Ep. 327: January 2021 Income Report

Welcome to my January 2021 Income Report! 

Every month since I quit my day job in 2018, I’ve published an income report to take you behind the scenes of my online business and reveal exactly how I started my business from scratch $0 at the end of 2014 to where I’m at today which is a multiple six-figure online business – and I break down exactly how much money we make each month, how we make it, how much we spend and lessons learned along the way.

And I love sharing this journey with you so that you can follow in my footsteps and see what’s possible for your business.

If you’re new around here or you found your way here via the Side-Hustle to Self-Employed Summit I hosted in early February, hello + welcome!!!

Because we have a TON of new subscribers and listeners, instead of making you go back and listen to or read three years of income reports, in this episode I’m gonna break down for you how we got here, and then break down my January numbers. 

Because like I said, in my December Income Report I talked about how 2021 is going to be the journey of me going from self-employed to CEO… but I know so many of you aren’t quite there yet, and I want you to understand what the journey looked like for me to get here and some of the big lessons I’m learning to help you shortcut your own journey from side-hustle to self-employed to CEO.

And I love reflecting on my journey with the wisdom I have now, because the benefit of hindsight helps me help those of you who are just a few steps behind me go faster and avoid some of those tough spots I found myself in, or at least know that they’re normal and move through them a little faster! 

Because if someone like me can do it, you can do it too.

So even if you’ve been around a while and you’ve heard this story a million times, there’s always something new to learn because there’s always something new I’ve learned!

 

My Side Hustle Journey

One day back in 2014, I was sitting in my beige, windowless office under fluorescent lights for the 2555th day in a row, STILL the same 30 pounds overweight I’d  been since childhood and still trying to lose it every Monday… finishing up a financial report that I dreaded doing every month, when I overhear this conversation outside my office door:

“Have you ever had 7-UP salad? It's got lemon Jell-O, lime Jell-O, marshmallows…”

And I literally started to have a panic attack.

OMG, I cannot DO this for the rest of my life!!! I'm 35 years old! Is this really all there is? Is this why I got good grades so I could get into college…and got a job the day I turned 16 so I’d be able to pay for it? So I could waste away in this office doing a job that slowly kills my soul? Is this really all there is?

I felt trapped. I wanted autonomy. I wanted flexibility. I wanted financial independence.

But most of all, I wanted to have a bigger impact. To do something that mattered. 

Because each day that passed, I felt more and more panicked that I was wasting my life. Going to college, getting a job, making money for someone else and having finite earning potential – all of that’s great if what you are doing excites you. If it’s your passion. If you feel like you’re really making an impact in the world. 

But what if it doesn’t? What if you realize that you're made for more?

And I felt so guilty about not being happy. Because I had a good job, made great money and I felt like I should just be satisfied with what I had because so many others aren’t as fortunate. 

But I just couldn't shake the feeling that I was meant to do something more. 

And the one thing I loved about my job at that time was web design.

So I decided to start doing freelance web design on the side… but I was undercharging and over-delivering because I totally undervalued my skillset because I was self-taught… and instead of taking control + leading clients through projects, I was taking orders from my clients, just like when I was an employee taking orders from my boss.

My clients loved working with me because I was so cheap, knowledgeable, and overdelivered at my own expense… and it wasn’t sustainable for me personally, mentally or financially.

Back then, I truly didn’t know there was another way. 

I do now, and I ultimately fixed my broken web design business model which led me to being able to quit my day job which I’ll tell you about in a little bit…

…but first, if you’re a web designer and any of that resonates with you – I would love to help you fix it. 

Just go to www.webdesigneracademy.com and fill out a super-quick 2 question application for your opportunity to be invited to watch a free training where I break down my 3-Part Full-Time Income Framework for web designers.

So even though my web design business was a hot mess… I was so desperate and determined to become my own boss, I craved autonomy so deeply that I was going to figure it out no matter what. I wasn’t going to give up and resign myself to wasting my life either in a beige, windowless office under fluorescent lights or sitting in rush hour traffic in exchange for a paycheck and those precious, precious vacation days. Not anymore.

So in 2015, I pivoted.

Instead of building websites FOR clients, I created a free training that taught them how to do it themselves… and I was and still am able to give that training away for free because I make money on it from affiliate commissions when people buy the tools I recommend in the training, and now through selling predesigned templates that make getting your website done way faster and easier than doing it all from scratch! 

That free DIY web design training is called the 5 Day Website Challenge and you can get your hands on it at http://www.free5daywebsitechallenge.com.

So I made this incredible free training… but then I had to figure out how to get it in front of my ideal client – who in my mind were people just like me, people who felt trapped in their corporate jobs, wanted to start an online business but didn’t know what they didn’t know about the tech and how to build a website that converts + helps them make money.

I’d been listening to business podcasts, like Smart Passive Income with Pat Flynn and Build Your Tribe with Chalene Johnson, which is where I learned that I needed to build an email list so that I’d have a list of people to make offers to in the future when I had something to sell, so I decided that instead of just making my free training public, like slapping it up on YouTube or just putting it on my blog, I’d give it away in exchange for an email address.

So I literally googled “how to build an email list” and found Nathalie Lussier’s 30 Day List Building Challenge and that put me on the path to where I am today. 

She, like everyone else who teaches online business, was teaching that you create something really juicy and compelling to give away for free – which I already had created – but it was her Facebook Group where she supported her students that changed everything for me. 

She had something called Freebie Friday where we were all encouraged to post links to our freebies, and I guess my free training hit on a pain point in that group because people started signing up. 

I remember getting that very first email subscriber… and then just an hour later, a notice that I got my first affiliate commission. And I was like, “OMG this is happening!!!! If I can get one, I can get more.” And I knew in my bones that I would be able to someday quit my day job if I just kept at it.

So I found more Facebook Groups that encouraged people to share their free stuff, and I was super committed to posting about my free training in those groups on a consistent basis every week. It worked really well back in 2015 and 2016, but 5 years later in 2021 while there are tons of groups… not many of them allow promo, so my marketing strategy had to adapt!

I’d also I started putting out calls to interview  women who were serving other women in some aspect of online business – like they were a business coach or an online marketing strategist –  who had DIYed their website (with my training or not).

I asked them all about their business, who they serve, what they do, why they chose to DIY their website, what challenges they encountered, what’d they’d change if they could go back in time, and who they learned from. And then I’d write these in-depth blog posts all about them, their businesses, highlighting their freebies and their social media accounts – and then I’d email them a link to the finished blog post and ask them to share it, and I’d tag them in the posts I shared on my social media accounts (which had like, zero followers) and then I’d also tag the people they said they learned from in those posts, and lo and behold, people would share my interviews which were all about DIY-ing a business website. And because I had my email optin form for my free DIY web design training on every single page… I got more subscribers!

So the affiliate commissions started slowly coming in… and then something unexpected happened.

People started asking me to build their websites FOR them… 

And I was so confused.

“Why? I’m showing you exactly how to do it yourself. It’s not hard. See?”

Point, click. Point, click. 

I’m showing you for free how to build exactly what you’re asking to pay me to do for you.

And I turned them down… because my web design business model was so broken, because I undervalued my skillset so much but didn’t even realize it, because I didn’t know how to take control and lead my clients because I thought that meant BOUNDARIES and CONFRONTATION – and believe it or not,  I’m a total introvert and I’d just rather NOT have to talk to you or tell you no… so there was no way in my mind that it would ever be worth it to experience that again.

“Nope, I don’t work with clients one on one anymore.”

And I went to work on creating an online course that in my mind was going to be the natural next step for my 5 Day Website Challengers. 

It was called WP+OMG, and the OMG stood for Online Marketing Genius, and it taught people how to set up all the pages + functionality they needed to sell an online course or membership site.

And if you never take any advice from me ever, please take this advice from me…

  1. Don’t spend time making a course before you’ve ever figured out how to get your first email list subscriber.
  2. Don’t spend time making a course because YOU think it’s what people need when you’ve had zero conversations with said people about what they need.
  3. Don’t try to be clever when you’re naming things, just tell people what it is.

I spent MONTHS making that course. Writing it. Recording it. Designing the branding + sales page, taking courses on how to market it and LAUNCH it and have a 5 figure launch or something ridiculous like that. 

I look back on that version of me, and I love that I was taking action, but I truly just didn’t know what I didn’t know about how to run an online business.

And I followed all the steps I learned in all those courses I bought about how to market and launch courses… and I sold zero courses. I launched to crickets.

At the time, I didn’t know what I’d done wrong… but I decided, like I would so many other times over the years, that my course wasn’t good enough or it’s too expensive, or there’s too much competition… and so I’d start over. Buy a new course to solve what I thought was the problem, create a new product, try a new marketing tactic. 

Wash, rinse, repeat, crickets. 

Now I know WHY my courses weren’t selling, and it had nothing to do with the course content or the price or the marketing tactics… More on that later.

So I decided to hire a sales coach to help me figure out how to grow my business, and when I told her I didn’t understand why people kept asking to hire me to build their websites when I was teaching them exactly step by step how to do it themselves for free….

…she pointed out how much money I was leaving on the table by telling all these people no. People were literally handing me the problem they wanted to pay me to solve. I didn’t have to go find them. 

And she said if I really wanted to quit my day job, and that was my #1 goal, then the fastest path there was working with clients 1:1, and then I could build up the course side of my business when I had more time.

I told her it wasn’t worth it to me to work with clients again, and she told me I wasn’t charging enough, and I needed to learn to set and hold boundaries with my clients.

Of course, that answer wasn’t good enough for me – and if my mom is listening to this she’s probably cracking up because she knows that I’ll push back unless I’m fully bought in – “I can’t charge more. I’m not qualified. I learned all of this for free over the years by Googling it and trial and error. Why would someone pay me that much when they could learn it for free too? 

To which she replied – “It doesn’t matter. Your expertise is worth something, it doesn’t matter how you learned it. What matters is that you’re able to deliver solutions to problems. And there are people out there who don’t WANT to do it themselves. They’d rather pay someone. Like these people who are ASKING you to do it for them knowing full well you already teach how to do it for free.

So I worked with her on communication, setting boundaries with clients, setting expectations up front, and I’m not gonna lie. It wasn’t easy. I still had the tendency to want to just agree to do stuff without asking for more money because that felt easier to me than having a difficult conversation… but it wasn’t my clients. It was me. I just had to learn to how to take the lead from day one, and make decisions ahead of time, map out the entire process for my clients ahead of time so they knew what to expect, and and already have an answer for how I would handle as many scenarios as I could so I was mentally prepared to have those conversations with my clients. 

And as I started to change how I operated, how my projects went started to change. They got easier, more fun and were starting and ending on time. I was making more money, and it was becoming sustainable.

So again, if you’re a web designer or a tech VA or you want to start a freelance web design business, please let me help you avoid all the mistakes I made early on!

Just go to www.webdesigneracademy.com and fill out a super-quick 2 question application for your opportunity to be invited to watch a free training where I break down my 3-Part Full-Time Income Framework for web designers.

So now I’ve got my Free 5 Day Website Challenge going, I’m working with clients 1:1, I’m still banging my head against the wall trying to launch a massively successful online course on the first try and hustling doing every marketing tactic you can think of to grow my email list for this unicorn launch I’m dreaming of… and I’m mentoring web designers on how to market themselves, manage their clients and manage projects. 

Because my web design projects and my 5 Day Website Challenge were really the only things doing well in my business… and I was paying ZERO attention to them. 

I was still hustling to “launch” this other online marketing course, leaking money by buying courses and hiring people to do marketing things I didn’t have time to do, but would have never worked anyway because I was missing a key ingredient for success. But I didn’t even know something was missing… More on that later.

And while I focused on the things that were hard and not working… my Free 5 Day Website Challenge had gained its own momentum.

People were sharing it for me, people were recommending it to their emails lists, sharing it in Facebook groups every time they saw someone ask a website question, sending it to their friends, and my list was growing – not as a directly result of anything I was doing, but because it solved a massive pain point for people, and they were telling everyone they knew about it! 

That’s what I call a Shareworthy Freebie. Don’t we all just love to share things that help people? We love to swoop in and save the day. And that’s exactly what my Free 5 Day Website Challenge did – it helped people and it let people swoop in and save the day for their friends and audiences. 

And so even when people stopped allowing self-promotion in Facebook Groups… I was and still get most of my traffic from Facebook Groups because people in those groups are sharing it for me, without me even asking, because it’s that good.

So that’s what business looked like from late 2014 through the about halfway through 2016.

So here’s what the money looked like in those first few years:

 

Year Revenue (before taxes + expenses) Profit Margin # of Email List Subscribers
1st 6 months of biz $4878 (1:1 client work, affiliate revenue from my Shareworthy Freebie) ? 650
2015 $18,640 (1:1 client work, affiliate revenue from my Shareworthy Freebie) ? 1200
2016 $57,877 (1:1 client work, affiliate revenue from my Shareworthy Freebie + courses) ? 5,000

 

From Side-Hustle to Self-Employed

I quit my day job at the end of 2017. 

50% of my revenue was coming from 1:1 client work, 25% was coming from affiliate revenue from the Free 5 Day Website Challenge, and 25% from my courses –  the Web Designer Academy which was more like an online course at that time than the group coaching program that it is now, and then all the iterations of the marketing course I was focusing the majority of my energy on trying to sell in different ways under different names with different branding, and then and tons of other one-off tech trainings  (and that was about a 50/50 split).

My goal was to make $10,000 a month twice, and if I did that, I knew that I’d be able to do it again if 100% of my time was spent on my business. I promised my husband that I would put the same amount of money into our bank account that I was making with my paycheck, which when I quit I was taking home $5,000 a month after taxes. And then the other $5000 I made from my business would go to taxes and business expenses.

So by the end of 2017, with all of that HUSTLE, I made it happen. Here’s what 2017 looked like. And I literally have no idea how much I spent on courses and training and branding and subcontractors to do the parts of the web design projects I didn’t have time to do because of all the other stuff I was doing and virtual assistants to do marketing that I wasn’t really getting a return on but I didn’t even know it because I was too buddy doing other stuff… I wasn’t tracking my expenses the way I do now, probably because I was afraid to look at it.

 

Year Revenue (before taxes + expenses) Profit Margin # of Email List Subscribers
2017 $73,512 (quit my day job at the end of 2017) (1:1 client work, affiliate revenue from my Shareworthy Freebie + courses) ? 5,600

 

But I knew how to make money, even if I was making it way harder than it needed to be, and so I put in a 7-month notice at my day job and left at the end of the year.

My first day of self-employment was January 2, 2018 and while I was extremely proud of myself for replacing my paycheck… inside I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to sustain it. 

I didn’t overtly know I was terrified, because I didn’t give myself a second to think. 

I went into high gear to try to explode my traffic and 10x my list and do webinars and pretty much everything you can think of… but what I was missing was an irresistible offer at a price point that would make my business sustainable.

So if you’re like… “Shannon, what were you trying to sell if you didn’t have an irresistible offer?

Oh, I had a COURSE that taught online marketing strategy and tech… and that’s what I kept trying to sell… but the problem was I kept trying to talk about the course and what’s in it and what it does and how it works and how much it costs and why it's different from all the other courses out there… 

People don’t care about my course and what’s in it. They care about their transformation. They care about solving their problem and reaching their goals. And they need to believe that it’s actually possible for them.

So my marketing can’t be about my course… it has to be about your transformation. I have to offer you the opportunity to go from where you are now to where you want to be. That’s what makes an offer irresistible. 

And why didn’t I have an irresistible offer?

Because I never asked my email list what their pain points were now that I’ve taught them how to build a website. I thought I knew what they needed next… and while I was right about what they needed – I put all of that stuff in my course! But I was totally not talking about it in a way that resonated with them AT ALL. I didn’t do the research, I didn’t ask the questions, I didn’t validate my offers before building them. 

So when I quit my day job, I was working with clients 1:1, I had a contract with my former employer to support them on a couple of things, and I was making affiliate commissions from my 5 Day Website Challenge, and I was selling a $29/month membership where I was massively undercharging and overdelivering – which I now understand is a detriment not only to myself, but also to my students. 

In the absence of an irresistible offer at a sustainable price point, I had to be the one to make my business sustainable, and I worked my butt off to the point of physical burnout to keep my commitment to my husband that when I quit my “secure” day job that I would bring in the same amount of money – that our person bank account would see no change – and that the business would always be debt-free.

In September of 2018, after a conversation with Bree Pair from Thrive on my podcast who saw how burnt out I was and that I was struggling (she didn’t know that I’d gained another 20 pounds since starting my side hustle and that I was now 50 pounds overweight)…she invited me to  join a small mastermind she was putting together. So I hopped on a plane in Columbus, Ohio and landed in Austin, Texas for a weekend retreat with 5 strangers… who after one weekend would become my biz besties. They took one look at me and knew things needed to change… it was a turning point for me… but the change would take a few months to percolate.

Here’s what my revenue looked like at the end of 2018:

 

Year Revenue (before taxes + expenses) Profit Margin # of Email List Subscribers
2018 $111,000 (50% 1:1 + Consulting, 50% Courses + Affiliates) 59% 1,600

 

At the end of 2018, I got an email about something called the “Partnership Accelerator” which was a 4-week intensive to develop partnerships for list growth. The one thing I know to be true about online business that hasn’t changed throughout everything I’ve learned is that you need an algorithm-proof way to communicate with your potential customers, and email list growth has been my #1 priority from day one. I was so over trying to market myself in places and ways where I had to show up and be “on”. I needed something easier. So I signed up, it started in January of 2019 and I was hooked. I had a lot of mindset issues to overcome (who am I to reach out to this person, they’ll think I’m asking for too much…) and there was a lot of sweating from sending out those pitch emails, but it WORKED. 

But what good is getting email subscribers if they never become customers?

I still had that missing piece, that irresistible offer, priced in a way that makes it sustainable (meaning, I can afford to get help and get the right tools to run my business and pay myself well and work less). 

And so by April of 2019, I’d invested in my first “high ticket” coaching program. It was called Growth University, and at the time it was $5000 a year. 

It was a total stretch for me to join because I didn’t have the extra money just sitting there – I was barely able to pay my paycheck and I was always a few days late paying myself… But I figured I could swing the $1000/month payment plan if I deferred one of my paychecks to myself and then reduced the amount I was paying myself by $500. By doing that I knew I could cash flow the payments for at least a couple of months, and I knew that if I committed that money I’d be all in on making it back and then some so that I could pay myself back.

So I talked to my husband about the program because me investing in it was going to affect how much money I moved into our personal accounts… and while he was just as apprehensive as he was when I told him I was quitting my day job, he said that he trusted me to make the right decision – and if it didn’t work out… I promised I’d be open to going back and getting a day job.

I think back now on making that promise… that lit a fire under me even more because there’s no way I’m ever going to go work for someone else ever again. So it was super easy for me to agree to those conditions!

And so I went for it.

 And it totally transformed my business in a few key ways:

  1. I felt massive relief knowing that I didn’t have to figure it out on my own and that someone who has already done what I want to do was going to take a deep dive into my business and give me a personalized roadmap for reaching my goal of making $15,000 a month exclusively from online courses + affiliate commissions. Which at the time seemed like a HUGE goal.
  2. Me parting with “that much” money got me focused in a way that I’ve never been focused before. And not focused like, “I wasn’t working on my business and now I am” because I was ALWAYS working on my business, but more in a way like “I am doing exactly what you tell me to do to the exclusion of every other distraction out there.”
  3. It showed me how critical relationships are to growing a business, and how I don’t have to go it alone or do everything from scratch.
  4. It taught me how to validate my EXISTING offers. Instead of me always starting over and creating something new every time something “didn’t work” (meaning I didn’t have Amy Porterfield-size launch results the first time I tried) I learned what results I could REASONABLY expect for my price point and my list size, and I learned how to test my offers and pricing and make changes, test again, and then test again on a larger scale, testing and changing all along the way until I landed on what to say and how to say it in a way that made people WANT it. 

So I completed that program and had my first $15,000 month in January of 2020, 9 months after going all in on that program.

Here’s what my revenue looked like at the end of 2019:

 

Year Revenue (before taxes + expenses) Profit Margin # of Email List Subscribers
2019 $127,208  (30% 1:1 + Consulting, 70% Courses + Affiliates) 72% 3,300

 

But again… I’d hustled super hard to make that happen and I was edging toward burnout again. 

I knew I needed to make things easier on myself, but I didn’t know how. 

And the opportunity presented itself in the form of Mariah Coz’s Accelerator Program. 

In March of 2020, I was on a webinar for the Accelerator hosted by Claire Pelletreau, and Mariah explained something to me that I never understood before:

Some customers are turtles, and some customers are hares. Some customers need time to make a decision, other customers are in so much pain when they find you that they want a solution now. 

That being the case, the best strategy to serve them both is to incentivize the hares to make a decision, and educate the turtles for when they’re ready to make a decision. 

And you do this by using a combination of live launches, evergreen promotions and limited time offers so that your hares can always buy when they are ready, and your turtles can have other opportunities to buy besides just the first time they see an offer. 

And even though people can always buy, you still incentive them to make a decision instead of closing the doors on your program and cutting them off from the possibility of ever working with you.

This strategy resonated with me more than any other strategy I’d ever learned. It felt super authentic, it let me meet my customers where they are, and I knew it was going to be a game changer for my business.

Plus, all the women in this program were powerhouses, women I looked up to and tried to model my business after… and I was like… why am I still trying to reverse-engineer what they are doing? I can just join the same program they’re in and learn right along with them. And I can tell you this… my reverse-engineer skills are pretty good… but there were so many key concepts that I missed because I didn’t understand WHY behind the strategy and I didn’t have the right mindset to make them work. 

Reverse engineering is a bad habit of mine… we’ll get to that later.

But like I said, this opportunity to join the Accelerator presented itself to me in March of 2020… and in March of 2020 I had another big thing happening – my husband and I were about to close on a construction loan to build a house…

And at this time, the pandemic wasn’t a pandemic yet and we were all free to move about the country, maskless and oblivious.

The Accelerator was a $10,000 program… And this time, I had the money in my business bank account to invest, and I’d intended to pay the $10,000 in full… and I talk to my husband again about joining this new program… and he’s not super supportive this time. 

He’s worried about the house, the loan and he just wants things to stay status quo, he wants to make sure that I’m not putting work above building the house (which I totally have a tendency to put work above everything else) and this time….

….I don’t get his buy-in like I wanted. 

So now, I’m in an uncomfortable spot… Because this time, enrolling in this program will have zero effect on what I pay myself to our personal bank account… But I guess because I was nervous about spending “that much money” I wanted someone else’s approval that it was a good idea.

And I didn’t get it.

And what that experience did for me is remind me that I have to trust myself. 

And I have to give my husband grace because since the beginning I’ve pretty much told him (not in these EXACT words) “Hey, this is what’s happening whether you like it or not, your opinion is duly noted.”  That’s the message I’ve been sending.

And I understand his hesitation. Just like me, he grew up lower-middle class with divorced parents. With siblings and a single mom working her butt off, doing her best to raise her kids, feed them and keep a roof over their heads on a minimum wage job. Where there’s never enough money, living not even paycheck to paycheck because we had to (as my mom always said) rob Peter to pay Paul – to try keep the bill collectors at bay. Never having enough food in the house, and eating a lot of fast food because cash flow was so bad that it was easier to pull together $10 to pick up dinner at the drive-through (back then) than to write a check for $200 at the grocery store.

And that’s why it’s a massive mindset stretch for me to spend $10,000 on a business coaching program, and it’s an even more massive mindset stretch for a non-entrepreneur who isn’t even sure that online business isn’t a scam, for his wife to not just funnel that money straight into our bank account when we’re about to build a house.

So I get it.

But deep in my bones, I know that we’re made for more. 

More than sitting in beige offices under fluorescent lights making spreadsheets that have zero impact on the world.

More than playing it small and safe – which keeps us in the daily grind, the rat race, keeps us dependent on our employers and whatever the government decides to do that day – and cuts us off from the experiences that make our lives full and rich and allow us to mentor and give back.

And I will drag my husband along with me kicking and screaming, because he deserves to know there’s more too. And so do our families, and our nieces and nephews. And if we can be the ones to “change the family tree” as Dave Ramsey says, and be able to take care of our soon to be aging parents and show the next generation a different way to live (even if they’re not our kids) then I’m all in.

And so I went for it. I joined the Accelerator, knowing that if I parted with that much money, I’d go all in on myself and there’s no way I wouldn’t do the work, take every opportunity to get help and make my money back and then some.

And I joined at the at the perfect time.

Because not one week into joining, the shutdowns and stay at home orders started. And the very first Accelerator coaching call set me on a direction that I would not have been able to come up with on my own. 

Had I been left to my own limited thinking, I’d have been terrified, thinking that it’s not right to sell during a pandemic when “everyone” is hurting financially and I would have tanked my own business.

The Accelerator helped me realize why what I do is needed now more than ever, and helped me understand that my customers are grown adults who are capable of making their own financial decisions without my help, thank you very much, and it’s not up to me to decide what they can and can’t afford. It’s their job, and I should respect them enough to make the right decisions for them.

And we decided to move forward with building the new house. It’s funny how I’m really bold when it comes to my business, but when it comes to personal finances I worry way more. I think it’s just conditioning from how I grew up, that there was never enough money and it could run out. 

Even though now I know that’s not true…I was worried about building the house during the pandemic. “Is this a stupid decision? What if my business dries up and my husband loses his job, then what?” I was catastrophizing on the phone to my best friend and she goes, “Worst case scenario, you lose everything and you move into your camper and live in our driveway.” And I was like, “Seriously? That actually sounds amazing. We’re doing this.

So I got to work, implementing the strategies laid out by the coaches and started seeing the results. I joined in March of 2020, and by June I was consistently seeing $15K+ months, up to nearly $20K in August.

And I’m also extremely grateful that I trusted myself and join the Accelerator… because my husband DID find out his job was going away as the result of the pandemic. And while he processed the news of losing a job he loved at a company he loved, we didn’t need to freak out because my business can cover us financially no matter what happens with his job.

So I was seeing tons of success after implementing the Accelerator strategies, I veered off in my own direction again a little bit…

I started creating new products like my Site in a Snap Templates and my Tech Masterclass Bundle which were huge hits with my current email list – but were a TON of work to create.

I started accepting all kinds of speaking gigs and partnerships that required me to create new content and presentations. And I completely rewrote and re-recorded my Web Designer Academy program.

And while all of that was amazing and helped me build relationships and grow my list and serve my clients at a totally different level…. None of it was directly income-producing, and again, I was totally overworking and bumping up against burnout.

I had a team member who was amazing, but I wasn’t giving her enough to do, and I was spending my time on things that I didn’t need to be doing either!

That’s not to say I wasn’t making money, I was, but I was working way harder than necessary, and still undercharging and overdelivering.

I knew something had to change… I wanted something to change.

In September of 2020, I was on a mastermind call when Nellie Corriveau, aka the Sales Queen, challenged me to set my big dream goal… and I couldn’t think of one. 

“What’s next for you? Do you wanna make a million dollars?” 

I felt so overworked that all I could think was… “I just want to slow down and enjoy the fruits of my labor. I can’t even think about what it would take for me to uplevel to the point where I was making a million dollars. If I was hustling that hard to make $20K a month, I’d have to hustle four times harder to make $80K a month, right? 

And to what end? What’s the reason to make that much money? I’d already reached every big goal I’d set for myself – start a business, check. Grow it to the point where I could quit my day job without taking a pay cut. Check. Stop one on one client work and make all my money exclusively from courses and training. Check. Replace my husband’s income just in case. Check.

I should just be happy with what I have, right?

Ooh. Ouch. That’s what I used to tell myself when I was at my day job. “You shouldn’t want more. You already have more than most people. You should be grateful for what you have.”

That’s what I used to tell myself to keep myself safe, right there in my comfy little comfort zone.

To absolve myself from taking risks and possibly failing and being really uncomfortable.

But back then, the “pain” that I was in outweighed my desire to stay comfortable, and it became easier to try and change then stay the same.

That line of thinking totally parallels my weight loss journey, by the way. The pain of staying at 180 was too much, it was easier to do the work to change.

So at 180 and a day job I hated, I was super motivated to change….

But once I got to 145 and making between $15K and $20K a month…

Not so motivated to make myself uncomfortable… Going for 130 and $80K a month… It just seemed like too much work.

Why not just stay where I am and enjoy it?

So that’s what I told my mastermind, and one of the girls lovingly called me out and told me:

“You’ve outgrown your dream.”

And when something resonates with me, I physically feel it in my chest. It’s literally like a chord is struck, it’s a strong, sharp twang, a vibration in my chest and my ears – and that’s when I KNOW. 

She was totally right. I had outgrown my dream, and my limited mindset was telling me that it was safer to settle.

“Why not just stay where I am and enjoy it?” 

That question implies that I have a belief that going for more would not be enjoyable…

My weight loss coach, Corrinne Crabtree says that any time you ask yourself a question, you have to answer it. You can’t leave that open loop in your brain. Those open loops? They leak mental energy.

So, why not just stay where I am and enjoy it?

Because clearly I’m still doing it the hard way, and I want to learn to do it the easy way.

That’s why I’m no longer gonna lie to myself about enjoying where I am.

In September, I decided to bring on more team members and commit to being the best leader I could possibly be – and the moment I opened my mind up to building this team for real, the right people appeared. Natalie Matesic and Wendy Coop, and Team Shannon Mattern was officially formed – which enabled me to take the time I needed to set us up to grow.

But the real turning point for me came in October of 2020. 

Two really important things happened that month.

First, I was invited to join business + money mindset coach Alecia St. Germain’s Profit Accelerator coaching program where I learned how to uncover, challenge and change deep-seated beliefs holding me back from actually doing the work required to make more money – hiring a team and charging more.

That work was transformative. 

I already knew I had some money mindset issues and I’d been working on them from the moment I felt super guilty for making $15K in one month in 2019… 

After that happened, I’d done the work to begin to understand that I’m not just taking money from people – I’m selling my intellectual property (Denise Duffield Thomas), and the value of that intellectual property to someone else is the transformation they undergo to enable them to take the actions required get the results they desire (Mariah Coz). And that I’m not responsible for their results, only they can be responsible for their results – it’s my job to give them the most luscious circumstances and everything they need to get their desired outcome, but ultimately  it’s up to them to take action (Corinne Crabtree).

But I still had some mindset work to do… specifically when it came to making more money that I “need”. 

As if I were taking more of my fair share and not doing anything good or noble with it. Like, I’m not allowed to make money and buy a dreamy couch from Pottery Barn with it (which is where I’m at while I write this, by the way)… if I make money I have to do something “good” with it – so that people don’t think I’m a rich, spoiled brat.

And I think that fear has everything to do with the fact that I write these income reports every single month… In my mind I thought…  if no one KNOWS that I made $30,000 last month… then no one will judge how I spend my money. They won’t KNOW that I make “more than my fair share”, so they won’t think I’m a spoiled brat. 

Which begs the question… 

Why do I care so much about what people think about me?

Open loop alert! Answer the question!

Because if people don’t like me, then life will be hard. There will be conflict. If people don’t like me, there must be something wrong with me. If people don’t like me, I’m at risk of losing everything, of getting cancelled. 

So if I’m gonna make a million dollars I better have a damn good noble reason for doing it that’s better than “I wanna see if I can…” and I better have a selfless, noble plan for spending that money… I don’t have kids, so I don’t have the excuse of using it to provide for my family… so it’s really all just for me. What, to pay off my house, and to travel, and to buy nice things… That’s selfish, right?

Not really… The definition of selfish is going after personal gain at the expense of others. I would even venture to add the “intentional exploitation” of others.

And then I was on another mastermind call when the same person who lovingly called me out about having outgrown my dream boldly declared that she had the intention of making a million dollars in 2021 because “90% of millionaires are men and eff that”.

And that, my friends, lit a fire up under me. I thought… “No dude out there is sitting around worried about looking selfish and making sure he has noble intentions for his money. That’s just another lie I tell myself to keep myself small and in my comfy little comfort zone. Eff that, I’m going for it.

And so, from my camper, on October 29, 2020, I declared to my dog Scarlett who was sleeping beside me that my big goal was to unapologetically make a million dollars in 2021.

And it’s not just for the sake of making a million dollars to stick it to the man… I really do want to be an example to you guys, those of you in my community who listen to this podcast and follow my journey, I want to show you exactly how I did it.

And if you resonate with any of my story, I want you to know exactly how I overcame every mental obstacle that got in my way.

Because that’s all this is. Identifying and overcoming those mental obstacles that stand in our way. And we can’t do it alone. We need someone else’s perspective. We need someone to point out our thought errors and flawed thinking that keeps us stuck. We need frameworks for working through changing those beliefs to ones that serve us. And that’s why coaching is SO IMPORTANT.

So back in October of 2020 and I’m contemplating this new goal of making $80K a month…

First, I have a call with my Accountability Partner in the Profit Accelerator program, and I tell her that I’m still having trouble figuring out what I’d even DO with a million dollars and what my life would look like, and she suggests that I visualize it. 

So I commit to her that I will, and so in October 2020 I wrote a fictional income report from the future, in December 2021, when I’m making $80K a month in my business…

If I remember in December, I’ll let you know how close I came to predicting my future, but having re-read it just now… It’s CRAZY how well that visualization nailed November, December + January… almost to the point where I was like “Wait, when did I write this? Did I really write this in October, because that’s just about how it happened!” It was creepy, you guys, but it just goes to show that our minds are that powerful!

It was back in October that I get an email from my Accelerator Coaching Program that they’d hosted this 2-day virtual conference all about creating a high-ticket group coaching program  and that the replays are expiring in a week. So while I’m packing up my house to move, I start listening to those sessions and I realize… 

Holy crap, the two programs I offer at like $697 and $1697 respectively are actually the exact same format and deliverables that other people are offering at $5K, $10K and even more! And I just totally redid my Web Designer Academy, my students are LOVING the update and getting massive results, this should totally be a high ticket program with an application or “empowered enrollment experience” as Mariah calls it… but I don’t need to join High Ticket Hybrid, I can just reverse-engineer Mariah’s process for when I enrolled into the Accelerator program – I don’t need help with the tech, I got this!

See what I mean by I get myself in trouble with reverse engineering?

So I decided that I’d increase the price of my Web Designer Academy and remove lifetime access, but I wasn’t sure if I should offer it one more time to my interest list at the current price with lifetime access before I closed the doors and re-launched it at a higher price point with an application.

So I pose the question to Mariah Coz in the Accelerator coaching call… and she lovingly called me out, telling me that I can’t just slap an application on my program and sell it for $5K using the same strategies I learned in the Accelerator, and that if I wanted the strategy behind the empowered enrollment experience so that I’d have a better chance of converting my applicants into clients, her High Ticket Hybrid program is the way to go.

But it costs $20,000. Like, that’s more than I paid for my entire 4 years of college back in the late 90s.

So by the end of October, my updated Web Designer Academy is complete. I’d planned to launch it in November… but I’d also planned a Summit for February and still needed to complete a bonus for the Academy and I also had people asking me for more templates and trainings for online courses, stores and membership sites.

I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with all there was to do, and unsure where to put my focus. Even though I had a fire lit up under me about going for the million dollar business… I was still thinking about how much time it was going to take and how hard it would be. I was in that weird spot of wanting it, seeing how it COULD be possible but not really believing that it would be worth it.

I had all this stuff I’d committed to – the Summit in February, a training for the Web Design Academy students, and those templates people kept asking me to make.

They were loving my Site-in-a-Snap templates… and the easy answer would have been to make the templates. A few people had asked for them, they’d keep me busy working, I’d have my team to support me while I made them, and I’d have to not only create the templates, but outline and record + produce the training, write the sales pages, the sales emails, set up the course access and confirmation emails and make the offer. The price at which I’d be offering these to my list would be a no brainer for them, and I’d probably make a decent chunk of money, maybe up to $10,000 in a few days.

But the truth is… 

    1. After that first woosh, sales slow down and your list has to keep growing in order to keep the sales up.
  • It takes the same exact amount of time to make all those assets for a program I’d sell for $5000 on an ongoing basis for the next year.

Making the templates first, while it seemed like a sure thing, would have been a total cop-out.

So I decided to back-burner that idea and like I mentioned in my November 2020 Income Report, I decided to take Mariah Coz up on her invitation to join High Ticket Hybrid, which at the time cost $20,000 for a year and got to work on re-tooling my Web Designer Academy so I could support more students on a deeper level.

And then in my December 2020  income report, I told you about the results of launching the new Web Designer Academy with its new curriculum, structure and support, which totally blew my mind and resulted in my business making just over $30,000 – in one month, without running ads.

Here’s what my revenue looked like at the end of 2020.

 

Year Revenue (before taxes + expenses) Profit Margin # of Email List Subscribers
2020 $185,927 (100% Courses, Coaching Programs, Affiliates + Digital Products) 66% 4,500

 

And just to recap – here’s the entire journey from 2014 to today:

 

Year Revenue (before taxes + expenses) Profit Margin # of Email List Subscribers
1st 6 months of biz $4878 (1:1 client work, affiliate revenue from my Shareworthy Freebie) ? 650
2015 $18,640 (1:1 client work, affiliate revenue from my Shareworthy Freebie) ? 1200
2016 $57,877 (1:1 client work, affiliate revenue from my Shareworthy Freebie + courses) ? 5,000
2017 $73,512 (quit my day job at the end of 2017) (1:1 client work, affiliate revenue from my Shareworthy Freebie + courses) ? 5,600
2018 $111,000 (50% 1:1 + Consulting, 50% Courses + Affiliates) 59% 1,600
2019 $127,208  (30% 1:1 + Consulting, 70% Courses + Affiliates) 72% 3,300
2020 $185,927 (100% Courses, Coaching Programs, Affiliates + Digital Products) 66% 4,500

 

January 2021 Numbers

Three  important things that happened in January:

 

  • I finished up our final project and ended the contract with my old employer. I’d stopped counting the consulting revenue from them in my income reports to you guys in 2020, and then at the end of 2020 even though they wanted to continue on with me, it was time for both of us to move on. I spent the first week of January wrapping them up. And it was a relief for me to let them go. For the first time I didn’t feel like I needed that safety net anymore!
  • I decided to test out Facebook Ads to my Web Designer Academy Application. I don’t teach Facebook Ads as a marketing strategy. I’ve dabbled in them but never had success, but I decided to test them out for my Web Designer Academy for a few reasons:
      1. I know the program is life-changing, and if I can run Facebook Ads to get directly in front of people who need it, then I’m willing to go that route.
      2. I’m making enough money to test without going into debt, being unable to pay myself or pay my team.
      3. We can afford to pay a higher cost per lead than I ever, ever would have considered before because the price of the program supports it. We spent about $2800 on ads in January, and that number would have given me a heart attack any other month. But it was a test! I just wanted to know if they could connect me with the right people, if what I was saying about what’s possible for how your web design business could look was resonating with those people, and if people who had never met me before would enroll in my program. I’m definitely still testing, tweaking and learning, I feel like the return on my investment was worth it even though I’m not sure I’m getting the best results I could be getting… but I’ll continue to test paid advertising for the Web Designer Academy, along with organic traffic strategies.
  • My team and I spent all the rest of our time prepping for the Side Hustle to Self Employed Summit which was running the first week in February. It was our first ever Summit, and January was spent coordinating with speakers and getting the marketing ready and getting the website set up and testing out the tech to sell the All-Access Passes.

    It was a LOT of work, all of the days blended together, and I and I noticed that I hadn’t taken a day off since moving into our house in November, and we also weren’t leaving the house or seeing anyone in person because of the pandemic…

    I could feel the burnout coming on… and I did things to try to mitigate it like avoid doomscrolling and be really careful news consumption and trying to walk the fine line of not ignoring what’s going on in the world but also with focusing on what I can control and where I can have a positive impact on the world, and so I put my all into the Summit, and to serving my students in the Web Designer Academy.

    Registration for the Summit officially opened the third week of January and we had a few hiccups here and there – some incorrect dates, some techie issues and I’m so, so glad I’m not a perfectionist and don’t make a big deal about that stuff – when people point my mistakes out, I just thank them and fix it.

    If I had to wait to do anything until I was 100% sure it was perfect or if I tried to hold my team to that standard? Impossible and miserable. We move fast, we make mistakes, we fix them as we go and we might even make the same ones again. In fact, we probably will. I just don’t sweat that stuff. It’s more important to show up and serve than to be perfect in my opinion.

I’m not gonna lie, January flew by. I worked nonstop. I wasn’t sleeping well. Some overeating crept back in. I gained some weight. There was zero time made for any kind of exercise and self-care. 

I have an incredible team, but I do this thing where I let myself get so behind that I’m putting out fires at the last minute… and I don’t EVER expect them to work the dysfunctional way that I overwork, so I don’t ask for help, because the help I’d need is NOW, and then I get even more behind on planning and delegating the and hole I’m in gets deeper and deeper.

And that’s why I was so blown away with my revenue numbers in January, because I was so focused on the Summit and serving the current Web Designer Academy that I wasn’t paying attention and I didn’t expect it to be as incredible as it was.

Total Revenue: $38,195.02


Affiliate Income: $5799.16

Site-in-a-Snap Templates + Trainings: $3696.86 (that’s my portion of the total sales after paying out my partners and affiliates)

Web Designer Academy: $21,384.00

Website Marketing Lab: $1717.00

Side Hustle to Self Employed Summit: $7315.00

 

So before we dive into the expenses, I just wanna tell you that I’m changing the way I’m reporting these to you guys. I’m now including my paycheck in the expenses, and then my profit is what’s leftover after that, which is what stays in my account so that I can pay my tax bill, make other important investments into the business like a couple I’ll tell you about in my February income report, have savings to weather any storms, stuff like that.

Total Investments: $22,236.19

 

Tools I use to run my business: $2448.52

Training, Coaching + Mentorship: $3700.00

CEO Salary (that’s me!) $7809.77 (includes payroll taxes)

Team: $4459.50

Affiliate Payouts: $883.96

Facebook Ads: $2892.47

Net Profit: $15,958.83

 

Get the full breakdown of income, expenses and net profit month by month here.

 

These results are absolutely incredible. I’m really proud and excited for what we’ve been able to accomplish. I’m so, so proud of how we’ve grown, but like I said in my December income report, it’s time for me to stop working like I’m a solopreneur and stop running this business like I’m a solopreneur and start stepping into the CEO role.

Because we’re enrolling the perfect students into the Web Designer Academy, and one of the most fulfilling things I do is watching them completely shift their mindset on their value and then, raise their prices and start booking clients at higher prices and blowing their own minds.

So after looking at these numbers in early February, I was thinking… “The way I am working is not sustainable. I cannot keep working like this and continue to support the students in this program at the level they are paying for and at the level they deserve. Something has got to change.” 

The only problem is that when I get that burnt out, I start wanting to make changes from a place of protecting myself instead of from a place of curiosity and possibility and abundance. 

In looking at the numbers I was literally thinking, “If I just went all in on the Web Designer Academy and stopped doing everything else I do, then I could breathe again. Then I could take time off. Because it’s dialed in, end to end and I don’t keep having to TRY so hard to make it work. It’s working.

I literally even questioned if I would have done the Side-Hustle to Self-Employed Summit had I known how successful the Web Designer Academy was going to be, because the Web Designer Academy feels so… EASY.

A couple of months ago I got this email from Becca Tracey of the Uncaged Life:

The subject line was:

Is Your Business Selfish?

You can read the whole thing there and I recommend that you do, but in it Becca writes:

“There are many WHYs for creating your business. One of my biggest whys is that I believe in having the ability to live your life and not be bound by bosses, and limits on vacation time, and stupid office politics. I want to be able to take naps, work at night and play outside all day, go visit a friend for lunch, and take as much time off as I want — whether it’s because I want to travel, or need to just cry in bed for a few weeks. Oh, and I want to be able to make as much money as I want without a glass ceiling.

Does this sound selfish??

Shouldn’t I be building a business based on passion and purpose and helping the world? Isn’t that what the internet tells you are the reasons you should have for starting a business?

Maybe.

BUT MAYBE THE SELFISH REASONS ARE ALSO JUST AS IMPORTANT AS THE PASSION AND THE PURPOSE. AND MAYBE THOSE REASONS AREN’T AS SELFISH AS YOU THINK.

 

What happens in your life when you are taking care of yourself? You take better care of the people around you. 

What happens when you make more money than just barely scraping by? You have money to invest in yourself, your family, your community, and your business.

What happens when you allow yourself the ability to rest, travel, and make time for other things that matter to you? You set an example for others that it’s ok to take a break. And that example could just save someone’s life.

I’m tired of seeing businesses that push, push, push. I have many business owner friends who are VERY successful (and make a ton of money) – but who are also burnt out, working all the time, or constantly on the hamster wheel of how to get bigger and bigger and achieve more and more.

I’m tired of hearing my students say that they have a fear of success because they think it’s going to make them too busy.

And I’m tired of hearing people push passion and purpose as the only legit reasons to start a business (which then sets you on an endless search for finding THE thing you are MOST passionate about – and causes you to not get started til you find THE ONE BEST THING).

It’s ok to let it be easy. It’s ok to take what my coach calls the “lazy river” way of business. It’s ok to let life guide you and not be so regimented about it all.

I’m here to give you permission to let it be selfish if it needs to. Because it DOES need to.

Let yourself want your business for reasons that are purely for YOU. And then learn to build a business that actually lets you take that time for yourself.

It’s not only possible, it’s essential.

I couldn’t agree more.

I mean, I’m a little embarrassed to say that, but that’s the place I was in mentally with how much I’d been working. But the truth is… I’m the only one who has been making things hard, and I see how I’m making them hard, and I’m in the process of making everything easier.

And with the benefit of hindsight I can say that I’m so glad we did it because it had such a positive impact on everyone that attended and that made all the hard work more than worth it. I’ll dive deeper into those results in my February Income Report though.

And I’m so, so glad I actually have mentors and business friends and coaching programs and masterminds – people who I can say those things out loud to, and who can look at me and see that I’m coming from a place of burnout, scarcity and protection, who can help me see other solutions and ways that I can thrive personally and keep helping people and having the impact that I want to have without ignoring my physical and mental health.

So even though I’ve been overworking again and falling back into old routines… Every time it happens I notice it sooner and sooner. And it feels incredible that the business is bringing in this much revenue so that I can cover everything and then some and make the changes I need to make so that I’m personally able to sustain and thrive.

And I can’t wait to tell you about some of those changes.

6 Responses

  1. Thank you Shannon for sharing this. It makes it so real. Your willigness to be vulnerable is inspiring.
    I believe the referral that came my way to check you out was the universe working it’s magic.
    So grateful for finding you and look so forward to continued learning. I have reached a point in my life where listening and learning is what I want and know I need. I hear you about engineering.
    Thank you so much.

    1. Lisa!! So glad you find it encouraging!!! Yes, it’s been very gradual, but it’s STABLE and CONSISTENT, which feels incredible. Worth the wait LOL!

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