Will this Mother-Daughter Team Raise $60k in 2011 for Charity?
Meet Elena Patrice. Elena and her mother, Linda Saker are the small business owners of a growing web design company based out of Front Royal, VA that gives back a portion of every project to charity. Their social business model allows them to create affordable websites at $499 per site while also giving back to charity. Using their “3 C’s” method of conducting business, learn how this teams goal is to raise $60,000 for chairty in 2011.
Please tell me a bit about WebsitesGiveBack and how your background influenced your decision to open your own business.
WebsitesGiveBack is a family business, run by my mother and I, though we do have other employees. Prior to starting WebsitesGiveBack, we were in the toy and children’s book publishing business. This was about a year and a half ago. I wrote books and designed toys. The series is called Nana Star & Friends. My family owned it for more than 6 years. It was highly successful. We won awards, we were in stores; however, it was a highly competitive business. It was also a very expensive business. So when the economy turned, we lost one of our best investors. We tried to raise the money to keep us going, but it didn’t work. So we basically lost everything very quickly. We went from a full blown business to nothing. We couldn’t find new funding and we just weren’t pulling enough in. It was an unbelievable experience. My mother was involved in this as well. I literally lost everything—my house, you name it. But I am single mom so I moved in with my mom in Front Royal, because I had no choice. I had to take care of my child. It was a very depressing time. So we took our skills and came up with something new. My mom had the computer background, and I had marketing and sales experience. I was the creative aspect of our other business, so we said “you take your skills, I’ll take mine, and we’ll create a website design business.” We wanted it on a different scale than most, not high end with flash and everything, but something with the small business owner in mind. We originally had a website with our prior business, and it was extremely expensive. I always wondered “how do they pull that off, it can’t be that hard!” My mom then got involved in dabbling in our business website, and learned what to do.
So what happened next?
We then started under a different name. We called it Path to the Web. We decided to go after local small businesses. But then I realized it wasn’t enough for me. It wasn’t getting me excited enough. In our children’s book business, we had the Nana Star Foundation, which we gave a percentage of sales, products, and our time. We were very socially responsible. When that ended, I was devastated. So that was always on my mind: “How can we do something like that again?” So we asked “how can websites give back?” It basically came out of desperation. We decided to design websites and take some of the proceeds and donate it to charity. And that is exactly what WebsitesGiveBack does. We wanted to appeal to the small business owners—one and two man operations—who truly cannot afford large scale websites, much less pay for it month after month after month. We wanted to help small businesses, especially after what had happened to us, and give to charity at the same time. We have one flat rate, and $100 off the top goes straight to the charity of the client’s choice. We give them the total tax benefit, we do not take the tax benefit ourselves. They get the full deal. A one-time fee, and the charitable tax benefit as well. One of the other things we do, not just design—and its custom designed, not cookie cutter—we also add a 30 second to 1 minute and 30 second video. We post it on our site and allow people to put it on theirs. We do not endorse any businesses, but we just mention it. It helps us grow and helps the businesses grow, because of the new Google voice recognition software, and it helps bump up ratings. We don’t do SEO, but we do add directory submissions and help with keywords.
How long has WebsitesGiveBack been around?
We have only been WebsitesGiveBack for 8 months. We were Path to the Web for 5 months before that. We are really, really new!
What were your first year’s goals for the year?
We knew we needed between 300 to 500 websites in our first year in order to simply sustain ourselves, any decent standard of living, and our business, as well as get out from under the debts from the past business. We still aren’t out of the woods yet, but we are getting there. Our goal was simply to maintain our business and get back on our feet. We knew we needed a certain number of websites just to hold our own. We also had a vision. We wanted to be very fair. Nobody was doing what we were doing—charging a onetime flat fee for a website. They still don’t do that! People always think, “What’s the catch?” But there isn’t one. We also have the goal of excellent customer service. People look at us and say “are you stupid, how do you make any money?” But we do! We know what we are doing and we know what it takes. But it doesn’t cost nearly as much as other people think to maintain a website on a server, so we don’t charge outrageous fees. Our philosophy is if you are going to do something in business, and do it right, be fair to people, because it will come back to you.
Did you meet your first year’s goals?
Not yet. Since we transitioned in the middle of the year from Path to the Web to WebsitesGiveBack, it was like starting over again. We had to change everything. It put us a little behind schedule.
Technically then, you are only 8 months into your first year, instead of 12 months in, so do you think you will meet your goals in the next 4 months?
Absolutely. There is no doubt in my mind!
What are your goals for the next 5 to 10 years?
As far as our goals for 2011, our goal is to raise $60,000 for charity. That is one of our main goals. I know how many websites that is; we need 500 websites for the year. The rest will come, if we meet that goal. In years to come, I have the goal of changing the industry, or at least shaking it up a bit. I want people to know that they don’t necessarily have to pay so much for a quality website. You don’t have to be shaken down by the big corporations for lots of money to get on the front page of Google. I can get them on the front page of Google! Anybody can say they can do it, but it’s very misleading. But I have to stress; we are dealing with a particular niche. We don’t deal with the BIG companies. We deal strictly with the small businesses, like plumbers, roofers, and tradesmen. They don’t necessarily think they need a website, until they get one. Then they see how much it helps them. We don’t claim to be something we are not.
What motivates you to keep going when times are tough?
I have my child. That is my major motivation. There are no substantial employment opportunities where I live. I can make in one day what it would take me to make in 2 weeks at Wal-mart to meet my bills. There are just no economic opportunities in my area. I also came from a business where we gave a lot to charity, and I want to continue to do that. I also wanted something that I am passionate about. Website design is not glamorous, but as long as its beneficial to society, I can be passionate about it. We call it the 3 Cs—Company, Customer, Cause. Our company benefits, the customer benefits by getting a good deal and a charitable donation, and the cause benefits by receiving donations.
What 3 pieces of advice would you give to any other potential entrepreneurs out there?
First, you have to be passionate about what you are going after. You have to love what you do. Even if it’s the most unglamorous thing in the world, if it makes you happy go after it. Second, and I always tell people this, you better be tenacious. If you don’t have tenacity or persistence in you, you don’t have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. The final thing is, don’t over glamorize what you do. Be humble. Humility is the key. Even if you have the hottest thing, if you are arrogant, people will be turned off by you. Be humble and gracious to people. When people take the time to help you, thank them. Like this interview. We’re so grateful that someone would take the time to allow us tell our story.
Do you believe there is a particular formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
You have to be an independent thinker. You have to want to make something better. Not necessarily the world, you just have to want to solve some problem. Not many people are truly made for it. If you are a person who is not satisfied in your work, and you have a hard time finding the right fit, you would probably make a great entrepreneur. That is what I did. I tested the job market for years, and never found the right fit. I have always wanted to be better and independent. It has nothing to do with degrees. I don’t have a degree. It has to do with being independent. It has to do with wanting to make something better. But you have to remember to ask others for help.
So you see asking for help as another factor in becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Exactly. You have to know how to delegate. Some of the best CEO’s and some of the people I admire, know how to delegate. People think “this is my baby, I have to know how to do everything.” But that’s not true. You have to know when to ask for help. You have to know when to ask others for help when something is not your strength.
I know you said you don’t have a degree, but a lot of people think you need a Master’s degree to start a business. Do you think there is a minimum background you need to start your own business?
I think the best way to decide the minimum education and background you need for what you want to do, is to look into the backgrounds of people who inspire you. The people who inspire me the most don’t have a formal educational background. That doesn’t mean I don’t value education. It just means that it’s not always necessary to succeed. I think what you need is mainly experience. Put yourself out there and learn about how to do things. Learn what makes other successful. Maybe in some fields a formal education is beneficial, but you need to be more creative than anything. Education helps and can open doors for you, but so can being humble and asking people for help.
What sacrifices have you had to make to become successful?
The main thing is time. When you open your own business, you have to accept that your time is no longer yours to do with what you want. As a mom, I have to sacrifice quality time with my child. I still spend time with her, but during the day, I have to say “I have to make phone calls now, or do administrative work.” But after my child goes to bed, I am still up working. But that’s part of being an entrepreneur. I even work weekends. My goal is to take off at least Sunday! I try to have a balance, but that is one of the hardest things to work on. I start my day at 5:30am every day and work until my child gets up, then feed her breakfast, then work again until 5pm. Once my child is back in bed at night, I am back to work, sometimes straight until midnight. It can affect your personal relationships. Sometimes it can affect marriages, at least if your spouse is not supportive and understanding. People just have to understand, until your business starts supporting itself, your time is not your own. I have learned that you can’t always focus on the long term plan, because you have to learn to focus on one day at a time. If you take care of the tasks at hand today, the future goals will come. But all that takes time.
So would you advise new entrepreneurs to focus on the short term or the long term goals?
I definitely think you should have two sets of goals. But you need to focus on the short term goals. If you focus on the tasks at hand, the long term goals will come. When you are so busy seeing the future, you can lose sight of the current focus.
How do you define success?
I think everyone needs to go through a low point to learn what you value. What I valued two years ago is not the same today. Success is a personal thing to me. It’s showing my daughter than I did something good. I supported her; I gave back to the world. I was not a greedy person or a deceitful person. Money is not success. Money is nice, but it is not my motivation. The main thing is to know that I put a great product out there and someone says “That’s a great company to deal with!” That’s truly success to me.
If you had unlimited funding tomorrow what would you do differently today?
I would take some of the burdens off of my mom. She is getting older, and I would like to take some of the pressure off her. The next thing I would do is add advertising. I take a lot of time to generate leads on the phone and with social media. I would definitely add the advertising to take off some of the burdens and pressures of time.
Who do you admire?
One of the people I admire most is Sir Richard Branson. As a business person, I think he’s truly and incredibly compassionate. He puts himself into it the whole Virgin philosophy – he “walks the talk.” I think it’s easy to throw money at something and pay someone else to do it. But he throws himself into his business, and I admire that greatly. It’s a wonderful thing to actually get out there and be involved yourself. Sir Richard Branson definitely does that.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I just want to thank you for this interview. I think what you all are doing is great and I am proud to be a part of it
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