Accountant and financial planner by trade, with a shoe and chocolate-loving heart (we share a passion for Haig’s), Mel Browne has an entrepreneurial spirit that’s inspiring. Her “passion is to help women move from where they are now to a place they didn’t even believe was possible”. It’s a big task, but the ever-generous financial wellness advocate shares her wisdom with us. Grab a cuppa and a notebook and get ready to be money-motivated.
“My job is to help people reduce their financial overwhelm, to understand why they behave the way they do with their finances and to help them design a life they’re excited about,” says Mel. It’s a philosophy she lives by, and one that she covers in detail in her new book Budgets Don’t Work (But this does).
The book helps identify your Financial Phenotype or characteristics; a combination of your money story or past, the environment you live in and your money ‘type’. Are you a spender or a saver? Do you believe that you live in an abundant state or are restricted by lack? Mel says that “once you determine your habits and triggers around money and realise the one-size-fits-all approach” of budgeting might not work for you, the real journey to financial freedom can commence.
Mel has a unique talent for writing about the often overwhelming subject of money. Her ability to empower women to become financially free through story-telling is inspiring. Her books More Money for Shoes, Fabulous but Broke, and Unf*ck Your Finances, all seek to demystify a subject that as a society we don’t talk about enough. Money is rarely discussed around the dinner table, not taught at schools, and it’s only in the last hand-full of years that women have been actively encouraged to seek financial independence.
However, money really does make the world go-round; it’s an area where education is vital. “I’m far more interested in people reading my books rather than them just sitting on the nightstand”, says Mel. “I’ve had readers really be able to affect their finances in 90 days. I’m a firm believer in 90-day cycles in business being able to make a real radical change. I think that same business principal can also apply to personal finance.”
A self-proclaimed fan-girl of Dr Brene Brown – author, motivational speaker and Professor at UH – and a serendipitous meeting four years ago, Mel was encouraged to start the money conversation; she’s been doing it ever since. “Brene said to me that I needed to get people talking about money. Discuss it in a real way. Without the wank words, without being fixated on property. Talk about the breadth of money, from stuff we’re scared of to stuff we’re ashamed of, to stuff that we just don’t get. For me, it’s about admitting that we don’t all have our shit together when it comes to money, and that’s ok.”
Mel’s been on a mission ever since to bring the money conversation into the open. Of late, she’s been our voice of reason on social media and virtual-panels talking us through the financial woes only a recession can bring.
With a degree in accounting and her own accounting practice, started in her 20’s, it took a marriage break-down and a desire to study theology that led Mel to “accidentally” start her fifth business. It’s where she discovered her why and began to affect the change that Brene had been encouraging during that fateful meeting.
Making a decision to take a year out and decide what she wanted to do with her life, Mel stumbled across Jim Collins, read his book and decided that what she really loved was business. “A lot of people I was helping with their tax at the time didn’t have a clue about business. I knew that was a place I could be really transformational. As a woman, I felt if I could really lean into that, it would be different and exciting and create change.”
Finding her why
“I didn’t know or understand my why at the time, but I found my why in business, and it took a bit to find it. And I think that’s completely ok. The reason why you start your business doesn’t need to be the reason you ultimately continue with that business. That was absolutely the case for the accounting firm at least.”
Finding your ‘why’ seems to be a never-ending hot topic and one I’m always curious about. Mel says she found her why “by reading, doing courses – from philosophy to traditional business courses. Putting myself in groups that had nothing to do with accounting but more fashion and creative arts. So, I was trying to push the boundaries of how I was thinking. Purposely looking for something that was nothing to do with my business. While I think you can find your why in stillness, not everyone can do that. I think you just need to dedicate the time to do it”. Mel suggests that the best way to find your why, is to “say ‘yes’ to things that you usually wouldn’t say yes to. And no to things that don’t resonate, that way there’s space to figure it out.”
Jumping into your side-hustle
Women often launch a business or side-hustle based on a deep desire to create something more than just a business. Perhaps fuelling their why, it tends to be more about passion than profit, so I ask Mel for her tips on the best way to get started.
“Be realistic about the business you’re starting and what you’ll need to start it. Make a list. Is it low-cost, like Uber driving or getting a stall at the local market? Do you need a website or invest in product? Sit down and figure out what it’s going to cost, and the price of the product or service. How long is it going to take to make that money?
“From there, know your cash flow and what you’ll do with those funds. Too often, people jump in without really giving much thought to pricing or can if they’ll even make a profit. Sometimes working through these things will help you decide if you’re able to make money from your side-hustle and if it’s even worth pursuing.”
Mel’s tips to become financially savvy personally and in business:
- Be interested and start talking about money – no shaming allowed. Introduce money into everyday conversation.
- Educate yourself and don’t abdicate your money responsibilities. Look at sites like Money Smart and use their tools and calculators.
- Find a tribe that can motivate you, mentor you, grow with you and share your frustrations with.
Growing your business
While a good business can be created on grit, determination and passion, Mel believes that to go from a hobby to a fully-fledged business you’ve got to truly know your numbers.
“What’s your net profit? Do you know your gross profit, your cash flow? Determine what your sales need to be? Work out your average sell price? Because I don’t think you can have a robust business if you don’t understand the numbers behind it. You also need to be really sure of your niche and who you’re selling to. I truly don’t believe you can have a robust business without having an understanding of the numbers and the activity that you need to be doing in your business to influence those numbers.”
Attracting the customers you want
At the start of your business journey, it’s tempting to say yes to everyone and take every job on offer; I’ve definitely been there. However, Mel’s advice is to not fall into that trap. “If you and the customer don’t align, it will end in frustration for both your customer and you. So, when starting out have a really clear vision of the customer you want and the customer you don’t want. It means you can say no to the customers you don’t want and create the space to attract the right people to your business. The reality is that you may take on work you don’t want at the beginning just to keep the lights on, but make this the exception rather than the rule. Have the courage to say no.”
The entrepreneurial journey continues…
The true essence of an entrepreneur is to create, pivot and iterate, and Mel has become a master in the genre. Apart from her recently sold accounting practice, Mel is the co-founder of thinkers.inq, an early years school for children aged 3 to 5. With three new locations now in the offing, Mel’s mandate is to influence creative and critical thinking in pre-schoolers; the aim to have five locations soon.
In addition, Mel has created two courses My Financial Adulting Plan and the Business Makeover Series and her financial planning business The Money Barre continues to offer the goods with online courses, events and a podcast that is definitely worth a listen.
A self-proclaimed introvert with so many projects on the go, Mel makes certain that self-care and ‘me time’ are a priority. For Mel that involves retreating to her Blue Mountains home, reading books by the fire, long walks and trashy TV. “Lots of quiet time is how I recharge”.
“I live by the motto design the life you love,” says Mel. “I’m purposely childfree and live part of my week in the Blue Mountains and part of my week in the city. The life that I’m living now is not one that I even thought that I had the option to live when I was at school. So, for me, it’s all about designing your ethical life rather than living to society’s norms.”
Spend another minute with Mel here.
Pre-order Budgets Don’t Work (But this does)
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