The goal of Hardly Hustle is to provide inspiration, drive and motivation in a 10 minute read or less. What you see is what you get. This is hot off the press without an editing team. Donna Henley is up.
Who are you and what do you do?
Hi! I'm Donna Henley. I am a copywriter with a focus on content marketing. I started my business in 2021 after being made redundant from my 'dream job'. I never thought I'd have a job so good as I didn't finish uni, so when I was made redundant, it was pretty gutting. I'd always harboured a dream to start my own business, but there was never a 'right time'.
Well, being made redundant seemed like the perfect time. I got a part-time job to support myself (2 kids at home! No time for risky decisions!) and built my virtual assistant business alongside my work. I started in May 2021 and got my first client that month. It snowballed from there, and I quit my part-time job in March 2022. I haven't looked back since! What I have done since then, though, is continually work on my business.
As I was gaining clients, feedback and skills, I developed an interest in copywriting. My biggest client essentially told me I was naturally gifted at copy and should make it my focus. I resisted it for a while, but then decided to experiment with it a little, and found, she was right, I loved it, I had traction with it, and so my business transformed into what it is today.
What did it take/how did you get started?
I'd found the world of online business back in 2015 and fell in love immediately. I knew it was what I wanted. But life, money, kids, etc, but in particular, poor mental health really held me back from focusing.
Whilst I kept that dream alive in the back of my head, constantly got involved in online communities, and furthered my learning and knowledge behind the scenes, I focused my time on getting better mentally. At the time, my goal wasn't to get better in order to start a business, it was simply to get better. Which is of course the right priority!
But now that I'm in business, I realise that I couldn't have made any real progress with my goal until I was ok. When you're fighting for your life (yes, it was that bad), there's no room for ideals or life goals. There's only making it through the day, and getting better one step at a time. All that hard work I did was of course necessary to me and my family, but it's come in so handy to have the tools I built during that time to get me through the harder times of entrepreneurship. I digress though!
Haha, so once I was better, I was making real progress in my life, I'd found a job I loved, something I never thought I'd have, so when I lost it, the idea of going 'backwards' was honestly, terrifying - since dragging myself out of that hole I found myself in, I've promised I will never go back in there. This was a huge push for me to finally at least try - there were no more excuses. So, I did it. And I've never looked back. For me, running my own business has been life-saving.
What does the future look like for you and your business?
Since I shifted focus to copywriting relatively recently, my first goal will be teaching capacity. After that, I'd love to create a community around teaching others copywriting - for those who'd like to start their own business, or maybe they can't afford to hire out. I've always had huge passion for helping others to create a life they love by starting a business, too.
Since it had such a huge transformation on my life, and frankly - given the state of the country at the moment - it's sorely needed. If I can help just one other person - the person I needed when I was at my lowest and struggling to pull myself up in the world - I'd be happy with that. Past that, I don't have any solid plans. I don't plan on building a huge empire. My goals are to create a stress-minimal life, that gives me a comfortable income and that I love waking up to.
What drives / motivates you on a daily basis?
As dark as my past may have been, in a way, it's helped me. I know what it's like at the bottom, and I aggressively proactive about never going back there. Not only this, but it's what they say, once you start making progress, it becomes an addiction. I really love the life I've built for myself, and I want to maintain it. I have a partner and two boys - I want them to enjoy it, too. And it wouldn't be fair not to admit the fact that I like being in control of my own life.
One of my past jobs, I almost got fired so many times. I suffer from chronic migraines, and anyone whose had one will know how debilitating they are. Childcare is also a constant struggle. Add those two together, and my attendance record was... poor, shall we say haha. I was bullied pretty badly at that role, and I won't excuse that, but I can understand the frustrations that come from that. Being self-employed allows me to work around the natural things that just happen as a result of existing. With my own business, I'm not getting punished just for being a human being. I love that.
What advice would you give someone interested in doing what you do?
The key to starting your own business is to be ready and willing to commit. I mean, marriage levels of commitment. For me personally, the hard days of being self-employed heavily outweigh the best days of being employed. So it's easy in that regard. But I still have to remind myself of that on those hard days. Because that's the thing, the hard days WILL come.
Some days you will question your sanity. You will question your ability, your self-worth, your reasons for doing this. And when those days come, you've gotta be ready with some kind of support system to get you through it. You've gotta be ready to pull up your socks and do the work anyway (even if it's just the bare minimum that day).
Day in, day out. And even as I type this, and someone reads this right now, the deep reality of what that means might not fully sink it, because it's hard to image in an abstract way. If you've got kids, I mean that kind of commitment.
What has been the hardest part of your business journey?
For me, it's definitely the imposter syndrome. It's so common, people don't like to really admit they've got it, I guess because it almost feels like you're announcing to the world that you're not 100% sure you're good enough. And that's definitely a thing. But I think it's sorely misunderstood - I know I'm good enough, but sometimes I don't feel it.
I often have have a word with myself about it and remind my heart of the things my brain knows. I've got all sorts of support systems I've set up for myself to have my back when I catch myself selling myself short. It's human - we all experience it.
How have you managed burnout thus far?
Ah, burnout. My old friend. I'm very familiar with burnout. I used to burn out very quickly. My absolute BEST and most underrated tip is to take care of your mental health. And I know it's talked about everywhere, but it's so so important and cannot be underestimated.
When I was at some of my lowest points, it was so hard to maintain any kind of prolonged work effort. Now, my business requires me to pull on my creative strings almost everyday. That can be draining. But for me (and ever since I worked this out, my life had gone in an upward trajectory!) I live by this phrase 'work with yourself, not against'. Stop trying to be that '5am' person if you hate it and are a grump at 5am. Stop trying to force yourself to eat the cheapo bread from the supermarket if you think it tastes disgusting but you buy it because you feel like you have to save money, only for it to go mouldy in the bread bin.
Yes, there are some things we have to do in life because they're things that need to be done. But make them as easy as possible. Life's hard enough as it is! And on that same note, when it comes to burnout, since we are working with ourselves instead of against ourselves, if my brain has closed out for the day, then I just let it. If I get a migraine at 2pm, I go take a nap and catch up on what I missed in the evening. Let your body feel the way it feels. It really helps.
What are a few resources that you'd recommend?
Read up on mindfulness. Keep a journal. Brain FM (or a focus playlist on YT/Spotify, etc) A project management system - I use Trello. It's free! Link it to a digital calendar if you can. I just the one attached to my Gmail account. I highly recommend following the business coach Lisa Johnson. You can find her on Facebook. She runs multiple challenges each year, and they're all jam packed with business growth information, even if you don't purchase the product attached to it.
List the founders
How many hours a week do you work on this hustle?
I average around 20 hours a week
# of Employees?
Just me at the moment!
When did you start?
How much did it cost to launch?
It's my personal pet peeve when people use @gmail's! So I bought a professional email account (less than £5/pcm). Other than that, I didn't purchase anything until I had secured my first client. Then I bought contracts at Koffee Klatch for £160 (I bought a bundle), my ICO registration for £35 for the year and insurance, £325 for the year.
What were your funding methods and ballpark amount raised?
What's the #1 thing you need right now?
Help at home - planning on hiring a cleaner!