Wisconsin Volleyball star Danielle Hart is a creative at heart. After starting a business last October to sell her artwork, she was finally able to share it with fans on July 1.
On a 17-hour drive from her hometown of Virginia Beach, Va. to her college home of Madison, Wis., Danielle Hart started brainstorming business concepts. Hart grew up around family and friends who are entrepreneurs and has never envisioned herself working a 9-to-5 desk job. Her passion for art, digital media, and web design made perfect sense.
“I have fun with the art itself, but I also am super into web development, web design, graphic design, marketing, social media, digital media,” she said. “All of these pieces come together and they’re all things that I enjoy. I’m excited by the possibilities, the doors that open, and the excitement I get back from clients and customers. That continues to fuel it. For me, it’s like it’s work, but also it doesn’t really feel like work.”
That passion also makes it easy for her to spend time building her art business.
“As far as time management, for me, I’d rather be doing those things that are more fulfilling than sitting around and watching TV and things like that. When I come home at the end of the day after a practice, those are the things I’m working on.”
Hart has loved art since she was young, attending classes, camps, and developing her style. She’s grown as an artist to the point where now, with NIL, each release on her website has been selling out.
“It blows my mind every single time that I throw things in the store, and they’re sold out within a week and a half if I post it publicly.” Hart said. “The little eight-year-old girl inside me that always loved art and signed up for all the art camps in the summer never thought this would be a thing. It’s just been stuff I’ve done on the side as a hobby, so to turn that passion into something that other people are really excited about, care about, and are inspired by is special.”
The amount of fan support Hart has received has been incredible. Badger fans across the country have been supporting her work and requesting commissioned pieces. The focus of most of her work is the ocean and water.
“Initially, a lot of fans were totally stunned because as a student-athlete, you already have such limited time,” she explained. “So, they’re surprised to then learn that I’ve been running this business, creating all this artwork, and running all the things that go into that: invoicing, shipping, web design, and whatever. I love every single bit of it. [They] think impressive that [I’ve] found the time for that. Honestly, it shocks me sometimes, too.”
Throughout the NIL era – and marketing her business on personal channels – Hart has learned “fans like absolutely want to support athletes.” When a sale is received, the excitement is mutual.
“Fans are very excited about this stuff,” she said. “I continue to get so stoked, whether it’s a message on a little jewelry tray someone’s bought and how it’s going to their daughter that absolutely loves Wisconsin Volleyball. Or maybe it’s someone who’s not even related to volleyball, and they just are like, ‘This is beautiful and reminds me of the ocean, and my friend’s going through cancer and she loves the ocean.’ These kinds of things are always really, really cool to hear.
“Knowing that sharing what it is you’re passionate about and what you’re fueled by, there’s so much power in that. Worst-case scenario, you inspire one person. Or you inspire 30. I think if you’ve done any of that, then that’s a job well done. That’s been the coolest part: the inspiration that you feed off, it works both ways.”
Starting a Business
If you’re a student-athlete who wants to start your own business, Hart is one to draw inspiration from. Her values and “why” behind starting a business align with her values and long-term goals.
During that 17-hour drive back to school, Hart jumped into the process of educating herself.
“That whole drive I just thought about how I think I want to turn this into a business and came up with my business plan,” she said. “I listened to podcasts and started educating myself. I really think this is a cool experience that I can go for, and I don’t think I have that much to lose by doing so. I’m so glad that I did.”
She also noted, “At first, it’s very intimidating, but you just kind of chip away and you start finding ways to make this happen. Then you before you know it, it’s all coming together.”
While getting the business up and running, Hart made sure she did research and leaned on other entrepreneurs in her network. She asked for advice. There are a lot of little things that go into running a business that most consumers overlook, so it’s important to gain knowledge and insights from other business owners who have gone through the process.
“Once I got into it, there’s still so much I did not know,” she admitted. “It’s a whole other thing to actually start doing that on your own and you realize all the little things that go into it. But that’s part of the fun. I think watching all the YouTube videos and listening to podcasts, there’s so much great content out there if you’re willing to put it in the research.
“Reach out to people and have conversations. For me, it was calling those family members all the time and bouncing things off of them: ‘Like, am I crazy or is this actually makes sense? Is this an opportunity that I should go for? What are your thoughts on X, Y, and Z?’ Use all the contacts and relationships you have for getting things set up.”
Hart finds it important that whatever you’re pursuing – starting a business or a NIL activity in general – it should never be something that stresses you out. Hart holds herself to a high standard and finds her artwork an outlet for stress relief.
“As soon as it (art) were to turn into something that I’m dreading and stressed out about all the time – or not having fun with anymore – then I’d have to put it away. But for now, it’s been awesome. I think that’s one thing, too: You can say no. Athletes can say ‘no’ to things if an opportunity comes by and they don’t have time for it.”
NIL activities are often focused on making money. For Hart, that has been one of the hardest parts of the business. But in the end, the most important value is the energy she has gained from starting her business and how she’s connected with her fan base.
“The NIL era, for a lot of people, has been focused on the money side of it. For me, that was one of the hardest parts of the business. How do you price things? I never saw myself making money off of being an artist or ever calling myself an artist, so that is very mind-blowing to me. But I’ve learned to look at it more of it’s like a form of energy. It’s for me. Fans inspire me and I am inspiring them, and I think that’s awesome.”