Interview with Elaine Shannon – Owner of Alamo Websites & Unbeatable Banners

Interview with ElaineTell us a little bit about yourself and your entrepreneurial journey.

I grew up wanting to be an artist from the time I was in preschool. Around 8th grade I began to realize I was never going to make a living selling my paintings, and around the same time the internet was really starting to take off. I talked my parents into letting me set up my own website, taught myself how to code, and realized I could combine my love of design with this new medium and have a profitable career I would actually enjoy.

I studied commercial graphics in college and set out to join the corporate world, never dreaming I would want to start my own business. But I was never quite satisfied in my jobs because I never felt like I got to contribute enough of myself.

When my husband first suggested I start a business, I shrugged off the idea, thinking it would be too hard. Then my son came along, and I began to wonder what it might be like to work from home so that I could spend more time with him.

I started Alamo Websites in my spare time, and as business grew, I was working 5 days a week at my regular job, 1 day a week teaching, and the last day of the week (plus any evenings when I didn’t crash before 10 PM) getting my two businesses off the ground. Working that hard pushed me past my limits, but it also gave me the motivation I needed to make sure the businesses succeeded so I would never have to work that hard again.

What did you do before launching your own business? 

I was a graphic designer for about 5 years before I started Alamo Websites. I did everything from designing postcards to running printing presses to heading up online marketing campaigns, and what seemed like an odd mix of jobs ended up preparing me better than I could ever have intentionally prepared to open Unbeatable Banners.

How did you fund your businesses? 

Blood, sweat, and tears. One of the greatest things about creating an online business is that if you can code things yourself, you barely have any expenses. I am blessed to have an extremely talented husband who was able to code what I couldn’t, and equally blessed to have a mentor and friends who helped me spread the word and get both businesses off the ground.

How many hours do you work a week and how much is spent is your home office?

I have 3 days a week to myself, so I use nearly all of that time (18 hours) for work. It’s tricky balancing client work, updating my own sites, and marketing, so I usually spend another 4 hours evenings or weekends squeezing in what I couldn’t quite finish during the week. I do almost all of my work from my cozy home office because I stay a lot more focused there. I always wish I had more time to devote to my businesses, but I really enjoy spending 2 days a week just with my son and having weekends to relax again.

How would you rate your success?

I’m big on setting goals, and in short-term goals I have been very successful. I have happy web design clients, satisfied banner customers, and income to show for all my hard work. Now I’m focusing my efforts toward the longer-term goal of growing both businesses so that I can continue to work from home and spend more time with my family. My farthest-reaching goal is to innovate and grow to the point where I can create jobs for others who want to work from home. Both companies are designed in a way that would let employees work from anywhere.

What has been your biggest business struggle as an entrepreneur?

Finding the best way to get the word out and bring in customers. The web used to be an “if you build it, they will come” marketplace, but there is so much competition these days that you have to find the right marketing mix.

What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?

1. Find something that you are truly passionate about before you start a business. Everything will come a lot easier to you, since you’ll already be familiar with your target market and what they are looking for.

2. Seek out mentors and learn from others. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, and connections can help you grow your business in ways you never even imagined. Read up on good books like Mom, Inc., participate in forums, and reach out to your heroes. If you genuinely connect with someone who has been successful in your field, more often than not they will be willing to help you in some way.

3. Don’t expect anything to happen overnight. Sometimes your business will grow by leaps and bounds; at other times you will feel like you’ve been working for nothing because you haven’t seen the results yet. That’s why doing something you truly enjoy and having mentors around is so important – you’re more likely to see it through and reap the rewards you have been working toward. 

How do you manage all of your personal and business activities?

I find balance by scheduling business activities, family activities, and free time. I break down big goals into 1- or 2-hour chunks so I’m always making progress toward several goals, and I only schedule about 75% of my weekdays so if I need to take a break and walk through the park, take a nap, or just watch a TV show that doesn’t air on Nick Jr., I’m not falling behind.

I keep a big planner and mark down all the things I do each day, like getting groceries and cleaning, in addition to the tasks I planned. This lets me look back on a week and feel like I accomplished so much more – and it helps me see patterns where I am not using my time wisely, so I can make better plans for the future.

Connect with Elaine Shannon and Unbeatable Banners & Alamo Websites

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