The business secrets I learned from Donna Downey

Donna 2Oh my gosh, she’s using my paintbrush.

It made the room fall silent, before a little giggle went around the room.  One of the students in Donna Downey’s class was very excited Donna was using her paint brush to do a demonstration.  I got to learn from one of my art SHeroes last week.  Donna Downey.  As in, THE Donna Downey.  You know how big a deal this is.  And no, the paintbrush girl wasn’t me.  Honest.

I went for a journalling workshop and of course it was fabulous.  Can you imagine – seeing her journals in real life.  To be able to run your hands over them and squinting to look up close at all the detail was very cool.  But, being the square bear that I am, I noticed the business side too.  I may have been working on my journal, covered in paint and gesso, but I had one ear pricked up, listening for the inside line on the business side of Donna’s life.

I know the business-y side of things washed over most people.

On the inside I was screaming “Don’t these people know what a big deal it is for Donna to be telling us this stuff?” This just does not happen.  This is normally a closely guarded secret.  And here was Donna happily letting us behind the curtain.  Why is no-one else listening?

I know most people fantasize about living the life of an artist.  But the cold reality is, most don’t think they can make it happen.  And they don’t really want it.  It’s just on their fantasy life list along with the well practiced Oscar speech and singing into their hair brush pretending to be Beyonce in concert – or is that just me? Hmmm, this just got awkward….

Because it’s just a fantasy, they don’t snap to attention when someone like Donna is sharing her secrets. They don’t listen. To hear what her turning point was.  To hear her business experiences.  To hear what worked for her.  Isn’t that always what you wonder about your idols?  Isn’t that what you’d ask them given half a chance?

These are the super juicy bits I heard…

You know those journals she uses in her Inspiration Wednesday every week?  She makes them.  By hand.  Yes, by hand.  Even though she had a workshop on how to make them, people still wanted to buy them from her.  So she kept making them and selling them.  She can sell them until the cows come home.

She credits those journals with building her business.  They were her point of difference.   Her turning point.  They are what she became know for.  Those little journals became so much more than just a journal.  They became her signature.

She started filming her work because people kept asking how she had done something on her pages.  Now, she has over 300 videos in her archive.  You get how huge that is, right?  Imagine having 300 videos on the second biggest search engine – YouTube.  Filming made her commit to doing an art journal page every week. And she shows every page no matter how they turn out – the good the bad and the ugly.

She doesn’t have lots of people coming by the studio every day, just walking in off the street.  That really surprised me.  Her studio is huge.  Her business is built around the workshops she holds there, her online store and her online classes.  Even though she has a bricks and mortar business, she is busiest online.

I also overheard….

That wholesalers send out a notice when an artist is coming to visit, letting them know they can book them for a workshop.  And they often do… without having any idea who they are.  I did a class earlier in the year where this happened.  The business running the workshop was completely sidelined.  They had no idea how busy they would be, how full the classes would be and they just got swamped.

It would also explain some of the people in Donna’s class who were talking over the top of her like they were at a scrapbook crop day.  Honestly, I was this close to throwing something at them followed by “shut up”.  This close.

Learn where you are. In the tiny moments.

Listen closely.

You never know when someone will reveal their secrets and let you in behind the curtain.

Coral.  xo

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    4 Responses to The business secrets I learned from Donna Downey

    1. Dawn Petrill says:

      Hi Coral!
      So glad you were listening closely so that you could pass on her wisdom to the rest of us! It sounds like it was a wonderful opportunity for you. It is amazing how clueless some people can be, but I guess that’s what separates the big fish from the little ones- and you’re well on your way to the big pond!
      Take Care and keep on hoarding those tiny moments!

      • Coral says:

        Oh Dawn – You are too sweet. I’m paddling like crazy to get out of the little pond…. It really is the little moments. The small signs. And the little snippets people are willing to share with you that all add up to great little directions and inspiration to keep going. Thank you for your beautiful words.

    2. April says:

      I love this post, especially the part where you almost told the others to shut up! Hilarious! I would’ve felt the exact same way. It’s amazing what you can learn from people who are leading {have led} the way. I’ve gotten the most out of hearing people speak about their own businesses–giving specific examples. I usually scribble down those tidbits and come back to them often. Thanks for sharing your experience and what you learned!

      • Coral says:

        I love that you’ve learned so much from others who are willing to share behind the scenes too. It’s my favourite – when people let you behind the curtain and let their guard down – just sharing like you are having coffee with a friend. Thank you so much for stopping by – great to see you here!

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