Eleanor Mayrhofer was motivated to start her business when she realized that having control over her time, her life and her income was of the utmost importance to her. With a background in design and branding, as well as having built websites for friends and family before, she decided to transition into the web design business full time and has not looked back since. Today Mayrhofer is based in Munich, Germany and relishes the time she can spend with her family, while feeling financially secure. Mayrhofer only takes on gigs she feels passionate about and while she knows building her client base will take time, she’s found success in organic referrals and consistently finds herself booked with quality jobs and gigs.
Mayrhofer’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
It was a bit of a winding road. I burned out working in a global digital agency by my late 30s. I had already experimented with an online business selling printables. For a variety of reasons that business never quite took off. After having my daughter, I was trying to figure out what my next move would be. I liked the idea of creating websites and branding for women transitioning out of the corporate world to start their own businesses. I occasionally built websites for family members, or advised friends who weren’t familiar with ‘internet stuff’ how to take their endeavors online, but I was hesitant to start a client based business. The truth of the matter is I got a giant unexpected tax bill so it forced the issue. I threw up a website, hung out my shingle and was off to the races!
How do you define success?
For me success means being able to design my own life and have enough money to do whatever I’d like. It’s easy to get caught up in reaching revenue goals but I really just want to be in control of my own schedule and do work I enjoy and find meaningful. Earlier this fall I had many moments where I really appreciated what I created. I had income, enough time with my family, I could close my laptop whenever I wanted. I’ve also created systems in my business that allow me not to feel tyrannized by the feeling that I need to constantly be communicating with clients. My current material goals are very concrete: I want some really high end cookware and when we fly home to California I’d love it to be in business class. I’m a woman of simple tastes, ha!
Tell us about your biggest success to date
About six months after launching my website design business, I switched to a productized services model offering a website a in a day. It’s an offer that is clear and compelling. That decision lead to a stream of clients who loved the service. I’ve completed over 20 websites in just one year. The biggest part of this success is that I was able to use everything – every skill I’ve learned in my previous careers – in this business. I studied and have a degree in design and worked as a digital designer for years, but I also worked for many years developing design processes. I was a creative project manager, I had to write and create presentations and communicate with stakeholders. I ran my e-commerce business for years and became familiar with a lot of platforms and SEO. I use these skills every day in this business and it’s so gratifying. The previous efforts that at times felt like a dead end or wasted time, were anything but.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
A steady stream of qualified leads. I find they come in flurries, but I’d love to be booked out 3-6 months in advance! I’m booked out about six weeks right now and that’s because I show up regularly on my platform of choice (LinkedIn). I’m also getting comfortable selling. I don’t mean marketing, I mean brass tack sales; following up with leads, asking for the work, etc. I also keep in touch with past clients to help build a referral base. It’s helpful to remember that it just takes time to build a business.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
After having my daughter, I didn’t want to have to work on anyone else’s schedule. I also didn’t want to do work I found meaningless.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Really get clear on your target customer. You can’t serve everyone.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I remind myself that there is no such thing as ‘overnight success.’
Who is your most important role model?
From a work perspective, I really love Esther Perell. I appreciate that she’s more of a public intellectual and philosopher than a pop-therapist. Her writing is beautiful. Powerful. And she is at the top of her game at 63. From what I can tell, she really only got traction building her platform in the second half of her life, which is especially inspiring. Sometimes I feel like I’ve finally hit my stride and it’s so late. I’ll be 50 next month, then I remind myself it’s only too late when you’re dead.