Purpose propels entrepreneur to make a difference

From left: Ann Le, Joy Donnell, Ana Flores and Maggie Chieffo speak about Image in the Age of Instagram.

Standing out and being significant — as a person of substance — is Joy Donnell’s forte. She thrives on using connections to make a difference. Spoiler alert: She’s not a fan of humility.

Donnell is a brand and content strategist, activist and entrepreneur “driven by purpose.” She believes in owning your power by owning your voice, image, influence and intentions. She also is editor in chief of Vanichi magazine.

“When most people pursue ‘standing out,’ what they really want is significance and connection. They just haven’t defined it that way,” Donnell said. “Connecting requires you tap an emotional response. You have to infuse your messaging and content with human elements that will move actual human beings. Connect with people in a way they can feel, and the natural result will be that you stand out in their minds.”

A person of substance is alive — ready and willing to engage in conversations and exchange ideas.

“I don’t think substance has an objective definition,” Donnell said. “It’s something you feel. Substance is derived from grasping your passion and pursuing it with a sense of purpose. That purpose and passion can only be shaped by the individual. What brings meaning to our lives varies from person to person.”

She downplayed the need to be original.

“Originality isn’t really necessary to stand out,” Donnell said. “Tapping into a known idea in a unique way can actually be more effective. In fact, don’t pressurize yourself to be original. Tapping your intentions and true voice will automatically apply your signature to your content. Just be interesting. Find new ways to present known ideas.”

Start with you

Whichever way you chose to offer ideas, the first person you have to convince is you.

“Before you can develop significance with others and an audience, you must nurture it with yourself,” Donnell said. “This means clarifying your intentions. Always start with your intentions. Your intention is connected to your sense of well-being.

“Our intentions nurture our well-being,” she said. “Know your intentions, and then shape your messaging, content and media with intentionality. This is how you develop a distinct voice. Don’t confuse your intentions with your ‘to-do’ list. Intention isn’t about what tasks you have to complete. Intention is based on what you want to give and attract.”

She explained that online content corresponds to certain algorithms.

“You attract what you put out,” she said. “Put yourself into the message. Use your intention to design an emotional experience and journey for people. Let your content not just give them an escape from angst, but also a connection to their own humanity.”

It doesn’t matter so much that what you say is different, but how you explain yourself, according to Donnell.

“Your ideas don’t have to be original,” she said. “Simply be original and uniquely you in how you develop those ideas. This will help you not just relate, but resonate. We don’t always need original ideas. We simply need people who help us see in exciting ways. Your content is a homing beacon. It attracts like-mindedness and commonality.”

Grow connections

Many people using social media have had online connections who — by their examples — teach what goes into social substance. From that, you can greatly expand connections.

“I get positively impacted by genuine online connections every single day,” Donnell said. “One recent example is an online luxury retailer that found me through Instagram because I often discuss and wear emerging luxury brands in developing economies. We’re now about to launch a content campaign to showcase emerging luxury designers who design or fabricate on the African continent.”

You can show others they truly matter by talking with them. Simple interactions let people — as well as yourself — know they count.

“People know they matter to you when you show up for them,” Donnell said. “Support your actual supporters. You know who they are. Engage them. Incentive them. Ask them questions about their needs and goals. Be helpful.”

Remember that assistance flows both directions.

“Support isn’t a one-way street,” Donnell said. “It deserves reciprocity. Sometimes we get so fixated on promoting ourselves that all we do is broadcast at people 24/7. Stop broadcasting and start benefiting.

“A fanbase isn’t the same as a support base,” she said. “Fandom comes and goes. Supporters are connected to you on a deeper level. Give support and you’ll get support back. Support takes longer to build than fandom, but it’s worth it and more enduring.”

Inspiring people

Many people you meet online or off can bring out the best in yourself. They treat you with respect and as an equal with valid views to discuss.

“I only surround myself with people who inspire me to be better and do better,” Donnell said. “I know that I am part of a legacy of strength. My ancestors were considered disposable — although they weren’t — and yet they survived, and I exist. So, when I’m tired and need extra inspiration, I remember. For me, there is power in knowing that those before overcame so you could become. It feeds my resilience.”

If you set your sights on changing the world, many experts advise staying humble. Donnell disagrees.

“I think humility is an overrated virtue,” she said. “Don’t be a jerk or a narcissist, but be able to own and speak your accomplishments. Have receipts. Voice them. Show them. The way we define humility as a society usually convinces great people to sit down and shut up while straight narcissists get loud and lionized.

“Screw humility,” she said. “Own your power. Own your voice. Own your ability to connect. Build alliances and get your message out into the world without apology. Whatever you endeavor to do deserves to be honored with your passion and voice.”

Ideas can become meaningful plans of action, especially if you place yourself front and center.

“Turn yourself into your own epicenter,” Donnell said. “Your ideas have to start generating out and making real-world connections. Your first action item is to know your network. Examine the connections and contacts you already have. Distinguish your true supporters from your casual allies.

“Figure out what types of connections you still need to thrive,” she said. “Start to create content that is attractive to that type of support. Combine online networking with in-person networking. This isn’t an either-or scenario. You have to develop both types of connections simultaneously.”

Beyond online

Donnell also cautioned not to rely solely on online contacts.

“Please don’t rely on social media platforms to be your only means of connecting,” she said. “You should always, always build a mailing list. Unless you own the social media platform, you shouldn’t let it be the only database you have of your audience.”

She noted several ways in which she is adding substance to the world around her.

“I own a platform called Vanichi.com,” Donnell said. “We’re about luxury with alignment. We’re publishing more op-eds and encouraging submissions that discuss societal issues alongside our luxury features. Writing op-eds are a great way to grow your significance.”

All of her endeavors — whatever their context — are based on humanity.

“No true luxury can exist without humanity at its center,” Donnell said. “We’ll never have a more luxurious future while we ignore our public health needs. I speak internationally about publicity, branding, content strategy and media. I also guest lecture on these same topics. My creative campaigns focus on media that expands our sense of humanity, cultural understanding, opportunities for gender parity, human rights and so on.”

She backs up her words with action.

“I use my creativity for activism,” Donnell said. “I’m an ambassador for Women Like Us, which supports human rights and women-led initiatives.”

She has also written a book, Beyond Brand, about using intention-driven messaging to shape your legacy. It will be out in May.

About The Author

Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services and worked in public affairs for the Air Force and federal government. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.