The small leaps that made a big bank balance finish.
Psst, this is a long post, so I made a special table of contents thingo, this means you can jump to the bit that tickles your bits.
- The intro
- The Practical stuff
- The Mindset stuff
- Achievements this year
- Looking to the future
- Further listening
It’s an icky topic for most, isn’t it?
Us England humans were taught never to ask about how much things cost, or to talk about the money we earned or spent.
Money was divided into two firm pots:
- Old money: the posh, polo-playing inherited wealth cliché.
New money: chavvy, splashy, cashy, statue-of-a-golden-leopard-on-their-front-lawn cliché.
And I’ve never felt I had money ‘mindset’ issues.
(I find the whole money mindset notion a bit ‘woo woo’ – I don’t need a set of pastel coloured mantras to help me earn oodles of cash.)
But money causes a reaction in everyone.
Whether they realise it or not.
Having it, not having it, wanting more, feeling you have enough, tying your self-worth to your earnings or feeling/pretending you don’t care.
We all feel some kind of way about our bank balance.
And in this blog post I want to talk about my money journey and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
How I went from being skint as a skint beast, to relatively comfy.
And no, it’s not going to be a ‘rah rah, look at me lying on my Porsche, pouring Moet on my boobs’ kind of post.
But hopefully, more of a useful guide on how I made both practical changes and mental shuffles and how that helped me turn my financial frown upside down.
Ready? Let’s get started.
Please note: I am not some giant business mogul with a monster empire, more like a small business cul de sac.
Nor do my tips and advice here represent proper financial advice (talk to a professional, people). I’m simply sharing my lessons in the hope that they give you some hope, help and a horror-free financial future.
For those of you who don’t know me, let me do a quick summary of my business journey.
Worked in advertising up until around 2009, spending more than I earned.
Pitiful savings, renting a tiny flat – basically fannying around.
In 2009 I started my copywriting business. Made around $65k in my first year which wasn’t bad considering I’d just pushed a human out of my hoo har and was trying to keep him alive.
By 2013 I was making a consistent $150k as a copywriter.
In 2014 my son went to school, and I decided that I was tired of exchanging my time for money, so instead decided to try the whole passive income thing.
I launched The Recipe for SEO Success and The Clever Copywriting School, and by 2018 I’d given up all copywriting clients and started to really push my business forward. This was a BIG year.
You can read more about my business journey here.
Now in 2020 my income is entirely driven by courses, shops, memberships, affiliate payments, referral payments and speaking gig fees.
I now have zero one-to-one clients.
I’m not really one for setting goals.
I feel like they often set you up for failure.
Instead I try to enjoy the journey and have my achievements be the result of just doing the do.
But, of course, I’ve had vague milestones in mind along the way:
- Starting goal: Replace income from hideous advertising agency job. Achieved in year 2.
- Second goal: Replace income from clients with passive income. Achieved in year 6.
- Third goal: Remove reliance on big Recipe course for revenue and create steady recurring income. Achieved in year 9.
- Current goal: Continue to earn current revenue with current expenses but work fewer hours.
I’m not going to share every single figure, because I’m not Pat Flynn and because, well, I like to keep some financial stuff under my jumper. But here are some basic figures to help you see how I turned things around.
I know a lot of businesses who talk in loud voices about hitting a million in revenue – only to reveal, in a quiet whisper that their expenses are up to 70% of that!
I have always worked hard to keep my expenses down, sometimes to my detriment (see lesson 3 below).
So for the sake of transparency here are some recent profit figures:
- 2017: 58% profit
- 2018: 64% profit
- 2019: 66% profit
- 2020: 67% profit
And here’s where my money comes from:
I go on a lot in this post about what I don’t spend money on, so here’s a little grab of who I do spend money on, this is from this month so far.
Starting a business tomorrow?
Most of us don’t need a business loan, an angel investor, a crowdfunding campaign, or a rich indulgent partner.
A fair few of us can start with a laptop, a notepad and a clean pair of knickers (especially if you’re in a service-based industry.)
Yes, it’s nice to start a business with a 3-month buffer, but I know that most don’t. And that’s 100% okay.
Just like having a small human, there will never be a right time.
You’ll likely never have enough money in the bank to feel 100% secure.
There will always be unforeseen expenses.
And guess what? You’ll survive.
You’ll adjust and cope and manage.
The lesson: You don’t need ‘all the things’ to start a business. You just need to start.
I’m a serious DIY girl.
Give me a challenge and I’ll always think I can do it myself.
But I’m also someone who doesn’t like to read instructions or learn the thing fully before I start it.
This hasn’t been great for my business.
I set up my own Xero – badly.
I briefly considered doing my own BAS and tax, but quickly realised it was far too complex, and too yawn, for me to wrap my brain around.
So, I left it to my accountant, and never really questioned anything.
Then I got a giant tax bill.
A $50k tax bill.
And I swiftly realised I needed to wrap my brain around money matters even though I found it physically painful.
And I needed to find a really great accountant.
It took a while, but I found an accountant who could explain things to me in human terms and didn’t mind explaining them again and again and again.
TOON TIP: Now I use Diana Todd from Balance Tax for my business accounting.
The lesson: Hire a decent accountant to help you with your figures, but don’t rely on them 100%. It’s your business, so you need to ensure you understand what’s happening with your money.
Even accountants make mistakes, and it’s you who’ll have to pay the price for them.
I’ve talked often about how tight I am with my money.
I’d spend an hour doing something manually when there was an app that would automate it for $9 a month.I’d fanny around with my Xero reconciliation when I could have paid a bookkeeper to do it twice as fast.
My business didn’t really take off until I realised that I couldn’t do everything myself. And that I needed to outsource.
I took it slow.
First an accountant (reminder: YOUR MOST IMPORTANT HIRE)
Then a VA for a few hours a week.
Over time as I had the money to cover it, I increased the VA hours to meet workload demand.
My team has changed since this post and now looks a bit more like this:
The lesson: Doing everything yourself is an excellent way to truly understand your business, but it’s not a forever strategy if you want to grow. Find smarter, more affordable humans to do the work you don’t want to do, or are not qualified to do.
You don’t need to rush into building a monster business before you’re ready.
And scaling is not for everyone.
My business has grown slowly and safely.
(I’m not entirely risk-averse but I’m no gambler either.)
I’ve taken small growth steps and been super super patient.
I also didn’t buy into the new business hype. I have never had:
- An office packed with shiny desks, colourful stationery and bean bags
- A team of hired humans on my payroll
These work for some but not for me (mainly because I don’t like other humans :-)).
And, by not having these overheads I’ve managed to keep my expenses right down.
The lesson: A lot of the things people do in business are to make them look like they have a super cool business. But you know what’s cooler than having a dedicated co-working space, or a personal assistant? Having a fat bank balance.
This one might ruffle some feathers.
But I can count the number of courses I’ve paid for on one finger.
I didn’t attend a conference or networking event for the first 6 years of my business.
I don’t splash out on business books.
I’m not a member of a paid membership.
I’ve never had a business coach, mindset guru, or been part of a paid mastermind.
And you might be thinking that if I had, I could have reached my destination faster.
But for me it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey (really, it is!)
Oh and about not spending money when I didn’t have to.
I firmly believe that most of us know what to do already, we just don’t choose to do it.
Instead we ‘procrasti-learn’.
Buying course after course, resource after resource to bolster our wobbly egos and smother our imposter syndrome.
By believing that I could get an awfully long way under my own steam I’ve saved literally thousands, and have earned oodles my OWN way, not by buying into someone else’s one-size-fits-all strategy.
The lesson: Really dig into why you are buying the thing. Have you finished the other things? Are you doing the most basic tasks in your business well? Are you a course addict?
Stop buying courses! (Except mine of course).
As I started to make more money, I was amazed by how little money I actually had.
And tax time was always a shock and a scramble.
(If you want to learn more about Profit First – head here)
Laura assessed my business and gave me my Profit First percentages, basically how I should split my money up into lumps – and I started.
Here are the standard figures they recommend:
It took me 3 months to get into the flow of it.
And over a year to stop cheating and borrowing from accounts.
Now my figures are more like:
- Team salaries: 17%
- GST: 6% (lower than the standard 10 as I PAY a lot of GST too)
After this I split them into:
- Profit: 15%
- Expenses other: 27%
- Salary: 28%
- Personal tax: 10%
- Company tax: 20% (Lower than the standard company tax rate due to expenses.)
I saw a post recently saying that Profit First hindered business growth. PIFFLE!
It quite literally changed my business and personal life.
I was able to finally remove the feast and famine from my business.
I now pay myself a salary and know EXACTLY where I stand financially.
That, my friends, is freedom!
Toon Tip: Keep money in your incoming account until it’s 100% yours. Don’t divide the first payment, just in case the job goes tits up. Don’t take the course payment as yours until the refund period is up.
The lesson: Get stuck into Profit First as quickly as you can. It’s really not that complex, it just takes a bit of discipline.
Of course, pre-Profit First, all my money (or lack thereof) pooled into one bank account, and then I essentially I spent it until it all ran out.
This led to horrendous periods of feast and famine.
Of never knowing if I’d have enough to pay my bills next month.
Of not really understand which money was mine.
I’d gotten to the point where I just thought this financial terror was part of business life.
Profit First helped me understand that all the money in my bank account is not mine to spend as I wish.
And I’m much better off divvying it up into little piles for each thing.
This means I started:
1. Paying myself a salary
2. Paying myself super
3. Having money sitting in my account ready to pay my GST and tax
The lesson: When you’re starting out as a freelancer or similar, it’s likely that less than 50 cents in every dollar is actually yours to spend. A sobering thought.
Over the years I’ve paid myself a fairly meager salary.
No flash purchases, no Loubout(oo)n’s.
And I was cautious with my Profit First percentages.
This meant that after a few years, I had a little blob of money growing within my business.
I thought that money belonged to the company (oh yes, I started a company in 2017, so am no longer a sole trader.) and wasn’t ACTUALLY mine unless I took it out of the company as a dividend or salary.
But of course, it IS my money.
Because it’s my company and I’m the only employee.
I don’t have to withdraw it for it to be mine. It can sit there, and still be MY money.
This may sound startlingly stupid to many of you but hey, what can I say.
This money blob is now my buffer.
I have around 6 months of dosh that could cover all expenses and salaries should things go tits up.
Psst: This also meant I was able to keep my team employed throughout COVID-19 – and even take on a new staff member – which felt awesome.
The lesson: Slightly underpay yourself and slightly overestimate your tax, even just for a few years, to help you build up a buffer within your business.
Even with an accountant, I didn’t really understand some of the fundamentals of my money.
(What can I say, I’m a words person!)
One of the key moments that made everything CLICK into place was when I spoke to Fiona Johnston from Peach Business Managment.
Fiona prepared a comprehensive report on my business going back to the earlier years (it’s where most of the figures in this blog come from).
She took the time to explain all the ins and outs, the terminology and gave me ideas for what next.
Most importantly, she gave me a firm, enjoyable pat on the bottom that my business was doing okay. She also gave me permission to increase my staff costs and work a bit less hard!
The lesson: Financial stuff can feel like a foreign language, but it can be translated.
Admission: I’m kind of obsessed with reconciling my XERO.
I have the app on my phone and did it in the morning while walking my C.F.O. (retired).
But again, it’s not the best use of my time.
Now I have an awesome bookkeeper (Donna from Da Solutions) who manages my Xero for me. She’s a stickler for receipts, has set up rules and feeds and whatnot.
She also now creates a monthly report to me show me how I’m tracking.
The most important figure here is how on track I am to hitting the previous years revenue, because I can tend to push myself way too hard.
It’s only a few hours a week but it feels marvellous to have it all under control.
The lesson: When you get to a decent size, again, bring in the experts!
I never believed I’d be an overnight success.
If I’m honest I never thought that far ahead.
And the truth is it’s taken me a long time to get to where I am.
My journey isn’t for everyone. And I’m sure there are short cuts.
But I’ve been patient. Even when I started earning mone, I didn’t start spending it. I sat and I waited, until it was solid, consistent, replicable.
The Lesson: Be realistic about your expectations for financial wealth and security. IT will not happen overnight and even if it does, it might not be such a great thing.
I wrote this post on socials a little while back, but things have improved since then.
Through my business and getting to grips with my money situation this year I have:
- Paid off my mortgage
- Bought a car
- Started the journey towards my first investment property
More importantly than all those things though, I have lost the fear that I’m going to end up in a flat, alone, with the heating turned off being eaten by my own cats.
As is my way, I’m not setting goals for the future.
I’m not buying into the 7-figure hype that has been part of the male entrepreneur culture for years but has now also seeped through the cracks into the female entrepreneur world.
Yes having money is lovely. I’ve been horribly poor in my time and it’s not romantic or worthy, it’s just shit.
But being wealthy isn’t everything either.
All I want now is time. Time to enjoy the life I’ve created, time with my son. Time for myself, my partner, my family, my life outside work (shhh yes, life outside work is a thing).
And of course, no matter how many money mindset hurdles you overcome, you’ll never be able to buy back the time you’ve spent.
If pods are your thing, I chatted about this topic on:
Clare Wood’s podcast: Scaling to 7 figures with no paid advertising.
And with Emily Osmond: Making and Umaking a millon dollar business.
Over to you
Was this post useful? Did I miss anything you’d like to know?
What was your biggest take out? (as in lesson, not Chinese takeaway)
Please pop them in the comments below.