Episode 058

Riches to Rags to Riches with Emma Veiga-Malta

In 2008, people all over the world dealt with financial crises, and for many people that was only the beginning. Today on the podcast, my guest, Emma Veiga-Malta will share about how the financial crisis led to 28 months with zero income and what she had to do to get to where she is now.

Emma Veiga-Malta is an artist and designer with over 23 years of experience running creative businesses. She currently lives and works in Sydney, Australia where she runs a brand design business and mentoring program for other creatives, and advocates for creatives in the business world.

Join Emma and I for a conversation about the financial trauma that Emma and her family went through and the lessons she learned along the way. After experiencing such a profound loss, Emma is still rebuilding her relationship with money, and her story will teach you about resilience and the steps you might need to take to rebuild your own relationship with money.

This year for Hanukkah, which runs from December 18 to December 25, 2022, I will be sending out 8 Days of Money Miracles and Light. Healing your relationship with money is one of the most important things you can do to create a better relationship with yourself so you can make big things happen. Get the 8 Days of Money Healing Exercises by signing up here.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How the 2008 financial crisis changed everything for Emma.
  • What it felt like for Emma and her family to spend 28 months with zero income.
  • What it means to experience financial trauma.
  • How Emma and her husband came out of their financial crisis.
  • What Emma learned from spending 4 weeks in Silicon Valley.
  • The work Emma did to get to where she is now.


Read the full transcript now

You’re listening to the Mastering Money in Midlife podcast with Debbie Sassen, Episode 58.

Welcome to Mastering Money in Midlife, a podcast for midlife women in business to overcome financial anxiety and make more money, without burning out or sacrificing their families. Join Certified Life and Money Coach Debbie Sassen, as she shares practical business strategies and mindset shifts that help you dissolve the money blocks that keep you stuck in a cycle of underearning and undersaving, sabotage the growth of your business, and prevent you from building the wealth that you desire.

Debbie Sassen: Hello, my friends, and welcome back to the podcast. I have a fabulous guest on my podcast today. My friend, Emma Veiga-Malta, is going to share her riches-to rags-to riches story with us; the financial trauma that she experienced when she was in the rags part of her story, and how she has recovered, rebuilt herself financially, and what she’s doing today.

But before we jump into the fabulous interview with Emma, I want to remind you, if you are listening to the podcast on December 20, which is the day that it drops, or even any day in the next week or so, I want to remind you that we are, right now, in the middle of Money Healing Week.

So much of our experience with money lives inside our nervous system, and we are in survival mode; as you will hear from Emma during the interview. And in order to grow your business big, strong, resilient, in order to ask for more money, receive that money wholeheartedly and build long-term wealth, we need to heal our relationship with money from the inside-out.

So, I invite you to join Money Healing Week. Go right now to my website, DebbieSassen.com/moneyhealingweek and join the free eight-day training. There are experiential exercises that I release every day for eight days. And if you’re jumping in in the middle, you will have links to the prerecorded videos that have already been released.

If you want to make more money in 2023, we’re going to heal your relationship from the inside-out. And we’re going to build wealth from the outside, taller. We’re building your beautiful, tall, stable, sustainable financial business in all ways. Join me for Money Healing Week.

And now, here’s our guest, Emma Veiga-Malta. I have a fabulous guest for you on the podcast today. Emma is an artist and designer with over 23 years’ experience running her own creative businesses. She started exhibiting her art in Geneva, Switzerland in the late 1990s. And today, Emma lives in Sydney, Australia, and runs a branded design business and mentoring program for creatives, with clients and members globally.

Emma is a fierce advocate for creatives in business, to ditch the starving artist mentality and earn money from their talents. And before I say hello to Emma, I’m just going to share with my listeners. Because Emma has a story for us, and she’ll probably do most of the talking today. So, I’m just gonna get a little bit of talking in.

Emma and I first met six or seven years ago, now. We were both in a Facebook group together for business owners. And, I actually bought a backdrop from Emma; this was back in the day when I was doing financial planning. Emma was doing, if I’m not mistaken, primarily, Bespoke Backdrops. And I was running my business out of the playroom in my house, which also had our extra deep freezer and all the toys; it was just a messy room.

I bought a backdrop from Emma. She shipped it to me, in Israel, from Australia, so that my space could look so much more professional and you wouldn’t see the mess that was behind me. At the time I was doing financial planning. I was just starting my first online course helping people invest, it was called Investing Made Simple.

What I want to offer all of my listeners, is that businesses evolve over time. And just like my business has evolved from financial planning and investment advice to money coaching, and now money coaching and business coaching and money healing; it’s always been around money. Emma’s business has also evolved from Bespoke Backdrops and creatives, and now business mentoring for creatives. And of course, I love the ‘get all the creatives out of the starving artists mentality,’ because we deserve to make money for the work that we do in the world. So, with that lengthy introduction, welcome, Emma, to the podcast.

Emma Veiga-Malta: Thank you so much, Debbie, for having me. I’m really happy to be here. And yes, we’ve both come a long way since we first met all those years ago. I’m delighted to be here.

Debbie: I’m so happy to have you. And really, like wherever you are in your business, Emma and I also… I mean, maybe we should do this again, in seven years or less, and just see where our businesses have evolved to then. Because we’re always growing and evolving.

So, Emma reached out to me because we know each other, and we sort of like follow each other online, telling me that she has a story, a riches-to rags-to riches story. And of course, with all of us, we evolve in our lives; we evolve in our money and our businesses. And, Emma volunteered to share her story. I haven’t even heard all the details.

I’m really excited for Emma to share her story. And, I think that there’s probably going to be an important point for all of us to listen to. Because whenever we go from like riches to rags, there’s probably some embarrassment or guilt or shame involved in the story. And being in a place where we can turn things around and pull ourselves out of that situation, involves resilience and emotional strength.

So, I’m just putting that out there. I imagine that that’s what the story includes. And Emma, take it away.

Emma: So, going back to the late 90s, early 2000s, I had moved from London to Geneva with my husband, who was in the financial markets. He was working equity derivatives, bond options, that kind of thing. And I had just graduated from university. I was an artist, I’m a designer. So, I moved from London to Switzerland. And although he was in the financial markets, and yes, traditionally, in the financial markets you do quite well. I knew that I needed to have my own income.

And so, I started selling my artwork in cafes and restaurants in Switzerland, to earn some of my own money. And luckily, from day one, my husband always valued my artistic endeavors. Even though he was earning so much more than I was, he never diminished what I brought to the table.

So, that actually, was a really great foundation for the horrors that were to come to us in years later. Because I was able to find the confidence to actually start earning money from my own art, my own creativity. But at the time, like I said, Hottel, we got married. Earning very well, started his own broking firm, Interbank Institution Broking Firm, out of Geneva with four or five friends.

They did exceptionally well for many years, in the early 2000s. And so, we lived a pretty great life in Switzerland. I come from a middle-class background, so money wasn’t something strange to me. I’d been around money and felt very comfortable with it. But all of a sudden, we had a lot more money than I had grown up with.

I’ve always been a really big fan of budgeting, of saving; I’m a huge saver. So, even though we have this great lifestyle, and we did spend a lot, we always saved. We bought a couple of houses; we did all the things you’re supposed to do when you have money.

Then, of course, September 2008 came along, and Lehman Brothers collapsed. And because my husband was the next tier down in his business, from the institutes, from the banks, he was servicing them, they just got their bailout. And they sat on the money, they sat on their hands. Of course, nothing trickled down to my husband’s company. So, from one day to the next, income totally slashed.

I knew there was something going to change in our lifestyle. Our salary had to change, because my husband, being the wonderful man he is, wants to keep as many people on his team as possible. He took a wage cut, didn’t take bonuses. He said, “We need to get through this.” It really turned out, as we all know, to be something way beyond that we could control. We couldn’t sort of cut costs our way out of it.

So, 2008, living in Geneva was a pretty scary time, because the business absolutely died. Now, my husband being the entrepreneur that he is, he said, “Right, Asia’s still going. We are going to move the company, to have an office… Let’s move to Sydney, Australia.” He is Australian, as well. So, he’s Portuguese/Australian.

Me, at the time, I was very happy to be the traditional wife, by the way. I knew that there was a place for the traditional male role, to go out and earn the money. And at the time, we had two very small children, and I was really happy to play that support role, while I still had my art, my design work; I had a studio at home. So, I was very happy to balance that.

And I didn’t resent that at all, because I knew we were a team. And again, that team effort was absolutely crucial when it came to the crunch a few years later. So, the 2008 crisis happened, but we weren’t directly hit until about four years. Because we had savings. We had bought a couple of houses, so we had assets. We liquidated a few of our investments. Some of it was a fire sale, we didn’t make a profit on.

But we had cash in the bank, and my husband moved the whole family to Sydney, Australia. Which was, in itself, a huge move from Geneva. I’m a European girl through and through, I’m English. To move to Australia felt really a bit terrifying. But I knew we had to do it because of the opportunities. But then, slowly, we were spending money and not earning money.

So, 2012 came along, things were not working out with my husband’s partners, for various reasons, and they had to part ways. So, we were on our own. There was no company, there was no job, there was just our savings. We went through 28 months of zero income; like, not a penny, not $1.

Now, looking back, had we known it was 28 months, okay, it’s going to be 28 months, right? You’ve got a set amount of money, let’s work accordingly. Then, after 28 months, we’ll be fine. No, every month with our new business endeavors, my husband being entrepreneurial, me having to step up and try and make something work with my creativity; I opened a shop, I started online business, I started, you know, really trying to step up.

We thought, every month, “This is the month. We’re going to make some money. This is the month, we’re going to make some money.” For 28 months, absolutely not $1. And, that was where the resilience came in. And, the persistence came in. And, that’s where I had to draw on my own mental strength, because I couldn’t see the bottom. It was the most terrifying thing.

This is why it’s the riches to rags story. Because I realized all of a sudden, in this business world of 2012 I was getting into the online world, there were lots of rags to riches stories. I started looking at the Law of Attraction and manifesting, and everything. But there was always a missing piece.

It was always assuming, imagine if you had money, imagine what that would feel like, try and put yourself in that high vibration. I knew exactly how that felt, because that was me. So, all of a sudden, I was like, “Well, I know how that feels. But I also know what it feels like not to have that anymore.” So, I had another layer to sort of scrambled through, to get back to, you know, high vibration, and all that stuff that I was trying to do.

I didn’t have any role model.

Debbie: Let me just ask you a question. Because I love how you point out there was this high vibration, and you know what the high vibration feels like, you know what inviting a lot of money into your life feels like. And all of a sudden, you’re at the bottom. And when we’re having a financial trauma, and I would categorize this as a financial trauma, there are two different ways that a financial trauma can show up.

It could be, that you really had both of them. One, is something happens too soon, too quick, too fast, right? It’s just so unexpected; like the bottom falling out of your business, in 2012. And all of a sudden, picking yourself up from Switzerland, where you’ve put down some roots, you’ve set up a nice life. And now, you’re in Australia, a new country.

Thank God, the language is the same, right? Because you’re English originally, so at least you guys are both speaking English. It’s not like you decided to move to, you know, a different country, Portugal, so you’d have to learn Portuguese. Maybe you learned it already with your husband. But like, that’s a financial trauma.

And then, there is the too slow, too prolonged, too late, which is 28 months of no income. So, you have this double whammy of financial trauma. And I can imagine that your nervous system is completely shocked. And you’re living in survival mode, which just narrows your thinking. It’s hard to think creatively, and you’re a creative, when everything is going to how am I going to feed my children?

Emma: Yeah. And it really got to that point, my nervous system was completely shot. I couldn’t sleep at night. I had short of breath, like two in the morning, literally, there was no air left in my world. I couldn’t see how to breathe, and of course I had the kids. They were young at the time; they were like 10 years old, eight years old. I had to somehow, protect them from that. So, my nervous system was completely shot.

And what you said, it was trauma, it was trauma. Because from going from having a very comfortable lifestyle, where we can easily afford, you know, business class flights or something. I, all of a sudden, had to panic while crossing the Harbour Bridge, for a $4 toll. So, that massive jump, mentally, was horrific.

And luckily, I did have a good relationship with money beforehand. So, I always was brought up to respect money, there’s a value attached to it; drew on those reserves from my childhood. And then of course, other childhood stories started to come up. That I had never thought about before, until, you know, facing our diminishing bank account; and actually, we got to zero in our bank account.

And so, the stories that I was telling myself, was my parents did a great job, but we can’t help what we, you know, pick up from them. And the phrase in my family was, “You’ve got to cut your cloth accordingly.” So, I think that’s, in theory, that’s a really great phrase; don’t spend what you don’t have, cut your cloth accordingly.

But I took it to mean, you only get a certain amount of cloth in your life. And when it’s gone, there is no more cloth; and you have cut it, you’ve been an idiot, those shears have been going through it, you deserve this, you have not cut your cloth accordingly.

So, I, all of a sudden, had to think, “Oh, my goodness, cut your cloth accordingly.” I had to reframe it. And I started thinking, “Right, I need to start weaving my own cloth. Because I don’t have any cloth before. I need to start weaving it.” And, that’s what I use with my mental resilience. Is for my husband and I, luckily, we still had the teamwork, is to start weaving this cloth together. And that, was hugely beneficial and useful for me to get over.

But I had to really dig deep into my stories that I believed about money, and it was quite confronting. But my nervous system was completely shot. But I realized that to stabilize my nervous system around money, I had to really curate the world around me. So, I stopped listening to, you know, shock jock radio in the morning.

I stopped listening to the news. I really made sure that I had certain podcasts and audio books. And I was feeding my mind with positive things, so that I could regulate my nervous system, and just block out some of the trauma. And, try and build something new again. It was hard, I can tell you.

Debbie: Wow, wow, I didn’t know this story. And I love what you said about being awake at two o’clock in the morning and not breathing. Because sometimes you hear from marketing experts, what’s that 3am problem that people are waking up with? And, you really had it. Like, you’re waking up, not breathing, and trying to figure out…

It’s also, not even using your creativity. At 2am, you’re just running, running, running; your brain is spinning and turning over, and trying to just figure out a way to crawl out of the hole, just for survival.

Emma: Another way that I turned to survival mode, is I became very fit. I started going to the gym like five times a week; dropped the kids off at school, I’d do back-to-back spin classes; so, 45 minutes spin class. I’d stay on the bike; I’d do another 45 minutes. In the next class that was coming in, I would do personal training.

And that money, I was happy to spend, because I knew that it was good for my mental health. So ironically, I was never fitter and healthier than when I had all the trauma going on. Yeah, exactly.

Debbie: Zero Money. Well, there’s a lot of stress, and physical activity is one way to close a stress cycle. So, if you’re operating in fight-flight or freeze, which are the, you know, stress cycles. And physical activity is one way to close them. You had, really, compound stress cycles going on.

Because you had the financial trauma of losing the money, you had the financial trauma of extended periods of time without money, and even… How did you financial identity, as a home owner, as an asset owner and asset builder…? How is that impacted by fire selling your homes and your assets? Like, investments that you probably thought would last you till the age of 100, and your kids would inherit them.

Emma: That was the biggest trauma for me, is home. I really find home so important, having that base. So, we were renting, and we not having that asset, not having that home, really shook my identity. Who am I? I don’t own a home; I can’t afford a home.

No one’s going to lend us the money, even though we had money in the bank at the time. I said to my husband, “We need to buy a house outright, because we can.” And he said, “No.” And that was also a lot of resentment, in that. That I had to get through, and stop blaming him because of the perceived financial mistakes that he made.

Some of the things that I wanted to do, is to buy a house immediately because it was important to me; we didn’t. I had to resolve it in myself, forgive myself and forgive my husband for that. Because he only did, at the time, what he thought was the best.

But having not having those assets was really a strain on my own personal identity. Not that I had assets in the form of jewelry, and that kind of thing. And we yes, we had beautiful cars, but I was happy to give that up. But the home that we had in Switzerland, we bought and renovated to become our forever home; I was going to invite my grandchildren there. And, that was a huge trauma.

And if I can just fast forward 10 years, we spent 10 years in, what I would call, the rental wilderness. Only this year, 2022, have we bought our first home together in Australia. It’s taken 10 years to get to the point where we’ve got enough money to put a deposit down, and the bank to take our businesses seriously.

So, just fast forwarding, I now have a home. I’m sitting in my home speaking to you. I go around, touching everything going, “That’s mine. That’s mine. That’s home.” I’ll tell you something, talking about the nervous system, I am in such a place of calm and contentment. I have been for a while, but this is another level, having my own home.

It was a huge shock back then, in 2012, not to have my home. another asset, not so much an asset, but a lifestyle choice that we had for our children, was private school. We sent them to private school in Switzerland. And then, we sent them to private school in Australia, in Sydney. I had to send them to the local state school. Now, I’m looking back and I’m so ashamed of myself and my snobbery about state schools.

That was another layer that I had to unpeel, that thing that I didn’t really like looking internally to myself, that I had this level of, you know, prejudice against the state schools. And my goodness, we put the kids to state school; they thrived, they did so well. And I felt a little bit of shame initially, of like, “Oh, my goodness, what are people gonna say?” You know, all of a sudden, they’re taking the kids out of school, they can’t afford it. But I realized that, you know, my real friends are my real friends.

Guess what? We took the kids out of school, moved them to the local school, my friends are still my friends from, you know, that I made over the years in Australia. And the funny thing, was people would come to me privately and say, “Emma, we are struggling to put the kids through private school. I admire that you have been ballsy, and openly taken them out of the private school sector, and put them into state school.”

Because so many people are up to their neck in trying to put kids through private school, and those people came to me privately, because there is so much shame. I don’t know how it works in Israel or anywhere else around the world, but in England, and Australia, and to a certain extent Switzerland, but not really. Swiss private school’s  different from England and Australia.

There is a bit of a stigma attached to taking them out of private school, or so I thought. We took them out, and it was the best decision we ever did. And, the kids thrived. They’re 22 now, and 20, you know, working, studying, traveling, doing all the things. I had to get over myself on that one, as well; as an asset, as a lifestyle choice.

Debbie: And, how many of your friends followed you?

Emma: None.

Debbie: Amazing, amazing. It takes a lot of guts to do something that your tribe isn’t doing; to go against the tribe. And it’s, you’re going against the tribe when you’re making money, and you’re putting yourself with a new group of peers, of colleagues. You’re going against the tribe, when all of a sudden, you’re skinny-ing down your life, right, and they’re continuing with their homes and their assets.

And also, 2012 was when the financial markets were recovering, right? We hit rock-bottom in March 2009. And here you guys are, in 2012, and you’re still struggling, and probably everything around you is growing and thriving. I can just imagine, you’ll tell me, but you’re saying like, what’s wrong with me? How come it isn’t happening for me? Why is it taking so long? Those same 2am thoughts. Like, how come everybody else’s business is growing and thriving, but mine seems so slow and so stuck?

Emma: I felt like I’d been kicked out of a club; I was outside looking in. It did feel like, why us? But luckily, my husband and I are a really great team; we just celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary.

Debbie: Congratulations.

Emma: Thank you. So, once we got over the arguments, and there were arguments. There was a lot of ugly conversations to do with money, during those periods. But once we got over it, and we realized that we were both, you know, pointing in the same direction. We both wanted the same things for our families. And my husband went through his own trauma. I can’t imagine what he went through with all this; you know, breadwinner and all that jazz.

We just came together as a team, and we realized that we’re just going to have to ignore what’s going on around us, and be happy for other people. So, we were genuinely happy for our friends doing well, genuinely happy. We were still in that circle. From the outside, actually, you would not know that we were going through a financial crisis.

Because though it was a riches-to rags-to riches, again, I wasn’t wearing rags, we still had the nice clothes. And we still decided, early on, that what money we did have, we would actually put into the house, into our rental home. That we would always have a nice rental home for the children to grow up in. And that was just a value for us, that we were happy to put whatever money we had into that.

So, we still looked like we were part of that group, of our friends are doing well, but we seriously were not. There were so many times, we had to say, “Sorry, we can’t afford to do dinner. We can’t afford to go on holidays. And, that’s not for us.” And after saying it a few times, the sting was removed. It wasn’t a shame.

I didn’t feel ashamed anymore, to say, “Sorry, guys, we can’t join you for dinner. We’re not gonna go to Whistler skiing. We’re not doing that.” It didn’t feel shameful anymore. It was quite liberating, actually, to be open and transparent with yourself and with your friends.

Debbie: And like you were with the school system, right, you just decided and…? Because I felt the sting inside my belly, when you said, “Sorry, we can’t go to dinner. Sorry, we can’t go skiing with you.” I felt what you must have gone through, but you probably went through it 1,000 times more intensely. But then, once you were able to say it, you could take your kids out of the school.

But so many people try to keep up face, try to keep up with the Joneses and pretend, on the outside, that everything is okay. And they’re not willing, yet, to make the changes that would help them to change their relationship with money, and change their financial reality, and become financially sustainable.

Let’s go back to you weaving your own cloth. Because in my mind, you weaving your own cloth, is how you come up with the backdrops. Because that’s a cloth, that’s a canvas; I have one in my house. How did you just create your own business from zero? You showed up in Sydney with your skills, with your creativity, but you really started all over again.

I mean, I think I’m gonna rephrase that, because we never, ever start all over again, we’re never back to ground zero, to square one. Because we bring all of our years of experience, even your business experience, your creative expertise, and what you have grown and developed inside of you, to bring all of that to our next experience.

But you’re starting something new. How did that go for you?

Emma: Yeah, so actually, I was quite excited when I first moved to Australia, which was 2010. So, I decided to open a shop. I opened a shop selling my artwork. Because I had a studio in Switzerland, I was selling artwork already. And, I would then get my artwork printed onto fabrics. So, the cloth thing came in again.

And then, upholstering signature chairs. So, I’d go to the flea markets. I’d go to, every week they have, you know, council clear up. So, on the side of the street were beautiful chairs. And, it’s amazing what people throw out. So, I would have the shop, with my beautiful paintings printed onto fabric, upholstered on chairs. And that’s how I actually started my business in Australia, with a physical shop.

I’ve learned so much about running a business from that perspective. But I realized it was not sustainable. The kids needed me to pick them up from school. And then, if I actually hired someone to work in the shop, people would come and say, “Oh, well, I’ll just come back when Emma’s in the shop.” So, it was not even… I couldn’t replicate myself.

For various reasons, I shut the shop down end 2011, beginning 2012. And crucially, I realized there was something called online business. And it was all new to me, because I was still very analog back then. Hence, the sharp, you know, something tangible, something you can, you know, touch and go to every day.

I took a course called, B-School, and I spent like $2,000 on that. At the time, don’t forget, 2010, 2012, we still had money in the bank. So, I thought, “I’m going to spend money on the shop. I’m going to spend money on the online business course.” And in fact, the business course was the best thing I could do. Because it brought me an online community; I realized the power of an online community.

And back then, 10 years ago, it was so nascent. It was quite early days for online communities. Facebook certainly wasn’t what it is today; there wasn’t Facebook groups. I think there was a Facebook group. Anyway, it was very rudimentary. And so, I then realized, that I could flip the model from selling my chairs and fabrics in the shop, to selling it online.

So, I invested again; here’s my investment, $50,000. At this stage, 2010-2011, we were still optimistic. You know, we still thought that we were not going to hit bottom, yet. And that whole ‘speculate to accumulate’ type thing; you’ve got to spend money to make money.

What I realized, when I spent that $50,000 to build a software that I could have someone come onto a website, choose a chair, drag-and-drop my fabrics onto a frame; they could design their own chair online. And then, I would have it upholstered and shipped to them. So, I thought that would be a really fabulous idea.

And this is what I realized about money; that sometimes, having too much money is not a great way to start a business, because you can become a little bit lazy and flabby with your spending. And I certainly believed that…The two things I really believed about money, when I first started my online business in Australia, or any business in Australia, was; A, you’ve got to spend money to make money. Not entirely true.

And secondly, it takes two years to turn a profit. So, in my head, for the first two years I wasn’t turning a profit, but I was getting it okay. They say that it takes two years to turn a profit. So, I did not pay any attention to my money; too much budget, think it’s gonna take two years to turn a profit, spend money to make money. That was like the trifecta of, you know, getting it horribly wrong with money, in business.

And so, I spent this $50,000…

Debbie: I just want to interject, maybe not about the $50,000, but you did go to B-School with Marie Forleo. So, you did invest in business school, in a business group, or like, to get business know-how. Because so many of us, that I’m going to speak specifically, now, to people who are coaches, healers, who have businesses that can run online. They’re not like a brick-and-mortar business, which you had.

Because when you have a brick-and-mortar business, you have to rent a space, you have to hook the electricity, the water, you have to have inventory, even if you’re finding it by the side of the road. But you already have an investor’s mindset of investing to make money.

But so many people, open businesses, online businesses, without any idea how to run a business. They don’t have marketing skills, they don’t have sales skills. And they think that, “Okay, I have a coaching certification. I am a healer, I’m a channeler, I’m an intuitive. Like, I do something that I can work with people on Zoom. And I don’t need to invest, in order to make money. And then, they don’t understand why they’re not figuring it out.

Emma: Absolutely. So, the caveat to actually what I said, is exactly what you said. There are certain things you do need to invest in; it’s knowing what they are. And, B-School was a great investment for me. That $2,000 was absolutely priceless. And I’m still building from that, today. So, it is a case of investing, but knowing where to invest. And to do some research, and don’t spend $50,000 on a website that no one really needs.

Debbie: Okay, but really, it was such a beautiful lesson. Like, you spent $50,000 on software. I “spent” $50,000 losing money in the stock market. Because I worked on a trading floor, I worked in fixed income derivatives, not equity derivatives, thinking that I was a financial hotshot and knowing what to do. And, end up losing $50,000. So, that was my investment in building a money business.

We learn so much through our money mistakes, and the fear of making mistakes, the fear that we have to be perfect from the get-go, holds so many people back.

Emma: Well, this is the thing, it’s learning from those mistakes. And we all make mistakes, you can plan as much as you’d like, but you’ll make mistakes. And to see them as part of the evolution, and not, “Oh my God, I’ve made such a horrible effort. I’m not gonna bother anymore.” The good thing that I took out of that online business, which you design your own chair, is that I became very active in the tech startup community, in Sydney.

Because, in fact, it was a tech startup that I was doing; although it was creative, it was chairs, it was still very tech based. And so, I put myself forwards, to go to pitch contests, and go in and listen to people in the tech startup world.

And one day, I actually did do a couple of pitch contests. I was the only woman in the room, back in 2014. Now, we’re talking 2014, this is when we really started to hurt massively. But I thought, “Right, I’m going to tech. I’m going to pitch my business; the chair business, online chair business.” And, I was the only woman in the room. Everyone, all these men with their whizzy gadgets. And there’s me, with my lovely fabrics.

It was called “mass customization”, it was just happening. It was early stages in the tech world. These days, where it’s so easy to go online and choose colors and, you know, customize whatever we want to online. But back in 2014, it was quite new. And, I was trying it out.

So, I put myself forward to a pitch contest, in Sydney, and didn’t expect to win it. But I won it and they sent me to Silicon Valley. Yeah. So, I spent four weeks in Silicon Valley. Because they genuinely wanted me to expand into the States with this business, because they thought it had legs.

I, obviously, presented the slide deck really well. The investors connected with me, so they sent me out to Silicon Valley for four weeks. I met with lawyers in Palo Alto, who were going to give me $25,000 worth of startup cost, for legal startup costs. I was going to meet this advisor and this advisor. And I went to F50, which is a big Silicon Valley conference on, you know, tech startups.

I really engaged in the tech startup world in San Francisco, for those three, four weeks. And, it was absolutely fascinating. But it made me realize, I did not want to run a tech business. Because I sat in an office, in Palo Alto, with the lawyers and they said, “As CEO, Emma, you need to be looking six to nine months ahead to be doing your seed round,” your round A, your round B.

And I was like, “What? I can never paint again? What, you mean I can never speak to a customer again?” And I was like, no, I’m out. I don’t want to do this. But I continued with my trip. And, I learned as much as I could. So again, going back to $50,000, like you said, it was the cost of my education, really. It served me.

Debbie: Exactly. That’s your Harvard MBA.

Emma: That’s my Harvard MBA; it took me to Silicon Valley. I just built from that, and then mixing in like the law of attraction and manifesting, and the sort of the more spiritual side and personal development side. I then, started Bespoke Backdrops. And, that was 2015.

I took what I liked from my tech startup, and the shop, and everything I’d done previously. Fixed what I didn’t like. Created a business where, I knew I wanted to be drawing, painting, and designing. I actually created a mantra for myself in 2015, that I wrote out, which helped me massively. Writing really helps when you’re going through a bit of a crisis. And I wrote, “I want to draw, paint, and design, every day for happy clients, who pay me well.”

Debbie: Nice.

Emma: That was it. And it took, again, it took about a year or two for that to happen, but it happened. And now, we’re 2022, I have clients who are happy clients. I draw, paint, design, and they pay me well. And, I’ve added another business to it, as well. Yeah. Yes, it’ll small seeds and acorns, and oak trees grow from it.

Debbie: Eventually. Amazing. Amazing. So, now you’re actually doing business mentoring. You’ve taken your creative business, and you’re helping other creatives.

Emma: Yeah, I realized a few years ago, that people started asking me to mentor other coaches, other business coaches, other business schools in Australia, in England. would ask me to be a guest mentor for their creatives, specifically for their artists and designers who were in their business school.

Because there are layers of business that a generalist business coach might not know if they’re not an artist, or a designer, or a photographer. So, other coaches and business schools would hire me to mentor. And I guess, after a few years, I was like, “I could maybe do this for myself, because clearly there’s a need for it.”

And so, in 2020, mid-pandemic, or the start of the pandemic, I was like, “Okay, I’m going to start a second business.” And The Creative Business Hub was born, in mid-to-late 2020. I mentor other artists, designers, photographers, because I’ve realized over the years, that I’m a creative.

I’m very creative, but I’m also very logical and I like strategy, and I like process. So, I’m very left brain-right brain. And, I thought that was normal, but not everyone has that. That’s a skill that I know, that I can use to help other people put their talents out into the world and get paid for it.

One thing’s getting your talents out there, but often, people don’t get paid for it. Especially creatives, because they’ve got their own money stories going on in the background.

Debbie: So, how do people find you for your business mentoring?

Emma: Well, The Creative Business Hub has a website; thecreativebusinesshub.com I have a Facebook page and an Instagram, as well; I’m building it very slowly. I still have my design business. My bread-and-butter is my branding. So, from Backdrops, in 2015, which is how I started after coming back from Silicon Valley. I then, added branding to it. So, I have a business, Bespoke Backdrops and Branding, where I have my clients. That’s my bread-and-butter.

I’m growing The Creative Business Hub slowly, organically, because it’s a completely different business model for me. And, I’m really enjoying the process. I’ve decided, for next year, reducing the amount of design clients I have, because I want to focus on the creatives in my mentorship program.

I have 28 amazing members at the moment, and I just want to grow that and help as many people as I can, to run their own business and get paid for it. So, I have two businesses at the moment, and I love it. I love them both, equally. But the design business is going to take a little bit of a backseat because I want to grow the mentoring business.

Debbie: So, you have happy clients, in two businesses, who pay you well.

Emma: Yeah, that’s exactly what I wanted. I’m now, actually thinking about the next mantra for the next story in my life. The next chapter in my life, with the mentoring. I think I need to tweak and create another mantra that will help me focus my business, to grow that mentoring business. So, I think I might have to change that.

Debbie: Do have a word for the year, for 2023?

Emma: I think I’ve got two words; I was just thinking about this yesterday. I think its visibility and credibility. I need to expand my audience for the creative business. A lot of people know me as the Backdrop lady. They know me for my branding. I don’t have to do too much marketing for that, it ticks over quite nicely, the design business.

But I need visibility and credibility, both, for The Creative Business Hub. So, I think those are my two words. I’m not sure yet. But I think that might be it. Visibility, definitely.

Debbie: Okay. Do you feel like, at this stage of your business growth, how many clients can you support in your business mentoring?

Emma: I have 28, at the moment. I think I could support 100 in the group. We have monthly online mentoring sessions; live online mentoring sessions for the group. But of course, there’s a whole lot of content that’s on-demand, in the membership area. So, my aim is 100. And then, once I hit 100, who knows where it will go? But definitely, I would love to hit that 100 mark. For the time being, that’s my goal.

Debbie: The sky’s the limit.

Emma: Yeah, absolutely. But for my design business, I’m looking for, very specifically, four clients, for 2023.

Debbie: Four clients for the entire year?

Emma: Yeah, that’s it. Yeah, that will pay the mortgage, and that’s how I like to think of it. Home is so important to me, that I always, in terms of how much will this pay towards my home? And we want to pay down the mortgage quickly.

Again, going back to this whole money trauma, and how we’ve dealt with money after the trauma. Now, that we’re back on our feet again, we made sure that we’d never, we didn’t borrow what the bank would lend us. We were very conservative in our borrowing. So, we feel very comfortable. Even though the interest rates are going crazy at the moment, in Australia.

We still feel very comfortable. So, I just need four clients. In my mind, that pays for the mortgage for the year. And then, I can concentrate on building The Creative Business Hub. But of course, I’ve got my husband, as well, who’s earning. We’re a team, we’re definitely a team on this. He still earns more than me, but that’s fine. That’s just the nature of the business he’s in.

Four clients for the design business, and then aiming for 100, by this time next year, for the mentoring business.

Debbie: Amazing. What came up for me, is that your home is very important. And when you’re doing design and branding for other business owners, you’re giving them a home on the internet, and you’re designing their home for them.

Emma: Yes, that’s such a good analogy. It really is, it’s your online home. And just like you’ve got to feel comfortable in your physical home, your physical space, you also need to feel comfortable in your online space, your online home. It gives you the confidence to get up in the morning. It gives you the confidence to be visible. It gives you the confidence to reach for those goals, and to fulfill your mission in your business.

So yeah, that’s a really good comparison. I like that.

Debbie: Use it; go for it. You can steal it.

Emma: I will, thank you. I shall.

Debbie: But I really do think it’s important, because there was once, that I hired somebody, who came with amazing recommendations to design a logo for me. I spent $500 U.S. dollars, and I just trashed it. I never used it because she didn’t get me. And, I guess I didn’t get her. It didn’t matter how many recommendations; it wasn’t my home. It didn’t feel like me.

Emma: Yeah. That’s so important. Yeah, absolutely. Well, this is why with my designing, just on a bit of a tangent, I do strategic brand design. So, it’s not like, oh, just what do you like? It’s what fits for your market, fits for your clients, fits for you personally, makes sense for your positioning, makes sense for your category.

So, whenever you step into that online home, your online brand, you instantly connect with it and your audience connects with it. I always tell my clients that, “You’re not my client, your clients are my clients.” Because ultimately, the brand needs to make everybody feel at home, not just the person. Yeah.

Debbie: Beautiful. What money blocks have you had to overcome now, in order to grow not just one but two successful businesses?

Emma: The side that I’m not so proud of, when it comes to my own money blocks at the moment, is I realized I can be a bit of a penny pincher. But I’m a little bit like, “Oh, I’d rather save $1, than spend $1.” I would rather save that dollar and not invest it, to maybe grow it. So, that’s, I have to admit, I’m  overcoming that now.

Because I think it’s a bit of the trauma, the residual trauma. Like, “Okay, right. Still, that cut cloth thing; is still slightly embedded in me.” That’s how generational, you know, stories can really embed. So, I think that’s thing I need to overcome, is a bit of that penny pinching mentality.

Which I’m very happy to admit, because it also releases the shame of it, as well. But it’s okay that I accept that about myself, I’m overcoming that. And, to sit permanently in an abundance mindset. Because I always used to have an abundance mindset.

Before 2008, I really had an abundance mindset. Then, I stopped having an abundance mindset. So, I almost don’t trust having an abundance mindset, again, because it let me down once before, you know? So, that’s one of my money blocks, is trusting my abundance mindset. Again, those are my money blocks that I’m working on, at the moment.

Debbie: And I would say that the first evolution, sort of like, the 1.0 version of your abundance mindset came from your parents; the way you grew up, getting married, and everything just went right. But now, because you know, like, really deep into your gut, into your tippy toes, that abundance exists in the world… Because you’ve lost it. You’ve lost money.

Abundance and money are different. Abundance is really looking beyond you; looking at the different types of trees and flowers, and birds and animals. You’re in Australia, you’re surrounded by lots and lots of water, like how many drops of water are there in the ocean? There is an abundance of things, experiences, in the world.

So, the abundance is like, yeah, we can create money; money is available in the world to create. And that’s like the 2.0, or even the 5.0 version, of an abundance mindset, I think.

Emma: You actually mentioned something that helped me, in those times of crisis with, around abundance; that abundance isn’t just money. I started journaling on gratitude of the things that we did have. And, that builds on that sense of abundance. 100%. And in fact, when I started my online business back in 2014, 2015, every time I got a client, I would write the client’s name in my journal with the dollar amount, and I would give gratitude to that client.

In fact, I think your name, Debbie, is in one of my journals, when you became my client for the Backdrop. And that was also, another way of looking at abundance, is to be mindful and say thank you.

Debbie: Beautiful. Alright, Emma, what would you like to leave our listeners with today? If you could leave them with one or two; abundance mantras, money messages, that you want to share? What would you like to sum up our interview with today?

Emma: I think the most important thing is that 80% of success is showing up. Just show up; go to that event, contact that person, start your business, ask for the sale. Whatever it might be, speak to that person, go to the conference. Eighty percent of success is showing up, because most people don’t show up.

If you’re already just showing up, however that looks in your world, you’re already on your pathway to success. And that’s what helped me, is showing up every time to something. And, you can build on that. So, 80% of success is showing up.

Emma: I don’t know.

Debbie: You actually have to do the work. I think that’s where you actually put your…

Emma: I think it is. Exactly. You got to do the work. 100%. Yeah, you got to do the work. I would say that’s the 20%. Taking action.

Debbie: I was thinking, on my walk this morning. Because  I’m always thinking about posts that I want to write, in my head. Like, pray and move your feet. Like, we can pray for a manifestation, for money, to just like fall out of the sky. Like, let me just tell you guys, newsflash, money doesn’t fall out of the sky. It doesn’t grow on trees.

But we’re not even discussing the messages we got from our family. But we have to actually move and go to the events, do the work, invite people to work with us. And then, when you have a client, do the work; satisfy your client, delight your client, and just trust. And that’s part of the praying and moving your feet.

Trust that when you do good work in the world, your name will continue getting out there. Like you said, you don’t have to do anything anymore, for the design business; people just show up. Right? But you have to service your clients, and you have to make them delighted and happy, and just keep your name out there. And forgive yourself when you make a money mistake, because it happens to all of us.

Emma: A hundred percent. Wise words.

Debbie: Wonderful. So, tell our listeners where they can reach you, and we’ll put all of your links in the show notes. You said The Creative Business Hub is one of them. Where else can people find you?

Emma: Yeah, TheCreativeBusinessHub.com. And then, on Facebook, it’s The Creative Biz, I think. And then also, on Instagram, @thecreativebiz is my handle on Instagram. And, the branding is yellow. So, if you see yellow, you’re in the right place.

Debbie: Sounds great. All right. Thank you so much, Emma. It’s been such a pleasure having you on the podcast today.

Emma: It’s been amazing. Thank you, Debbie.

Debbie: Thank you so much for tuning in to the podcast today. It has been eye opening to hear Emma’s story. I never heard all of the details of her story. I knew that Emma had gone from a comfortable lifestyle to the bottom, where she had to build her business up. I never knew that she really had $0 in her bank account.

That will definitely put you into money scarcity. You’ll be living in survival mode, as Emma shared with us, waking up at two in the morning, feeling short of breath. And, that financial trauma lives inside your nervous system. If you have ever been in a situation where you felt that you were living on nothing but air and water. If there is a family of origin story, even a generational story. We know that generational stories that go back two and three and even four generations, live inside our nervous systems.

It is time to heal your nervous system. It is time to break the survival mode cycle. I invite you to Money Healing Week. Go, right now, to my website, DebbieSassen.com/moneyhealing and join this free, eight-day online training. You will have access to all the prerecorded video modules and the experiential exercises, that will help you heal and transform your relationship with money, in 2023 and beyond. I look forward to seeing you there. Bye for now.

Thanks for listening to Mastering Money in Midlife. If you want more information on Debbie Sassen or the resources from the podcast, visit MasteringMoneyInMidlife.com.

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