This week I’m sharing an interview I did on the Next Level Course Creator Podcast about creating a community in the Web Designer Academy!
The Next Level Course Creator podcast is hosted by Erica Nash, an online course designer and strategist who also works with me inside the Web Designer Academy as a Client Success Coordinator. Erica helps course creators elevate and streamline their course curriculum to make it more engaging and actionable in order to generate more revenue through retention and quality referrals.
3 highlights from my chat with Erica:
- The Web Designer Academy is a 12-month container because so much life can happen in a year that we help students navigate life as they implement our teachings and build a sustainable business.
- Everyone brings different challenges and a different background, which leads us to take their feedback and use it to find new ways to give students what they came for. The challenge is not making that feedback mean anything about the course or taking it personally but still using it to implement positive change.
- The “quick win” provided in the Web Designer Academy is internal, not external. The goal is to help people see how special they are and sell them on their own abilities while believing in themselves.
We also talk about how:
- The Web Designer Academy started as a small group coaching program for 6 people and has grown to help hundreds of female web designers.
- Our foundation is people helping people, and we also help our students do that with their clients.
- We set the expectation up front that our community is a safe place to be vulnerable and share fears and learnings, which in turn creates the trust and transparency that connects everyone.
Connect with Erica:
Shannon Mattern: Welcome to the Profitable Web Designer, a podcast for web designers who want to work less and make more money. I'm your host Shannon Mattern, founder of the Web Designer Academy, where we've helped hundreds of web designers stop under charging, overworking, and create profitable sustainable web design businesses.
Shannon Mattern: Hey there. Welcome back to the Profitable Web Designer Podcast. And this week I have a really special episode for you. This is an interview that our client success coordinator Erica Nash did with me on her podcast, the Next Level Course Creator. And I wanted to put this episode on the Profitable Web Designer Podcast because as I was listening to it, first I was listening to it on a day where I needed to be reminded of who I was. Do you ever have one of those days where you just maybe have been going through something really challenging and maybe you feel like you're an imposter or you're not cut out for this or you're messing everything up? Yes, I go through this stuff too and I'll share more with you on feature episodes of the podcast of some challenges that I've been navigating in my business in the past couple of months.
Shannon Mattern: But I was having one of those days where I was just like, this is really hard. And for whatever reason, just because Erica is so wise, I think the inspiration came to me to be like, Hey, I should go. I've been meaning to go back and listen to this interview that we did together. I think I really just wanted to like distract myself from all of like the, the mind trash tornado that was going on in my brain that was making me feel even worse. And I thought, okay, well, like I love to distract myself with podcasts and things like that. So I went to listen to this episode that we did and we were talking about the Web Designer Academy and you know, how we focus on like results and retention and all of the things that we put into it. And I just thought like there's really no better explanation outside of that podcast episode that I could give that really explains how both Eric and I like our level of commitment to helping our students across the finish line and beyond.
Shannon Mattern: And so after I listened to it, I slacked Erica and I was like, oh, I just listened to that and I needed that. I needed to be reminded in this moment of who I am and your podcast is freaking amazing and everybody should listen to it. So her podcast is really for course creators who are developing like online courses and curriculum and things like that, but the principles and concepts that she teaches in there apply to anyone who is working with a client towards a specific result. There is so much good stuff in there for you. So even if you're not a course creator, definitely like check out her podcast and listen to this episode where we talk about some of her philosophies and strategies. And if you know any course creators, if you're a web designer for course creators, definitely send them the next level Course creator podcast because it's just so good. So I will stop rambling in my intro and let's dive into Erica's interview with me on the next level Course Creator podcast.
Erica Nash: Today I am so excited to be sitting down with Shannon Mad, the founder of Web Designer Academy and host of the Profitable Web Designer podcast. We're having a candid conversation about cultivating community, creating safer spaces for clients and team members, and how client retention has a place in your program right alongside new enrollments. Welcome to Next Level Course creator. My name is Erica and this is a podcast about creating premium online programs that participants never want to leave. If you want a program that serves the whole person, satisfies participant needs and creates brand ambassadors who tell all their friends about how awesome you are, this is for you. Listen in as we go beyond conversion numbers sold out launches and five figure months to get to the heart of the matter, taking care of the people who have already said yes. Let's go.
Speaker 3: Shannon, we are finally here. I feel like it's been a a long time coming
Shannon Mattern: I'm so excited for this.
Speaker 3: So I'm sitting here with Shannon Mad, she is founder and c e o of Web Designer Academy and all around incredible human. Shannon, thank you so much for saying yes and hanging out with me today. We're gonna be talking about some really good stuff.
Shannon Mattern: Thank you so much for inviting me to have this conversation. I'm very excited about it
Speaker 3: For sure. So before we dive in for anybody that's not familiar with who you are, just tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do, your program, all of that stuff.
Shannon Mattern: Yeah, so I used to be a freelance web designer and in my journey of growing my business and you know, just transforming from employee to entrepreneur, I started mentoring other web designers along the way on their pricing and their mindset and boundaries and really just helping them see like what's possible for them when they own their own business and are in control of their time. And I became really, really passionate about helping web designers create profitable and sustainable web design businesses. And so back in 2016 I started with a very small, we called it the group coaching program,
Speaker 3: I'm so excited to talk about all of the growth that you've made. So in the spirit of full transparency, I want to start off her conversation by letting the audience know that I'm a curriculum designer, but I'm also a part of Team w d a and so I help Shannon in her program. So we, we've worked together in a few different capacities. So that will probably be evident throughout this episode. I, I see that coming through quite a bit. So I joined w d A as a student in March of 2021 and one of the things that struck me immediately was the community. It was nothing short of just like genuine hilarious kind people. And now that I'm on the team, I see that, but with a different perspective. And the whole time it's been like, wow, like how did I hit this jackpot? Like getting to be in the room with these incredible people, like they are just all so amazing. And so I know that I might be a little biased that, you know, being on the team, like I am always telling people like, this Facebook group is the best place to be on the internet because I genuinely believe like there's really something special about it. And so how did you cultivate that? Obviously this is, it like changed over time. You had six when you first began and now we've got way more than that. So how have you cultivated this community that is just like so kind and accepting and helpful and just really genuine?
Shannon Mattern: I wish I could take credit for that
Shannon Mattern: You know, there's trust that gets built, there's comradery that gets built, there's community that gets built and that is what I can take credit for in terms of like very upfront saying there are no stupid questions. I always say like, if you feel like you shouldn't ask, that's a sign that you probably should and this is the place to do that. And I commit to not tolerating anything less than like people treating you with respect. And so I think that that environment allows people to show up and be themselves and be vulnerable and be authentic and connections that I never ever even expected, like happen as a result of that. That's what I will take credit for. But not the amazing humans that have found their way to us. That's just, I don't know, that's just like magical.
Speaker 3: It really is magical. And I will say too, you know, and I, and I love that you talk about, you know, these upfront expectations and, and just how like this is just how it is and, and this is how it's going to be and this is who we are. And I think just the right people are attracted to that and the people that aren't, you know, wouldn't probably get what they needed out of the community anyway. And so then they move on to find whatever else, whatever they need elsewhere. But I think it also speaks to like, people took you at your word, you know, you told them this is how it is and they believed you. And so I think that speaks really highly of you and, and just how you conduct yourself in the community in general. And I see all the time that you're vulnerable with them and so that creates that reciprocity for them to be able to feel comfortable being vulnerable with you too, which I think is really beautiful.
Shannon Mattern: It is really hard to run a business acting like you're perfect all the time.
Speaker 3: Yeah, no, I, I think that that probably would play into it. You know, we see enough fake stuff online, so that's really refreshing to see somebody that shares stuff like that. So yeah, that's a great point. So one of the beautiful things about the community that you've established and and the program that you've built is how human-centered it is. So it really is people looking out for other people. So the program is a year long, not because it necessarily takes that long to complete the curriculum, but because you offer so much support to implement it and sometimes that brings up really heavy mental and emotional stuff. So how has W D A evolved over the years as you've learned more about trauma, trauma informed practices and honoring your students' past experiences?
Shannon Mattern: Oh, that I am still constantly learning. Let me just say that I am still constantly learning about how to create an environment that is supportive and also takes into account that like in the 12 months container that you will be working with us, a lot of life is going to happen to you. And also a lot of the things that we do inside of our program, when you're building a business, it's a very like challenging, vulnerable place to be and it can press on insecurities or fears or things that like people didn't even know that know that they have. One of the things that I think in navigating all of this is like as much as we talk about community and setting the standard, setting the expectation like that this is a safe place for you to be vulnerable. Not everybody feels comfortable being vulnerable in front of other people.
Shannon Mattern: And so we have lots of different avenues like for people to ask for support. And that's one of the things where it's like, yeah, we have this Facebook community that's public, we have these live strategy calls that are public. We have, you can submit work for review, which is private, but we also say like, Hey, if there's something you don't feel comfortable sharing publicly, you can use one of these private channels to ask our team for support. And we have had people use that because it's like, yes, every question is a gift and yes, every question can help someone else, but like you might not be in a place where you feel any kind of comfort in sharing that. So I'm always navigating what it looks like to create a safe environment. I think like I've learned to like ask for feedback before making changes.
Shannon Mattern: I've gotten feedback about things that I've done or changes that I've made that has like created challenges for people and I'm like always learning to like what can I take from this? What can I learn from this? How can I grow? What other experts can I bring in to help me? Like, you know, working with Dr. Lee Cordell and the Institute for Trauma and Psychological Safety that she founded and I'm so grateful to like know her in person and to learn about how people react in different situations. And not to assume that like, because maybe someone withdrew from participating in our program that like, oh well that's on them. Like that could be a, a trauma response for them to not show up to live things. Like there's so many things that I'm constantly learning. I don't have it all figured out by any stretch. However, it's like important to me to like be aware of it and constantly learn. So I don't know if that answered your question, but Yeah,
Speaker 3: No, definitely. I do wanna clarify really quickly for anybody who's listening whenever she's talking about the public Facebook group and the public feedback that's public for the community, not public for like anyone in general. So it, it is somewhat private ish, just not from our community.
Shannon Mattern: Well sure, but it's also recorded, right? Yeah. So it's like, you know, if you're on a live strategy call and you're asking a sensitive question that's recorded, that's put in a replay for other people to hear. Like, and sometimes people don't even know what would be holding them back from asking a question until they can just do it privately. I guess it's like I can't expect everyone to like be like cool with certain ways of communicating like the same ones that I am. Mm-Hmm.
Speaker 3: Yeah. I mean there would be people we would never hear from.
Shannon Mattern: Yeah.
Speaker 3: Yeah. So I love that you look at feedback as this, you know, how can I grow? What can I learn from this and, and continue to make this better? And talking about bringing in people and, and seeking outside help because that's a lot to carry on your own. No one needs to do that. Nobody needs to carry all of that on their own. And you know, talking about Dr. Lee, I am currently going through the trauma informed coach course and oh my goodness, it is so good. So I'm plugging her right now. If you are not familiar with Lee Cordell, you need to be, if you're running a program who's got great resources on trauma informed practices and you know, I think it just comes down to the fact that like humans are just so complex and like you said, like over that 12 month span, so much life is going to happen and so many things are going to change and it's not just gonna change for them, it's gonna like change for you too. Right. And you know, thinking about that, that can be really overwhelming.
Shannon Mattern: People tell us some heavy stuff, you know, like with what they're going through in life. And I was just thinking about this like with the type of program we run and how, how connected we are to our students and like they can be as connected to us or as, I don't wanna say disconnected, but like we really allow them to choose like how closely they wanna work with us and they can get results either way. And we hear the things that happen in life. And I think like one of the things for me it's like important for me to like be able to emotionally navigate that with Erica being on the team. It's important for me to support Erica to be able to emotionally navigate the things that our, our students are going through. And it's different if it's like if you're selling courses to sell courses and you're not like interacting with the people as they are, like going through what you're teaching them.
Shannon Mattern: I guess what I'm saying is like we see every person as a person going through our program and every person's gonna bring a different background and different challenges and I can't make every person's background and challenges mean like I have had a tendency to do in the past that I'm doing something wrong or that I need to change something about our program or that I need to like add this new thing or that like I'm not good enough and make all of these changes. I really do have to like step back and take a look at any feedback that I'm being given and really try to kind of not be analytical and objective and detached, but like kind of put up that wall of like, okay, if I'm not gonna make this mean something about me, what can I take from this to help this person succeed?
Shannon Mattern: Cuz there's something in here for me to know that's going to help them succeed. And it's not like, oh my program's wrong, I have to fix something. Mm-Hmm.
Speaker 3: And that's like a constant challenge, right? Like reminding yourself that it's like this is something you've put your heart and your soul into like any sort of creative work, which this is creative work and so you've put yourself into it. So it's hard when people give you feedback that isn't always positive, whether or not it's coming from a place of their own triggers or something that really does need to change. And so just that requires constant vigilance to to be passionately detached, maybe not necessarily detached from the situation, but detached from making it meaning something about yourself when in fact it's just information.
Shannon Mattern: Well yeah, and it's like, and being accepting of the fact that like I pushed the button, like I pulled the trigger, like mm-hmm.
Speaker 3: Right.
Shannon Mattern: Even doing that. So like when I say like, oh someone's triggered because of something that doesn't really have to do anything with me as a core human, I'm still accepting the fact that I took an action that created
Speaker 3: And I think that comes back to just the whole like it's really about people taking care of people, like your whole program, like that's the basis of it. People taking care of people and it just creates an environment where it's okay to not be okay sometimes. Mm-Hmm.
Speaker 3: But yeah,
Shannon Mattern: The same thing that like, we have to help our students like navigate with their clients too. And I think that that's part of business when people are interacting with people in, in any kind of business, it's, it's just part of it.
Speaker 3: Yeah man. So that kind of sort of brings me into my next question. One of our favorite things to talk about is client retention. So a satisfactory client retention rate usually means one of two things, right? Like you're either or maybe both taking care of your people and or they're learning what they need to learn and want to learn more and they're like, I'm gonna stay because this has worked for me and I love this person and I will do anything they tell me to do now usually is kind of how it works, right? So what strategies or factors do you believe contribute the most to student retention in the W D A?
Shannon Mattern: I think there's a lot of facets to this, but I think getting people to just really buy into themselves and believe in themselves. Like I always hear about like, programs need to give quick wins and that al like a quick win always kind of like, I don't know, to me I'm like a quick win is not like, I don't know, wins aren't necessarily quick in my mind
Shannon Mattern: Like it's on, like that's the piece to me that is like part of our retention is getting them sold on themselves because once they're sold on themselves, then they're open to like trusting us in terms of like, here are some uncomfortable strategies that we're gonna ask you
Speaker 3: I wanna go back to the quick win. I honestly think like our quick win in W D A is like the welcome that they get when they join the group because that's, that's what people want, right? Is to feel accepted and where they belong. And so when they join the community and it's like, Hey, we're so excited you're here, here's a post specifically for you. I love that you have already established like that it's every person gets one post to themselves. It's not like a, a dump of like people or whatever. Yeah. And then people from the community jump in and they're like, oh my gosh, we're so glad you're here. And I think that that is a quick win for sure and really just sets the tone for the rest of, of their time in the community.
Shannon Mattern: I think that that's one of those things where like I can take credit for like making the post and welcoming people, but like our community just automatically is like, we're so excited to meet you. You're in the right place. Like, everybody just jumps in and that always just happened like organically and it's so beautiful to watch and I, and I agree with you, I think it's, it is a quick win cause it's like I just made a significant commitment to be here. You know, I made a significant investment to be here and I don't really know, like I'm nervous and I don't really know exactly what to expect. And then the first thing you get is like all of these people telling you like you're in the right place and they're excited to meet you. Like yeah, that's like step one of like, oh, I made a good decision. I can trust myself. Mm-Hmm.
Speaker 3: Yeah. Everybody really just welcomes everyone else with open arms. It's just, and it's so genuine. It's not at all like that's not just something that they're like, oh hi, we're glad you're here. Right.
Shannon Mattern: Yeah.
Speaker 3: So on the topic of retention, what options do your students have when it comes to the end of their 12 months in W D A and how did you determine those to be the right options for this program? Yeah,
Shannon Mattern: So just a little bit of like backstory. Like before our program was a 12 month program. This was just like a self-paced lifetime access course that you could like buy the curriculum, I'd have a weekly call and that was it. And then we decided to transform that to be able to provide like more support. And the biggest thing that we added on was the ability for people to like submit work for review and get feedback and like all of these different things. And then with that came the 12 month container. So it's like your enrollment is access to the 12 months
Shannon Mattern: Mm-Hmm
Shannon Mattern: And so the next phase of this is to, well we called it next level. So that was my vision was year two, next level, you are now ready to like kind of take things, kick things up a notch, maybe raise your prices or build a team or use some more sophisticated like sales strategies. And so that was the only other option after year one, was to join us in next level. And what I realized when we rolled this out, as some people were like, I don't want that. Like I'm not ready for next level. I still have some things in year one that I wanna accomplish. That whole next level thing freaks me out,
Shannon Mattern: So that's kind of where the just like to continue on in the Web Designer Academy program, either for a year or six months or month to month, whatever felt supportive and, and best for them came in. Which it was really interesting because I was so in the thick of like making the transformation from like the self-study to the group coaching. Like I didn't think about like beyond that. And I also didn't think until working with you Erica, that like I wasn't really thinking about retention. Like I honestly wasn't. I was like, I want people to come in, be with us for a year, go through this transformation and like fly out of the nest and like go on to do their business. And my focus was just always on like getting new people in, getting new people in, getting new people in, supporting the people that were there and then like sending them them on their way. And it was really like you
Speaker 3: Yeah. And again, going back to the community, after spending a year with this group of people, how tough would it be
Shannon Mattern: Well, yeah. And like, let's be real, like, you know, when I was like wanting to work once when, so you were in the program and you pivoted to this curriculum design and I was like, hey, I need that. Like I would love some help with making sure like our curriculum is meeting the needs of our students and then like you were talking about like, well and retention
Shannon Mattern: It could take them eight weeks, it could take them four weeks, it could take them nine months, but we're continuing to like support them with implementation mm-hmm.
Speaker 3: I really think, I mean I think it's there.
Shannon Mattern: Yeah.
Speaker 3: And we're constantly looking at things, but but I think it's really, really solid and I just feel like it's so like the, like just a lot of credit to you, like thinking about, you know, originally you were in this place where you're like, okay, like let's get there 12 months and like kick 'em outta the nest and like let them fly and like whatever. But you were like totally willing to think about it in a different way and not super married to those ideas. And I think that like sometimes that really holds us back, right? Like that, like getting married to those ideas and being like, Nope, this is the way that it has to be and this is, this is kind of it. And sometimes when we're married to those ideas, we really miss, well I mean we miss opportunity but we miss the chance to like look at it through this lens of like, well, everybody has such different experiences that we need to take that into account when we're making these decisions. And not that you can like make a decision that makes everybody happy, but you know, we can kind of make decisions that allow us to allow other people to retain their autonomy. Right? Like that's kind of, that's it.
Shannon Mattern: Yeah. That is it. That is it. Yeah, that is, I think that you said that so well and I don't, and I think I just had like a realization about that. And I know we've talked about this before where it's like a lot of the decisions that I have made about like curriculum or structure or like how the offer is made to people has to do with like, me trying to fix things that aren't broken because I have my own like stuff going on about like, is it good enough? You know, all of those things that as like a course creator who is super passionate about like making sure that our students get the results that they came for cause me to make decisions based on emotion and not based on data. And that's what you, you have really brought
Shannon Mattern: Like let's gather some data before we do that. But the other piece that you just said is like, how can we create an environment that empowers people to have autonomy and choice and all of the things that we teach them to do with their clients to say, here's how this works. Like you, there is a 12 month commitment that you're making not just us, but to your business into seeing all this through. And then after that you have full choice to decide how you want to move forward. Like, do you wanna graduate? Do you wanna stay with us for one month, six months, 12 months? Do you wanna go to the next level? You have full power to move through the curriculum however quickly you want. Stay with us for as long as you want and you get to decide and we're not deciding that for you. And I think that that is, it's a beautiful thing because yeah, you know, I've been in programs where it's like, I would have loved to continue to work with them beyond that, but there's no option too. Like the, the next option is, well you need to join my super next level mastermind if you wanna work with me anymore. And it's like, well I'm not ready for that either, so now I'll go find someone else who
Shannon Mattern: Can support me in the way that I need to be supported. And we place so much like, this is why I love this podcast that you're doing this podcast because online space puts so much effort into recruitment and enrollment and new students and like, there is so much value in creating like empowered retention options for people in your programs. Like, and it doesn't have to be a membership model to do it.
Speaker 3: So many creative ways to go about it. So many. Yeah. And I, I wanna go back for just a second. You were talking about, you know, we talk about gathering data all the time and making decisions based on data, not based on feelings. And one thing that I, that I just wanted to kind of add to that was that it can be so hard to sit on the feelings that come and like while you wait for the data
Speaker 3: It's gonna make it, you know, all better when instead in the long run it's just so much better to like sit with that feeling just a little bit and like let the data come in and then
Shannon Mattern: It is so hard and I think you're right because it's like, oh if I just make this decision it'll create relief. Mm-Hmm
Speaker 3: Always gentle
Speaker 3: So one last question before we Yeah. I think we could talk about all of this forever. Yes. But one last question before we wrap up. If you could go back and chat with course creator Shannon from a year ago, what advice would you give her?
Shannon Mattern: Stop touching things.
Speaker 3: Stop. It's amazing advice. Just
Shannon Mattern: Stop
Speaker 3: You said take a step back and, and I was just thinking about, you know, how sometimes it is so necessary to bring in an unbiased third party. Yes. Because even when we take a step back, it can still be so hard to see where the gaps are, where the obstacles are. We, you know, it's like can't see the forest for the trees or whatever. Like it can be so difficult. And so sometimes whenever we do take a step back, if we're still not seeing clearly sometimes bringing in a third party really is the way to go.
Shannon Mattern: Absolutely. I mean, you know, just in our Web Designer Academy, we like teach our web designers to be that third party, those outside eyes that strategist for their clients. And like you might think like, oh, my program needs updated, my program needs overhauled. The curriculum's not where it needs to be. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't, but like you are honestly not the best person to be making those decisions. Sometimes you're too close to it if you're like most course graders. It's wrapped up in like your identity as a business. Like there's a whole lot going on there that you might be a little too wrapped up in. If you're anything like me
Speaker 3: Yay.
Speaker 3: Like I said, I think we could talk about this forever. Like something you said about the identity piece, I'm like, oh my goodness, that could be a whole like different episode. This was amazing. Just like I knew it would be. Thank you so much. Please share with people where they can find you, how they can work with you, all of that good stuff.
Shannon Mattern: Yeah. https://Webdesigneracademy.com is the best place to find me. And then you can also find me on Instagram at Shannon LMA or app Profitable web designer and the Profitable Web Designer podcast is linked up from the Web Designer Academy site. And you can get all of our stuff about like mindset and all of, all of these topics, even if you're not a web designer, it's still, it's really good stuff.
Speaker 3: Yeah. Such good stuff. If you don't already know, Shannon, hopefully from this episode you're completely sold and
Shannon Mattern: Thank you so much for having me. Hey, so if you're ready to stop undercharging and overworking, if you wanna take back control of your time, work only with the dreamiest of clients and make more money as a web designer than you ever thought possible, get started now by going to https://webdesigneracademy.com and joining our wait list. We'll send you exclusive teachings from the current Web Designer Academy so you can start applying our concepts now. And you'll be first to know when enrollment opens up again so that you can work with us to completely transform your web design business.
Speaker 4: This podcast is part of the sound advice FM network. Sound advice FM Women's Voices amplified.