My Solo Build It! Review: how I (and my chickens) learned to build a profitable business online - and how you can, too!

Ever thought you'd love to leave the day job and work from home? Swap your suit for PJs? Change the hour you spend sitting in traffic for an extra hour in bed?

Me too. The difference is - I did it. And just in case you want to, but you're not sure how, or you're a bit scared about taking the risk, or you're worried about getting scammed - because there are a lot of scammers out there - I'm going to share my own story with you.

It's a story of how I went from a job which was bringing me down to a life and lifestyle I love, in a country I love, doing work I love - running my two online businesses.

And if, at the end of it, you want to ask me questions, I'll happily answer them. Anything you like. Because I'd like you to be able to have the same opportunity I did.

To live whatever happens to be your dream. To live the life you love.

Choose your own destiny - Ralph Waldo Emerson

So, grab your favourite beverage and settle down to hear about my (and my chickens'!) journey to online success, and how it could be your story, too.

A man with a machete started it all...

Machete man cartoon.

So there I was, sitting in my office, looking out at the bus sheds in Liverpool, England. I worked as a manager for the Probation Service (like the US parole service - but without guns).

It was pouring with rain, and I'd just had to deal with a man who'd come into the office threatening staff with a machete which he was wielding freely over his head.

I dealt with it - it sounds scary but it wasn't an unusual occurrence. Then I found myself sitting at my desk, thinking "there has to be more to life than this".

I was 53 years old. I was tired, burned out and fed up. Seriously fed up. 

So I decided there and then to take Ralph Waldo Emerson's advice, and choose my own destiny. 

Retirement, cash flow and trying to find a purpose.

Mike (my husband) and I talked long into the night. We knew we'd lose out on our pensions by taking retirement at our tender age. Seriously lose out. Like by around one third of the amount we'd have got if we'd stayed another ten years.

But ten more years was unthinkable. The stress was horrendous, and we both kept getting ill. Colleagues kept urging me to consider retiring - we had bought our Italian house years before, and for them it was a no-brainer.

"Bus sheds in rainy England, or your own olive grove in sunny Italy? Where's the difficulty?". You can kind of see their point - this is part of our olive grove.

Olive grove in Italy.Part of our olive grove in Italy - a peaceful place where I often work on my websites.

But then, well - there's the risk element. And money. And time. I'd have too much of it, and I knew I needed an interest, or I'd be bored off my skull.

So I decided to have a look round and see how else we could earn a little money to top up our cash flow, whilst at the same time finding something that would interest me.

  • I looked at doing another degree. But really - why? I love research, and I love writing, but what use was another piece of paper?
  • I looked at becoming a counsellor. I already had the necessary qualifications. But honestly, I needed a break from people - machete wielding or not!
  • We looked at starting a dog-sitting service, and we did that for a while. We enjoyed it. But the dogs tended to dig up our garden, and it didn't give me the stimulation I needed.
Ben the Saluki.Ben the beautiful Saluki came for a holiday and spent it digging up the garden.

And then, browsing the internet one day, I came across an idea. 

Why not build a website?

loved this thought. It fitted my love of research, and of writing. It would keep me occupied, and if the "gurus" were to be believed, it could even make me some money.

And - more importantly than anything for me - I would be my own boss.

Building a website: there's a lot of tricky people out there, and I seemed to find most of them!

I really had no idea what I was looking for. I knew I'd need a website, and I thought (in my ignorance) that if I got someone to make it for me, I could just take it away and write it.

How wrong I was.

I paid good money (and I mean a lot of good money) for someone from a website company (can't remember who now - they've probably gone out of business, anyway) to make me a site.

Money falling from purse.

It was lovely. Seriously. It looked great. It had a cute pic on the front. It was pretty.

There was just one problem. I couldn't work out how to write to it.

So I wrote to the designer and asked him. He told me he would copy whatever I wrote into the template. For a fee.

A very large fee.

"How will people find it?" I asked. "Ah well, you just have to trust to luck", says he.

That did not sound like a good idea. It felt, actually, like I was just throwing good money after bad. And I had to stop - I did not have money to waste.

I won't bore you with my other mistakes. It's embarrassing. But trust me - I made them all.

And then - I found SBI!

I still liked the idea, though, so I kept searching and by mistake (or rather, by good fortune), I found SBI! - in those days it was called Site Build It! This is the updated version of the first article I ever saw about SBI!

I also found a lot of reviews. They were not all good reviews. But something told me the bad ones were not real, somehow. People just seemed too angry, too intent on scoring points.

I'd had enough of point-scoring and anger to last me several lifetimes (remember machete man?).

Machete man - cartoon.

So here's what I did.

I found a chap who had an SBI! site about Italy. He was called Jim, and his website, Rent a Villa in Tuscany, is still there, all these years later.

Afterwards I discovered that lots of SBI! sites are long-lived, which is unusual in the internet-world. (Have a look at more fascinating journeys by long-time SBIers here).

Jim's "About" page said he had given up the day job, gone to live in Italy and was making money through his site.

Ha! Perfect... or wait - was this another scam? How to tell?

I did something that seems pretty obvious now, but at the time felt a bit on the embarrassing side.

I wrote to him. I asked Jim to give me proof that his "online business" was legit. That SBI! (called Site Build It! in those days) was legit. A kind of informal review.

Rent a Villa in Tuscany website header.Jim and Fiona's "Rent a Villa in Tuscany" website.

He didn't know me from Adam. But he answered all my questions, and he gave me proof - real proof, in the shape of numbers and earnings. And photos of himself and his family, in their Italian villa.

He had nothing to gain from doing that. He didn't earn any kind of affiliate fee. He simply wanted to help.

(I've since discovered that "wanting to help" is just how SBI! operates).

He pointed me in the direction of other successful individuals - ordinary people, like me, not website-wizards or experienced business people or scam merchants, and definitely not multi-level marketing things.

Just ordinary, everyday people who had found SBI! and with it, found success.

(If you're interested in seeing some of the successes for yourself, take a look at this page).

So I decided to take the plunge. After all - there was a trial period so I could get my money back...

And - trust me again - even if I forgot to cancel after the trial period, the money I'd spend on an entire year's SBI! subscription would be around one tenth of the price I'd paid to have my other site built. 

So I bought my first SBI! site. It wasn't this one - it was a site about Italy - and it's still going strong nearly ten years later. When I started it we were still living in the UK, but Italy was my passion.

Explore Italian Culture: my Italian site's header.My Italian website - the first of my two SBI! sites.

SBI! teaches you something very important right from the start - write about your passion. And choose well, because you need to be prepared to work hard at it. Choosing something that doesn't make you smile just won't work.

I'd seen so many scammy "I make $50,000 a day" claims, that this SBI! company sounded real to me. Write passionately. Don't expect to become wealthy overnight. Take it slowly. All Solo Build It's main messages rang true for me.

I have never looked back - and that was in 2008. I now have the two sites, both performing really well, both earning me enough money that we were able to follow our dream and take early retirement, moving permanently to our house in Italy in 2010.

And of course with that came the opportunity to raise chickens - the Italian way.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Talking of chickens - think of Solo Build It! like an incubator.

You're likely to be a chicken-holic, so you know the score...

You use reliable tools that keep the eggs in the right environment. Keep them warm. Make sure humidity's right.

You pay them attention by turning them each day. And before you know it, you can see growth...

An incubated chicken egg showing embryo growth.

and next thing you know, a cute little chick is breaking its way into the world...

A just-hatched chick.

 ...still pretty vulnerable, so you grow it some more and in time...

A group of chicks under the brooder.

But, being chicken peeps, you already know all that sooooo...

Why is Solo Build It! like an incubator? 

Because it's all there, in one place, growing you into a successful business person!

How chickens can help build an online business - Pin for later!

It looks after you from start to hatch - and beyond. It incubates you. Gives you the right environment, and the right tools. Keeps you warm and rejoices in watching you grow.

Solo Build It! taught me everything, from scratch. I had no idea what to do or how to do it, in exactly the same way as I had no idea what to do when I first wanted to hatch chicks.

SBI! showed me how. It taught me that I wasn't building a website - I was building an online business.

There's a big difference.

It had everything I needed - all the tools, all the instructions, everything - in one place. And let me tell you - it cost me a lot less money than my incubators did! (and unlike incubators, its price has never gone up!).

Its step by step "Action Guide" took me by the hand and led me through the whole process, without ever having to know about HTML or coding or anything technical like that.

Just like my incubators take care of the hatching process for me.

It taught me how to...

  • choose a niche
  • write the articles
  • add images, links, captions - you name it
  • use keywords - getting pages found by using words and phrases people searching for information about that niche

and importantly,

  • how to make my business work for me - how it could make money.

Why else use Solo Build It!? Because of the support, which is second to none.

Let me introduce you to the SBI! forums.

The Solo Build It! forums header.

Within 24 hours (less!) of starting to learn about websites and business building, I'd been welcomed into SBI!'s forums.

I can't begin to tell you how much I was helped there.

I'd visited other forums and been totally put off by people being sarcastic (about how much I didn't know), undermining (because of my age) and just generally snarky. They actually discouraged me - and I'm a pretty confident woman.

Not at SBI! At SBI! all I found was

  • encouragement
  • kindness
  • people wanting to "pay it forward" without expecting anything in return
  • answers to questions within minutes
  • long and detailed reviews of my website, whenever I asked for them
  • easy-to-understand answers to technical questions, which I didn't need to be a coding person to understand (because me and coding do not go well together!).

As for other support...

A couple of times I've needed to ask for more technical help. SBI! support (despite what you'll read on some scammy reviews) is free at the point of need. And - bonus! - the same person sticks with you until your issue is resolved.

If the person you're with doesn't know the answer, they find someone who does. But actually, I've never experienced that. The support team members are just fantastic. End of story.

So exactly how successful is my online business?

Success can be measured in a number of ways. Here's something of what it means to me...

1. Visitors to the site - because without that, I have no customers:

  • The site gets between 18,000 and 20,000 pages seen a day. (No, that's not a typo). Here are my most recent monthly stats from Google Analytics.
  • Note the number at the bottom: over half of a million page views in one month.
Raising Happy Chickens, site visitors, April 2017.
  • Solo Build It! isn't just about the website in isolation. It also has step-by-step guides about using different social media platforms to relate to your community as well as to boost visitor numbers. It's all part of business-building.
  • I knew nothing about social media when I started. And now? My Facebook chickens community has nearly 13,000 subscribers; my Pinterest account had 1.6 million monthly views last month. 
  • And take a look at this little video I put together on my You Tube channel...
My YouTube video showing over 441,000 views.

(In case the print is too small for you to see, it says 441,000 views). 

How did all that happen? Because SBI! taught me about keywords, and how to use them not only so that my site would be found, but so that my social channels would be successful, too.

In fact, they even have Action Guides for the social channels - included in the price. My success on both Pinterest and YouTube has been a direct result of following SBI!'s Pinterest and YouTube Action Guides.

And the social channels take people back to my website. It's like one great big snowball. Once it starts to roll downhill, there's no stopping it.

And not many solopreneurs outside of SBI! ever even start to see a snowflake, let alone a fast-rolling snowball.

2. It's partly about the money...

Raising Happy Chickens earns me enough money to (for example)...

  • keep my entire flock of chickens in feed - including lots of treats!
My chickens love their watermelon!Keeping my chickens in watermelon and other treats does not come cheap!
  • visit my relatives in Chicago each year (from Italy - that's not cheap either!)...
  • ...and take regular visits to my family in the UK, at least four or five times each year
  • pay for the renovations to our Italian house (we turned the former cow shed into a beautiful, huge kitchen living room)
  • pay for some of the repairs we had to have done following the earthquakes in Italy in 2016 and 2017 - and believe me, they were extensive. Like for example taking the entire roof and first floor down and re-building it. That alone cost over €220,000.
Our Italian house, minus roof. Post earthquake damage, 2016.Sad times - post earthquake damage, 2016/17. But SBI! was there to help pay for the repairs.

Want to see more about how this site helped pay for earthquake damage? Watch my video interview!

There's more, too. Because...

3. It's not all about money. It's about being able to pay it forward.

One of the reasons I most love SBI! (apart from the business-building opportunities of course) is their philosophy of "paying it forward". That happens whether it's in the forums (especially in the forums) or as a thread running through the Action Guide.

And that fits perfectly with my own value system.

Mother Teresa said: "I alone cannot change the world. But I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples". If I can use my business success to help others in need, that for me is the real meaning of success.

"I alone cannot change the world. But I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples" - Mother Teresa.

So when I started making good money with SBI!, I decided I was going to pay that forward. Of course, I help out where I can in the forums (particularly with newbies - they often need the encouragement and support).

But I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to give back to communities who would benefit from my business.

So I make a monthly donation to various charities. They include well-known charities dealing with, for example, cancer research, and less well known organisations too:

The British Hen Welfare Trust who re-home thousands of ex-battery chickens in the UK. If I lived in the UK, I would definitely be adding to my flock from their rescue chickens. But as I don't, I feel it's only right that I would use some of the money I make from this site in supporting their amazing work. 

British Hen Welfare Trust.

PetPals GC, where my little rescue Yorkie, Alexia, came from. This charity does amazing work rescuing dogs from "Perreras" (kill shelters) in Spain, and re-homing all over the world. Luckily for me, that includes Italy.

Lexie, my little rescue Yorkshire Terrier.Alexia, thrown into a kill shelter at age 10, now with me in Italy thanks to PetPals GC - and thoroughly spoiled.

World Bicycle Relief. My donation is enough to buy one bicycle each month, to be given to a community in Africa where it helps children get to school, midwives get to pregnant women, entrepreneurs set up their own businesses.

See how well it fits with Solo Build It!? 

I'm not trying to blow my own trumpet. No-one - until I wrote this - knew about these donations. 

But if I can use my success to help others - why wouldn't I?

World bicycle Relief.Image by kind courtesy World Bicycle Relief.

Update, March 2022.

The situation in Ukraine has seen thousands of families, and their pets and livestock, dispossessed.

I have therefore decided, as well as those other charities, to donate a precentage of this website's earnings to the following charities:

World Central Kitchen (WCK)

WCK provides cooked meals on the ground to communities impacted by natural disasters or humanitarian crises. Their mission is simple: “When people are hungry, send in cooks. Not tomorrow, today.”

In support of refugees escaping the violence, WCK began serving hot, nourishing meals in Poland within a day of the initial attack and are now set up at eight border crossings. They are also looking into the possibility of delivering meals each day to families on the Ukrainian side of the border, waiting in line across the eight entry points.

Polish Humanitarian Action (PAH)

Polish Humanitarian Action is a smaller charity based in Poland. They provide food and hygiene items along with whatever is needed "on the ground" to refugees in both Poland and Ukraine.

Humane Society International (HSI)

HSI provides emergency relief and rescue for pets, livestock and other animals in Ukraine who are abandoned, roaming the streets, seeking shelter in bombed buildings, and struggling to survive. 

4. It's not all about money - it's a lifestyle thing.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not a totally selfless person! The money is a real bonus for us. Mike and I are on a limited income, due to our pension. The sites have helped us both pay day-to-day bills and have luxuries in life that we otherwise would not have been able to afford.

But money is not the be-all and end-all. These things are at least as important to me:

  • I have made soooooo many SBI! friends from all around the world. I have visited some of them, and some of them (and their families) have visited us. This is my good friend Marylyn who came all the way from Australia, with her family...
Successful SBIers from Australia came to visit me!

 ...and these are just a few of the successful SBIers I have visited with in America. As you can see, sometimes my visits involve working hard. Often they involve playing hard, too. :)

Meetings with SBIers in America.

In fact, my best friend in the world is an American SBIer called Lori, who I met at an SBI! conference several years ago. So you can see how SBI! has been great for my personal, as well as my working, life.

This pic was taken during one of the times Lori and her family came to visit us in Italy.

Lori and her family in our local vineyard.Lori, Steve and Kayli come to visit our local vineyard in Italy.
  • Through building this site I've made friends from my chicken community, too. In fact, I can't keep up with the number of emails I get (as you might know, if you've tried to email me!).
  • But even more than that - it's given me a huuuuge amount of confidence. I have learned so much with SBI! that I can talk at conferences about building a successful online business. This is me speaking to a group in Chicago...
Cath, speaking on building a successful online business to a group in Chicago, USA.

And I can work wherever and whenever I like!

This was really important to me. I wanted to work whenever and wherever I want - at home, in the garden, travelling the world...

And I can.

This was my "office" on a rooftop terrace in Barcelona, Spain...

Working as I look over the rooftops of Barcelona, Spain.

...and this one the view from my swimming pool office across to our tiny hilltop village in Italy (yes, the sites helped to pay for the pool, too)...

My swimming pool office!

 Mike and I make a point of having quarterly business planning meetings at our favourite place up in the mountains near our home - Lago di Fiastra. Who wouldn't love a life where this is your office?!

Having one of our quarterly business meetings at Lago di Fiastra.

I'm not boasting. I'm just trying to show you what can be done by anyone with a combination of Solo Build It! and hard work.

I love Solo Build It! - love it with a passion!

And I know you will too, if you're at all interested in creating your own online business.

It's not easy.

It doesn't happen overnight.

But if you're prepared to work at it, if you're prepared to follow the Action Guide to the letter - then SBI! can work for you too. 

I consider myself to be a real-life example of that. I'm not special, I'm not ultra-talented. I just have a passion - for Italy, and for chickens. And I have the bloody-mindedness to stick at it, despite the inevitable ups and downs.

No more stress. No more illness. Just a life working on my online businesses, which I love, and spending the rest of the time with my family, my dogs, my chickens - in other words, doing what I want to do.

Don't believe it can be done? I didn't, either. And it's very unlikely, without the right tools.

But with the right tools at your fingertips, with all the support SBI! provides, and with your own determination, it absolutely can be done.

And when you do it, and you come over to visit Italy, let me know. We'll meet up and share a glass of Prosecco or two.

I have the table already laid.

Italian table set for dinner overlooking hills.

Want to ask me any questions?

Of course you can!

I would be delighted to share my knowledge and experience with you and I would expect anyone who's serious to ask. 

And no, I don't make money out of it. I'm doing this for two reasons:

1. Because I believe really strongly in the power of Solo Build It!, and

2. Because I believe really strongly in helping others have the same opportunities I've had. It's been one of my guiding principles for my whole life.

So, feel free to ask away - anything you like.  

Just drop a line to my email, and I will answer you within a couple of days.

Want to find out how my website ended up being about chickens? Click this pic!

All about Cath link.

Here are some other articles I think you'll enjoy.

Free newsletter. Link.
Raising chickens: a beginner's guide - link.
Raising Chickens - step-by-step, month by month tasks - link.
Good husbandry for chickens - what is it? Link.
Incubating chicken eggs - an overview. Link.
Raising chickens in Italy - link.
Link to Raising Happy Chickens home page.