Out of Africa – Finding Online Success After Losing it All


Out of Africa -  Finding Online Success After Losing it All

The change in our life has been extraordinary. Not only has it provided us with a healthy income and solved all our financial woes, our online business has led us to moving back to Victoria Falls.Tony from victoriafalls-guide.net

Imagine this….

You have to flee your farm to safety as Robert Mugabe’s land “redistribution” policy closes in on you in 2002. It’s not just your farm at risk. A temporary move to England turns into 5 years. The “madness” in Zimbabwe continues.

In December, 2007, this courageous couple returns to Africa “with the wind back in our sails” to build an online business.

Follow along as Tony and Boo go from deepest despair to joy and safety. This is real-life inspiration, even for non-fans of Karen Blixen’s famous “Out of Africa” drama.

Tony and Boo at their favorite place on earth: Victoria Falls
Tony and Boo at their favorite place on earth: Victoria Falls

1. Tony, you say that victoriafalls-guide.net changed your life from terrible debt to financial freedom. Can you tell us more about that?

We were successful farmers just north of Harare in Zimbabwe. In 2002 Robert Mugabe’s land reform program ousted about 4000 white farmers without compensation and brought the country to its knees. It also caused a severe change in our lives.

It became unsafe for us to stay on the farm. We had to abandon it, leaving almost everything we owned behind. We had to start from scratch. As we had family in the United Kingdom, we decided to move there.

In the UK, things went from bad to worse: all the businesses we tried seemed to fail. Soon we found ourselves in huge debt. We longed to move back to Africa where our hearts were, but financially we were trapped.

One day I heard about a seminar in London called the World Internet Summit. Now, for a Zimbabwean farmer like me, the internet was just about the most foreign thing that you could mention. Nevertheless, I attended the seminar with a friend. I was blown away by the concept of making a living online. For me this ticked all the boxes, but I also knew that it probably wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

I bought and tried just about every “How to Make Money on the Internet” program you could find without making progress. I was close to giving up when I came across SBI!. Their approach was refreshingly different: it was not a get rich quick scheme but a much longer, deep-rooted system based on a solid foundation.

So my wife and I started with SBI!. It didn’t make money overnight. It took a while for the wheels to start turning, but today we have a successful online business and our lives have been transformed. We are out of debt. We moved back to Africa. And we simply love life in Victoria Falls.

TAKEAWAY #1: We’d all love the promise of “get rich quick” (GRQ) to be true. The sales copy is so convincing. It creates the “this time, it’s different” feeling (without ever saying those words, of course, because then you’d wake up and realize “the con is on”).

All of these GRQ schemes, no matter what, have a fatal flaw. It’s simple logic — if everyone could do it, it would end world poverty. Unfortunately, the world of Internet marketing is full of these scams.

Here’s just one recent example: We did an exhaustive, objective, head-to-head study and review that compared SBI! with another system, Wealthy Affiliate, which claimed to be the best system for success. Sadly, the only result they excel at is failure for those who get suckered into that system.

SBI! was shown to be 33X more effective at enabling members to success, while Wealthy Affiliate proved to be a waste of time and money for 87% of those who signed up and made an effort.

Like Tony pointed out, SBI! didn’t make him and his wife money overnight. It took time and hard work on their part. The result though was well worth it: it changed their life from debt to freedom and enabled them to move back to their home country.

Boo answering emails from clients.
Boo answering emails from clients.

2. How did you decide about your niche? How did you know it was the right topic for you and had great business potential?

We followed the SBI! Action Guide step by step. In fact, we had no idea when we started out that we would build a website about Victoria Falls. The Action Guide told us to list all our passions, interests and areas of knowledge.

Then, through SBI!’s powerful Brainstorm It! software we were able to research and decide on which topics had strong potential. Victoria Falls showed up trumps with a strong demand and relatively low competition. Plus, we knew a lot about the area, as we had lived and worked there. Last, but not least, we really loved this topic.

TAKEAWAY #2: When you start with SBI!, your first “assignment” is finding your perfect business niche. How do you do that? First, you make a list. Observe your daily life and write down everything that comes to mind: your skills, experiences, 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 your heart sing.

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 your broad areas of interest.

When you have your list, narrow the topics down to your top 3; then research these top choices further. You want to find out if your ideas have business potential. That’s where SBI!’s Brainstorm It! tool comes in.

Brainstorm It! brings back hundreds of keywords (aka “topics”) related to your niche concept. For each keyword, it tells you how many people search for it (demand) and how much true competition there is (supply).

With smart filter and analysis functions, Brainstorm It! helps you decide if your business niche is too broad, too narrow or just right.

And it’s just become even better! With Brainstorm It!’s newest release, it’s turning into much more than just a research tool. It’s going to be your smart partner in business.

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?

Brainstorm It! provided us with many, many keywords related to our niche Victoria Falls, each one showing the potential number of searches for that specific phrase. We built page after page of content guided mostly by our Master Keyword List (MKL) but also by what made logical sense to our readers.

We had created a site plan according to the Action Guide. We followed that and added one high quality content page after another.

TAKEAWAY #3: The “Master Keyword List” is the analytical part of Brainstorm It!. It helps you build your Site Content Blueprint.

What’s a content blueprint? Think about the blueprint for the design of a building. The contractor does not start construction 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 your first page, even before you register your domain name. The SBI! Action Guide walks you through this process, step-by-step.

It took a long time to build all the pages you see now on our site. But it was enormously enjoyable for us to write about what we know and love.

I really got it when SBI! taught us to create unique and useful content. People are desperate for good quality and accurate information. We deliver that as best we can. It has contributed significantly to the successful rankings of our website.

Some pages can take days to create. It’s difficult to quantify their worth in time and effort on an individual page basis. But when all put together, a website with good quality content can rarely fail.

People will love it, share it and link to it. Google loves this. It’s what they’re trying to achieve. So you end up finding yourself at the top of the rankings, and the “traffic snowball” momentum keeps growing and growing.

Good quality unique content used in conjunction with others strategies is by far the strongest SEO tool.

TAKEAWAY #4: Keep it real and provide real value. That has always been SBI!’s philosophy. It’s — as Tony pointed out — by far the strongest SEO (search engine optimization) tool.

The search engines are not “changing the way the game is played.” Not unless you’re an SEOer, trying to trick the engines. If you follow the SBI! principles, you’ll be rewarded by the search engines as they get smarter at recognizing quality content that focuses on delighting the visitor.

Tony and Boo test all the activities first before they recommend them to their visitors and clients, like this new "Art Safari" in Victoria Falls.
Tony and Boo test all the activities first before they recommend them to their visitors and clients, like this new “Art Safari” in Victoria Falls.

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

We just kept plugging away for about 6 months writing and uploading content. Often we struggled with technology. We were still not really sure if and how we could make money.

Our goal was to grow our visitor numbers per day and then sell advertising on our website. After a while however, people starting contacting us through the website, saying “you seem to know what you’re talking about, is there any chance that you could arrange our holiday to Victoria Falls for us?”

After about 8 months we had our first booking and made a small commission. It was our first real revenue; we were ecstatic. Soon after, business inquiries started to soar. The rest is history, as they say.

We now have 3 full-time consultants. Each year, we book hundreds of itineraries for people visiting our wonderful part of the world.

Sometimes it’s just an airport transfer and other times it’s a full 21-day safari in the top safari camps and lodges with all the activities in between. It’s incredibly rewarding and at the same time highly profitable.

TAKEAWAY #5: When you research the business potential of your niche, SBI! provides you with a “monetization planner worksheet.” You’ll work your way through seven 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.

Many solopreneurs select Google AdSense or similar advertising networks as their first monetization model. It’s easy to implement and requires very little maintenance. On the downside, the profit margin is small, and you need tons of traffic to make a substantial income with AdSense.

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

In Tony’s case, his secondary (and now most important) income stream was triggered directly by his visitors. There’s no better proof that your product or service is in demand than having your audience ask for it!

Photographing elephants in Hwange for a new safari section on VictoriaFalls-Guide.net
Photographing elephants in Hwange for a new safari section on VictoriaFalls-Guide.net
TAKEAWAY #6: As your business grows, you may have to hire help or outsource certain tasks. Tony mentioned that they now have 3 “full-time consultants.” Jumping from a one-man and one-woman show to hiring 3 full-timers is quite a big step. So we wanted to know what exactly these consultants do for them and whether they are employees or freelancers.

Tony explained…

“The consultants are travel specialists, whom we employ. They also earn a commission on the bookings they complete.

They learn and experience the products, be it a safari lodge, hotel, bungee jump or white water rafting, with all the logistics in between. Armed with this first-hand knowledge, they assist clients in putting together customized trips to meet their requirements and ensure a smooth experience.

Imagine if you were coming on your own  to Victoria Falls to go on a safari. Most likely you would know nothing of the accommodation or the activities, or even how to get there from the airport. The consultants put together the whole thing for the clients according to their budget.

The reviews on our testimonial page attest to the quality of our service. This kind of social proof helps enormously in getting more customers.”

5. How many different income streams do you have? Which ones perform best?

Our main income stream is from commissions on the travel agency side of the business. Hotels, lodges and activity operators pay us to sell their products. This is by far the most profitable monetization stream.

We also sell quite a bit of advertising and have Google AdSense on some pages.

Lastly, we have a couple of downloadable guides which sell at a surprisingly good rate. All of these different sources add to our overall income.

Just one example of the many lodges, hotels and activities represented on VictoriaFalls-Guide.net. Note how much detail Tony gives, with links to more info, pictures, map and booking form.
Just one example of the many lodges, hotels and activities represented on VictoriaFalls-Guide.net. Note how much detail Tony gives, with links to more info, pictures, map and booking form.
TAKEAWAY #7: For most online businesses, it’s highly advisable to have more than one income stream. Should the earnings from one source decline, you have the other sources to fall back on.

Tony’s primary monetization model is actually a mix of two models, both with good profit margins. He sells his own services (planning and organizing customized vacation tours). Within that service, he sells the services of hotels, lodges and activity operators, for which he earns a commission (this monetization model is often referred to as “finder’s fee.”)

The tricky part of the finder’s fee model is to ensure that you get paid when someone books an external service through your site. We asked Tony how he does it. He explained:

Travel works on a two tier rate system. The “rack” rate which the public see and an STO (“Sell to Operator”) rate which is a discounted/wholesale rate that travel agencies get. This discount depends on your volumes and how much you negotiate with the hotel or operator. For us it varies between 20% and 30%.

We charge our clients the rack rate which is exactly what they would get charged if they went directly to the hotel or tour operator. We then pay the hotel or operator the STO rate and keep the difference.

6. You use social media to promote your online business. How did you decide which platform(s) to use? Why do you think they work best for your niche?

At this stage Facebook is the only social media platform that we are actively using. I am well aware that we need to be more active on some of the others. It’s an area that I am admittedly quite weak on.

We are so busy that I haven’t devoted much time to learning the ropes of doing social media well on platforms other than Facebook. But we will get there in due course.

TAKEAWAY #8: Building a strong social presence is increasingly important, especially if you have something to sell.  It both builds your “Brand of One” and enables you to personally network to powerhouses in your niche.

To help time-strapped solopreneurs like Tony master social media in the most efficient way possible, we are developing “Social Media Action Guides” for the “Big 4”: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram (included in every SBI! subscription for free).

Just like the main SBI! Action Guide, the social media guides will take proven best practices, while dropping the 90% that’s useless, bad or more complicated than is worth the time. Then we’ll organize this information step-by-step, from setup to advanced techniques.

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

Technology, without a doubt. This does not come naturally to me. As I said previously, I was a farmer in my mid-forties. I knew very little about computers. It took me a long time to understand how to get the most simple of tasks completed; but I stuck to the Action Guide and pushed through the challenges, along with the help of SBI! support and the SBI! forums.

Nothing was impossible and we worked our way through it all. Looking back at our first site design and the pages we built then compared to the site now, I am amazed how much we’ve evolved.

In a follow up question, we asked Tony how tasks are distributed between him and his wife. We also wanted to know whether they had any tips for other couples building an online business together.

Here’s what Tony had to say:

We have to know our products, so my wife Boo and I spend quite a lot of time travelling to all the camps, lodges and hotels. We also try as many of the activities as possible to compare different operators and ensure that we only recommend the best.

Just this last weekend we spent the night at Masuwe lodge, a newly opened lodge. The owners invited us so that we would include them in our portfolio.

Boo is our senior consultant. After we check out a new hotel or tour, she teaches the other consultants about the new offer. She assists with putting packages together and handles some of the bigger and technical itineraries.

Later this year we are going to Botswana for 10 days to learn more about some of the camps there. Usually these exploration trips are fully paid for, and we often get treated to the honeymoon suite or something like that. We feel extremely privileged.

On a "work trip" to Victoria Falls Hotel, with an "all expenses paid" stay in the palatial suite.
On a “work trip” to Victoria Falls Hotel, with an “all expenses paid”stay in the palatial suite.

I handle the website, update content and create new pages as required. Luckily, we now have a full-time assistant for the site. I also handle the finances, negotiate contract rates and oversee the general management of the business. Boo handles all our clients and the consultants.

Initially we both just worked on the website, each of us creating content in different sectors. As the business evolved, we had to adapt our roles.

It has been a wonderful journey that we are lucky enough to have been able to share with each other and continue to do so. Patience with each other is always one of the greatest virtues.

TAKEAWAY #9: “Nothing was impossible and we worked our way through it all.” That sentence beautifully sums up Tony and Boo’s approach to building their business together.

The reward? Living life on their terms. And getting to stay in honeymoon suites for free isn’t bad either.  

8. What do you enjoy most about being online business owners? How has it changed you, your life, your family?

The ability to access markets across the globe!

We have clients contacting us from every corner of the world. We are able to assist them and plan a holiday of a lifetime for them. That’s so rewarding.

Plus, we have the freedom to combine travel and work. I remember sitting on the banks of the Zambezi river with our dongle and internet connection, working on our business — it’s almost too good to be true.

We also love the low overhead costs of our web-based business. This is vitally important in today’s economy. Many businesses fail because they simply cannot afford the high operational costs.

Another great thing about an online business is that we can still be doing this when we are eighty. The effort is minimal and the rewards are high; we no longer have to worry about retirement!

The change in our life has been extraordinary. Not only has it provided us with a healthy income and solved all our financial woes, the website has led us to moving back to Victoria Falls.

We had no idea where it would lead us when we started out. Moving back to Victoria Falls wasn’t part of the plan. But because of the site’s success we almost had to, to position ourselves as the destination experts.

We love what we do, we live in the most wonderful part of the world and we get to travel to so many stunning places because it is now part of our job.

Our three adult sons live close by. We literally could not wish for a better lifestyle.

Tony, Boo and their two sons enjoying family time at the Zambezi River
Tony, Boo and their two sons enjoying family time at the Zambezi River

We’ve learnt a skill through SBI! that I hope to be able to share and teach one day. An online business to me is a no-brainer, the advantages are too many to mention. I just wish others would have the faith to try it and transform their lives too!

An online business to me is a no-brainer.Click To Tweet
TAKEAWAY #10: Online business owners enjoy many benefits. Tony named a few…
  • Being able to access a global market from the comfort of your home
  • Combining travel and work
  • Having low overhead costs, which reduces the risk of failure
  • Securing your retirement
  • Becoming financially free

So why aren’t more people doing it? When we asked visitors to SiteSell.com what’s stopping them from trying SBI! to build their own online business, four main concerns emerged:

  1. I can’t afford the price of SBI!.
  2. I’m skeptical. This sounds too good to be true.
  3. I can’t do this. I don’t have the time and/or the skills.
  4. I can do it myself. I don’t need an all-in-one solution.

Are you sitting on the fence? Do you share any of these concerns? We invite you to check out our no-nonsense answers or speak to one of our experienced advisors about your specific situation, hopes and worries.

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

Stick to the Action Guide. It’s not a 10 DAY program, it’s a 10 STEP program. Some steps will take weeks depending on your time availability. Don’t try to jump ahead of yourself.

Do the research part diligently, nail down your niche and then create great unique quality content. It takes time, so be patient and don’t give up. If you do this, success in some shape or form is guaranteed.

TAKEAWAY #11: Honestly, we feel a bit like a broken record as we repeat this one piece of advice time and again: Follow the SBI! Action Guide to the letter.

But hey, if so many winning solopreneurs insist that this is the most important success factor for them, it’s well worth repeating.

Out of Africa -  Finding Online Success After Losing it All
Margit Streifeneder
Margit Streifeneder is the Marketing Co-Director at SiteSell. She works with a small but mighty team to spread the word about Solo Build It!, via helpful content, informative emails and eye-catching ads. She's passionate about helping solopreneurs achieve success, and enjoys interviewing SBI! members about their achievements. Besides growing her own online business, she loves exploring new places, hiking, dancing and spoiling her three cats.