The more I read [about SBI!], the more excited I became. I understood that it can be done. That I can really take the steering wheel and sail wherever I want to. That I can take control of my own life. Boy was that a wonderful feeling!Leena Pekkalainen from ancientegypt101.com
As long as she can remember, Leena Pekkalainen had been fascinated by ancient Egypt. She read every book she could find — hundreds of them. Finally, in her early fourties, she fulfilled her dream and studied Egyptology at the University of Manchester.
With her diploma in hand, she found herself back in her ordinary life, working at an insurance company and feeling mighty disappointed at the lack of pyramids in Finland, her home country.
So she decided to start AncientEgypt101.com – just for fun and to keep her involved in her most favorite topic in the world.
Little did she know that her “just for fun” website would help her realize her other passion… to become a published author. Now her second book from the same publisher is about to be released, and a third one is already in the works.
To be fair, Leena can’t claim all of this success for herself. She enlisted the help of an Egyptology expert. His name is Mr. Mummific. He loves to tell readers about how life really was, in the old Egyptian days.
Curious to find out more about Leena and terrific Mr. Mummific? Here’s their story…
1. Leena, your online business topic is Egyptology, a rather exotic and not very lucrative niche. What made you decide to go with this niche anyway?
To be honest — it was and is a passion I’ve had since childhood. (The famous question I’m often asked is “Why Egyptology?” and I really haven’t the foggiest — as long as I remember I’ve loved everything ancient Egyptian.)
I never thought about making an online business out of it, not in the way of earning lots of money with it. Nope. The real reason was that after five years of studying Egyptology at the University of Manchester I was back in my ordinary life, working at an insurance company and feeling mighty disappointed at the lack of pyramids in Finland.
I wanted to keep learning about Egyptology, and not forget what I had studied. So I really put up the website for myself — writing about pharaohs and life in ancient Egypt would “force” me to study Egyptology on my own. So there you have it — a very selfish motive.
However, a word of advice before you jump into building a website: Ask yourself whether you want to build a business or pursue a hobby. Consider this question carefully. Which do you want? Try to project into the future.
Do you genuinely not care about making money, so that for you, a hobby website would be fine? Or do you recognize that you want to be financially rewarded for the time you’ll spend writing content, answering questions on social media and writing newsletters?
If you want to be financially rewarded, treat your site as an online business from day one. Change your mindset from “building a site to make money” to “building a profitable, long-term online business.”
Can you still switch from hobby website to online business at a later point in time? Yes, you can. But it will take you longer to see the financial rewards you seek.
Let’s get back to Leena and hear how her story unfolds…
2. You have a cheeky little helper at www.ancientegypt101.com: Mr. Mummific. How did you come up with this idea? And how has Mr. Mummific contributed to your success?
Mr. Mummific made his first appearance one evening when I was totally knackered — I had been writing one of the many essays required in my Egyptology studies and needed a break.
So I opened the TV and pretended to be looking at it. I had a sketchpad in my hands and I just started doodling in it. Perhaps because of the essay I had been working on, an Egyptian subject appeared — a little mummified man. He certainly seemed to be a personality when he observed me from the paper.
He looked funny and I began to draw more pictures of him. Then I thought I’d write a book where he would tell about life in ancient Egypt. The thing was (and is) that he seemed to share my strange sense of humor and I just couldn’t make him tell his stories in a formal manner.
Oh no — he had plenty to say about our modern life, which he compared to life in the times when he was alive — with tongue very much in cheek. His stories were rather short and when I decided to put up a website I figured he might just as well tell his stories there. And so on each subject there is the official facts-only version and the Mummific version.
He has certainly contributed to my success — it seems people read his version of the stories more than my hard-researched facts. LOL
And so he pretty soon gathered a following of his own that waited for the links to his pages. I post them on my personal Facebook profile where I have hundreds of Egyptology-minded friends.
Your VPP and voice must, in an instant, answer your visitor’s question, “Who is this person and why should I pay attention?”
Visitors want adventures, stories, characters, spirit, credibility. If the subject matter is more serious, they want authority, of course. But they want you most of all. So…
Flesh out your content with passionate, personal material. Done well, you make your visitor sit up and pay attention, and s/he doesn’t even know why.
Not everyone is as fortunate as Leena that they can personify their voice with a “Mr. Mummific.” Still, when you develop your voice, think about who your “Mr. Mummific” (in a symbolic sense) could be. How can you differentiate yourself from others in your niche? What makes you stand out?
Want to learn more about how to write great content, develop your voice and connect with your visitor? Download our free ebook “Make Your Content PREsell.”
3. From a very young age, you loved reading and writing stories. Now you’ve published your first novels and an illustrated children’s book. What role did your SBI! sites play in making this dream happen?
My site www.inspirational-short-stories.com was my first effort to write stories in English. I am a Finn and I really tried to write in Finnish, but it seems I am over-analytical with my own words when I use Finnish. If I use English, however, the stories just flow and I don’t start editing the first version immediately (which is important if you intend to get a story finished).
So “Inspirational Short Stories” gave me the courage and trust that I can write in English.
And AncientEgypt101.com — well, I mentioned Mr. Mummific’s following. As it happened, the director of the American University Press in Cairo was one of them. My website was only about three months old when he wrote to me asking if Mr. Mummific would write a children’s book — the first ever children’s book from this academic publisher.
I asked Mr. Mummific and he graciously agreed — I could be his scribe and artist. We got to choose the subject and chose mummification. (I suspect it was Mr. Mummific’s choice as he considers himself to be a very fine mummy indeed and wanted everyone to know how he became one.)
Just to be on the safe side — I never really know when Mr. Mummific is trying to pull my leg — I consulted all the books I had about mummification and death beliefs of ancient Egyptians. As I have about 250 books of Egyptology I had plenty of material. After making careful notes to get the facts right I wrote the story.
The actual writing process was pretty fast, with Mr. Mummific explaining to me how it all went (gory details galore, but told and illustrated in a manner that doesn’t scare children). It was the illustrating that took a long time — 80 pictures, each of which had to have correct details.
That meant careful planning. I declined as many social engagements as I possibly could to get things done before the deadlines. Hubby dearest had to drag me to the gym and social events to get me out of the house at all.
Otherwise I would soon have started to look like Quasimodo and mumble to myself like Gollum… (I was writing and publishing my first over 500 page novel at the same time).
Even before the first book, How I Became a Mummy, was published in the fall of 2016, I was asked to write the sequel. And so Mummies, Monsters and the Ship of Millions was born. The same long writing process — you have no idea how much the different stories of the ancient Egyptian afterlife vary.
I chose to write about the 12 caverns through which the Sun Ship travels on its way to a new dawn. And Mr. Mummific was on board observing it all. This second book comes out this fall.
And just as I thought I’d finally have time to continue writing book number three of the Nephilim Quest series (one of my other book projects), American University Press inquired if I would be interested in writing a book for children about the life and death of Tutankhamun.
And so, here I am again, with my 80+ illustrations. Half-way through at this stage, the deadline is in October. The book should come out early 2018.
American University Press has also just published Mr. Mummific’s 2018 calendar — originally intended for sale in Egypt but many inquiries from around the world made them consider making it available elsewhere as well.
My other novels were found by many people through my new SBI! website www.leenasbooks.com, although I have almost no keyword-focused content pages there. I planned on writing them, sure, but haven’t had time.
And for Leena, it didn’t stop with the first book. The same publisher has asked her to write two more books and has also published a Mr. Mummific calendar.
How did Leena get this far? Well, first off, she’s obviously a talented writer and illustrator who has followed her passion for writing since childhood.
And second, without really intending to, she attracted the right audience to turn her “hobby website” into an income-producing business. By following SBI!’s core principles, such as “keep it real” and “OVERdeliver,” Leena created outstanding content in her (and Mr. Mummific’s) unique voice.
She grew both search and social traffic. Her visitors, including the American University Press director, liked her content and saw her as an authority in her niche, Ancient Egyptology.
You’ve just witnessed the power of Solo Build It’s CTPM (Content – Traffic – PRESell – Monetize) approach to building a successful online business.
4. Is selling your books your only income stream from your online business? If you have other ways of monetizing, what are they and what made you choose them?
At the moment selling books is my main income stream. I do have Zazzle and Cafepress stores, but writing books takes all the spare minutes I can steal during the day so I haven’t had time to add any new products there for a while.
Still, I prefer links to e-stores over AdSense which I used to have as my main income stream. With time its importance diminished, income went down, and also many of the ads they showed on my sites were not what I wanted to see. For example, on my cat website… you write about cats and kittens and you’ll end up with Russian bride ads.
So I have been taking them down and on my author website I haven’t used them at all. There I intend to use Redbubble links as their e-store is very fast to work on (Redbubble is similar to Zazzle and CafePress, with fewer options of what you can sell, but very easy to use).
In a few minutes you have the pictures you’ve downloaded in all the products you want to. The pictures I use are my own artwork or photographs.
Adsense, in particular, seems to have “hooked” online business owners with high payouts in its early years, but is gradually paying less for valuable real estate on your sites. Leena isn’t the only solopreneur who decided to replace AdSense with better paying monetization models. Fellow SBI! member Jill Loeffler explains how and why removing AdSense may even help you earn more.
Leena’s highest earner is in line with what we recommend: develop and sell your own products, whether digital or physical.
If you are good at drawing or designing, you can easily make and sell your own products with online retailers like Zazzle, CafePress and Redbubble. You upload your images, select a product to customize, and then sell it. Your customized products could be T-shirts, buttons, greeting cards, mugs, cell phone cases, bumper stickers, mouse pads and more.
Whichever monetization model you choose for your online business, SBI! has you covered. You’ll have access to up-to-date articles and tutorials for every potential monetization option, from affiliate marketing to referral fees to ebooks to developing your own hard goods.
5. You started with SBI! in 2008, writing about topics as diverse as short stories, cat breeds and coloring books. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?
I loved all those topics, but the one I had to put to rest is the coloring book site. I wanted to draw every picture myself and there just wasn’t time. I’m doing some updating on my story website, but don’t intend to write many new pages there at this stage.
Still, I have many visitors and a nice list of newsletter subscribers so I keep writing newsletters to them and use the site as a way to advertise my books as the themes don’t clash. I love cats and do research on cat breeds still, though the pace with which I publish pages has slowed down considerably.
And if I could go back in time… Well, I know I would start the short story website all over again as writing is my passion. And the cat breeds — well, I love that too. But maybe I would have reconsidered the coloring book website if I had known how much time it would take.
It seems that the same applies to her other niche sites about cats, short stories and coloring books. She simply loved each of those topics and wanted to share her passion with the world.
But she also realized that “there just wasn’t time” to do it all… even though she built her sites mainly for personal reasons, not as income generators.
Lack of time is every solopreneur’s biggest enemy. That’s why we advise SBIers to focus on building one online business at a time. Succeeding online is not about building a bunch of “sites.” It’s about growing one high-income business.
Think about the offline world. Would you start a bakery and a barbershop at the same time? No way. Treat your online venture the same way, as a business, not just a site.
6. What has been your biggest challenge so far as a solopreneur?
I have a 9-5 job so I’d say my biggest challenge is finding time for my websites and writing. But as I am a bit of a workaholic, I keep doing them.
Still, there are times when I am totally knackered. Waiting for the day when I can make a living with my writing — whether it’s with books or websites, preferably both.
So, how do you solve this dilemma? How do you manage to grow your own profitable business while still working a 9-to-5 job?
By optimizing your time. To help you do that, we designed SBI! as one big time-optimizer. There’s no need to figure out the perfect process, no trial-and-error. The Action Guide lays out every step of the process. Nor do you need to “keep up” with all that’s going on in the blogosphere. We do that for you, too.
In our 2017 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.
SBIer Elly Prior summed it up perfectly well: “Without a doubt, SBI! has saved me tons of time and potential failure by stopping me going down multiple blind alleys in search of information.”
7. What do you enjoy most about being an online business owner? How has it changed you, your life, your family?
It made me trust my own abilities. I can do a website and write books just the way I like. My novels are self-published, and I have found a professional editor and cover designer myself. I have learned about book marketing myself — and SBI!’s teachings have certainly been of great help there. Not only practical advice as such, but the self esteem SBI! has given me.
I dare to dream now, and act upon my dreams. When I hear people complaining how things aren’t the way they’d like I find myself wondering why they don’t do something about the situation then. I certainly have a mindset now that I can change things if I want to.
I remember how diligently I researched SBI! in 2008, reading everything I could on the Solo Build It! website, every success story. After I signed up, I read and watched all the training materials. I also spent a lot of time in the wonderful SBI! forums during the first month, to be sure I had made the right decision.
The more I read, the more excited I became. I understood that it can be done. That I can really take the steering wheel and sail wherever I want to. That I can take control of my own life. Boy was that a wonderful feeling!
Because I’ve been doing my websites with SBI! for so long, the step to publish my own books didn’t feel strange at all. I already had many of the skills I needed, the courage to see my own words published, and the enthusiasm to try to succeed on my own.
I keep on publishing my own books alongside the traditionally published books. No conflict there, just my choice.
Over the years we’ve found that you need three characteristics to succeed with SBI!. We call them BAM: Brain – Attitude – Motivation.
People with BAM realize that they can take control over their lives. But they not only realize it, they act upon it. Like Leena said, “I dare to dream now, and act upon my dreams.”
8. And finally… What’s your top tip for someone who is just starting a solopreneur career?
Follow your passion. Of course take a careful look at what is popular and what could be monetized, but after you’ve done all that, you need to have passion in what you do. That passion will make you get back to work after a bad day (yes, there are days when you swear there’s no point in continuing).
That passion will shine in what you do. It’s contagious, in a good way. Your customers, whoever they are, trust you that much more when they sense how happy you are in your chosen field.
That passion will make you feel happy in your life in general, too. It is the ground upon which you can meet life’s challenges. I think passion is your inner being telling you where your life’s path lies. So listen to it carefully — listen to words of reason by others, but don’t believe in naysayers who are trying to divert you from a path you really want to follow.
Still, don’t forget realities of life. Plan. Make timetables and follow them. Be flexible too. And plan free time in your calendar as well so your mind has time to rest. Only a well-rested mind can be creative.
There are only so many hours in a day, so drop those things that don’t take you towards your chosen goal. You can’t do it all, but you can do a lot if you choose your actions wisely.
And one more thing — when you follow your passion you never really get it done. There is always something more to do. Don’t stress over it. Accept it, and enjoy the fact you’ll have something interesting to do again tomorrow.
Happiness is a journey, not a destination. Enjoy your journey.
- Before you embark on your solopreneur journey, ask yourself: Do I want to build a business or pursue a hobby? If your answer is, “build a business,” adopt a business mindset from day one.
- Focus on building one online business at a time. You wouldn’t start two brick-and-mortar businesses simultaneously, right? Treat your online business with the same vigor.
- Stand out from the crowd, with high-quality content, presented in your unique voice. Think “Mr. Mummific.” How can you make your online presence a “one of a kind” experience?
- Dare to dream — and act upon your dream!