Nancy Youssef reflects on her career as a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist and offers her advice for those who dream of making a difference
Like many of her industry peers, Nancy Youssef chose a career in broking for its fast pace, flexibility to travel and the thrill of a new challenge.
She had experienced firsthand the process of securing a mortgage through a bank and had worked with brokers in her early career – factors that presented a strong business case to complement her personal goals.
After specialising in corporate training for a finance company at the national level, she was also keen to take charge of her own destiny and make a difference to the lives of those she encountered.
“I was born with a lot of ambition and being pigeonholed into a job didn’t really suit my curious personality; I felt like I could do more and had an entrepreneurial drive from a young age,” she says.
Classic Finance launched in 2003, when Youssef was still in her 20s, but little did she know that it would become the foundation on which she would launch a series of other ventures over the next 16 years.
“I was quite out of my depth in those early days. I didn’t have a clue how to start a business, let alone operate one successfully! I didn’t have a business plan at all and, if I’m totally honest, I didn’t really know how to put one together. “I thought it was only something you needed to worry about if you were running a bigger company, not a one-person show,” she says.
Like many brokers, her dedication to the venture saw her retain control of its every aspect, collaborating only with an accountant to prepare BAS paperwork when necessary.
“Launching any idea, whether it’s a business or a philanthropic endeavour, is hard work.” Nancy Youssef, founder Classic Finance
Simultaneously she was also educating new-to-industry brokers through a contract role.
“My own fear and [not] ‘letting go’ really stopped me from growing the business in the early years and I did everything myself – which I know is still the case for many brokers today,” she says.
Then, her outlook changed. Youssef delegated the financials to a bookkeeper and started to dedicate more time to analysing the progress of the business’s growth; armed with this information she hired a number of staff and contractors, including a CFO to optimise the business and assist in tracking new goals, rather than just the bottom line.
By the end of the decade the stage was set for Classic Finance to expand.
As an experienced trainer and mentor, Youssef had kept a close eye on professional development for brokers and as such had facilitated Certificate IV and diploma courses.
However, things were changing; not only was there now a requirement for new-to-industry brokers to be mentored, but the industry was experiencing a high attrition rate among new finance businesses.
Inspired, Classic Mentoring debuted in 2011 and to date more than 150 brokers have been educated and supported through its programs.
The venture’s unique selling point draws on what also set Youssef’s broker business apart: educating people in plain English and cutting the confusion around finance products.
“This industry is really and truly built on relationships, so if you’re not the type of person who thrives on developing strong personal relationships, then this might not be the industry for you,” she says.
While there is near endless satisfaction to be found in achieving professional goals, many today are inspired to supplement their career achievements with charitable work.
Whether it is through a fun run, bake sale, endurance race or a simple donation, giving increased 1.2% in the year to February 2018, according to the NAB Charitable Giving Index. Youssef’s own experience started when she travelled to Malawi, Africa, on a trip she says “genuinely changed” her perspective on life.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many different countries around the world, on work trips and vacations where I’ve created lasting memories. But no trip has ever made an impact quite like my visit to Malawi. I left [Australia] as one person and returned with a completely new and deeper sense of purpose,” she says.
With a population of 18 million, Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries and Caritas Australia reports that three quarters of people there live on less than $2 a day.
Drought affects four million annually and a mere 2% of primary students have basic numeracy skills. Not content with simply donating to one of more than 60 charities operating in the country, Youssef partnered with the Human Kind Project as well as its sister venture the Hunger Project.
Founded by entrepreneur Jacinta McDonell – who brought the US gym franchise Anytime Fitness to Australia – both aim to empower local people to help themselves.
Seeing a clear fit for her skills, Youssef partnered with the organisations to help local people create and grow small business ventures and build a financially sustainable future. Not only does she donate practical support and time to the cause, Youssef also hosts fundraising gala balls, which since 2015 have raised more than $135,000.
Far from content with her achievements to date, her next target is to reach $200,000 in donations by the end of 2020. “I’m extremely lucky to lead a purpose-led life in every sense of the word. Partnering with the Human Kind Project and Hunger Project has allowed me to step into my purpose in a much bigger way,” she says.
Never say never
This month, Youssef releases her first book, Fear, Money, Purpose – a handbook for business owners and entrepreneurs who want to overcome the financial and personal doubts they feel hold them back.
While writing a book has been a relatively unexpected twist in her career story, Youssef says there is no set formula for bringing a new idea to life, whether charitable, business or personal.
Instead the key is to bring a fresh approach and lots of passion to the execution.
“The biggest thing you need is passion.
Launching any idea, whether it’s a business or a philanthropic endeavour, is hard work.
There are so many roadblocks along the way, and it can be an emotional rollercoaster at times,” she says.
Despite the new direction, Youssef still has plenty of advice to impart to brokers, specifically those who are at the start of their journey and may be unsure where to begin during what has become a turbulent time for the industry.
“Seeking advice along the way from successful people both in and out of the industry has been instrumental for me” Nancy Youssef, founder, Classic Finance
Despite this, she says the first step is clear: know your business’s value proposition and know your personal strengths.
“You need a strong vision of what you are trying to achieve and what success looks like at the end of that journey.
Once you have defined this, then you need to reverse engineer all the activities and resources you need to make it happen,” she says.
“Seeking help and advice along the way from successful people both in and out of the industry has also been instrumental for me,” she adds.
The overriding theme in Youssef’s story is growth.
However, unlike the growth the finance industry is accustomed to, her end goal is personal development, whether her own, that of her professional peers or other people.
And while she would be the first to admit that her journey has been far from easy, there is much more still to come.
“I never say never! There are so many ideas and opportunities in the industry, I just need more hours in my week. So, for now, I’ll say… watch this space”