Melissa is the founder & CEO of an award winning accounting firm A&TA, co-founder of financial planning business, The Money Barre and co-founder and Director of Business at Thinkers.inq, a long-day preschool that is based on a play with purpose philosophy. She’s written two finance books, writes a fortnightly money column for Fairfax, has been shortlisted for two Telstra Business Awards and named in the top 100 “Woman of Influence” in 2016.
Her personal mission is to empower and educate women to find their voice and become financially savvy. So if you’re looking for more advice on how to grow your business and be financially independent in 2017, read on to be inspired by this straight-talking incredible woman.
What was your first job out of uni? Did you seek out the financial and accounting industries out?
I studied law at uni, and then worked for two of the big four banks in their managerial development schemes. After three years, I worked out that law was not what you saw on tv. I hated what I was doing and I really didn’t enjoy working for a big corporate. My Dad was an accountant and he said, “Well, there’s a bit of law in that”. He didn’t want me to stop studying, so at first I did it to appease him and then from there I started working for accounting firms and realised what I loved was helping small businesses create a better business. I then started to apply those principles to my own business.
You describe yourself as an accidental entrepreneur. Why is that?
I never intended to be an entrepreneur. I didn’t even intend to be a business owner. I certainly didn’t intend to be an accountant. I feel like I’m stumbled into the lot. I started a business simply to subsidise study when I was 28. And at 33, I realised I had a business, and what I could actually make out of it. And then it’s about looking for opportunities, which is why the financial business, the Money Barre, happened and why the preschool thing happened because I’m actively looking for opportunities, which is what I think makes me an entrepreneur. Business excites me. My thing was that I wanted to work for a big, glamourous law firm, I didn’t envisage having my own business.
You work partly-remotely from the Blue Mountains, how do you make that work?
I love the energy of the CBD and because of my decision not to have kids I couldn’t live in suburbia. I couldn’t have the option to go out for gelato just because I felt like gelato. There’s something about driving up the hill to the Blue Mountains and listening to the birds, it’s really relaxing. I love having the option to do both. At first, I found that I couldn’t deal with the travel, so now I stay in the city. I have a team that work in here with me, and that works beautifully. We have everything in the Cloud, so if the office was to burn down (not that I’m hoping for that) we could keep on working wherever we are.
Is one of the reasons you have an office in the mountains because you’re an introvert?
Yes! My husband calls me Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. I recharge by being by myself. The biggest part of business that I struggle with is confidence and having to be around other people. But because of the impact I want to have, I understand how important that is. I make sure I have the rest time so I can do it at a level that I want to.
Wait. You make many TV appearances on Sunrise and the Today Show. How do you reconcile the introvert side of you on live tv?
You ask my husband before I go on tv, I’m a wreck! My concern on live tv is that I’m a bit of a blurter, I’m so paranoid I’m going to swear or say something ridiculous. Sunrise contacted me last week and I had that stomach-churning moment, which is often my first reaction. But I believe how I talk about finance and money is different and how I cut through to people is different. So that’s why I do it. If I want to have the influence I genuinely say I do, and if I genuinely want to help women in business to become financially savvy then I have to take hold of these opportunities. I do a lot of work beforehand, I work with a voice coach and I have done media training so that when I go on TV I feel as confident as I can.
The copy on your website makes accounting sound fun. What are some of the misconceptions about your job and business?
I think that people think you’re going to sit there and talk numbers with them the entire time. Whereas the reality is that a great accountant will understand the numbers are just telling the story and what we’re interested in the activity behind that story.
Yes, there is a processing element to accounting, but it’s the amazing transformations that we can have with businesses. We get to have Aha! moments with people who thought they’d never understand the numbers and because they get that if they understand the numbers and the activity behind the numbers they can change their businesses.
What was the hardest thing about starting your own business?
Here’s a really serious profession, and my confidence as a 28-year-old was really low. I’m six-foot, blonde, and a woman. At the time 28 was very young to have my own firm. I would get people saying things like ‘Is it your Dad’s firm?’ so I would try to act and dress like an accountant to be taken seriously. And it took me a couple of years to work out that was ridiculous. I remember saying to my then boyfriend (now husband) “I have to go shopping for ugly accountant shoes”. And as I said it I thought, “What am I doing?” It was as if I was playing a part. And that was the hardest thing, having the confidence to realise I didn’t have to play a part and the more I’ve owned who I am and the difference I can make by being who I am that’s where the success and the confident comes from.
Why have you made it your mission to help women become financially fit?
I was bullied at school. I had incredibly low self-confidence, and I’m also a survivor of traumatic events when I was much younger. I look back at how I was and how I felt that I just couldn’t. And I want to help women understand that it doesn’t matter where you were born or what you’ve been through that you can have not only resilience and financial resilience but also incredible wellbeing. And you can get that through a great business from being financially confident, and having a voice that’s unique.