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Shannon started Shannon Mattern in 2015. They detail the beginnings of their company in their Starter Story interview: 
Q: How did you get started on Shannon Mattern?
One day back in 2014, I was sitting in my beige, windowless office under fluorescent lights for the 2555th day in a row, finishing up a financial report that I dreaded doing every month, when I overheard 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 and went to college and got a good corporate job??? This is not what I'm meant to do with my life and I feel like my soul is dying...”
I felt trapped. I wanted freedom.
And I felt so guilty about not being happy.
At the time I was making nearly six figures - 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.
The one thing I loved about my job when I wasn’t drowning in spreadsheets was web design. I could get lost in time when it came to solving our business problems with WordPress.
So I decided to start a freelance web design business on the side. No one was calling it a side hustle back then.
My very first client was a vendor I’d been working with for a while at my day job. One day he called me up and asked me who built our website.
“Me,” I replied.
“Want to do some freelance work for me on the side?” he asked.
I said yes, and then when I told that story to a friend, he said his dad needed someone for their website. I got my second client.
Then I met a girl at the gym who asked me what I did for a living. “Marketing and IT,” I said. “Oh, and I do some freelance web design on the side.” I got my third client.
I started building websites for these small local businesses and entrepreneurs while still working full time. My goal was to make enough money to replace my day job income so that I could be my own boss. And so I spent every single evening after work and all day on the weekends working on client websites.
And I quickly burnt myself out.
I wasn’t charging enough (thanks, imposter syndrome). I didn’t have good processes or boundaries in place. I calculated that I was making about $4 an hour from my side hustle, 75 cents less than I’d made at my very first job in high school.
“This isn’t worth it…” I thought. “I’m going to wrap up these projects and just forget about owning my own business.“
And I truly almost gave up.
Then one day I was sitting in rush hour traffic again on my way to work listening to a random business podcast, and this guy was talking about how he earns money by showing people how to set up web hosting… but they didn’t pay him to show them how to do it, the web hosting company paid him when people purchased the web hosting he recommended and showed them how to set up.
That guy is Pat Flynn of the Smart Passive Income Podcast.
It was one of those record-scratch moments.
“Wait, so instead of building websites for people, I can teach them for free how to do it themselves, and when they buy the things they’ll have to buy anyway to build their site, I’ll make money from those companies?!?! No wonder there are so many “how to build a website” tutorials out there! I can make a way better tutorial, and give it away for free and still make money!”
And so I immediately got to work and recorded the tutorials that would become the very first Free 5 Day Website Challenge.
But these weren’t gonna be anything like the other WordPress tutorials out there. I’d taught myself WordPress over the previous 10 years in my marketing and IT roles at my day jobs at a law firm and a non-profit.
Back then there were two ways to learn:
- Trial and error
- WordPress forums are full of dudes who were more interested in proving how much smarter they were than everyone else than actually helping people.
I’d make the mistake from time to time of asking a question in a WordPress forum, and instead of getting an answer, I’d be told why my question was stupid.
When I think back on it now, no wonder I had such doubts about the value of my skillset and didn’t charge nearly enough. I probably internalized those comments more than I realized...
And since I didn’t want to be called “stupid” for asking questions, I decided I’d just figured it all out on my own.
I ended up building a continuing education website that still generates over $15K a month in revenue for my former employer – so I guess I wasn’t totally worthless when it came to building websites!
So when I decided I’d teach people how to DIY with WordPress (instead of doing it for them), I put in place some core values that had my past experiences in mind:
- There will be a safe space for people who are not techie to learn so that they aren’t torn apart online when they ask questions.
- No jargon, no trying to explain how it all works behind the scenes. No one cares. They’re not trying to be a web developer, they’re just trying to get their website up so they can move on to getting clients and making money.
- There are NO stupid questions.
- There are several key things that online business owners need to have set up on their website to be successful beyond just the design. Teach them how to do it all in one place. Don’t make them figure it all out themselves.
- When someone asks a question, answer it with the exact steps they need to take to do what they’re trying to do. Don’t just tell them what to do, tell them how to do it too because chances are they won’t know how to do it.
Three years and lots of mistakes later, I was FINALLY earning enough money from affiliate commissions, courses + 1:1 client work to replace my 6-figure day job salary.
I quit my day job on January 2, 2018, and I now teach entrepreneurs how to DIY their websites and market themselves online full time.
And while I no longer work with 1:1 web design clients, I teach web designers how to market themselves online, get clients and complete projects (without losing their minds!)
If this girl from Columbus, Ohio can do it, anyone can do it.
Contributors to this article:
- Pat Walls, Founder of Starter Story
- Wiki Updater