You can never stop learning. — It doesn’t matter how successful you are. You have to learn new things in order to be the best at whatever you’re doing. Sitting back and watching the industry change does nothing for your personal development or your business.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Danielle Demi.
After feeling unfulfilled in her career, Danielle Demi worked her way up the freelancing ranks and self-educated herself to a management level in the digital world. When she met her mentor and soul sister, Liz Illg, they founded GrowthFocus to help women ditch the 9 to 5 life and create fulfilling and growth-driven careers. Today, she mentors first-time freelancers and helps service-based solopreneurs create structure and sustainability in their business.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Growing up, I had corporate-working 9 to 5 parents. They worked all week and all year and only had weekends and two weeks of vacation to spend with my little brother and me. I knew that when I grew up, I wanted to do something in my career that allowed me to spend more time with my family and not sacrificing rest for a living.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
When I graduated from college, I jumped straight into an entry-level office job working the 9 to 5 life and it was such a letdown for me. I’ve always been creative and wanted to have a hands-on career where I was always moving and learning. I started contributing blog articles to a copywriting agency as a side-hustle and then got hired to be a virtual assistant.
I turned my skill (writing) into income, built onto that by acquiring other skills, and was able to completely replace my office job income with the money I made freelancing.
Once I felt comfortable working from home and managing my own time, my world was completely changed. I felt empowered to grow my skills and step into an entrepreneurial mindset.
There is no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Because I teach people how to turn their gifts into a career, I know first-hand some of the mindset challenges that come with the transitional process of closing one chapter of a career and opening a new, challenging one.
Many of the aspiring freelancers I meet are fearful of the unknown. That’s where self-belief is the strongest factor. Once you’re confident in yourself and your abilities, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish. My business partner, Liz Illg and I are living testimonies of that.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Growth is never comfortable. It’s comfortable to be stagnant in life and to do things that feel safe. But to evolve personally and professionally, you have to jump into challenges and see what’s waiting for you on the other side.
Think about your values in life. If the work you’re doing isn’t constantly building you up to be the best version of yourself and maximizing your potential, you have to decide to either grow forward or stay the same.
The amazing thing about turning a hobby into a career is that you don’t have to do it alone. There are so many resources available to you to make it happen.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
From my experience, I know that falling out of love with something you do when it turns into work is an actual thing. I stopped writing blogs after I turned it into my income source but from what I’ve learned, everything that you learn or grow through is preparing you for what you’re called to do.
I started freelancing as a blog writer and I could’ve easily done that long-term. But I chose to grow my skills by becoming an assistant. After I assisted, I started to manage. After I grew through all of those experiences, it became clear to me that I was called to do something on my own where I could combine all of my skills.
If you’re constantly learning and becoming a better person, there’s nothing to dread. Instead, it’s looking at challenging times as learning opportunities.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
Having my own business is empowering and I love the freedom I have in making decisions and appling my ideas. The most challenging part about my business is the competitive industry we work in. One of the biggest challenges that come with being a solopreneur is the battle within your own mind. Giving into fear, intimidation, or doubt can be detrimental to your business so I’m always working on sharpening my mind to get through those challenges.
I highly recommend finding someone that you can talk to and make decisions with, for me it’s Liz. But if you’re a business owner and you need someone like that, find a mentor to help you through the rough patches.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I’m very surprised at the amount of time I spend thinking about my business. Work-life balance is so important to me and I promised myself that I would never let my career be bigger than my peace of mind. But I find myself feeling inspired and motivated to do better and to make bigger strides every day in my business.
I was silly to think that I could turn off the business thought faucet in my mind whenever I wanted to but I think as a dreamer, there’s always something to create, improve, or get inspired by.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore; I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?
It’s funny because my relationship with Liz has grown and evolved to be so special and unique. We talk about all things business and how we feel about what’s going on. We both say that we’ll never go back to working a traditional job. Once you learn how to make your own money and how to provide services as a career, it’s really hard to think about going back into the workforce as an employee.
If you think going back to a “real job” after becoming a freelancer or solopreneur will solve all of your problems, that’s just not the case.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made when starting GrowthFocus was assuming that people were going to be onboard as soon as we launched. I thought that people were going to line-up for whatever we were providing and it wasn’t like that at all.
Our clients want to know us, understand us, learn from us, and then make a decision on whether or not to grow with us. Assuming that people will buy into a product without building trust and a relationship with them, is not the right answer.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
I’m very honored and eternally grateful to work with my business partner, Liz Illg. She is such a smart and kind leader and I learn from her every day. What I find most inspiring about Liz is that she’s mastered balancing work and life. It’s not something that she acts or pretends to do, she’s always working on bettering herself.
As entrepreneurs, it’s easy to devote all of your time and energy to the grind. But Liz has taught me that taking care of yourself and being honest with who you are is so important.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
GrowthFocus was created to help people embrace careers that inspire them and energize them. When creating it, I pictured my parents’ exhausted faces and achy backs. I knew that if I helped guide more people to their dream careers, they would be happier and have more time to spend with their families. That’s how we’re making the world a better place. I don’t want to live in a world where people are forced to do work that drains them, hurts them, or sucks the life out of them.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You’re going to spend a lot of time thinking about your business.
I’m always thinking about GrowthFocus. Whether it’s a lesson I learned in the day or someone I met on a call that inspired me to do something in the business, there’s always a business idea to have or act on.
- You’ll experience a new challenge every day.
This one is so true. I face a new challenge every day. It can be a battle with myself, a technology hiccup, a problem I run into. I can expect that every day there will be a new puzzle to solve.
- You can never stop learning.
It doesn’t matter how successful you are. You have to learn new things in order to be the best at whatever you’re doing. Sitting back and watching the industry change does nothing for your personal development or your business.
- Phone a friend. Find someone to brainstorm with.
Without Liz, I’d have so many decisions to make on my own. She helps me through confusion and roadblocks in our business. We run ideas by each other daily and without that support, it’s a lot of weight to carry on your own.
- In order to grow, you have to self-invest, constantly.
If you want to enter a new phase of life or in business, you have to invest. It can be investing money, time, or energy into something but it’s something that you have to do in order to progress.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
It’s an honor to do this work. I’d love to see people practice grace. As a movement but permanently would be incredible. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and on each other to do the right things, make the right decisions, say the right words, but we don’t give eachother enough grace.
If we can go into situations or everyday life thinking that our family and friends are doing the very best they can, I think we’d have much different conversations. We’d speak more kindly and have more empathy. It’s something that you have to intentionally try to do and continually work on but it would make such a difference.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One lesson that my mom taught be at a very young age, is a spanish quote “lo barato sale caro,” the english translation would be “you get what you pay for.”
It’s stuck with me forever. Whenever I make decisions in life, I’m typically looking at two paths to take. Whether it’s the easy path or the hard path, or the cheap or expensive route, most times I have to make decisions that aren’t always the easy.
If you go with the easy or cheap way, you’ll end up paying more in the end.
It’s like choosing to eat junk food (the easy thing to do) or choosing to exercise (the hard thing to do). Sure, you can eat the junk food, but you’ll have to work extra hard to burn off the extra calories.
In business, sure, I can cut corners or take the easy route, but I can expect to have more work waiting for me on the other side if I lead my business like that.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
One of my business influences is Marianna Hewitt, lifestyle blogger and entrepreneur. She started her entrepreneurial journey as a blogger and media personality and started her own skincare business. What inspires me about Marianna is her ability to run a successful company and still be creative on social media. Because social media is the most powerful tool for entrepreneurs, mastering social media presence while being a successful businesswoman is super challenging. She’s created such an outstanding personal brand and I truly admire that.