We first featured Donna on Mama loves to share’s ‘Mama’s Inspire’ series back in May, 2016. Back then she had already been “spotted” (pun intended!) as a talented force to be reckoned with. A mum of two young children, she was kicking goals left, right and centre at home and in the art world both online and at various art shows and exhibitions around the country.
Today, her fine art – impeccably detailed free hand pointillism (dot art) – has not only grown to a Mornington Peninsula gallery/shop, it’s also getting accolades of a global scale! We recently caught up with Donna for an updated chat about all things art and mum life.
MLTS: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us again Donna. For those who may have missed your first ‘More than a Mama’ interview, tell us a little about yourself and your family.
Donna: We are a family of four – Milla whose almost 8, Leo, 3, Pete my husband and we have a little caboodle pup, Latte. Life is great and what I always dreamt of, but better and easier. I am a mum who wears her heart on her sleeve, takes things very personally but doesn’t take shit. Don’t push my buttons or I will push them straight back. I overthink things and never forget if I have upset someone unintentionally, it plays over and over in my mind, clearly not great thing to have in business. I obsess over detail (clearly, I draw in tiny dots!).
My husband Pete is very involved in my business and I’m very lucky to have him. We get along very well and he knows how to manage me when I feel like its getting too much (recently he bought me a 5 day solo holiday to Port Douglas, amazing!). We spend most of our days together so we are lucky we have a strong relationship, most would have killed each other by now, I’m sure!
Milla has a super gentle soul with a seriously good back bend (loves gymnastics) and can draw you a half faced animal of her own and sell it to the senior kids at lunch time for $5- business lady in the making!
Leo has the best personality – he keeps my happy and seriously makes my heart smile. He loves telling me the time, its generally “kissing o’clock with a few “cuddle o’clocks”, which are my favourite times of the day. He is constantly dressed as a super hero and protecting me from Ninja Daddy. Just the way I like it.
MLTS: Aww you guys are so cute, the kids are so adorable! And so the other element to your life is your business, tell us about Dots by Donna.
Donna: Dots by Donna was born under the roof of my own home, from a secret hobby that not even my husband new I had. It all started four years ago. I am a freehand dot artist. I draw animals and people completely out of dots. These become beautiful pieces of work that you can hang in any room of your home and are not restricted at all to an age group or demographic.
My business has grown from strength to strength and quite rapidly that it has all become a whirlwind. Sales grew by 40% last year alone, to the point it out grew people knocking on my front door at ridiculous hours to see if I had prints available for a last minute birthday gifts, to having to open a store!
Pete and I needed the store to get our lives back, the website took over our nights when 10pm-2am nightly we would be shipping orders and getting barely any sleep, fighting over who didn’t put a flyer in an envelope. We thought enough was enough, we would get a shop/gallery/ distribution hub that would solve everything and it truly did.
Dots+ was opened in May 2017, the home of Dots by Donna. In here I also stock so many other Australian mum owned brands and I love it. People love it too and are super excited to meet me when I am there (I don’t think I will ever get over that, the selfies, the way people treat me like a celebrity!).
Last year was a huge year for me with also venturing to Vegas and NY and exhibiting my work, I was so nervous but wow, it was well received!! Even winning “Best New Product” at NY NOW out of 3500 other brands that intimidated me every time I walked in the door. My Award/plaque now sits pride of place in my store for all to see.
MLTS: Wow that’s so incredible Donna, you should be so proud! We love that you support other mum run small businesses in your store too, women supporting women. Tell us, what inspired you to start Dots by Donna?
Donna: Work life balance with my family was my biggest inspiration. I was working 90 hours a week and not even being a mum. I missed my daughter so much when I worked for someone else. The expectations were too high and unrealistic. I could never just pack up at the end of the day and pick Milla up from daycare before it closed. The constant tears I had feeling like the worst parent ever was too much. Something had to change.
When I put my work out to the world and my little community of followers began to grow, my followers were the ones that drove me to where I am today. They inspired me to keep going and I never really planned for any of this to happen, one day I just woke up and I was like, “hey, how did I get here?” It was definitely through some serious hard work but I just automatically did it, I didn’t sit down and write goals, or plan.
I just realised I had ticked boxes without realising and got to a level where there was no going back. A market would pop up and yep, I was there. A store would contact me to stock my work, yep, I would stock there. Then I was like shit, I’m busy, hang on I need help and so it kept rolling. Its kind of cool that I only just realised that just now from this question!
MLTS: Ha ha, we love to evoke a bit of self-realisation! Working for yourself and spending more time with your family is of course life/work goals for any mum but we are sure it comes with its challenges. What are some day to day challenges you face with being a mum and a business owner?
Donna: Keeping on top of everything is super challenging. I have about three calendars, one written for everyone in the house to see. One on google docs for Pete to see and one on Apple for myself. I don’t know why I do this but I feel if I’m busy and just write it down, I can pop it in electronically later. Hmm… that’s the thought process anyway!
I have spreadsheets with currently 163 things to do on it (no joke, I just checked!), these things can be from school related things for Milla, to answering a survey or to huge business achievements/goals I want to hit. I find this absolutely detrimental to my business and keeps me motivated. I action the quick and simple things first, so I feel like I’m winning at the beginning of the day. These tasks also have levels of completion so I can half action them and come back on another day. OCD much?
MLTS: Believe us, we totally get needing to write everything down, there’s just so many tabs open all the time! Love the tip to half action and come back to it. How important is it for you to surround yourself with supportive/encouraging people when starting a business?
Donna: Imperative. Nobody needs to surround themselves with a pit man. You don’t want anyone negative in your life, you will have so many of your own issues when it comes to starting your own business. You will have so many doubters and people who think they can tell you how to do it all, there are people who only believe that working for someone else is the way, it is not!
There are so many people set in their ways and find it very frightening that you want to venture on your own. Be frightened enough to keep you on your toes but don’t be frightened enough to make you turn your back on your dreams. Join business forums, read business books, make friends with your fellow business people, like-minded people are your biggest asset.
MLTS: So so true! We too love our real life and the contrast of our social media soul sisters who pep us up when ‘real’ life doesn’t quite understand what we do! Who would you say are your biggest supporters?
Donna: My family back me 100% my husband would be the first person to re-morgage our house if I had some crazy idea, he is all in on my journey and I love that. The community of supporters, followers and collectors that I have behind me blows my mind daily.
This community are the people who have my back when they see a copycat trying to steal my designs, nothing gets past them. They encourage me to keep drawing, a self taught artist needs a lot of encouragement and I thank them for this daily.
MLTS: Having such a fantastic support group gives you wings doesn’t it! Even chatting to you through out this interview is making us feel motivated! You have such a great energy. Tell us, what does a typical day look like for you?
Donna: I stay at home with Leo in my pjs while my husband does the school run. We pull out Leo’s big tub of lego and play away. Pete returns over an hour later and we are still at it. I head to the shower and then answer work emails and store calls and plan my day.
Most days I work from home, alternating I head to the store to visit the girls, my mum ha ha! I sign prints and run errands, then head home in time for school pick up so Pete can head to work. Afternoons are filled with gymnastics and swimming lessons where I often take my laptop and answer emails or catch up on work.
Come home to do dinners, bath and put kids to bed. Then finally I pop the pjs back on, sit on the couch with chocolate, my folio, a pen and the remote. I watch hours of countless trashy TV as I dot the night away.
MLTS: Sounds like you’re nailing this work/life balance babe, especially making sure you’re in your PJ’s as much as possible, love it! What are your tips for other Mamas who are wanting to start their own business but don’t quite have the confidence?
Donna: Do it!! Now not later!! I still don’t have the confidence!! But I suck it up and get on with it. The thing I struggle with is the self doubt, that my drawings are not good enough. When you have stared at a drawing for 100+ hours everything is generally looking wrong and you overthink it.
MLTS: Overthinking things is such a road block isn’t it! We are guilty of that too! Being a local mama, what’s your fave activity to do as a family on the Mornington Peninsula?
Donna: We love heading down to the Point Nepean for a picnic and a family bike ride. Heading down their for hours, stopping at all of the lookouts and stopping to read all of the history that has occurred on the site. It is absolutely breath taking to be honest. I cant wait for the warmer weather to come back around again.
MLTS: Agree! Love Point Nepean too, such a special place. Can’t wait for more sunshine! What do you love most about being a working mama?
Donna: I love working from home, seeing my kids grow. I don’t get stuck in city traffic at peak periods, I am normally still in my pj’s playing Lego or laying in bed watching the Lego Batman movie with Leo.
I love being able to do school reading, concerts and there when my kids need me. I am loving working from anywhere around the world, I am not restricted, my career allows that. I love that my kids have watched my business grow from the couch to markets, to trade shows, to opening my own store, to stocking in 90+ stores worldwide, to winning a huge award in NY.
I love the work life balance that I have built, I work when I want and no more. I love that this shows my kids that they can build their own empires and that one day they can achieve all of this too. I have always been a hard worker, always driving myself towards success but there is nothing like doing that for yourself.
MLTS: Absolutely. Now, can you tell us something about yourself that other people may not know?
Donna: I was nominated for a Rising Star Award for Ausmumprenuer. Top ten!! Out of so many other amazing talented mums, this blows my mind! When we become a mum, we lose ourselves, our identity and our belief in ourselves (well I did). It is the strangest most surreal time in a women’s life, a little person depending on you with their lives and your thinking to yourself, how can I leave you and return to work when you depend on ME so much.
It breaks your heart to leave them but you suck it up and do it like the millions of women before you. To saying no to the career I had and bravely turning my back on all I knew to have built my own empire is an achievement I am proud of. I am a rising star and I hope to keep rising.
MLTS: And we have loved watching you grow Donna! Thanks again for taking the time to chat to us, we can’t wait to see what comes next for Dots by Donna.
Dots by Donna Store – 4 Ross Street, Mornington