Sword Buyers Guide - ranked 63,000 out of all the websites in the USA and number 216,000 worldwide, with between 3,000 to 4,000 unique visitors a day is in the top 0.5% of all websites on the internet.
This is the story of how it came about..
It might sound cliche, but back in late 2004 and early 2005 I was looking for a different way to make a living. A way that gave me the freedom to work my own hours, do something that I was passionate about, and - hopefully - make enough money to quit my 9 to 5 corporate job..
My search eventually led me to check out some resources put together by Dr. Ken Evoy from SBi! (which at the time was called 'Site Build It'..) essentially a free guide on how to create a profitable affiliate site..
The guide was several hundred pages long and was just dripping with juicy information and tips on how to create a successful affiliate website, so I printed it out, poured over it - and was impressed by just HOW comprehensive this free guide really was..
But I think the thing that struck me the most, was this free guide held nothing back.. Yes, it did mention their core product, but they mentioned it only to contrast it as a one stop shop compared to cobbling it all together yourself. The SBI! way was essentially an easier, step by step method that integrated everything that was needed to make a successful and profitable, highly trafficked website..
Personally, I found the honesty of the SBi! method to be very refreshing.
They made it clear that this was no 'get rich quick' scheme - and did not hide the basic fact that to create a profitable website, you would have to put in a LOT of hard work, that you need to be totally honest with your site visitors, and - especially in the early stages of site building - you had to think only of what is useful to your site visitors, keep it real and honest at all times, and follow what they called 'the way of the turtle' - slow and steady wins the race...
This philosophy has served me well over the years. We were very careful to enure that the reviews that formed the backbone of our site were always honest, tell it like it is affairs, warts and all. After all, if we set up SBG as some kind of cheesy affiliate site based on making a quick buck we would not last very long and would be setting ourselves up for failure.
And while we did cover a few real stinkers to show what a bad sword looks like, we rarely if ever concentrated on bad reviews - generally speaking if we find a real dog of a sword we prefer a "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" approach to sword reviews because it is all too easy to sink the reputation of a 'competitor' or highlight a product we potentially make more money on with a fake review.
We have seen it on our own forums, someone does their best to attack and try to trash the reputation of the existing sword makers only to recommend their friends company down the track (or recommend a place that gives them free swords or other kickbacks)..
Fake reviews are a big problem online.
They mislead consumers, just to make money. For more info, do a Google
search for "fake reviews." It's so bad that consumer protection groups
and government may have to step in.
Actually, one of the reasons that I wrote this page was not only to share my story with you, but to support the site builder I have used since SBG started in 2005 which is being swamped and strangled by fake reviews for an inferior product..
If I had read those fake reviews, this site never would have become the success that it is - indeed, they did a head to head study which proves that by choosing to use SBi! as my site builder, it was 33 times more likely to be a success..
What follows here is my story - of how SBG grew from humble beginnings to become the premier website for sword information and reviews on the internet, the ups and downs, and a deep insight into what SBG and Solo Build It is all about for those of you who are curious what it takes to make a website like this..
One of the keys to success of Solo Build It websites is that they encourage you to create a website on a subject you are truly PASSIONATE about..
For me, it was - as you can tell - swords. More specifically, REAL swords..
I can actually remember the first time I became fascinated by swords.. It was at about the age of 5 I discovered a tiny set of miniature cocktail swords at my Uncles house like those pictured to the right, and while I was scolded that they were not toys, I could not stop looking at them or playing with them secretly at every chance I got, so much so that they started to become a little worse for wear and were eventually moved to a place I could not access them (my late Uncle, Peter Graham, was a very cool guy - a quiet, well read and sometimes grumpy guy from the U.K. - basically one of the last old school English Gentleman, and he had a collection of African spears, bows, etc from French Guiana that I was also fascinated with. May he rest in peace)..
From there, I was - like most young boys growing up in the 1980s, fascinated by He-Man and the Masters of Power and collected the series..
Fast forward into my early teens and I developed a love for pen and paper Role Playing Games, starting with 'choose your own adventure book' style solo adventures from Fighting Fantasy and graduating to become a Games Master from the age of 13 to the present for games like Dragon Warriors, Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, Middle Earth Role Playing, Castles and Crusades, and of course, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (a mix of 1st and 2nd edition).
At around the same time, I also developed a fascination for all things Japanese, and saved up and bought a set of stainless steel Samurai Swords for around $300 (a huge amount of money at the time, these days - thanks to the internet - you can get sets like this for around $30, but I am getting ahead of myself).
A foundation of a passion had been laid. So when it came time to choose something that I really cared about, and would enjoy exploring, researching and writing about - after using the preliminary research tools to select a niche - swords were the perfect fit.
Not only was it a high demand, low supply topic at the time - it was something I loved - and this passion was something that could keep it going through the hard times..
My end goal was to create the ultimate one stop site for anyone researching functional swords for the first time. To provide them a ton of reviews, information and everything else a beginning collector could need.
In 2005 when the site started, I was something of a beginner collector myself. Up until that point, I had not owned many real swords - and started by pulling together common knowledge from several small websites and forums - changing direction several times to make sure that I stayed true to my vision and basic principles.
To keep it honest, to keep it real - and to just tell it in my own voice and not fuss to much about making sure it was 'perfect' (a common beginners mistake when making a website for the first time).
I did my own research and documented it, buying several swords online for the first time, testing them out and being as honest and unbiased as possible in my final assessment (I always imagined I was writing to a handful of friends I knew personally)..
Two of my first reviews were the Practical Plus Katana and the Generation 2 Gladius. Then I started adding in reviews submitted by new site visitors as traffic steadily began to grow, made a few deals with good sword stores I had used to offer specials to my visitors, and exponentially the site grew over a period of 2 years. I started writing a monthly newsletter, the Sword Buyers Digest (which now goes out to over 15,000 people a month) - even started my own sword store, which was not in the original plan, but just kind of happened organically as one of the guiding principles of SBi! is to use your own "BAM" (Brain, can do attitude and Motivation).
And so it was that by early 2007, with the birth of my daughter Lana Karin on the way, I was making more money from my site doing what I loved in my spare time than I did working 40+ hours a week in my job - and made the jump from corporate employee to full time content creator and business owner..
But like anything worthwhile, it was not always easy..
Anyone that tells you that running an internet business is lying - and from 2010 the effects of the financial crisis finally reached the sword industry, sales plummeted, sword sellers and makers started dropping like flies and the market that I had helped to grow the previous 5 years shrank dramatically and never really quite recovered.
These were tough times, but having an internet business as my main stream of income gave me a lot of options - so when my marriage to a Japanese national ended in 2010, I was able to shift myself over to live in Japan to be close to my daughter and lived there teaching English without any interruption to my online business.. (true enough, I was pretty busy working basically two full time jobs while learning a new language and culture - but if not for having the freedom of movement that only a true online business can provide - the lack of sleep was a small price to pay)..
What allowed my business to survive during this time was a solid foundation - Solo Build It encourages you to focus on the basics - solid content with a focus on providing real value to site visitors. So while sales were down, traffic remained steady - despite various changes to googles algorithm - and as with all SBi! sites, I never had to worry about my site going down or being hacked.. (this happened to a second site I had build that never quite took off - one day I woke up to find the whole thing had been hacked to the point it was not able to be recovered and I had to let it go. But with SBi! - the main site remained robust without me having to lift a finger, worry about the latest security patches, etc - all this is done for me).
But I think that when the going gets tough - having a site you are PASSIONATE about makes all the difference. If I did not enjoy and care about swords and the community I had built, it would have been too hard to keep going..
It really does make a huge difference - and the solid foundation that SBi! gives you allows you to grow even when every other site around you is turning to mush..
By a combination of old fashioned hard work, persistence, my love for this site and the community it has developed over the years and the solid foundation it rests upon, SBG was able to slowly recover from the worst of the 2010 industry wide crash, and has allowed me to visit places most sword enthusiasts will only ever dream of..
I have been to sword forges all over Asia, from Japan to China, the Philippines and have more visits planned for the not too distant future. By being both a sword collector myself, as well as a seller, designer, and industry insider I am able to get the most complete big picture, 10,000 feet view of the sword market that no 'hobby site' could ever hope to obtain.
And by setting it up as a real business from day one, build upon the same principles of transparency, honesty and to always focus on your visitor making sure that THEIR needs come first and any monetization comes where it belongs, at the end, I was able to keep the site growing and going where so many non-commercial sites stumbled and fell into internet history.
Plodding along, step by step, one foot in front of the other. This is the way of the Tortoise. The Way of Solo Build It. And the way of SBG.
It works - but it takes time, it takes effort and it takes dedication. And it is always great to know that while you may build your site alone, the team at SBi! and the forum members there have your back..