How this Solopreneur Quit her Day Job at the Age of 23
Michelle Jay just turned 28. She and her husband can stay home with their one year old child… thanks to Michelle’s online business which she built with SBI!. For the past 5 years she never needed to work for someone else. The freedom her business gives her and her family is priceless.
We’ve talked to Michelle to find out how she did this, and how you can do the same. Don’t worry if you are younger or older than Michelle. Starting an online business works at any age, from 13 to 83.
1. Tell us a little about yourself, about your professional background, and how and why you decided to start your online business with SBI!.
My name is Michelle Jay and I have built a very successful online business with SBI!. I created Start ASL (American Sign Language) when I was 20 years old in 2008. I had just graduated college with a Bachelor’s Degree in Deaf Studies with an emphasis in ASL Teaching and I wanted desperately to share ASL with the world.
And after holding a regular desk job for several months after graduating, I also quickly realized that I no longer wanted to work for someone else and longed to find a way to work online. Several weeks of research later, I finally stumbled upon the company that changed my life – SiteSell.
2. What were your initial goals when you started startasl.com? Have these goals changed over time?
My goal initially was to create the website that I always wanted when I was first interested in learning American Sign Language at the age of 13. When I graduated college, I realized that the same websites that were available then were still the only ones available. My goal was to change that and introduce Start ASL as the best place to learn ASL online for free. I wanted to spread the knowledge of ASL to everyone who can’t afford to pay for college courses or find time in their schedule to even attend those courses.
Over time, my main goal has remained the same, but we have added features, sections, and products to support seasoned signers, students who need credit for school, and even ASL teachers. Start ASL has become a great place to brush up on rusty ASL skills, take a foreign language for high school, and even find a unique new curriculum for an ASL classroom!
3. How did you settle upon your niche? How did you know it was the right one?
Settling on a niche was easy. I had just recently graduated college and was not yet working in my field or sharing my ultimate passion – American Sign Language. Upon getting started with SBI! and going through niche research, I immediately felt so relieved to find that there was unfulfilled demand for this niche – my dream could become a reality!
4. What did you use to build your Website? Did you upload your own HTML (using an HTML editor)? Or did you use SBI!’s BlockBuilder? Or WordPress?
To build the website, I started first with SBI!’s BlockBuilder but quickly moved to uploading HTML. At that time, I already had some experience with HTML growing up and creating my own Geocities (yes, Geocities!) websites. It’s amazing how much the design of the website has changed over the last eight years. It’s a bit embarrassing, really. Haha.
5. Tell us about your philosophy regarding content. What do your prospective customers seek and how do you “upgrade” them from free content seekers to potential customers (AKA “moving them down the funnel”)?
Regarding content, I am a big proponent of offering unique, amazing, and completely free content. Even though we now have paid options for our online ASL courses, we still have the same curriculum available completely for free on the website. That will never go away. Even though I know we could probably increase our overall income by limiting the free curriculum, it goes against the reason why I created the website in the first place – to spread the knowledge of ASL, especially to those who cannot afford with their money or their time to take college, community, or even other online ASL classes.
For our paid options, we do sell books that I have written (my Don’t Just “Sign”… Communicate! student guide series) as well as other ways to take our courses (paid online subscriptions with more features, offline packages, and teacher classrooms and packages). None of these are required for the free classes, but are available for those who need more features or support.
To help visitors find the right fit for them, I do have autoresponder/monthly newsletters that help them “move down the funnel” most effectively. I try not to see our visitors as numbers, but instead as students who need help to find the best program to help them succeed. I am not just looking for number of subscribers or sales, but instead for the number of students who have success with our courses. I think that is very important if you are looking to gain loyal customers for any business.
6. In our last question we were talking about customers… Could you explain how you monetize and if your monetization models have evolved over time?
Currently, we monetize Start ASL using a combination of Google AdSense, affiliate commissions, and several of our own digital products. The website began with PPC ads and affiliate recommendations, but soon evolved to include our own products after spending time learning what our active visitors needed to help them succeed more in learning ASL.
7. Do you use social media to promote your site? If yes, which platform(s)? Has it had an impact on your traffic and income?
We do have Facebook and Twitter accounts for Start ASL which provide a feed of our website updates, but we do not actively use social media to promote our website. However, we are currently looking into further developing our social media presence.
8. If you had to review SBI! for someone who never heard about it, which features or benefits would you highlight?
This topic actually comes up for me quite often. If anyone tells me they are interested in doing what I do – often phrased as “doing that blogging thing” – I first tell them, of course, that I don’t actually “blog” and that it is not a get rich quick process, but it works if you really put in the effort.
Then, the very next thing I tell them… is that I owe everything I know to SBI!. I even had extensive experience with computers and the internet before finding SBI!, but nothing at all had taught me how to actually harness that knowledge and turn it into an online business.
I then tell them to sign up for SBI! or SBI! for WordPress if they are really serious about starting an online business, and to contact me again when they do. And most importantly… only then do I continue to help them.
To me, there is no point in helping someone if they are not ready to “take the plunge.” It is clear they are not ready to put in the work and that my advice would probably end up not being used at all.
There is no doubt in my mind that I could help someone else build a successful online business, but I am only willing to do so if they are truly ready to do it.
And even then, I never like to reinvent the wheel. I always point them to SBI!. Every time. Because my advice would always come from the Action Guide and the SBI! tools anyway. I would just be there to help them through it.
9. What’s the best advice you can give to any solopreneur who is building an online business?
My best advice to solopreneurs is what I said above. If you do not know anything about building an online business – jump on board with SBI! or SBI! for WordPress. You really cannot go wrong with SBI! even if you consider it a starting point.
The Action Guide itself is worth its weight in gold and the SBI! tools – like Brainstormer – are the only tools I know that will be able to tell you right off the bat if your niche is a viable one and worth pursuing. And you will never know how much that is worth until you spend hours, days, weeks, months, or even years trying to profit from a niche with little or no demand.
10. And finally… What do you enjoy most about being a solopreneur with an online business? How has it changed you, your life, your family?
I started Start ASL when I was 20 years old. When I was 23, because of Start ASL’s success, I was able to quit my day job and work on the website full time. The site has grown every year since then because I could fully dedicate myself to the success of our students.
Now that I am 28, my husband and I are able to stay home with our one year old. I cannot even put into words how much this means to me. I watch so many other women and families our age that have to leave their babies to go to work every day though they long to stay home. It truly hurts my heart and I do my best to try to reach out to them if I think they may be interested in starting their own business.
Every year on the anniversary of Start ASL I am always SO thankful and feel so truly blessed to have not needed to work for someone else for five years now. FIVE years! This is what freedom feels like and I couldn’t be happier.
I thank God everyday for blessing me with this freedom and Ken Evoy for creating SBI!. It has absolutely, completely changed my life and my entire outlook on how to live. There is nothing more beautiful than that.
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!
- Case Studies. We take a deep-dive into the full business stories of several 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.