SBI! Review: How I Succeeded
With My Online Business in the Competitive Travel Niche
In January of 2009, I stumbled upon a website that talked about the different options to build a real money-making business online. It was created by another Solo Build It! (SBI!) member and talked about the benefits of this powerful system.
Instead of just taking their word for it, I researched SBI! high and low. I liked what I read. I was sold. I signed up just six weeks after I had first heard about it.
At the time, I was heading up to Napa and Sonoma frequently to try new wines. I knew a lot about these two regions already, and was eager to learn more. After some quick research, I decided to create a site focused on red wine.
A few months later, I was so excited about the red wine site and the possibility of making money online, that I started a second site about San Francisco.
I was working nights and weekends to read through the materials, learn everything I could about online business-building (most of it through SBI!'s trainings), and create new content for the sites.
My First Setback
In August 2009, it all came to a screeching halt.
I've had body misalignment problems for years and this was wearing on my body in ways I was unaware of. The week before Labor Day in 2009 it finally came crashing down on me.
I'll spare you the gory details, but I ended up in the hospital for 4 days and was out of work for another week. I walked around with crutches for four months. It took me a full year and a half to recover.
My online businesses took a backseat to my full-time job, and my recovery, until the end of 2010. During this time, I wasn't able to spend any time on them at all.
During my recovery time, I thought a lot about why I originally started the websites. Toward the end of my healing journey, I began to plan and make decisions on what I really wanted to do next. The decision to leave my full-time job and focus solely on my online business had been building inside me for some time.
However, like most things that are meaningful and life-changing, it came with great risk.
- What would happen if I didn't succeed online?
- What would happen if I wasn't able to earn enough income?
- Was I willing to risk it all to try to make a go of my online business?
In March 2011, I finally took the plunge and quit my job.
Before diving into my online businesses, however, I pursued my biggest passion: travel. I spent 8 months traveling around the world. In October 2011 I returned home. I was ready to get to work.
Jill and her partner Aram during one of their many San Francisco research trips.
My First Year Full Time With My Online Business
It had been almost two years since I really worked on my sites. Yes, I officially started in 2009, but with so much going on, I didn't work on the sites at all until October 2011.
I had very little direction on where I wanted to go. I started my two websites in such a rush that I didn't follow the Solo Build It! Action Guide. I also made the mistake of starting two businesses at once before even understanding how to make one successful.
To complicate things even more, late 2011 and early 2012 were the times when Google significantly changed the way they ranked websites. They raised the bar for their quality guidelines and made it more difficult to rank unless your content was unique and of the highest quality.
All of this meant I had to start all over on both sites.
At this time, I was devastated with the changes. Today, I look back and know that I started at the right time. Since I hadn't gotten too far, it was the perfect time to start over, work through the Action Guide, and do it right from the beginning.
For the first six months, I continued to work on both the San Francisco and the Red Wine site. I wasn't making much progress though, since it was too much work to get two online businesses up and running at the same time.
In May 2012, I decided to select one site and go all in. It was another major risk, but ended up paying off for me.
I chose the San Francisco site for a variety of reasons. I lived in the heart of San Francisco for more than a decade. I knew it really well and loved my time researching new activities.
After so many changes in the online world during my first six months, I now had a game plan and finally knew what I needed to do to build not just a website, but a successful online business.
Pursuing her biggest passion: travel.
Moving Forward With San Francisco Tourism Tips
Once I selected San Francisco as the business I wanted to move forward with, it was time to step up my game. How was I going to turn the site into a success? Again, I turned to the SBI! Action Guide as my faithful partner in business.
This time, I wrote a detailed plan on how I would organize my site and how I would monetize my growing traffic.
My first task was to rewrite every page on the site. I wanted my content to wow my visitors. I wanted to be the best in my niche. Once the existing pages lived up to my standard, I began researching and writing new content on a consistent basis.
I had a great time and I loved my freedom. Although I worked on my online business full-time during this period, I also traveled a lot and met new people. All of this slowed down my progress, but it was a big part of why I wanted to take this journey in the first place.
Fellow SBIers moved their online businesses along faster, but for me, it wasn't just about building a successful business, it was also about having amazing experiences along the way.
During this time, traffic started to grow nicely, and I began to make a name for myself.
One last issue I had was that I initially had selected a rather long domain name. In 2013 SBI! released a tool that allowed me to easily change my domain name to something shorter and more memorable.
I decided to take the plunge in January 2014.
More research for SFTourismTips.com.
SFTourismTips.com Is Born
My initial domain name was san-francisco-tourism-tips.com. I changed it to SFTourismTips.com to make it easier to market and brand.
Even though the transition itself was easy with SBI!'s tool, I knew I could lose traffic. I had to wait for Google to reindex my site. Over the next four weeks, I watched as my traffic went down, down, down. I was devastated and frustrated. In an effort to end this downward trend, I added new content and intensified my marketing efforts with the hopes that I would recover.
Two weeks later, not only did my site recover, but I had a huge surge in traffic. My site jumped from several hundred to several thousand visitors a day. One day in the early months after the rebranding my site hit almost 30,000 visitors!
This rebranding is what really turned my site into a successful online business. It wasn't just the name change though. It was a change in mindset. I became much more focused on adding great content and understanding the importance of marketing.
The Journey Continues
Over the next two years, I continued to add content, focus on marketing and build relationships to drive the business forward. And I continued to travel, to places as exotic as China, Malaysia, and Turkey. I had a growing online business and the freedom to experience the world. My dream was turning into a reality!
One of the things I always look at is how to mitigate business risks. Knowing that I was depending on the income from just one business, I felt the time was right to start a second business, again in the travel niche, but this time about Phoenix (phoenixuncovered.com/).
I launched "Phoenix Uncovered" in August 2020. It's growing nicely into a second source of income for me.
Field trip for Jill's second online business, DenverVacationTips.com
I also felt that it was time for me to have a home base. With my income from SFTourismTips, I bought a small condo and am now settling in.
It feels strange to sleep in the same bed night after night after having traveled for so long. At the same time I'm happy that I can focus more on my businesses. This will allow me to take them to the next level.
Never a Dull Moment: Transfer to HTTPS
In October 2017, Google once again made changes to their requirements. They now require that all websites become "secure." Failure to do so will throw a warning message in the Chrome browser when a visitor fills out a form or submits any information to your site.
This means that you have to transition your website address from HTTP to HTTPS. Similar to my domain name change, this isn't a decision to take lightly. Google considers a domain with an HTTPS address as a completely new site and has to reindex all its pages.
(If you'd like to learn more about the HTTPS switch and its ramifications, check out this helpful post at the Solo Build It! Blog.)
As you can guess, this was a stressful time as I clearly remember losing most of my traffic during my transition to a shorter domain name in January 2014. However, the difference this time was that I have a lot more traffic, pages and respect in my niche. So, despite my concerns I moved forward with the HTTPS switch right before my busy holiday season.
One of the reasons I trusted my intuition and took the plunge is that SBI! developed a tool and detailed instructions to ease the burden of transitioning. I spent a full week preparing for the transition based on everything SBI! outlined for us to do.
Even though the transition itself was scary, within the week some of my pages were already back at #1 on the Google rankings with the new HTTPS security!
My Biggest Learning Moments Throughout My Journey
Since I was brand new to building a website, let alone an online business, I've made some mistakes along the way. Some of it was due to my impatience. I just wanted to get moving with my sites.
I didn't take the time to fully use the training and tools that are included in every SBI! subscription. I selected a very competitive niche and I didn't create a full plan up front.
I also traveled a lot and moved around quite a bit as I worked on building my online business.
All of these reasons contributed to slower progress. However, I learned so much along the way that it was worth it, and I continue to learn more each day.
The SBI! tools are invaluable to me. They have helped me achieve everything I have so far, and they give me confidence that I can build on my success in the future.
I also love the SBI! forums. It's a place to help and be helped. And, I'm not afraid to admit it, there have been many times I've needed help. I'm actually proud to write that as it shows how important the SBI! community was and still is to my success.
Could I have become a success without SBI!? Maybe, but I doubt it, and I'm glad I found them when I did.