Jenn Donovan, is a marketing thought leader, change maker, coach and mentor for small businesses, international keynote speaker, bestselling author, and podcaster. Jenn is a sought-after voice across the small business and start up landscape. Being a rural girl, born and bred herself, she’s sought after for her thought leadership, and knowledge around what it’s like to run and grow businesses in rural and regional Australia, whilst contending with everything that’s thrown at businesses, such as droughts, floods, bushfires, mouse plagues, just to name a few!
Jenn is the founder and creator of the extremely successful online community called Buy From a Bush Business (a Facebook group with over 363,000 members) and the co-founder of Australia’s premier online marketplace www.spendwithus.com.au – a marketplace only for rural and regional small businesses and has recently just completed the inaugural Australian Rural Business Awards with business partner Sarah Britz, again celebrating all things rural Australia!
Jenn’s impact on Rural and Regional Australia has been enormous. With her social enterprise pumping more than 5 million dollars back into the Australian economy, which enabled the survival of many small businesses during some of the harshest times known to business in the past 50 years. Jenn is a farmer’s daughter and farmer’s wife and has 3 young adult children. Jenn loves her work, but her family is her passion and is always her number one love.
Tell us about your journey
Born and bred around the Riverina/Murray area of NSW/Victoria, Jenn found a passion for the law in her late years at school. She went on to study and work in law – running her own very successful Property Law Firm. One night, as the story goes, her best friend, Jo, and her had way TOO much wine to drink and decided to through in their jobs and buy a business together. They’d talked about it in jest over many years, but this night it was decided. In a flash, about 4 weeks, they found themselves the owners of a rundown retail business – of which neither of them had any retail experience! This is where Jenn found marketing and social media and so the love affair began. “You can’t build a retail store in a rural area in a drought or a GFC without marketing”, Jenn jokes! Jenn and Jo, still besties today, sold the retail store which they grew by 11,798% in just over 6 years (it sold in 3 days!).
After selling the shop, Jenn joined her business mentor in Melbourne and began her coaching and mentoring journey – mentoring businesses all around the country and travelling to capital cities doing presentations on social media marketing. Jenn only convinced herself to learn how to public speak at the age of 40. Prior to that, it was the worst thing she could think of doing (like 90% of the population!), but now it’s one of the favourite things to do inside her business.
After that partnership fell apart, Jenn started the business you see today. Social Media and Marketing Australia that has one of Australia’s leading podcasts when it comes to marketing and social media – Small Business Made Simple – with over 120,000 downloads. Jenn now helps small businesses (rural, urban, city) make their marketing a priority. Teaches strategy and does business coaching.
“This was my calling all along”, says Jenn. “It always wanted to be a teacher but went down the path of law. Apparently, this was the teaching I was destined for – although it’s not so much teaching as it is mentoring!” As far as social enterprise goes – Spend With Us – Buy from a Bush Business – that all started during the horrific drought that we were in, in late 2019. I was travelling around speaking in October 2019, going to rural towns in the Riverina of NSW and no one was happy about Christmas coming up. The reality of rural towns is that if farmers don’t have money, towns don’t have money. And the farmers definitely didn’t have money.
Buy From the Bush was a trending hashtag on Instagram – but most people I saw that week (and knew back then) didn’t “get” Instagram or know how to use it. So, the thought was “let’s start a Facebook group – everyone knows how to post on Facebook”. That single thought has changed my life – in good ways and well, not so good ways!
The group quickly grew – it now stands at around 365,000 members. In March 2020 I started to talk to the two ladies who created Spend With Us – an online marketplace for bushfire affected businesses about amalgamating our businesses, to which we did. Their marketplace and my Facebook group as one. Between the two since October 2019, we predict that we have put back over 5 million dollars directly into the pockets of small business owners in rural Australia. That is incredible.
What led you to create your business?
I guess what lead me to where I am, mentoring and coaching like I do, was purely wanting to share my knowledge with others. As a small business owner, I could see those things I was doing with my marketing were working and people would say “hey can you show me that” or “can you teach me that” or “how do you do that” etc. – so I started teaching them what I knew worked at the time. I was still a retailer back then, so it was almost a natural progression to do it when I sold the shop.
Actually, that’s a big fat lie – when I sold the shop, my mentor I’d had for many years, went to great pains to encourage me to start a coaching/mentoring business. The old “imposter syndrome” was a little rife back then – and sometimes now! One of my gorgeous mentors David Penglase told me that to know something that could help others and not share it with them was a little selfish! Doesn’t that cut? Me, selfish – no way! So, I share what I know! The number 1 goal, the entire business philosophy around my business is for small business owners to Make Marketing a Priority. If they do that, just that, they will grow, they will be more successful, they will earn what they are worth and make a bigger difference in the world. Everything I do in my business comes back to that 1 business philosophy/goal – my speaking, my workshops, my private coaching, my podcast, my webinars – everyone – all comes back to one thing. To see a client/listener/follower take this advice, make marketing a priority, see its power and begin to grow (or grow further) just lights up my soul. And as far as Spend With Us – Buy From a Bush Business, my social enterprise, goes, what
lead me there was wanting to help small rural businesses who (a) couldn’t afford to work with me 1:1, (b) didn’t really get social media or have a website, and (c) were relying heavily on foot traffic into their businesses. I might have started this because of the drought, but little did I know that bushfires, floods, mouse plagues and a worldwide pandemic were on its way and this platform would be needed for reasons that were unforeseeable at the beginning. The two businesses work in well together – although sometimes my life feels like an out-of-control freight train, as I get to practice marketing, test, measure, teach – all of it to such a diverse range of small business owners. The opportunities are quite unique.
What are you passionate about and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Ha! I just might be passionate about marketing and small business (might be!!). Seriously, I am 100% passionate about making a difference in the world. Leaving a legacy behind, providing a better future, and sharing my knowledge. Besides business, my family is my passion. My children are all left school now and finding their paths in life. They are amazing. I am infinitely proud of them all. My last child finished school last year, and I have to say, this year has been one of the hardest for me personally that I can remember. I have really struggled to find my “self”, no longer being a “school mum” – something I had been for almost 18 years.
For any Mums out there who aren’t there right now or those who feel my pain – it’s tough right? But the future is bright. When I find my place as a “non-school mum”, the world will be my oyster. In the immediate future I want to keep making a difference with my businesses like I am now through my online platforms and marketplace and helping the small businesses through keynotes, workshops, webinars, and coaching/mentoring. Speaking is something I want to do more and more of again – now the world is up for travel and events! But the big future goals – they are up for grabs! Politics or making a difference through taking on board positions, especially rural boards, they are two ideas swilling around in the head for the future. At 47 I am in not in a rush, there’s plenty of time, right?!
What advice do you have for other women 40+ who are wanting to make an impact in the community or the world?
In the words my mentor taught me all those years ago and the words I live by now – Ready, Fire, Aim. Yep, get ready, just fire, and take aim later. The world doesn’t need more people “aiming” to do something. The world needs more ACTION TAKERS – be an action taker. Want to change the world – but the change. Stop “aiming” to do it and just start. Another value I live by is “you are the product of the 5 people you hang around the most”. So, watch who you are surrounding yourself it. Watch who you are listening to, taking advice from. If you want to do something – find the people who are already doing it – just a few steps ahead of you and surround yourself with them. Listen to them. Watch them. Follow them. Doesn’t matter if they are famous and you are following them on Instagram, or they are your beautiful neighbour next door who is completely unrecognised for their valuable work. Just surround yourself with people who will push you, challenge you and above all celebrate with you.