I love the freedom of working for myself! Freedom has always been something that is SO important to me, and the notion of a 9-5 and having to ask permission to take a vacation – well, it never sat well with me! - Alison Andrews, SBI! member since 2009

Starting an Online Business at Age 9? This Gen Z Teenpreneur Shows – With the Right Tools – It’s Totally Doable!

Written By: Sydney Englund in Real-Life Success Lessons!, Success Stories | December 7, 2016

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I enjoy being a teen entrepreneur. It allows me the opportunity to do what I love, and at the same time to provide a service that other people enjoy. It’s a great feeling!Sydney Englund

Do you have teenage or even younger children in your world? Would you like to help them get a head start in life, in a fun and rewarding way?

Then Sydney’s story is for you.

Sydney is crazy about horses. It all began when she rode a pony at a festival when she was just 3 years old. When she was 4, she started taking riding lessons. She was obsessed with horse pictures, horse names, games, books, movies… She was — and still is — a truly “horse-crazy girl.”

Looking for high quality information online, Sydney realized there was no good website that provided the kind of material she was looking for. So, encouraged by her mom, she began building her own site – a site which turned into a business!

What started out as a pure hobby soon turned into an enterprise that saw Sydney participating in competitions and speaking at a Teenpreneur Conference. And, to her delight, it also funded buying her very first horse.❣️

We asked Sydney and her mom, Gerri, about her business journey.

1. If my calculations are correct, you started your online business with SBI! at the “ripe old” age of 8 or 9 — am I right? How did that happen?

I started my website when I was nine. There were a few things that came together:

  • My mom wanted to try SBI! to build an online business.
  • I was obsessed with horses and everything to do with them.
  • I couldn’t find a good website that had all the horse games, books, movies and so on. There was nothing appropriate for girls my age.

So we decided that there was an opportunity and that it would be fun to create one together.

Sydney and Rikki
That’s Sydney around the time when she started her teen entrepreneur career with SBI!

2. What were your initial goals when you started horsecrazygirls.com? Did your goals change as you grew older?

When we first started the website, we didn’t really have any goals. It was just a fun project to try out SBI!. But then we added AdSense ads and Amazon affiliate links and discovered we could make money.

That was pretty exciting!

TAKEAWAY: It might have been an experiment, but someone made a great decision. If they had called the domain horsecrazygirl (singular), it would have been all about Sydney. The plural form makes it inclusive – a small but big decision!  SBI! takes you through the “research steps” that not only verify how good an opportunity is, but that help you optimize your domain name. The time invested “pre-content” pays big dividends down the horse trail.

My initial goal was to make enough money to get my own horse. And a few years ago I was able to buy my horse, Sinatra, from the money I earned with my online business.

Yay!

My next goal was to compete in more shows (which is quite expensive too). So I have a goal of working to get sponsors for my site. I’ve also been holding lots of giveaways. I’m really trying to build up my social media profiles too, one at a time.

I can be kind of shy but this year, I got to speak at the first Teenpreneur Conference. I also co-hosted an online radio show.

Sydney Teenpreneur
Sydney at her first Teenpreneur Conference

One thing I want to do now is create a program that gives back.

Here’s what that means for me: I want every horse to be loved by a horse-crazy girl. And I want every horse-crazy girl to have a horse to love.

So I am pledging ten percent of my site income to non-profit organizations like horse rescue organizations.

I’m creating a new product that will launch for the holidays as well. I am really excited about the future.

3. How much help did you have from your parents when you started your teen entrepreneur career?

I had a lot of help from my mom when I started out as a teen entrepreneur. All I really did at the beginning was find things I wanted on the website. I tried out games, reviewed books — things like that.

I knew what horse-crazy girls loved so it made it easy for us to come up with ideas for pages to build. My mother built the pages and helped me write reviews and so on.

Then, over time, I’ve become more and more directly involved. Now I am really focused on making my business successful. Going through the SBI! process of building an online business has helped me try new things — and learn a lot of new things, too!

teen-entrepreneur-giveaway
Giveaways… one of the many things Sidney learned about, to help grow and market her business. Giveaways or contests are a great way to drive engagement and attract more traffic. Participants invite their friends to share the fun, and to get more entries themselves.

4. How do you find the time to work on your e-business without compromising your school responsibilities?

I work most on my website during the summer holidays. During the school year I average about eight hours a week. I have to plan out my weeks really well to get everything done. This year I’m lucky to have an internship at school that allows me to work more on my e-business.

And I have an awesome virtual assistant. She’s amazing!

TAKEAWAY:  It sounds pretty unusual for a teen to talk about hiring VA’s.  SBI! covers this topic.  Solopreneurs are “solo” but they don’t have to be “alone.”  Hiring a VA leverages your time by relegating time-consuming, tedious work to people, often overseas, who are happy to earn the income. WIN-WIN.

She helps with a lot of different things. One of her tasks is to manage the visitor submissions that I get via SBI!’s Content 2.0 tool. I get so many that it is hard to keep up with all of them! We screen every single submission before it is published because I don’t want anything inappropriate on my site.

It’s great that SBI! now offers separate logins for C2s. I don’t need that because my VA is trustworthy, but it will help other SBIers who are thinking about getting help.

TAKEAWAY: Content 2.0 (C2) enables your visitors to create content for your site – and they enjoy doing it!  This is another time-saving method to leverage a solopreneur’s time. 

Every “solo” has the same constraint to overcome – time..  SBI! enables you to get the most out of your time in a variety of ways (ex., monitoring the firehose of information in the blogosphere to report only the nuggets that you need to know). This way, you focus 100% of your time on building your business.

When you consider how Sydney uses both C2 and VAs, you could say that she is able to focus 200% of her time on what matters most – growing the business.

To reduce the risk that your VA, employee or helpful family member can damage your site (by accident or on purpose), you create a subordinate login. This ensures that the VA has access to only certain parts of your site.  

Sydney Jumping
Sydney and her horse Sinatra during a show jumping contest, financed by the income from her online business.

5. You have an ad and affiliate links disclaimer on your pages. How well do these passive monetization models work for you? Do you (or are you planning to) monetize in any other way?

It’s been up and down. At first Google AdSense was awesome. Now it’s not much at all. Amazon has been great at times, not so great at others. It does get frustrating. But I am working on launching my new product and some other revenue sources. I have a great community and lots of active followers so I know there’s an opportunity there.

TAKEAWAY: Many SBIers start with “passive income” to monetize their traffic.  AdSense pays less than it used to. Affiliate marketing (ex., Amazon Associates Program) can still work well, but income can fluctuate. Beyond the lowish and unreliable income level, there’s another major problem that few consider…

When your income model depends on a third-party platform such as AdSense, eBay, Amazon, etc., you no longer “own” your business. Google has a ton of rules telling you what you can and cannot do with your website. Or consider how eBay raises its fees — take it or leave it.  And do you remember when Amazon was firing tens of thousands of affiliates in states that passed unfavorable “nexus” laws?

The solution? SBI! shows its members how to sell their own services and develop/market/sell/support their very own products. We provide a comprehensive, step-by-step tutorial called “Make It!”… because that’s what you do. 🙂

Another, less time-intensive way is to negotiate direct deals with service or product sellers in your niche. Trouble is… how do you find those motivated sellers? That’s where Trafeze comes in…

Trafeze is a brand new monetization network for solopreneurs — of any age. It’s in beta while we grow the number of high-traffic sites. While it is open to both SBIers and non-SBIers, we have discovered that the percentage of all solopreneurs who succeed at SBIer levels is a small percentage of SBI! members.

Sydney’s a Trafeze member. Here’s what she has to say about it…

I really hope it turns out to be a great way to match publishers with those trying to reach sites with good traffic. I have tried other ad/publisher networks in the past and most of them have some limitations so I have high hopes for Trafeze!

So do we, Sydney! If you have a high-traffic, content-based site, apply at Trafeze today.  It’s free and you remain in total control.  No rules.

Sydney now, with her horse Sinatra. Both HorseCrazyGirls.com and its owner have changed quite a bit since its beginnings in 2007!
Sydney now, with her horse Sinatra. Both HorseCrazyGirls.com and its owner
have changed quite a bit since its beginnings in 2007!

6. Your site’s traffic was hit by Google’s algorithm changes in 2012/13. You’ve built your traffic back up nicely. Can you give our readers some tips on how you did this?

I didn’t do as much as I should have! Content 2.0 (C2) submissions were a big problem. We made the mistake of accepting almost everything girls submitted, so now we have over 10,000 entries! In one way it’s great — I love that my girls love to share. But it created a lot of short pages. We’re trying to go through and delete many of those.

Plus we went way too broad and built a lot of pages that aren’t great, or don’t do very well. So we’re trying to go through and cut those down.  

TAKEAWAY: Our #1 piece of advice is to follow the Action Guide. Sydney has done well, but missed a couple of points. It happens. One of the most important principles is that your content must add value for the reader…

Whether it’s your own content, or user-generated pages (the C2 submissions that Sydney mentions), adding value is a must. That’s why SBI! has two golden rules when it comes to creating outstanding content, the motor for any online business

  • Keep it real: In other words, do not do anything just for the search engines. You will please the engines if, and only if, you please your visitors.
  • Add value:  Please your visitors. Find out what they’re looking for — and give it to them in spades. In short… OVERdeliver!

7. What about social content? Which social media networks do you use the most, and why?

I use Pinterest and Instagram the most. I love Pinterest and I find that it is one of the best for bringing people to my website. I am building up Instagram even though it doesn’t seem to drive a lot of traffic.

TAKEAWAY: Pinterest and Instagram are the go-to social media if your niche is particularly visual. See this article about the differences between Pinterest and Instagram, and how you can use this knowledge to beat your competition.

If you only have time for one, choosing the right one may make the difference between success or failure. It all depends on your niche and goals.

If you have time for two, understanding the differences provides a framework to develop a powerful visual campaign where each platform complements the other brilliantly.

Sydney made the right choice by focusing on these two platforms. Because what could be more visual than horses? Apart from cats and kittens, perhaps. 😉

Pinterest will drive some traffic, while Instagram will build her profile in her niche (but not deliver much traffic directly). Perfect.

I wish I had worked harder on Facebook a few years ago. Now I feel like you have to advertise to build up numbers there. I do some of that but not a lot. I’m concentrating on Pinterest and Instagram at the moment.

TAKEAWAY: Facebook is the go-to for most solopreneurs.  It’s still possible to grow a large and fervent following. However, in Sydney’s case, she has emphasized the social media that are right for her and her visual, younger-audience niche.

 

Sydney uses Pinterest to attract more horse-crazy girls to her site.

This pin is a great example of how to do it right on Pinterest:

  • eye-catching image
  • vertical format
  • clear text layover
  • enticing description, and
  • a link back to the page where the Pinterest user can find more information.

The next three questions are for Gerri, Sydney’s mom…

8. Did you suggest to Sydney to build an online business around her passion for horses, or was it initially her idea?

Although I clearly remember being excited when I found SBI!, I don’t remember exactly how we decided to start this site for Sydney. But I am glad we did.

It has turned out to be an amazing learning experience for both of us. I am stepping into the background more and more. It’s fun to see where Sydney’s going with it!

9. What made you choose SBI! for this project?

I spent (and wasted) so much money hiring people to build websites and trying to find solutions to build my own without learning how to code. This was before WordPress and other DIY solutions were as mainstream as they are today, so when I heard what SBI! offered I immediately signed up. I’ve since had four SBI! sites, three of which (including Sydney’s) are still around.

TAKEAWAY: When you just get started with your solopreneur (or teenpreneur) career, there’s so much to learn that you hardly know where to begin. There is so much information and so many resources from so many people competing for your dollars. It’s nearly impossible to put it all together and figure out “what’s best” each step of the way, let alone to put the right steps in the right order.

When she heard what SBI! offered, Gerri immediately signed up. Why? Because SBI! is the only all-in-one solution that provides everything you need to build much more than just a website – you build a profitable online business. SBI! takes care of everything else, from the technical stuff to updating to bringing the rare nuggets of information that can benefit you. Again, it’s all about time… yours.

You focus 100% of your time on what you know best: your passion, which becomes your business.

Hiring a webmaster is a waste of money unless you just want to build a presence for your local business. You can’t hire someone to build a profitable business for you. Only you can do this!

10. What advice would you give parents who want to train and encourage young people to pursue their passions and learn business skills along the way?

I feel very strongly that today’s kids absolutely must learn entrepreneurial and web-based skills such as social media marketing. Sydney’s generation is called “Generation Z.”  Studies show that it will be increasingly made up of independent, mobile workers.

For younger people, SBI! Is not just a business-builder – it is, perhaps above all, an educational platform. The skills it teaches are essential for young and emerging entrepreneurs.

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And finally, our last question is for both Sydney and her mom…

11. What do you enjoy most about being a solopreneur / having one in your family? How has it changed you, your life, your family?

From Sydney: I enjoy being a teen entrepreneur – a “teenpreneur.”. It allows me the opportunity not only to do what I love, but to provide a service that other people enjoy. I’ve met girls around the world, and when they come to my site they are happy to be part of this community.

It’s a great feeling! I also love the program I’m creating to give back and help support horse rescue organizations. Plus it has made me a more focused, organized, driven individual.

From Gerri, Sydney’s mom: I’ve seen an enormous change in Sydney’s skills and confidence as a result of the work she’s done on her website. And I love that we’ve been able to bond over her business.

Key Take Home Points

  1. Want to give your child, grandchild, nephew or niece a head start in all areas of their life? Encourage them to start an online business based on something they love! They’ll develop invaluable skills and self-confidence in a fun, rewarding way. Plus, the income they’ll make with their business helps them fund their hobby (and possibly even their college tuition!).
  2. SBI! will never call “business-building” easy.  It’s not. But we can make it DO-able. SBI! is the only all-in-one system that removes the technical hurdles, provides all the necessary tools and easy-to-follow educational guidance. Most of our clients are older, many of whom have built businesses that change their lives. But, to borrow a word from Syndey, it’s “AWESOME” for teenpreneurs, too!
  3. You are never too young (or too old!) to get started with your solopreneur career. Take it one step at a time. Sydney’s site began as a fun project to collect and write about all the things that horse-crazy girls love. Then she added AdSense and affiliate links and made her first money. Now she’s about to launch her own product and dedicate 10% of her income to horse rescue organisations. What goals will you achieve with your online business?

Questions about how Solo Build It! could work for your teenage son or daughter? Speak to an experienced SBI! advisor today or sign up for our free entrepreneurship email course.

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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.

Sydney Englund
Sydney Englund began her business at the age of nine with the help of her mom to create a place where horsecrazy girls alike could find everything for their lifestyle. When she is not riding at the barn or attending school, she is working on growing her online business.
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