What I enjoy most is the freedom to work on my own terms, in my own time and to have full responsibility for the work I put in and the rewards I receive. - Heidi Holvoet, SBI! member since 2008

How to Start a Solopreneur Career at Any Age and Be Proud of It

How to Start a Solopreneur Career at Any Age and Be Proud of It

In peak brewing season, during the cooler months of the year, I will get about 26,000-28,000 unique visitors per month who will read up to 96,000 pages.Bobby from winning-homebrew.com

“Instead of working at Walmart, I now have a new career that I am proud of,” Bobby Don Johnson beams at me at the end of our interview. Bobby used to work as a consultant field engineer in the oil industry. The ups and downs in this line of work gave him more “down time” than he had bargained for.

He was forced to make a decision… take a boring, but “safe” temporary job, or build his own online business.

Let’s hear why he decided to go the solopreneur route, and how this has worked out for him. After reading his story, you may want to follow in “Mob Barley’s” footsteps!

1. Tell us a little about yourself, about your professional background, and how and why you decided to start your online business with SBI!.

bobbydonjohnson_atworkinalaskaMy name is Bobby Don Johnson. I was born and raised in the desert of West Texas but now live in the swamps of South Louisiana. I have a B.B.A. in Finance from Texas State University but my professional career has been in the oil industry where I worked as a consultant field engineer, most recently on the North Slope in Alaska.

I’m also a veteran, having served in the US Army during President Reagan’s last term from 1984 to 1988.

As you know, the oil industry has a lot of ups and downs. We are currently in a down cycle, one of the worst in my lifetime. During the down-cycle of 2009, I was out of work for a full year.

So, I decided to use that time building a website. I’ve always been interested in winemaking and had recently began making beer and mead. There wasn’t much information on the internet at that time so I decided that I would build a website about homebrewing.  

Homebrewing beer starts out as just a hobby, but as most homebrewers will attest, the hobby soon becomes an all-consuming passion. I chose SBI! for many reasons, but mostly because it offered someone with no web skills a chance to build not just a professional, well-designed website, but a web business.

Being a big Bob Marley fan, and the fact that Marley rhymes with Barley, I chose Mob Barley as my pseudonym and the name of my brewery became Mob Barley’s Brewery.

One of Bobby's own beer label designs.
One of Bobby’s own beer label designs.

2. What were your initial goals when you started winning-homebrew.com? Have these goals changed over time?

When I originally began building winning-homebrew.com, my goals were to get the information that was locked away in brewing books and magazines on the web so everyone could access it all in one place. I was learning the technical side of brewing, brewing science, as I wrote content. I looked at the problems and questions I had as a homebrewer and figured everyone else probably had the same problems.  

So, I began writing content by researching answers to my homebrewing problems in books mostly because that was what available to me. The craft beer industry has grown a lot since I started my website. There are more and more websites popping up with beer-related themes. I still rank well for a lot of my keywords but competition is getting tougher, primarily since the major homebrew supply stores are all publishing “How-To” guides and beer rating sites are publishing reviews about every craft beer in the market.

My goals these days are to keep my website relevant to the homebrewing hobbyist. I regularly review and update my pages. I’ve also done a lot of SEO work, cleaning up my pages, adding alt descriptions to my images, re-analyzing each page and making the adjustments required to get them up-to-date as far as Google is concerned.

Bobby built this impressive stainless steel home brewery himself.

KEYNOTE: Bobby hits upon an important point for solopreneur success. As an online business owner, your work is never done. Even though you are creating evergreen content (as opposed to blogging about time-sensitive topics), you still need to regularly check your content. Is it up-to-date? How can you make it better? Does the article have enough visuals?

Your best chance for being successful in an increasingly competitive environment? Follow a proven process during each stage of your business-building journey. That’s why so many SBI! users are in the top half of one percent of all active websites.

3. How did you settle upon your niche? How did you know it was the right one?

I decided to make my niche about homebrewing because…

  1. it was something I was very passionate about, and
  2. there weren’t many sites catering to the market. I could count the number of sites about homebrewing on one hand, and some of those hadn’t been updated in years.

I knew winning-homebrew was the right site for me because the content just rolled out of the computer. I was ranking quickly for most of my pages and I felt energized writing new content almost every day. I wrote so much content that I lost track of keyword demand and just wrote about what I thought homebrewers wanted to know.

I’ve recently had to go back through a lot of my pages and re-name them in hopes of getting better results at the search engines. So instead of a page called “attenuation,” the page is now called “beer-attenuation.”

KEYNOTE:  Bobby fell into a well-known beginner’s trap. He was so excited about his new “baby” (his website) that he rushed through an all-important preparation stage… developing a solid Site Content Blueprint.

An architect creates a blueprint for the design of a building. The contractor does not start construction of the building when the architect has the plans only half done. He waits for the entire set of plans so that he has an idea of what needs to go here, what there, when he needs concrete, etc.

As the architect of your online business, you need to organize your site’s subtopics (aka keywords) into a logical structure before you begin writing you first page, even before you register your domain name. The SBI! Action Guide walks you through this process, step-by-step.

Sometimes however, the excitement takes over, and you may skip some steps, like Bobby did. This isn’t the end of your business, but it will take you longer to achieve success.   

4. One question we get asked often is “How can I make money with a website?” It is an excellent question but it misses a key point… We explain to people, and to SBI! owners as they build their businesses, that a web BUSINESS is much more than a web SITE. 

Bobby, could you explain how you monetize and if your monetization models have evolved over time?

When I started my site, I really didn’t have any idea how I would make money with it. I had no product to sell, so I would have to rely on selling other people’s products in exchange for a commission (the so-called affiliate marketing model). But in the beginning, I didn’t know if there were any good vendors in my niche. So I put Infolinks code on the pages and hoped that would make enough to pay my subscription fees.

As my website grew, I realized that I had a real asset here and began researching more intensely how I could monetize my site about homebrewing.

KEYNOTE: Bobby hits the nail on the head by recognizing his site as a “real asset.” 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 your online business). Let’s say that an SBIer nets an income of $40,000 profit per year (i.e., above salary and expenses), on gross income of $120,000.  Your business could be worth anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000, depending on several factors!

Google AdSense has never done much for me, although I have ads on my site now and a Google Search bar as well. So I became serious about doing affiliate marketing. I started emailing the different major supply stores to inquire about the possibility of becoming an affiliate.

I got a call one day from MoreBeer.com, a major homebrew and winemaking supply chain in California. We worked up a deal and soon I was adding links to all my pages and getting 10% commission on my affiliate sales.

Of course that didn’t last long, because after about two years, they dropped my affiliate commissions from 10% down to 6%, almost in half.

I’m still open to new monetization plans, but the thought of re-working a thousand links on 200 pages seems a little daunting right now.

KEYNOTE: Bobby says: “When I started my site, I really didn’t have any idea how I would make money with it.”  Sound familiar? That’s how most solopreneurs feel when they start out. And that’s precisely why the SBI! Action Guide devotes a whole section to planning your monetization before you begin building your site.

In his excitement about getting his ideas about home brewing out into the world, Bobby seems to have skipped that part!. 😉

On the upside, Bobby searched for and approached major home brewing supply stores, which secured him his first and — until this day — most important income stream. However, as he had to learn the hard way, affiliate marketing puts you at the whim of the merchant, or even government regulations.


“Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.” – Thomas Edison
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5. How long did it take to start earning an income from your site? Is it a full-time income (replaces a job) or a part-time income?

I didn’t start earning income from the site until I found an affiliate partner, probably in the second full year online after I had written about 100 pages of content.  My site has never brought in enough to be considered a full-time income. I average about $3000 per year. The income pays for my site and funds my hobby plus some lagniappe.

My traffic is good. In peak brewing season, during the cooler months of the year, I will get about 26,000-28,000 unique visitors per month who will read up to 96,000 pages.  

I’ve begun (finally) doing more social media trying to increase my traffic. Since I only started recently, it is going to take a little while for my Facebook business page to build up a following.

KEYNOTE: A site like Bobby’s, averaging close to 1,000 visitors per day, should be able to earn close to $1,000 per month.

While some SBI! owners do take their time on DAYS 4 and 10 of the Action Guide (the sections that focus on monetization), pushing earnings beyond those numbers with aggressive monetization models, many earn less due to sub-optimal use of passive forms of income generation.

This has recently inspired us to start a new service for solopreneurs called Trafeze.  It is intended for online businesses such as Bobby’s, which could/should be earning more.

Take aways for you?

1) If you have a high-traffic site and would like to earn more with it, check out Trafeze.

2) IF you have yet to build a online business that generates high search traffic and grows a big, engaged social audience, give SBI! a serious try. No other system helps solopreneurs succeed the way SBI! does.

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

Since I’ve retired from the oilfield (not entirely by choice) after this latest down cycle, I have a lot more time to work on my website. Plus, I have become a SiteSell Education instructor and will have a class beginning this fall at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

These days I spend about ten to fifteen hours per week working on my website.  Everything I do on my website will help me be a better instructor, so I’m doing a lot of reading in the SBI! forums and Tips and Techniques sections. Since my website is a labor of love, so to speak, I plan on keeping it a one-man-show.

 That's quite few awards for your homebrewing skills, Bobby!
That’s quite few awards for your homebrewing skills, Bobby!

7. You market yourself with a clever “stage” name (Mob Barley). You do interviews with celebrities in your niche. What other marketing tactics can you recommend to your fellow solopreneurs?

There are two areas that I would recommend to fellow solopreneurs; I’ve made the mistake of neglecting them for too long…

I was never one to get involved in social media. I always considered it to be “living out loud.” But I now see the necessity of social media for generating more traffic for my homebrew website. I’m doing a lot of research right now on marketing with Facebook ads and plan on building up my Winning-Homebrew Facebook page with about 30-50 posts before venturing in that direction. I also think Facebook Live Video is worth looking into if you have a large following already.


Social media is definitely the way to go if you want to make your website relevant in the future.
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I never collected emails (big mistake) so I’ll have to start doing that for sure.

KEYNOTE: The lifeblood of your business is free targeted traffic. And while Google remains the single largest referrer for most websites, there are other ways to build free traffic and reach your audience. One of them is social media.

Is social media important? Yes, it is, and it will grow in importance for two reasons… traffic and trust/reputation.

  • Traffic: A strong social media presence generates traffic in two ways: a) directly via links from, for example, Facebook and b) improved search engine rankings as a result of the additional traffic and content engagement.
  • Trust/Reputation: A strong social presence strengthens the trust and likeability that your excellent site content helps to establish early on. When social is done with personality and originality, the playing field can tilt in favor of “the little guy.”  Stand by for SiteSell’s series of Social Media Action Guides, the next development to be added to SBI! at no extra charge.

8. You’ve recently become a SiteSell Instructor, teaching a course about how to build an online business with SBI!. How would you explain SBI! to your students during the first class?

I will tell my students that SBI! is an industry-leading platform where anyone can build a successful online business with the right attitude, hard work and patience. SBI! has worked for thousands of people just like them, but to be successful, they have to follow the process outlined in the Action Guide.

Building a website is a humbling experience in that no matter how much you think you know, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Always keep your visitor in your mind and write your content for him or her and let SBI! do the rest. This is how you build a successful business with SBI!.

9. And finally… What do you enjoy most about being a solopreneur with an online business? How has it changed you, your life, your family?

I’ve always been someone who hates to see technology pass me by. I feel like I’m stagnating while the rest of the world is active and involved. Being a solopreneur with my own online business has kept me abreast of what’s going on online. I may not be “living out loud” on Facebook, but I sure know a thing or two about web design and business-building on the web.

I’ve always been the family “go-to-guy” when it comes to computers, and now I will be the “go-to-guy” when anyone needs a website. It’s been difficult trying to start a new career at my age. I’ve spent most of my adult life working in the oil industry, and starting at the bottom in another career did not seem appealing.

Because I’ve built a successful online business of my own, I am now able to teach Building a Successful Business Using the Internet for a living and actually do something I enjoy for a change.

Not only will I be teaching SBI!, I’ve also started a web design business called BDJ Online Services & Education. Instead of working at Walmart, I now have a new career that I am proud of.

KEYNOTE: Thank you Bobby for sharing your solopreneur story with our readers. Yours is an inspiring reminder that you can start a new career at any age, and become your own boss along the way. It also shows how you’ll discover surprising opportunities as you learn and grow. From a complete beginner to becoming the “go-to-guy” for anyone who wants to build a web-based business… that’s steep progress. Congratulations!

To the reader… are you ready to start your solopreneur career? You can do it, no matter your age, previous career or web savviness.

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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 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.

Margit Streifeneder
Margit Streifeneder is the Communications Manager at SiteSell. She handles the Editorial Calendar, coordinates marketing initiatives and is renowned for her organisational skills. She's passionate about helping solopreneurs achieve success, and enjoys interviewing SBI! members about their achievements. Her personal goal is "never being cold again," so she chose to settle in Nicaragua, for now.

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