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

From Online To Offline – How To Be Profitable From Day One

Written By: Melissa Makris in Real-Life Success Lessons!, Success Stories | September 6, 2017

From Online To Offline - How To Be Profitable From Day One

An offline business is a large risk with big upfront expenditures and a small safety net. I feel like my online business with SBI! provided the training wheels necessary to turn this big move from a dream into a reality.

In July 2015, when we first spoke with Melissa, she and her husband had just launched their brick-and-mortar business. Now, only 2 years later, they have four full-time employees and still have to turn customers away from their massage therapy clinic, Relax Blacksburg.

They also recently purchased the premises that they had been renting, one full year earlier than planned.

Melissa attributes their offline success in large part to the education and experience she gained with her Solo Build It! online business, which she had started in 2008.

Let’s hear from Melissa herself…

The First Steps With Our Offline Business

In July of 2015, SiteSell had asked me to share my SBI! story. It was great timing, as my husband, Brian, and I had just taken the biggest risk of our lives – opening our brick-and-mortar business, Relax Blacksburg.

We had started the process that April, and officially opened our doors to the public on July 1, 2015. Since that time our lives have been a whirlwind of excitement, aspiration, and intense determination.

I first shared an update in the SBI! forums in April, 2016.

Official opening of the "Relax Blacksburg" clinic, with Blacksburg's Mayor cutting the ribbon.
Official opening of the “Relax Blacksburg” clinic, with Blacksburg’s Mayor cutting the ribbon.

Two Years Later — So Proud of Our Achievements

Now we have over two years under our belt. Everyone says the first two years of a business are the hardest for those on their first business venture. Well, thanks to SBI!, it has been a real joy.  A lot of really hard work, but still a joy.

Brian works full time as a massage therapist and takes care of the day-to-day operations. I still have my full-time job at Virginia Tech, but I handle our website, social media, marketing, advertising, product development, and business management. It is a tremendous amount of work, but I find it very rewarding.

We currently have four full-time employees. We are proud to offer them great pay, full health and dental benefits, three weeks paid time off, paid continuing education, and more. It is quite fulfilling to see that our hard work is helping them improve their lives as well as our own.  Especially since these benefits are unheard of in the massage field.

TAKEAWAY #1: Melissa highlights one aspect of being a business owner that you may not think about when you get started. When your business grows to a certain size, you’ll most likely need help to grow it even further. By giving employment or freelance work to others, you impact their lives positively.

Instead of having a boss, you become the boss for others. Use your new powers wisely, as Melissa and Brian do.

We also just recently purchased the business property that we had been renting since we opened. We were expecting to have to jump through a lot of hoops to get financed (since our business was so new), but it was a snap and the whole process went quickly.

Just 2 years after launching their massage therapy business. Melissa and Brian were able to purchase this beautiful property.
Just 2 years after launching their massage therapy business. Melissa and Brian were able to purchase this beautiful property.

We went from preapproved to business property owners in just six weeks! This brings a whole new level of security to us and our employees as we now own the property. We still find it hard to believe that this major milestone only took us two years to accomplish!

We have SBI! to thank for this.

Sure, we put in a lot of BAM , but the Action Guide showed us the way. Brian dreamed of owning his own spa since before we met in 2000. I always dreamed of having my own business. I honestly do not think we would have realized these dreams if I hadn’t stumbled across SBI! in 2008.

We are ever grateful to Ken Evoy and the team behind Solo Build It! for putting out such an amazing product! Not only are we fulfilling our dreams and building wealth, we are doing it by helping people relax and find relief from pain. I don’t know what could be better than that!

TAKEAWAY #2: The combination of BAM and the SBI! Action Guide… it’s like a magic potion for business success, both online and “in the real world.” What do we mean by BAM ? It’s short for…

  • Brain – you have experience/knowledge in a field that others would want (like “options trading” or “raising exotic turtles”)
  • Attitude – you have a positive attitude/ability to bounce back, and
  • Motivation – you persist, hanging in until you win.

Read more on BAM here.

Brian and Melissa have BAM in spades. They applied what they had learned about building a business online to the offline world, making their therapy clinic a success from the get-go. How exactly did they do this?

That’s what we’re about to find out…

1. How did building an online business with SBI! prepare you for launching your brick-and-mortar business?

My online business provided the training wheels for our brick-and-mortar business. The Action Guide taught me how to develop a profitable, high-traffic website at my own pace with no real risk.

The experience I gained during those seven years gave me the confidence to jump when an unexpected opportunity arose. The massage therapy school that Brian attended in 2014 went out of business in 2015, allowing us the opportunity to rent their space. It was on Main Street, highly visible and a great location. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to start our brick-and-mortar business.

Even though I had no experience running a local business, I felt confident enough that I could create a website that would bring clients to us. Customer acquisition is critical for a new business and is often a stumbling block for new entrepreneurs.

With all of my experience from SBI!, we started bringing in new clients our first month!  Even with five full-time therapists now, we still have to turn quite a few people away every week because our therapists’ schedules are already full.

In the beginning, over 90% of our new clients were acquired online. Now it is around 50%, as we have a lot of referrals from clients and medical professionals. That is still a tremendous amount as we see around 400 clients a month!

That is the power of SBI! when you apply it to offline businesses.

 Online Booking on <a target="_blank" href="http://www.relaxblacksburg.com">www.RelaxBlacksburg.com</a>. In the beginning, Melissa and Brian got 90% of their clients from their website. Now it's still a whopping 50%.

Online Booking on www.RelaxBlacksburg.com. In the beginning, Melissa and Brian got 90% of their clients from their website. Now it’s still a whopping 50%.

 

TAKEAWAY #3: As a local business owner, your website’s primary goal is to bring more people to your bricks-and-mortar location to purchase your goods or services. Done right, this can be extremely effective, as Melissa and Brian’s example shows.

Check out our 7 part article series to learn more about how to take your local offline business online.

In a nutshell, these are the four things you need to do:

  1. Learn what keywords people use to search online for your product or service and discover how much competition you have. Your goal here is to find a niche for your business that’s in demand by searchers, has low competition, and reflects what your business provides.
  2. Build a website that includes the keywords people are using, especially your town or city name, and perhaps your region or state/province, in your page content. For example, one best practice is to place your mailing address, postal/zip code and phone number at the bottom of every page of your site or in your footer. The search engines will pick up that information and show your pages when someone searches for your locale.
  3. Build your business’s online credibility by promptly answering questions and/or providing advice, especially on social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and Google My Business.
  4. Keep your website visitors coming back to your site, and your store, with a regular newsletter. Provide an incentive for your visitors to sign up for your newsletter, e.g., by offering exclusive discounts and deals for subscribers only.

2. You promote your therapy practice online at www.RelaxBlackburg.com. What do you see as the main differences between building a website for an offline business and one that operates solely online?

Online businesses generally need a tremendous amount of content to rank well and attract a lot of traffic to make a good profit.

Offline businesses don’t need a lot of traffic or content to do well if they can convert their visitors into customers. According to Google Analytics, we average a paltry 56 visitors a day. Yet they are almost all local, targeted visitors. We currently have 48 pages on our site. Admittedly, this is much more than most small businesses need, but, hey, I’m wordy.

The thing to remember is local search is still pretty easy to win. Build a website that creates trust, follow the Action Guide, implement SBI!’s “Local Business Reference Series” and watch the customers come in!

You’ll leave your competition in the dust, scratching their heads wondering how you did it.

TAKEAWAY #4: As a local business owner, you have the huge advantage that your local competitors either don’t have a website at all, or have one that doesn’t get found.

When you follow the SBI! Action Guide to build the web presence for your offline business, chances are high that you “leave your competition in the dust.”

A local business site doesn’t need as much content as a pure online business, for two reasons:

  • It’s easier to rank highly in local searches than in global searches, for the same term.
  • You don’t need as much traffic as an informational site, as your profit potential per visitor is much higher.

3. How important is having a social media presence for your practice? Which platforms do you use and why?

We use Facebook, Twitter and Google+ mainly. We also have accounts on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and LinkedIn.

It’s a great way to keep current clients updated on what we offer and draw past clients back in.
However, we primarily use social media as an additional way to develop trust with potential new clients. This is critical for us as a massage therapy business since some “businesses” that claim to provide massage are actually a front for prostitution.

Potential clients need to be sure that we are a reputable business. Our presence on social media, as well as all of our reviews on those sites, helps develop a level of trust that we couldn’t create with just our website alone.

TAKEAWAY #5: Socializing is the networking part of business, the relationship-building. You lay the foundation with your excellent site content. From there, you grow “like and trust” with good social marketing.

Building an engaged following on at least one social channel is an important part of Solo Build It!’s concept of PREselling. The more your audience and prospective customers get to “know” you, the more they will do business with you.

4. What are your three top tips for someone who wants to launch a brick-and-mortar business?

Research your niche

To say that a lot of planning needs to go into an offline business launch is an understatement. Here are just a few of the questions you need to answer:

  • Do you have a product or service that people want? Are you sure?
  • What are they willing to pay for it?
  • How many competitors do you have?
  • How will you be different from your competitors?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals?
  • Do you have what it takes to be your own boss?

You have to get these things right to ensure a stable foundation for your business. Your local branch of the Small Business Association or Chamber of Commerce can be very helpful in checking to see if you have thought everything through before large sums of money get into the equation.

   
Manage cash flow

Cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Many businesses fail because they underestimated expenses, overestimated profits, or both. Make sure you have a plan to deal with any slow periods. Keep expenses as low as possible, as it’s easy for them to quickly get out of control.

    
Get professional help

Admit up front that you won’t be able to know everything about running your business. Using the services of an experienced lawyer and knowledgeable accountant has been instrumental to our success.

The amount of money we’ve saved from having them is well more than the cost of using their services.

TAKEAWAY #6: Three excellent tips from Melissa. The first one — research your niche — is equally important whether you plan to launch an online business or a brick-and-mortar one. That’s why the first 5 DAYs of the SBI! Action Guide are dedicated to research and planning.

A lot of the exercises you’ll go through can easily be applied to an offline business. A good example is finding out who your “ideal customer” is (aka defining the so-called “customer persona”).

Most “gurus” will tell you to create a demographic customer profile: gender, age, location, culture, number of children / grandchildren, disposable income. All of which is important. It will inform the way you position your product or service.

While audience demographics are important, they’re not the most critical part of learning who your ideal customer is.

The most critical issue is what they’re looking for when they visit your website, store or service business.

Finding out is a three step process.

Step 1: Identify the problems, needs or desires your potential audience has. Which solutions have they tried before they reached you?

Step 2: Ask yourself “Why me? Why my product?” Why should they choose you, and not one of your competitors? What solutions can you offer that make you stand out from the rest?

Step 3: Solve their problems! Meet their needs! Position yourself so that they want to come back to visit time and again. Think of your product — whether that’s high quality information, a physical product or a service – not as a product, but as a way of ensuring customer satisfaction at any point in their journey.

Learn more about “cracking the ideal customer code” in this article.  

 

Melissa and Brian proudly presenting their "Relax Blacksburg" clinic.
Melissa and Brian proudly presenting their “Relax Blacksburg” clinic.

5. I believe you sold www.approachwellness.com (your first SBI! site and online business). How did you go about this (find a buyer, negotiate a price, etc.)?

I sold my first SBI! site in January of 2016. Once we launched our offline business, I quickly realized I had no time for it. It still made a good amount of passive income, and the money we received from the sale helped us quite a bit, as we were putting all of our profits back into the business.

I was a little torn about selling it, but it was the right decision. I had had the site since early 2008 and it was time for a new owner to take it in a new direction.

When I was ready, I simply posted it for sale in the SBI! forums and it sold for my full asking price in less than a month!  It sold to another SBIer, so transitioning the site was a snap.

TAKEAWAY #7: The value of any business is measured in two ways…

1) Income: This is what everyone thinks about when they start an online business. But if this is all you think about, then all you have done is created a job for yourself. That’s OK, but there’s so much more to being a business owner. That brings us to…

2) Equity: A well-built business takes on a value that others will pay for, should you ever decide to sell it. Whether you re-invest the money from the sale into a new business venture, like Melissa did, or use it to fund a trip around the world, is entirely up to you.

When the time comes and you are ready to sell your online business, we are here to help; you’ll have access to an article series that explain the ins and outs of selling your business as well as a dedicated forum section where you can offer your website to fellow SBI! members.

6. What are your plans for “Relax Blacksburg” for the next year and beyond?

We had planned to try to purchase our commercial property in the third year of our business.  Since we achieved that a year ahead of schedule, we will be taking a much-needed breather.  We will simply continue to focus on providing high-end massage therapy services in the New River Valley.

We are considering purchasing another property to expand the business, but first we would like to take the next year or two to find and buy our dream home.

We’re still amazed at how far we’ve come so quickly! We have SBI! to thank for that!

TAKEAWAY #8: We feel honored to have been part of this solopreneur turned entrepreneur couple’s achievements. Melissa’s ability to juggle a full-time job (which she still holds) with building an online business and launching an offline business amazed us even during her first interview. She’s definitely a master of efficiency and uses her time where it counts most.

We have been helping solopreneurs build their businesses since 1997. It took us a while to realize it, but one of the most important things that’s included in Solo Build It! is…

⏳TIME⏳

Every solopreneur is, by definition, time-limited. Every aspect of SBI! is about assuring that you invest every last second into the most meaningful business-building task. Couple this with passion and perseverance, and you’ll amaze yourself with what you can achieve.

Do you have what it takes to succeed as a business owner? Take the first step now and find out.

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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.

Melissa Makris
Melissa Makris is the creator of RelaxBlacksburg.com. After getting her feet wet with a successful online business in the natural health niche, she and her husband Brian launched their massage therapy clinic "Relax Blacksburg." Due to their prior online business experience, they managed to make their brick-and-mortar business profitable from day one. Melissa also still has a full time career managing a specialized core research laboratory. In her spare time she enjoys sewing, nature activities, gardening, raising chickens, and woodworking.

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