From Funeral Poetry to 007 Speeches: An Extraordinary Work-from-Home Story

From Funeral Poetry to 007 Speeches: An Extraordinary Work-from-Home Story

How do you get invited to teach at a Technical University in Russia when you live in a small seaside village in New Zealand? Or to write a James Bond themed opening speech for a CEO hosting an international company event?

You take your passion online.

You write out loud, as Susan Dugdale would say. Family lore has it that Susan learned to read at three and hasn’t stopped since. Her love for the written and spoken word led her to a teaching career in high school level English and drama.

With the advance of the Internet she realized that she could bring her knowledge and skills to many more people than as a teacher. But it wasn’t until she tried without success to find an appropriate funeral poem to include in a eulogy that was born.

There was a place, she decided, for an eclectic gathering of ‘death-themed’ poems chosen to fit an audience similar to herself.

11 years later her website has grown into an online business that helps people prepare and give speeches for all types of life situations. It allows Susan to work from home, writing speeches for extraordinary people in extraordinary situations.

It even allowed her to assure her husband that there is income coming in despite appearing not to work.

But let’s hear Susan’s story in her own words

1. How did you decide about your niche, public speaking? How did you know it was the right topic for you and had great business potential?

Deciding on my topic area was relatively straightforward. I knew it had to be something to do with words and using them because I’d been a teacher of English and drama for many years. It was the area I knew reasonably well and genuinely loved.

The precise niche within that sphere was trickier to nail down. I dithered around over whether it would be creative writing, as in short fiction, which I was initially drawn to, or public speaking.

Public speaking won out after a lengthy period of debate with myself and SBI!’s Brainstorm It! tool. The numbers for short story writing, regardless of how I spun the keywords creative writing, short fiction etc weren’t encouraging. The area appeared over-represented already, and after looking at the top sites I decided I had very little new to contribute.

In contrast, the public speaking area was relatively open and on reviewing what was there I plunged headlong in.

Debating Team
Susan (in the middle) at a Toastmasters Debating Tournament, in Wellington NZ. Her team won the championship trophy.

TAKEAWAY #1: Many solopreneurs fail because they choose their niche solely on gut feel or what they want to write about. While having passion and knowledge for your topic is essential, it’s not the only factor to take into consideration. Other factors are demand, competition and monetization potential.

Susan knew the broad area for her business should be something to do with the English language, either around writing or speaking.

She then used SBI!’s keyword brainstorming and analysis tool (Brainstorm It!) to dig deeper. Brainstorm It! brings back hundreds of keywords (aka topics) related to your niche concept. For each keyword, it tells you how many people search for it (demand) and how much competition there is (real supply).

With smart filter and analysis functions, Brainstorm It! helps you decide if your business niche is too broad, too narrow or just right. It considers several factors, including how much time you plan to invest in your business.

In addition to comparing the numbers that Brainstorm It! revealed for her two niche ideas, creative writing and public speaking, Susan also looked at the major player in these fields. Which of the two topics was covered more extensively already, with many good quality sites ranking in Google’s top spots?

This additional, qualitative research confirmed what she already suspected from the numbers: public speaking had less competition and more room for her to establish herself as an authority than creative writing.

Does this kind of in-depth research sound too daunting? Fear not. The SBI! Action Guide walks you through it, step-by-detailed-step.

Unlike 99% of solopreneurs, Susan executed this all important preparational phase well, except for one part, which she admits below

And now we get to the part I feel embarrassed to admit. I didn’t know whether public speaking had any business potential. It didn’t occur to me to find out! I was far too consumed with the process of researching keywords, writing, learning about how to build a page, upload an image and so on to have room in my mind for anything else. Traffic was what I thought was king visitors.

I didn’t seriously consider the money making potential until I had hundreds of unique visitors per day.

If I was building the site again I would do it differently assessing the business possibilities alongside content development.

It’s very good to see the increased awareness of the importance of monetization in the newer SBI! material.

TAKEAWAY #2: We totally get it. When you are so excited about your topic and brimming with content ideas, the last thing you want to do is spend more time researching. You simply want to get started and bring those words to (digital) paper.

However, if there’s one piece of advice we hear time and again from our most successful solopreneurs, it is to follow the Action Guide diligently. DAY 4 of the Action Guide is dedicated to investigating and planning the most suitable monetization options for your niche.

You’ll use a handy monetization planner worksheet to work your way through seven monetization possibilities. For each one, you’ll assess how feasible it is for your topic, interest and time availability. If, at the end of this evaluation process you realize that there’s not enough profit potential in your niche, you have two options:

  • Option 1: Go ahead with your chosen topic anyway. Passion for a niche can bring its own rewards. Just be aware that it may never earn you much income.
  • Option 2: Go back and restart the research and brainstorming process to find a more profitable niche.

What happens if you don’t evaluate the business potential of your niche, as Susan did? You can still be successful, but it will take you longer to get there.

Susan in her Garden
When she’s not working on her online business, Susan loves to develop the grounds around their newly built home.

2. Your SBI! site, has a beautiful design. Did you create it yourself?

I am glad you think it’s beautiful. I believe that every solopreneur and webmaster likes to be told how attractive her or his website is a bit like how a mother enjoys being complimented on her baby. This applies even more to SBI! members who tend to put so much of themselves into their sites and online businesses.

My site was given a major overhaul a couple of years ago by Will Urbanek from Clickstream Designs. It was my design, interpreted and implemented by him. He did an amazing job curbing my misplaced enthusiasm for over-the-top fonts and steering me safely past faddish temptations.

I have a lot to thank him for. For instance, at the same time he redesigned the look and feel, he also set up the mobile version which these days gets more traffic than the desktop! Today I have a site that I’m happy with and feel proud to show friends and family.

TAKEAWAY #3: When you start with Solo Build It!, you can choose between over 100 professionally created site designs, optimized to perform well on all devices: computer, tablet and mobile. With SBI!’s easy-to-use Site Designer you can modify any of these templates to your heart’s desire and create a professional looking website even with limited design skills.

However, doing a major make-over for an older site is a different challenge. You can still do it yourself, of course, but the learning curve is rather steep. Time is a solopreneur’s most precious resource, so you may be better off to outsource a one-time task like redesigning your site to an expert.

As an SBIer, you’ll have access to the SiteSell Professionals, a team of highly qualified webmasters, designers and online business owners who can help you with design and business building tasks. Will Urbanek, who redesigned Susan’s website, is part of that team.

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?

My idea of what makes good content is fairly simple. If I searched and opened a page from my site would I like it? Would the page answer my question or solve my problem? For example, if I was a classroom teacher looking for activities for my public speaking class, would I find what I wanted if I landed on one of my public speaking games pages?

I try to put myself in the shoes of the person looking. I don’t always get it right but it’s a good start.

Brainstorm It! 4I use a mix of strategies to try and figure out what people want. I fiddle around inside Brainstorm It! (Version 4 just launched Your Next Generation Partner in Business) trying out all sorts of combinations of keywords and phrases. I check out existing material and ask myself if it measures up with what I thought I’d find.

One example for this kind of research: Teachers Pay Teachers, a marketplace for teachers to sell their resources to colleagues, helps me find out what is selling well in my niche. Is it lesson plans? What format is being used? It’s great as a reference point.

Sometimes I use my newsletter list to ask a specific question. For example, I asked my readers whether they would consider using and paying for tutoring via Skype. They said yes. So I created a page to offer my Skype coaching service.

It’s always better to ask your audience rather than presuming to know what they want. Otherwise you run the risk of creating content or even a product that nobody is really interested in.

Take my PDFs about impromptu speaking topics for example. I wouldn’t have put these together without learning they were wanted. They seemed too obvious, too simple to me. However they solve a problem for some people enough to make putting them together worthwhile.

Unfortunately I can’t say the same about my sponsorship sales page on which I lavished hours and hours of my time creating graphics and writing copy. This page has drawn zilch interest over the two years it’s been online a state of affairs I don’t expect to change!

Obviously while I might think being highlighted on is utterly desirable, it’s a solo presumption. Mine, and mine alone a sad, solitary lesson.

TAKEAWAY #4: Susan’s content philosophy contains 4 invaluable lessons:

  1. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Whenever you create a new page, take a step back and look at it from your reader / prospective customer’s point of view. Does it fulfill what the reader expected? Does it answer her question or solve her need?

    In other words, does your page satisfy your visitor’s search intent?

  2. Continuously research your market and your competition. If there is no niche specific marketplace as in Susan’s example, browse Amazon for bestselling books in your niche. Or participate in relevant Facebook groups and forums. Even Wikipedia can be a source for new content ideas!

  3. Ask your audience. This is a no-brainer. If you have a subscriber list, Facebook fans, Twitter followers or loyal Instagram base, ask them about what they want or what’s missing on your site. This is especially important for product development decisions, which brings us to lesson Nr. 4.
  4. Decide based on data, not assumptions. Creating a product or launching a service takes a lot of time and if you outsource parts of it money. You better be sure that this is something your audience is willing to pay for before you commit to it.

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

Upgrading happens in several ways.

My pages about public speaking activities and games are very well visited. And I know that teachers and group leaders want to download these games. So this was a logical place for me to offer my downloadable games packages.

People can buy the most popular of them separately, as a threesome or in an ebook of 28. They are buying the game instructions as well as the resources needed to play it.

Speaking Games
Speaking Games offered on Susan’s website for sale.

I have multiple how to write speech pages of varying sorts eulogies, birthday speeches, weddings and so on. These draw lots of people in. Some of those would much prefer to hand over the responsibility of writing the required speech to someone else me. Consequently, these pages are the ideal spot to offer my speech writing services.

I am also planning an app which will offer a simple automated speech writing service. I am confident that the app will be very popular among the people who visit the how to pages and want a speech immediately without expending either a great deal of effort or money!

TAKEAWAY #5: Susan’s upgrading from free content seeker to paying customer is SBI!’s Content Traffic PRESell Monetize strategy in action.

Well researched informational content, presented in your unique been there, done that voice attracts targeted visitors to your site.

Your visitors value the information you provide; they interact with you on social media, or comment on your web pages. They subscribe to your newsletter. They begin to trust you as a respected authority in your niche.

Your PREsold visitors keep coming back for more. Repeat visitors become even more PREsold, which leads into monetization, both via passive methods (e.g. advertising, sponsorships, affiliate programs) or active methods (e.g. selling eBooks or your own services).

The important thing to remember? Monetization comes last when building a profitable online business. Speaking of which, let’s hear more from Susan about how she monetizes

5. You offer speech writing services and Skype coaching. Are these your main income streams? How else do you monetize your online business?

The speech writing makes up a significant amount of my income. I love the work. It’s so varied and comes in from people all around the world. For instance this week I’m working on a maid of honor speech for someone in California. I’ve just finished a best man speech for someone in Canada, and a tribute speech for someone from Barcelona to deliver in Tel Aviv.

The coaching pulls in a similar variety of people, and although it doesn’t provide a great deal by way of income, it certainly provides interest! I get to meet and work with amazing people. Its both humbling, and an honor.

To summarize my present income streams:

  1. Adsense: This was the first revenue collecting method I put on my site once I had sufficient visitors to make it worthwhile. Over the years it’s given me thousands of dollars, literally. I have been, and am, most grateful to Mr Google despite the fact that there have been fewer ups and an increasing number of downs over the last couple of years. These days my monthly Adsense payment is significantly less than it was 18 months ago.
  2. Other online advertisers: I have two other small income streams from advertising networks similar to AdSense: Sovrn and Kumma.
  3. E-products: I sell an ebook of public speaking games and several other pdf products impromptu speech topic cards and 3 public speaking games. The ebook sells very well, far outstripping the others.
  4. Affiliate income: I have links to several products and when visitors buy them I am paid part of the purchase price.
  5. Speech writing
  6. Coaching

The three biggest earners on my site are my products, speech writing and AdSense.

Teachers at the Izhevsk State Technical University
Teachers at the Izhevsk State Technical University, Russia, where Susan led a 5 day workshop for teaching English.
TAKEAWAY #6: Susan has developed a solid monetization mix for her online business

  • Selling digital products
  • Selling her coaching and speech writing services
  • Advertising income and
  • Affiliate income.

Never put all your monetization eggs in one basket. There are many ways to monetize your niche. Passive models (ex., AdSense and affiliate programs) have been paying less well for all solopreneurs in recent years.

Adsense, in particular, seems to have hooked solopreneurs with high payouts in its early years, but is gradually paying less for valuable real estate on your sites.

Susan’s highest earner is in line with what we recommend. Develop your own products. It’s far more do-able than most people realize, especially creating digital products.

But even developing physical products is not as hard as you may think. One section of SBI!’s resources, Make It!, enables you to conceive, source, market, sell, ship and support hard goods, even if you have no prior knowledge in that area at all.

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

I began earning from the site as soon as I put Google AdSense on it just a little literally pennies/cents per day. I remember the excitement of finally earning enough to receive my first monthly payout. It took 3 months to reach the $100 threshold!

Nowadays, over ten years later, I earn what could be regarded as either a very good part-time income or a low full-time one. I am working on making it larger.

TAKEAWAY #7: The excitement when the first cents are rolling in from your online business any solopreneur reading this can surely relate.

Owning and building a business, whether it’s online or offline, takes work, especially in the first few months. It doesn’t come with instant gratification. Develop what we call The Winning Solopreneur Mindset.

Realize that you invest time (at less than minimum wage) and energy upfront now to build what will be a thriving business that yields long-term, evergrowing dividends later. You are not a 9 to 5 employee, sitting in your safe little cubicle, earning your safe little paycheck (although it’s a good idea to keep that job while building your online business).

The harder and smarter you work, the sooner will your business yield profits. Long-term profits that grow steadily and that ultimately enable you to quit that day-job and earn you more per hour than you could have dreamed.

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

The biggest challenge is always the one in front of me right now. So today it’s dealing with a hump in the app development project.

About a year ago, I outsourced the app development to a programmer in Pakistan. I chose this person because a fellow SBI! member had had good experiences with him. Part of the task was to implement a PayPal payment system.

But after a year of working on the app, the programmer now told me that he can’t finish the development because PayPal is banned in Pakistan (well, I wish he had told me that before he started!). So it looks like I need to find another programmer to complete the app!

If I stand back a little from the day to day concerns, my biggest challenge is time making the most of what I have, i.e. making good, non-dithery decisions and acting on them. I can be prone to paralysis becoming stuck in a what if no man’s land and unable to move forward.

TAKEAWAY #8: Susan’s experience with the app developer is a prime example of the kind of challenges a solopreneur faces. At some point you’ll have to outsource certain tasks or even hire help in order to keep growing your business (assuming that you want to grow it beyond the level you can handle on your own).

The reasons to hire help fall into one of these two scenarios:

  1. There are simply not enough hours in the day to do everything yourself. In this case, you could look into hiring a Virtual Assistant.
  2. The task requires a skill set that you don’t have and can’t or don’t want to learn.

Scenario number 2 is the trickier one. Why? Because you’ve never done the work you outsource yourself (e.g. developing an app). This makes it more difficult to evaluate a potential freelancer and to describe exactly what you want him to do for you.

Our advice to Susan? Take a break. Do some gardening. Blow off steam or ask for tips in the SBI! forums. Then come back to the problem with fresh eyes and a calm mind to find the best solution.

Langs Beach in Northland, New Zealand
Langs Beach in Northland, New Zealand. A beach just up the road from where Susan lives. Beautiful for walks and surfing (which her husband does). No wonder Susan enjoys working from home!

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

My life has changed immeasurably. I could never have imagined what I do now when I was much younger. For a start the Internet didn’t exist then! Neither did computers!

So to have access to the means to build something that will allow me work from wherever I am, provided there’s an Internet connection, is truly amazing.

Through I’ve been able to leave full time 9-5 employment.

I’ve been able to assure my husband there is income coming in despite appearing not to work.

I’ve been invited to teach in Russia (see photo to the right).

I’ve written speeches for extraordinary people in extraordinary situations the 007 themed introduction for a CEO hosting an international company anniversary event is memorable!

And lastly, what this online business has done is show me, and my family, that freedom from the regular workaday world is possible. That’s huge!

TAKEAWAY #9: Having an online business equals freedom. Time and again, we hear this simple truth from the solopreneurs we talk to.

How you define this freedom exactly, is up to you. But we bet that it contains at least one of the following:

  • Quitting your day job
  • Answering to no one other than yourself
  • Doing something you love
  • Learning something new everyday
  • Setting your own work schedule
  • Working from wherever you want
  • Generating income despite appearing not to work (thanks Susan for the chuckle )

So, if you’ve yet to reach that kind of freedom in your life, starting your online business is the crucial first step.

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

Get the monetization plan sorted alongside deciding on your niche. It will save you so much time and effort later!

TAKEAWAY #10: Before you register your domain and write a single word, research, prepare and plan until you are 100% satisfied with the business potential of your niche. Time spent there will save you a lot of time and headache later, as Susan points out. She speaks from experience!

We said it before, but it’s worth repeating: the SBI! Action Guide will keep you on the right track. All you have to do is follow it, step-by-step.

And very lastly, block your ears, put one foot after another and do it. If I’d listened to all the naysayers around me when I first started I’d never be where I am now because would not exist.

TAKEAWAY #11: Fantastic advice, Susan! Sadly, it’s often the people closest to us that try to pull us back down, either out of ill-advised concern or sheer envy that we might get ahead of them.

Mike Kawula, entrepreneur and CEO of Social Quant takes this even a step further. He recommends to slaughter the naysayers (figuratively of course), whether they are around you or inside your head.

Author information

Susan Dugdale

Susan Dugdale lives in New Zealand and was a teacher of English and Drama for many years. She’s also been, until very recently, an active member of Toastmasters International. Moving to a small seaside village without a Toastmasters’ Club put a stop to that. However the change has meant that she’s now got time for another love, gardening. She and her husband are building a new home and at the same time, developing the grounds. There are trees to plant, flower beds to plan – bliss! Needless to say she enjoys working from home, the freedom of being able to set her own hours and to take time out when she chooses to visit her son, his partner and her very beautiful grandchild who live in Europe.

The post From Funeral Poetry to 007 Speeches: An Extraordinary Work-from-Home Story appeared first on Solo Build It! Blog – Proven Real-World Advice for Solopreneurs.

How AI Is Being Used To Make Solopreneurs More Successful

How AI Is Being Used To Make Solopreneurs More Successful

Would you like to play a nice game of chess?

With this computer-generated, nonchalant invitation to play a casual, two-dimensional game, the entire control room at NORAD breathed a collective sigh of relief.

A computer had just brought the country to the brink of Global Thermonuclear War, only to be thwarted at the end by the young hacker who had caused the whole mess to begin with.

Game Screen for DEFCON
Image Credit:

Some of you may recall the 1983 film, WarGames, and how one of the earlier instances of Artificial Intelligence (AI) had shown such computer development to be unreliable even scary and threatening!

HAL 9000Over the years, Hollywood has returned to that theme time and again, from HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey to Skynet in The Terminator. Every instance another reminder that computers are getting ‘smarter’ and that humanity’s control over them is tenuous.

Yet, today, AI is all over the news and headlines in a very different way.

The fact is, AI is a very real, very positive development with uses and ramifications everywhere. Even here at SiteSell.

Putting Artificial Intelligence Into Business Building

For decades, the goal of SiteSell has been to connect with individuals who have ideas and a passion to pursue them, and put the proper tools and techniques into their hands to help them succeed.

And succeed they have.

Compared to other online business building systems & platforms, nothing holds a candle to the degree of success that solopreneurs have achieved using Solo Build It!

But it’s not good enough.

We want more of our dedicated solopreneurs to achieve the top tiers of success and we want those who are already there to improve even more.

One approach that we’re taking is to integrate the depth and power of AI into how our solopreneurs research their business niche and determine the focus of their business and content.

Brainstorm It! 4

It all starts with our Brainstorm It! tool, now in its fourth major release, which is on the threshold of an incredible series of developments.

Today, Solo Build It! users are now able to ask questions of Brainstorm It! and the wealth of keyword / site data that it has accumulated in order to surface conclusions that, before, would have been next to impossible to discover.

For instance, you can now ask Brainstorm It! Where’s the traffic? and the system will:

  • take a look at the keywords you had previously researched and targeted
  • compare them against predicted performance data
  • focus in on the ones where you’ve created relevant content but that content isn’t getting search engine traffic, and
  • sort the results so that the best, most profitable opportunities are listed first.

In other words, Brainstorm It! can tell you exactly which pages of your site are truly underperforming in search, and which to work on first.

Other questions include:

  1. Can Rank Higher?
  2. More Traffic?
  3. Quality Traffic
  4. Overused Keywords
  5. More Money
  6. Easy Money
  7. Most Money
You can also set up your own customized sets of filters and sorts to determine whatever it is you want, such as, what high value keywords have I not yet written about? These can be saved as tasks, and more pre-sets will be coming in future releases.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, Mike, that’s not really AI that’s just clever use of data and filters and sorts. And you’d be right, though I appreciate you not making a big deal out of it.

Actually, this is just the beginning.

With version 4.0 the groundwork is laid for future releases by bringing in additional data points and reports, and the kind of macro reporting tasks that can be set up like those 8 questions above.

What comes next is the kind of futuristic development that Arthur C. Clarke might have written about.

AI Beside You

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the purpose for having the highly-advanced computer system HAL 9000 on board was to help monitor ship’s systems and mission status.

The Discovery was launched from Earth to investigate mysterious developments with Jupiter’s moon, Io. Due to the length of time it takes to travel that far in space, most of the ship’s crew was placed into hibernation with just Frank and Dave, and HAL, left in charge.


For instance, in one scene HAL reports, I’ve just picked up a fault in the AE35 unit. It’s going to go 100% failure in 72 hours. That’s the kind of preemptive warning you desperately need if you’re in space, millions of miles from Earth, and can’t afford to have critical systems shutting down.

So what might it look like if HAL was sitting beside you, helping you to run and monitor your business?

What if HAL could alert you when, say, one of the keywords you’ve targeted and written about isn’t performing as well as it should?

Nori, I’ve just picked up a fault with the topic ‘Anguilla Beach Rental’ and am showing a 82% lag in expected performance.

That’s exactly what will be coming in the near future for Brainstorm It! a partner for your business who will constantly monitor your site and targeted keywords, and give you smart alerts and notifications.

Instead of a tool that you use just when you’re getting started, Brainstorm It! will now provide you with new ideas and opportunities throughout your business lifetime.

In fact, the more content you create and the more search traffic you generate, the more value Brainstorm It! provides. In true AI-fashion, Brainstorm It! continues to learn and improve and grow, right alongside you.

The Future of Solopreneur Success

Never before have solopreneurs had so many and such a diverse array of tools and resources at their disposal. And never before have we seen so many solopreneurs achieve unheard of levels of success.

Yet, as we said earlier, that’s not good enough.

For every solopreneur who is able to put together a fantastic online business that brings in traffic and revenue for their family, there are many more who don’t make it.

Part of that is psychological, which is why we’ve shared How NOT to Fail At Business a primer on overcoming your own fears and misperceptions so that all of the barriers between you and success are swept away.

But the other part is making sure that you have the best possible platform and support system in place to help you.

That’s where Solo Build It! comes in.

Solo Build It!Solo Build It! is the premiere solution for everyday people who want to do extraordinary things. People, just like you, who have an idea for a business and want to create something for themselves and their family.

We encourage you to take a closer look at Solo Build It! and see how that unique combination of education, tools, community, support and auto-updating can help you achieve greatness.

Author information

Mike Allton

Mike Allton is the Chief Marketing Officer for SiteSell. He has spent years helping solopreneurs achieve success online through the precepts of content marketing: write great content, share that to social, and drive new leads & sales.

Mike’s focus is to reach people who have a passion for something and show them how it’s possible to turn that dream into a real online business and income.

The post How AI Is Being Used To Make Solopreneurs More Successful appeared first on Solo Build It! Blog – Proven Real-World Advice for Solopreneurs.

Why I’m Going on a Sabbatical, and You Should Too

5 Things I Learned When We Got Away From It All

I am about to embark on a sabbatical for the next month to get away, enjoy time with family, and do some long-range thinking. Americans typically don’t take all of their vacation days, much less go off on sabbaticals. The idea of an extended period away from work may sound like an exotic concept or, worse, unemployment.

It was pretty foreign to me too the first time I took a 30-day sabbatical after I resigned as CEO of Thomas Nelson. But it was also an eye-opener.

When We Got Away

Gail and I spent 16 days in the mountains of Buena Vista, Colorado, several days in Portland, Oregon, and the rest of the time just putting around our home in Franklin, Tennessee, disconnected from the daily demands of running a company.

That sabbatical was tremendously meaningful to both of us. I regretted that it had taken me 30 years to get there and decided not to miss out in the future. We resolved to go on one month-long sabbatical every year.

This yearly cycle of work and a long break and work again helped to develop my ideas about the purpose of productivity and the radical margin we need to carve out in our lives. Too often, people preach productivity for its own sake, which is not enough. It simply encourages overwork and burnout.

I found I can work harder and more effectively now knowing that a sabbatical is just around the corner. There won’t be gaps in my blog posts, for instance. That’s already been taken care of.

Now It’s Your Turn

Taking sabbaticals requires some adjustment in your thinking. It also requires some planning and financial resources. And I realize that, after stepping down from Thomas Nelson, I was in a rare position. But after we did it the first time, it struck me that we could have started sabbaticals years before.

It doesn’t have to be expensive. The biggest challenge is probably working with your employer. Yet, limited thinking may play a role as well. In the more than 30 years I spent in corporate management, I never had a single employee even ask me to take a sabbatical.

If he (or she!) had pitched me the idea and explained how I, as an employer, would have benefitted, I definitely would have entertained it. And if I saw that it worked well, I might have taken my first sabbatical sooner.

So before you rule this out, maybe give it some more thought and ask, What would it take to make this possible? Maybe you can’t do it this year, but you might be able to take a sabbatical next year or in two years if you decide it’s something you want and plan ahead.

5 Reasons to Go for It

In case you’re still not sold, here are 5 benefits of taking a sabbatical that I wrote down during my first sabbatical in 2011. They might not all apply to you but some of them should. That time away could give you the opportunity to:

1. Recharge Physically and Emotionally

This is more important than you think. We were made to surge, then rest. It is so important that it is hard-wired into our biology. This is why we sleep and why God and man rested on the seventh day. We can’t just go, go, go, and expect to function optimally.

2. Slow Down and Enjoy Being

We are human beings, not human doings. Yet so much of our life is defined by our activities. On our sabbatical, Gail and I loved the opportunity to read, reflect, go for long hikes in the mountains, fish, and just sit and do nothing. We gave ourselves permission not to be productive. It was difficult at first, but eventually we settled into a new rhythm.

3. Feed Your Spiritual Side

We can spend our days, lost in the endless flow of distractions and amusements. Over time, our hearts become disconnected from any sense of True North. It was so healthy for us both to read the Bible and other spiritual literature, and spend time in extended prayer.

4. Get Clarity on Your Priorities and Goals

I used part of my time away to re-tool my life plan, design a new ideal week, and plan out the next three years. I committed to writing, speaking, and mentoring as my vocational priorities. Actually making them part of my calendar helped me to stay focused, and gave me a filter to say no to other opportunities that would distract me. The resulting growth of Michael Hyatt and Company has been wonderful to watch.

5. Get on the Same Page as Your Spouse

The older I get, the more important this is. Although I believe my wife and I can have a positive impact on our own, I also believe in the power of synergy. Together, we have the potential for our combined efforts to be greater than the sum of our individual ones. This is why it is so important for us to be in alignment.

There were definitely some things we did differently in the next sabbatical, and the next, and the next. Taking a sabbatical is like any other activity or skill. You can improve over time. But we got the right start, and our lives have been so much better for it. Yours could, too.

We were made to surge, then rest. We can’t just go, go, go, and expect to function optimally.


Tweet Quote
Question: What is holding you back from taking a sabbatical? What steps can you take to get closer to that goal? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

What I’ve Learned From Being Fired

3 Things Being Canned Taught Me About Management

Chances are, you are going to be fired at some point in your career. This May, 1.7 million workers in America were laid off or fired. And according to the Labor Department, that was during a month of generally good economic news.

Sometimes you are let go for reasons far outside of your control and there’s not much to be learned from it. It just happens.

During the recent recession, as CEO of Thomas Nelson at the time, I had to oversee the layoffs of 28 percent of our staff. It wasn’t their fault and we told them that when we announced the layoffs. The market had just plummeted. We had to cut costs to survive.

Learning From Loss

But often there are lessons to be learned from these career setbacks. I have been fired from three different jobs or gigs in my career and I learned from each one of them.

Don’t get me wrong. Each of these was a painful experience. But these experiences also taught me important lessons that I probably could not have learned any other way. They were invaluable for my future success. Here are those lessons:

1. Don’t Take Your Job for Granted

I got my first real job at 15. I was hired as a dishwasher at Giovanni’s Pizza in Waco, Texas. After a few months, I was given the opportunity to cook pizzas.

It was a part-time job. I usually worked a few evenings after school and then Friday or Saturday night. It wasn’t too demanding, but it gave me some much-needed spending money.

After working at this job for a little over a year, I was unceremoniously given the boot. I didn’t do anything egregious. I just got sloppy. I was often late to work. I regularly asked my boss to change my work schedule at the last minute.

The problem was that I thought the job was about me. My employer thought it was about the restaurant. In the end, I became more trouble than I was worth, so he canned me.

I was shocked, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me. It got my attention, and it was the beginning of my education. After this experience, I never took any job for granted.

2. Manage Expectations, or Else

When I was in business for myself, I agreed to manage an artist’s singing career. I was reluctant, but she was persistent.

She was a B-level artist who was convinced that she could be an A-level talent with the right exposure. My job, as I understood it, was to get her better concert bookings, a book deal, and exploit whatever other opportunities we could create. As she understood it, my job was to make her famous.

I knew I was in trouble after the first month. In the first 30 days, I doubled her bookings, came up with a concept for and secured a decent book deal, and got her an appearance on a major national TV show.

I was feeling pretty good about our progress. But, she could only find fault. Over dinner, she complained that she still wasn’t famous yet. I pointed out what I had accomplished. She dismissed all of it as low hanging fruit. She then pointed out all the things I hadn’t accomplished.

I realized I had made a major error in not getting her expectations on the table from the get-go, but it was too late. She fired me, with a fax. It was painful, but, honestly, I felt relief.

After this experience, I decided to discuss (and document) expectations at the beginning of any new business relationship to avoid later moving of goalposts. I would need to be ultra-clear at the beginning so that we both agreed on what success would look like.

Chances are, you are going to be fired at some point in your career. Learn from it.


Tweet Quote

3. Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

Unfortunately, I’ve made this mistake more than once. The last time, which made the lesson sink in, was about 20 years ago.

At the time, I co-owned a literary agency. I agreed to take on a giant project for a major client. I worked my tail off for about a year, focusing exclusively on this one client. My relationship had morphed into an artist management relationship, and I was, essentially, managing this client’s career.

Meanwhile my partner and associates took care of everyone else. We all thought it was a good bet. But in the end, the client fired me (also by fax!) and signed with an agency who promised to get him a major book deal with a New York publishing house and an appearance on Oprah. I was left high and dry with nothing to show for my year-long investment.

The worst part was that I did not see it coming. I thought I had done a great job, and we had enjoyed a long-term personal relationship. My client had his eye on bigger things and decided I couldn’t take him there, so he dumped me without discussion.

The thing I finally learned from this experience was that clients and customers can be fickle. Spread the risk. You cannot afford to put all your eggs in one basket. You also can’t assume that today’s victories will be remembered. You have to keep raising the bar.

Mistakes, I’ve Made a Few

These aren’t the only mistakes I’ve made in my career. I’m not even sure they were the biggest ones. But they were the mistakes that got me fired. That got my attention and furthered my education in the school of hard knocks.

The trick-after being fired-is to try to push bitterness aside and learn from it. Failure can be a great teacher, but we have to listen.

Failure can be a great teacher, but we have to listen.


Tweet Quote
Question: What lessons have you learned from your past mistakes? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

A Cool Tool to Beat Writer’s Block

A Cool Tool to Beat Writer's Block

Ever stared at a blank screen, struggling to find the right words (or any words at all)?


Writer’s block!

Here’s how to beat it

  1. Get started (even if you don’t feel like writing, which you won’t).
  2. Keep going (even if the words suck, which they will).

Simple, right?

What to Do If You’re Still Stuck?

Fake it. Seriously

Getting started and keeping going is all there is to it. So the way to beat blank screen syndrome is to start pounding that keyboard, even if the words are gibberish at first.

Try it! And if you still need help, check out this awesome free training tool

The Most Dangerous Writing App

Here’s How to Use It

Begin by selecting a session length (from 5 to 60 minutes) and hit Start


Then you’re off


It’s not called dangerous for nothing. Stop and you lose all the text


Brutal? Absolutely! But that’s why it works.

You soon learn how not to stop!

Bottom Line Takeaway?

Get started and keep going and you’ll never suffer from writer’s block.

Use The Most Dangerous Writing App if you want. Or forget the app and just start pounding your keyboard. Either way

The text you write will be surprisingly useful and get you on your way.

Short of NEW stuff to write about now that you’ve beaten writer’s block? Try this QWIKI Hack!

Author information

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 A Cool Tool to Beat Writer’s Block appeared first on Solo Build It! Blog – Proven Real-World Advice for Solopreneurs.

Fake Reviews: Tired of Fake Reviews? Let’s Steer a Different Path!

Fake News, Fake Reviews: Tired of Fake Reviews? Let's Steer a Different Path!

Tire companies lead the way in ethical reviewsI have some startling news this week.

Tire companies lead the way in ethical reviews.

Say what? Tire companies??

Yep. Take a moment to read a section from an article in their recent online magazine (who knew there even was such a thing, right?!): Tire Review

When customers entrust you with their automobiles, they have a presumption of full disclosure and honesty. So do this

Have a shop meeting and pull up an extra chair. Tell your entire staff that the empty chair represents the spirit of your customer, and that everything that is discussed during the meeting should be able to be said in front of the customer without hesitation. Start the meeting by reinforcing your commitment to both ethics and customer service.

You’ll have detailed records, your sales and profits will go up, and you will be doing the right things for the right reasons. If you follow this advice, and if you never put money ahead of people, you can’t lose.

If you never put money ahead of people.

Hold onto that thought.

In the first three articles of this series, we’ve looked at the depressing, scammy, often illegal world of fake reviews in the bigger world of online marketing. You’ve learned what fake reviews are, why they matter and how to both spot and stop them.

Today we’re coming out of the dark side into the light. Today, we’re going to look at how you can rise above the mire by making sure that affiliate reviews you write are honest, ethical – and nothing to do with fake.

But first

Why Write Product Reviews?

Niched-based content pages form the foundation of most successful solopreneur-built online businesses. There’s no reason at all why some of that content cannot be product-focused.

There are two main reasons for the solopreneur to write product focused content pages:

  • Authority: By reviewing products, and having people engage with them, you create more authority in your niche. You review products you know to be useful to your potential customers and it’s clear from your review that you know what you’re talking about.

So product-focused content pages on your site can be especially profitable if you’re an affiliate of those products. You’re just one strong PREsell away from earning a commission.

Exciting, right? Right! But there are two big caveats to keep in mind

  • It’s easy to slip from PREselling mode to selling. As we’ve seen, some do that intentionally. We’ll assume that you, like most folks, are basically an honest person. But
  • With commission in the back of your mind, it’s all too human-nature-natural to phrase to sell. You subconsciously color a good feature a little too excitedly. You downplay negative features, or ignore them completely.
Real reviews are valuable because the author knows the niche and the competing products well. She’s able to provide deep coverage and comparison.

The final conclusion, a fair and objective one, helps the reader to make the best possible choice.

Helping the reader – your potential customer – should always be the main purpose of your reviews.

So What Exactly Is a Real Review?

In many ways it’s easier to turn that on its head and ask: What is not a real review? There’s plenty of information about that in the other articles in this series!

But the core answer is simple: It’s a review that helps the reader, who is likely on the edge of a purchase, to make the best choice possible.

A real review is not a sales page. It’s not written primarily to make money. Remember our friends in the world of tires:

If you follow this advice, and if you never put money ahead of people, you can’t lose.

It is, of course, fine to write direct sales page(s) when it comes time to sell your own products. That’s not what this article is about.

This article is about writing reviews of affiliate products that you’re promoting on your own site or blog.

A real review gives the reader the sense of deep knowledge and use of the product. The detailed content of the review provides evidence of that knowledge – something fake reviews can’t do.

Reviewers saying they know a product is not enough. We already know that creators of fake reviews lie. There should be enough evidence of knowledge that, if you were to ask a question about the product, you’d be confident of a straight, practical, down-to-earth reply.

Fake reviews often trash a product. Others spit out known facts and features. Whatever the approach, it’s easy-to-do content, created without having used the product. Ignore. Go for those with high quality content.

A real affiliate review is written as an honest, impartial opinion that reflects real experience. No remuneration (in any form) should be received by the author from the company that provides the product or service.

Which leads us to the question of the legalities of reviews. As an affiliate, you do not want to run afoul of the law. It’s unlikely that the police are ever going to knock on your door, but an ethical affiliate program should be contacting you if you cross the line.

So let’s get it correct, right off the bat. There’s no need to fix if you start right! (Many fake reviewers are going to be crying when fake reviews get hit by Google and/or the law).

What Do We Mean By an Ethical Review?

Ethical reviewsThe goods news is that legal and moral are pretty much the same (a happy coincidence ).

A real review (whether of a product, service or business) can be positive, neutral or negative – the verdict doesn’t matter. But it should

  • be user-written – you have actually used the product or service, even if only to test it
  • be your honest and impartial opinion
  • be balanced and complete – not selecting only the positives, or only the negatives
  • reflect a consumer’s genuine expectation – she has come to your review for a balanced opinion, not a sales funnel.


If you’re reviewing any product from which you stand to make a commission, no matter how small, you must self-identify as an affiliate. In other words, you must clearly state that you earn a commission if the reader clicks on your link and makes a purchase.

And, according to the Federal Trade Commission guidelines, that statement must be in a prominent location on the actual review page.

Putting a vague statement in your footer, or having an affiliate policy hidden somewhere on your site – or not having a statement at all – is not acceptable. Unsurprisingly, as we’ve seen, it’s what many companies that indulge in fake review practices often do.

The good news? In this cynical, murky world of fake news and fake reviews, honesty is a selling point. You will develop more trust, not less, by being transparent. Quite apart from it being against FTC guidelines, trying to hide your affiliate status is treating your visitors disrespectfully.

So make your affiliation a selling point. Be proud of what you’re PREselling – don’t try to hide the fact that you’ll make money from it, if they buy. If you’re delivering regular, high value content to your readers they won’t have a problem with you having the occasional affiliate link.

And if they do, perhaps they’re not a good fit for your business.

You have leeway in the language you use – so use it. Let’s face it. A statement such as this, while honest, is going to cast some doubt on your review

I’m an affiliate of I earn a commission if you click on links to this product.

How about this instead:

I may earn a small amount from links to various products I recommend on this site. If you like what you’re reading, clicking on those links provides the funding that lets me do my passionate thing for home audio. Thanks very much.

So make your affiliate statement with confidence. Stand proud with your integrity. Remember the world of tires

never put money ahead of people.

Put your trust in your site visitor. Allow her a fair chance to assess the review in the light of full disclosure. Because when you’re honest, and when a review is outstanding, such disclosure can be to your great advantage.

Are you really confident in your site visitors? Run a study of your own. Offer them a product with and without an affiliate link. Make clear which is which and what it means.

You might be as surprised at the results as Jonathan Fields was.

Should a Review Aim to Convince?

The short answer to that is no. And if you see an article titled: How to Write Convincing Reviews anywhere, beware. In those cases, convincing usually means fake.

One of Solo Build It!’s prime directives is: Keep it real, which is particularly relevant in this situation.

Remember: if you’re writing a review, your job is to represent the reader’s best interest, not that of the affiliate program paying you for a sale.

Reviews should not be convincing. They can and should be

  • complete, honest, balanced
  • without agenda
  • based on user experience
  • authoritative, with your knowledge clearly shining through
  • of true and honest value to the reader to help make the best decision possible.

But the one thing that a real review should not be is convincing. Your goal is not to convince anyone to purchase.

Product-focused content pages (reviews or other types of articles) can be valuable content, if they’re done right.

What Happens When It’s Not Possible to Use a Product?

Ideally, your review should include your personal experience of the product under review.

The FTC’s position is clear:

the Endorsement Guides let endorsers know that they shouldn’t talk about their experience with a product if they haven’t tried it, or make claims about a product that would require proof they don’t have (1)

But what about when that’s not possible? After all, if you’re a travel site it’s unlikely you’ll be able to stay in all the best hotels in Venice! Or if you’re a gardening site, you probably won’t want to own 6 lawnmowers until you find the best!

The answer is to consider researching the best reviews and any other information you can find about the product. Then, pull that all together into your own original coverage of the product.

It requires good researchThis does not mean to take part of one review, then add part of another in a mish-mash of information.

It means doing some good quality secondary research. It will take time. But it can also provide you with a mass of high-quality information, which you then reduce to new content, with added thought, delivered in a format and voice that make it uniquely yours.


  • Sites like Amazon and TripAdvisor make it easy for you. Take all the reviews – positive and negative. What are the common complaints? What do people love? Who do the reviewers say the product is best suited to?
  • What about videos? Are there reviews on YouTube? What do they say?
  • Is it a branded product? What does the manufacturer say? What evidence do they provide? Video? User reviews?
  • Can you do any testing in-store? What about talking to salespeople about their experience of it? (Be careful for bias here, too.)
  • Suppose you’re reviewing a hi-fi speaker system. Turn a lemon (no hands-on) into lemonade with a video of you listening to various receivers in an AV room of a store, commenting on each as an assistant switches from one to another. Be sure to catch the sounds with your own micVisitors will hear all the sounds the same through computer speakers, but it still makes an impression that you’re testing them.
  • How could you possibly do this? Ask! A local store may allow you to when the store is quiet in return for acknowledgment and a link. Get creative!
  • As your site becomes more well-known, you’ll be able to get a sample for in-home testing. If it’s offered as a gift, of course, you must disclose that prominently on the website.

Again, it’s critical to be transparent.

Write a review that focuses on the site visitor (we’ll come to that in just a moment) and how you think it would benefit her. Make clear that it’s not based on personal use or experience but reflects accurate, exhaustive research of expert opinions. Detail what that means.

Add, of course, that it has been supplemented by your own conclusions based on all those hours of research.

It’s always better, though, to be able to build true user experience or hands-on testing into your review.

A Review Site or a Site With Reviews – Which is Best?

Google PandaMany review sites were hit hard during the time of Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithms – only a few did it right and sailed through. Others drifted into using reviews to sell, rather than treating them as the PREselling content that they should be.

Like I said, even honest folks can drift. It’s so darn easy to forget the point when you know you can earn something from a click.

The outcome was not pretty for many.

Great reviews generate sales without selling. So if you’re going to do a review site, do it well or go home.

Review quality is key, but originality, some sort of angle to help you stand out, will be what makes the difference, always assuming of course that you can write super reviews.

There will always be at least a couple of really big, strong competitors for your topic

That’s normal.

If you think you can do better than half of the best 20 sites, if you see loads of reviews where a superior review will eventually put you into the Top 10, go for it.

The ability to use the product is important. You can get away with superb secondary research reviews in Sites With Reviews. But if you decide to work as a review specialist, it’s all the more critical.

Now far be it from me to suggest that you buy a receiver, test it and take it back for a refund. And far be it from me to suggest going to a second store, trying another and refunding. Nor would I ever suggest a third and fourth, or neighboring towns, or anything else of that kind.

I would never suggest that! But heck

Amazing reviews while dressed as a gorillaYou really have to figure out the get my hands-on testing done problem. Later, you’ll have established yourself as that cool site that does amazing reviews while dressed as a gorilla. Companies will be happy to send you samples to test. But right now?

Unless your niche happens to have really weak reviews by people who haven’t used the product being reviewed, you really do need to have hands-on experience.

But it shouldn’t always be about reviews. Think outside the normal review sites and keep in mind SBI!’s emphasis on creating quality content.

How about information on the history of the product? Or doing interviews with key executives related to a product? Or asking others to submit reviews?

See? It’s now a regular content site. There are still loads of opportunities to include product reviews, but it’s become a Site With Reviews, not a Review Site.

Given the trust built up by the PREsell of all the other content, and the superiority of the reviews themselves, you’ll monetize even if the review pages themselves don’t win much search traffic.

This type of approach eliminates the all or nothing strategy of creating a Review Site, where every page, except your home page and maybe a couple of others, is a review. In other words, and this is important

A Site With Reviews does not need the site to be found for reviews. That’s where a lot of the competition is duking it out – what used to be easy money ain’t so easy anymore. Instead, you get folks to your reviews via high value, high quality content!

What Does a Best Practice Review Look Like?

So we’ve looked at what makes a real review. But that’s not the end of the story.

That’s what you must do in order to be considered a real review, but it’s far from what you need to be the best.

The closer you come to enabling the reader to almost feel, hear, touch or taste your product, the better!The closer you come to enabling the reader to almost feel, hear, touch or taste your product, the better!

Real Is the minimum. We want to go for the max! And the max is always about OVERdelivery.

Your review must be several cuts above the typical reports that you can see in review aggregation services. Anything less than a high-value, genuine review should never reach your visitor’s eyes.

But in order to get there, you must first PREsell.

Want to write a lawnmower review? Shine with brilliance about lawns and mowing! Write great content about

  • Tips for watering your lawn the right way
  • How not to scalp your grass
  • When to mow – and when not to
  • How to sharpen a lawnmower blade

and so on. Really show off your expertise, the knowledge you have about each piece of information. PREsell, until your customer thinks: Whoa, this person really knows her stuff. I wonder which lawnmower she thinks is best for my uneven land

Bingo! That’s exactly what you want your visitor to think!

Written like this, you should stand out from competitor reviews, while attracting folks who are close-to-the purchase. You’ll be writing

  • reviews that readers will love
  • reviews that won’t ever get hit by Google
  • reviews that actually earn you more, in the long run.

Your tightly focused product pages will have an increasing chance of being found as your entire site grows its authority signals with Google. The hardest going, as always, is in the early months.

But by creating content that focuses on one specific product, and writing a highly personalized review, you gain a huge edge.

And Now for the Practicalities: How to Write a Real, Ethical Review

Focus on Your Audience

Let’s go back one final time to the world of tires

Have a shop meeting and pull up an extra chair the empty chair represents the spirit of your customer, and everything that is discussed during the meeting should be able to be said in front of the customer, without hesitation. Start the meeting by reinforcing your commitment to both ethics and customer service.

It’s great advice!

Your site visitor, who is also your potential customer, should be at the forefront of every review you write.

So before you put pen to paper – or push a single key on your keyboard – pull up that virtual chair for your customer. Have her in front of you from start to finish. Heck – talk to her, if it helps!

You know this niche, you know your site visitor (you do know your site visitor, right?). Thinking about this particular product, ask yourself what her particular problem is and how this product will help solve it – how will it help improve her life? Why, specifically, would she buy this product?

Will she want to use it to

  • save time?
  • save money?
  • learn a specific lesson?
  • feel a certain way?
  • something else?

Once you can hone in on this – the 20% of a product that will convert 80% of people – you’ll be able to give your readers an honest review that also converts.

So let’s look at the substance of your review, all the time bearing in mind how your site visitor will genuinely benefit.


The introduction is what draws people in, which is why it’s a good idea to start with a story. Perhaps share your own experience with the product, while at the same time reinforcing your commitment to ethics and customer service

I only write reviews about products I genuinely know and love – I don’t receive any payment for this review.

I’ve written it because I’ve been using this lawnmower for several months now, and it makes my uneven lawn look like a bowling green. If it can do it for my lawn, it can do it for anyone’s!

But it does have its drawbacks and, because I genuinely care about you, my site visitor, I’ll be giving you the good, the bad and the ugly

Writing the Main Content

Cover all the features you consider relevant: most products come with a lot of features. Instead of covering them all, keep that site visitor in mind and cover those that are most relevant, first.

What makes this product of interest to this potential customer? What are the benefits of the features you discuss?

Use the information you have about your niche and your visitors to address her main concerns. Is she worried about cost? Reliability? Delivery? The warranty, or customer support, or functionality of certain features?

Provide evidence: this is where physically owning a product or having experienced a service becomes invaluable.

Make it a unique storyMake it a unique story, because otherwise you’re just repeating the same dull information your visitors already read on Amazon and other product review sites.

They haven’t come to your site to read that same stuff they’ve come for a unique perspective they can’t find anywhere else.

Remember, you’re writing about a very tight topic. Every competitor who’s half-decent will cover the basics well. You must do that better – and go well beyond.

We’ve covered the issue of products you haven’t tried, or services you haven’t experienced. But it’s right to say that you don’t obtain original research – you do it. The end result is content that’s truly authentic and reflects the clear voice of first-hand experience.

Visitors respect that enormously – this type of review has high value. So, wherever possible, get your hands on the product. Spend a few hours playing with it – even doing your best to break it!

That simple experience allows you to create content easily, simply by writing about what you see and do. You’re able to write a review that overdelivers – doing it in your own words, your own way, in your own voice, leaving readers with a strong got it feeling.

Include negatives: It’s a myth to think that people won’t buy a product that has negative reviews – in fact, the very reverse is true. Evidence is that people using reviews actively search for the negatives. In and of themselves, they help establish brand credibility and trust.


Because as John McAteer, Google’s retail industry director said:

No one trusts all positive reviews.

While brands and retailers should strive for a sizable majority of positive reviews, consumers view the absence of negative reviews as suspicious. So if the product you’re reviewing has drawbacks, be honest. Say what they are.

Remember: honest opinion of value to the reader. Not sales funnel.

Images and video: these give you the opportunity to add unique elements to your written content, because most sites borrow heavily from copy and photos supplied to them by manufacturers.

There’s no originality. That’s a formula for failure, not to mention that Google tends not to rank transaction pages highly.

So take some high quality photos of your product. Show parts that other reviews don’t. Include yourself in some of them – they’re further evidence of your use of the product.

And while you’re unpacking and user-testing the product, make videos, too. YouTube reviews do well. Add short snippets to your website review, and the longer video review on YouTube. The snippets also make great social media content.

How about presenting an infographic of your information? Free tools such as Canva can help make striking, easily understandable summaries that work well on social media sites.

Heck, I’m getting excited about this – you’re going to create some standout content!

The Summary

At the end of your review, consider adding a Summary box. Include the most critical factors that you consider the most relevant to your site visitor.

And how about creating your own stars system? Make it original to your niche, if you can.

  • Is your niche gardening? A lawnmower icon should make the cut!
  • Homesteading niche? Look for golden eggs to score those book reviews!
  • Comparing the best beaches in Anguilla? Get palm trees for that relaxed vibe!

You get the picture. Take the idea. Make it your own.


And finally: we’re not quite finished yet! Because questions! Encourage them. Add commenting to your review so people can have their say. It’s a good way of determining whether your product is a roaring success.

Enter into discussion. If they don’t like the product, ask which other they prefer, and why.

When you’re asked questions, answer promptly and honestly. It’s one more way of providing the proof that fake reviews don’t have. Proof that you have used the product and know what its capabilities are.

The people who write most fake reviews can’t answer detailed questions – because they’ve never tried the product.

And now – you’re done. Phew! Look over your review. What have you missed? What tiny detail will make it instantly a Wow! with your readers?

Let it settle in your mind for a while. Review it once more. And then – publish, safe in the knowledge that you have written a high quality, ethical article which will above all help your site visitor with whatever problem or desire it was that led them to you in the first place.

Let’s Sum Up

This has been a long, sometimes hard series of articles to write – and to read. It’s taken us from the quagmire depths of the spammiest, scammiest fake reviews to the soaring heights of writing your own honest, professional product articles.

Roman coins to tire customers by way of banana slicers and the chocolate dietIt’s had its lighter moments, too, going from Roman coins to tire customers by way of banana slicers and the chocolate diet.

We’ve seen that there are ways to fight fake reviews. In Article 3 of this series, Spot ’em and Stop ’em, we considered legal and technological pathways, together with the need to look for specific proof and direct evidence.

We looked at the way in which our own company has fought back against a sustained campaign of fake reviews by drowning out the scammy fake with real, honest, from-the-heart reviews by people who know, love – and use – our platform to grow their own successful businesses.

And finally, in this article we’ve reviewed the personal and professional responsibility each of us has for maintaining our own honor and integrity in the way we write reviews.

The most important take-aways?

  • Learn to recognize the enormity of the issue of fake reviews and their effects on both companies and the individual consumer.
  • Remember that bait-and-switch reviews in particular are wolves in sheeps’ clothing: under the guise of helping, they hurt. By recommending inferior products over those with proven accomplishment, they rob individuals of life opportunities, dreams – and success.
  • Always insist on evidence – verifiable proof of success.
  • Learn to spot fakery when it happens, and take action.
  • Don’t stuff your own sales text down people’s throats. Keep it real. PREsell. Build trust with high quality content that targets your readers’ needs and wants.

And – very finally – remember tires. Remember always to concentrate on doing right by your visitor. Remember that

If you follow this advice, and if you never put money ahead of people, you can’t lose.

Author information

Ken Evoy (CEO, SiteSell)

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

The post Fake Reviews: Tired of Fake Reviews? Let’s Steer a Different Path! appeared first on Solo Build It! Blog – Proven Real-World Advice for Solopreneurs.

Want an Abundant Life? Change Your Thinking

8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Be Scared by Scarcity

Sometimes when you are running, things really come into view. A few years ago, I had been considering two different kinds of thinking that lead us in very different directions as I jogged.

One way of thinking that I considered-which many call scarcity thinking-usually leads to failure, fear, and discontent. These are the sort of limiting beliefs that I have come to warn people against.

A Better Way?

The opposite of scarcity thinking is abundance thinking, which gives us a shot at success, joy, and fulfillment. These more generous ideas have much in common with the liberating truths I have used to help leaders drive out doubt and overcome significant obstacles.

A Tale of Two Thinkers

My friend Robert Smith, author most recently of 20,000 Days and Counting, is a great example of abundance thinking in action.

Robert is one of the most generous people I know. He always greets me with a big smile, a hug, and an encouraging word. I leave his presence energized, feeling great about being me.

And I have noticed that he is like this with everyone. He treats employees, vendors, booking agents, publishers, and others as if they are his best customers. He routinely invests in their success.

It comes back to him in a thousand ways.

One of my former clients-who we’ll call Charlie-is just the opposite, and a perfect example of applied scarcity thinking.

Charlie exhibits a hoarding mentality. He never picks up the check, even if he asks you to lunch. He constantly complains about everything. When I was working with him, I always left his presence drained and diminished.

And he is like this with everyone, I learned. His employees roll their eyes when you mention his name, but don’t dare say anything that could get back to him. They live in constant fear that their livelihood and well-being are at risk.

Not coincidentally, the success that their boss craves always seems to elude him.

More Than Enough vs. Never Enough

When I got home from running I wrote down this list of polar opposites, with Robert and Charlie in mind:

Abundance thinkers:

  • Believe there is always more where that came from.
  • Share their knowledge, contacts, and compassion with others.
  • Default to trust and build rapport easily.
  • Welcome competition, believing it makes the pie bigger and them better.
  • Ask themselves, How can I give more than is expected?
  • Are optimistic about the future, believing the best is yet to come.
  • Think big, embracing risk.
  • Are thankful and confident.

Abundance thinkers believe there is always more where that came from.


Tweet Quote

Scarcity thinkers:

  • Believe there will never be enough.
  • Are stingy with their knowledge, contacts, and compassion.
  • Default to suspicion and find it difficult to build rapport.
  • Resent competition, believing it makes the pie smaller and them weaker.
  • Ask themselves, How can I get by with less than is expected?
  • Are pessimistic about the future, believing that tough times are ahead.
  • Think small, avoiding risk.
  • Are entitled and fearful.

Change of Heart

I don’t think I’ve overdone the contrast here. Robert and Charlie are just that far apart, in how they behave and in the results of that behavior.

But I don’t think for most of us it’s that cut-and-dry. We have a little bit of Robert and a little bit of Charlie in us. I know I do.

We ought to strive to grow as abundance thinkers, to be more like Robert and less like Charlie in our careers and in our lives. Proverbs reminds us that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.

Question: How do you see these two ways of thinking impacting your world? You can leave a comment by clicking here.