiliate, the data indicates that prospective solopreneurs are better off with GoDaddy. Solopreneurs who try to figure everything out on their own actually seem to do three times as well than those who follow the Wealthy Affiliate process.

Of course, today’s study revealed that there’s an even better option, which brings us to the end.

Final Analysis

Now that we’ve taken a deep dive into the data, let’s come back up for some air. The data (averages of all 3 traffic metrics) shows, in a few different ways, that online businesses started with Solo Build It! get more traffic than those built with GoDaddy.

Reminder: That is despite a process with biases in favor of GoDaddy. The study would have become too lengthy for others to replicate if we were to do what is necessary to remove the biases. Since they can’t be measured easily, we elected to accept the disadvantage of favoring GoDaddy.

Let’s revisit the conclusions we shared earlier:

  1. SBI! websites are 10 times (10X) more likely to achieve Outstanding Excellent levels of traffic than GoDaddy.

    Outstanding Excellent is defined as being among the top one million websites on the Internet (<1M).

  2. SBI! websites are 3.7 times (3.7X) more likely to achieve Medium levels of traffic than GoDaddy.

    Medium level of traffic is defined as websites having traffic that places them among the top one million to ten million websites (1M 10M)

  3. 74% of GoDaddy Real Effort websites are Invisible.

    The Poor to Invisible is the lowest traffic category. GoDaddy beats Solo Build It! in the lowest traffic range within this category (called Invisible, these sites get no detectable traffic). By comparison, Solo Build It!’s Invisible rate is only 40%.

The first two conclusions are based upon the total number of Solo Build It! and GoDaddy sites within each range, averaged across all three traffic metric tools. You are