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Eager to quit your job but don't have the funds to make it happen?
This is the perfect episode for all of you who feel stuck in your day jobs and aren't quite sure how you're ever going to be able to make enough money from digital products to replace that salary.
Today's episode of the Rebel Boss Ladies Podcast features a real rebel who built up her side hustle income to eventually replace her full-time salary.
Shannon Mattern is this month's real rebel. She’s a web designer, a digital marketer, speaker and podcaster who has taught over 10,000 entrepreneurs how to build their websites with her signature DIY Web design course called the Free 5 Day Website Challenge.
After side hustling and growing her business for three years, Shannon managed to successfully quit her day job to run her web design and coaching business full time.
She shares her side hustle journey, strategies and tactics via her podcast, Pep Talks for Side Hustlers, which I've actually been featured on as a guest!
Shannon is going to share everything – the good, the bad and everything in between. Get ready to learn a lot about what worked for Shannon and how you too can follow your dream and quit that day job!
One day while Shannon was working at her full-time corporate job, she realized that she wanted more out of her life than the “American Dream.” This is how the idea for her business was born.
“I was sitting in my office one day and I was just miserable, I couldn’t believe that I was thinking this is the dream that we’re sold. Go to a high school, get good grades, go to college so you can get this job that just kind of sucks the life out of you so that you can get a paycheck and get a mortgage.”
The life Shannon had wasn’t what she wanted, even though she felt like that’s what was expected of her.
“I was just sitting there feeling like super guilty because I was miserable. I'm like, I have all the stuff I'm supposed to have. But somehow I just feel like there has to be more to life than this.”
She started thinking through what she could change and what she really wanted out of life, which was freedom and the ability to be in control.
This is how her business was born. Shannon started doing one-on-one website services and advertised her work through her friends to get clients. But this type of work was difficult for her to balance with a full-time job.
She admits, “I realized doing one-on-one work with clients while I still had a full-time job was like almost impossible. It took up way too much my time. I had no life and I completely burnt myself out.”
That’s when she decided to start selling digital products. After feeling weighed down by her business, she realized that this was “a way to actually get on the path of making my dream of being in charge of my financial future, my time, my income and my schedule as an option.”
Shannon worked at her corporate job for a total of ten years. She started her own business about seven years into that job, and side hustled for about three years until she took the leap to go full time on her own.
Balancing her full-time job with what was essentially a full-time side hustle was really challenging for Shannon.
One major reason why this was tough was because Shannon really wanted to prioritize her new business and leave behind her old job. “I had to figure out how am I going to still show up for this job every single day? Because I need the paycheck. I have a mortgage, I have bills to pay.”
Reducing her finances wasn’t an option, so in order to quit her job Shannon had to figure out how her business could make the same amount of money that she was already making in her day job. Along with that, Shannon didn’t want to add another 40 hours of work into her routine because she was working full-time already.
“Being able to figure out how to do that in an extra 20 hours a week or 20 to 30 hours a week instead of an extra 40 to 50 hours a week was like the biggest challenge in the whole thing… It just took a lot of mindset work, honestly. It took a lot of changing my beliefs about what was possible.”
While she was working full-time and balancing her business, Shannon says she started getting up at five in the morning and working until she needed to leave for her full-time job around nine.
Sometimes she’d even work after coming home too. When she’d come home at 6:30, she’d put another few hours in working on her business.
Shannon says, “those were the times where I'm like, ‘that's too much. Like, I'm totally burned out. I can't do it.’” Eventually she stopped working in the evenings and only committed her mornings to working on her business. Instead, she saved her evenings as times to restore and recharge.
She also used weekends to work on projects.
“Weekends were fun because they were my time that I could do whatever I wanted. So that's when I would be like, I'm recording this video or I'm working on my website. That was the stuff that I could spend all day on a Saturday, just building a website. And I was so happy, this is the best day ever. So I really did a lot of stuff on weekends, but that stuff never felt like work.”
So, did Shannon know that what was initially a side hustle would turn into her full-time business?
“From the moment that I was sitting in my office thinking ‘there's got to be a better way’ and I decided to start my own business, yes. I knew someday it would be my full-time gig.”
What she didn’t know was how long it would take her to be able to quit her job and move into running her business full time.
Shannon admits, “I naively thought that it would happen by the end of the year… it was probably like September that I had that idea. I was like ‘I can get enough clients and make this happen by the end of the year!’”
She realizes now that she hadn’t really figured out how to manage her time and her money consistently, which held her back from being able to make her business her full-time gig. Looking back, she also realized that because she wanted her business to grow really fast, she also may have made some decisions that actually made that process longer, like spending her extra money on things she didn’t really need.
By year two, Shannon decided to switch her focus from trying to quit her job to trying to see how much money she could make from her side gig while working full-time. This required a mindset shift and accepting the fact that she wasn’t able to quit her job just yet.
“Instead of saying: ‘oh, I gotta quit my job,’ I changed it to be like, ‘how big can I grow this thing in a constrained amount of time that I that I have?’ And that's going to be the true test of whether it's gonna be able to sustain supporting me once I don't have this steady paycheck coming in.”
Throughout the three years that her business was a side hustle, Shannon’s income grew a lot.
In her first six months, Shannon made about five thousand dollars. In the first year, she made almost forty thousand.
By year two, Shannon made almost sixty thousand, and she was able to match that in year three.
While Shannon was trying to figure out if she was ready to quit her full-time job by looking at her financials in that third year, she decided that what she really needed to do was be able replace her day job income. This also meant being able to pay taxes and business expenses.
Her goal? “I needed to bring in ten thousand dollars a month. So that would have been like double my monthly income so that I could replace the paycheck. Pay taxes on that money and have enough money to pay my business expenses.”
She was able to make $10,000 in two months in her third year. It wasn’t consistent or every month, but after she hit that number she realized that she’d probably be able to make it happen every month if she wasn’t working full time.
“That's when I was like, OK, it's time. It's time to like put my notice in and leave behind the security of the steady paycheck and go for it.”
The nature of Shannon’s business has also changed and grown a lot in her years as an entrepreneur.
She got burned out pretty quickly in the beginning by trying to balance her one-on-one web design service with her full-time job.
Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income Podcast pointed Shannon in a new direction. She listened to an episode about affiliate marketing and companies that pay commission and realized that she could do the same thing.
“I realized that all of the plugins that I used and paid for to build client sites and all the web hosting and all the things that I was buying to build client sites, I realized that they all had affiliate programs… That was kind of like my light bulb moment.”
Shannon decided to create a free training that taught people how to use the products she used so they could DIY their own websites.
It was a revelation for Shannon, and helped her to realize that it was possible for her to quit her job and run her own business. “I won't have to do it for them… I won't ever have to work with people one-on-one ever again. I can just teach them how to do it themselves for free and then I'll earn money when they buy the products and services that I recommend.”
Shannon was so inspired by this idea, she created her digital product in just one weekend. That product is Shannon’s Free 5 Day Website Challenge, which is still available today.
Once her product was on the market, she started earning commissions from the very first day that she shared it.
“At that point, I was hooked. I'm like, ‘digital products are like the answer to being able to grow this business while working full time.’”
As described in the name of her product, it was, and still is, free. “I didn't actually sell the product itself, but I sold other people's products inside of that product.”
For a while, Shannon did monetize this product by adding an upgrade to it. Her subscribers could pay extra to get access to bonus content and an extra course.
This didn’t go so well. Shannon created her bonus content without really consulting her audience, and it turned out to be something that not a lot of people were interested in.
“I think like this is how we all learn what not to do. Right out of the gate I was like, ‘I know the exact next thing that they need’… I didn't stop to think, ask them what they needed next.
“I didn't do any research. Like, I know the next step. So I'm going to build the next step for them. And of course, they are going to take the next step with me. Why wouldn't they?”
Not one single person bought that course. “So I learned a very valuable lesson there about validation before you go out and build something for people.”
Shannon’s business has grown a lot since that first product launch. She says that it took a lot of trial and error to get to where she is now.
She still offers her Free 5 Day Website Challenge, which she describes as “the gateway into my world.” It’s still free, but she earns significant affiliate commissions off of that.
Shannon also offers a product called the Web Designer Academy. “That's where I teach web designers how to actually market themselves and get clients and manage projects.”
The idea for that product came from a recommendation from an audience member that heard Shannon speaking at a webinar. She had done a presentation on how the number of clients that wanted her to design their websites increased after she launched her digital product, and the audience members wanted to know her secrets.
“After that presentation, I got a flood of e-mails from people saying, can you work with me? Can I can you teach me how you did that? So kind of out of that… for all of those people I was like, ‘hey, let me do like a free training for you guys to teach you more in-depth about what I learned.’”
Shannon didn’t even have a name for that except for ‘the Coaching Program,’ but immediately six people signed up and each paid $1000 for it before it even existed.
This is how she knew that her product would be popular. She created a 12-week training program that included one-on-one coaching and lessons every week. It’s still popular today – Shannon opens up registration once per year and has no trouble selling it.
Shannon’s third product has gone through a lot of trial-and-error throughout its existence. It follows the natural progression of her first course, because after her clients create their website, Shannon knew that then they’d want to get traffic.
It’s had a lot of names, but now this product is called the Website Marketing Lab. Shannon says, “That evolution really came from me learning how to figure out what my audience wanted… this last iteration of it came out of tons of research, tons of surveys, just asking people how they think about [it].”
Shannon learned a valuable lesson with this product, and realized that even though she knew what her audience needed, it wasn’t necessarily what they thought they needed. It was important for her to get on their same wavelength.
“I would say things like, ‘I'm going to show you how to build your email list.’ But they weren't even on that wavelength. They were like, ‘how do I get people to come to my web site?’ I was like talking over their heads with stuff.”
How did she manage to design a product that truly resonated with her audience?
Shannon offered a lot of free content to see what people wanted, and got a lot of feedback. Now, three years later and after a lot of trial-and-error, Shannon says the program finally feels like it’s taking off.
Shannon’s business has changed a lot since she started it, and she admits there is still a long way to go before she reaches her ultimate goals.
Looking at her revenue, about 50% of it comes from one-on-one client work, 25% comes from affiliate commissions from her free challenge, and 25% comes from digital products.
“My goal is to get that one-on-one client revenue down to like 25% and get the course revenue up a lot higher.”
Figuring out how much one-on-one work that she’s wanted to do has been a struggle for Shannon. In the beginning, she wanted to cut it out completely. Once she quit her job, she realized she had to do some of that work to keep her revenue up every month.
“I guess I always have a choice, so I choose to do that work. But I'm still like, if you ask me, what my number one goal and focus is on a weekly basis, I don't even market my one-on-one web design stuff like I market the online courses and those things. So I'm really working on growing that side of the business.”
A lot changed for Shannon during those years she was balancing her full-time job with her business.
The first was her mindset – both towards her day job and her the business she was trying to create.
Shannon started her side gig because she eventually wanted to quit her 9-to-5. However, she admits that in her second year of running her business, she started doing much better in her full-time job as well.
“Once I decided to stop trying to quit my day job so fast, I got promoted a couple times. I started making more money at the day job because I had clearly a better attitude about being there. And I was more excited.”
This meant she started getting raises, and a higher target to work towards as far as the income level she was trying to match.
“I made more money at the end. So the bar kept moving. Every time I was like, oh, now I need to make more money. I just got a raise.”
Shannon was excited by all the money she was making in her full-time job, because it helped to finance her business. But it also caused her to make some decisions that she probably would have done differently today.
“I paid for things that I probably shouldn't have paid for because I had the money to do it. I look back and I'm like, I spent a lot of money on dumb stuff that I didn't need to spend it on because I had it.”
These were purchases like very expensive email software instead of more reasonably-priced ones, hiring an expensive Pinterest consultant when she could have learned the strategy herself, and more.
She admits that it was much easier to make decisions to pay for these things because she had the money readily available to do so.
“But what I didn't do is just think, ‘oh, I should save that money so that I don't have to try to make so much money.’ And then I'd have a cushion sitting there so that I wouldn't have to freak out.”
Shannon’s had a huge mindset shift since then about how much money she puts into her business. “I think back on the way I was thinking, I kept thinking the more money I spend to grow this business, the faster it'll grow. And then I won't have to worry about anything.”
She admits, “it was a double-edged sword for sure to have the paycheck coming in and have the business making that much and just having fear driving every single decision I was making.”
The moral of this story?
Shannon wants everyone to know, “you do not have to have a lot of money to run a profitable online business… I didn’t even have to make ten thousand dollars a month like I thought I did. You know, it’s just a matter of making the right investments and deciding, am I going to choose to invest my time versus money?”
Shannon also has learned to trust herself more when it comes to executing something, instead of just throwing a lot of money at it.
“I thought that I needed to hire someone to make something happen, that I could have made happen and figured out on my own. And I feel like there's so much value in like, before I dump a bunch of money into a strategy, I should probably test that out it on my business and see if it's even working.”
Even if you think something will work well or could really help your business, don’t be afraid to try it out yourself before hiring someone to do it for you.
An example that Shannon used is Facebook ads. It’s easy to throw a bunch of money at something and hire someone to take care of it for you, but that money could be wasted if you don’t even know if that will work for your business.
Shannon wishes that she had been more willing to try things out for herself. “Then hire someone to scale that if I don't have the time to do that… I definitely went to extremes at times.”
Shannon’s goal is to minimize her amount of one-on-one client work and start to replace that with her products. To actually make that happen, she’s got a couple of plans in the works.
The first thing she’s going to do is work on time management. “The very first step for me is just getting my weekly schedule in a place where I have dedicated time for marketing my one-on-one stuff and working on that and dedicated client work days.”
She plans to break down her time by day, so she can have specific marketing days, list-building days, partnership days and more.
“So the very first thing is prioritizing the time and not letting that one-on-one client work take over or take priority over anything else.”
Next, Shannon wants to focus on email-list building through partnerships and collaborations. This is where she’s been spending the majority of her time.
“One of the things that I have been really focused on is figuring out how I can add value to other people's audiences and how I can introduce people that can add value to my audience to just start reaching more people who I can serve.”
This is a strong strategy that a lot of people overlook because they feel it’s more important to market or create new products. Even though the PR and collaboration side of running a business isn’t the most fun, it can really help you grow down the line.
Shannon neglected this in her first few years of running her business but has since realized the importance of building relationships with people. Now she’s willing to do some of this harder work to help her business grow in the long run.
“It's all that passive stuff that I'm like, ‘oh I can sit behind my computer and write copy and target people on Facebook and not have to risk someone saying ‘no, I don't want to partner with you…’ those kinds of things.
“I wish I would have paid attention to this more in the very beginning of my business, I can think back and think it was always relationships and partnerships and collaborations that brought me the most value and benefits to my business. So if there is like any piece of advice I could give people listening. It's that like spend your time on relationships before you spend them on like tactics.”
Want more Shannon?
Find her online at her website to sign up for her Free 5 Day Website Challenge, and there you can also find all of the links to her social media. Reach out – she’d love to hear from you.
Also, listen to her podcast, Pep Talks for Side Hustlers. You’ll definitely see at least one familiar name (mine!) and have the chance to listen to a lot of great content.
//LINKS IN THE SHOW//
Check out Shannon’s website – https://www.wp-bff.com
Listen to Shannon’s podcast – https://peptalksforsidehustlers.com/
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