She has been in Coldwell Banker’s Top 100 Realtors in the state of Florida for the past two years, and has been awarded several International Achievement Awards from Coldwell Banker including: the International Sterling Society, the International Diamond Society, the International President’s Circle and the International President’s Elite Awards. She also has received the Five Star Real Estate Agent Best In Client Satisfaction Award several times.
“I started my own business with the goal of making a significant positive difference in an Industry that does not have the greatest reputation,” Donna explains. “I have developed an unequivocal reputation of integrity and professionalism.”
She adds: “Being independent, I have had an innate zest for starting my own business ever since I can remember. My story in sales started many moons ago when I was a young child growing up just outside of Boston as one of seven children.”
During her childhood and adolescence, Donna had a number of burgeoning small businesses. “There wasn’t a lot to do in the summer in the inner city having very little money, so I decided to start my first small business when I was about eight years old,” she says. “I loved creating things, and I loved pleasing people. I had gotten a small loom from Santa with some loops to make potholders. Everybody in the neighborhood knew my family, so I felt comfortable canvassing the neighbors and asking if they would like toplace an order for custom-made potholders to match their kitchens. Some of the neighbors actually invited me into their kitchens so that I could suggest co-ordinating colors. I just loved that! I sold one for 15 cents and two for 25 cents. Before I knew it, I had a good little business started. I loved designing the potholders, delivering them, seeing how impressed people were and then starting a bank account. Once I saturated the neighbors with potholders, I would get calls for reorders or gifts for their family and friends.”
From that point on, Donna was smitten with the idea of being her own boss and making her own way. She also worked as a delivery girl for local people, shuttling groceries home for the women in her middle-class parish, and helped a classmate collect his paper route money.
From fifth to eighth grade, Donna was a top salesgirl for her school’s annual fundraiser — selling Christmas cards to family, friends and the locals. “There were always prize incentives for different sales levels,” she says. “In fifth grade, I was the runner up for having sold the most volume. In sixth, seventh and eighth grades, I was the ‘Leading Sales Student’.”
She also started a babysitting service, which eventually evolved into being a nannie for a new family in her neighborhood who had moved from Scotland. Donna remembers: “Both parents worked, so I watched the children after school. For several summers, I watched them full time, five days a week until I turned 15 and got a worker’s permit to work in the candy department at Woolworth’s. At the age of 16 and throughout high school, I worked at Howard Johnson’s as a waitress, serving customers with a smile.”
Although Donna went to State Teachers College to earn a bachelor of science in educationand a master’s degree in counseling, she started a lucrative small business on campus selling Avon. “That was the golden egg since the girls in the dormitories always needed something, and there were no stores nearby our small all girls campus,” she notes.
She taught school and counseled students for 20 years, but the urge to own her own her business never truly faded. She took an early retirement: “I knew it was time to utilize my business abilities and realized the education and counseling skills I had developed throughout my 20 years of school teaching and counseling would segue to the field of real estate sales, which I always had an interest in pursuing.”
To be sure, Donna does business her way: “I am thrilled to be an independent contractor in a business which allows me to interface with people in need of professional services. I have always taken my job seriously and striven for perfection in whatever I do, even though we live in a very imperfect world. In a world of copies, I like being ‘original.’ That is why I take all my own phone calls, write all my own ads and personally service all my clients. I don’t like being pawned off to a secretary or an assistant or a team member when I need attention from the person who is supposed to be servicing me. I assume responsibilities and hold myself accountable for them. My right hand likes knowing what my left hand is doing. I was raised by the ‘Golden Rule’ — Treat others as you wish to be treated — and I resent being put off by go-betweens. There is no go-between when a client chooses to work with me, whether it is a seller or a buyer.”
This recipe has served Donna well as she hasworked in the very competitive Marco Island real estate market, which encompasses more than 500 Realtors on a 24 square mile Island. “They say not every person on Marco has a driver’s license; but everyone has a Realtor’s license!” she quips. “I don’t worry about the competition since I am confident and true to myself. People I work with and service trust me…I am always very well-prepared when I present and I never ‘shoot from the hip.’ I possess strong market and product knowledge studying the market on a daily basis.”
Still, she is not afraid to admit when she needs to research a question to get just the right answer for a client: “I never claim to know everything. In fact, I just recently completed the first inaugural course offered at the Marco Board of Realtors to receive the MIS designation (i.e. the “Marco Island Specialist” designation). I will always be a life-long learner!
She also concedes that challenges come with owning your own business: “I have faced many of the same challenges that other successful women in business do such as balancing family and career. You must establish priorities, and that is a challenge for me.”
Donna credits her mentor, Larry Kelly, and her family to helping her overcome the obstacles. “I was very fortunate to start in the real estate business as a partner with Larry Kelly about 10 years ago,” she recounts. “Larry was a ‘Top Producer’ who shared a wealth of knowledge and wisdom with me about this industry. He is one of the most patient, kind and professional people I have ever had the privilege of working with. Larry relocated several years ago. We had an ideal working relationship, and he was a wonderful mentor.”
She continues: “I am blessed with a very supportive family. My husband was abrilliant engineer and manufacturer’s representative who understands the demands of running a successful business. My three adult children realize the importance of dedication to one’s career since they all hold very responsible positions as a medical doctor, a physician’s assistant and animal rescuer, and a senior partner in a prestigious law firm. They have been raised to be accountable professionals. They all take pride in what they do, and I am proud of them!”
Her advice to women eager to start their own businesses cover many areas from time management to education to money management. “Prepare yourself for working seven days a week and being ‘on call,’ 24-7,” says Donna. “Get as much education as is available through our local Realtor’s Association and your brokerage. Have an account to draw from since there are expenses in running any business from educational courses, licensing fees, technology equipment/resources, rent, mailing/printing costs and every day office needs. Don’t expect immediate results. There is some luck involved in any sales position, but hard work and dedication pay off! Listen to your clients! Your goal should be to satisfy them to the best of your ability. Be prepared to make some personal sacrifices. Real estate is a service industry. Honesty, hard work, mutual respect and a smile are the means to success in business!”
In the end, Donna feels “so fortunate to be residing and working on Marco Island in a position where I can introduce people from all over the world to our wonderful lifestyles…I am very grateful to my loyal clients who have trusted me with their real estate investments. Without their votes of confidence, I would not have been able to reach the high level of success I have achieved in 10 years! Seeing the business I have worked diligently to develop reach such latitude is a dream come true!”