Each week, SHESAID features an inspiring woman who has been kind enough to share her story with our readers. She might be a leader in her chosen field, someone still on their own path striving to make a difference or simply someone with a remarkable story to tell. These women contribute their own knowledge, expertise and life lessons in order to truly inspire others.
Name and role
Melissa Browne and I am the CEO of A+TA (formerly Accounting & Taxation Advantage); Co-Founder & Director of Business at Thinkers.inq as well as a writer and author.
What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
That all depends on the particular hat I’m wearing at the time! At A+TA my role is that of a business strategist and tax expert and I work with business owners and my team to help business owners escape the cycle of fear and chaos they often find themselves in and to grow up as business owners. That means I spend a lot of time with clients, with my team but also thinking and working out where next for us as a business. At Thinkers.inq I’m able to put my strategy hat on and work closely with my co-founder Rod Soper to provide financial direction but also finding and financing the next preschool spaces (our aim is to have ten long day preschools within Sydney within five years). Finally I spend at least one day a week writing articles, creating content for websites, writing columns, working on my next books and preparing for keynotes. Every day is different and every week is different for me and this variety is something I really relish and thrive on.
When did you realise that accounting is what you wanted to do as a career?
To be honest, not until around seven years ago. At school all I wanted to be was a lawyer and I only studied accounting when I dropped out of law after three and a half years of study. I only studied accounting because my dad was an accountant and I just didn’t know what to do next. If you’d told me at age eighteen that I would one day own an accounting firm I think I would have burst into tears! The reason I ended up falling in love with my particular business is because it’s not a typical accounting business. I realized about eight years ago that I loved strategy, business advice and working closely with clients to grow their businesses and money mindsets but I wasn’t doing any of that. So I pulled apart my business, started studying an MBA, read everything on business I could put my hands on, enrolled in coaching and began to build a business that I wanted to work in.
You are much more than just an accountant, with multiple layers to your business, what caused to you create and grow?
Firstly, thank you for saying that! I believe that what sparked my business growth and evolution was a decision I made at about age 33 to try to care less what people thought of me. That might seem like a strange place to start but I think as business owners it’s often through personal growth that we can find the courage to create real business growth. As I grew personally I grew as a business owner through studying an MBA through MGSM, devouring business books, discovering business greats like Jim Collins & Verne Harnish and through implementing and taking chances and not being afraid to try things – even if they didn’t always quite work out how I planned. I believe now it’s the determination to see out our big ‘why’ which is to create transformational change in ourselves and our clients, that drives myself and my team to not accept the status quo and to always be looking for new opportunities and ways to create and grow.
Your first book, More Money for Shoes, was written for women in business and created clarity surrounding the subject via coupling business essentials with relatable fashion analogies. What do you have in store with your recent sequel, Fabulous But Broke?
Fabulous but Broke is just as pretty as More Money for Shoes in that it’s another full-colour, illustrated book. This time however the subject is money and in particular it’s about the money messages we’re often unconsciously carrying around with us that are sabotaging us financially. Of course, like most things I do it’s not done in a typical way. So Fabulous but Broke contains 13 financial fairytales that set the scene, describe the typical ending if you continue to allow your unconscious money messages to guide you and then suggests an alternative ending if you were to become a conscious consumer and become the author of your own financial fairytale. They’re all designed to challenge your thinking, start conversations about money and hopefully change your behavior so you can create the life you want. So for example, Sleeping Beauty is the Passive Princesses who are just waiting for Mr Right while Peter Pan is the boy who won’t grow up particularly when it comes to joint finances.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Everywhere! For Fabulous but Broke it was a conversation with a neighbour who was talking about how his daughter had just moved home after splitting up with her boyfriend and how she wouldn’t be able to buy a house now until she met her husband. With More Money for Shoes it was about a decision to try and fuse my love of business with my love of fashion when it came to writing. Often it’s an article, a quote, a picture on Instagram or simply a random conversation. I believe inspiration is everywhere if you’re open to it.
Did you have a mentor? Who/what helped you to get your career of the ground?
I didn’t have a mentor so I have always consciously surrounded myself with others that are like-minded business owners. When I first started it was through a networking group called Women with Altitude and today it’s with groups that include Little Black Dress Group, Business Chicks and Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO). I’ve also just engaged a Coach to help me grow and take my business to the next level and I think this is something that will be a lifelong quest of learning and development – at least I hope so.
As a business owner, what were the initially stumbling blocks and since then?
Initially I think the main stumbling block was me. I was in my late twenties, tall, blonde and I used to think that I had to look and act like an accountant to be accepted. So I would wear a lot of grey and black, put my hair in a bun, wear sensible shoes and try to fit in as much as I could. I remember trying to buy work shoes and describing them as ‘boring, ugly shoes.’ Now I think, ‘why?!’. I ended up with a business that was very conservative, very traditional and that I really disliked working in. And a Monday-Friday wardrobe that was hideous! Once I decided to create the business that I wanted to work in, the biggest stumbling blocks have again been me and finding both the courage and the discipline to continue to create, grow and innovate. I’ve also struggled with managing teams – running a business is often the easy part but managing people can be incredibly tough!
How did you overcome these?
Through a lot of courage and deciding every day to put on my big girl pants and create the business and the life that I want. Of course, courage is only part of the story, I also studied, read voraciously, took part in group coaching, put in place great systems and processes and made some strategic decisions to be authentic both as a business owner and as a business.
What are your goals for the future?
If history is anything to go by my goals will grow over time. Currently for A+TA it is to continue to innovate and to extend our reach which currently means creating an online world called the Numbers Lounge which we’re incredibly excited about. At Thinkers.inq it’s to change how preschool is done in Australia – an ambitious goal but my business partner Rod Soper and I believe the entire industry needs a really good shake-up. There are also more books in the pipeline of course. Personally my goal is to continue to create the life that I want – that is a life by design not by default.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow the same path as you?
I would encourage them to think about what makes them unique and to be courageous and authentic in having that shine through in their business. I would let them know that success is often a series of small wins and that it takes more courage to get up and keep going, adapting, failing and getting back up and trying something else than it does to give up or to simply go back to the status quo. Finally I would encourage them to find their tribe or what Seth Godin calls the ‘weird ones’ who will support you, buy from you, work for you, encourage you and cheer you on when you need cheering. As Seth says, making art which is what many of us are doing with our businesses, can be incredibly tough and confronting but the final product, if you are willing to persevere, can be incredibly rewarding.
To find out more about Melissa’s latest book, Fabulous but Broke head here.
Melanie Notkin is a speaker and lifestyle expert living in New York. She is a best-selling author and the founder of SavvyAuntie.com, one of Forbes Top 100 Websites for Women in 2011 and 2012. Notkin spoke to us about her Savvy Auntie brand and the special role Aunties play in the raising of children.
How did Savvy Auntie come to be?
Savvy Auntie grew out of my own need for resources on how to be the best aunt to my nephew and nieces that I could be. From the moment I first heard I would be an aunt, I felt enormous love and responsibility for these children. Parents have a multitude of books, websites, blogs, etc. designed just for them, but we, the besotted, beloved aunts had nothing to help guide us and no community to connect us. In the summer of 2008, I launched Savvy Auntie, the multi-platform lifestyle brand designed for cool aunts, great-aunts, godmothers and all women who love kids.
At what point did you realise being a mother may not be in your own future, and how did you come to the point of embracing your role as an Auntie instead?
I don’t think of aunthood as an ‘instead of motherhood’–type role. Many Savvy Aunties go on to become mothers but never lose their connection with their nieces and nephews. While I don’t know that I will ever become a mother myself, unfortunately, I know that my role as aunt is a gift. It’s a gift to the parents who know that their children are loved and in safe keeping when they are with me. It’s a gift to the children who have another loving grown up in their lives who offers them another perspective and different experiences. And it’s a gift to me, of course.
I consider myself ‘childfull;’ I choose to fill my life with the children I love.
You talk about the term PANK (Professional Aunt No Kids) – how common do you think PANKs are in today’s society, and why might we be seeing more of them?
There are 23 million PANKs in America, or 1 in 5 women aged 18+ who have a strong bond with a child in their lives. There is a growing trend for women getting married and/or having children later than ever before. And so yes, quantifiably, the number seems to be on an upswing. But I also see more and more women embracing their aunthood and taking on a more active role in children’s lives, whether nieces and nephews by relation or by choice.
What role do you think the Savvy Auntie plays in modern families? How do both parents and children come to rely on them?
As parents are stretched between work, parenthood and everything else, the Savvy Auntie plays a valuable role, whether it’s simply giving relief to the mother of a newborn so she can shower and rest, or contributing generously to a niece’s or nephew’s college savings plan. In fact, 34% of PANKs expect to help pay for a child’s education, while 45% of PANKs offer economic assistance to parents by providing kids with things their parents cannot or will not offer them. And 43% of PANKs often buy things for kids that parents won’t buy them. Collectively, with a baseline of just one child per PANK, this group spends $9 billion a year on their nieces and nephews.
Of course, it’s not just financial gifts. Nearly 7 in 10 PANKs say they are a role model to their nieces and nephews. From the time they are very young, the quality play time aunts offer a young child can help develop the children’s cognitive, emotional and social skills. I’ve dubbed that time QualAuntie Time. And as children get older and need advice or comfort, the ConfidAunt steps right in.
What are your visions for the future of your Savvy Auntie Brand, and how has social media helped you get to this point?
The Savvy Auntie brand includes SavvyAuntie.com, a Webby Award nominee for Best Family Site and a Forbes Best 100 Website for Women. My first book, Savvy Auntie – The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids (Morrow 2011) was a national bestseller. The 6th Annual Auntie’s Day is Sunday, July 27, 2014. And the 5th Annual Savvy Auntie Coolest Toy Awards will be revealed in time for the holiday shopping season. But I am very excited by the Savvy Auntie social media platforms where that I get to connect with tens of thousands of women on a daily basis. There is a wonderful and engaged Savvy Auntourage, over 93,000 strong, on Facebook.com/SavvyAuntie and many aunts connect with me directly on Twitter @SavvyAuntie where I’ve been tweeting since 2007.
There’s a lot more to come with Savvy Auntie and I cannot wait to share those projects with this amazing tribe of women as we get closer.
Are you a savvy aunty or a PANK (Professional Aunt No Kids)?