Self-Taught Interview Series: Destynnie Hall, Unschooler & Successful Entrepreneur
Years ago, I crossed paths with Destynnie on social media, through mutual acquaintances.
Though she was a teenager at that time, I've always felt very impressed by her - a voice of reason, someone who takes time out to appreciate nature, who is well-rounded, thoughtful, intelligent, rational, good-humored, and just a generally inspiring human being. Now, to add to all of those wonderful qualities, she's a successful entrepreneur whose SEO business has climbed quickly to huge success.
Destynnie is unique because she didn't graduate high school, in fact - she didn't even attend high school. Nor was she homeschooled. Colleges reached out to her, but she never attended.
Read on to learn more about how her unconventional upbringing imbibed her with a genuine love of learning as well as the confidence and motivation to accomplish her dreams.
What does your position at Ulku Logistics entail? How does a typical workday look for you?
In short, my position entails management and direction of all content creation and related efforts.
Our content is often front-loaded at the beginning of the month so my typical workday changes a bit as the month progresses.
After the obligatory morning email check which I'm sure we all do, I review content orders that have been completed by our writers, requesting revisions if necessary. I'll coordinate with our proofreading and editing team to have each piece of the new content reviewed more in-depth. This team will also create metadata titles, metadata descriptions, and place the internal links. Those pieces of content may take a day or so to come back to me, so I usually have content from a few days ago to pull and send to clients for review. I also answer any client questions I receive in the interim. If a client requests revisions, I coordinate with our editors to make those changes - once I receive the content back, I send those on to the client for secondary review.
I also organize and update an internal content tracking sheet throughout the month to keep a bird's eye view of what content has been ordered, edited, linked, as well as what's ready to post, what is awaiting client approval, and where each piece is posted.
Typically towards the end of the month, content production has stopped and all content has been sent out or is awaiting client approval. At this point, we conduct an internal meeting regarding what content to produce for each client based on budget, SEO needs, and brand needs for the upcoming month. Over the next week, I pull all this information together, create instructions for each piece of content individually, and submit the entire order to our team of writers. Some months this can be upwards of 80,000-words of content or more.
At the end of the month, I have a few days where I have very little work; mostly client questions coming in, or some months we get a new client signed right after our meeting so I have to send in an extra order. Beyond that, I get that chance to take a few days off (while on-call) and do something that I'm passionate about, or just take the time to rest and recover.
I feel that is the rewarding part of owning a business; being able to listen to your body and rest when your work is done, rather than working because you're supposed to be clocked in for x number of hours.
Ulku Logistics is a family-run business, right? So you were recruited into this position I'm assuming? Did you already have these skills (copywriting, SEO, etc.) in your toolbelt from previous work, or have you had to devote a lot of time to learning? What were you doing before working with Ulku? Take us back to the roots of where you are now if you will.
It's not a family-run business, instead, it's made up of three owners with different, complementary skill sets.
Starting from the beginning, before I dove into the world of working online, I worked as a traditional media artist. Oil paintings, acrylics, spray paint, sculpting - name a material and I've probably made something with it. It was enough to support myself, but my passion for it was burning out. At this time, I traveled on the Renaissance Faire circuit with my fiance, Elliot. I dropped art for a while and worked on the circuit as a salesperson for some other vendors, but both of us were growing a bit restless for something new.
We quit the circuit and decided to start our own web design company. We quickly decided web design wasn't what we really wanted to pursue. It felt very similar to running commissions in my art business; every client wanted it to be perfect, and we would spend more time realigning a single image on a page rather than affecting change in something. We joined several training programs and our company became a whitelabel SEO service because we found many people in these programs needed help scaling their business. We learned an extraordinary amount on the subject through connections, trial and error, and plain-and-simple research.
During the switch from a web design company to a whitelabel SEO service, we didn't have any clients, so it was "nose to the grindstone" time in regards to learning. I began freelance writing to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads while I was working on the business with Elliot. That was when I discovered writing was something I was good at, which came easily and actually provided income (that was the surprising part!)
I began learning everything I could about writing, SEO-optimized content, and so on. This was an area I could specialize in, so I began directing our company's writing team and managing the content orders and specifications once we had clients coming in.
Half a year later, we onboarded our largest client yet.
He and Elliot worked together very well to craft pitches and SEO strategies, which also meant he wasn't so much of a client as he was a strategic partner. Unfortunately, since we were separate companies, a lot of money was lost every month in administration and processing fees. We decided it would be better (and easier) to merge the two companies together, dissolving our whitelabel service and joining as partners at Ulku Logistics. Here, I have both expanded and refined my role, but remain the Director of Content.
I understand you have no formal institutional education, in fact, you were unschooled. Can you tell us more about what unschooling looked like for you and the impacts it's had on your development and ability to self-educate?
I was indeed unschooled. Unschooling took on a different form every day, so it's hard to describe it in one form. It has certainly helped me grow and learn, not just as a kid but also as an adult. The biggest impact I feel it had was to help me be more self-reliant or resourceful. Most of my life, I learned without textbooks, so I learned to look for the answers outside that box.
As a teenager, I decided to begin running event-based businesses, so it put both commerce and social knowledge to the test quite frequently. I believe unschooling was probably one of the best things for me both emotionally and mentally because it not only gave me the opportunity to do those things as a kid, but I was given the freedom of choice in every aspect of my life.
Now, as an adult, I understand what I want to pursue, rather than having spent years pursuing a college course I picked because I was running out of time until the semester began. I actually received a mail invitation to a college when I was 16 after having filled out a random IQ test somewhere online. I researched the college a bit, and surprisingly, it was the real deal. After a few weeks of deliberating on it, I chose not to go because I didn't feel confident in what I wanted to do...and I'm glad I didn't.
This sort of ties into self-reliance, but I also feel that unschooling has provided me with the tools I need to use the resources around me to build what I need to. Between owning businesses as a teenager and owning the business I do now, I have never truly had a "normal" job, and I don't really want to. The closest I've come to a 9-5 schedule is selling on the Renaissance Faire circuit where I traveled for a while, which meant I had work every Saturday and Sunday (occasionally Friday) from 8am to 6-7pm, depending on the Faire. The rest of the week, I was able to pursue whatever goals I had. Some weeks, that was playing dungeons and dragons with my friends for five nights in a row, other weeks it was working on building my own projects or practicing new skills.
Overall, unschooling has been empowering and it has given me the tools I need to be self-reliant and resourceful. I grew up with - and still have - a mindset of "anything is possible so long as the work is put in."
Even though I'm no longer traveling on the circuit, I do still travel frequently because it's something I enjoy, and I know it's possible. I see so many people who don't think they can get out and do that, and I feel that, because of unschooling and owning my own business and such, I never put up those barriers to begin with, so that is another thing I'm grateful for.
I really love everything you just articulated. I've mentioned unschooling to so many adults in casual conversation and the sentiment is almost always overwhelmingly negative. You're a great example of how positive of an impact unschooling can make in regards to creativity, self-motivation, confidence, and self-education.
Moving on - what would you consider the three biggest successes in your life thus far?
I have found a lot of people tend to dislike concepts that are foreign to what they know and are comfortable with. Regardless of how open their mindset may be, there is sometimes that apprehension, even if for a moment. Unschooling challenges the structure that a lot of people grew up with or depended on, and concepts that make up their world.
What I would consider the three biggest successes in my life... Oh, boy, isn't that a tough question. The answer is bound to change, but thus far...
- Began traveling and fostering the ability to uproot quickly and easily.
It's easy to get stuck in one place. It's even harder to leave your hometown for many people because you're leaving behind everything you know; your whole world. Even if it's a place you consider home for a while, it can be tough. Humans are social creatures, it's a natural inclination we have to love and become attached to those around us, but it's hard allowing yourself to get attached, and then leave knowing you might not see them for years.
There's a phrase on the Renaissance Faire circuit, at the end of a festival. Everyone's packing up to go elsewhere, but no one says goodbye, instead, they say "see you down the road."
I like that. I think it's a good mindset to have, and it helps you become attached to people, and rather than feeling sad for leaving them or parting ways, you are looking forward to seeing them in the future.
- Running my own businesses
I've toyed with a lot of different ideas, and I think running my own business is one of the best accomplishments I've done because I've always managed to always at least break even or float. It helps you learn where your resources are, and your perspective on the world changes a lot when you can see the inner workings of different industries. I'm not just talking about successful ventures, though; every failure leads you down another path of learning that teaches you more and more, as well. Plus, it takes a lot of dedication and self-determination, which is a skill that can be fostered, just like everything else.
I'm not sure about a third one, to be honest. I am working on, and have worked on so many projects that there is always "the next greatest accomplishment" on the horizon. Nothing comes to mind. Perhaps, if I had to choose one, it would be reaching out and getting my first painting to a gallery showing in a palace in Venice, IT? All it took was reaching out to the curator; he liked the work and asked me to ship it for the showing. I see a lot of people get stuck on "how things work", trying to create strict boundaries and rules for the world around them, but no matter what clothes a person puts on, they are indeed still a person.
Do you have any advice or learning tools to recommend to others who are interested in self-educating to make a living online?
As far as advice, I'd say:
- Find a niche. Going too wide spreads your resources too far, especially as a startup.
- It's going to take a lot of work. Remember to take care of yourself during "the hustle." This could be as simple as getting up an hour earlier and having a morning walk, coffee, and journaling session before you even think about opening your email inbox. If you push yourself too hard, you'll crash hard, too, and wind up losing progress. It's a tortoise and the hare situation.
- Remember your goals. What is the goal you have for starting this adventure? Lots of land? Autonomy? Lifestyle? Even if you have to write it on your whiteboard or journal each morning. Oh, yeah - get a whiteboard.
- Take risks, but calculate them.
- There is a difference between creating a company and creating a job. There are things that are *not worth your time.* You can hire virtual help or one-off freelancers; just remember, you get what you pay for, too.
As far as learning tools, honestly I would say other people. Even if you're the most introverted, shy person around, connecting with other people is invaluable. Even if you "know more" on a subject than they do, every person has something they can teach you. This means being active in online forums, facebook groups, connecting on LinkedIn, going to related meetups in your town, joining your city council meetings, etc.
For example, when we first started getting into web design, we joined a web design meetup in our town. It wound up mostly being people talking about code rather than design, but we learned a lot even if we didn't think so at the time. When we started SEO, we joined every facebook group we could and - as funny as it sounds - started giving advice on web design when people would ask.
Once people see you have an expertise, and they're seeing you everywhere in this group, you'll come to mind when they need help and then it's up to you two to figure out a trade or deal. We've bartered for education plenty of times.
Also, get your hands on any training related to your field. Some of the best training courses we've had, we've paid several grand for and went through a few videos before never watching another; but, those couple of videos pushed us in a direction that was better for growth and profitability, or opened our eyes to a new process and way of handling things which made every penny worth it.
If you were someone just reading this and wanting to figure out how to earn a full-time income from home, where and how would you begin to hone in on which route to take?
I would try to write a list of what I'm good at. For example's sake I'll start with the "subjects" I was passionate about in childhood (or school). For me, it was Spelling, English, Art, and Science.
Once you've written these down, it can be useful to brainstorm any skill you've practiced or have been at least introduced to, no matter how small or irrelevant it may seem. You never know what will pop up! Remember to take breaks when brainstorming; your brain will digest the information while you're not actively thinking about it, and you may come up with something exciting when you go back to it.
You've got your list. Now, going through it, what are you passionate about? At least, what would you be genuinely interested in learning more about if learning was your sole job?
Do some research online, and think about what from your list can be done from home. Next, find the tools you might need for this job. Identify your target market. If it's design work, where can you showcase your designs and connect with your target market? If it's writing, where can you get your name out for hire? For example, when I was writing, I joined freelancer platforms like Upwork, writing platforms, and I joined groups for SEOs and web developers. I didn't even bother with groups that were solely advertising writers, because most of the people in that group would be writers trying to get work. If someone did join looking for writing, they would be swallowed up immediately in a sea of hungry freelancers. So, think outside the box a little, be creative with it.
Another tip would be not to rely on chance or hope. The only thing that's going to make you stand out is hard, efficient work. Using Upwork as an example, when I first started the platform, I didn't really have any examples for my portfolio. If you don't have work, your full-time job is to find work. I did just that, and as soon as I started getting work into my portfolio, it became easier and easier to get jobs, and soon I was raising my rate every month or two.
For me, I did the research online and considered what I could do online. I found the tools and wound up going into writing to help support us while our web development company was starting up. Over a few months I had practiced, gotten better, sped up, and grown more confident in the skill. I made enough money to pay rent, bills, gas, keep food on the table, and go out for date night every once in a while. It was pretty cozy, though not lucrative by any means.
Which brings me to the next point: Don't be afraid to try new things, or pivot your attention.
I went from writing to (simultaneously) managing our web design company's content writers. I couldn't write the volume of content we needed on top of making sure we had rent paid, so we hired a freelancer. It was my job to organize what she needed, create content planners with all details, and promptly answer any questions she had. Of course, I had other responsibilities, because if you're creating a company, you're not filling just one role for the start-up phase. We did add on to our content team though, and at one point we had around twelve people I was coordinating content between. Once our company was in a profitable position, I was able to start taking disbursements from the company and slowly stop my freelance content. The company "bought my time" so-to-speak, so I shifted from content writer to content director.
Do you have any links to your social media or personal projects you'd like to share with readers?
Not at the moment, no. I'm sure there will be in the future, though. :)
I'm Tiffany -
a Squarespace Web Designer & SEO Specialist.
(Also - a perpetually curious, rambunctious introvert who lives in the wilderness!).
Here on the blog, I write about: Squarespace tips, creative inspiration, art & design, and being self-employed.
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