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How This Online Business Pioneer SCORED Big After 8 Years of Struggle

Written By: Doug Lee in Real-Life Success Lessons!, Success Stories | October 18, 2017

How this Online Business Pioneer SCORED Big After 8 Years of Struggle

I love to witness how these everyday people keep fighting for a better life. They inspire me to press through when I need a little motivation myself.

Doug Lee loves a good challenge. When the Internet came around, he was so fascinated that he could meet people in a virtual world that he started an online dating site.

A tech-savvy friend built him a fantastic looking website. Surely, it would only be a matter of time until his customers came pouring in. Eight long years later, Doug’s dating site was still not getting anywhere.

Doug wasn’t going to give up. Instead, he sought help at an organization called SCORE. From then on, the tide changed. Today, Doug is not only a successful solopreneur himself, he helps other people do the same.

Intrigued how he did it? Read on and hear the story from the man himself.

1. Doug, you have a long history in the online business world. Before finding Solo Build It! 10 years ago, you had already learned some hard lessons in failure. Can you tell us more about that?

I began dabbling with the “web” as it was called in those days along with online business in 1997. I was so intrigued that I could meet people on the internet, I started an online dating website.

I actually met my wife online in 2000. This was at a time when people thought meeting someone on the internet was a crazy thing to do. However, I’m a chance taker, and knew it was no different than meeting someone through a traditional setting.

I must admit that I grew frustrated, because I had already met two other ladies online, but nothing came of it. I had three personal profiles on three different dating sites and deleted two of them.

Before I could take the third profile down, I received a wonderful email from the lady who would become my wife. One of the things she said was “I know you live an hour away, so if you’d like to call me you can call collect.” Wow, this must be a wonderful person to make such an offer, I thought to myself. Long story short, I did call my wife to be (not collect). We met and the rest is history!

Back then, most dating sites were free to join. With my own dating site, I chose a different route. The type of service I provided was very niche-oriented and only for a small group of people, to whom I sold membership packages.

I didn’t know anything about website design in those early years. Luckily I had a childhood friend who had an incredible talent for creating dynamic-looking sites. He designed a beautiful site for my dating venture. I sold some memberships. I would get very excited when a sale would come, but it was always short-lived.

Dating Site V2
Doug’s first venture into the online business world. Remember, this was in 1997, 20 year ago. For that time, this was state-of-the-art website design.

I mention this, because when the site sold a membership package, it could be several months before the next sale would come through. I would check my email several times every day hoping for a sale, because I really needed the cash.

What I didn’t know back then was that a website needed to have lots of targeted traffic to ultimately become a success. Yes, the site looked fantastic, but looks don’t equal sales.

Unfortunately, I ended up traveling down the road of low traffic and struggling to succeed for eight long years, before the tide would turn.

Although my dating website didn’t succeed, I hit the jackpot when I met my wife online!

TAKEAWAY #1: “Looks don’t equal sales.” Doug learned this profound online business lesson the hard way. You may have the most stunning looking website, but if no one finds it, what’s the point?

Doug goes on to say that you need to have a lot of targeted traffic (i.e., visitors interested in what you have to offer) to become successful. Correct. Traffic is the “lifeblood” of any online business. So, how do you generate all that traffic?

With high quality, unique and well written content. Fine, you say, but how do I know what content to write? Great question! You’ll know because when you follow the SBI! Action Guide, you will spend the first 5 DAYs (one DAY can be a few hours, a week, or a few months) researching and planning your online business.

This includes keyword research, building a “content blueprint,” creating a customer thumbnail, selecting your design, deciding about the best domain name, and much more.

Doug didn’t have all that guidance. Solo Build It! didn’t even exist back then. But hey, his “dabbling on the Web” brought him a lot of “street” experience and his wife. That’s a pretty big step forward. Let’s hear from Doug what happened next…

2. Your turning point came when an organization called SCORE recommended SBI! to you and your wife. What does SCORE do and why did they suggest that you build your online business with SBI!?

In 2007, after many years of failing with the dating site, I wanted to give the whole online business idea another try. But this time, I opted to receive professional advice before getting started.

SCORE is an organization that offers free business advice to small-business owners and up and coming entrepreneurs. They also offer a variety of seminars, training workshops and webinars.

My wife and I wanted to ensure we were going in the right direction this time, so we sat down with a SCORE mentor in our local area. During our session, I inquired about getting a business loan to have a website designed.

My SCORE mentor gave me a piece of advice that would change my life forever.

She said before you pay thousands of dollars for a website, I want you to check out a company called SiteSell. She mentioned their flagship product Solo Build It! (SBI!), an all-in-one system of tools, training and support that would teach me how to build a successful business online.

My only regret was waiting three weeks before watching the SBI! video tour. When I finally viewed the 30 minute video, I was blown away and couldn’t wait to get started.

As I recall, our SCORE mentor had previously worked with another client who had a great experience using Solo Build It!. I am so grateful that my SCORE mentor recommended SBI! to me and led me down the right path 10 years ago.

I’m also honored to have become a recent SCORE success story! It’s been a life changing journey I’m still traveling to this very day!  

The great thing about SCORE is they offer free business mentorship through both their local chapters and online!

TAKEAWAY #2: There’s no shame in making mistakes as long as you learn from them. Doug approached his second business attempt differently. He didn’t simply jump into a new idea. He sought professional advice.

Fortunately, for Doug and his wife, his SCORE mentor recommended SBI! to them. SBI! is, hands down, the best way to generate income and build equity through an online business you can be proud of.

Don’t take our word for it. There’s plenty of proof from “everyday people” just like you. They realized their dreams of personal and financial freedom by building an online business with SBI!. The best part? They love what they do.

3. You then went on to build two niche businesses with child-related topics, which you later sold. How successful were these businesses and why did you decide to sell them?

My wife and I started two websites between 2007 and 2008. I don’t recommend working on two sites at the same time as we did. Although SBI! is the best way to get started, building an online business requires hard work.

Having said that, my wife and I were a great tag-team duo and we made it work. Our son was two years old at the time. We would drop him off at preschool and hurry home to work on our businesses. The short preschool day was less than three hours, so we only had a limited amount of time to work kid-free.

My wife created a toddler niche site for mothers with small children. My site was for parents having child support and visitation issues. Both sites generated a decent monthly income that greatly helped our family. At one point, the income from Google Adsense alone had gotten up to almost $800 per month. In addition, we sold an e-book and made money through affiliate marketing.

Both our niches lent themselves well to visitor questions. SBI! has a fantastic tool called Content 2.0  to manage and respond to visitor questions. Each question and its answer generates a new content page, where you can even add images or embed a video. Other visitors can comment on that page, so it becomes interactive.

Between our two sites, we received hundreds, if not thousands, of Content 2.0 submissions over the years.

About 5 or 6 years after creating our two child-related online businesses, we felt that it was time to let go and sell them. Our son JeNoah had grown out of the toddler stage and we had developed other business interests.

We sold both online businesses and made thousands of dollars. Still, letting them both go was bittersweet. Creating those sites was exciting. I cherish the years we spent working on them. We sold both businesses nearly five years ago, and they are still currently online.

I will admit that I do take a peek at them every now and then for old-times sake. It makes me smile. I am proud that our hard work and memories live on.

It’s funny, you know. I had been online since the late 90’s. So, in the back of my mind, I thought it was too late to start an online business in 2007. I am so glad I was wrong.

TAKEAWAY #3: Some great business lessons in here from Doug:

  1. Focus on one business at time. You wouldn’t launch a barber shop and a hardware store at the same time, would you? It seems easier online, as you don’t need to rent premises, buy inventory or hire people. But you still need to invest a lot of your most precious resource — your time.

    Doug and his wife worked together as a team and chose related niches, so they succeeded in creating two businesses at the same time. But if you’re just one person, stick to one business!

  2. Make it easy for your visitors to interact with and contribute to your site. At a minimum that means enabling commenting on your web pages, for example with Facebook’s commenting tool. Better yet, let your visitors contribute complete pages, either to ask questions or to share their story.

    SBI!’s Content 2.0 (“C2”) module is the perfect tool for this. For fellow SBI! member Steve Kazella, the thousands of visitor-generated C2 pages on his site played a major role in helping him grow his online business to a 7-figure income.

  3. Your online business, if built the right way, doesn’t just generate income. It builds equity, i.e., value that other people will pay top dollar for, should you decide to sell it (as Doug and his wife did).

4. Another milestone in your solopreneur career was winning the first prize in SBI!’s Offline Affiliate contest back in 2010. Can you share your top tips about affiliate marketing for people who may be considering this as a way of monetizing?

I started selling SBI! as an affiliate in 2007 shortly after getting started with my site. SBI!’s Affiliate program is a great opportunity and I immediately saw the income potential. As I worked on my online business, I would share SBI! with family and friends; over time, the sales started to trickle in.

I learned so much from the Solo Build It! Action Guide that I was able to launch an offline business helping small business owners and solopreneurs. I originally started off by charging a small consulting fee, educating business owners on how to expand their local reach online.

TAKEAWAY #4: More than once, the training and education you receive with SBI! has been compared to getting an M.B.A. degree (for a tiny fraction of the cost!). While the Action Guide is focused on building a business online, what you learn easily translates into the offline world.

Take Melissa Makris, for example. She and her husband launched a massage therapy practice and made it profitable from day one. She says…

“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…. With all of my experience from SBI!, we started bringing in new clients our first month!… That is the power of SBI! when you apply it to offline businesses.”

Read Melissa’s full story. Back over to Doug and his experience in the offline business world…

So, in addition to getting paid a consulting fee, I would also earn an affiliate commission when I sold SBI! to the business owner or entrepreneur. It was a great way to kill two birds with one stone!

Here’s a powerful true story that happened during a session. I was charging $20 per consultation, until one day a patent attorney utilized my services. At the end of the session, he told me he was skeptical to meet with me, because my fee was so inexpensive.

He said: “Doug, for the information you just presented, I would’ve happily paid at least $150 for your services.”

Can you guess what happened after this session? My prices went up, and I never looked back.

Doug's Desk
Doug uses his many years of experience as an online business owner to help small businesses expand their local reach online.
TAKEAWAY #5: Don’t sell yourself short. Make sure you deliver the best possible service, product or information to your client, and charge accordingly.

We repeatedly hear from SBIers that they feel uncomfortable asking for money. However, as long as you offer value for value, there’s nothing wrong with your visitors knowing that you make money, or with charging your clients an appropriate price.

If you follow the SBI! Content Traffic PREsell process, you’ll arrive at the monetization stage automatically. There’s no need for pushy sales strategies. Your visitors love what you have to offer. And your clients may even tell you that your fee is too low, as Doug’s story shows!

By 2010, I had worked my way up to selling more SBI! subscriptions, due to being hired to conduct seminars and workshops in my local area. I was selling so many subscriptions, I was contacted by Erin, SiteSell’s Affiliate Manager.

She informed me of SBI!’s Offline Affiliate Marketing Contest. The prize for first place was $2,500. I thought there was no way I could win. Nevertheless, I poured on the sales, and to my surprise, I won the contest!

Winning the Offline Affiliate Contest was a huge milestone for me. I’m telling you, receiving the $2,500 cash prize was amazing. I was overjoyed, sent my wife on vacation and even made a copy of the check!

So, here are my top tips for affiliate marketing:

  1. Pick great products and services to market and sell.
  2. If you’re in the business of helping others succeed online, I recommend signing up for the Solo Build It! Affiliate Program. SBI! and its sister product for WordPress (SBI! for WP) are the best in the business and the commission payouts are extremely high.
  3. Don’t be too pushy in your selling approach. Sales people “expect” you to buy, but good affiliate marketers have a different approach. They present excellent information in a manner where the end user will ultimately “want” to buy.
TAKEAWAY #6: Let’s expand a bit on Doug’s tip number 3. The approach he refers to is called “PREselling.”

It’s as important for affiliate marketing as it is for any other way of monetizing. Many affiliate marketers believe they can just put some banners and links up on their site, send their visitors directly to the affiliated merchant and voilá, the commission rolls in.

Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. Instead, you need to deliver customer-focused content around the product or service you’re recommending. You provide value on top of what your visitors may find on the merchant’s website. Your content answers their questions or concerns and gives them a better sense of why they might want or need that product.

PREselling through valuable content establishes credibility. Once you have that, your recommendations carry more weight. The difference in conversion rates between visitors who arrive PREsold to your merchant’s site via an in-context text link versus an out-of context banner can be as high as 20-fold.

5. Doug, it seems that your biggest passion is helping “everyday people” achieve success as online business owners. How do SBI! and SiteSell enable you to follow this passion?

It’s been a tremendous blessing working as a full-time sales person on the SBI! Advisor Team. When I speak with people locally about my profession, they’re amazed I have the flexibility of working from the comfort of my home.

I love what I do here at SiteSell. I’m extremely passionate about helping people understand how they can create a successful online business. Maybe it’s because so many of them remind me of myself. They are “everyday people” who have a dream, want to generate income and truly have a desire to succeed online.

These solopreneurs come from different ages, backgrounds and ethnic groups. They tell me how much they appreciate the time I spend talking about their individual situation and needs. With so many get rich quick scams and internet marketing schemes, it’s gratifying sharing the truth about online business as a whole.

There’s so much credibility behind SBI!. No other company provides the kind of proof that we do.

A lot of the people I talk to have tried and failed at succeeding online; that includes SBI! members. I’ve been told countless stories of previous SBIers who never got their online businesses off the ground.

Life got in the way. Sometimes it was health issues, a divorce or other challenges we all deal with. But the amazing thing is, these solopreneurs always find their way back “home.” They reach out again at a better time in their lives, ready to move forward.

I love to witness how these everyday people keep fighting for a better life. They inspire me to press through when I need a little motivation myself.  

Even my journey of becoming part of the SBI! Advisor Team wasn’t straightforward. After I won the 2010 Offline Affiliate Contest, I thought getting hired on the sales team would be a sure thing. However, it took two years of persistence, before I was finally brought on board.  

Persevering is the Solo Build It! way. I’m thankful SiteSell gave me the opportunity to help others succeed online!

TAKEAWAY #7: Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Your first attempt at building an online business failed? So what? It took Thomas Edison thousands of tries to get that lightbulb to work.

As he once famously said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

You have one huge advantage compared to Thomas Edison. You have SBI! by your side. With its proven process, integrated tools, helpful community and 24/7 support, you have the best chances to succeed. All you need to bring is perseverance and the will to succeed. We like to call it BAM: Brain, Attitude and Motivation.

What if you start and for whatever reason can’t continue building your business? Simply come back when you’re ready. We’ll be here for you. Just browse through the “Introduce Yourself” forum to see how many aspiring solopreneurs have returned to SBI!, sometimes after years of absence for a multitude of personal reasons.  

6. In your role as Solo Build It! Advisor, what are the top 3 concerns or questions you hear from the people who contact you?

From the many concerns I’ve heard over the years, these are the top 3:

Concern #1: How long does it take to build my website / online business?

What people really want to know when they ask this question is how long it takes to start making money from their online business.

I explain that there are many factors that influence how long it takes. Among others, It depends on how much time you can devote to your site and what niche you chose. I also remind them that they’re building a true online business and not just a website. This takes time and hard work.

I’m very honest in my consultations, which people seem to appreciate. Yes, it takes time and effort, but if you follow the SBI! Action Guide, you have the best chances of creating a successful business online.

TAKEAWAY #8: The key term in Doug’s advice above is “business.” When you realize that you’re building a business, and not just putting up a website, you’ll manage your expectations about how long it takes to become profitable.

There’s no instant gratification in the business world. Ideally, you have another form of income (e.g., via your “day” job) while you start your online business in your spare time.

Concern #2: What if I don’t have a topic that I’m passionate about?

I never allow anyone to “get off the hook” with this concern. Instead, I let them know that “everyone knows something about something.” This gets them thinking. By the end of our conversation, every single person comes up with at least one or two things they really are passionate about.

To this day, I find it amazing that so many of the people I talked to couldn’t think of a single passion before our conversation, and that I could help them uncover at least one.

TAKEAWAY #9: Finding your perfect business niche starts with making a list. Observe your daily life and write down everything that comes to mind… your skills, experiences, daily life activities, books and magazines you read, movies and TV shows you like to watch, topics you just can’t stop talking about, things that upset you or make you feel good.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a niche on your own, SBI! provides a tool (“Seed Generator”) that helps you do that, based on what you know.

Alternatively, talk to Doug. He’s renowned for not letting you “off the hook” until you’ve discovered your passion.

Concern #3: What if I don’t have a product to sell?

It’s a common misconception that you can only have an online business when you sell your own products. I explain that there are other ways to monetize, for example with advertising, affiliate marketing or referrals.

In fact, most SBIers start without their own products or services, and still generate income. To give the folks that contact me an idea about the various monetization methods, I like to show them our results page. There they can browse through 500 successful SBI! online businesses, in a wide variety of niches.

TAKEAWAY #10: When you research the business potential of your niche, SBI! provides you with a “monetization planner worksheet.” You’ll work your way through a number of monetization possibilities, from fully passive (contextual advertising, affiliate marketing) to fully active (creating and selling your own products or offering your own services).

For each monetization option, you’ll assess how feasible it is for your topic, interest and time availability.

Then you’ll pick your primary monetization model, which you’ll implement as soon as you have a certain number of pages and a steady stream of visitors.

When your primary monetization model is well underway, watch for opportunities to add secondary income streams. These, too, should be pre-planned. You should know the big picture of monetization in advance. The details and twists present themselves as you go.

7. And finally… With all that experience under your belt, what’s your best piece of advice for someone just starting a solopreneur career?

My best piece of advice for anyone starting a solopreneur career, would be to DO IT! Don’t allow fear or other negative thoughts to get in the way.

It’s been a wonderful 10 year journey for me and my family. It started with a simple but impactful recommendation from my mentor at SCORE. I’ve never looked back. I don’t have a college degree, nor did I further my education. I am a minority in the country where I reside.

My first online business didn’t work out as planned. But I just kept going; I was determined to succeed.

Now is a great time to start a rewarding solopreneur career. SBI! is bigger and better than ever. If a guy like me can create a successful online business, so can you!

What’s holding you back? I’d love to talk to you personally about how SBI! can help you succeed. Please reach out to me via question.sitesell.com.

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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.

Doug Lee
Doug Lee has had a sales and freelance entrepreneurial background since the early 90’s. He’s created successful websites and is also an online business consultant. In 2011, he completed the “Building a Successful Business Using the Internet” course and is a certified instructor through SiteSell Education. Doug has hosted online visibility seminars for the Urban League of Greater Cleveland and the Alliance Area Chamber of Commerce. His current website venture is MyOnePageSite.com. Doug takes pride in his role as a Solo Build It! Sales Advisor. He has a passion for helping solopreneurs succeed online, and he enjoys his friends, family and faith.
  • Susan Gast

    Well done Doug! Very inspiring. I too met my husband in 2000 on a dating site! We were married exactly one year later after meeting! Good luck with all you do ~ Susan

    • Doug

      Thanks, Susan. It looks like we met our Soulmates in the same year. Thanks for your kind words and I wish you much success too!

  • Awesome story Doug. Congratulations to you and your wife and to these many happy years with such a great outlook! ~Mary

    • Doug

      Mary, it’s a dream come true to finally share my story. I’m glad you enjoyed it and I sincerily appreciate your comments! Thanks ~ Doug

  • Thanks for sharing, Doug! This is so much more inspirational than any post on Instagram or Facebook. I’m so glad to hear you’re happy and getting to bring your family along every step of the way. I hope one day to share my story here as well 🙂 I’m curious about your next steps now – what are your next goals? If there was a Doug’s story, pt 2 in a couple years, what would you want your article to say? 🙂

    • Doug

      Wow, very powerful beginning statement, Edward. I’m so glad you were inspired and you also asked a fantastic question. I do have many goals for the near future. One I would say is to help establish partnerships with organizations like SCORE for an example. I want to work with institutions where we can assist each other by helping the client base we both serve. Another goal is to ramp up my SiteSell Affiliate engine again. Similar to my first goal, my 2nd goal is to find targeted situations, where I can sell Solo Build It! to large groups of people. The first time, I sold SBI! sporadically, but this time I’m seeking opportunities on a much larger scale! So, if there’s a Part 2, I’d hope it would focus on the “success” of these two goals. Thanks again for your comments. Best ~ Doug

      • That’s so honourable, Doug. Good on you and I can’t wait to read the next instalment of your story! All the best to you. 🙂

  • Luke Barber

    Great story Doug, congrats on the success. When you and your wife sold your sites, how did you go about doing that? Did you use an online site or SBI or your own connections?

    • Doug

      Thanks for your comments, Luke. My wife and I sold our online businesses through the Solo Build It! forums. There is a section called The SiteSell Cafe’ and within that section there’s a forum called “Things You Heard About” which is where we sold our sites. I hope that helps. Best ~ Doug

      • Luke Barber

        Ok, nice, I’ll have to check that out. Thanks again.

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