Over the years, Leadership-Tools.com has generated significant financial benefit for our family, but even more importantly, it has been a conversation-starter for our girls about how they can become independent women of the new millennium by following their passion and building their best life.Richard Gorham, www.leadership-tools.com
From an early age, Richard Gorham felt captivated by books about leadership and personal development. He realized that the more he immersed himself in these topics, the more opportunities opened up for him, in both his personal and professional lives.
One thing bothered him though. Many leadership tools and programs came with a price tag too high for most people. Richard strongly believed that every person regardless of income level or location should have access to high quality leadership and self improvement resources.
The idea for Leadership-Tools.com was born. But… how do you bring this idea online, in a way that it reaches the intended audience and provides the most value to them? Especially if you’re no computer wizard?
That’s what we’re going to learn from Richard in our interview.
1. Richard, you say that your three daughters are one of the reasons why you created Leadership-Tools.com. Can you tell us more about that?
When I initially purchased Solo Build It! (SBI!) in 2001, our oldest daughter was three years old and we were expecting our second child. Today we are blessed with three beautiful daughters, Taylor age 20 (right), Kate 17 (left) and Hailey 13 (middle).
Ever since Taylor was born in 1997, my wife Suzanne and I would tell her, and later her two younger sisters, “we are raising independent women of the new millennium.”
I’d go on to explain that becoming an independent woman of the new millennium means that you will grow up to understand that no matter what happens in your life, you can handle it.
You’ll discover your unique talents, strengths and interests, and be confident in your ability to build a happy and successful life. You’ll have the courage and persistence to overcome challenges and exhibit a strong work ethic so that when opportunities arise, you’ll be able to take advantage of those opportunities, and when you are successful you’ll remember to help others and become a tremendous asset to society.
As a father, I’ve told my girls on countless occasions, “before I walk you down the aisle, I want you to know who it is that I’m walking down that aisle.” In other words, I want them to be confident in who they are; to possess strength of character and have clear goals for their future.
Over the years Leadership-Tools.com has generated significant financial benefit for our family, but even more importantly, it has been a conversation-starter for our girls about how they can become independent women of the new millennium by following their passion and building their best life.
Knowing that you have the strength and capabilities to handle even the toughest challenges gives you a feeling of security that no outside factor (money, relationships, a “secure” job) can ever provide.
For your children to follow their passion and build their best lives could mean pursuing a traditional, corporate career, or it could mean starting a business, either offline or online. Or perhaps it means switching between the two paths.
The important thing is that your kids know they have choices. School -> college -> job isn’t the only path they can follow. When you help your children develop an entrepreneurial spirit early on, you provide them with an invaluable head start towards a fulfilled life.
Sydney Englund’s story is living proof that you’re never too young to get started. She turned her love for horses into a website and business that not only helped her pay for her own horse, but also gave her skills and confidence way ahead of other teenagers.
2. How did you decide about your niche? How did you know it was the right topic for you and had great business potential?
The topic of leadership and success has always captivated me. I remember at an early age discovering books on leadership and self-development. The more I read, the more my mind opened to greater possibilities.
I grew up in a small, rural town in Eastern Oregon and hadn’t traveled much outside the state. However, as a result of my growing ambition, my eyes were opened to a much bigger world outside my small town.
I soon found myself joining a group of teenagers from across the United States, boarding a ship to explore nine countries in Europe with the American Institute of Foreign Studies program. I took that trip with AIFS the summer before my senior year in high school and it was a game-changer for me.
I’ve learned that once you begin your journey for personal growth and leadership development, new opportunities seem to come out of nowhere. Shortly after my trip to Europe I learned about a full-ride college scholarship opportunity and I decided to go for it.
I won the scholarship and recognized a pattern. The more focus I gave to personal growth, the more opportunities I found in front of me.
The truth is those opportunities were always there. The difference was me. Now I was actively searching for those opportunities.
So, it is no surprise that when I began a search for how to create a successful website, I discovered SBI!. (Unfortunately, most people don’t find SBI! simply because they aren’t looking.)
When I learned about SBI! in 2001 and realized that the topic of leadership was in high demand with limited supply, I knew it was the right niche for me.
When you are passionate about a topic, the work doesn’t feel like work. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard work creating quality content — but at the same time, I could get lost in the topic for hours on end because I enjoyed it so much.
Over 15 years later, I continue to look forward to spending time on creating new leadership tools and resources for my readers.
But what if you don’t have a lifelong passion? What if you can’t think of a single topic that keeps you so engaged that you could talk about it all day? Does that mean you’re out of luck and can’t start a business of your own? No, it just means that you need to look deeper to discover “your” topic.
It starts with making a list. Yes, really, it’s that simple. Observe your daily life and write down everything that comes to your mind… your skills, experiences, daily life activities, books and magazines you read, movies and TV shows you like to watch, things that upset you or make you feel good.
Also look at your current or former jobs. What body of knowledge have you learned? What activities did or do you enjoy most? For a 4-step process to “brainstorm yourself” and find that topic that could become your business check out this article.
Or talk to our friendly SBI! Advisors. They are known for not letting anyone end a call without having discovered at least one passion!
3. Tell us about your philosophy regarding content. How do you know what your prospective customers are looking for? Where does this information come from?
SBI! gives me the tools I need to research keywords based on high demand and low supply (competition). This enables me to understand what my prospective customers are searching for on the Internet. Equipped with that knowledge, I can curate leadership information, tools, and resources to serve my audience.
My “day job” has given me a high level of insight and knowledge based on my professional experiences that I can draw on and share. For example, as a corporate leader, I use tools such as goal-setting worksheets, coaching forms, leadership assessments, employee and customer surveys, business letter templates, training courses, and more.
Although I never copy someone else’s work, I do take ideas and examples from multiple sources and add my own twist as I create new tools to offer on my website.
I also look to the leadership “experts” for inspiration. One day in the early years of building the website, I was running on a treadmill listening to a book on personal development by Brian Tracy. He mentioned the classic book “Pushing To The Front,” written by the late Dr. Orison Swett Marden. I was so impressed with the content that I began offering a copy of the book as a free gift to all my site visitors.
As I went on to research Dr. Marden’s work, I discovered he was a prolific writer and considered by many to be the “Father of the American Success Movement” in the late 1800’s. He wrote over 50 books on personal growth and development.
These volumes are packed full of timeless lessons and universal laws for success and are available in the public domain. I have collected all of Dr. Marden’s books and refer to them often as I’m creating new content for my website.
There is an overwhelming amount of digital content available about leadership and personal growth. In fact, the genre has become a huge industry offering some very highly priced products and programs.
My goal is to remove cost as a barrier and make high-value tools and resources accessible to every aspiring leader.
That doesn’t mean he ignores the search engines. On the contrary, he uses SBI!’s keyword brainstorming and analysis tool, “Brainstorm It!” to find out which phrases people use to search for topics related to leadership tools. Brainstorm It! not only tells him which terms (aka “keywords”) people use, but also how often they search these keywords (“demand”) and how much competition (“supply”) there is.
Armed with this keyword “intelligence,” Richard then draws from his own experience and the cumulative wisdom of his fellow leadership experts to create the best possible resources for his readers. But if he gives away so much information for free, how does he generate an income? That’s the topic of our next question.
4. AdSense is one of your income streams. How else do you earn an income from your online business, and how does each revenue stream perform?
Over the years AdSense has been the primary stream of income for Leadership-Tools. As the online landscape is constantly changing, AdSense is becoming less of a moneymaker, and I am finding more revenue opportunities in leveraging my list of over 30,000 email subscribers to promote new Leadership-Tools products.
For example, while the PDF version of each of our leadership tools is available for free, we offer the customizable master file (Word, Excel or PowerPoint) version of each tool at a nominal cost.
Additionally, we earn affiliate revenue through our book reviews and we’ve created a gift store offering various leadership-themed products.
Over the past 18 months, our focus has been on converting our 400+ page website from Uploading Your Own HTML (UYOH) to SBI!’s BlockBuilder 2 (BB2) platform. The BB2 conversion project has been a significant time investment because we’ve worked to update and add even more high value content as we convert each page.
Once our site is completely updated, we’ll begin work on a new series of fee-based online leadership training courses.
The days where you could make good income with AdSense even with moderate traffic levels are far gone though. Now you need several thousand visitors per day if you want to generate substantial revenue with AdSense alone.
So Richard made the wise decision to branch out into other ways of making money with this online business. He reviews relevant courses and books for his visitors, then refers them over to the merchant with his affiliate link. Each time a referred visitor buys a product, or signs up for a course, Richard earns a commission.
His next project is to create his own paid online leadership courses. With his list of 30,000 newsletter subscribers, he’s laid the best possible basis for promoting his own products (in addition to affiliate products). It pays off to start building a subscriber list right from the start, even if you don’t have any products or services to offer yet.
By the way, as I am writing this, there’s a “step-by-step newsletter challenge” going on in the SBI! forums to help our members build an email list and keep their subscribers engaged with fabulous newsletter content. We’ll condense the main takeaways from this challenge into an article on the Solo Build It! blog. Stay tuned and subscribe!
5. Are your daughters involved in working on your business, or have they shown interest in starting their own?
Our oldest and youngest daughters have been focused on school and sports, without a lot of downtime to be involved in Leadership-Tools.
Kate, our middle daughter, has taken an early and strong interest in starting her own website. In fact, she just celebrated her 17th birthday and requested a new GoPro so she could start creating video content to share on a new YouTube channel she’s been planning.
With this increasing popularity of video content, growing a YouTube channel and adding videos to your website is a no-brainer. Think your topic isn’t suitable for videos? Think again. Even a topic as dry as English grammar can be tackled with video, in an engaging and fun way.
6. You use social media to promote your online business. How did you decide which platforms to use? Why do you think they work best for your niche?
While we are currently using multiple social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest, it’s been a real challenge to devote consistent time to each channel.
In fact, the more I’ve been reading, it seems clear that it makes more sense to focus my effort on only one or two platforms rather than spreading myself so thin over multiple platforms.
From strictly a business standpoint, I like Facebook and Instagram because of their size and reach to potential customers. I see Facebook as a major source for new customers when we begin marketing our leadership training courses.
I have also been pleasantly surprised at how many people have pinned our images on Pinterest. One thing we are doing as we convert the website to BB2 is add more imagery. I’ve really enjoyed learning how to create new photos using Canva.com, and those same images can be leveraged as new content for social media entries.
However, as a solo entrepreneur, with a limited amount of time and no team, you simply cannot do social well on all platforms. We typically advise SBI! members (“SBIers”) to focus on no more than two channels.
While SBIers are 9X to 115X more likely to build a successful business than their fellow solopreneurs, they are only slightly better than average at social media.
The reason? There’s just too much information out there. It’s the same problem as the larger challenge of building a business. SBI! was created to overcome that issue and enable solopreneurs to succeed by allocating their time in the most efficient business-building process possible.
Now we plan to replicate that with social media. To help solopreneurs like Richard, we are developing “Social Media Action Guides” (included in every SBI! subscription for free).
The Pinterest Guide is already available. Next up will be Twitter. Just like the main SBI! Action Guide, the social media versions condense the flood of information into proven best practices and organize the information step-by-step, from setup to advanced techniques.
The screenshot below shows the content of the Solo Build It! Pinterest Action Guide:
7. What has been your biggest challenge so far as a solopreneur?
There have been two major challenges…
My biggest challenge is time. I started Leadership-Tools.com at the same time we were starting our family. I continue to enjoy a full-time career, so my goal has never been for the online business to replace my full-time job. Rather, my goals are for the site to provide a significant secondary income and later to become my primary focus in retirement.
Another major challenge has been learning and recovering from mistakes made early on. In those early years, I focused too much on submitting articles to multiple article directories.
Also, I worked to build a large quantity of web pages rather than taking the time to ensure each page was of the highest quality. As a result, Leadership-Tools was rightfully hit hard after the Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates.
However, since that time we’ve worked hard to learn from those mistakes — paving the way for a website that provides greater value and delivers a better customer experience than ever before. We believe by doing this we’ll be well positioned to achieve greater success than we ever thought possible.
If you build your online business in your spare time, as Richard does, it’s all the more challenging. On the upside, you don’t have to grow your business in record time. You determine the pace. If you can work on it only a few hours per week, and a couple more on the weekend, so be it.
Your business will grow, slowly but surely. Will you make mistakes along the way? Most likely. Richard admits that he made mistakes when he started out. In his enthusiasm to grow his site as fast as possible, he created content that was good, but not great.
But only when you take the time to craft outstanding content, content that sparks, will you wow your visitors and satisfy the search engines. In the long run, this is time well spent, as your content is the engine that drives your business.
8. What do you enjoy most about being an online business owner? How has it changed you, your life, your family?
Being an online business owner has made a huge impact on our lives. For me, the energy and focus I give to the topic of leadership and personal growth makes me better both personally and professionally.
Throughout my career I’ve always led a team of people. The things I’ve learned through my professional experience provides valuable ideas for content and tools that I can deliver to my online audience.
The reverse is also true — as I research other leadership online resources for the site, it provides me with great ideas that I can leverage with my team. It’s truly a win-win scenario.
For my family, the extra income has been life-changing. We were able to get out of debt, except for our home mortgage, early in our marriage and we’ve made a point of maintaining that status.
In addition, Leadership-Tools has funded memory-making family vacations and provided a nice nest egg for our daughters’ college educations.
My website continues to fuel my passion and allows me to share my experience with like-minded aspiring leaders all over the world.
But there are also the non-monetary effects, like being a positive role model for your kids, growing as a person, making new friends across the globe and simply feeling proud that you’ve created something so valuable out of nothing.
While each solopreneur’s story is different, you can sense the life-changing impact of building a business with SBI! in all of them.
9. And finally… What’s your top tip for someone who is just starting a solopreneur career?
Don’t allow yourself to use words like Can’t, Won’t or Don’t. Replace those words with can, will and do.
When I started my solopreneur journey, I did not know the first thing about building a website, let alone how to build a successful (aka: profitable) online business. Choosing Solo Build It! (SBI!) as my online host and trainer/mentor was the best choice I could have made.
Follow the SBI! Action Guide to the letter and you can’t go wrong. Be prepared to work at it. While the guide is simple and easy to understand, creating a successful business still takes time and effort.
Use the SBI! Forums to connect with other solopreneurs. When you’re just starting out, it’s a goldmine for support and words of encouragement. Before you know it, you’ll realize that you’ve become the “knowledgeable expert” who is now helping the “wet behind the ears newbie.”
I’m very thankful to Ken Evoy and the entire SiteSell team for their dedication and support over the years as I’ve built my online business. I feel privileged to be a part of the SBI! community and look forward to many more years of online growth and success.
Lastly, as you’re creating your website, think about how each page, tip, tool and resource can help other people from all over the world. Think legacy. What do you want the legacy of your website to be?
For me, I want my girls, my grandchildren and their children to find great value in what Leadership-Tools.com provides to anyone who seeks to become their best self.