A little about me...
By the time I was 12 years old, I had the kind of rock collection that would make most geologists jealous.
OK, for real-real. The reason you are really here:
Hi! I'm Courtney Foster-Donahue.
I'm a four-time entrepreneur, chronic overachiever, and business, branding, and social media strategist.
I didn't start doing what I'm doing out of desire, but rather, demand. If you had asked me what multiple six-figures meant a few years ago, I would have said it was probably a figure skating move. (But like, a really cool one.)
That isn't to say things haven't shifted – I absolutely LOVE what I do – but I didn't really set out to create The Art of Grit + Grace.
It happened accidentally.
And it's kind of a long story.
(But a good one.)
Let's timeline this ish...
I was born, the spawn of a mermaid and unicorn...
...wait. Nope. Let's try that again.
I was born in Mobile, Alabama (right on the Gulf Coast), the daughter of an electrical engineer and an artist. I tend to think I take after both of them; I'm what I call ambi-brained: meaning both left-brained and right-brained.
(It's something I made up. Let's just go with it.)
It's a weird analytical-meets-creative world I live in, but it means I have no trouble understanding the more technical elements of Facebook and search engine optimization (I even know a little code!), yet I'm just as comfortable teaching visual branding and storytelling through video. I was even a professional actor and singer for many years! But more on that in a minute…
Child Actor Days
I was a shy and introverted child. My (very) extroverted mother – out of concern that I wouldn't grow out of my shyness – introduced me to the theatre at a young age. It turned out that I didn't just enjoy performing – I was actually really good at it! I got the attention of talent agents, and soon, I found myself doing commercials and voiceover work quite consistently.
If I wasn't in school, I was at an audition, a play rehearsal, a dance class, a voice lesson, or a gig.
Though it may seem an arbitrary blip, these early experiences as a professional actor taught me so much about sales and marketing. (After all, every audition was essentially a sales pitch.)
College + Musical Theatre
I continued working as an actor throughout childhood and into my teen years, so when it came time for college, my choice of major was a no-brainer. I graduated college with a BFA in musical theatre, rounding out four great years.
College was made greater still, when I met my future husband, Josh who was also a musical theatre major. We met and fell in love during a production of West Side Story.
(Obviously, like the super pale white kids that we are, we were Jets.)
College was a great time for us to get to know each other, but it also gave us our first experience collaborating and creating together (in this case, doing theatrical productions).
As business partners today, we still look back on these first few years together as part of a path that paved the way to where we are now.
Marriage + Teaching
The next few years post-college brought us an engagement, a magical wedding (we were even featured in The Knot!), and lots of professional theatre and film work. We were in the lucky minority of actors we knew who were able to make a full-time income doing our thing.
This time also helped me develop a new skill: teaching. Wanting a steady stream of income no matter what acting and singing gigs I got (or didn’t) get, I started teaching dance classes. I had been dancing since I was two years old, so this wasn't a crazy leap, but teaching was a new frontier for me. It wasn’t my favorite job ever, but I was really good at it.
Teaching came naturally to me, and making sense of abstract concepts (in this case, the artistry of dance) felt like old hat.
Choreography was the next natural progression, and I found myself getting as many choreography gigs as acting and singing gigs. While just supplemental at the time, these jobs taught me how to teach — a skill I didn’t even know I needed or would ever use beyond the dance studio or rehearsal hall.
If you had told me that all my years of teaching ballet barre would eventually lead to teaching business strategies, I would've thought you were crazy. But alas, I teach every day, and I still draw on lessons learned during this time.
Blogging + The Big Apple
In 2011, my husband and I made the decision a lot of artists make at some point in their journey: to try New York City.
And so we did. Along with our two dogs, we moved to NYC in August of 2011, and we never looked back.
We enjoyed New York City, and the professional opportunities that came our way in just the first couple of months were great. We both had relatively flexible “survival jobs” (as actors refer to them in NYC), and we had the time in our schedule to actually go to auditions. #thedream. We were doing it. We were making it happen.
Then everything changed.
One day, while teaching a dance class, I injured my neck and back. It was a terrifying experience, and long story short, I was bedridden for almost two months.
The lost income from not being able to teach dance or do anything for that matter definitely took a toll on our savings. (Not to mention, we had NO health insurance.)
The longer I was out of work, the more our savings dwindled. We got poor – fast. It wasn't uncommon for our checking account to have a single digit number (or more realistically, to be in the negative). There are plenty of "we were so poor that..." stories, but suffice it to say, we were miserable, and as time went on, we didn't see a way out.
Aside from struggling financially, I was also struggling emotionally. I had come to NYC for my acting career – a career I'd had since I was a young child. I couldn't do the very thing I set out to do in this brand-new city, and I was losing my very sense of purpose.
To distract myself, I played on the Internet (basically all I could do from bed), and almost accidentally, I started to learn about blogging. I'd always enjoyed writing, and blogging was an exciting new possibility. It was something I knew I could be successful in regardless of my physical state.
Though I knew nothing about blogging, had never really read blogs, and didn't even know anyone who blogged, I learned everything I could and went for it.
My blog grew quickly in readership. I was an early adopter of Pinterest, and I had also begun to play with Facebook marketing, so I was able to drive tons of traffic my way.
What I was doing worked, others took notice, and I began to get hired out for freelance gigs, doing social media consulting and management. The more I dipped my toe into this online business world, the more I found that I enjoyed it.
At the same time that I started getting into blogging, Josh shifted his focus towards training dogs professionally. (It was something he had done as a side hustle for years.)
We both knew that there had to be a future in which we could work together – having more control over our income, and on our terms, but we didn't quite yet know what that would be.
At some point, when we would talk about the future, it didn't involve us living in NYC. The pull of our family in Atlanta was strong, and while NYC had certainly been a great adventure, we knew we had come to the end of that adventure.
We decided that moving back to Atlanta meant moving back on our terms, and those terms meant starting our own businesses.
I opened my first business.
During my time in NYC, I worked the occasional gig for a children's entertainment company doing princess parties. This was something I enjoyed, and I sought to create a similar business, but in Atlanta.
I put the blog on hold and leveraged the skills I had acquired to get my business in the number one spot on Google for its keywords in the first month. We booked our first five parties during our first week in business.
I found that entrepreneurship came naturally to me. At the time, I didn't know anything about online courses or business influencers or anything like that. Instead, I operated intuitively, and it turned out that my entrepreneur's intuition was spot on.
Soon, I had a staff of performers who did the parties while I focused on growing the business.
I opened my second business.
2014 was a year of important milestones and growth.
Early that year, I taught my last dance class (ever!) and had replaced my teaching income three times over after just three months in business.
When the opportunity came to open a second location in Knoxville, Tennessee, I took it. Quickly, I learned how different a business could look in one city versus another. Differing demographics taught me that while the actual business structure may be the same, there was no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing.
This was a vital lesson for me to learn. It was invaluable for me as a local business owner, but it also had huge ramifications later as an online business owner a couple of years later.
Started coaching + consulting
With the success of my businesses, I found myself becoming the go-to person among my friends for business, marketing, or social media advice.
Soon, I was helping friends of friends and people who found me through my website. I was doing as much business coaching and consulting as I was actually running my own businesses. And I loved it! The more I did it, the more I realized that I needed to "make it official."
It was also around this time that I partnered with my husband to help him take his dog training company to the next level. We started coaching other dog trainers through our shadow program, and our local business grew dramatically as well.
I still wanted to run the party companies, but wanted to shift more of my focus to helping other entrepreneurs. I made it my mission to automate as much I could with my other businesses so I could find the hours in the day to do what I really enjoyed.
By the end of 2015, I had purchased the domain name, theartofgritandgrace.com.
I chose a name representative of the essence of what I had learned in my first few years as an entrepreneur – the concept of opposites in tandem - hustle and flow, row and sail, grit and grace.
As 2015 came to an end, I put things into place so that I could officially launch the business in the new year.
It was also at this time that my mother and I began preparing to open our Etsy shop – a dream we'd had for a while.
Tragedy + Tenacity
Like nearly everyone does at the end of every year, Josh and I had decided that the following year would be the best yet. We had huge, exciting plans.
Those times of hardship that we first encountered in NYC were like a distant memory. Our businesses were blooming, nearly bursting at the seams, and we were so optimistic for all that the New Year would bring.
We would never have guessed how difficult, yet defining 2016 would be for us.
On the evening of January 7, 2016, my mother died suddenly of a brain aneurysm.
I had talked to her that morning; she'd been fine, aside from a headache that she couldn't shake. (But then again, she always had headaches so this wasn't unusual or alarming.)
I got the call from my father that evening that they were on their way to the hospital; she was gone a few minutes later.
The level of devastation we felt was indescribable. My mother was a truly important part of our lives. She was my best friend (and soon to be business partner). Every vision we had for our future included her in some capacity. Her sudden passing altered the trajectory of our lives forever.
While I had begun the year with plans of starting and growing The Art of Grit + Grace, I found myself paralyzed and unable to get started. (Fortunately, my other businesses were so automated that they were able to work for me, even though I couldn't work for them.)
The loss of my mother also meant new responsibilities for Josh and me. My mother had been the primary caregiver for my brother (who has autism), but suddenly, that responsibility fell to us. While my father is still alive, his work would often take him out of town, which meant that Derek was living with us most of the time.
Even in the midst of tragedy, Josh and I counted our blessings. We had created career paths for ourselves that allowed us flexibility and location independence. Taking care of Derek, while not something we had expected to do for a couple of decades, was made much easier because we were truly our own bosses.
In time, I began to emerge from the fog and entered the most productive season of my life (most assuredly, with a supernatural push from my mother). Wanting to be as present for my brother as much as possible but still help as many clients as possible, I prioritized creating streams of passive income.
I officially (and finally) launched The Art of Grit + Grace at the beginning of May 2016. Due to demand from my followers, my first product was a course all about search engine optimization (SEOinaWKND.com), something I had taught myself during my blogging days. It was an immediate – and encouraging – success.
I followed that up with a few mini-courses which were like appetizers for what I was really working towards: my Facebook course (FBEverything.com).
In the meantime, I launched and grew my group for entrepreneurs, The Lemonade Stand Society™, I started blogging again (this time about business and social media strategy), and I began doing weekly videos on Facebook (my Tough Love Tuesdays series). Drawing on my many years as a professional actor, I kept the focus of my videos both educational and entertaining.
This grew my following even more quickly, which meant an even greater demand for more products and courses.
The turning point came in July 2016 when I did my first ever launch of FB Everything.™
After years of using Facebook as my primary social media platform to grow my businesses to six figures, I created a program that gave me the opportunity to share those same strategies with other entrepreneurs.
Almost 3 months to the day that I started The Art of Grit + Grace, I had grown my following, doubled my group, and tripled my income.
While I love my other businesses and what they have given me (and continue to give me), The Art of Grit + Grace truly is my passion-meets-purpose project.
I've had a lot of adventures – as you can see from this long timeline of mine – but one of the greatest adventures of my life has been entrepreneurship.
And perhaps one of the best parts of my own entrepreneurial adventure has been the opportunity to empower other entrepreneurs – far beyond just a Facebook course.
In a business world where more and more coaches (with no previous business experience themselves) are teaching business strategy, I am proud to create products, courses, and trainings based on real life business experience.
I've created for others what I wish I'd had when I first got started.
And I can do so because I have actually been there – in the trenches. I don't have to speculate because I have done it. And because of my years of teaching, I can teach it. (And well!)
Though seemingly arbitrary at the time, I feel that all of the different experiences in my life have led me to this point. And I'm oh so glad to be here.
I don't know what brought you to this point. (And my hat's off to you for reading this whole darn thing.)
But I don't think it's an accident.
I've shared my story – at least, the exciting parts; Now I would love for you to share yours!
Let's start a conversation.
And I have created a totally free mastermind-meets-nest-o'-comfort where we can do exactly that. Whether you are just getting started out or have been doing this thing for a while, you'll be right at home in The Lemonade Stand Society.™
If you're looking for an encouraging, inspirational, and all-around magical group of entrepreneurs, look no further. You've found it.
And we can't wait to meet you.