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Case Study:
Online Business - winning-homebrew.com

Bobby Don Johnsons Award Winning Home Brewery

Interviewee Name:  Bobby Don Johnson

Interviewee Business Name: BDJ Online Services & Education

Online or offline business: Online: http://www.winning-homebrew.com

Products and/or Services Offered: Visitors learn how to make award-winning beer and mead at home

Can you tell me about your background and where you come from? Did you/do you still have a regular job? 

I was born and raised in West Texas.

I got an Associates in Applied Science degree in Oil and Gas Technology in 1981 and worked in the oil industry for a while.

Even back then, the oilfield had its boom and bust cycles.  

After getting laid off in 1983 I decided to go into the Army to get college money and finish my degree, primarily so I could get out of the oil industry and into something more stable (I was married with a child at the time).

I served 4 years in the U.S. Army and after being discharged in 1988, entered Texas State University, where I graduated with a B.B.A. degree in Finance with extra hours in Accounting.  

I had hoped to work in corporate finance after college.  But as luck would have it, when I graduated in December of 1990, we were in the middle of the S&L crisis.  

Thousands of people with Accounting, banking and finance experience were out of work and in the job market. So, I ended up back in the oilfield where I worked until this last major downturn.  

My last job was as a Consultant Field Engineer on the North Slope in Alaska.  

I was laid off from that job two years ago and have decided I’ll retire from this crazy oilfield and concentrate on other pursuits.  

Today, I am teaching a class at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette called Building a Successful Business Using the Internet.  

I am also concentrating on generating more traffic to my website called Winning-Homebrew.com

What is the name of your business and can you describe what you do and who you do it for?

My business is a sole proprietorship called BDJ Online Services & Education.  It encompasses all my online endeavors, teaching the class at UL Lafayette, money generated from my website, and I am in the “beginning phase” of a web design business.

I plan on adding a class called SBI! For WP (WordPress) next semester but this means that I will have to really learn all about building a website with WordPress so I can be a proficient teacher.

Why did you start your business and where did you get your idea

In 2009, during another pretty bad down cycle in the oil industry, I was out of work for a year.  Instead of just sitting around waiting on the phone to ring to go offshore, I decided I needed do something constructive.   

My hobby at the time was making beer at home, home brewing.

As I was progressing, I would try to find helpful information online to solve various problems and answer questions.  At that time, there weren’t many quality sites I could go to to get these answers.  I was having to find my answers in my brewing books library, which was okay, but I prefer to do my research online rather than in books these days.

I remember thinking at the time, “I wish someone would write a good website that had all the information I’m looking for in one place”.

So, I decided to build a website myself.  

The plan was to build a website that might generate some income, but also be there when I could no longer work.  I did the research on how to write a website and how to build an online business.  I had no coding skills, but I did know about business.  

After weeks of research, I finally discovered SBI! (Solo Build It) from SiteSell Inc.  Not only does it allow someone with no previous web skills to build a website, it walks you the basics of doing business online.

 I still had the offline business mentality and needed to learn how things worked online.  

SBI! was the perfect tool for both building my site and teaching me how to build a successful online business.

 My site went active in March of 2009 and has been doing well, progressively gaining traffic ever since.  

My site has become an “authority site” in the home brewing community

Who or what inspired you?  

Being laid off and waiting for the phone to ring gives a person a lot of spare time, so to speak.  I was doing a lot of home brewing and entering those beers in some of the larger home brew competitions across the country. As I soon found out, I was pretty good at making beer.

In 2008 I entered one of my early beers in a very large home brew competition and it won first place and got really great reviews as well.  

This win qualified me to enter the winning beer in the Master’s Championship of Amateur Brewing MCAB that year.  In that competition, which gathers all the first place winners from the largest home brew competitions across the US, I won first place in my beer style category (which was American Barley wine by the way) and also won Second Place- Best of Show against all the award-winning beers interred in the competition.

This is what really inspired me to write my website.

 I felt that with this win, maybe I was qualified to teach others how to do the same thing, make award-winning beer at home.

What training or development did you undertake in order to start your business?  

To write a website, all you really need is a command of your language.  The best web pages are written in a conversational way.  I had always done well in English in high school and college.  Then when I started working on my Business degree, I took a couple of courses in Business Communication which I think helped a lot.  

As far as the actual mechanics of writing the website, I didn’t need any special skills with SBI!.  It is all “Plug and Play” so to speak.  Everything is done in blocks.  You just start filling in the blocks with a title, cut and paste your content into a text block, drag over an image block and upload an image, take care of your internal links, and you are ready to publish.  It’s all really quite easy and the resulting web pages were soon ranking very high in Google’s search results pages. 

How much money did you need to start off your business and where did it come from?  

My wife is in education management so she never has to worry about layoffs.  She went back to school and got her Master’s degree in Special Education and makes enough money so that we get by during the slow times in the oil industry.

We just redirected $299 for a full year subscription to SBI! (Solo Build It) and that’s all I needed to start my website.  Of course, I already had a large brewing library which I needed for reference material as I began writing my content.  

Later on, as I became a much more accomplished brewer, my experience dictated a lot of my content.

How do you make money now with your business?  

Winning-Homebrew.com is monetized through affiliate sales.  

In other words, as I write an article that will help a new brewer with a problem, I will add a link in context to one of the major online home brew suppliers in the US, MoreBeer.com.  MoreBeer tracks the IP address of each visitor that uses my link for 60 days.

If they are a new customer, and make a purchase during that 60 days, I get a percentage of the sale.  It has worked out well, but the main problem with affiliate sales is that if someone is going to drop $5000 on a high-end home brewery, they will generally take more than 60 days to do the research and make up their minds.

So, most of the sales are for the less expensive brewing supplies and equipment.

I also have links to the major home brewing magazine and the American Homebrewer's Association where I receive a percentage of the sale of a subscription or a membership.

How did you actually start your business, in 10 steps or less?  

First of all, I did the research on federal and local laws governing web-based businesses.

I registered with my local government and received a business license to do business in their jurisdiction. After that, it was just a matter of going through the process of building a website and an online business.

If you are passionate about what you are writing about, it’s really not work.  

I had about 50 pages written in a few months and quite a few pages were already ranking high in Google’s results pages.

At this point, it was time to figure out how I was going to make money with my business.  I didn’t have a product to sell so I knew I would have to make money through affiliate sales.

I contacted all the major online home brew suppliers and was lucky enough to be accepted as an affiliate with MoreBeer.com. 

Competition has definitely gotten stiffer since I first began my web based business in 2009.  I have to continue to write good content that engages my visitors and gets them to click on the affiliate links.

These days, social media is a very big part of doing business online.  I never was much of a social media butterfly, preferring to keep my private life private.  Many people just love to “live out loud” on Facebook, and that’s okay, but it’s never been how I want to live.  

But, I’m finding these days that if you aren’t doing the work on the social media sites, you are behind the ball and are losing a lot of potential visitors and customers.

So, I started a Facebook page for Winning-Homebrew.com, setup a Pinterest account, setup a twitter account and began tweeting away.  

It’s a tough road for someone who wasn’t interested in the social lot of extra work because you have to put out a lot of good quality content that visitors want to interact with.  It’s slow going right now, but eventually I’ll get there.

What obstacles did you face when you started your business and how did you overcome them?  

The only real obstacles to building an online business are those you impose upon yourself.  Confidence plays a big part.  You have to come across as being an expert in your chosen niche.  You don’t necessarily need to be an expert, but you have to write as if you are.  Your content has to be sound or your visitors who have advanced knowledge in your niche will tear you apart on the comments and on social media.

You would be amazed at how fast a visitor will “click-out” of your site if they don’t feel like you really know what you are talking about.  

They need to feel like they are being guided by someone who has been there and done that.  If you don’t write with authority, it will show in your traffic soon enough.

You have to either have the free time or you have to make the free time to build a successful online business. The beginning is slow and tedious.  Things don’t happen overnight.  

That’s just a fact of doing business online. You have to do a lot of research for each article or page you write.  

Being accepted as an authority is a little tough at first.  

Not everyone can pull it off.  But once you get some of your articles accepted by the search engines, and once you start getting back links from the major forums in your field, then you’ve made it.  

Back links play a big part in getting sufficient traffic to your online business. Not only are back links important to the search engines as a sign of a quality site, much of your traffic will come from clicks on those back links at other authority sites and forums.

What are some of the things you found most useful in getting your business off the ground and why?  

Previous business always helps, but is not totally necessary.

If you want to have a successful online business, you really have to do the research before you begin and pick the right company to host your account and the right platform to build your site with.

I am extremely happy with SiteSell Inc.’s SBI! online business building system.  If I weren’t I wouldn’t have kept using them for all these years.

I like them so much that I am now teaching a class by SiteSell Education called Building a Successful Business Using the Internet at a local university, The University of Louisiana at Lafayette.  

There are a million ways to write a bad website, but very few ways to write a website that can consistently rank high in the search engines results pages.  And let’s face it, Google rules the web.  If you can’t rank on the first page of Google’s SERP (search engine results page) then you can forget having a successful online business.

What advice would you give to someone who is looking for an idea to start a business? How would you suggest they go about it?  

Everyone is good at something.  Everyone has something that they can teach to others. Find something you are passionate about, or something that you are willing to put in the time and effort to learn really well.  It will show in the content of your website if you are only in it for the money.  Plus, it won’t seem so much like work if you really love what you are writing about.  

Take your time, overnight success happens, but not very often.  It takes time to build your business from the ground up and it takes time before you can generate enough income to quit your day job.  Just keep plugging away, writing good content for your site that will eventually get good rankings with the search engines and that satisfies your visitor’s needs. 

You have to make time in your life to commit to your business, be it a brick and mortar store or an online website.  

It’s difficult to juggle a family life, a full-time job, and still find time to commit to writing good content for your site.  You will have to make sacrifices at first, but things will get better, given a little time for your business to mature.

Concentrate on one business at a time.  Focus all your time and energy into building one successful business. And once that business is successful, if you decide to build another business, make it related to the first one. Let synergy work for you.

And most of all, don’t get discouraged and quit.

Nothing worthwhile comes easy.  If you are not making mistakes, then you are not trying hard enough.  Learn from your mistakes and move on.

Is there anything else you would like to say that is not covered by the questions above?  

I would like to encourage everyone who thinks that they have nothing to offer to re-examine their lives.  What are you good at, what is your favorite hobby, what do you love to talk about, what have you learned on the job that makes you unique, or what do your family and friends say that you are good at?  

Think about these things and you will come up with something that you can build an online business around. Whether you are a single parent, a veteran returning to the civilian world, someone who works hard every day but hates their jobs and their boss, whatever your situation, you can build a home-based business and be your own boss.  

If you want to follow Bobby Don on his brewing business journey...

His website is winning-homebrew.com and you can follow on Social Media at Facebook & Twitter