Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in web design but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Mandie Shaner, Founder of Zenthree, located in San Diego, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
My company, Zenthree, is a website development and support company focusing on WordPress-based sites. What differentiates us from others in this overcrowded industry is that we place a huge focus on our client relationships. We are always proactively offering our partners creative, affordable solutions to help their businesses expand their reach.
As a business owner myself, I completely understand the overwhelm that can come with the day-to-day tasks of running a business. This is why we make it easy for our clients to, in effect, "hand over the keys" to their website to us and trust that we will not only maintain it but help with improvements along the way.
Tell us about yourself
If you had asked me what I was "going to be when I grew up" at any point during grade school and college, I would've told you I was going to be a doctor (though, truthfully, I am STILL not entirely sure what I want to be when I grow up!). I continued on this path diligently, completing all of my undergraduate coursework, taking the MCATs, etc., but decided after graduating with my bachelor's that I was going to take a year off and get clinical experience. I wanted to make absolutely sure I was not simply "going through the motions" and was fully committed to this path.
I spent time training and working as a phlebotomist, which I enjoyed, mostly because of the interactions with the patients. During that time, I had also unknowingly become part of a timeshare-based scam. As a result of this deception, I knew I had to let people know about what I had experienced, so I began searching for a blogging platform that would let me spread the word. This was 2006/2007, and WordPress was in its infancy, but I found it intriguing and began working with the platform to put together my very first website.
From there, I caught "the bug." I applied all of the same focus and diligence as I had through my formal education and taught myself to code. I learned the fundamentals of design and built partnerships with other skilled professionals that could provide complementary skills in designing logos, creating E-Commerce stores, etc.
By 2010 I had personally built dozens of websites and was ready to start a business, so Zenthree was born! We started off as a small team of just two people and have grown to a group of six over the past 12 years. We do all of our work here in the US, and our team is distributed from coast to coast. I spent many years as part of the volunteer organizing team for WordCamp San Diego and loved hosting those events as they exposed many new people to the WordPress platform.
Honestly, what motivates me to keep going each day is simple - I truly find joy in helping people build businesses that sustain their livelihood. I've realized that the main reason I was always drawn to becoming a physician was to help people, and I get to do that every day with this business - I help people solve problems, reach their target audiences, and further their business goals.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
What I would view as my biggest accomplishment as a business owner is the longevity of my business. There are many people who come to us because their previous developer or designer "disappeared" or became unresponsive. This is not an uncommon thing in our industry, and it gives me a lot of pride to be part of a business that does not leave people hanging and has continued to provide the same level of attentive service for over a decade.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
I would say one of the hardest things for me as a business owner is that I am not able to help or provide solutions for everyone. There are sometimes projects and niches that are not a good fit for the technology stack we use or are a mismatch for another reason. One of the hardest lessons I've had to learn is that it is OK to say no and that you'll never be the perfect fit for everyone.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Oh, wow, this is a bit of a tough one since there are so many types of businesses out there! I suppose, first and foremost, I would recommend that anyone wanting to start a business focuses on building a trustworthy, reliable team (or, at the very least, a strong support network of other professionals in your space). There are very few businesses that can operate with just one person behind the wheel, and it is of the utmost importance to find people you work well with that can complement your weaknesses and fill in gaps when needed.
My second tip would be - to get familiar with accounting. Don't rely on someone else to "work the numbers" for you. Learn what a P&L is, reconcile your accounts daily (yourself!), create budgets, and truly take the time to understand the financial aspects of running a business. You won't be sorry!
Finally, I'd have to say my last tip would be not to take yourself too seriously. Certainly, this does not mean ignoring client deadlines and taking on massive debt; instead, cut yourself a little slack and incorporate fun into your day-to-day. You aren't going to win every bid, and there will be times when your design sense is light years away from that of your client, so be sure to take those setbacks in stride and not personally. Clients appreciate real-ness and can tell when you are being genuine. Be the best version of yourself through your business, and not some "suit and tie" version of yourself - that type of facade is easily broken through, and clients will respect you for who you are.
All my best to anyone out there starting a new endeavor!
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
One other thing I'd like to share is that while this article focuses on me, my business would not exist if it were not for my team. Much gratitude is in order for Damian, Jeff, Drew, Kat, and Jake. You all are the absolute best!
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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