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

Solopreneur “Cake Fairy” Shows You How to Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

Solopreneur “Cake Fairy” Shows You How to Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

I plan on continuing into our retirement years. . . . I hope to pass the business down to one of our children or grandchildren. . . . I am truly enjoying the journey!

Lorelie Carvey has been a professional “cake chef” since 1984. She loved her work, but baking hundreds of wedding cakes each year took its toll. She felt burned out. A neck injury finally made her stop and re-adjust her career.

Instead of getting paid only once for each cake she bakes, she now gets paid over and over. She capitalizes on her knowledge and skills around wedding cake decorating. How, exactly, does she do this? Let’s find out…

1. Lorelie, your visitors call you the “Cake Fairy” and a “Waterfall of unending cake knowledge.” You clearly have a passion for your niche. When and why did you decide to build an online business about wedding cakes?

Believe it or not, I started out with a much different niche called “Carvey Running Tips.” It was based on one of my husband Scott’s greatest passions. With his knowledge of running, sense of humor and artistry, it had a unique spin. It even landed him a gig writing and drawing for a British running magazine.

SBI! is right! Passion is essential to success. My husband was passionate about running — but not about running a website. I was passionate about running a website, but not about running. Carvey Running Tips took the back burner and fizzled out, but it was the perfect prerequisite to the next online adventure.

TAKEAWAY #1: To make your online venture a success, you need passion for your topic and, if not passion, then at least the willingness to learn the ins and outs of running a business.

When one of the ingredients is missing, you have two options: find a partner who supplies the missing part, or see your first attempt as a learning experience and start over with a new topic.

I had been baking and decorating cakes since 1984 in various bakeries, venues and small business ventures. Wedding cake making is hard work, and I was creating hundreds of them every year for three banquet halls.

I was burned out, and a neck injury prevented me from making cakes at that level. After researching a few topics (following SBI!’s step-by-step Action Guide), I decided I would write about baking and cake decorating. I narrowed it down to wedding cakes. If I were to do it over, I may have gone a little broader with a site concept such as cake decorating.

Regardless, the business is doing very well. Wedding Cakes For You is now known for reliable cake recipes and decorating ideas. I landed a gig through the website with E-How for a series of frosting videos along the way.

Lorelie At Work - Credit Photgrapher John Munno
Lorelie at work. Credit for this photo goes to John Munno of John Munno Weddings.

2. You started wedding-cakes-for-you.com in 2009. What were your initial goals? Have these goals changed over time?

My initial goal was to create a place for cake decorators of all levels to share and learn about cakes. I built thirty pages of content, then began creating “Content 2.0” pages. Visitors could now ask questions and share their cakes and stories.

TAKEAWAY #2: Content 2.0 is one of SBI!’s many tools. It enables your visitors to write a new page on your site, complete with text and images. Other visitors can comment, so it becomes interactive.

It’s ideal for having a Q&A section on your site, and to allow your visitors to share photos and stories related to your site’s topic. Essentially, fans create content for you!

I ran contests to encourage people to share more, which was a lot of fun. My first monetizing goal was to create income through AdSense ads. I remember joking with Scott when those first pennies started coming in from the clicks. The pennies turned to dollars and then hundreds of dollars a month.

An average of $500.00 a month was the norm for years. It was a nice extra bit of income, but not what I had hoped. When I began this venture, SBIers were making so much more than that with AdSense. I think I may have missed the boat on that one.

TAKEAWAY #3:  Lorelie has gone through the typical “solopreneur cycle.” Most start out monetizing their website passively, with Google AdSense and/or affiliate marketing. As traffic builds, they realize how much money they are leaving on the table  and move up to higher-paying income methods.  More on this later.

My goals have changed quite a bit since that time. I went through various stages and tried new ideas. I had a directory section where cake professionals could advertise with a listing for free. I then moved to charging for the service. That idea flopped.

TAKEAWAY #4: By this point, we know that Lorelie will succeed! That may seem odd to say after a “flop,” but being willing to flop is a key attitude for success. You can leave your flops behind, but the successes keep earning and earning.

I interviewed a few famous cake decorators, but those pages didn’t really do so well. I wasn’t sure who my audience was yet.

TAKEAWAY #5: Another important milestone. SBI! talks about the importance of creating a thumbnail profile of who your audience is, and leads you through the process. Knowing your audience helps you target content and monetization plans. If you don’t get it right at first, you will as you dig further into your business…

There was talk about creating our own products in the SBI! forums so I decided to give it a try. I wrote my first e-book called “Wedding Cakes With Lorelie, Step by Step” and started talking to my customers. That is when I got to know who my followers were.

Facebook and YouTube have also shaped some of the changes. I now have a private Facebook group exclusive to my customers. I currently sell a collection of my e-books and video through a sales page at the website. Utilizing my private group as a draw to become a customer makes selling my products easier.

TAKEAWAY #6: The key principle of monetization?

Maximize your $-per-visitor ratio.

SBI! Is constantly evolving, sometimes to include major new online trends, other times according to the needs of SBIers. Lorelie refers to the latter instance here, the need for reliable step-by-step information on creating your own products, both e-goods and hard goods. One section of SBI!’s resources, called Make It!, enables the totally unknowledgeable to conceive, source, market, sell, ship and support hard goods (yes, we know how impossible that sounds!).

Lorelie followed the other direction, creating her own e-books, which she sells via her site. She also started a private Facebook group to build deeper relationships with her visitors. This helps her in two ways: she sells more of her products (the group members get to know her as a trustworthy expert) and she learns more about her ideal customer (which gives her ideas for new products or services).

There is a great deal of room for growth here (e.g., selling them as Kindle books through Amazon). Needless to say, the $-per-visitor ratio soars when you are in total control of your monetization models.  

Lorelie's eBook Package
Lorelie’s collection of e-books, which she sells on her site.

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?

I don’t hold back when it comes to content. It’s easy to come by because whenever I bake a cake, that becomes the content. With one cake, I can produce many tutorials.

For example, a new recipe, a technique section and a fun fast-motion video. The videos, photos and text can be used to build a new page at the website and shared on YouTube, Facebook, and Pinterest. All of this can then be made into a published paper or digital book in the future.

TAKEAWAY #7: Excellent advice from Lorelie! Repurpose your content. Present it in different formats: video, audio, images with text, or a slide show. Combine several pieces of content into a free PDF download or a paid e-book. And, of course, share your new content to the appropriate social media channels.

Think about it this way….

  1. Create a tremendous, high-value web page, an excellent base for success. A single page, though, can take you hours (if you want it to be standout content).
  2. Leverage that by reformatting? Yes! Each repurposing delivers the same material in a new format to a new audience.
  3. Market all that content through social media? Now you’re cooking! This all-in approach multiplies the reach of your initial work and improves search rankings by creating off-site signals for Google.

When I started my online business, I used Brainstorm It! to discover what keywords people were using to search online about cakes. Brainstorm It! is indispensable as a tool for creating keyword-focused pages that are being found at Google and other search engines. I still use it almost exclusively for researching and adding new keywords.

TAKEAWAY #8: Some misinterpret this important technique as being mechanical or a manipulative type of search engine optimization (SEO), not understanding its power.  “Keywords” are the words that people use to search at Google and other engines. Brainstorm It! tells you…

  • which keywords (that are related to your niche) people search for
  • how often they search for each term
  • how many other pages there are about that topic, and
  • what the commercial value of those terms is.

You are in the business of delivering content that people want. SBI! not only finds way more search terms that you could ever think up, it applies classic supply-and-demand to point out what topics you should write about. It also has several other useful functions, such as helping you choose the best niche possible and structuring your content optimally.

Over time I’ve also learned what my customers want by the questions they ask. My private Facebook group is a treasure trove for information about my customer’s needs and wishes. Many of my visitors find Wedding Cakes For You while searching for wedding cake recipes. Some come through an ad on Facebook and others, through my YouTube channel.

TAKEAWAY #9: Be obsessed with what your customer wants/needs to know. Another tool, Search It!, contains over 100 advanced searches, including several other ways to brainstorm new keywords (which you’ll insert into Brainstorm It!’s Master Keyword List).

The information I post comes from my own experiences with cakes. I reference my collection of recipe books if I first don’t know the answer.

TAKEAWAY #10: Lorelie is loading you up with strong takeaways! Writing from experience has the “been there, done that” voice that can’t be faked. The details and stories separate you from those who just regurgitate info from other sites. You shine as the real deal.

On the other hand, no one knows all there is to know about their niche. Supplementing your experience-based knowledge by pulling together the best information from third parties (books or websites)…

  1. Rounds out your coverage of a topic nicely.
  2. Provides a strong value-add when you pull together unique bits from a variety of sources. Don’t copy, of course — blend it into your site in your own words.
Winter Cake Design - Gorgeous!
Winter Cake Design – Gorgeous!

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

I’ve put a lead magnet together, which is a free offer to get people to sign up for my newsletter. I placed a link to the free offer on my Facebook page, YouTube and on the website. This takes them to one of my sales funnels. They receive a series of automated emails every week or two with links to more high quality free content. Two of those emails contain a soft sell to join the private Facebook group by becoming a customer. The package sells for $34.99.

YouTube is a natural sales funnel and allows me to insert links to take my viewer to my sales page. The description box under the video is another opportunity to add information.

I’ve also used Facebook ads to grow sales and increase exposure to new people.

TAKEAWAY #11: To sell a product or service, you have to reach a potential customer repeatedly. It’s highly unlikely that a person visits your site and purchases on her first visit. How do you achieve repeated exposure? You invite your visitors to follow you on social media, subscribe to your RSS feed and sign up to your newsletter.

Growing an email list is especially important, but don’t make it the only option. Different strokes for different folks — you’ll build the biggest following by letting folks subscribe to you in several different ways.

Lorelie offers a free download (aka “lead magnet”) as an incentive to join her list. Every subscriber then receives a series of automated emails (also called an autoresponder series) with a mix of free content and sales messages. If the concept of using an autoresponder is new to you, here’s a great article to get you started.

5. How many different revenue streams do you have? Which ones perform best?

I currently have four income streams. Here they are, in order of best performance…

  1. E-books: sales have doubled each year. Sales fluctuate during the year, but overall they keep increasing.
  2. Wedding cake orders: every year sales have increased as brides find me online. I don’t advertise to brides, and I take a limited number of orders.
  3. Google AdSense: which used to be a mainstay, has taken a dip recently by 50%. I will continue to use it because ups and downs are the nature of it.
  4. My Amazon Kindle book is being redone to match my book in print which went on the market in February 2017.

As a 5th income stream, I plan to create an online video course with beginner, intermediate and advanced classes. I currently take small live classes at my home. With a video course, I could teach far more people how to bake their dream cakes.

Book cover for the print on demand version
Cover for Lorelie’s “print on demand” version of her main e-book.

TAKEAWAY #12:  Lorelie has taken our mantra of “multiple streams of income” to heart. She uses a good mix of fully passive (AdSense), fully active (wedding cake orders, live courses) and in-between (e-books, online video course) monetization models.

Part of SBI!’s business-building education is to plan the various ways to monetize your niche. You do this on two levels…

  1. Evaluation. When you research your niche, assess its income potential. You must be able to earn enough to meet your goals. If not, adjust your niche or change completely!
  1. Execution. When traffic comes in, know how to monetize it. Typically, start with one main income stream and add others as your business develops.

We generally recommend leaving AdSense when folks have more time for higher paying models. Its payments have been decreasing over the years.

We’ll also leave a piece of advice for Lorelie here. When you have too much demand (in this case, for her physical cakes) and not enough supply (can’t make enough), either…

  • train others to help you with baking the cakes, or
  • steadily increase the price until supply = demand. You work the same amount, but generate more income.

Depending on how you position your business (e.g., “high-end snobby prestige”), a high price can even become part of the whole luxury cachet.

Congrats to Lorelie on growing income in so many ways. There’s a second bonus to this. SBI! businesses have equity, which means they can (and have been) sold for multiples of income. We explain how to determine the valuation and how to sell a business.

Having multiple streams of growing income would command a generous multiple for the right business (usually a bigger one that wants an instant presence in the same niche. They know that they can use their own “oomph” to further leverage the business).

6. You’ve been featured on popular blogs and publications like “Strictly Weddings,” “Wedding Chicks” and the “MetDaan Magazine.” How did they find you, and what impact has it had on your business?

MetDaan Cakes Magazine found me on YouTube. They post a constant stream of cake videos. With their over two million Facebook followers, you can imagine how this increases exposure for the video creators.

When they reached out to ask permission to use mine, I was beyond thrilled. Every time they post my videos I see a surge of new followers, subscribers and people in my funnel. It’s no wonder when you look at the stats.

For example, my buttercream recipe video had 502,378 views, 8.7K Reactions, 3,720 shares and 184 comments just one week after posting. Wow! The video share includes a link to my Facebook Page and to the full tutorial on YouTube. This type of exposure helps my business immensely. I’m glad I have those sales funnels in place.

Style photo shoots are a creative way for vendors to have their product featured on a major wedding blog. I was asked to take part in one last year. They found my SBI! site through a Google search for wedding cake designers. The vendors donate their creative services in exchange for a major blog publication. We also have permission to use all the professional photos with credits. I have done three such photo shoots with this same group of vendors.

These collaborations have encouraged me to develop new ideas and work on cake decorating techniques. Having access to professional photos makes these events worth my time. Top that off with major blog publications linking back to my website’s brides’ gallery. That’s the icing on the cake!

Style photo shoot for the "Strictly Weddings" blog. Lorelie made the 6 individual cakes in jewel tones, one for each bride.
Style photo shoot for the “Strictly Weddings” blog. Lorelie made the 6 individual cakes in jewel tones, one for each bride.

TAKEAWAY #13:

One of the biggest but little-known ways to get major league PR is not to follow the advice in expensive “how to get PR” books. Editors are just too busy to respond to the various approaches suggested. Instead…

Get found!

Think about it this way. All media research stories. When they research wedding cakes, you want them to find you. You want to stand out.  If this sounds familiar to those who follow us at Solo Build It!, you’re right! That’s exactly what SBI! enables folks to do. There are countless SBI! examples of this type of success — here are a few more (Oprah is the ultimate!).

The type of media recognition that Lorelie receives with her online business is priceless. The exposure is massive and the value is ongoing…

  1. Be ready to turn as many visitors from that short-term surge into long-time followers, and ultimately, customers.
  2. Add an “As seen in ______” image to your site for yet more social proof that you are a credible player in your field.

How did Lorelie get this far? By following SBI!’s core principles, such as “keep it real” and “OVERdeliver.” Lorelie created outstanding content in her unique voice, which grew both search (including YouTube, the second most important search engine) and social traffic, becoming an authority in her niche, aka “The Cake Fairy.”

Standing out is perhaps the most important way to succeed online. Stand out in site content, in social media, in how you treat your customers, etc. You can’t help but win if you put in that effort. That’s when you get on the radar of the big publications in your industry.

If you missed the link earlier, SBIers have even been featured at Oprah’s or other mainstream media. Check it out, just for fun.

7. You have 15,000 subscribers and 3 million views on YouTube. Congrats! What are your tips for growing a successful YouTube channel? And how does YouTube help you with promoting your business?

There are many ways to make YouTube work for a business 24/7. Answering my visitors’ questions in the form of a tutorial is how I use it to promote mine. YouTube makes it easy to add links to your web pages by inserting cards, annotations and end screens.

I add more keyword-rich information to the description box under each video along with a link to my free offer. The videos are embedded into my website on relevant pages where a link back to YouTube is placed. YouTube rolls out new ways to promote yourself as your channel grows.

Like other social channels, it needs to be fed on a regular basis, and I lost momentum more than once. I had been stuck for a while when I discovered James Wedmore (YouTube Guru) and began implementing his tactics. He taught me (in his free videos) how to make better videos. He gained my trust, and I eventually bought his Video ROI program. One of the best decisions I made.

SBI! taught me to over-deliver content, and James reiterated that in his teachings. Free information is everywhere. If you are helpful and people connect with you in some way, they will follow and maybe even become a customer. The good word will begin to spread the more people you help.

Here are my tips for growing a successful YouTube channel:

  • See what others are doing in your niche. You can learn from the people who are already creating.
  • Research keywords just like you would do for a website and pick the ones you can make videos out of. It’s easy to do on YouTube. Start typing in a keyword. YouTube will show you the most popular searches around that term. This will give you all kinds of titles for your next tutorial. You can even use the keywords that your competitors are using already. Do a little friendly spying and discover the possibilities.
  • Answer questions with your videos. Your visitors will let you know what they want as your site grows.
  • Realize that it takes time to grow and develop. This is a long-term commitment. Remember the Tortoise.
  • Don’t try to be perfect; people want to see the real you.
  • Make slideshows to illustrate your points if you’re camera shy.
  • I recommend these tools to get started making good quality videos.
    • iPhone or camera
    • Tripod
    • Light Source
    • Backdrop or setting behind you
    • Lavalier microphone
    • Movie Maker or other editing program (I use the free version)

Just start creating and have fun. Don’t overthink it. You will figure things out as you go. And there is plenty of information on the internet to help, if you get stuck along the way.

TAKEAWAY #14: Honestly, we have nothing to add. SBI! takes you to a basic level of proficiency in each of the major social media. We are currently developing comprehensive “Action Guides” (just like we have for SBI!) to help people become even more proficient at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest (the Action Guide approach really works well).

Lorelie has started you off with some truly invaluable info, straight from a successful YouTuber’s mouth. Many thanks for that, Lorelie!

8. How many hours per week do you put into your online business? Are you the only person, or do you have help?

I don’t track my hours, but right now it is full-time. I love what I do and am committed. I’m happiest when learning new things and growing. And that is what this is all about for me anyway.

I am the only person currently working on Wedding Cakes For You, and I realize that I will need to hire help at some point. It’s getting closer to that every day. I do have a few mentors behind the scenes who have been very generous in their support and quite invaluable to me. Without them I don’t know if I would have been able to continue.

TAKEAWAY #15: As a solopreneur, you’re running your business mostly as a one (wo)man show. But there comes a point where you need help to take your business to the next level. When you arrive at that point, SBI! starts you off with a fundamental question…

Don’t lose track of your original goals. Which way will you be happiest?

  1. Continuing as a solopreneur? If so, recognize that your hours are limited and relax. You simply can’t grab every good opportunity. Prioritize and stick to your original goals.
  2. Growing into a bigger business, which means managing people. Some folks become very unhappy because it means negotiating, following up, etc.

As long as you recognize who you are and what you want, you can’t make a wrong decision. But it’s important to think about this transition properly. If you do want to grow bigger, you need to “add hours” — that can mean simple outsourcing on an “as needed” basis, hiring part-timers or even full-time employees.

SBI! teaches you what you need to know, not just about outsourcing and partnerships but about using colleagues, friends and family to test out ideas, broaden your perspective and grow your business well beyond what may have been more limited goals.

Lorelie's work-at-home office.
Lorelie’s work-at-home office.

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

Organization. I have had to become more organized. I was overwhelmed often because I didn’t plan well in the past. Simply having an outline for the year in my calendar helps tremendously to keep focused and to help me relax. I will continue to work on that.

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

Freedom. I have four young grandchildren, and I can take a day off if I’m needed to help out. I can stop and go for a walk anytime I need a breath of fresh air. I get to do what I love and share it with the world, at the same time inspiring and helping others.

Lorelie with her grandson Nolan.
Lorelie with her grandson Nolan.

It’s a dream come true.

My husband and I enjoy delivering wedding cakes together. It usually takes us to new places to explore. We make a day of it whenever possible. It’s a nice reward after a long week of baking, decorating and delivering cakes.

I plan on continuing this work into our retirement years. The website will act more as a passive income generator. I hope to pass it down to one of our children or grandchildren someday. Time will tell, and I am truly enjoying the journey, no matter where it leads.

TAKEAWAY #16: “Freedom” — our favorite word. It’s the one answer we hear most. Many SBIers equate solopreneurship with personal freedom. No wonder! You do what you love. You work when and where it suits your lifestyle best. What’s not to love about that?

Achieving this kind of personal and financial freedom with an online business is not easy. Run from anyone selling “make money easy.”  If it were easy, everyone would be rich.

Only the “Get Rich Quick” con men get rich. And even that is hard work.

So what does SBI! do? We make it doable. The Action Guide breaks a huge challenge, growing your own business from scratch, into 10 major stages (we call them “DAYs” — metaphorically). Each of those is broken down into a series of step-by-step tasks. Now here’s the key point…

Each step is doable. So each task is doable. That makes each DAY doable. And that makes the whole business-building process doable.

It takes “BAM,” and it doesn’t happen overnight. It requires dedication and persistence. What we do know, though, is this: if you follow the SBI! process and bring BAM to the table, you’ll become as successful as Lorelie and the many other online business owners we talked to.

Well-done, Lorelie! We hope the grandchildren turn the business into a Carvey tradition!

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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.

Lorelie Carvey
Lorelie Carvey is the creator and author of the website wedding-cakes-for-you.com. Carvey teaches cake decorating, baking, and creates delicious cake and pastry recipes. In 1985 Carvey first fell in love with cakes as chef at a French bakery in California and currently works out of her hometown in Connecticut. She is a Connecticut Chef’s Association award-winning cake decorator and author of Wedding Cakes With Lorelie Step by Step.
  • This is a wonderful article with some really stunning pics and great lessons to take away! Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Lorelie. Your cakes are a-maz-ing!

    • Lorelie Carvey

      Thank you Cath from the bottom of my heart. You have been a great inspiration to me and have helped me more than you know with your sage advice. So glad to have found SBI and you.:-)

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