How This Solopreneur Carved Out a Fun Business for Retirement

How This Solopreneur Carved Out a Fun Retirement Business

Looking for a fun business for retirement? As you can tell from Dana’s quote (below), carvingjunkies.com isn’t her first website. In fact, she has been a Solo Build It! member (“SBIer”) since 2008. Dana freely admits that she made a lot of mistakes with her first attempt at building a successful site and online business.

“This time around, I started with more winnable keywords, and now — within one year of launching the site — the majority of my pages are ranking on the first page of Google search results.Dana Kababik, www.carvingjunkies.com

Mistakes that you might identify with, like targeting far too generic, highly competitive keywords or not researching the monetization potential of your topic before you register your domain name.

True to Cicero’s wise words…

“Any (wo)man can make a mistake; only a fool keeps making the same one.”

… Dana didn’t make the same mistakes again. From collecting subscribers for her newsletter list from day one to targeting low competition keywords to consistently building her presence on social media, she did lots of things right this time.

Want to know what had the biggest impact on her site’s success? Keep reading! (She speaks about that in her answer to question number two.)

Old world gnome carving, a beautiful example of Dana's carving skills and a fun retirement business idea!.

Old world gnome carving, a beautiful example of Dana’s carving skills.

1. Dana, you and your husband started carvingjunkies.com in 2021. What were your reasons for creating the site and how did you know that the topic had business potential?

I’m going to be retiring in a few years and wanted to build a fun business for retirement that would keep me excited and engaged. David retired last year, and he helps me here and there, but carvingjunkies.com is really my baby.

I had spent about 6 months researching another type of hobby website (crochet). Then COVID-19 hit, and during lockdown I started to wood carve and fell in love with it.

While doing my new research, I saw that my site concept keyword was within the “sweet spot,” according to the Solo Build It! Action Guide. I’m not great with numbers, so I put together a draft site blueprint with my keywords and ran it by an SBI! coach before I registered my domain name.

I’m so glad I did because I would have gone down the wrong path. Now, I feel like I’m on the road to success.

TAKEAWAY #1: Whoa, there’s a bunch of juicy takeaways already, and we’re only at question #1!

First, if you’re getting close to retirement, or already retired, there’s — in my totally unbiased opinion 😉 — nothing better than starting a fun business for retirement.

It will keep your mind active, prevent you from boredom in retirement and add a nice financial cushion to your pension or social security check. You might even impress your grandkids with your new-found Internet savviness!

Second, give yourself permission to change your mind! And never consider the time spent researching as wasted. Dana took six months to research one niche and then discovered that her passion had moved elsewhere.

Third, recognize your weaknesses. Dana knew that she wasn’t good with numbers. She reached out to our team of SBI! Professionals to review her keyword brainstorming results before deciding about her final niche and registering her domain name.

Dana's hobby retirement business carving wood

Dana at work with her “lapshop” (as she calls it). It consists of a wooden carving box (a vegetable bin), rolling tool chest, light box for photos, and her iPad Pro. The box catches some of the always flying wood chips, and more importantly, protects her lap (a knife slip can be deadly if you hit a femoral artery).
With this set up she can sit next to her hubby while she’s carving/writing and they’re watching TV. 😁

2. This isn’t your first site, but the first where you’re seeing early signs of success. What did you do differently this time?

I’m following the Action Guide this time. I got sidetracked with my first site and I made a ton of mistakes. I also didn’t really think through the monetization potential.

Still, it was a great learning experience and it helped a lot of people. I also wasn’t keyword-focused. I picked keywords that had high demand and high supply. It’s hard to win those keywords.

This time around, I started with more winnable keywords, and now — within one year of launching the site — the majority of my pages are ranking on the first page of Google search results.

I knew I was on the road to success when I wrote a new page recently with a keyword that had much higher supply and it was on the first page of the search results only a few days after I published it.

TAKEAWAY #2: Here it is, the one change that made all the difference for Dana and her new site: “I am following the Action Guide this time.”

The Solo Build It! Action Guide is the result of two decades of working with everyday people building their businesses online. It’s like a tried and tested family recipe, honed and perfected over time, giving you all the steps and ingredients you need for a profitable website business.

All you have to do is follow it! Watch the short video below for a sneak peek into the Action Guide.

3. You promote your site on four social media channels. How important is your social media presence for gaining authority within your niche?

A branded social media presence is very important. It’s something I didn’t do with my first website. All the organizations, magazines, and renowned wood carvers are on Instagram.

A few months ago, I looked at my Instagram presence (@carvingjunkies) and created a branded template to showcase my wood carving tutorials.

Before and after of branding exercise for Dana's fun retirement business

Before and after example of an image. People thought I was just making cute little carvings and posting them on Instagram. The same image after branding on the right. All I did was add a colored box with the words “carving tutorial” and my domain name. People now understand that I’m offering tutorials via my website.

A week later, I was invited to speak by an organization that I’ve long admired. They promoted my presentation on Instagram and Facebook. They also recorded my talk and uploaded it to YouTube, where it’s getting new views each month.

I offered to help them in any way I can, which led to the opportunity to write an article for their newsletter. And I’ll be writing another article for them in a few months. It’s great exposure for my website.

“More importantly, I’ve made great contacts and feel like I’m an accepted member of the wood carving community.”

This fall I’m participating in a national event. I’m excited to see many of the carvers I’ve only “met” online.

TAKEAWAY #3: By working consistently on her social channels and giving them a professional look and feel, Dana built up her reputation as a knowledgeable expert in her area. An expert who also knows how to market her business.

She got noticed by some of the big names in the carving niche. They invited her to do a presentation about building a website and improving the social media presence for other wood carvers.

When asked how she achieved so much in such a short time, she told them that her “super power” was Solo Build It!, whose education has been likened to an MBA without the price tag.

Dana’s accomplishment is all the more impressive as she’s no “carving veteran.” She only discovered carving as a hobby in 2020.

What I want you to take away from this is: you don’t have to be working in your niche for decades to make a name for yourself. What you need is

  • the right mindset (building a business vs putting up a site / blogging)
  • the right training (like SBI!’s Action Guide, including Social Media Action Guides)
  • a supportive community (like the legendary SBI! forums)

And if you’d like to kickstart the authority-building in your niche, check out our article How to Do Collaborations Well Even if You’re Not on Instagram.

4. Your mission is to “make wood carving addictively fun with free, step-by-step tutorials.” If you give away so much content for free, how will you make money with your site?

I’m planning to create a series of wood carving pattern books, informational books, and online courses that I’ll sell.

For example, I’m working on developing simple methods for carving faces, which many people struggle with. I have a survey on my site so I can learn what types of wood carvings — and what methods of product delivery — people are most interested in.

Once my traffic qualifies for Mediavine ads, I’ll incorporate them as well. Perhaps I’ll add a paid membership section to the site and sell print on demand merchandise.

I may also offer coaching services to other wood carvers who want to increase their online presence. I know other monetization ideas will come up as the site grows. Right now I’m focused on continuing to add great content, gaining more credibility, and building traffic.

TAKEAWAY #4: Once again, Dana delivers more than one lesson in her answer about building and monetizing a fun business for retirement. Care to guess what they are?

Lesson #1: Diversify your income streams. Dana isn’t fixated on one way of earning money from her website. Instead, she plans on monetizing in various ways:

  • selling ad space via Mediavine (an alternative to Google AdSense that pays better but also requires a certain amount of traffic to be accepted)
  • creating and selling her own digital products
  • adding a paid membership section to her site
  • selling print-on-demand products
  • offering coaching services to fellow wood carvers

By having more than one income source, she has a fail-safe should one monetization stream dry up.

Lesson #2: Ask, don’t assume. Too often we make the mistake of creating products that we think our audience wants, only to be disappointed when no one buys!

A much better approach is to ask your visitors what they want or need — just like Dana does in her survey.

Detailed images of wood carving techniques

An important part of Dana’s tutorials are close-up images showing her readers various carving techniques.

5. What role does email marketing play in your business strategy? And who came up with the creative name for your newsletter, “Covered in Chips”?

“Before I published my first page, I already had my free gift for subscribing to my newsletter to build my email list. It’s a simple PDF file with 50 wood carving and painting tips.”

I didn’t do this with my first website and it was a huge mistake. I also created a landing page to promote my newsletter, which another successful SBIer recommended.

I send the newsletter twice a month and time them around my new tutorial launches. I offer exclusive tips and Give-A-Yays (my creative spin on Give-A-Ways) every now and then.

My subscribers are incredibly loyal so I’m confident that when the time is right to monetize my email list, the audience will already be there.

I came up with the newsletter name well before my website domain name because I’m literally always covered in wood chips! They often go flying, and end up in my hair, on my lap, and sometimes inside my clothes!

Example of a newsletter signup form

This is part of the newsletter sign-up page on CarvingJunkies.com.

TAKEAWAY #5: I’m not surprised about Dana’s early success with her online business. In my 12+ years of working with solopreneurs, I’ve hardly met anyone who started their email list from day one.

Kudos to Dana for planning ahead. She had her newsletter name, a dedicated landing page and a freebie as an incentive for signing up before she even published her first page of content.

Not starting to build your list and sending a regular newsletter early enough is such a widespread mistake that we created a three-part video series around it.

Start with video number one and learn how to build and monetize your email list the right way.

6. What has been your biggest challenge so far with building your fun business for retirement? Do you think the challenges are different today than they were when you started your first site back in 2008?

The biggest challenge is finding the time to do everything. Social media is so important, but it takes a lot of time and effort. I also try to publish four keyword-focused tutorials a month.

In addition, I create slideshows on YouTube, which add value to my tutorials. My primary goal though is to pull people away from YouTube and onto my site.

I’ve decided not to do narrated wood carving videos on YouTube because I want to create videos that I can sell as part of my online courses. Plus, you have to have millions of subscribers to make money on YouTube.

However, a renowned wood carver found my channel and promoted it on one of his videos and that has led to increased credibility and traffic.

One of Dana’s slideshow carving tutorials on YouTube. Notice the clean branding at the beginning of the video and the clear call-to-action at the end.

TAKEAWAY #6: “Finding enough time to do everything.” Sound familiar? Welcome to the world of solopreneurs!

When you build your fun business for retirement as a one (wo)man show, you need to learn and do all the tasks involved, from writing articles to editing images, from designing opt-in forms to drafting auto-responders and from promoting your business on social media to answering reader’s questions, to name just a few.

Fortunately for you, should you decide to join the Solo Build It! community, you’ll learn each of these tasks, either in our “Action Guides” or in one of the many articles in SBI!’s knowledge base — all the info you need in one place, updated regularly.

Let’s take creating videos and publishing them on YouTube as an example. This might feel like an insurmountable project to you, thinking that you wouldn’t even know where to begin.

Enter the SBI! YouTube Action Guide. In 10 chapters (or DAYs, as we call them), it will take you from understanding the basics to scripting, filming and uploading your videos and — should you want to do this — monetizing your YouTube channel.

10 steps to building a fun retirement business

Solo Build It!’s YouTube Action Guide: This table of content shows how much you’re going to learn as you start and build a fun business for retirement.

You can go as elaborate as you like with your videos, or keep them simple, like Dana did (see her example above).

7. What do you enjoy most about being an online business owner? How has it changed you, your life, your family?

I’ve been writing professionally for over 30 years but I’m often writing about very serious medical conditions. It’s so nice to have a website where I can be playful and have fun with my writing.

I also love all the creativity that goes into my wood carving designs, photos, and videos.

I’m always learning new things and trying new technologies. It’s a lot of effort, but when you’re working for yourself it doesn’t feel like work. You know that you’re building your success for the future.

Even though my first website wasn’t viable long-term, there was a point where I was earning a few hundred dollars a month with Google AdSense. In retirement, having extra money like that would be great!

TAKEAWAY #7: Creativity, fun, learning new things, earning extra money in retirement, building your success for the future… Dana highlights some of the benefits that you’ll enjoy when you run a passion-based online business.

Whether your main goal is keeping your mind active, boosting your finances or helping others with your knowledge, one thing’s for sure: you won’t find the same level of personal freedom with any other type of business.

Funny carved fairy shows creative projects make for fun retirement business ideas

Dana clearly enjoys the creativity of her work!

8. And finally… What’s your top tip for someone who’s just starting a fun business for retirement?

Make sure that you are super passionate about your site concept because you will be living, eating, and breathing it every day for many years to come.


TAKEAWAY #8: Building your business around your passion is the ideal scenario, no doubt about it. Although, I personally often struggle with this “passion” requirement.

What if you feel that you just don’t have a topic you’re passionate about? Should you then not build an online business?

My advice: by all means, go for it! Search for a topic you’re interested in and willing or even excited to dig in deeper.

Perhaps you have profound knowledge in some area because you’ve been doing it for a long time. Maybe there’s something that comes so naturally to you that you believe it’s as easy for everyone else. Believe me when I tell you that it’s not!

If you’d like some help with discovering your passions, interests, skills or knowledge, click here to arrange a free phone consult with our friendly Advisors. They’re always happy to help folks discover what they could build a fun business for retirement about!

Did Dana’s inspiring story make you hungry for more? Sign up for our free 10 Real Life Success Lessons email series and meet ten more “everyday people” turned solopreneurs (or retiredpreneurs!).

Each of them has a unique lesson to share that will help you in your own online business journey.

How This Solopreneur Carved Out a Fun Business for RetirementHow This Solopreneur Carved Out a Fun Business for RetirementHow This Solopreneur Carved Out a Fun Business for Retirement
Margit Streifeneder

Margit Streifeneder

Margit Streifeneder is the Marketing Co-Director at SiteSell. She works with a small but mighty team to spread the word about Solo Build It!, via helpful content, informative emails and eye-catching ads. She's passionate about helping solopreneurs achieve success, and enjoys interviewing SBI! members about their achievements. Besides growing her own online business, she loves exploring new places, hiking, dancing and spoiling her three cats.
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