Do What You Love, Love What You Do, Episode 1: Homemade Gifts (An SBI! Success Story)
Tell us about your website,www.homemade-gifts-made-easy.com.
When and why did you start your site?
We started our website in 2009. We’d always wanted to start a web business but never knew how. We just loved the idea of working together and we wanted to make a bit of extra income for travelling and fun, and in the longer term for starting a family and having some flexibility around returning to work.
At the time we found SBI we were both university research scientists which is about as far from business as you can get. Tobias came across SBI through an email from blogger Steve Pavlina in 2008. We watched the SBI intro video and we both immediately thought “This is it!”. It was the first time that the process of starting a business looked do-able, even for people like us with no business experience.
As we went through the SBI process we considered all sorts of ideas for sites. We narrowed it down to our top three ideas: homemade gifts, strength-training, or science for kids. Using the SBI process we evaluated the business potential of all three ideas and homemade gifts emerged as the clear winner.
It was hard to say no to the other ideas but looking back we’re glad we did, because building a site about homemade gifts has been lots of fun and really profitable. We both love making homemade things and it’s been fantastic to turn that hobby into a business.
Are you working full-time or part-time on building your website / online business?
We don’t have day jobs, if that’s what you mean. 🙂 I guess we work on our business full time, but between the two of us and looking after our kids it’s more like each of us works half-time.
We made the transition from day jobs gradually, “earning” our free time. As our business earnings grew, we reduced the number of days we worked on our day jobs. In 2011 Steph went part time, and then quit her job in 2012, and then Tobias went part time, and then finally Tobias quit his job in Feb 2013. It’s been almost two years since either of us has set foot in an office, and it feels great!
So far, what has been the biggest challenge for you?
By far the biggest challenge for us is finding the time to work on our business, and this was the challenge right from the start. When we were both working full time it was tough on many occasions to muster the time and energy to work on our business on evenings and weekends, but I’m glad we did. It became a bit of an obsession to build the business to the point where it could sustain us financially.
These days we have two young kids to look after and they’re little dynamos of fun and energy and love, and it’s a matter of planning our week so that we have plenty of time for the kids as well as the time to work on our business.
Sometimes we feel like we’re stretched for time, but then when we speak to friends who have 9-5 jobs (or often much longer hours when you include their commute and overtime) and we realise just how lucky we are and how little time pressure we have compared to many families.
One thing we love about SBI is that it distills down the most important best practices in web business into concise articles and emails, so that we don’t need to spend a lot of time following other marketing and SEO blogs (although we still follow a handful). This definitely helps with using our time efficiently.
If I could add another challenge, it would be figuring out how to monetize our site. We were fortunate in that we grew our traffic rapidly, but it took us much longer to figure out how to grow our revenue streams beyond Adsense. Over the last year we’ve been developing our own products and we’ve been amazed at how much this has enabled us to increase our earnings. It’s very encouraging, and we have plenty of scope to expand into more products in the future.
What do you enjoy most about being an online business owner?
The number one thing for us is the freedom. Being able to do what we want, when we want, and where we want.
For example, we just spent one month on holiday in Australia and it was wonderful. It was also the highest-earning month our business had ever had, even though we spent only 20 min / day doing maintenance work on our site while we were away. It was amazing to spend the day at the beach, or having a bbq with friends and family, and then come back at the end of the day and see hundreds more dollars in our bank account.
Another great thing about the business is the low stress. Neither of us had very stressful jobs, but the business is even lower stress. That’s not to say it’s zero stress… there are certainly times when we worry about it, but neither of us have ever had the same stomach-churning worry about an upcoming deadline in the same way that we occasionally did with our jobs.
Has your life changed since you started your site? Can you describe these changes for us?
Since we started our site we’ve moved country once, moved house three times, changed jobs, quit those jobs, and had two kids! The great thing about having a web business is that it’s flexible enough to fit around all these kind of changes.
There’s been an emotional change that’s gone along with the growth in the business, as we’ve both grown into the role of being “entrepreneurs”. In the beginning we felt a lot of doubt and emotional discomfort about our business. We worried that people would think we were crazy building a web business. Sometimes we wondered if we were crazy ourselves. A few months into building the site we calculated that if we were going to make a living out of our site we would need 100x more traffic. How daunting!
Then as our traffic and revenue grew, we became gradually more confident. We reached certain milestones, like “our business could buy us a nice dinner once a month”, or “our business pays our grocery bill”, and eventually “our business pays our rent” and finally “our business pays all our living expenses”. It went from feeling like an eccentric hobby to being a “real business” and something that we are very proud of.
Why did you choose SBI! to build your website / online business?
As soon as we saw the intro video about SBI we both said “This is it. We can totally do this! It’s just following a system, and that’s something we know we can do”. I guess both of us are quite analytical in our thinking so having a logical system and process that we could follow appealed to us, and took the mystery out of starting a business.
In fact, we were so enthusiastic that we immediately paid the $199 to sign up, even though it was a terrible time for us to start a business (we were finishing grad school and had theses to write!) and even though it felt like a lot of money at the time because we were both students.
The ironic thing is that we didn’t actually start working on our website for another 9 months, because we were so busy finishing grad school. But we’re glad that we paid the $199 up-front because it committed us to following through. Nine months after we bought, we said “we really must get started on SBI because otherwise we’ve wasted all that money”.
Then we set to work with a lot of energy. We took a gap year between finishing grad school and taking up our full time jobs, so we had plenty of time to think and plan our business. We travelled for the first 6 months, and a lot of our initial brainstorming sessions were done at internet cafes on the beach in Thailand! We then moved in with Stephanie’s parents in Australia and worked full-time on the business
for another 6 months. This gave our business a great kick-start.
Looking back we’re so glad that we chose SBI! because it took us by the hand and guided us through a rock-solid process for building a business. Without it we might have muddled around in the dark for months or years and I doubt we’d be where we are today.
What one piece of advice would you give someone who is just getting started in the online business world?
Our top piece of advice is to be “relentlessly resourceful”, which is a phrase coined by entrepreneur Paul Graham. I think it’s a wonderful summary of the mindset of successful business owners.
So what does it mean? It’s actually two pieces of advice hidden in one.
Relentless means don’t give up. Keep pushing, keep going, persevere with all your energy. There are going to be plenty of times that you feel like giving up, but you’ve just got to keep going. It’s a cliche but it’s true.
But being relentless isn’t enough. You need to be resourceful too.
Resourceful means that you keep learning new things, keep trying new things, exploring new approaches when the old one doesn’t work. Instead of banging your head against an obstacle, look for ways around it, over it, under it, or in a different direction altogether. It means not being fixated on your first idea for a business (a mistake we often see!) and instead having the flexibility to be open to other ideas and opportunities, and to seize new opportunities as they arise. There’s a statistic that two thirds of successful businesses have drastically changed direction from the initial idea, which tells you how important it is to be flexible.
That was a long answer to a short question, but we hope it’s useful to people starting out!
Learn From More High-Traffic, Profitable Solopreneurs
- Recent Success Stories With Takeaway Lessons. Read more recent inspiring stories from our blog. They deliver useful ideas and takeaway lessons from folks who’ve “done it and won it.” If they can do it, you can, too!
- Multi-Year SBI! Reviews. We take a deep-dive into the long term, full business stories of several different types of solopreneur successes. They periodically update their progress so you can see how they and their businesses grow over a period of years. This gives you excellent insight into what solopreneurs can accomplish with real online businesses.
- Hundreds of the “Top 0.5%.” Every one of these SBI! businesses (hundreds of them) rank in the top 1 million active websites (out of approximately 200 million!). That’s all the more impressive because 1) we are such a small community and 2) many Top 0.5% sites are mid-sized or large companies.
Solopreneurs fail at astronomical rates. SBI! makes you 100x more likely to succeed (that’s not a typo!). It will never be easy, but we do make it way more doable.
Scan the wide variety of solopreneurs who are winning in real niches. Use it to get a feeling for what SBIers do, as well as to generate ideas. What do you know? Turn it into a business.