Sometimes a difficult period in your life can lead to unexpected, positive outcomes and that’s certainly the case with today’s inspirational #GirlBoss, Donia Youssef who runs two fantastic businesses; publishing house Tiny Angels Press Ltd which publishes her The Monster Series books and leading child modelling agency Tiny Angels.
House of Coco: Great to meet you, Donia! Can you tell us about your journey to running two businesses; Tiny Angels & The Monster Series?
Donia: I started my company Tiny Angel Models Ltd back in March 2013 when my eldest daughter was 10 months old. I had been working for Lord Alan Sugar for some time and this experience inspired me to set up my own company and take control over my own destiny! When my daughter was 4 months old she had started baby modelling so I gained a lot of experience in how this industry works and I felt I had enough experience and contacts for me to take the plunge.
I started by setting up and creating a basic website and then, as things progressed, I was able to employ staff and invest in new websites, management systems etc. From little acorns mighty oak trees grow as we now we are one of the top leading child modelling agencies in London!
In April 2017, my life took a turn I could never have expected. Aged just 39 years old I was diagnosed with breast cancer. To say this threw a spanner in the works is an understatement! As a Mummy to my then five year old and two year old daughters; I found it really hard knowing what to say to my very young children – how to explain what was going on, what Mummy was going through, and why, when I lost my hair and looked so different, this was all happening… So, I decided I wanted to make them feel special.
And so The Monster in Mummy was born. I wanted to publish the book and get it out their as a resource for others in a similar position to me to enable parents to communicate a cancer diagnosis to very young children. Within 48 hours the book became an instant bestseller on Amazon! Just as the book started to take off, a film producer happened to hear my story and wanted to tell it! A feature film of The Monster in Mummy is currently in the pipeline – so watch this space!
HOC: That’s incredible, how you turned such a tricky life moment into an opportunity for yourself, your family – and for others!
Donia: Thank you, yes the success of the book was amazing and just emphasised what I knew – that there was definitely a gap in the market for these books. My family had needed this tool and I was then even more passionate about spreading the book’s word and getting it out their to give as many families as possible this tool.
Back in my early working life I had worked in the publishing sector for about fifteen years. At this point in my life I realised I could draw on my publishing background and develop the Monster series further to take it to as wide an audience as possible. So I decided to launch my own publishing company, Tiny Angels Press Ltd. We are a publishing company dedicated solely for cancer patients to give them a platform to tell and share their stories. Telling someone’s story is an incredibly empowering feeling and also one of feeling in control – both feelings that are few and far between when you are given a cancer diagnosis. At this point in time I was now fortunate enough to have been given the all clear, but that feeling of helpless lack of control is one you never forget and I wanted desperately to do something to help those who were still living that horrific part of the illness.
HOC: And how have you changed personally during this journey?
Donia: It’s crazy by my entire outlook on my life and career has changed since my diagnosis. Even though cancer may rob us of that blissful ignorance that once led us to believe that tomorrow stretched out forever, in exchange we are granted the vision to see each day as a precious gift to be used wisely and richly. And no one can take that away from us. With this in mind I dreamt big in every aspect of my life. Nothing was going to stop me. I wanted to help all those with a cancer diagnosis by giving them this platform.
People don’t always realise that when you are going through your cancer treatment you have many wonderful, caring professionals around you guiding you through every step of the process; they are absolute heroes. But while you pray for remission, once in remission you are left on your own and this can be very frightening place to be. Alone with your thoughts of all you have been through, all that has changed and with the constant thought of is the cancer going to come back?
HOC: In addition to your two businesses, you have a family. How do you balance it all?
Donia: I am not going to lie, it can be challenging. However, over time I have learnt to outsource work. This gives me the room to be able to take on different projects. I have an amazing team of people currently running the modelling agency which has enabled me to be able to concentrate on my publishing company. Being highly organised within the working environment is crucial. Outsourcing is also key to keeping everything ticking over and keeping standards high.
HOC: If you weren’t doing this, what could have career plan B looked like?
Donia: I have always been one for new ideas and creativity. I knew I always wanted to set up my own company in some capacity, but I’ve never planned these things. Timing tends to present the right people at the right time and I just follow my passion. Funnily, when I left school I studied as a dental technician, so I guess if I had stuck fast to my original plan I would be in a laboratory making false teeth today!
HOC: You are obviously a very strong and determined person, how do you keep your energy up; do you have any tips for our readers?
Donia: Yes, eliminate toxic people in your life, do what you LOVE and always try your hardest to eliminate any negativity from your life. Sleep to me is crucial so you can physically and mentally concentrate. Learn to have barriers and know when to switch off. Planning is super important and structuring your days and time efficiently to projects.
Lucozade and Mars bars are also a great energy boost and if that fails a strong gin & tonic usually does the trick!
HOC: What are your ambitions for your brands this year?
Donia: I currently have six books in production, so I am looking to expand this. I am in talks with various people who have had a cancer diagnosis and are keen to tell their story. I have just started a podcast, and I am also a regular columnist for the Sovereign Global magazine, which I am really enjoying as will be an opportunity for the Monster brand to reach an even bigger audience.
Regarding my children’s modelling and acting agency, the agency is going from strength to strength and we have recently devised a fun day’s scheme where children can come to develop their confidence skills. I am expanding the business further and have recently launched an adult division of the agency. We are currently working hard on expanding this division, so it really is an exciting time.
HOC: You are the personification of a ‘multi-hyphenate’; do you have any productivity hacks we can nab from you?
Donia: Yes! Why not try these tips:
- For those days when you just can’t seem to get focused: Instead of starting with the most time-consuming or disliked responsibilities, try knocking the top five easiest tasks off your To-Do List. You’ll feel like a sense of accomplishment and will be more motivated to take on more comprehensive work.
- Use a clock: Try working in a 90-minute cycle and setting your alarm for 75 minutes. Use the last 15 minutes to wrap things up; make notations etc. It also gives the chance to shuffle things around if you decide to continue working on your current project.
- Block your time on a calendar: Scheduling your tasks on a calendar – instead of in your head or on a piece of paper – can help keep you focused and on time. When it’s possible, leave yourself between 15 and 30 minutes between each project to return phone calls or emails or have a chat with a co-worker. This way you’re not slammed at the end of the day.
- Manage the distractions – Allow yourself to check your email and voice messages one last time before you being working than turn them off. Send your calls to voicemail and schedule an automatic email to send when someone’s emailed you. Make sure you include instructions for what to do if they have an emergency.
- Work when you’re the most effective – If you write a business report better in the morning, get to work a little earlier than normal. Work better after your co-workers leave for the day? Pick one-day a week to stay a little later.
HOC: Finally, the ’10 years ago’ challenge is all the rage on insta at the moment, what advice do you have for the 2019 you?
Donia: I’d definitely advise myself to spend more time with my family and invest more time into their education and well-being.