5 Discoveries Set this Solopreneur Free (Transcript)
This is the full transcript of Carl Trent’s interview and story, as presented in “5 Discoveries Set this Solopreneur Free.”
Margit: Hello everyone. This is Margit from Sitesell and I would like to welcome you to our first Entrepreneur Spotlight interview where we are going to talk to online business owners from various industries and niches. And our first guest today is Carl Trent from Dad’s Guide to Walt Disney World. Hello Carl, thanks for being here today and how are you today?
Carl: Oh I’m great. Thank you. I would say it’s a beautiful day in Oklahoma but we just had a big thunderstorm roll through.
Margit: Oh good, let it roll through fast otherwise we’ll hear some background noise which you might be able to hear from my side. So, let’s start and jump right in: you are the dad and the webmaster behind Dad’s Guide to Walt Disney World. Can you tell us a bit why and when you started this website?
Carl: Sure, I was an air traffic controller for 27 years. And one thing about air traffic controllers is that they have to retire at age 55. So all along, I knew that retirement was coming up and that I was going to have to retire so I knew I needed a retirement job. So I worked at several different things. I wanted to focus on Walt Disney World because that’s what I loved and why not do what you love? So, I tried being a Disney travel agent for a little while. That didn’t really work. It was a lot of work and the pay wasn’t great. So, back in 2008 I ran across SBI! and wow that sounded cool. Build a website. At the time, there were not a lot. There were some Disney websites but they all suffered from a problem of old information.
There were only two or three really good ones. Most of them, they were boring and they had out of date information. And I thought, man, here’s an opportunity. I’ll just start a website and everything will be great. And in September 2008 we rolled out Dad’s Guide to WDW. My idea was I would focus on dads and kind of tell the dad side of the story. So we kicked it off in 2008 and it grew and gained some momentum, gained some traffic. At that time I was still working. It was a part-time job like most of us, kind of building things as we go along. And you know, AdSense was doing well back then so it was making some money. Not a lot but it was a part-time job so I really didn’t need a lot.
3.00 Never Assume You Know Your Audience
And I kept building the site, kept building the site, and I started looking at the statistics, especially of the Facebook page that I developed at the same time. When I looked at the stats I noticed that 65% of my audience were women.
Margit: Wow, really?
Carl: So all of a sudden the tone of the site started to change instead of focusing on the dad part of it, we kind of tailored the message towards women and 65% or so of our traffic is still women, still to this day. So, in 2012 I think Phantom hit. I didn’t get hit by Panda or any of the other Google whatever they were, bombs. But Phantom was the first one to really kind of hit and hurt a little bit.
And mainly it had hit the income side. Traffic stayed about the same, maybe down a little bit. But the income just started going down. Well, it was 2012, and my forced retirement was coming in 2015. So it was time to do something. I had to do something. This wasn’t going to work at these levels. And that kind of moved me into working on my own products. And since 2013, mid 2013 I’ve been focusing on creating products, Walt Disney World products. We have a magazine. I think we’re going to talk about the book and some calendars and we are rolling out new products all the time as we develop them.
5.00 – Transitioning from Website to Product Developer
It was a little bit of change of direction for me to go from the website to a product developer.
Margit: Yes, and I think you already answered my next question for me. Yours is a rather typical development of a website owner as they see themselves first only as the website owner and that they make money mostly through advertising and Google AdSense, but then when this doesn’t bring in as much as they had hoped, and they really wanted to have this website as an extra income stream like you had for your retirement, then they start thinking about what else can I do? And of course this is one of the most frequently asked questions we get. Yes, building a website is really nice and good and well but how can I make money with it? So do you want to go a bit more into it and tell us what kind of products you are developing now?
6.00 – How Carl Makes Money with his Website
Carl: Sure, in 2013, the summer of 2013, you know, Google AdSense had gone from probably $2500 a month down to $1000 a month, and it was just getting real frustrating. It was a lot of work and it just wasn’t bringing in the revenue. And so I researched again and ran across a program which talked about taking your content and turning it into an online magazine. And through that, we started WDW magazine, Walt Disney World magazine. At the time, mine was the only online magazine focused just on Walt Disney World. So we started that in October.
Our first issue came out in October 2013, just on the Apple iPad through the Apple Newsstand originally. That was the program that I started with. Right away we had really good success. Within three months we had 500 subscribers, monthly and yearly subscribers. It just took off.
Margit: That’s awesome. And it’s a pure online magazine right? You’re not printing?
Carl: Pure online. I get requests almost every day… Can you put this in print? Can you put this in print? It just doesn’t make sense. This last month, well the last two months, in September and October our issue was 170 pages.
In November, our Christmas issue was just 150 pages. So our average issue is like 140 pages. If you try to put that in print, my cost would be $6 or $7 to print and mail it. Then you’re going to have to charge $15 an issue. That would just be the print and mail costs. That doesn’t include the production costs. So it just didn’t make any sense to put it in paper as much as I’d love to do it. I grew up in the printing industry. I spent 10 years in the printing industry so it’s something I love but it’s not practical for the magazine.
Through the magazine, we have developed a group of photographers. One of the things we’re known for are incredible pictures of Walt Disney World. And last year, with the help of our photographers, we put together a calendar of Disney World pictures, a 12 month calendar and we sold a pretty good bunch of them.
Margit: But these ones are printed right?
Carl: Yes, they are printed. These are printed calendars. Last year we did our first calendar which led to our book. This year we put out a book, a photo book of Walt Disney World, a coffee table book. And this year we did a second calendar for Disneyland and we also just finished selling Christmas cards, Disney World Christmas cards.
So we’ve morphed from all online to now a combination of online and physical products and we’re trying to build both simultaneously.
Margit: It’s interesting to hear how that has evolved over time. And I think it’s also important to mention that this is what happens when you really jump in and do it and build an online business. In the beginning you’re not quite sure how you are going to make money with it, but you start with one way and then suddenly you realize, oh I could do this and that and then you try different things and then you find that there are several income streams that then build your full time income. I’m guessing as I know you’re retired now so this is your only income stream.
Carl: The magazine actually allowed me to retire a little early. I was scheduled to retire in December and I actually moved that back to May because I was spending so much time on it and we were bringing in enough income to where I was able to retire early.
11.00 – Crowd Funding with Kickstarter
Margit: Seems you perfected the dream of many people. ☺
Carl: And I get to talk about Disney World all the time, talk about dreams coming true.
Margit: Yes, definitely you managed that. So you mentioned before the coffee table book and I think how this came about is quite an interesting story in itself because you used a platform called Kickstarter to raise money for this project. How did that go? What did you learn?
Carl: Well when we were talking about putting the coffee table book together, I knew from being in the printing background that it was going to be an expensive process and so I went out and talked to some printers.
It was going to cost like $50,000 just to print.
Margit: Wow, $50,000?
Carl: $50,000 yeah. That was to print 10,000 copies which was a pretty good amount. And so I knew that I needed a source of funding for that. And so you know, you hear about Kickstarter and I looked into Kickstarter and it seemed like the way to go. We did a lot of work, a lot of pre-planning and in June we ran a Kickstarter program for the month of June, started it on the first, went through the month. We have some partners that have big followings that we went to and said hey, would you help us promote? And through the month of June, we were able to get 1200 people to support our Kickstarter program.
We raised $61,000 in the month of June for our coffee table book and we got it printed and it’s beautiful and it’s selling and buy one today, or three.
Margit: Yeah, I’ve seen it for sale on your website.
Carl: It’s pretty incredible.
Margit: That’s a fantastic success. Is there anything specific about Kickstarter, any tips that you could give someone who wants to do something similar?
Carl: The thing about Kickstarter is, as it is a crowd funding platform, it’s very important to be interactive. You can put up the video, you can put up the information but you really need to keep it going. Make lots of updates; we probably made 35 updates in the one month at different times.
Telling stories, telling tidbits, teasing things… and then we didn’t quit when it was over. We started afterwards telling the story of how it was being printed. We showed pictures of it being printed, being bound, and kept telling the story and kept that buzz going and it’s really been a lot of fun and it’s been successful being able to tell that story and to keep the story going.
Margit: Okay Carl, so your Kickstarter project sounded like a lot of fun but also like quite a lot of work. In general, building, growing and marketing an online business involves a lot of work, and I believe that until May you still had your full-time job.
Carl: May of 2014 so I was full-time all year this year.
15.00 – Are You Outsourcing Any Parts of Your Business?
Margit: Okay, but when you started out you were building your online business part-time, on top of your daytime job.
Carl: I did it part-time for six years, yes.
Margit: So, my next question is: did you outsource any of the tasks that are involved in building a business?
Carl: I have tried outsourcing. I haven’t been really successful with outsourcing. I’m more of a team building type of guy so I enjoy drawing people in and nurturing a team. Several years ago I was looking for some help and asked on my site, hey would anybody like to help me write? I got a couple of responses, but one in particular, a lady in Canada who started writing for me probably five or six years ago and started doing a lot of the Content 2.0.
I have a Content 2.0 section I call “Ask Dad” where people send me questions. I have over a thousand pages where people have sent me questions and I have answered questions. But for several years, she would answer the questions in my voice because she’s been very passionate about my site and she reads all my stuff. I don’t know why but she likes to read my stuff. So she’s done a lot of writing for me and she’s also a designer and artist and I’ve actually hired her full-time. So she has been working for me since August full-time. She’s done the graphics for the magazine for two years and so she’s done a lot of work for me.
17.00 – Building a Team
I have a young man who works on my social media. He does a lot of my social media stuff. Through the magazine we have developed a big team. We have like 50 contributors. And you know, you could call that outsourcing because they don’t work directly for me. Like I said, I tried outsourcing back when creating links was a good idea. I tried outsourcing the link building and some writing. You know, the writing came back Walt Disney Planet instead of Walt Disney World. So that didn’t work real well. I’m not really a big outsourcer. I’m more of a find somebody to do it and work with them. Get them to work for me and develop those relationships. That’s more my style.
Margit: And I think it’s the best form of outsourcing. The trick is to find a really good person and then like you say, build a relationship. Whether you find them on any of the outsourcing platforms like Freelancer or Upwork or whatever they’re called, or – even better – through your website, then they are already interested in what you do, and it’s the real thing. And so now you have a rather big team. You have one full-time helper, you said?
Carl: I have one full-time and three more that are on the team part-time and probably…well there are five in the main team and then there’s another 40 or so contributors.
Margit: That sounds quite like the achievement, quite a bit of people.
19.00 – Benefits and Features of SBI!
So you mentioned before Content 2.0 which is one of SBI!’s tools. You said at the beginning of our interview that you are using SBI! to build you website. SBI! is the all in one website and online business building tool that our company Sitesell has developed. If you had to review SBI! for someone who had never heard about it, which benefits or features would you highlight?
Carl: I would definitely highlight the unlimited traffic because I have a blog that’s off of SBI! that’s a WordPress blog hosted by a big hosting company. Last year I wrote a post that got a bunch of traffic, just like 4000 views in 30 minutes and all of a sudden you can’t get to the blog.
And then in about 30 more minutes they actually disabled my whole account.
Margit: Really? Wow, that’s bad.
Carl: They turned my account off and sent me a message two hours later that my account had been disabled. Get in touch with us.
Margit: It’s like they don’t want their users to be successful.
It’s not one of those sites that get a million page views, but we get 75,000 unique visitors a month and 2-300,000 page views a month. Would I like it to be a million? Sure! But that is one of the things that I do think that sets SiteSell apart. And on top of that, the upgrades to the speed have really been impressive. The improvements to page load speed over the last 12-14 months. It wasn’t bad before but now with the pictures, the new way the pictures are being processed, it’s just incredibly quick how fast pages load and that’s a big deal. I use lots of really nice pictures. And I have a lot of problems with the WordPress sites loading pictures.
But the SBI! sites, boom, they load right up. It’s really good what SBI! is doing along those lines.
Margit: That’s interesting because many people highlight more our guidance and all of the tools that make it easier for someone who has no experience with website building. I find it fascinating that with you it’s really the technical aspects that you find are so valuable with SBI!.
Carl: And that is part of the bad part of my personality, I’m kind of a do it yourself type so you know technical things, I’ll learn how to do it and do it myself.
Margit: I see… you’re not our typical customer.
Carl: Yeah I’m probably not your typical customer. You know I started out thinking I can do this by myself.
And what? Monetization? I don’t need a monetization plan. Wrong! So, with those kinds of things, while at first I probably spent more time with that, I’ve been here eight years so there are different things that excite me now.
Margit: Yeah sure, you grow with your business and yours has grown quite substantially I think. So my next question is kind of a big one and it is about how has your life changed since you started your online business?
24.00 – How Has Your Life Changed?
Carl: You know, you would like to say, oh man it’s incredible. It’s changed a lot. It has changed. The big change was the life change with retirement. Going from getting up every day, getting ready, going to work, working, coming home, and in the evenings, kind of piddling on the website. It’s gone from that to where now, it is the job. I get up. Instead of getting in the car and going, I go to my home office and I spend my day in the office. And that’s been an interesting transition. My wife thought it was going to be hard on her when I came home because I was going to bother her. We found that it’s quite the opposite. We had to set boundaries on her when she could come into the office because she bothered me. But you know, as for major life change, the online business, it really hasn’t been a major life change because I was always going to be doing something.
That’s my personality. I have to be doing something. If I’m not doing something, it’s going to be bad. So it just gave me something to focus on and you know, picking something you love is…it just makes it easy. It’s fun. Even when things are hard, it’s still fun. I still talk about Walt Disney World. That’s what I do.
Margit: How often do you go there then?
Carl: Not as often as you’d think. I live in Oklahoma. It’s 1500 miles to Orlando so it takes planning to go to Orlando.
I can’t just get up and run to the parks and so it takes planning. This year I will be there more than I ever have in the past. In December I will go down there on my fourth trip this year. Before it would be every other year. Now that I am retired, it is a little more often. So we’re looking at probably average about three to four times a year.
Margit: That’s good and I think you mentioned the photographers who are working with you; they are probably on the ground more often.
Carl: Well, it’s interesting. Our team is all over the place. We only actually have one photographer who lives in Orlando. We have two in Tallahassee. One in Atlanta, two in New Jersey. The lady that works for me actually lives in Canada, outside of Toronto.
27.00 – What’s Your Piece of Advice for Someone Just Starting Out with Building their Online Business?
So the team is all over the place. We don’t have a lot of presence in Orlando but we do have kind of just the right conglomeration of Disney lovers.
Margit: Excellent. Sounds great. So I have one last question for you Carl, which is: which one piece of advice would you give someone who is just getting started with building their online business?
Carl: I want to give you two and I have already touched on one. Pick something you love. You know there’s a lot of business builders that say go through and find something that’s going to make you money. Don’t do that because website building, product development, everything you do, the passion for your topic is what’s going to set you apart from everybody else.
Pick something you are passionate about, something you love…something that it won’t matter how bad things get; you’re still going to want to go talk about it every day. So that’s the main thing; to be passionate about your topic. That’s going to be what serves you best. The other thing is and I have also touched on this is figure out how you’re going to make money. SBI!, this needs to change. You’re not going to make money on AdSense ads any more. You’re just not. You’re not. It takes a million views a month for you to make a decent living on AdSense ads. That’s not going to happen.
Just don’t even start with AdSense. I wish you’d even take it out of the Action Guide because…
Margit: I’ll pass that onto my team.
Carl: Yeah, pass that on. I’m sure they will listen to me. What have I got?
Margit: No, we definitely talk about that a lot and also have shifted the focus to producing your own products, whether that’s e-products or even hard goods.
Carl: Right, I have seen that shift in SBI! over the last 12 months or so and it’s a good shift because I learned that lesson. You need to have something to sell of your own. You can do it with affiliate products if you find a good one. But the best thing you can have is your own product to sell. That’s the best thing. Informational sites are cool and they’re fun and if that’s what you’re looking for, fine, do an informational site.
30.00 – Develop Your Own Products
But if you’re looking for a living, a way to make money, a way to supplement an income, you need to start with some sort of product, some kind of idea about a product. It may not work. I created 4 eBooks, and only sold 150 copies of my eBooks since 2008.
Margit: So eBooks don’t work for your niche.
Carl: EBooks…either something is terribly wrong with my selling strategy or eBooks don’t work in my niche. I know there are a lot of people that sell a ton of eBooks but it’s just…
Margit: For you it’s the magazine, it’s the calendar, it’s the photo book. Maybe because it’s such a visual topic and eBooks are more text based.
Carl: It may be. And you know, the magazine is just like a big eBook. That’s just basically what it is.
Calling it a magazine turned it into something special and you know, I actually had it on a WordPress site for a while. It was really just a conglomeration of content on a WordPress site. But because I called it a magazine and sold subscriptions, it made money. So that was my monetization strategy. I went right through that section in the Action Guide. I spent an hour on it I think. Yeah, I got this. But now I know that the part about monetization is the most important part of the SBI! Action Guide.
32.00 – Get Your Monetization Plan Right
If you don’t get that right… There are a lot of things in there that if you don’t get them right you’re not going to get it right but that’s one of the main ones if you’re looking to make money. I’m in the SiteSell forums occasionally and I see people saying all the time, how do I make money on this? Well, you’re a little far down the process to figure that out (when you built your site already).
Margit: Yeah, but sometimes then when you’re further down the process you might get good ideas. But it’s definitely important to start with that in mind and start thinking about it right from the start about how could I monetize this website? Which products should I develop? It’s certainly a quicker road to whatever income levels you want for yourself than if you just go along and see what comes. However, for you personally it has worked out beautifully, I believe.
Carl: I can’t complain.
Margit: Okay, Carl it has been a fabulous interview.
Carl: Thank you.
Margit: I enjoyed talking to you. It was my first “Blab” and so I was a bit nervous but I think it went really well. And to everybody watching us, I just want to say that if you want to be informed about new entrepreneur spotlights and interviews with people like Carl, then please subscribe to our newsletter, or our YouTube channel, or follow us on Twitter. If you’d like to know more in general about what we do and our products, then just go to www.Sitesell.com.
And with that I wish everyone a good day and Carl, thanks so much for being here. And tons of future success in your retirement and with your website.
Carl: Alright, thank you.
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 up to 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.