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 a Fascination with Sleep Helped This Mom Build a Lifestyle Business

How a Fascination with Sleep Helped This Mom Build a Lifestyle Business

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. Every single day I wake up grateful to be able to do this job.Heidi Holvoet from baby-sleep-advice.com

As long as she can remember, Heidi Holvoet was fascinated by sleep. As a little girl she was curious about dreams. Later she wondered how and why we sleep. Growing up she studied physics, but always kept an interest in sleep.

When her children were born, her theoretical interest in sleep took on a very practical meaning. Every new parent realizes how very important this thing called sleep suddenly becomes.

She began taking notes on the techniques that helped her babies sleep soundly. When friends asked her for advice, she turned to her “little box of sleep tips and techniques.”

Gradually she realized that her insights could help many more parents, not only her friends. But how could she best do this? Should she write a book? Start a blog? Post on social media? Neither of these approaches could accomplish what Heidi wanted.

So in the end, how did she achieve her goal of helping babies and their parents? And not only that, but also build her own business based on her fascination and knowledge around sleep?

That’s what we are about to find out!

1. Heidi, how did your career evolve from a PhD in science to becoming a baby and toddler sleep consultant?

Good question! 🙂 It really wasn’t as big a step as it may seem. Still, I didn’t go from nuclear physicist to sleep consultant overnight. I think my desire for helping people, combined with a strong need for personal freedom as well as an interest in a broad range of topics, has steered my career this way.

I absolutely loved being a research fellow at university. It was very exciting to be in nuclear physics research at that time! But I had to explore the world outside of academia too, so I worked as a consultant in a financial software firm for a few years.

I absolutely loved being a research fellow at universityThose years taught me a lot: about science, about finance and about doing business. I also learned a lot about people in these different environments. I found the human psychology fascinating. In the end, I knew I couldn’t thrive in the self-centered financial world, nor did I want to continue in academia, so it was time for the next step.

I was ready for my own business: a business that I could run from my heart, on my own terms and that would allow me to truly, directly, help others.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve had a passionate interest for everything related to sleep. I’d always done my own personal research on the topic. I’d also always wanted to build my own business one day.

In the meantime I’d been blessed with two beautiful children. In the baby years – shared with many sleep deprived parent friends – I discovered that, with what I’d learned over the years about sleep, I could actually help other parents and their babies sleep.

That made my next career move easy: helping parents to help their babies sleep, and to reach them via my own online business.

TAKEAWAY #1: The path to starting your own business may not be a straight line, but if you truly want it, you will find a way. And you will know when the time is right. Your business topic can be related to your professional career, or it can come from any other area in your life.

Heidi chose her topic based on a longstanding interest in anything related to sleep, and her heartfelt wish to support parents during those tough times when their babies keep them awake all night.

Do you struggle to come up with a topic for your business? This article might help.

2. Your interest in sleep obviously directed your niche decision. But how did you know that it also had good business potential?

To be honest, I wasn’t sure at first that it had good business potential. The competition was, and is, fierce. Parents with babies and toddlers form a huge market that in many ways was saturated, even 10 years ago.

I was convinced though that I could offer something that no one else did: generous, kind and truly useful sleep advice, founded in scientific research and backed up by personal experience. Offered online and primarily for free, i.e., accessible to everyone.

I went through a lot of possibilities when researching how I could best publish all the information I wanted to share: a book? a blog? social media posts? None of those could accomplish what I wanted.

That’s when I found SBI!, which offered the ideal tools and knowledge I needed. It helped me build a strong content-based website, geared toward reaching many visitors, offering them high quality content for free.

It was also suitable for including paid business opportunities as and when appropriate – but never without losing sight of my main goal: to help as many parents out there, from the heart.

TAKEAWAY #2: Heidi didn’t jump to the most popular choice for many solopreneurs: blogging. Instead, she searched for the optimal way to publish her information, so that she could best serve her audience and build a profitable business.

We’re not discouraging the would-be solopreneur from blogging. It can build a viable internet business if your niche lends itself to that format, for example in the fast-changing fields of technology, consumer electronics and internet marketing.  However, most niches are better served with a theme-based content site.

Why? Because with a theme-based content site you create a long-lasting body of work that will be as relevant in 2028 as it is in 2018. You update pages as necessary, instead of posting updates (the blogger’s approach). One complete page about a topic that is up-to-date is more attractive for search engines than a series of “what’s new” pages.

High-quality evergreen content, by its very nature, delivers higher volumes of search traffic for less work.

Want to know what’s best for your business idea? Dive deeper into the differences between blogging and a theme-based content site here.

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

Baby SleepingPaying customers are those visitors who purchase one of my e-books or who take 1-to-1 email counseling with me personally.

The e-books are natural extensions of the content that’s freely available: they go deeper into the subjects and more importantly offer practical programs for parents for solving their current baby sleep issue, step by step and with more detailed guidance.

The 1-to-1 counseling is for those parents who want to work more closely with me and get personal coaching to accomplish the results they want. These parents come to me because they know they like my approach after spending some time on the website or they’ve heard about me from friends or family.

4. You offer four e-books for sale on your site. How did you decide on the topics? Can you share your best tips for e-book publishing?

Pretty soon after launching the site, while I was still writing all the foundation articles, I put up a simple “Ask a question / Q&A” service. These were the first steps in my 1-to-1 email counseling.

Parents could choose whether to receive advice for free in return for allowing their answered question to be published on my site or pay a fee to receive my advice confidentially.

I offered that service because I was convinced that such a personal connection was what parent visitors would need the most.

And it was. And I felt blessed finally to be able truly to help others. It was so rewarding!

At the same time, it “automagically” generated three more things for my business:

  • Highly relevant content for my site from the free advice.
  • A modest early income (my entry fees were low!) from the paid advice.
  • Topics for my e-books.

I used SBI!’s Content 2.0 (C2) tool for that Q&A and it’s been a very good content builder and traffic generator because those pages contain answers to real questions that parents search for online, so they are super relevant.

TAKEAWAY #3: Now that’s a really clever way to monetize your website in its early days and create highly relevant content at the same time. Almost any topic lends itself to a Q&A section. Your audience may not be prepared to pay a fee for getting your answer, so you can offer them the two options as Heidi did.

What you will certainly get is fresh content for your site, which in turn helps you get found at the search engines for highly targeted searches. And more likely than not, the questions will also reveal in-demand topics for paid products like e-books, audio lessons or online courses.

SBI!’s Content 2.0 tool makes it super easy to add a Q&A section. Whenever a visitor submits a question, a fully functioning web page is created. Visitors can upload up to 4 images to illustrate their question. And other readers can comment on the question, or your answer, and share the page with friends and family.

Check out Heidi’s Q&A section for a live example. Heidi currently doesn’t accept new questions, but you can see how much quality content her visitors’ questions and her answers created.

Back to Heidi and her tips for e-book publishing…

I soon discovered that a few specific issues kept coming back, i.e., recurring issues that many families struggle with and that aren’t easily solved. And those issues naturally became the topics of my e-books.

I wanted the e-books to be, as much as possible, DIY versions of my 1-to-1 help. From the experience with the Q&A, I knew what parents needed in order to make real progress with their baby’s sleep.

That knowledge helped me create very focused and very practical step-by-step programs. A sleep-deprived parent needs hands-on help, delivered quickly – without needing to wade through chapters of page-filling background.

Heidi in her work-at-home office.
Heidi in her work-at-home office.

My best tips for e-book publishing?

Make your writing:

  • targeted (information you know your visitors want),
  • high quality (give it your all to make the information truly useful), and
  • carefully crafted (respect for your audience leaves no room for sloppy grammar, spelling or formatting).

Even if this takes more time than putting something up quickly, all your marketing and sales efforts later on will be a thousand times easier if you have a solidly good book to sell.

TAKEAWAY #4: Can you spot the central thread that weaves itself through everything that Heidi does, and which makes her so successful?

She knows the needs and wishes of her audience inside out. She then delivers the exact solution her readers are looking for, in the highest quality and most suitable format. In other words, she OVERdelivers, in both her free content and her paid products.

OVERdelivering is at the core of SBI!’s proven Content Traffic PREsell Monetize process for building a profitable, long-term business you can be proud of.

Talking about OVERdelivering, Heidi isn’t done yet with her advice for e-book publishing. She has two more insider tips for you…

Two specific things that have been particularly helpful for me when self-publishing my books:

1. If you’re just starting out: keep it simple and move quickly. Meaning, once you’ve created your high quality writing, find the shortest way to publishing your e-book!

Copy editors and designers can help take your book to the next level, yes. But when you’re just starting out and put in the work – and maybe a hand from willing friends and family for some proofreading – you can put your DIY version up for sale.

If you created targeted, useful and decently presented content, your visitors will buy even if your e-book doesn’t have the fanciest cover. And they’ll help you save up for a next edition of the book, for which you can then hire editors and designers to move up a step.

2. Do beta-reading rounds. Having real people from your target audience read your book and give feedback before you publish it is worth each beta-reader’s weight in gold.

Recruit beta-readers from your email list or social media, not random friends: you want them to be part of your real target audience.

Make sure the beta-reading phase is a win-win: your readers should truly benefit from the privilege of having early access to your book. If appropriate (for example self-help type of books), offer coaching help as they read and use the book. That will give you even better insights into how the book works for them and where it needs improvement.

And it will make your beta-readers all the more motivated and engaged, which you need in order to get valuable feedback. Beta-readers typically deliver your first raving reviews and become your books’ biggest fans!

Heidi recruits beta-readers from her newsletter or social media followers to gain valuable feedback for her e-books.
Heidi recruits beta-readers from her newsletter or social media followers to gain valuable feedback for her e-books.

5. What other income streams do you have, apart from selling your e-books, and how well do they perform?

My 1-to-1 email counseling is my other primary income stream, and affiliate product links for the Amazon Associates affiliate program the main secondary one.

The counseling performs well in the sense that it is popular, the income is good (my fees have increased along with my online presence over the years) and it’s what I love to do: connecting directly with other parents and being able to help them.

The main disadvantage is that it’s difficult to scale. The email exchanges involved are very time-consuming for me and that limits the number of people I can help in this way.

The affiliate links for Amazon do reasonably well, considering I don’t have many at all, and the very limited effort they cost to maintain. But visitors to the site tend to find them quite useful as I only refer them to those products that I know – either from personal or client experience – to be truly helpful to parents.

TAKEAWAY #5: A big part during your business preparation is to research and plan the best ways to monetize your website. While you may have a main method in mind, never put all your “monetization eggs” into one basket.

SBI! provides you with a handy “monetization planner worksheet.” You’ll work your way through several monetization possibilities. For each one, you’ll assess how feasible it is for your topic, interest and time availability.

Then you pick your primary monetization model, which you implement as soon as you have a certain number of pages and a steady stream of visitors. In Heidi’s case, her primary monetization model is her 1-to-1 counseling services. While services usually have a high profit margin (depending on how much you charge), they don’t scale well. You are exchanging your hours for money, and your hours are limited.

So Heidi made a smart decision: She added two more monetization models to her income mix that are less time-consuming: creating and selling e-books, and promoting relevant products via the Amazon Associate program.

6.www.baby-sleep-advice.com is currently being redesigned. What made you decide to do a makeover? Are you doing the whole redesign on your own?

So far I’ve always designed the site myself: several small design changes through the years and a major overhaul when we went mobile-friendly in 2013. I don’t have professional designer skills but SBI!’s tools and templates made it doable for me to make a decent-looking site.

I’m currently planning to have the site redesigned professionally. This should deliver a very modern professional site, not only in the way it looks but more importantly in functionality and user-friendliness.

Also, outsourcing the redesign leaves me more time to work on the core of the business: connecting with and delivering high quality content and services for my site visitors.

TAKEAWAY #6: As Heidi points out, with SBI! you don’t need to be a designer to create a professional look & feel for your website. SBI!’s Site Designer enables you to create an elaborate design from scratch or use one of the many free, fully responsive templates with as much or as little customization as you like.

However, at a certain point in your business growth, you may need advanced functionalities that would take you too long to learn how to implement. In that case, it makes much more sense to outsource the task, so that you can focus on your core business.

Be diligent though in your search for external providers. Their idea of redesigning your site might be very different from yours, as this last minute update from Heidi shows…

A little while ago, I considered leaving SBI!.

The reason was that I wanted to outsource the design and maintenance of my site to a web design and digital marketing company, and they only offered this on their own preferred platform. That would also allow them to add technical functionalities I could not implement on my SBI! site myself such as app-like interactive menus.

After an extensive preliminary design period and a trial within the other platform, I found out that neither the design nor the new functionalities outweighed the benefits of having my site with SBI!.

To name just a few:

  • The absolute flexibility and control I have over my site – even when outsourcing parts of the design.
  • The zero amount of down time my site has had since first going live in 2008.
  • The way SBI! ensures we have access to all necessary information on new developments as well as the functionalities needed to keep an online business running.

    A very recent example is how easy SBI! made it for their members to become GDPR compliant. Switching to a secure HTTPS site is a snap (having a secure site is the first requirement for GDPR compliance). SBI! also provides a privacy policy template, a cookie consent widget and GDPR compliant forms – all at the click of a button. Priceless!

TAKEAWAY #7: Who wouldn’t be tempted by fancy, modern-looking designs and cool features? But, at the end of the day, you need to ask yourself which provider (web host, site builder, whatever you may call it) looks best after your business interests.

Who enables you to run your online business efficiently, and saves you time by keeping up with the ever changing world of internet marketing?

In a recent survey, we asked our customers for the top 3 ways in which SBI! has helped them succeed. In third place was the fact that SBI! provides them with exactly the information they need to know (at any given point in time) and which action – if any – they have to take to stay current with today’s online business requirements.

But we don’t stop there. We also give our members the tools they need to implement required changes, like the HTTPS switch and the GDPR cookie consent widget. What has your webhost done for you lately?

Heidi's current homepage design - all done by her.
Heidi’s current homepage design – all done by her.

7. You have a strong presence on Facebook with over 20K fans. Why did you choose Facebook as your main social media channel? What do you do to build an engaged audience?

Facebook turned out to be the main social media channel of choice for most of my target audience, so it’s natural for me to focus my efforts there. It’s also a very easy platform to share content as well as engage and interact with existing and prospective followers of my site.

I don’t post very frequently, at the moment once or twice a week: mostly a mix of my own content and fun and/or endearing photos/videos/quotes that my audience typically likes.

Since Facebook doesn’t easily show Page posts to all followers, I regularly boost posts, in particular the ones with my own content.

Overall I like Facebook’s advertising options: they are easy to implement and to test, and they’re affordable.

Besides my main Facebook Page, I’ve recently started connecting with specific segments of my audience in a private Facebook group. It’s a support group to which I offer exclusive access as part of a premium package with one of the e-books.

As they work through the plan in the book, parents can discuss with each other and/or ask me questions. It takes me a couple of hours a week but that is more time-efficient than regular 1-to-1 email consultations would be, which makes it more scalable.

TAKEAWAY #8: Heidi mentions a key point for social media success: choose the network(s) where your audience naturally “hangs out.” How do you know which channels your audience prefers? Assuming that your business is based on a passion or hobby of yours, you most likely know from your own experience.

At which social media network do you “hang out” to learn more about your niche or connect with like-minded people? If your answer is “none,” here are some rough guidelines:

Visual niches like travel, photography, food and crafts tend to do well on Pinterest or Instagram. They often also do well on Facebook.

If you’re a business coach, marketing consultant or accountant, you should probably be on LinkedIn.

And if your target audience is very young, consider Snapchat or Tumblr as your channels of choice.

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

I actually love every aspect of being a solopreneur and that includes the classic challenges of continuously keeping the business in good health and growing it while staying true to my core values.

One thing I have found challenging over the years is finding the right people to outsource to. I haven’t outsourced a lot, mainly a few short design and copyediting jobs.

In the end those were mostly positive experiences but it was always a tedious search to find the right people for the job, who were qualified, professional and also truly understood – or made an effort to understand – what my business is about and how to address my audience best.

On the upside, those challenges taught me a lot about other companies as well as my own business, so in the end it’s worked out positive!

TAKEAWAY #9: That’s an interesting observation from Heidi. While there is an abundance of places where you can hire freelancers (e.g., Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr, Brickwork India), finding the right one is still a challenge.

You probably have to try various freelancers before you find someone who satisfies your expectations. If you want to outsource certain tasks on an ongoing basis, or are looking to hire a Virtual Assistant, it’s worth investing a good amount of time to find the best person.   

On the other hand, if you want to “out-task” a highly specialized one-time job, e.g., adding a Shopify store to your site, and you are an SBI! member, we recommend you save yourself that time and hire one of our SBI! Professionals. They have been carefully vetted by us, are excellent in their areas of expertise and have intimate knowledge of the SBI! platform.

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

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. Every single day I wake up grateful to be able to do this job.

The time I get to spend with my children and family thanks to my super flexible work hours is priceless, and something I’ll always cherish more than anything.

Every day I also thoroughly enjoy the little pleasures: being able to go out for a walk with my dog, coffee with a friend or go running, at any time of the day that I please.

Last but not least, being able to truly help the parents that visit my website is incredibly rewarding; something that makes my day, every day.

TAKEAWAY #10: Freedom, flexibility, fulfillment… these are the non-material rewards that solopreneurs value the most, even more than the financial rewards. (Although these are pretty awesome, too! 😊)

We also love Heidi’s reminder to cherish the everyday pleasures that a work-from-home, being-your-own-boss lifestyle brings. With an online business, your work adapts to your life, not the other way round.

Enjoying the little pleasures of life with her dog "Storm."
Enjoying the little pleasures of life with her dog “Storm.”

10. And finally… What’s your top tip for someone who is just starting a solopreneur career?

Start simple and launch early!

Once you’ve done your research and know what you’re going to do, launch with a simple first website version.

Grow the site as you go, because you’ll learn so much about what your business needs purely by running it. Then every aspect evolves together and most efficiently: site content and functionality, the products and/or services you offer, traffic, your online presence and your connection with your customers.

Also, always work with a passionate heart and a fierce business mind, constantly explore new ideas and technologies, experiment, and strive to offer the highest quality value to your customer.

And, of course, start with SBI!

TAKEAWAY #11: True to her dedication to OVERdelivering, Heidi doesn’t offer just one top tip, but three:

  1. Start simple and launch early. In other words, do your research, but don’t overdo it. You can never learn everything there is about running an online business before you start. The (sometimes terrifying) beauty of an online business is that you are never done. There’s always more to learn, try and develop.
  2. Work with a passionate heart and a fierce business mind. You can’t go wrong with that combination!
  3. Start with SBI!. We couldn’t agree more. 😉 SBI! gives you a 10X to more than 100X higher chance of building a high-traffic website than other major site-builders and web hosts. Don’t take our word for it. These data studies prove it.

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  • 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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