Fighting to Protect Women Financially ... After Beating Cancer Twice!

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Hannah Foxley is Founder of The Women's Wealth Expert, a company she created to help women protect themselves financially, particularly in the case of illness. Hannah founded her business after going through a year of breast cancer treatment during which she had cancer twice.

She has been in the financial services industry since 1999 and has been an adviser for 10 years, gaining the highest qualifications in the industry. However, Hannah didn't take her own advice and had no financial protection meaning that she had to work through all of her treatment to keep the roof over my head. This was hugely stressful and made worse by less than supportive colleagues. 

Getting cancer back was Hannah’s epiphany moment and she decided that she no longer wanted to be employed and wanted to ensure that no woman suffers the way she did because she didn't protect herself financially and Hannah is on a mission to spread this message. She also wants to ensure women have proper financial planning advice from someone they can trust (which isn't usually a male IFA), so that they create their own financial freedom. So Hannah took the huge risk of setting up on her own with no clients, enough money to last until Christmas and a whole lot of passion and drive. Hannah’s website

We spoke to Hannah about how she quit her job ten days after finishing cancer treatment to launch her business; about her financial advice for female entrepreneurs and women in general; and her entrepreneurial journey so far. 

TNW: How did you come up with the idea for The Women’s Wealth Expert and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?

HF: After being diagnosed with cancer and having to work through my treatment because I had no financial protection, I wondered how many other women could find themselves in my position. I started to talk to a lot of women and I found that many of them would find themselves in that position. I also found that most women don’t like to talk to men about their finances and as 95% of the financial services industry is male it means that a lot of women bury their heads in the sand and hope that things will be ok.

I decided that I wanted to do something about that and so 10 days after finishing cancer treatment, I quit my job and went for it.

It all happened very quickly and I definitely went for the risk and flying by the seat of my pants option, which means that I had no room for error! I had to put my heart and soul into it from day one to make it work.

TNW: What makes your company different from your competitors?

HF: I specialise in advising women only and I pride myself on giving very down to earth advice with soul. I am absolutely passionate about ensuring that women are protected financially and this is always my starting point.

TNW: What is your business model?

HF: I am writing a lot of protection business for my clients and while I am building cash flow in the business I am building relationships with family lawyers. I plan to specialise in the divorce market and help women who are going through this stressful process to take the fear and worry away around money. I help ensure that they get their fair share of the pension assets, which is so important for their future security.

I am currently writing a book to guide women through the financial aspects of divorce and giving advice on managing their own finances afterwards. This will be published in 2013.

TNW: Tell us a little about the early days of your business, after you'd quit your job to launch a company with very little money and no clients. How did you start to build a business from scratch?

HF: While I was undergoing radiotherapy, I started to get out and network and speak to women to gauge interest and quickly found that there is a huge demand for a female only IFA. I was initially going to go to a firm on a self employed basis, which would have afforded me some security in that they would have allowed me to take an income, which I would pay back once the business got going. I also had access to their introducers and potential clients. However, when I got the contract, it was so full of restrictive covenants that it was just the same as being employed. I didn't know at the point whether I would be able to start my own IFA business with hardly any cash, but after doing some research found that I could by getting my FSA authorisation via a network.

Two weeks after quitting my job, I incorporated. The fear that I felt as I filled out my application forms for the network and signed guarantees that basically sign my life away was palpable.

However, I told myself that if worst comes to worst I will go and get another job! I thought to myself, what's the worst that can happen? I have just beaten cancer, twice and this is not going to kill me, so just do it. I have become an expert at leaning into the discomfort and accepting fear and even terror and just getting on with it! I knew in my heart and my gut that I had to do this and that I wanted to run a business on my own terms and take my ideas to the world. In the 6 weeks that it took to get my FSA authorisation through, I had a website ready, branding done, videos shot and clients ready to do business with me. I networked and talked to everyone, I went everywhere that I was invited and spoke to anyone that would listen to me! It's paid off though as people have talked about me and I am getting emails from people that I spoke to months ago, who are now ready to look at their financial planning requirements.

The most terrifying thing is cash flow and I really am flying by the seat of my pants on that front, but it is coming and so I am keeping a level head about it all.

TNW: If you could give women three pieces of advice to ensure that they are financially protected if they become seriously ill, what would they be?

HF: Don't fall into the trap of thinking that it is too expensive and you can't afford it right now. We all do it, but you have to think about what you would have to give up now to pay for that cover, compared to what you would have to give up if you couldn't work and had no income. Statutory sick pay is £85.85 per week, could you live on that?

Even though I should know better, I fell into the trap that all young women fall into by thinking that it wouldn't happen to me and the cover is too expensive. I had to work through cancer treatment and the stress nearly killed me, literally!

The most important areas to protect are your debts and your income. Critical illness cover will pay you a lump sum if you are diagnosed with a critical illness and this can be used to pay off debts. Income protection will replace approximately 55% of your gross annual income if you are unable to work due to accident or sickness, until such time as you are well enough to go back to work. These are vital.

Don't put it off because once you have been diagnosed with serious illness, you can't get cover as you are too high a risk for the insurer.

TNW: If you could give female entrepreneurs three pieces of general financial advice, what would they be? 

HF: As above protecting your income and your debts is the MOST important step in financial planning.

The next area is to think about putting money aside for your future, You need a big pot of money to provide you with a decent income in retirement. Women are not so good at saving for the future but it is vital. You don't want to work your socks off all of your life and get to retirement and have nothing to show for it except a great wardrobe! Shoes won't keep you warm at night and they won't put food on the table. I often hear people say that their house is their pension, but you have to live in it, so how is it going to provide you an income in retirement? The earlier you start to save the better, even if you can only out a little bit away at the outset. With entrepreneurs and self employed people, it is often the case that you won't know until the end of the financial year what you can afford to put away. That is not a problem at all, but put money away in a savings account during the year and then decide at the end of the year with your financial planner what should go where and the most tax efficient way  for your needs.

Cash flow is king, keep your eye firmly on the figures and don't confuse cash flow with profit.

We often fall into the trap as entrepreneurs of thinking that because we have money coming into the bank account, we are making money, but you have to take the overheads into consideration.

A good financial planner and accountant will work together to ensure that you are well positioned financially.

TNW: When you built your team, what are the key qualities you looked for to ensure the success of your business?

HF: At the moment I have a virtual team around me and have a virtual PA and outsource admin and paraplanning. When I build my team, I will be looking for people like me who have a real passion for customer service and relationship building with their clients. I want people who can be excited by and share my vision of building a financial services firm that not only looks after female clients but nurtures and develops women in the financial services industry.

TNW: Who were your first customers and how hard was it to attract them?

HF: My first clients were ladies from my networking groups. I am a member of both Athena and Women In Business Network and have found this really beneficial to getting my business going.

TNW: Who are your customers and partners now?

HF: I am picking up clients from referrals and word of mouth, networking and public speaking. You need to market yourself constantly and build your brand and reputation.

TNW: What is your marketing strategy and what has been the most effective source of new customers so far?

HF: Networking and social media have worked for me. I am always talking to people about what I do and I never stop talking about my business and how I help women.

TNW: What is next for your company?

HF: At the moment, I am just finding my feet and getting a stable cash flow coming in to the business but once I have achieved that, I will start to think about growing my business.

TNW: Have you come across any other exciting start ups recently and what is it about them that appeals to you?

HF: I am on a programme called Key Person of Influence, which is a 7 month business incubator and it is full of exciting start-ups and entrepreneurs. I am surrounded by amazing people and we all support and cheer each other on, it’s a fantastic community.

TNW: What are the advantages of gender diversity in a startup? Are there any disadvantages?

HF: I am a female only business but I will also employ some men as I think you need diversity in the work place. Men and women view things differently and you need both points of view.

TNW: What lessons have you taken from your successes &/or failures?

HF: I have learned that you need to be incredibly positive and believe in yourself and your idea. You also need to surround yourself with positive people of the same mindset as you can all support each other when the going gets tough.

TNW: Do you have any tips or any advice for women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?

HF: I think it’s best to stick with what you know and become an entrepreneur in a market that you are familiar with.

Sometimes you have to just take the plunge and go for it. There is never a right or perfect time to set up a business, you just have to get in with it.

You also need to be insanely positive and relentlessly motivated to achieve success. Talk about your business to anyone that will listen as this gets your message out there, other people will talk about you and the news starts to spread.

TNW: Do you have any role models or mentors?

HF: I have a mentor in Vanessa Vallely who is fantastic and is my cheerleader and spreads the message about me. I also have a coach in Salli Glover who has changed my whole way of thinking, which in turn has changed my life. I surround myself with positive role models and people with a can do attitude.

TNW: What does your day look like?

HF: Every day is different. I am either seeing clients or networking and growing my business or catching up on admin and writing articles and blogs. It’s fantastic to have such a varied diary.

TNW: Do you lie awake at night sometimes thinking about the company? What aspects of it specifically keep you awake?

HF: I think all company owners do. I worry about cash flow, ensuring that I fit in everything and keeping the momentum going.

TNW: Do you have any pet projects as an entrepreneur?

HF: I want to give back, so I give 5% of my net profits to cancer charities and I am also an ambassador for Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

TNW: If you hadn’t chosen entrepreneurship, what alternative career path might you have pursued?

HF: I would have worked for a firm on a self-employed basis but it really didn’t fill me with excitement so I can’t imagine doing anything else now.

TNW: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?

HF: My biggest challenge would have to be early days cash flow. I left my firm with enough money to last me until Christmas, which was a very bold move. The nature of the protection business that I write means that there is a time lag between submitting the business and getting paid, which has been really stressful.

The money is slowly starting to trickle through now but it’s been hairy. I have risked everything to start this business and that’s a very scary thought. Failure is not an option!

TNW: Is there a moment in the history of your company which you remember as the highlight so far?

HF: Getting my FSA authorisation through on 2nd October, which mean that I am officially open for business.

TNW: Do you have plans to expand internationally? Which countries and when?

HF: I would eventually like to expand the business to the middle east to service the Arab women and ex-pats. I don’t have a timescale for that yet as I am so new.

TNW: Do you envision an exit, how and when?

HF: I would like to have built the business and be in a position to sell it, or a large chunk of it within 10 years.

TNW: When did you first think about selling The Women’s Wealth Expert?

HF: I started my business plan with the exit strategy. It’s important to focus the mind.

TNW: Briefly describe your history in raising investment for your company

HF: I haven’t raised any yet, but will have to in the future if I want to grow the business with speed

TNW: Do you believe it is better to find customers then funding or vice versa?

HF: In my case, I have gone for the bootstrapping option to get me started and so finding customers has been key. The thought of getting investment had not occurred to me until I started to mix in entrepreneurial circles.

TNW: What do you believe are the key pros and cons of venture capital vs angel investment?

HF: Venture capitalism is very much a cold business process and you are likely to give away a large chunk of your business in return for the capital. Angel investment will have more of a mentoring feel to it and if you find the right angel investor you could get a great mentor into the process.

TNW: What qualities do you think women entrepreneurs need for sourcing angel investment/raising venture capital? 

HF: Confidence in the business. Know the figures inside and out and stand your ground.

TNW: Do you believe that it is easier for technical women founders to achieve venture funding than non-technical? If so, what are your reasons for this?

HF: I think it is probable easier for technical women to raise venture capital as they understand the numbers better and this is what VC’s are after. The more creative types of founders tend to have less of a grip on the numbers side and can feel overwhelmed. Of course this is a wild generalisation and not true in every case.

TNW: How would you describe your leadership style today?

HF: I lead by example in a passionate and compassionate way.

TNW: How has your leadership style changed over the years, and why?

HF: I have become more mature in my approach as I have matured and my life experience has shaped the way that I see the world.

TNW: What is one lesson about leadership you learned from a boss or mentor?

HF: I have seen how not to do things and have learned from weaknesses that I have seen in others. I have also learned some great lessons on how to motivate and lead a team and create a good working environment from other bosses. I have learned that you need enthusiasm and energy and a clear vision of where you are going so that others can buy into that and follow you.

TNW: What is one lesson you would like to pass on to other women leaders?

HF: Stay authentic and true to yourself.

TNW: What is the best career or management decision you have made?

HF: Leaving employment to set up my own business.

TNW: What is one career or management decision you would like to go back and change?

HF: I have learned something from everything that has happened in my career and everywhere that I have worked and that will help to shape my business so I wouldn’t change anything. 

TNW: What is one leadership lesson you learned the hard way, but wish someone had told you at the beginning?

HF: I haven’t come across these lessons yet but I am sure that I will learn a lot as I build my business and grow my team.

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