In 2005 Donna McCallum had a good life and a successful marketing business in Cape Town. She also had a nagging feeling that something was missing, so she gave it all up and took a year’s sabbatical in South America.
“I had worked hard to build the business and I was tired,” she says. “I also wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do next, so travelling seemed like a good idea.”
It was on a night bus from Cordoba to Mendoza that she had what she describes as a vision that revealed to her the purpose of her life. “I had to become a fairy godmother,” she says. “There was no rationale behind this. I just woke up and knew that I had to help other people achieve their dreams and goals.”
Coming home and telling her friends and family that she wanted to be what most people see as a cartoon character was not easy. “I had no idea how I was going to turn my vision into a workable proposition, so there was no business plan to work from.”
The breakthrough moment
What McCallum did have on her side, however, was that she had always been an entrepreneur. “I applied what I had learnt over the years and started off in a consulting role in which I helped people become clear about their own visions, dreams and goals, and supported them with time, advice, and skills.” She funded this early stage through a split equity model, but she did not really have enough of her own equity to do this in the long-term.
She then designed and held her first workshop in Cape Town. It was a huge success and she began setting them up around the country. The workshops help people to understand what they really want and how to incorporate this into their lives.
They get to create a dream map outlining goals, learn the next steps to turn those goals into successes, understand where and how to focus their energies, and how to overcome fears. These events, along with talks and online programmes have become the mainstay of the business.
Taking the business online
It was in 2009 that she launched her online courses and the business really took off. It grew by 75% that year and has since grown by an average of 35% each year. Three quarters of its revenue is generated through the online course material.
“Launching the online programmes has shown me just how amazing the Internet is for delivering content and training, and also for reaching an international audience,” she says.
McCallum also runs the Conscious Creators Community which gives members access to new personal development training resources each month. These learning modules, ebooks, videos, audio interviews, and webinars all contain tools and practical strategies that members can use to help them achieve greater success in their lives.
“The uniqueness of the business now lies in the comprehensiveness of our offering,” she says. “People who attend the workshops and want ongoing support to help them live their dreams are able to get it all from us.”
The majority of McCallum’s clients are women. “They are more comfortable than men with the wings and wands,” she says. “But mostly they are people who have reached a crisis point in their lives – mothers whose young children have started school, or whose children have finished studying and are moving out, and women who want to leave the corporate world and start their own business.”
Word of mouth advantage
A marketer through and through, McCallum has always publicised her business widely, and has been lucky to get a huge amount of media coverage thanks to the range of topics she is able to speak on. Word of mouth, however, is her biggest marketing tool with people who attend her workshops encouraging their friends and family to do so too.
Player: Donna McCallum
Company: Fairy Godmother
Contact:+27 (0)84 207 0202
A magical experience
Like Cinderella’s fairy godmother, McCallum waves her magic wand to make everything better – together with her wings and fairy dust, it’s part of the magic toolkit she uses to turn people into dreamers who have vision and goals and who dare to do things with their lives.
“A fairy godmother cares about people and loves to make them happy,” says McCallum. “It’s a gimmick that works simply because it’s fun and light. It makes people smile and suspend their disbelief. It also helps to break down barriers and encourages them to relax and let go of some of their inhibitions.”
Systematising the business
There are many things to do in a business that are repeated again and again, and the best way to streamline is to create and document systems and processes that are easily repeatable. This is particularly important for small business owners like McCallum, who says her strengths do not lie in managing people.
For her, systems and processes drive the business and release her from day-to-day operations to focus on the more strategic aspects of the business. Well-documented systems and processes have led to greater efficiency, consistency, reliability and service at Fairy Godmother.
“One of the ways we have achieved this is by homing in on what we love to do and outsourcing everything else. We have created a ‘not to do’ list which allows us to outsource all repetitive and menial tasks instead of employing additional staff and having to manage them. For example, anything to do with the logistics of arranging a workshop is managed by one of our partners in whichever city we are going to. It’s a way of operating that was triggered by my business partner who strives to live according to Tim Ferriss’s 4-hour work week philosophy. It’s made a huge difference to my life as I’m free now to do the things I want to do which makes me far more efficient.”