Get rid of the taboo around money


Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 50 we spoke to the inspiring Vanessa Stoykov CEO of the award-winning financial education media company, Evolution Media Group.

For over 22 years, Vanessa has been helping Australians get real about money through her business. She knows how important it is to have courageous conversations in order to achieve financial freedom.

Through storytelling and creating engaging and educational content without the complex financial jargon, Vanessa helps Australians make better money decisions.

In this chat we discussed the importance of understanding your own money story as a small to medium business owner and the power of storytelling. 

Want to learn more? You can read or listen to our chat with Vanessa Stoykov on YouTubeSpotifyListen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.

Authored by Vanessa Stoykov, CEO of Evolution Media Group.

If you’re running an SME, don’t hesitate to say you do business to make money. I know that’s a controversial statement. But there’s no shame in saying you have a goal or a dream life and you’re determined to give people a service or product they’ll love because of that. Everyone wants money, but everyone struggles with it. As business owners, keeping money and finance a taboo topic does nothing but harm mental wellbeing and productivity.  

In 2020, half of all Australian workers reported some level of financial stress. Moderate to severe levels of financial stress affected 1.8 million Australian employees. Since it costs almost $31 billion a year in employee distraction and absenteeism, it’s definitely an issue we, as employers, should be concerned about. Men are still under pressure to be the providers while women are working towards liberation. I think a lot of business owners, men and women, would feel a lot less angry, anxious and in despair if they were given the chance to be more open about their financial situations. It is so critical we have these courageous conversations if we want to gain financial freedom and the freedom of choice.

Tell your money story
Ultimately, I want people to do the work around their own money, but first, they have to want it. They need to be able to feel excited about money and feel confident that they’re heading somewhere. We need to talk about money and finances in a transformational way, not in the way people have been talking about it for centuries. When people talk about money it’s always how you don’t have enough, or you need to budget, or you can’t get where you want to be, which is part of the reason we don’t like to talk about it. You need to lose those taboos about money because it’s holding you back.

How do we start talking about it? Having my start in journalism, I’ve done all kinds of jobs under the sun and learnt a lot along the way. I have done hard and soft news, PR and marketing, but what I have learnt overall is that storytelling matters. Storytelling makes people feel things. They don’t care about words like ‘finance’, ‘superannuation’, or ‘taxes’ – those words aren’t appealing to anybody. But somehow money is. Money is interesting, finance is boring. My purpose is to build that bridge, so people find finance interesting. But in order to do that, you have to open the dialogue. 

According to MYOB, around half of small business owners experience anxiety caused by financial and cash flow concerns. I, myself, have definitely been in those situations more than once. So many more people experience it than we think. This is why it’s important to talk about it. In 5 Conversations About Money That Will Radically Change Your LifeI discuss how you can have open and honest conversations about money with others and yourself. Without these conversations, your mental health will suffer, and you won’t be able to do good for anyone. I’ll give you two key conversations to think about right now.

The first conversation in the book is with yourself. What did you learn about money as a child that has been ingrained in you subconsciously all these years? You might have learnt money doesn’t grow on trees or that money solves everything. Whatever it is you learnt, you need to identify it and analyse whether it serves you today or not. Until you address those ingrained money habits, you’ll continue the cycle, getting into the same position and encountering the same financial struggles. 

The second is the conversation with your partner. Many of us business owners don’t want to take the stress and issues of work home with us. But you cannot carry the stress alone. One breadwinner for a whole family unit does not work in today’s world. You need to find time to frame your situation and feelings as a story and in a way that doesn’t attack your partner. We often accuse our partner of things like not working enough, putting too much pressure on us or not handling the finances properly. But these accusations are not positive or productive.  

Instead, just be brutally honest and own your feelings. You might say “This is how I’m feeling: I’m disappointed I’ve come this far and have nothing to show for it. I haven’t achieved my goal”. Own it and move on because, after that, those feelings don’t serve you anymore. You still have a life ahead of you to change. Money conversations take time, so don’t expect your partner to be on board right away. You have to be prepared to say something and leave them to think about.  

If you’re under severe stress and feeling like you’re barely above the water, there are great organisational resources like the National Debt Helpline or the Small Business Debt Helpline. If you’re at that level, then don’t be ashamed and speak now. Be proud of the fact you’ve come to the point where you know you need help. Everyone needs help at some point in time. Sometimes, you have to ask for help and that’s okay too. 

Failure will inevitably destroy your faith in yourself. It’s a horrible feeling when you learn you’re not infallible. It destroys you, but it also defines you. It’s your patience when you’re down and how you treat others when you’re up that defines who you are. Although it’s a cliché glass-half-full outlook, you have no choice – it’s either you be a loser and go back to a life you didn’t like anyway, or you keep going. How much are you willing to burn to learn? 

The power of storytelling
Even my Lyft or Uber drivers love to give me a good money story when I ask. Everyone, rich or poor, has a money story, so everyone has the potential to be better than they are today. 

Even if you’re a small cafe owner, success lies in your ability to extract a unique story of why you’re in the business. Even if your story is not unique, it should at least be authentic. Who are you as a business? What are your services or products? Customers want to know why you are there. If you don’t have an answer, people will know there’s no passion behind the brand and will have no reason to consume it. 

If you have a story, you’ll be able to build a community around you, which is everything as a business owner. If you look at people through the lens of community, then you’ll start finding ways to connect your story with theirs. You’ll learn your customer’s stories, then you learn why they come to you. Take an interest in everyone else. Being a business owner isn’t just talking to sell. Sometimes you need to listen to sell.  

This goes for your staff as well. Have conversations about money with your staff. Ask what they want out of this role and what they expect. If you then learn you’ve got a bad apple, pluck it fast or they’ll spoil the whole lot. It doesn’t matter if it costs you money, do it before they ruin everything you’ve worked for and cost you even more. 

On that same note, bringing confidence and motivation to the team is also about having open conversations. If employees are resentful because you won’t give them a pay rise, that means there are issues with your communication. They might not understand that you don’t have enough money, or that their role is not worth that much. If they did know they wouldn’t be asking you. Without honest communication, employees will resent you and ‘soft quit’. As Warren Buffet’s business partner Charlie Munger famously said, “Show me the incentive and I’ll show you the outcome.” 

The only way to give the correct incentive is open communication. You can’t assume people want the same out of this as you do. Asking people about what they want makes them feel valued. Lots of businesses score low on employee satisfaction, not because they aren’t paying more, it’s because they are not showing simple appreciation for their employees.  

If there’s one thing I want readers to take away from this, it’s simply to get real about money – talk about it. Open up the conversation about money and finances with yourself, your partners and your employees. Everyone is chasing it and experiencing struggles doing so. Without these conversations, you can’t expect to achieve the financial freedom I know you desire.