Small Business Stars: Donna Coulling
November 14th, 2014
This week’s small business star is Donna Coulling, who has built her business as a freelance PA to famous clients.
This week's small business star is Donna Coulling, who has built her business as a PA to celebrities, a writer and presenter.
Donna trained as an actor and worked on and off in this role for around six years. However, after losing out on the jobs she really wanted, Donna decided she needed new challenges.
Without knowing what the job was or whether or not it existed, Donna wrote to twelve talent agents offering her services as a "freelance celebrity personal assistant". Fortunately, her bold move paid off, and she started to take on clients in her new role almost immediately.
Now working with several big-name clients, Donna also shares her insight into her industry on her website and by giving presentations on the business of being a PA to the stars.
1. There was an element of luck in starting out
Since I'd trained as an actor, all I knew was the business of show, so I looked into how else I could work in the industry I loved. I'm a feet-first girl, and I'll usually jump into something without thinking it through properly, so starting my own celebrity PA business involved luck and a bit of pluck.
I was fortunate from the start in that my first client was Helena Bonham Carter, who thirteen years on I'm still with. Most people in the industry have worked with her or know her, so I think they trusted that I knew my stuff. The industry is quite small. Once you start networking and building contacts, (and if you're good at your job!), it's possible to put together a great client base.
2. Your clients are your niche in the market
There are a lot more celebrity PAs now than there were when I started and a lot more people out of the industry who are interested in the work we do. My business is unique because of the people I work for and that no two days are ever the same -sometimes no two hours!
It's a very niche market which can be a double-edged sword as it's equally hard to find the right people to work in it. I find my challenge has always been fitting everything in when everyone wants something at once. But, it's a challenge I thrive on.
3. My online presence helps people find me
I market the business mostly on social media, through interviews and at the events I'm asked to do. My website is a great platform to share my reviews of products, services and companies, which I believe should be in every PA's Little Black Book of contacts. Social media is a great tool to enable people to find me.
My job allows me to travel the world and speak at conferences and events about how I got into the role, made it my own, and continue to maintain working for four clients plus juggling my school run, TV work and writing.
If time allowed it and I wanted to grow my celebrity client base, I'd use the contacts I have and network. Having good industry relationships are essential.
4. It's my business to know my business
I need to know developments in my industry; my mantra – I adopted from drama school – is "it's my business to know my business".
I thought it was cheesy at the time, but then I realised what it meant, and now I genuinely believe in it. It's what makes us all worth our weight in gold to our employers – our industry knowledge and keeping up-to-date within our business.
5. Diversify, but don't overstretch yourself
I know you should never have too many fingers in too many pies, but I don't see any harm in just a few slices. I travel the world speaking and meeting other PA's – I help to train, coach, inspire and motivate others to find their dream job.
I'm a PA because it's what challenges me in every way and gives me a sense of achievement at the end of the day. Having started as an actor, I still need to satisfy the fire in my belly every so often and presenting does that for me, plus there's nothing like live TV or being in front of a live audience to keep you on your toes. I write because I need to create and want to share and help nurture other PA's to become the best at their jobs.
6. Face your fears and take that leap
My advice to anyone interested in the industry would be: Jump in feet first and ask questions later (to a degree). Don't put obstacles in your path if it's what you really want to do. Too many times we sit back and convince ourselves that we can't do something because of this and that – just take a risk and give it a go. I did, and still think if it doesn't work out, I can always wait tables, I was an actor after all…
I'll always earn money somehow until the next thing comes along. I'd rather give something a go than let the fear take away the opportunity.
Find out more about Donna Coulling by visiting: www.donnacoulling.com (external link)
For more advice and insight from business owners, visit our Small Business Stars hub.