Money, art, and real life: my SBI review

Three recent events prompt me to write this SBI review.

  • Two of my friends asked me how I run an online business in the arts
  • My web-hosting and business-skills company, SBI!, is being undermined using fake reviews
  • Calligraphy-Skills.com celebrated its seventh year of EARNING MONEY (important words for any amateur in the arts)

Scroll down for the tl;dr ;-)

So what's the story?

Calligraphy-Skills.com is both a hobby and also an earning site which supplements my freelance income in writing and editing. How much? A teeny amount by most standards. The great thing is that, unlike most freelance income, I can count on it from month to month. It buys our family's organic veg and fruit each week, a few other high-end food items, and a little extra which I save up for calligraphy and art courses. Oh; and it pays my annual subscription fee to SBI!.

Now, really, can that be described as impressive money? No. That said, during the last five years, have I had to spend any time actually earning that money? No – other than replying to visitors who write to me. Does the weekly cash injection make a difference to quality of life? Absolutely.

The site also earns Amazon vouchers which provide me with a steady supply of calligraphy and art books (not much else because of the tax and shipping restrictions to the UK). And a tad more  through my affiliate relationship with Dick Blick Art Supplies.

As long as my site earns money from my interest in calligraphy, I feel as though some kind of magic is happening. Because it's hard to make a steady income from the arts.

Calligraphy-Skills.com could earn more by being more ad-driven and commercial; but I don’t want that. What I want is to find enough time to update it properly and make it more useful to visitors because as far as I’m concerned it’s still just a ‘baby site’, a fraction of the size and detail that it should be.

I never expected a baby calligraphy site to earn so steadily and well. But SBI! put the tools and knowledge within my grasp to make that happen.

That point merits emphasis. Making steady money through calligraphy is possible for me only because of SBI (Solo Build It!). SBI (or SBI! to be totally correct, with its old-school screamer) is not just a web-hosting company but also a business plan that works, a suite of effective online-business tools, and a community of helpful people – people whose only extraordinary quality in common is their persevering and motivated style – striving to build their skills and interests into online startups that can actually succeed instead of wilting into slow failure after a few months, which is what most would-be online businesses do.

I was not convinced.

It’s amazing now to look back eight years and remember the tiny beginnings of Calligraphy-Skills.com.

A friend had asked me to help him to make money online – he’d got interested in a get-rich-quick, make-money-online scheme. I lent some writing assistance, he started to make a little cash, and I thought ‘I should be doing this myself!’ But he was constantly having to tweak the keywords, pay for sketchy links to his site, and scramble with 'corrections' to trick the search engines. As soon as he stopped jumping through hoops, the money started to dry up.

I wasn’t completely convinced, so I researched options.

Digging around for ‘website income’, I started finding SBI reviews. At first they looked like the same old same old. After reading a dozen or so reviews, I noticed an odd pattern emerging: the authentic-sounding experiences were positive, while the negative or ‘it’s OK but’ SBI reviews turned out to be selling some other scheme promising you’d get rich quick. This was back in 2009.

After visiting a few websites and the forums of SBI itself, I went with my gut. The stories told by SBIers were real stories, with real detail and personality including occasional clunkiness and complaints. The others, the 'fake reviews', were mostly superficial and super-cleverly written, with, here and there, strangely emotional outbursts washing around. To me, they smelled fishy. I decided on SBI.

I signed up, paid up, and rolled my sleeves up. My very first choice, according to the Solo Build It! Action Guide (which takes you through every step of the business-building process) was my topic.

This would prove a significant moment: it was a choice between authentic interest and faking it for cash. I love calligraphy. But I knew there was likely to be very little money in it. It was not advertised as a profitable niche. But the topics which could have earned more money – living abroad, running, English language – didn’t appeal to me for the long term.

With an online business in the arts, you’re not looking at a wild holiday affair. You’re committing to a long-term relationship. And (I believe) you need to feel sure you will be able to love and get along with your topic not just for six months or even six years but for the indefinite future. Because you better believe too that there will be downs as well as ups in the relationship.

A business? In 'amateur calligraphy'? Seriously?

Yes, I went for calligraphy, rather wondering whether I was making a horrible mistake. The numbers remained discouraging, and I proceeded with my fingers crossed. But lo and behold, it seemed that genuine interest sparks genuine interest. Visitors came, and got in touch. And the income followed … a trickle … then a flow … then a reliable monthly sum which maintained itself, month after month.

It was hard work – on and off – for two years. It was detailed, difficult, daunting. But it was doable. And then I was actually earning a legitimate passive income from amateur calligraphy, which I had never quite believed could happen, and was delighted to discover could be done in real life.

Fast-forward five or so years. My little baby site continues to earn for me although, as mentioned, for those past five years I have not done the work to increase its content, reach, and income-earning potential. Sad to say, though, the same old review scam is happening again, largely orchestrated this time by ‘Wealthy Affiliate’. But these reviewers are not providing what visitors actually need and want in the way of honest experience. Instead, as far as I can see, they’re selling their own product on the back of SBI’s success.

You might, quite reasonably, think that I am saying this just to defend my own choice eight years ago. Fair enough. (I have read enough Daniel Kahneman to view my own thinking with some skepticism.) But I believe it's appropriate to defend a good choice, and I also have in mind my friends who are interested in the possibility of their own online arts business. If I tried to set up this website today, I believe I would end up making no money from calligraphy. Because, given the weight of reviews, not knowing they were fake, if I went searching now, I would probably go with the ‘alternative’ to SBI and I believe my calligraphy site would fail, because they do not cater for tiny niches like mine. Then I would be left with just one earning option: selling the affiliate scheme itself for them.

By the way: I'm not an SBI affiliate. I don't help sell SBI sites, and I don't make any money by promoting SBI.

Recently, in response to the slew of fake reviews, SBI itself examined their competition, and did its own analysis of the numbers. You can, therefore, look for yourself at facts and figures which illustrate that Solo Build It! sites succeed thirty-three times better than Wealthy Affiliate sites. 


Is it for you?

So when you search for ‘SBI reviews’, and instead of an SBI review you turn up the same competitors either harbouring a long-standing grudge or sweet-talking about how 'SBI used to be good but now we're better', ask:

Why do they not compare on the basis of numbers measuring real user criteria: say, ‘sites ranking high for a topic keyword’ or ‘sites that are still in business after eight years’?

SBI’s proven business model, even after my site has been sitting here unchanged for years, keeps that steady, friendly little flow of cash coming in while, like passing clouds, Google algorithms come and go. It's not the model for everyone, and certainly not if you want to make huge amounts of money very fast (which perhaps you can do in your line, but not in calligraphy, I assure you). In any case, if you want to leave your day-job entirely and live on your website income, you are going to have work harder than I have for the past five years. But those first two years of endeavour are still paying off for me.

And if you want to start an online business in the arts, I recommend Solo Build It! It does the job. It is straightforward. It gives you the tools and shows you how to use them. After that, honestly, it is up to you. If a middle-aged freelance editor with a family and endless life-distractions can make amateur calligraphy earn a steady income, I assure you that you can make your interest or hobby earn too. You will need your own basic intelligence, a thrive-and-grow kind of mentality, perseverance, and the full set of good-quality working tools which SBI provides.


tl;dr

SBI enabled me to make money from my calligraphy hobby. Fake SBI reviews by Wealthy Affiliate, including 'SBI is good but ...' reviews, might mislead you into thinking it doesn't work. But if you want income from the arts, you need a genuinely effective business model and a genuinely helpful community behind you. You can read the study of the numbers here.