Design Domination Podcast Episode #172: Business Success From Personal Discovery—With Shannon Mattern

Shannon Mattern of Web Designer Academy talks about how personal discoveries and coaching helped her stop undercharging and overdelivering and actually create a more enjoyable, profitable web design business.

Photo of Shannon Mattern.Shannon Mattern is founder and CEO of the Web Designer Academy, which provides strategic business, marketing and sales coaching for women web designers.

She’s also the host of the Profitable Web Designer Podcast, the go-to resource for marketing, mindset, money, management and mentorship to help you create a profitable, sustainable and fulfilling web design business.

Getting to Know Shannon Mattern

Colleen Gratzer: Welcome to the podcast, Shannon. I’m so excited you’re here.

Shannon Mattern: Thank you so much for having me.

Colleen: Yeah. Well, I thought we’d start off with a couple of fun questions. The first one is, when it comes to swimming, do you test the water or do you just dive right into the deep end?

Shannon: I plug my nose and dive into the deep end, because I cannot put my face underwater. I never learned that skill. Something I would like to accomplish, at some point in my life, but, plug my nose and just dive on in.

Colleen: Yeah, I usually go in the shallow end, and I take my time, I used to go right in and now I’m getting too old. Everything’s cold.

Shannon: Or just get in the hot tub and skip the whole cold part, yeah.

Colleen: Okay, and the other question is would you rather see the future or change the past?

Shannon: Hmm. See the future. The past led us to where we are at today. You can’t escape those lessons.

Colleen:  That’s true. Yeah. I was just going to say the same. Yeah, exactly.

So you have had your own web design business before and you help web designers now with their businesses. So I wanted to find out more about how you ended up having your own web design business.

Shannon: Yeah, so it was back in like mid-2014, and I was had been at my day job for, I don’t know, seven or eight years at that company at that time.

I kind of had this moment at my desk one day where I was just like I don’t think I could do this for the rest of my life. This can’t be all there is. There’s got to be something more than working for someone else and just kind of grinding away doing reports that nobody looks at?

Just none of it really felt fulfilling to me. There are kind of a lot of little things that coalesced around that time that made me think maybe I could do this on, do something on my own, be my own boss.

I was in charge of our marketing and our I.T. and a lot of different things at the time.

Colleen: Wow!

Shannon: Yeah, it was a small company, but I was in charge of those departments and so I was in charge of our website.

I solved a lot of business problems with tech with WordPress. I mean, whenever somebody was, like, “We need to run this conference and sell these tickets and run an online portion and all that,” I’m like, “I can build that for us.” So I did that.

I solved so many business problems with tech. Then one day, one of our vendors that I integrated with in some of business problems was like, “Hey, who built your website? Who did this? Who made this functionality for you?”

And I’m like, “I did.”

And he’s like, “Do you do any work on the side?”

And I was like, “Sure.”

That’s kind of how it got started. I told someone else that story. I was at the gym telling my friend this cool thing happened. I think I’m going to do this side gig and he’s like, “My dad needs someone. I didn’t know you knew how to do that.”

It just kind of snowballed from me being open to the idea in the first place.Then I think that was a total coincidence that it happened, but then I really started pursuing it from there.

Freelance Business and Mindset Challenges

Colleen: Now, like most of us, when we get into working for ourselves, things happen, and we’re wearing all the hats. We face a lot of challenges, to say the least. So what kinds of challenges did you face in particular that really stand out?

Shannon: Oh, man. Okay, all of the challenges?  What challenge did I not face? Yeah. What questions did I not face.

I knew I could figure anything out. I think that that’s really what drove me because I was charging…

The vendor asked me, “What’s your hourly rate?”

I’m like, “I don’t know. Well, here’s what I make at my day job. So that must, that’s what I charge.”

But then in my mind, I’m sure deep down it was, well, that’s all I’m allowed to charge, because that’s all anybody’s ever paid me before. I didn’t realize that at the time.

But here’s what that breaks down to, which is completely unsustainable, and having multiple clients charging an hourly rate, having no boundaries, being on call 24/7. All of these clients were also my boss.

Colleen: Right? They are, right? A lot of times they are if you don’t have boundaries. Oh, my goodness.

Shannon: Feeling like I had to say yes to everything, that their emergencies were my emergencies.

Colleen: Yes. Oh, my gosh.

Shannon: Working on evenings, weekends on vacation, when I’m sick, when my family is sick, and I’m in the waiting room at the hospital, just constant…

So I made all of those mistakes. But I also felt I was working towards something bigger. So I was willing to do it.

But then I got to the point where I thought there’s no light at the end of this tunnel. Something’s got to give here, because this just isn’t working, and this is not creating the freedom that I was seeking when I said yes to that first client.

Colleen: Right? You’re totally trapped in your business.

Shannon: Yep. Oh, yeah.

Colleen:  I can relate to all of that, for sure. I mean, all every one of those things and the ridiculous things that I put up with. Yeah, the people pleasing was a big one. So lack of boundaries and people-pleasing were really bad for me.

Shannon: Yeah. You fear if I don’t say yes to this, then they’re going to not refer me or leave me a bad review or I’ll never get another client or they’ll be mad at me or they won’t pay me and I’ll lose the job.

There are so many things that go through our heads. We’re conditioned to react that way through being in corporate or in life. I have to make sure this person is happy, so that I can stay safe and secure.

We carry those things with us into our web design business if we’re not aware of them, and we’re not. We don’t know better until it becomes unsustainable. Then you’ve either got to fix it…

My choice was I’ve got to fix this or this is not going to… I’m just going to go back to my day job and pretend like this never happened.

Colleen: It’s funny, though, because with designers that I’ve talked to, the designers that I hear from from the podcast, but also designers that I’ve mentored, I can just see the people pleasing. I can see that they’re…

Everybody seems to have this trait who’s a designer until they get to that point where they actually recognize it and then stop doing it.

It seems to me that most designers… I’m guessing it’s because we’re more empathetic. But there is so much of that people-pleasing behavior that really sabotages our business.

Shannon:  I don’t know what it is. I totally agree with you.

I see this in almost everyone that we work with too. I think there’s part of it that’s the empathetic… I think part of we want validation, right?

Colleen: Yeah.

Shannon:  We put a lot of work into creating something and we want you to love it. If you don’t, we’re going to like tweak and tweak and change and say yes to everything to make sure that you’re happy.

I don’t know if that’s like a… I don’t know where that comes from. I know that was that was for me.

I want you to like me, and if you like this, then you will like me. That makes me feel safe or whatever.

For some people, there’s a lot of perfectionism like that. I want I want this to be perfect. That’s going to be what leads and I will put that perfection in front of the other things in my business or my life to make sure that I feel good about myself that I delivered the best thing possible.

Sometimes that has nothing to do with the client. I just have to make sure that I feel proud of this at the expense of other things too sometimes.

Colleen: Oh, yeah. So with the perfectionism, for sure.

I mean, I have suffered with from perfectionism for my entire life. It’s been a little bit better, I think. But I don’t know, people that work for me probably wouldn’t say that.

But, yeah, a lot of the times clients aren’t even going to notice the things that we notice, right, because we’re the details people. So we put this pressure on ourselves for that. But they’re not necessarily going to even notice some of the details that we do.

But what you’re saying about we want someone to like us and if they like our work… Yeah. We are putting our worth our self-worth in our work. So if they don’t like it, a lot of designers would take it personally—“Oh, they don’t like me because they didn’t like this work,” instead of looking at it more objectively.

Then that also gets into, well, now they didn’t like this, and now I’m going to do all this extra work. I’m going to maybe give them a discount. I’ve done all these horrible things.

But I know you talk a lot about undercharging and overdelivering quite a bit and how you you did that as well.

Shannon: Yeah and to your point, I created so much more work for myself than a client ever asked for.

So part of that overdelivering, part of looking at that piece is, is this necessary? Am I being asked to do this? Is this really part of it? Am I being paid for this that I’m doing?

So overdelivering has a lot of different flavors in terms of is it because the client’s taking advantage or asking for more and I don’t feel comfortable talking about money or that this is going to cost more?

Am I delivering more than what’s being asked for out of perfectionism or I don’t know enough, so I have to like go above and beyond to prove myself?

There are so many reasons why we find ourselves in in these positions, and everybody is a little bit different. The stuff that we bring with us from the rest of our life…

If we think that it’s just, oh, I’m this way in my life, but I’m this way in business… That’s usually not how that works.

Colleen: Yes, 100%.

It’s so funny, you said that because I realized almost a decade ago, I realized that a lot of psychological trauma from my childhood was causing me to have these issues in my business. I went through a lot of work, a lot of mindset work with coaches, with a therapist, to work through that.

Once I understood where that was all coming from and how to deal with it, it changed everything. Totally changed everything.

Shannon: Me too. Me too.

I had no idea that day where I was sitting in my office thinking “is this all there is?” that I was actually going on a personal development journey that web design just happened to be this skill that was going to take me on the journey.

But it has been a journey of self-discovery. Anytime I’m up against something new, I can kind of look back at, oh, that’s that thing again that keeps coming up.

For me, a lot of the things that we just talked about, yes for me. But my ultimate thing is I’m kind of a control freak. “Kind of…” I say “kind of.”

Colleen: I am really a control freak.

Shannon: So I wouldn’t describe myself as a perfectionist, because I’m fine with making mistakes and whatever. But I want to know…

You asked me do I want to know the future. I want to know the future. I want to know what’s going to happen, so that I can feel like I’m in control. If I need to make adjustments, I know what to expect.

So that can get me in a lot of trouble in terms of mismanaging, setting expectations and just wanting things to happen a certain way.

Every time I come up against a new piece of my business that is laid out for me to examine again, I should say, oh, you thought you solved that a year ago? Here it is, again—a new way for you to explore. Hopefully, I’m noticing it faster. I’m addressing it faster because I because, like you, I have mentors. I have other people to point it out for me, so that I’m not just operating blind with this thing that I just carry with me all the time.

Colleen: Yeah. 100%. 100%.

It’s so weird because I remember talking to a coach one time. She was really expensive… That was part of my journey too. It took a few years. I didn’t…

I was also afraid, afraid to invest in myself when it came to business training. So I would start out with little amounts. I remember when I thought that that was a lot to spend. Then I progressively spent more with different coaches over the years for different things.

I just remember this one coach… I thought I had these specific business issues or whatever. She could see right through me. She’s like, no, you have some other stuff going on with your mindset. You need to solve that, so you can move your business forward.

It was funny. So I paid her an arm and a leg. But it made all the difference in the world. So that I could charge more later and help my business, because I was just a doormat. I was confident in my abilities, but I was a doormat on the outside.

It’s pathetic looking back at it now. I’ve seen old emails that I that I’ve sent to clients. It’s excruciating. It really is excruciating to read them. It’s hard to read them.

So I never want anyone else to be like that and go through those same kinds of things.

But, yeah, so I invested in a lot of coaching. It was funny, because I just remember her saying, you need to trust yourself more. You make good decisions, but you need to learn to trust yourself more.

Just because the client is asking for something, it doesn’t mean that you’re wrong. It doesn’t mean you did something wrong. It doesn’t mean that you have to comply either. You also need to give yourself permission to respond and say no. It’s okay to say no.

Of course, it’s like, well, yeah, everybody says these kinds of things. But just the way that she said it to me was very different. It was finally sinking in,.

Shannon: You mentioned that, and it is so fascinating. I’m curious what you see with the people in your community and that you mentor.

We are so tech savvy and smart and we can figure stuff out. We can reverse engineer pretty much anything with what we do.

I can also reverse engineer business strategy and processes. I can just look at what someone else is doing and figure out how they’re doing it and apply that to my business. It would never work.

But I’m doing the things. I have the pages. I have the funnel. I have the buttons I have all of that. It would never work.

It was not until I invested in coaching that was a blend of strategy and “here’s where you’re getting in your own way.” Someone to be able to show me that in a really compassionate way. I don’t know.

Because just when you said, “Oh, I know this. I’ve heard it before. But now I’m finally hearing it,” that’s when everything shifted.

Everything’s freely available out there for us to consume.

Colleen: Right.

Shannon: All of that—even listening to this podcast…

But there’s such a difference between the conversation with the coach that they say the thing that something just clicks in your brain versus trying to reverse engineer your own business coaching, I guess, which is what I tried to do for so many years, and it did not work.

Colleen: No. 100%. Yeah, I know what you mean. Yeah.

It’s funny, because I went from being this doormat to “Look, I’m in charge. I’m not putting up with that crap anymore.” I just started flipping that switch.

I wouldn’t say it was a little gradual, but it was pretty quick. Then I was like, I’m just not tolerating this crap anymore. I can’t believe I’ve been doing that.

I started firing clients that had either been bullies or late payers or questioned something in my contract suddenly after I’d been working with them for 15 years and then they’re…

Oh, no, I know what it was. They wanted me to explain my pricing to their board, but I’d been working with them for 15 years. I said, nope, next!

I’m not doing that. I don’t need to do that. So it’s funny because, it just shifted so much from there to the opposite.

Shannon: Yeah, I don’t know. This probably is a whole other podcast.

How do we train our clients how to treat us?

Colleen: We totally have that ability.

Shannon: We have that ability and yet we don’t think we can—and we don’t.

And I call it “employee mindset.” We just think that this is the boss, these are the rules, they get to say and do whatever. If I want to work for them, I fall in line.

You’re actually the boss. You’re actually the one telling the client whether or not they can work with you.

When we shift that, we can take back control of all of it.

Money Mindset

Colleen: The other thing too, is that, I used to say, like you said a while back… How we’re a certain way in our personal life and we bring that through to our business.

I would ask the wrong people for advice. I was not asking fellow business owners. I was asking family and friends for their advice for the client issues.

All I would hear was, “But they’re paying you.” I was just like, so I guess we’re expected to pimp ourselves out for the money. So it’s okay if they treat us that way, because they’re paying us to treat us like that, right?

Shannon: Oh, my gosh. Yeah.

Colleen: So many designers—myself included—did this many times: lowball their pricing.

What do you get? You get clients who don’t value the work that you do. You get clients that are tire kickers. You get clients that treat you badly a lot of times.

I did that for so many years. You know what? Low balling never got me any work. It really didn’t. It actually turned off clients.

Shannon: Oh, yeah, they think…

It’s not like people who don’t pay a lot are bad people. It’s just there’s not enough pain or commitment or investment for them to…

It’s like how you treat something that you bought that’s cheap. You just think, oh, no big deal. I can leave it. It can get dirty. It’s no big deal.

You just don’t have the same level of attention and care and commitment to when you’re like, oh, this is really important to me. I’m putting my full attention to this. I want to nurture this.

It’s not “I’m a bad person.” I just don’t value that as much, because I didn’t spend as much money on it.

Then this other thing that… I just think of my husband and his new truck, where he’s like, “Oh, I’m going to pull it out of the garage, wash it, wash the garage floor and then put the truck back.” He doesn’t want to drive over the salt from…

But now my car—since he got the new car—it can just be dirty over there on the side. He doesn’t value it as much as he values his thing. That doesn’t make him a bad person or anything. It’s just he’s paying more attention to the thing that he invested more in and values more.

I just think if we can think about that with our pricing, it’s not like…

I always feel bad when I say, “Cheap pricing attracts cheapskate clients.” I don’t think that’s what it is, because my money mindset has evolved over time where $2,000 felt so expensive to me, and that was a big investment versus now…

I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. But the person doing the investing might think that’s a huge number and be super committed.

So I think that’s just kind of the nuance there. Is the person investing valuing the investment?

When we’re low balling just trying to get the lowest price, at some point, we create the opposite where they’re saying, oh, that’s no big deal. I don’t have to pay attention to that. Look. It’s done when it gets done.

Colleen: Right. Well, it’s funny what you’re saying too about the way we think about money and what is expensive to us. We often project that onto our clients.

We’re making up the decision for them. “Well, this is going to be too expensive for them, so I better lower my price. They’re not going to want to pay this. They’re not going to be able to afford it. I better lower my price.”

We’re making the financial decisions for them without even consulting them.

Shannon: Yeah, and the other thing that I’ve heard from web designers is “I would never pay that much,” right? Of course, you wouldn’t. You can do the thing. You can build the thing, so you feel like that because it’s easy for you or whatever that you’re ripping off your clients.

But you’re totally discounting why you would never pay that much because you spent so much time and effort and money learning how to do what you do. You wouldn’t pay someone else that much but I bet you would get to the point in your business, if you didn’t want to build your own website, that you probably would pay someone else that much to do it for you. Right now, I probably would.

Colleen: Well, the other thing too is that a lot of people say—and I’ve said this too myself—is that, why would someone pay me that? Why should they pay me to do this when they can go find out how? They could go Google it and then figure it out themselves.

Not everybody has money as a pain point. Some people don’t want to do that. They don’t have the interest in that. They don’t have the time.

Shannon: That’s such a good point. Not everybody’s pain point is money.

I remember when I finally got to the point where I thought I can’t do this anymore with my web design business. Oh, I’ll teach people how to do it themselves. I created a training and all of that and the whole other side business that I winded down last year.

But I was earning affiliate commissions teaching people how to build WordPress sites. Someone took the training, and then she said, “Can I just hire you to do this for me?”

I was like, “No. I do not do client work. I’m only teaching for affiliate commissions and courses and all of that stuff.”

She was like, “I don’t understand. I know you know what you’re doing. I just want to hire you to do it.”

I could not understand. I said, “I don’t understand why you want to pay me money when I’m giving you this for free.”

It just did not compute in my brain that she cared more about her time and her sanity than her money. She broke my brain. Oh, money isn’t…

You just said it so beautifully.

Money isn’t everybody’s pain point. But if it’s your pain point, you think it’s everybody else’s pain point or project it onto people.

Colleen: For sure.

Well, so what are some tips that you would have for designers to start charging more? So many designers are going to be listening to this and they’re going to go, “But I just can’t. How am I supposed to do it? I’m going to scare off clients.” You know what I mean?

I always give tips on this too on the podcast, but I want to hear from you what tips you have for that.

Shannon: Yeah, back to what you were saying…

Stay out of your clients’ wallets.

I had a business coach say that to me a while ago. I was like, oh, yeah, their financial situation is none of your business. You don’t know what they value.

You’re allowed to have a profitable, sustainable business. Your pricing is allowed to be sustainable for you. Figure out what that is. Put the decision in front of them. Let them decide.

So that would be one thing.

One thing too is do a little mini-audit of your website and how you’re talking about your services. Do you slip in the word “affordable,” “budget,” all of these words that are that are showing to people that you think that in order to hire you, you have to be the lowest price that is that your selling point?

See if you can just remove those words from your copy from your marketing. It does not have to be your positioning that you’re the most affordable or budget friendly, or all of these things that we think that’s a clear sign of how you think that people make decisions based on the dollar signs only.

They don’t, like we were discussing, value your own work.

Then my other tip would be—you’ll have someone that comes to mind as soon as I say this… Think of your most pain-in-the-butt client, or we call it a “PITA client,” if you want to use the… I’m keeping it PG… But the client who is that person and decide how much is it worth to me to keep this client? They would have to pay me x in order for me to continue working with them.

Then give them that option to pay x or go somewhere else. Start there with someone who you’d be happy either way if they left or if they paid your new price.

I think that that’s a baby step someone could take to just start raising their prices and or getting some of your precious time and sanity back.

Colleen: Yeah, really.

When you’re talking about if your website says “affordable” or “discount” or whatever,  you attract what you put out there. So if that’s what you’re going to get, you’re going to get clients looking for cheap, if that’s what you’re putting out there.

Same thing with the type of work you put out there. Don’t put work out there…

I used to have all kinds of things on my website to show that I could do everything, right? I started getting a lot of HTML email coding, which I couldn’t stand, and everyone kept bringing it to me.

Stop putting it out there, so you don’t get it.

Shannon: Yeah, all things associations. I didn’t even know this existed, but an association for asphalt manufacturing and suppliers. They were the trade association for asphalt manufacturers.

I had that on my website. I kept getting all of these … because that was the vendor… They did associations. All kinds of different ones.

I don’t want to work with these kinds of companies anymore. Guess what? I’m not going to put it out there.

Business Success

Colleen: So what kinds of things do you do to help get clients to see the value of the work? What kind of recommendations do you have for that?

Shannon: We go through a whole process of selling yourself on the value of the outcome that this website will create for your client, because one of the problems that people have…

Oh, my gosh, it’s so easy with page builders, and the actual process of creating the thing is not difficult.

So people think, because it’s not complex, it’s not brain surgery, it can’t be worth that much.

I invite people to completely shift how they think about that and start looking at what other things that people value has this created for them, not just the end part of it, but you doing it for them, you designing something that actually solves a problem for their business, all of these things.

When you truly stop looking at it as the clicks and the keyboard strokes that you do to create the thing for the client, and then for the people that the client serve…

You do a lot of accessibility work and you were just open… It’s not even just about the client. It’s about the ripple effect beyond, right, what they’re able to do, the impact they’re able to have.

When you start looking at it through that lens instead of “Here’s how long it took me. Here’s how many pages. Here’s how hard it was. Here’s how easy it was,” you just detach from that old paradigm and you start thinking about it in a new way.

You start to have an internal shift—oh, this is really valuable. I am having, helping them have a big impact in multiple areas. Once you stop thinking about it as a commodity and a thing, I think that really helps start making that shift happen.

Colleen: Oh, yeah, absolutely. It also could be just an increase in sales or an increase in donations.

I redid a website for a nonprofit, for an animal rescue. They they got 33% more donations in the first three months after that website was launched. That’s huge, right?

So I always like to go back to and ask them, “How did this help? What kind of results did you get?”

That’s something you can put in a case study and talk about, show other clients, hey, this is what I did. That also helps put the focus on “Here’s what I’m doing for you. I just happen to be doing it through building a website” or whatever it is.

Shannon: Yeah, you want more impact? This will help you create more impact.

It solves so many problems. I think if you can focus on the problems, the solutions, the impact of all of those things, you will feel better about your prices and what you do and saying no and all of those things.

Colleen: Yeah, I think you do a better job too, because you won’t be so focused on how long is this going to take me.

But the other thing too is—I like to say with flat rates—forget hourly, but flat rates. It’s better for both parties how much you’re going to get paid. But they know how much they’re going to be writing the check for.

I had clients years ago ask, “Well, how much is your hourly rate?” When I was still saying, “Okay, I’m charging by the hour,” they would often go, “Well, someone else can do it for less.”

Great. How long is it going to take them? Probably, three times as long because I’ve been doing this a very long time, right?

They never take into consideration how long is it going to take. I’m writing a blank check as far as I know.

So there really is a benefit to it for them to do the flat rates that I don’t think a lot of designers understand when they’re charging hourly.

Shannon: Yeah, and with hourly, you’re going to get to a certain number that is going to create sticker shock. If someone says, “Oh, I want to look at hourly rates and compare hourly rates with other designers or even other professions…”

I totally agree with you. I think flat rate pricing is the way to go—per project pricing. Just showing your client why it’s in their best interest to do that with you instead of to go with someone else hourly.

Or you can say, “If you want to know my hourly rates, actually, this per-project pricing is going to be cheaper than my hourly rate. So do you want flat pricing or do you want my real hourly? Do you want to do this hourly? Because I can bill hourly, but you’re going to save money doing it this way.”

Colleen: Yeah, sure. Absolutely.

Well, the other thing that I have found is that to help me price more—well, not only to help me price more but even just to win more work much more easily than in the past when I was doing all the things—is just focusing on one type of work too.

It also speaks to profitability, because I have a process for this accessibility work. I’m doing things a certain way.

Before when I was doing HTML emails and web design and development and brochures and logos, and there were so many different processes for so many different things or too many things to have to switch hats with go from creative to technical, it was just so time consuming—time consuming and draining.

I feel also not only more profitable when you narrow it down to one type of work or some kind of some kind of a niche, maybe certain type of clients, certain type of work…

It’s so much more profitable. But at the same time, you really hone in on your expertise, and it’s easier to charge more. You get seen as a specialist. I talk about that all the time.

Shannon: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s…

We all go through stages of our career, where we’re like, “Oh, I want to learn everything. I want to try this. I want to try that. I want to see what I’m good at. I want to see what I hate.”

Yeah, we go through that process.

I do think—just like you said—you get to a point where you build confidence that you can get clients for a certain thing or a certain niche or a certain type of work, and then you start to feel like, “Oh, I don’t have to be everything to everyone, right?”

Other professions have specialties. You can’t even probably really hire a general attorney who’s going to be able to do your patent work and your employment work and all of these things, right?

You don’t find someone that’s a jack-of-all -trades. For whatever reason, we feel like we have to be the jack-of-all-trades, or the jill-of-all-trades or whatever. I don’t think that we have to, unless you like to do that, which is totally fine.

But where I see people trip themselves up is where they feel I have to be good at all of it, and I’m not and I have… I am lacking in certain areas and therefore I hold myself back. I undercharged because I feel like I’m a really great developer. But I’m not a good designer or I can’t charge that much, because my skills in this area are are lacking.

Instead of focusing in on the things that you’re great at and finding partners or other people that you can refer…

The other piece, for me… I’m not a designer. I am the behind-the-scenes, build, make everything work, build the funnel, make the tech talk, come up with creative solutions. Design is not my forté. But I can take your design and make it work and do all of that.

So for the longest time, I thought, well, I can’t charge that much, because I’m not a designer. I just could do things behind the scenes. I think, if I would have just embraced that and been like, “Hey, designers who don’t want to touch any of the stuff that I love, let’s collab,” that would have changed a lot of things for me back then.

Web Designer Academy

Colleen: Oh, yeah, same here.

Well, so you were talking about earlier, you have the Web Designer Academy. So why don’t you talk a little bit about that and how you help designers and where they can find that.

Shannon: Yeah, so I started the Web Designer Academy back in 2016. It started just as a small group coaching program as I met other women web designers who said, hey, I need help with all of the things that we that we talked about today.

It’s evolved over the years to have a curriculum and just a community and all of those things. Really what we do is we help people with a lot of the things that we talked about here.

We help them create a profitable and sustainable business. We look at all of the facets. Where are the gaps? Where are you leaking time? Where are you leaking money and really kind of help you figure out where do you need to put your focus in order to solve some of these problems.

We’re a group coaching program. You learn from other people in the community, but you also get mentored by me and my client success coordinator, Erica. We give you feedback on all of your stuff.

When people come in, they have certain goals—oh, I want to make this much money, or I want to… I’m overloaded with clients, and I need to fix that.

We basically create a customized plan for them to help them solve the problems that are going to have the biggest impact right now to free up their time, make them more money.

We just got off of our call earlier, and someone said our community, as they call it, is their “sanity saver,” because just with what you and I talked about.

We all go through it. We all go through it. Someone’s going through it. Someone’s gone through it. Someone’s going to go through it. So we can all support each other.

The thing that we want for our students is for them to have a profitable sustainable business, whatever that means to them. It doesn’t always necessarily mean that you have to have high-end websites or whatever you get to build it in a way that serves you.

We get rid of all the vanity metrics and all of the things and help you really create something that supports your life instead of traps you, like what we did in the beginning.

So yeah, that’s the Web Designer Academy. It is my pride and joy.

Colleen: So how did you start that?

Shannon: I was referred to this group called Skillcrush. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them. But they are a coding bootcamp for women, and they were teaching WordPress and someone who was affiliated with them and knew me asked me to speak at their conference about how I built my web design business and how I was making money with WordPress.

I had a business coach at the time who I said to, they want me to do this talk. I don’t understand why they want me. Why would they want me to do this?

She said, because you have figured it out. They see that that would be of value to their audience. And also, you should think about doing an offer after that.

An offer for what? I teach business owners how to DIY. She said to show the people who are there how you’ve done it more in depth than a 30-minute presentation.

It just was not even clicking to me at all that the Web Designer Academy could ever be a thing, was just not even a thing. So I said, fine, you’re my business coach. I’ll do what you say. I’m not paying you to not do what you say. So I’ll just do this.

After that presentation, I said, hey, if you want to learn more, I’m doing, a talk about this thing. Come to it. And I had, I don’t know, 1,000 people sign up for the talk.

Then I said, hey, I’m doing this thing. It’s called a group coaching program for web design. That’s when I got my first cohort and walked them through everything that I’ve learned. Here’s all the mistakes that I’ve made.

In the many years since that happened, like I said, it’s evolved to have a full curriculum and a full formal coaching component and all of these pieces that we’ve added, as we’ve, as we’ve really evolved.

But it really just kind of came out of oh, I’m just a few steps ahead. And I can lead them through what I’ve been through. And now it’s been several years of coaching hundreds of web designers and not to diminish anybody’s problems, but it’s all very similar. And it’s all, you know… We see this journey that you go through and so we can usually spot exactly what’s going on and help you fix it help you fix it pretty quick. So yeah, that’s how it happened.

Colleen: That’s great, totally part of the journey.

Shannon: Oh, yeah, unexpected. Like you, said if I would have seen that as my future from the beginning, if you would have shown me the future and told me that, I would have said, no, that’s not what I… That’s your… That’s not what I’m supposed to be doing. But yeah, I love it.

Colleen: And what’s the URL?


Colleen: Where can where can people find your podcast?

Shannon  Yeah, so I have the Profitable Web Designer Podcast. We drop a new episode every week, and you’ll get to hear Colleen on the podcast, depending on when you’re listening to this in the near future, or yeah… Definitely go check out our interview there too.

Colleen: Great. Well, thank you so much. This was a really great discussion. I’m sure it’s going to help a lot of designers who are listening. Thank you so much.

Shannon: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

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