Back in January of 2014, a solopreneur who was building up resources for primary and secondary educators reached out to me on Google+ for some assistance. She wanted some basic guidance on how to use social networks, and which she should be using. So we spent an hour or so on the phone going over everything.
It went well, and she was kind enough to leave me a glowing recommendation on LinkedIn. That was the only session we ever had, so I didn’t give it much thought afterwards.
I was quite surprised then when, 6 months later, she recommended me to take the role of Chief Marketing Officer for SiteSell, a company that has been helping solopreneurs like her to start online businesses since 1997.
I met with the CEO and Founder, Ken Evoy, as well as the then-President of the company. For several hours, we discussed marketing strategy and my experience.
I also spent quite a bit of time researching SiteSell and their main product offering at the time, Solo Build It! (SBI!). If I was going to give up my own solopreneur lifestyle (to some extent), I wanted to make sure that it was for a healthy company with an attractive product and positive culture.
To help me gain a better perspective, Ken provided me with access to the entire Solo Build It! suite of tools, training and community so that I could review everything.
No joke: I was floored.
Look, I’ve been building websites and helping businesses with online marketing since the 1990’s. I’ve built sites using Geocities, FrontPage, Dreamweaver, PHP-Nuke, GoDaddy, Joomla, Drupal, Wix and WordPress.
All of those had their pros and cons when it came to building websites. None of them, however, helped site owners understand what to do with their new sites – or even whether their idea for a site was a plausible one.
In fact, that was one of the the major frustrations that I’d experienced personally with web development. Virtually every business site that I built was, at best, under-utilized.
Those who were using the website to communicate an idea for a new business inevitably failed to gain traction. Those who were hoping to use the website to grow visibility for an existing business never added more content. They treated the site like an online brochure.
Solo Build It! had a completely different approach, which I found fascinating.
Instead of jumping into site-building, the total focus is on business. The extensive online training said to start by researching areas of interest in order to identify a niche with real potential.
As I sifted through the community discussions I found thousands of SBI! members who had diligently followed the prescribed process and created the kind of online success for themselves that so many bloggers seek.
It was refreshing and, frankly, eye-opening to see. Here was a system and collection of online solopreneurs (solo entrepreneurs) who were actually doing it. They’re the kind of content success stories my friend Joe Pulizzi talks about in his book, Content Inc.
Listen, we all know that there’s way more “talk” than “walk” in the world of online business-building. But these focused individuals were walking the walk with industry-high success rates, the proof of which impressed me. Who else shows this much real, verifiable success?
I can answer that for you because I checked. No one.
I knew that was something I wanted to be a part of. I sent an official proposal to SiteSell and by September I had joined them as CMO.
Big Fat Disclaimer
Just to be clear, I’m the CMO for SiteSell and have been working with Solo Build It! since 2014. While I was not asked to write this article, clearly there’s motivation and bias. However, if you’ve ever read anything that I’ve written, you know that I’m always fair and objective. My purpose here is to share my personal experiences and opinions, and give you an opportunity to come to your own conclusions.
What Exactly is Solo Build It!
Given that disclaimer, you won’t find any “marketing speak” like, “This is the greatest solution on the planet since saline.” As Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
The Business-Building Process
Suppose there’s something in your life, some interest of yours, that you’ve cultivated and grown over time. If it were me, I could use professional interests like social media and blogging, or more personal interests like Star Wars.
Whatever the topic is, you start to wonder whether or not it’s something that you could turn into a business.
Right off the bat, this is where Solo Build It! differs from other popular platforms like Squarespace or Shopify. If you knew that your idea for a business was going to be a success, then by all means, grab a domain and start building that beautiful website…
But how do you know? I mean really know?
Solo Build It! forces you to take the time to do the research and put the requisite thought into your idea to pre-determine the likelihood of success.
- Is anyone else interested in that topic?
- Is the topic already saturated?
- Should you narrow, broaden or fine-tune your niche?
- How profitable might that niche be?
Choosing a wide, saturated niche like, say… “How to make money online” is ludicrous. The odds that you’ll ever create enough content and authority to rank well and drive sufficient traffic to earn meaningful revenue are roughly the same as me stuffing LeBron James from the baseline.
Image Credit: Flickr
Choosing a wide, saturated niche like, say… “How to make money online” is ludicrous.
Instead, Solo Build It! provides, first, the educational materials and step-by-step process to help you understand how all of this works, and all the tools that you need to do the research.
Only when you’ve done your homework, figured out what your niche should be, and come up with some potential ways to earn an income from it, are you ready to select a domain name and start building a website. Only then do you start writing the valuable content that’s going to help you to develop traffic and authority.
How serious are they about this part of the process? Ken says it’s the secret sauce of SBI!’s solopreneur success rate, but I’ll answer that with something that really surprised me. You can’t get to their sitebuilder or any of the other tools until you have worked the process and developed a domain name that ticks all the boxes.
As you work through the process of getting that new online business off the ground, SBI!’s training materials cover everything you’ll need to know, from structuring and building your website optimally, to marketing and managing your business, to eventually turning a profit (monetizing).
That’s why I’ve often referred to SiteSell as an incubator for online business owners. “Solopreneur Business Incubator” – SBI!
The Business Value
Here’s what really struck me from the beginning.
Have you ever looked at taking an online course? There certainly are plenty to choose from, in every niche imaginable.
In my space, as a social media marketer, there are some tremendous courses available from brilliant experts like Mari Smith, Jon Loomer, and Amy Porterfield.
I love Amy. I’ve read her blog posts and emails, listened to her podcasts and webinars, and have watched a couple of her presentations for Social Media Marketing World. She’s a genuine rock star in this space, and she offers a course designed specifically to help people like me create courses of our own.
It’s called Courses That Convert and it costs $997. It includes:
- Complete training that covers course creation & launch
- Project management templates & launch assets
- Sales page training and templates
- Weekly emails and motivation
And of course it all comes from Amy’s unrefuted expertise and wisdom.
I’ve taken a close look at what Amy commits to teaching you in her course and I firmly believe it’s an excellent investment. When I’m ready to start working on a course of my own, I will be strongly considering getting Amy’s assistance.
So here’s the thing…
Solo Build It! includes:
- Complete training on how to brainstorm and research your business, choose a domain name, build a website, create content, master social media, utilize email marketing, engage a community, select and implement monetization options, and build a real online business.
- Domain Name, Managed Hosting, Website builder and customizable templates
- Keyword Research and other tools
- Free Support & Guidance
- A community of like-minded solopreneurs.
All of that is just $299 a year. I know people who spend that much on their domain names and hosting alone. Of course my point here is that many people spend far more on training for just one aspect of their business.
This covers it all.
The “training” part, called the Action Guide, is the heart of SBI!. It blends the important bits of information and steps together. You “learn as you do.” The Guide includes everything that is important, excludes everything that is not, and orders it all into a series of do-able steps.
Most people fail because they fail to prepare and fail to sift and sort all that they read into a step-by-step process, let alone one that is honed and updated since 1997. A 20-year track record is impressive in our industry.
By Failing to Prepare, You Are Indeed Preparing to Fail. – Benjamin Franklin
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always felt that Solo Build It! was dramatically underpriced for what it offers. Ken’s pretty firm on price, though – he wants to keep it accessible.
What Is SiteSell’s Commitment to Solopreneurs?
I’m not saying that SiteSell or the Solo Build It! product is perfect – nothing ever is. Think about the scope. Enabling people to build a profitable online business is a much bigger challenge than “putting up a site.”
SBI! will always be evolving with the times, leveraging its C→T→P→M foundation. So the weekly SBIX newsletter to members is almost always announcing one or more improvements or additions to the tools or training.
And on that note, I’ve been on the inside for over a year now. SiteSell’s commitment to helping solopreneurs succeed is unparalleled. When I checked them out before taking on the CMO role, I found some pretty nasty critics. It gave me pause, but I trusted my gut after talking to Ken (who spends hours talking about solopreneurs, me and a product?).
We’re all in constant touch, whether it’s audio Skype or chat. These folks are passionate. And that negative stuff? It boils down to affiliate fake reviews and several disgruntled (albeit successful!) ex-SBIers.
It turns out that Ken fires customers who insist on disrupting the community. You’re free to criticize anything you like, but if you insist on trolling or causing fights, it’s not tolerated. “Life’s just too short,” says Ken. Indeed. It’s pretty amazing how different the actual truth is.
Ken’s sincerity is absolute. Take a look at SiteSell’s backgrounder and bio and note from him. It hasn’t been updated since around 2003, although SBI! itself has consistently moved with the times.
I work with an amazing group, just as focused on solopreneur success. Every meeting and discussion is punctuated by the need to keep iterating and improving how we’re able to support solopreneurs in their quest to build a successful online business.
One of the ways we do that best is by making sure that we help solopreneurs conserve the one asset that is in shortest supply for every solo entrepreneur: time.
- Every article, blog post and forum discussion is designed to clear through the clutter and show time-crunched solopreneurs where to focus their resources.
- Every new feature and update is designed to make members’ jobs faster or easier – always with the understanding that building a real online business is hard work that takes time.
Which brings me back to my story.
In the years before I joined SiteSell, I’d been blogging very frequently – sometimes 6 – 14 times per week! And while that volume sounds great (and did have some positive benefits), it wasn’t as helpful as it might have been.
Because I wasn’t focused.
Instead of talking strictly about blogging and social media as I do today, I was talking about business, offline & online marketing, technology, office equipment – anything I thought my target audience might be interested in.
What. A waste. Of time.
Countless articles were published and accomplished nothing – and are useless to me today.
Now, if I had taken the time way back in 2012 to do my homework and research my niche, I might have have focused on the really interesting and profitable topics that I should have been writing about from the beginning.
While Solo Build It!’s process and educational materials may seem like slow-going (its mascot is a tortoise!), that deliberate process results in saved time and faster revenue-building in the long run!
Who Is Solo Build It! Really For?
I think it’s all about empowering people and that’s what I want to do. That’s why I live. – Guy Kawasaki
Clearly, the focus of SBI! is to help solopreneurs build real, lasting, online businesses. But that can mean many things.
For some, that means replacing their 9-to-5 with a solid, reliable income and business that they’ll grow. Potentially, they’ll move beyond solopreneurship and into full-on entrepreneurship with staff and all that entails.
For others, it might mean having a side business that gives them the freedom to talk about the things they love – and earn a little extra income.
Some are looking to keep busy after retirement while adding to their pension, while others want to pursue their dreams of owning their own business.
Whatever success looks like to them – or to you – the underlying goal is to provide the tools and education and community needed to achieve it. You’ll find a lot of their stories in these multi-year reviews from longtime Solo Build It! users.
It’s a funny thing. Everyone at SiteSell calls those folks by their first names. They have become friends! There’s more objective, detailed proof of success with 500 SBIers in the Top 1,000,000 at Alexa, no easy feat for the typical solopreneur.
As the “new guy” (many have been with SiteSell for 20 years), my favorite stories are the ones we publish in the Real Life Success Lessons of the blog. I can see how the team gets into that first-name mode. Some of the stories are really moving. The takeaway lessons from those experiences are useful for any solopreneur, SBIer or not.
As Guy Kawasaki put it, “I think it’s all about empowering people and that’s what I want to do. That’s why I live.”
I live that culture every day now.
There are a couple of other kinds of people who should be interested in Solo Build It!.
Those Whose First Attempts Failed
Hundreds of thousands (millions?) of people try to start online businesses every year. Most are unable to find success. Sometimes it’s the idea itself – even the hardiest seed sown in the cold of winter or on hard rocks will fail to grow.
If it just wasn’t the right time or right environment for your idea, it might be time to give it another go.
Sometimes what was lacking was the guidance and resources needed to help take an idea and turn it into a genuine platform for reaching prospective readers and customers. That’s something that can be addressed as well.
There’s a myth that SBI! Is only for beginners. It is really for anyone who has not yet succeeded online. No matter how much you know, the difference may be how SBI! molds knowledge into practice into business success.
Those Who Talk To Potential Solopreneurs
If you’re reading this right now and you have an audience of your own that you reach – people who are starting or thinking about starting new businesses – I’d like to talk to you.
You and I both know how full the internet is with terrible advice and crazy schemes. One “business-builder” I looked into recently actually told new members, “If you can’t figure out your niche in 15 minutes or less, just choose, ‘make money online’.”
Don’t get me wrong – there’s clearly nothing wrong with making money from an online business. But there’s something very “MLM-ish” about joining a “make money” outfit to build a “make money” site to convince other people to do the same.
In fact, to expand upon that thought, if your sole driving purpose is to “make money online,” then you’re probably dealing with a “make money” or “get rich quick” scheme. That’s not a real, enduring business model.
SBI!, in comparison, asks you to determine your goal. Why are you starting a business? If it’s about money, your determination won’t last. Make it all about a goal that matters…
- Save for college fund.
- Quit the day job.
- Upgrade vacation to “luxurious.”
- Supplement my retirement.
Whatever it is, the goal is yours. It matters to you in a way that connects with your soul.
Emotional goals keep you going. They may not pull you away from “Game of Thrones,” but you’ll be more willing to invest a bigger piece of leisure time today for a major benefit later. You’ll work hard to overcome a setback or get past a hump.
Speaking of leisure time, how much are you willing to put into your business? And finally, how much income will it take to achieve your goal? These must make sense.
Work them out until they do. For example, you won’t quit a day job by investing 4 hours per week into your online business. SBI! Follows its own advice and “keeps it real.” Here, they keep it realistic.
Wrapping This Solo Build It! Review Up
We have an opportunity to help everyday people achieve extraordinary things by giving them the tools and information they need to make smart decisions.
I’m very interested in working with other bloggers, influencers, vendors and organizations who can appreciate what SiteSell is trying to accomplish, and who might also have something of real value to add to our community.
We’ve published guest posts from Joel Comm, Lilach Bullock, Ted Rubin and others. Held online webinars with Guy Kawasaki, Rebekah Radice, David Amerland and more. Curated thought leaders into compelling roundups that share their ideas and unique perspectives. And partnered with brands like Tailwind to offer their valuable tools and services to our own community.
If you’re interested in collaborating in some way, I’d love to hear from you. This is one of those rare products that can truly make a difference.
Questions about SiteSell or Solo Build It! – feel free to post them in the comments below. Hopefully this review has not only introduced you to this focused company and product, but also helped you to understand a bit more of my story – what I look forward to working on, each and every day.