Uncensored Money: Ask Mel Anything – How to Be Successful in Business  

Melissa Browne: Ex-Accountant, Ex-Financial Advisor, Ex-Working Till I Drop, Now Serial Entrepreneur & Author, Financial Wellness Advocate, Living a Life by Design | 09/06/2023


Show Notes

Welcome to the ‘Ask Mel Anything edition’ of Uncensored Money.

In the ‘Ask Mel Anything’ series, Mel answers your questions in the hope you realise you are not alone and that it helps to increase your financial literacy and confidence.

In this Ask Mel Anything episode, Mel answers two questions on business. Whether you have a side hustle, a hobby, a kitchen table business, a global empire or a business idea – there’ll be nuggets of gold in there for you.

The two questions Mel answers are:

  •  I have a few questions… 1. What was the biggest needle mover when you were early in your business journey? 2. Do you feel like growing a business just takes time or that you need to really need to take specific actions? What would those specific actions be? 3. How did you build yourself as a brand originally? What would you recommend people do if they want to be as successful as you are in business?
  • I am a doctor. Where can business newbies go to learn the basic and then more advanced skills in Xero, budgeting, tracking key metrics, and understanding your numbers?

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So today in Ask Mel Anything, I've got two questions that are both about business and the reason I picked these two questions is there has been what's been described as a great resignation where more and more people are quitting work and starting their own business. And that business might be a side hustle, a hobby, a kitchen table business, a global empire, consulting, selling your services on Upwork or Fiver or other. But the reason I wanted to answer these questions was because it's one thing to be great at what you do, and it's another thing entirely to be great at business. So I wanted to share some of my learnings through these questions, but also share my experiences around what I think you need to do, what that actually means and looks like to have a great business.

So the first question is from Marie and she's got a few parts to her question. So the first is, and I'm gonna answer these one at a time. So, what was the biggest needle mover when you were early in your business journey?

And I would say that the biggest needle mover was for me actually deciding that I wanted to run a business. And not just simply be the handbrake to my business and I'll explain what I mean.

So I started a business initially just to earn a little bit more money, take on some clients, do some consulting so I could do some more study. And that study had nothing to do with accounting and I ended up stopping that studying and just continuing with the business, but my heart was never really in it. It was kind of always by default. And it really wasn't until I split with my first husband, didn't take on any more clients and just took 12 months to decide what do I actually wanna do, that I realised that I actually don't love being an accountant, but I love business.

And I realised this through simply reading. So I read everyone from Jim Collins’ Good to Great, through to Verne Harnish, through to Chip and Dan Heath and their books on marketing and Seth Godin and his books on marketing. There were so many books on business. I reckon I went through a hundred different books on business in that year. And what I realised at the end of it is I loved business and in my role as an accountant, I was in an unique opportunity to spy behind the curtain of so many business owners, realised what they did well, what they didn't do well, what the commonalities were, and then help them run great businesses. And that's the thing that really lit me up. So that was the first needle mover.

But the second needle mover was I decided not to be the handbrake and not to allow myself to stay small, because what I had done up till that point is 1) as I had chosen to dress and act like an accountant. So I was in my twenties when I started my business and I looked quite young and I was tall and blonde at the time, and so what I did is I tried to look like an accountant that was older and maybe a little bit boring, so I wore a lot of grey and black and I put my hair in a bun and I just tried really hard to fit in and not to stand out. And I did that with my how I ran my business as well.

And so what I did is I chose to start dressing differently. Then I put pink in my logo. Then I started to write about fashion and business and see if there was a difference there. Then I self-published a book, a full-colour book called More Money for Shoes, and the reason I called it More Money For Shoes was cause I thought at the time (and I still believe) that a lot of women were working for their needs and not for their wants. And so I wanted to compare building a business to building a wardrobe and do it in a fun, playful way to show women really, it's not that hard. I also paid for education, and it was a really big deal at the time. So my business was doing about 200 k. My profit was maybe 30k or 40k if I was lucky. I decided to go and enrol in something called Rob Nixon at Nixon was the name of the course. I had to to Brisbane every quarter with my 2IC who had just started a very young Lauren Law. And I paid, I think at the time it was like $2,000 a month. So basically almost my entire profit. And we flew up to Brisbane and we were in a small coaching group and I am a hyper-competitive person and I was in a group primarily with blokes where we were learning how to run great accounting firms. And I wanted to beat the blokes. So I proceeded to pretty much double my business from that point for quite a number of years. And that definitely, or at least grow, if not a hundred per cent, by 50%, which is incredible growth, but putting that passion for business, choosing not to play small and to remove myself as the hand break. And then going and putting myself in that learning and competitive environment that I knew would motivate me absolutely was a key action. That definitely was a huge needle-mover in my business journey.

The second question was, do you feel like growing a business just takes time or that you need to really need to take specific actions?

So what I will say is that so I've run three different businesses over the year. My third business was has been the most successful business. And interestingly, because my ego's been the least involved with it, and it has grown the fastest. So I don't think it just takes time. Sometimes it does, sometimes it just takes time, but it doesn't always just take time. But I definitely think that there are some actions, and for me, I think I've been smarter about taking those actions earlier. For example, you gotta get good at business, and I think I knew that faster every single time.

So that for the third business that I ran, I understood from the very beginning it was about activity versus results. It was me understanding the activity that I needed to be doing today and that my team needed to be doing today to get the results that I wanted. And I understood from the get-go that it was a numbers game. And yes, you've gotta love your clients, you've gotta have that niche. You've gotta really understand the point of difference that you have in the market, which is about getting good at business, right? But ultimately, it's also a numbers game for me in order to get the results that I want. I knew the numbers that I needed to hit when it came to leads and conversions and database size and conversion rates and sales page conversion rates, and all those things. And then I knew the activity I should be doing to influence all those numbers. And because I knew that, it meant that I was able to get there faster, cause I knew which levers to press, I knew the things I had to do. It wasn't like, oh, I have to beta test this and I should try that. And I also asked for help sooner. So for the latest business, I'm terrible at asking for help. I just wanna try and do it all myself. And that's something that I've learned faster each time. So in the third business I employed my mentor before I started the business. So, I'll say that again. I employed my mentor who was amazing in that space before I started my business. Because I wanted to learn, I wanted to avoid the mistakes by learning from them so that I could quicken my success. And that absofreakinglutely propelled my success. So that was definitely something that I did that quickened it.

Number three, how did you build yourself as a brand and digital originally, and what would you recommend people do if they wanna be as successful as you are in business?

So how did you build yourself as a brand originally? So what I did was I started with wearing what I wanted to work. I wrote, so writing for me back in the day was a really big thing. I was painfully shy. So there was no way I was getting behind a camera. Not a hope, but I could write. So I did that and I wrote a blog to start that. Then I wrote a book. Then I wrote for people like Fairfax, Sydney Morning Herald, Melbourne Age then I wrote for different magazines. Then I turned that into a book, which became a global bestseller. And then the only reason I got behind a camera was when Covid hit. And I realised, people don't wanna read and I have to get it fast-paced and it's a lot of information quickly. So I was jumping on Instagram and doing these videos and for me, it became less about me and more about just getting this info out quickly. So I really got over myself with that and then learned to embrace both video and writing. But I also embraced my femininity. I explained early on that I really hid, that I put my hair in a barn. I wore a lot of grey and black. Now I lean into that. I'm not scared of that. And I know that's one of the things that sets me apart. Less so these days cause it's more and more women entering the accounting field or owning their own business as an accountant or as a financial advisor or as financial education. But back in the day, that was a rarity. So me leaning into that actually meant that I stand out. Whereas now it's definitely something that I embrace, but for me it's figuring out what's actually unique to me. And for me, I'm a western suburbs chick that's really socially awkward, but also loves fashion and dressing up. And I think part of what I do well is to break down, make the complex simple. So for me it's embracing those things, not trying to be something I'm not but really leaning into those things that I do well and continuing to evolve and change within that lane. But how I built myself as a brand originally was as a Western Sydney accountant. I self-published, I took that chance and I self-published that first book that I did, which cost a lot of money back in the day. And then we sent that book in white high, glossy shoe boxes cause it was called More Money for Shoes to a hundred different ad PR and media outlets. And from that is absofreakinglutely where I was picked up and I continue to do that today. I think gorilla low-cost marketing can such a point of difference for you and can be such a great way of getting your brand out there and getting you in front of people that just don't know about you. So I did it recently, so I had a Financial Self-Care Challenge and I sent a bunch of smoothies out to a whole bunch of influencers and media. And they posted that and they talked about that. And I might not have got instant work from that, although, I absolutely did for some of it, but I've also been engaged to speak because of that cause it showed a point of difference. And so sometimes it's not necessarily the result you want, it's a longer burn. But definitely not being scared to try something different. And the others in my industry aren't doing, cause the thing that I learned early is don't look to your own industry and just copy things that other people are doing. That is not the way to stand out. Look across to other people that are doing interesting things in other industries, completely different to you. And ask the question, how could I bring a version of that back to my space? And that is how you were going to stand out. I've had so many people copy and paste emails that I send out, or who copy and paste my sales pages. I had an accountant when I sold my accounting firm, contact me and say, oh my gosh, where am I gonna get my newsletters from now? Like, you cannot make this shit up. But all they are ever going to be is a reflection of me and a shallow reflection at that because there can never be me. So it's about figuring out who you are, how you are gonna show up. Yes, getting inspiration from other fields of people, but then bringing it back to you and doing your adaptation of that.

But as to what would you recommend people do if they wanna be as successful? I think you have to have a passion for business. You need to for me, the work of Jim Collins really stands out, so he's got something that he calls the hedgehog principle. What can you be best in the world at? What are you deeply passionate about and what drives your economic engine? So when those three circles are aligned, that's when you can be great and sustainably great. But also I think it's about comparison and what are you willing to do? Because I have got good friends that are in business, and I know I'm thinking of one particularly at the moment, and they started a new business a couple of years ago. And they said, can you talk to me about marketing cause you seem really good at it? And I said I'm self-taught. I run my own Facebook ads, I do my own this and that. I said, but it's also, I know my target market and I'm willing to do these things. And he goes, oh yeah. I don't feel comfortable doing that. I'm like, okay, but what could you do? And it got to the point where his ego won't allow him to show up on social media, or he just is so worried about being judged that he couldn't sell his product. So therefore, ultimately his business failed. And for me, what are you willing to do in order to be great at business?

And sometimes that means that people will look at you and go, oh God. Wow. It's a bit desperate or Wow, I wouldn't do that. That's fine. It's there's not a lot of air at the top, meaning that not a lot of people are willing to do what it takes to be successful. So you've gotta ask yourself, what am I prepared to do?

And I'm not saying that you wanna be ruthless or silly or whatever. It's doing what makes sense for you and your audience. But sometimes it is being willing to do things that others won't. Go the extra mile to be prepared to be bad at some things. Because you can't be your things to all people.

But then doubling down on the things that you'll be great at, that you'll be known for. And being exceptional at that. You know, really being clear on your lane and being so good at that, that you can't be ignored. But then, I'm a great implementer. But a mistake I've made constantly in the past is that I'm great at doing stuff, but I'm not great at selling. Covid taught me to lose my ego and to show up and that was one of the lessons I was grateful for during it. So therefore I'm now, and I think it's my western suburbs' heritage as well. We're judged quite harshly out in the western suburbs. We're bogans, we're this or that. So I don't show up with that baggage. I've been told I'm too good. I'm too big for my boots. You think you're better than us. I've had all those things said to me as a western suburb chick, which is why I went and found bigger pools to play in Sydney, in the different groups that I joined, etc. But ultimately, my skin is tough enough that, and I surround myself with people that believe in me and what I do. And that are in business themselves, that they're the opinions that matter to me. And Brené Brown in one of her books talked about Theodore Roosevelt's quote, where he said if you are not in the arena also with mud on your face, I'm not interested in your feedback. And that plays for me a lot. If you are not also in business getting mud on your face in here doing it, I'm kind of not interested in your feedback. If you are not in here with me with your sleeves rolled up. So it's also what voices you are willing to listen to? Because if I listen to the voices of some of my friends, I would've toned down my social media. I'd rather someone unfollow me then me lessen the impact I wanna have on the lives of women and their finances. I wanna change the needle around the stats in Australia and globally around. Women over 55 in homelessness, women in their forties and homelessness women in their thirties. And the super gap I wanna move that needle and I can't do that if my ego is in the way. Rant over.

The second question is also about business, but it's also a little bit more specific. So it says, when it comes to understanding business metrics, I'm a doctor, and I've been a doctor for a while, but where can business newbies go to learn the basics and they're more advanced skills in Xero budgeting, tracking key metrics and understanding your numbers.

I love this question, and this is this question which highlights, you can be great at what you do, but not great at business, and you need to learn to become great at business. So where can you where can you learn the basic and then more advanced skills in Xero? So having a great accountant or a great bookkeeper that will teach you.  this is one if you go, if you are using Xero, they've got, so Xero X E R O is cloud accounting. There's also my Quicken. Personally, we used to use Xero back in the day, but Xero on their website has got great articles around training, et cetera that you can tap into. Or there will be Xero certified accountants and trainers and bookkeepers that will be able to train you up.

So that's kind of an easy one as far as tracking and key metrics and understanding your numbers. I've got two masterclasses. One, they're both 49 bucks. One's on understanding your numbers and one's on pricing, where I will take you through the key metrics that you should be understanding in order to be great at business.

And not just that, but to understand the activity you should be doing. To move the needle on the results that you want, because most people concentrate on sales, and that's a vanity metric. That's the result at the end of the game. What you wanna understand how well am I playing that?

And what's all of the numbers before sales that I should be concentrating on, such as the number of times your customers do business with you, your average sale value, your average project value your retention rate, your conversion rate, your leads, your database size, like all of those things feed into sales.

And then understanding the activity you should be doing to influence those numbers. And again, in that masterclass I took about all of that. But. If you want more than that, I'm running a full day workshop on the 22nd of June in Sydney.

I've got people flying over from all over Australia and also across from New Zealand. Spend the day with me and no more than 60 women in the room. Where you'll walk away with a strategy for absolutely all of this in your business. So it's 495 bucks, or if you bring your 2IC or your manager or part of your team, they pay 50% of that price and you get a workbook, you get to pick my brain on the day. So I don't do one-on-ones anymore. I don't teach business anymore. But it's a way other than my masterclasses and evergreen courses. But this is a way that you get to actually spend time in the room picking my brain on business and Lawsie’s as well.

And I've also got a very good friend who's gonna come along and teach PR and media, who's an ex journalist for a little session as well. So that's another way you can do it.

But what you wanna do is start. And the reason I answered it like this is cause to you to start to hear about some of the key metrics.

So two masterclass that will link in the show notes but also. Again, I'll link in the show notes that workshop too. There's only 12 spots left, so if you are interested make sure you book your spot and come along cause it's one thing to start a business, it's another thing entirely to run a great business.


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