In this episode of “Authentic Conversations with Entrepreneurs” I spoke with Donna Cravotta, Storyteller & Visibility Strategist and Owner of Cravotta Media Group. Donna shared her story of being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib) and how it led her to ‘blow up’ her successful business to focus on what she really loved “At the Heart” of all her talents and skills.
Katherine Morales: Hi everyone. Welcome. This is Authentic Conversations with Entrepreneurs, and I am here with Donna Cravotta. This is episode 14, and Donna is a storyteller and visibility strategist. I met Donna here, right on LinkedIn. Amazing. And we’ve connected right away, which I said, “You got to be on my show, Donna.” So Donna is also the owner of Cravotta Media Group, and in case this is your first time tuning in, Authentic Conversations with Entrepreneurs is all about that keyword word authenticity. I describe authenticity as the Good & Growing™ that lives within all of us. Most of the time, all you hear is all about the good, right? But we know that each one of us is not perfect. There’s always something growing. So in the show we talk about the true stories of entrepreneurship, the bumps in the road, the hiccups, if you will. And I’m so thrilled to share Donna’s story today or have really Donna share her story. So Donna, welcome. We’re here again, episode 14, to talk about “At The Heart.” So please say hello and tell us what this message At The Heart means to you.
Donna Cravotta: It’s really good to be here. Thank you for inviting me to speak to your community. And At The Heart is, I’ve always been very passionate about what I do and my work comes from my heart and the way I do everything comes from my heart. I’m half Italian and half Jewish from Brooklyn, so we have that going. That’s part of it too. But I had started my business in 2006, and prior to that I worked in law firms for 27 years. And if you have any experience of working in law firms, it’s been really fun.
Katherine Morales: I’ve got big hair, right? What is the word for it?
Donna Cravotta: Yeah, it’s not a new love language.
Katherine Morales: Oh my Lord.
Donna Cravotta: So I’m a single parent and my son was four years old and getting ready to go to school and I realized I’m not going to know this child. I need to do something else. And because I never really worked anyplace else, I didn’t really know what to do. So I just found this woman who was a virtual assistant, didn’t meet her, had no idea who she was, but I just had this mantra in my head, if she could do it, I could do it. And I started a virtual assistants business when nobody else had one. And one thing, I mean, I did everything. I organized a Chinese-themed bat mitzvah, I put footers on documents, I organized closets, I organized tax documents, whatever I had to do to-
Katherine Morales: The broad title virtual assistant.
Donna Cravotta: Not to get on the train and go back to the city. But then I found social media and I started working with authors and speakers, and one thing led to another, and I slowly grew an agency. And that agency I brought in my law firm fund is not in our love language mentality. And it really overtook my life. And when my son was getting ready to go to college, I was really starting to feel the hours that I was working, the responsibility that I was carrying and having to have a big team and hire people with expensive experience. And it was really weighing on me. And then I had a health issue, and the health issue was around my heart, and I found myself planning out how do I get to the doctor? And I didn’t realize it was my heart at this point. I just had a cough that wouldn’t go away.
So I was like, okay-
Katherine Morales: One day you realized that… Oh, the cough was intense?
Donna Cravotta: The cough is what brought me to the doctor. So I was like, “Okay, I’ve got a 10 o’clock call. If I get to urgent care at 8, I can get to the pharmacy by 8:30, I could be medicated and back at my desk by 10.” So I get to urgent care and in 15 minutes I’m in an ambulance on the way to the hospital because my heart rate was at 165 or something like that. Oh my God. And I was diagnosed with AFib, which is atrial fibrillation, and it’s an irregular heartbeat and it’s really bad. So I was dealing with that and work. I mean, I actually couldn’t even work for several months because I was in the middle of having procedures with all kinds… There’s a big long story in that in itself, which I won’t get into, but I’m okay now.
But it was a process and it was a lot more than what they said it was. I mean, when I started to make appointments for procedures, the advice of the doctor was, “Well, make an appointment for Thursday or Friday, Netflix for the weekend, and you’ll be fine on Monday.” And it was not the way it went. So I realized to that my son was going off to college. I was not going to be a hands-on day-to-day mom. My business was sucking the life out of me, and I didn’t want to do that anymore. And I just had that day where I was like, I can’t do this for one more day. I had just finished with two clients, wrapping them up, and then I had three ready to come on board. And it was a good amount of money and a good amount of work and people I actually wanted to work with.
And I was just like, yeah, I can’t do this because if I do this, I won’t change my business and I’ll just stay in the same cycle over and over again and I’ll end up with a health issue again. And I didn’t want that to happen. So I kind of blew up my business and I-
Katherine Morales: On purpose.
Donna Cravotta: On purpose, and I reconstructed it based on the work that I really liked to do, something that I thought was relevant and what people would need and something that would be manageable for me to change my lifestyle and not work so many hours, maybe enjoy myself, have some fun, travel, do some things, and it’s been… This was about nine months ago and it’s been an adventure. Some days they’re amazing. Some days I’m like, “What the hell did I do?” But that’s what this whole journey is anyway, right?
Katherine Morales: Yes, of course.
Donna Cravotta: So basically, I boiled it down from doing all of these things in an agency to really just creating these little video reels for speakers and authors and people that are putting their thoughts out into the world. And I call them mixtapes because people my age have nostalgia around it. And people your age are jealous because nobody made you a mixtape.
Katherine Morales: Yes, I have that. Can I take you back for a minute? Because I feel, I mean, I know, I personally relate to this, and I think for entrepreneurs mean. So that day that you have the cough and you’re like, “I have the 10 o’clock and I can go to the doctor at this time.” And you’re planning it out, trying to make room for yourself and your own health, was that a typical thing throughout the years in your business or was that just so-
Donna Cravotta: Oh yeah.
Katherine Morales: Evident that day.
Donna Cravotta: I was so far at the end of the line of things needed to be done. I grew up taking care of my family. My mom was a single mom too, and I’ve got three siblings and I was the one that took care of everybody. So I even spoke to my… My brother’s a photographer, and I spoke to him a couple weeks ago and I said, “Until I did this thing with my business, I never realized I was a creative person.” And his response was, “Well, you did laundry so creatively.” I was like, “Well, there you go.”
Katherine Morales: That’s your claim to fame.
Donna Cravotta: Proof positive!
Katherine Morales: Oh my God, I love that.
Donna Cravotta: So this was the first time in my life that I didn’t have to take care of somebody on a daily basis. And I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. And I think everything happens for a reason. And being diagnosed with AFib was probably one of the worst days of my life. But it was also a gift because it was a big wake-up call of, are you going to do this again and just wrap it up in a different package? Or are you going to stop this nonsense and learn to take care of yourself? And I chose the latter, and I realized that the blowing up of my business was a form of self-care, a form of boundary building. And now I’m kind of bringing it back. I boiled it down to one thing, but I’m bringing it back one brick at a time. I’m building a foundation of for business that is good for me, that it celebrates what I’m good at it.
It’s like the container that holds the things that I like to do, the things that can benefit other people and that will be manageable for me. And I can travel. I could do this from anywhere in the world. Yeah, I could take time off. I don’t need to have a big expensive team. So my overhead is really low cost, and what I’m doing is really not that contingent upon all of the technology changes. And when you have an agency and you’re doing all of these different things, when something like AI comes in, you need to restructure your entire business. I don’t need to do that. I don’t need to do that.
Katherine Morales: I love it.
Donna Cravotta: I’ve done this before.
Katherine Morales: Let me… Oh, sorry. I know the entrepreneurs listening are like, “Wait a minute, wait, blow it up. How could I possibly?” So a huge part of it was actual pressure from or release, if you will, from the health condition, right? You needed to blow it up somewhat. But can you talk about the emotional journey of the oh shit moments where you were like, “What did I just do?” Or even your client’s response. I imagine there was a lot to navigate there.
Donna Cravotta: The clients were really happy for me, really happy.
Katherine Morales: But were you breaking up with them and saying, or were you just-
Donna Cravotta: Yeah, there were three people that they were ready to pay me every two clients. I had two big clients that I had been working with over an almost two-year period. I just had these two clients and I had just finished with them. And then I had three waiting in the wings. And one of them was somebody that I worked with five years prior, and she was just waiting to be able to be ready to come back and work with me. And we had had a conversation like three months before and then a month before, and she was like, “I’m ready.” And what she’s doing is amazing. I really wanted to be part of it, but I just couldn’t because I realized if I kept doing what I was doing, I was never going to break that cycle.
And it was just always going to be there. And then when I came up with this idea of just doing these videos, I was easy on paper. I could do that in two weeks, I don’t have a waitlist, but it wasn’t like that because I didn’t give myself the space for me to transition the day that I had to sit down and take 14 pages down from my website. That was a major imposter syndrome moment. “Can I really just make pretty things in Canva? I know how to do all these things. What is wrong with me?” But there was that dichotomy of, “Yeah, you can do all these things, but do you want to?” And I had the author, Gregory McEwan, I had heard him speak on stage probably 10 years ago. And he said this thing that I have carried with me all these years, but I never put it into application in my life and my business. “I could do anything, but I won’t do everything.” And that is-
Katherine Morales: Say it again. People need to hear it.
Donna Cravotta: “I can do anything, but I won’t do everything.” And that was kind of the mantra that I used to redesign my business. And I didn’t have a waitlist in two weeks. This was hard. Even though the work that I was offering was really basic and easy, I had to change with that. I had to let go of all of this effort and work and learning and experience that I put into growing this business. And in the long run, it was a really good thing because what I didn’t realize in all the years that I was doing is that I am a storyteller. This is what I do. This is what I love to do. And when I spoke to my brother about this, he said, “Of course you’re creative. Of course, this is what you do. When you were a little kid, I would sit by your bed and wait for you to wake up so I could write down your dreams because they were better than any book that I ever read.”
Katherine Morales: Oh my God, that’s better than a laundry comment.
Donna Cravotta: I put all of this stuff aside because I was building websites and funnels and coming up with these crazy strategies and how to apply all these different things. And in the long run, let me see if I… I do have it in front of me. One of the last clients I had, and this was just a little client I took on as a favor before I transitioned into my business. She was a fiction author and I got her into Oscar Gift Bags, but when she wrote her book, she didn’t have anything in her book to connect her to a… She didn’t even have a website. So I was like, well, you have to put something in there. And I was like, “Well, we’ll build you a website and we’ll have an opt-in and all of these things.”
But there was nothing to connect the book to the internet. So I said, you need a bookmark, so at least we’ll put the bookmarks in. So I gave her all of the strategy, built her a website, built her the funnels, the idea, the Oscar Bags, all of that. This is what she got excited about, when I created this bookmark for her in 10 minutes. And she sent me a picture of her holding the bookmark, skipping down the street. And the vision that I held in my head was, I want clients that skip.
Katherine Morales: Oh yes.
Donna Cravotta: Skipping in happiness. And this is what made her happy. This little bookmark, these little dragonflies on the back. And this changed things for her because she now had this confidence. She had a little website, she had a little logo with Dragonfly, it meant something to her. And she had somewhere where you can build a list and you can opt in. And she didn’t have any of that stuff. She’s a lawyer. She works for Howard University. This was outside of her realm. And she was just so happy. And then I realized I want people to work with me and their heart sings. And they’re not that they’re overwhelmed by, “Oh God, now I have to do all of these things.” Because I just made their business more complex. When I just help them tell their story in a different way than maybe they have in the past or remember something that they did five years ago. But it’s really relevant to where they’re going. It changes everything for them. And then that fills their heart. So, again, the a-fib diagnosis was a gift from the heart and-
Katherine Morales: Helped you to tune into your heart and what you love most in your business.
Donna Cravotta: Totally. And creativity. And then this is one of the other things that happened. I’m certified in Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead methodology. So I’ve done a lot… I’m sorry?
Katherine Morales: I said I’m a huge fan.
Donna Cravotta: Huge fan. Me too. But I’ve done a lot of work around values and knowing my own values and working with clients is they’re doing their values and taking them through exercise. And my values have always been the same. It’s about service. It’s about doing. It’s about getting things done, being reliable. So I did a values exercise after I changed my business and my values changed. So my values are now creativity, fun and genuine.
Katherine Morales: I love that.
Donna Cravotta: That’s totally different than what they-
Katherine Morales: I’m going to tell you, Donna, I’ve felt that in you too. Every one of those words-
Donna Cravotta: Really?
Katherine Morales: Yeah. Hell yeah.
Donna Cravotta: And what I realized is that it took me to fun, creativity, that all made sense. But it took me a few days to realize what the genuine meant and the genuine meant that I had to be genuine with myself. And as I rebuilt my business, what felt genuine to me and what was going to serve me. Because if it’s serving me and it’s feeding me and it’s maintaining my health and my wellbeing, I could do more for other people and I could extend that out through my heart and not heart centered because I really don’t like heart-centered.
This is really what I’ve been saying because part of what I’ve been doing too is trying to connect and create this community of people. So initially it was a boundary for me to have people that I… A referral network to do all those things that I should not be saying yes to. But it turned out to be just meeting incredible people. And what I started to say is I want to connect with people that are working from their heart and not their liver. Because the liver is what processes all that stuff in your body, you no longer need, right?
Katherine Morales: Right.
Donna Cravotta: But when you’re working from the heart, it’s like there’s a glow to it, and it’s like you’re all coming from the same place. And it’s the things that don’t change. It’s the things that matter. And that’s what the story is because the story is really the heart of your business. And when people really connect with that, they forget all of these things that they’ve done in the past that got them to the point of where they are because they’re so busy looking forward and what’s next. But you have to stop and you have to look back and say, “How did I get here?” Because that’s the story that people connect with. That’s the story that builds trust and authority and credibility and people just forget about it. It’s buried in a Google Drive somewhere.
Katherine Morales: Right? I mean, I love genuine and it’s part of my mission and business. I just think business, that’s the way it should go to build genuine business. I think that you’re a hundred percent right. The story is At The Heart. I mean, I know you have some tools on your website, so I want to be sure to share that first. But tell us a little bit while I put this up. I know, so some of our viewers maybe have had health hiccups or moments, but they keep going along. Same model, or maybe they’re ignoring just the self-care that they need to have in their business. What advice would you give to them? What steps have you taken to make sure that this is a part of your daily care for yourself?
Donna Cravotta: Listen to your body. Your body will tell you everything. And I was not listening. Now I look back and there was a day we were on a college tour, and I really almost had a heart attack that day. And I mean, what would’ve that meant to my son that I had a heart attack on a college tour? I mean, that’s something that would stay with him forever. So really listen to your body. I mean, your body will tell you. And if you’re tired, take a break, thirsty, have something to drink. If you need to take a day off, take a day off and really be honest with yourself. Are you setting your own deadlines or is that an actual deadline? Because that was a big lesson that I learned. I was creating all of these fantasy deadlines that nobody knew about.
Katherine Morales: I think it’s like when you’re in an agency, it’s ingrained in you. You’re… That’s what I say. I started my business in a month in, I was like, “Oh my God, why am I so stressed out?” And I realized, “Oh, I brought myself with me.” I had been in an agency and billed the most hours in the entire firm. And then I realized, and I think I said this to you, you have to stop and say, “What kind of boss do I want to be to myself?”
Donna Cravotta: Exactly.
Katherine Morales: A lot of entrepreneurs do not do that. And it’s your lunch break. Take a walk midday. It makes all the difference.
Donna Cravotta: And nobody really cares. You’re the only one that cares, right? You’re hard on yourself for no reason. I mean, what I brought into my business, I mean, worked in a law firm for 27 years. They measure everything in six-minute increments.
Katherine Morales: Oh my God. At least the quarter-hour people, at least the quarter-hour,
Donna Cravotta: Six-minute increments. And I was a project manager and I was implementing all of the financial applications, which meant timekeeping. So a big part of my time was spent on making sure that everybody measured their time. So it was really ingrained in me, and yeah, I will not track my time. I had a lifetime of that.
Katherine Morales: That was the one thing I was like, “Yeah don’t have to do that anymore.”
Donna Cravotta: It takes as long as it takes. Sometimes you’re in the red and sometimes you’re in the black. And that’s just the way I operate. And throughout, as I’m looking back at the health issue that I had, little by little, I was losing agency of my own body. I felt like my body betrayed me. And it’s just taken a long time to bring it back together, feel like we are one. Me and my body are one. I’m not outside of it. And one of the things that recently happened is that I was invited to a training to become a patient advocate for AFib. And I just finished the training this week and nothing’s really happened yet. I’m not exactly sure what it all means, but what it means for me personally is it was me taking a stand. I’m not a passive person. When something needs to be done and I’m going to do it. I’m the first one with the torch, and it feels like I’ve taken control back over my body. And I’ve said, “Enough of this, this is what we’re going to do. I’m driving now.”
Katherine Morales: Right.
Donna Cravotta: And that in itself is a gift, but it’s different because if I’m tired when we’re done, I’m going to go take a nap. I’m not going to burrow through the next thing. And I really do. It’s like I interview everything. This is how I… Because I did PR for years, so everything is-
Katherine Morales: We share that.
Donna Cravotta: So I’ve always interviewed my work and projects, and that’s how I approach everything. And now I interview myself. I’m like, “Donna, what do you need?” And I answer, and then I do.
Katherine Morales: Yeah. Yeah. But you’re checking in.
Donna Cravotta: And again, nobody cares. I was so worried. If I’m not at my desk from three to four, it’s like emergency, but nobody cares.
Katherine Morales: I think entrepreneurs have a tendency to do that where we, I love the deadline point. I had an aha with that this past year where I was like self-imposed deadlines. 90% of the time I was stressing myself out. Like, “No, I’m not going to do that anymore.” But tuning into your body is, I think the first step. It really is. So with your… Pause for a second, and let’s celebrate that because I think that’s coming from a genuine place, getting certified as a volunteer. And so if there’s one thing that you learned from that certification, what is an early sign? Someone who might have this going on and has no idea, what should they be looking out for?
Donna Cravotta: A feeling of racing in your heart. When you lay down, it feels like your heart is pushing up through your chest.
Katherine Morales: So you were feeling that for years without really tuning into it.
Donna Cravotta: And the thing is, and this is one of the things that I hope I have the opportunity to make a difference with women, particularly when you get to middle age, they tell you it’s hormones, they tell you it’s menopause. They tell you, take antidepressants, but it’s none of that. It’s a heart disease that often goes undiagnosed in women, and then they have strokes. And it’s really, it’s not good.
Katherine Morales: I believe it. Yeah. There’s always some hormonal thing they point it to.
Donna Cravotta: And aside from that, just within ourselves, we’re always doing too much. So stop, just stop. Be realistic.
Katherine Morales: Stop saying yes to everything.
Donna Cravotta: I would say that the most important thing I learned is we care more than other people care about a lot of things that don’t really matter. So focus on the stuff that matters. Focus on the things that’s really going to make an impact in somebody’s life. If the laundry isn’t done or if this project goes a day later, in the greater scheme of things, nobody really cares.
Katherine Morales: Well, so I think, yeah, it’s hard to hear, but it’s so true. I think you’re saying listen to your heart, listen to what matters to you, and the rest will align from there. You’ll attract the right people. I mean, you’ll feel happy at the end of the day.
Donna Cravotta: If you had a client that went, just went bananas because you were going to be a day late on a project, do you really want to work with that client?
Katherine Morales: Can I get an Amen on that? No, no, no. There are other people for those clients.
Donna Cravotta: There’s always another client. And one thing that I have been teaching clients for years, and I never really embraced myself, was like, “What do you really need? Okay, so say, this is how much money you want to make per year, and this is what your projects cost. So what do you need? 10 clients? So why are you this big monstrosity of a marketing machine? You don’t need all of that. So market for what you actually need. Have your effort align with your goals.” But we get caught up in this. “I could do it. I could do it. I could do it.”
Katherine Morales: Yeah. The go race, race, race.
This is what success looks like.
Donna Cravotta: When you stop and just look at it objectively. It’s like, “Wow, I’m the only person that even cares.”
Katherine Morales: I love it. So I-
Donna Cravotta: Just that it doesn’t matter.
Katherine Morales: Right? But the person that it matters to most should be you. And when it matters to you, you got your whole heart and your business. And there’s no faking that, I say, that genuineness – You feel it.
Donna Cravotta: What I’ve learned is that when you stop doing all of that, the stuff that really matters just explodes-
Katherine Morales: In a beautiful way, right?
Donna Cravotta: In the best possible way. And when I deliver these little videos to clients, every single one of them has cried because they saw their story given back to them in a way that they-
Katherine Morales: You remind them who they are.
Donna Cravotta: And it’s easy. It’s like, “Oh, here’s a video and all the different formats you might ever need it in.”
Katherine Morales: Well, I feel like… So you’ve described what you’re doing now as little and easy, but I also want to say that sometimes the things that are that, are the things that we don’t have time for. You’re saying it sits in our phone or on our computer, and maybe you prioritize it, but likely not because you’re busy doing all the other things that you do best, so.
Donna Cravotta: Also, it’s something that is… It’s like writing your about page on your website. It’s one of the hardest things to do, but somebody else can do it for you, right?
Katherine Morales: Right, right.
Donna Cravotta: So this is a little video of the about page on your website.
Katherine Morales: And I love the mixtape example, because it’s my day. It was burning a cd, but whichever version, I think it’s like it is something small, but it holds so much meaning.
Donna Cravotta: Absolutely.
Katherine Morales: So it’s a great example.
Donna Cravotta: And then – Oh, I create everything. I’m sorry. So I’ve had clients take this and recreate it into different things. It’s really empowering it. I’d love to see how empowering it is.
Katherine Morales: That’s beautiful. So here’s your site, but I know our viewers want to see where they can find you on social. You’re on a lot of the main channels. So here on LinkedIn though, definitely they should know where to find you on your profile page. But on your Facebook page, has that pivoted since the change in the business to focus on the stories and the mixtapes you’re making?
Donna Cravotta: Yeah, I’ve been spending most of my time on LinkedIn, but yeah.
Katherine Morales: Okay, well it’s good we’re here then.
Donna Cravotta: The website has examples. And there’s also on my website, there’s a free offer up there, it’s a Gather Your Story Guide with a checklist of all the places where you can go look those nooks and crannies that you’ve got your past-
Katherine Morales: I already got mine.
Donna Cravotta: And I’m actually about to enhance it a bit and add on a whole email sequence at the end to really take you through the process of gathering all of your parts.
Katherine Morales: Yeah. Well keep me updated when that happens, and I’ll go back and download it again for sure. But here is a link and you can find it on Donna’s site, CravottaMediaGroup.com. We’re about out of time, so I just want to say this was wonderful as I knew it would be, Donna, you’re just truly a genuine gem. And I’m so glad we found each other here on LinkedIn. I think we were saying before this started, that’s something that’s really special about LinkedIn. I’ve made other great friends through this channel, and I don’t think that happens on the other channels personally, even though we think we’re… Yeah, I think there’s real connections that can happen here. So that’s why I choose to host my show on LinkedIn, and I’m so thrilled that we connected. So thank you for sharing your authentic story and yourself with our audience.
The courage at Tip to… I don’t think it took you as much courage to be here because you’re living in your authentic self and genuinely showing up, but I think what I’m in awe of is the courage it took to blow it up. I think that’s to tell that story and to model that courage is truly special.
Donna Cravotta: Something has to change.
Katherine Morales: And if you’re watching this and you’re in that, something has to change. I’m sure Donna would be happy to have a conversation with you about it.
Donna Cravotta: Reach out.
Katherine Morales: But… Reach out. Yeah. And we’ll meet you back here next month, March 16th for our next conversation with Julie Kessler on “Celebrate Your Stories.” So you’ll probably be interested in that one as well. Since you’re a storyteller, well thank you all so much and we’ll see you next time. Thank you so much, Donna.
Donna Cravotta: Bye.
Katherine Morales: Bye.