‘But that’s really vulnerable. I don’t really want people to read that.’
‘Well, that’s your story. And if you really want to give this your best shot, you’ve got to go deep.’
When financier, businesswoman and philanthropist Nancy Youssef decided to entitle the book about the lessons she’s learned in her life Fear. Money. Purpose. she didn’t realise just how appropriate those words would be for the act of writing the book itself.
In this conversation she reveals how she took up the challenge, invested in the process, and transformed her original play-it-safe manuscript into a powerful personal story that wowed her publisher and transformed her own life.
Nancy’s site: https://www.nancyyoussef.com.au/
Nancy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/nancyyoussef_
Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky
The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/
This Book Means Business – the mentorship programme: https://alisonjones.lpages.co/this-book-means-business-mentorship/
Alison Jones: Hi, I’m here today with Nancy Youssef, who is an award winning finance broker, mentor and philanthropist, the founder of Classic Finance and Classic Mentoring and Coaching. She is recognised as a leader, innovator and industry expert, and she’s an ambassador for change both within the finance industry in Australia and in some of the world’s most impoverished communities. She’s also a founding partner of the Humankind project, which invest in microfinances tips that help impoverished communities reach self reliance. And she’s the author of Fear, Money Purpose, which is just out from Major Street Publishing. So welcome to the show, Nancy.
Nancy Yousef: Thank you, Alison. I’m excited to be on the show.
Alison Jones: Really good to have you here. And congratulations on the book. How does that feel?
Nancy Youssef: Well, partly a huge relief that it’s, that it’s finally ours because it’s certainly been a labour of love, but very excited as well with the way it’s been received in the market. I’m quite humbled by the support. So yes, I’m very, very excited by it.
Alison Jones: It’s a funny old feeling, isn’t it? Suddenly it goes out there… what I loved whenI was reading your book, you start off front and centre with the whole fear thing, which is so real to me.
Nancy Youssef: Yes, it was authentically written. I, I really, I nearly pulled the pin on this project. So from idea to launch was about 18 months. And I think during that period I must have almost pulled the pin about three times during that journey, mainly because these little niggling doubts and fears kept coming up about this book. And I knew I was putting myself out there a bit. And I think like with, with any first time also, it’s something you’ve, you’ve not done before and you want your story to be liked. You want people to resonate with it and not feel so amateur about it. So it was certainly not the easiest journey, but now that it’s out there and, you know, as authentically written as it has been, I’ve really in truly been humbled with the support that I’ve received.
Alison Jones: But tell me a little bit more about that fear because I find that fascinating. I mean, you’re not somebody who is unused to public speaking, you know, you chair sessions, you talk around the world, you know, you do a keynote in a blink of an eye. What was particularly fearful or fearsome about writing the book?
Nancy Youssef: Well, all that other stuff, I just make it look easy, but it’s not, I guess, right? Writing a book. Okay. I mean I think any time really that you’ve got to put yourself out there, can be, you know, quite… especially when you’re being quite vulnerable. I think I’m coming from the space of, of being a small business owner and I’m running a couple of companies. It was really about getting sort of deep and, and, and, and sharing a lot of things that for a long time were quite private and known only by my closest and you know, and, and fiercest friends. And so the fact that I was about to open up in a big way to help other business owners uncover their own fears and sharing insights into the ways that I’ve overcome those very fears, was it was quite almost like bearing it all. And I think, you know, the fear I had was that my story wouldn’t resonate with other people.
Nancy Youssef: I feared that that the case studies and stories of my journey would be judged in a negative way. I also feel that potentially, you know, maybe I wouldn’t be taken seriously because my company is not such a large, you know, multimillion-dollar enterprise of a well known, you know, almost a celebrity business person. And so I had those, you know, a little bit of impostor syndrome along the way, thinking, you know, when you sort of start to measure yourself and your own story against that of others, you kind of start putting limiting thoughts and beliefs in your own mind about whether it would resonate. But most importantly, by being vulnerable, you’re always opening yourself up for people using your stories against you. And I was worried that that would backfire on me. So there’s certainly a lot of fears and I guess the biggest one was: would it fail? You know, you’re investing not only, a lot of time but you’re also investing money in a project like this. And so, and it’s a significant investment when you think about editing and writing and, you know, mentoring along the way and publishing. It’s not an inexpensive, journey. So, you know, if that was to fail that you’d be up for some financial loss too. So certainly if you….
Alison Jones: Absolutely. And you’ve just described this sort of toxic fear that, that, you know, a lot of people actually listening to this will be floundering in. So tell us what got you through it. I mean, what’s interesting is that you’ve faced up to all that and you articulate it and I always think that’s the first step because otherwise you don’t quite acknowledge what’s going on and you just procrastinate or you just never quite get round to doing it, but you sort of face them head on, didn’t you? And you actually write about them in the book. What was it that that made you make the decision to go ahead?
Nancy Youssef: Okay. So I guess to even begin, this project happened on the back end of a pretty disastrous time in my own life where I had a small accident, I broke my foot just by accident. And being an entrepreneur that’s running on a lot of adrenaline, I found that I was always off doing a thousand things a day and you know, three dozen ideas, you know, an hour. And so running around, running my businesses and doing all the projects and working through a lot of the things that I was… , I found that yes, although I’ve been self employed for 16 years, there are so many things that I still wanted to achieve. And the irony is that most people get into business to provide their lives with flexibility, lifestyle, the ability to, you know, chase their dreams and do the things that they want to do that they can’t otherwise do due to time constraints working in the corporate world.
Nancy Youssef: And so that was the very reason I started my own business. Yet fast forward 16 years, there was a bucket list of dreams and things that I hadn’t yet achieved. And so I guess when I broke my foot, it was, it was almost like a sign, where… It was a pretty severe break. And so I was actually on the doctor’s orders. I couldn’t really leave my four walls for about six weeks. And during that time I was forced to really slow down. And it was during that time that I started to reflect a lot on my life. Maybe because I had the time to do so and not being able to drive around and do the things that I normally did. And so one of the things that was on that bucket list was that I wanted to write a book and that was a dream of a 14 year old who was an avid reader.
Nancy Youssef: And I used to read a lot of books as a teenager and a young adult. And right through my, my career I was, you know, there was always a book or two that I’d had, on my list or on my bedside table that I’d be reading. And some way somehow that bucket list dream, never really eventuated. And I started to reflect on my life and I thought, if I could get through the next 12 months achieving a goal, what would that be? And the book was at that very top of that list. And so from that, I guess, disaster, there was a, you know, 11, 12 chapter list born and I decided to put pen to paper and actually make it happen. At that point I’d felt that I’d reached a maturity level in my business that’s certainly had a lot of business experience and I felt that finally I had a lot to share. And I guess the catalyst was me somehow communicating with other small business owners to say, Hey, I know how busy you are. I know how stressed you are, but you’ve got to sometimes take the time out to think about why you’re in business to begin with and make some time for your own personal goals. And this book was born from that very reflection.
Alison Jones: And maybe if somebody reads the book and does that reflection, the universe will be able to spare them the accident that would otherwise force them to stop. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how sometimes those things come along. I had a major operation in my early twenties and, you know, had six weeks recuperation. And I do remember it as almost like a golden time in my life. It gives you time to think like nothing else, doesn’t it?
Nancy Youssef: It does. And I remember one of my friends giving me a call and I was so down, I think I’d been on severe painkillers. So I didn’t even know if I was even conscious really when I was speaking with her. But I do know that day that my team had said to me, “Stop sending emails. You’re not making any sense.” So at some point I decided to get off the air and she called me and you know, amidst a little bit of an emotional… tears and things. And she was like, how are you feeling? I said, I feel pretty terrible and it’s such a bad time and you know, I’m so busy and I just didn’t need this accident right now. And she actually said to me, Nancy, you’ve got to find the silver lining in this situation. This could end up being the best thing that ever happened to you.
Nancy Youssef: And at that point I think all I wanted to do was just to hang up the phone on her. But looking back and you know, looking back nearly two years now, I think it was actually a blessing. I mean it was the best thing that happened to me because had that not happened and slowed me down to reflect, then this book would not have come to life and I wouldn’t have prioritised it to be a project and a goal that I really wanted to achieve.
Alison Jones: It reminds me of that wonderful phrase that when you’re a writer, a good day is a good day and a bad day is material. Absolutely. It just frames your experiences and that’s brilliant. It’s really fitting actually that we were talking about this and we are sort of going immediately very personal. But actually that’s the kind of super power of your book, isn’t it?
Nancy Youssef: It is very personal.
Alison Jones: And what really struck me, and this is really smart, I don’t know if you know quite how difficult it is to do this, but you do very, very well. You take your story and you tell your story, but it doesn’t feel like self-indulgence or it doesn’t feel as though all we’re doing is listening to your story because you’re telling it in the service of the reader. Was that a really conscious structure that you set up?
Nancy Youssef: It was because I mean, being an avid reader, again, I’ve read all sorts of books from, you know, biographies to business books to motivational books and all the rest through to fiction. And I think the books that I’ve always enjoyed were the ones that I felt that the author was speaking with me in a conversation. And so when I decided to look at the style of how I would write, I wanted it firstly to be a book that would be really easy to read and take weeks.
Nancy Youssef: I’ve had books where you kind of read a chapter and then you’ve got to go back and read it again because it was quite heavy. And I think we’ve all had those experiences so much as the story is great because there’s no connection to the author, it felt almost a little bit sterile. And so I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. But the biggest thing I kept in the back of my mind is that when a reader picked up, I wanted them to feel as though I was speaking to them. And I know the book has had that impact from my audience because I’ve had a number of readers already reach out and say to me, you know, it’s funny, but as I read your book, I can almost hear your voice reading it to me. And so that was the desired effect that I wanted in that, you know, if I was going to have a shot at this, I wanted to get it right and I wanted it to be authentic, spoken from the heart.
Nancy Youssef: And I just wanted people to feel that as they were reading it, they could almost hear me telling my story as opposed to, here it is and here are all my achievements and here all my failures. You got, there’s a checklist. I actually wanted it to have a human connection.
Alison Jones: And when you were writing it, how did you go about ensuring that you’d got that balance?
Nancy Youssef: So I had a little bit of help. I pretty much had to sit down and map out the framework of it all. And I’ve got a very good editor that’s worked with me and helped me also write components of the book. So from that process we spent, you know, a few hours a week, like we spent a couple of hours a week sort of talking about, right. So firstly it was about breaking down the book into three components, which is why it’s called Fear. Money. Purpose.
Nancy Youssef: So I wanted to give it structure. I really like that and I’m a very structured person. So being in finance you kind of develop that as a sixth sense. So structure’s really important, but it also was probably stemmed a little bit from my academic years in even high school and in into my later years, where I used to really enjoy writing essays and I always knew that essays always had like an introduction, a body and a conclusion. I was always trained to write these three components. The thing is like every book before now I’m talking about other books, we have three pillars and it’s just what I naturally gravitate to. So fear was like almost setting the scene, money was getting into the nuts and bolts and then purpose was the conclusion. And it was just about really allocating X amount over a few months to get that done.
Alison Jones: And that it’s really powerful because they’re three very resonant words and I very much like the way you’ve got those sort of section titles, you know, fear, money, purpose appear on each section and you just highlight the one that you’re dealing with now. And it gives the sense of the context. It’s a very nice little navigational tool. But what’s interesting is you, the way that you have that, you know, you tell the story, but then you kind of bring it back to the reader each time, which is really nicely done. I was wondering, I thought you maybe had like a team of beta readers who were working through it with you. I had this vision of you actually sort of leading it as a course as you were writing, you could have done, actually.
Nancy Youssef: I didn’t even know that sort of thing existed. We were on a shoestring budget, so we had to do this the best way we could with the, with the resources we had. Yes, I didn’t have that, but I will, I’ll probably pick your brain about that, Alison, that I didn’t know about.
Alison Jones: But what’s really interesting is that if you’ve got a community of people, the fact that you’re writing a book is… I mean, someone once said to me, when you’re marketing a book, you’ve kind of already won, because people get really excited about books, so, and this is a really good tip actually, for anybody who’s listening, if you’re writing and you really want it to land for the reader, then the best way to ensure that is to actually get readers involved right up front. And you can just simply invite people. Just say, I’m writing this book. Do you want to work with me as a beta reader? I mean it doesn’t cost you anything. They’re just like, well, yes, why would I not want access to this creative process? It sounds brilliant. You know, it’s exactly what I need to hear. So it’s the sort of thing that if you’re – it takes a bit of chutzpah…
Nancy Youssef: Yes, it’s probably something I’ll openly share. I mean, I’m not ego-driven at all. But I’ll be honest, the first manuscript that we produced, I sent it to the publisher. She absolutely loved the story and I had already met with her face to face, so she knew what it was all going to be about. But when I presented it to her, she came back and kind of said, look, great story, great manuscript, but I actually think it’s probably not going to fly with bookstores. I think it’s more probably something that you can promote in your own industry. And for me, that was quite disappointing really, because I’d always envisaged my book on a bookshelf with all these other magnificent books. And that was the dream. And he was my publisher saying in my translation, even though it wasn’t what she intended in my own translation was this book’s just not good enough for bookstores.
Nancy Youssef: And so me being me, I said to her, listen, ignore the manuscript that you’ve got. Let me go back and see what I can do and I’ll, and I’ll come back to you with an amended, a new script, but I want this book in bookstores. And so off I went for a couple of months after that conversation. And at that point I realised I needed a mentor. I’d never done this before. I needed somebody who had specialised in books and book mentoring. And I engaged a mentor and I must say she was very knowledgeable. She’d been in publishing for over 30 years. She pulled my manuscript apart and gave me a lot of hard love. And that hard love was really, putting my ego aside and, and accepting some of her, I guess feedback and what I call constructive criticism. And without deviating too much from the core story, the long and short of I think why my publisher didn’t connect with it in the first place was because I was playing it safe. Much as I was revealing some of my stories and some of my experiences, I wasn’t going as deep as the book that you read now.
Nancy Youssef: I was playing it safe with, with the examples, with the stories. Whereas my mentor would read a section and say, so this paragraph, you talk about this experience making you feel like this, but how did it make you feel like this? Or why did it make you feel like this? And she’d almost get me a point where I had to keep explaining it that I almost was in tears. And she said, that’s what we’re looking for, because that’s what the reader is going to connect with. And so I said, but that’s really vulnerable. I don’t really want people to read that. And she’s like, well that’s your story. And if you really want to give this your best shot, you’ve got to go deep. And this was a concept that I had to get really comfortable with and hence why we have the book we do today. Now, had I just gone with my first manuscript, it was, it was really playing it safe and it was almost… The paradox was that here I am writing a book about fear. You know, I had a lot of fear with this manuscript to almost reveal all. And so here we are.
Alison Jones: That is absolutely amazing. That’s fascinating. Is that Lesley at Major Street Publishing?
Nancy Youssef: Lesley is my publisher. So Lesley was the one that sort of said, look, it’s not, we’re not going to put that into bookstores just yet, but, you know, we’ll need to do so… And that’s when I said to Lesley, look, no, I’ll take that away and I’m going to speak to someone. And she actually introduced me to a mentor. So it was great.
Alison Jones: And when you brought it back, what was her reaction?
Nancy Youssef: Oh, this is fantastic. This is wonderful. This is now definitely bookstore material.
Alison Jones: Well that’s a fascinating story. Thank you so much because I….
Nancy Youssef: It is a vulnerable story, but you know, as I said, it’s, I’d rather just be honest and authentic. Like you know, when you’re a first time author you can’t, this is the advice you kind of wish somebody had given you.
Alison Jones: Exactly. But I still, you know, the thing about this as well is it’s all in service of the reader and that’s, that’s why it works for you. Because I have read manuscripts that have been very vulnerable, very open, but it’s kind of oversharing and it’s more like therapy on the page. And that I think is the trick. When you come from that place of real authenticity of real… And you are, you know, you’re so honest on the page about that. The fear that you went through each step of your business and then you bring it back to the reader and you draw the lessons from that. And that is the balance. I think that that makes the book work so well. That’s what it’s wonderful to hear the story behind it. That’s really fascinating. Well, I always ask people for their best tip for an author, I’ve got a feeling you’d probably just given it to us to be honest, but if I said to you, what would your best it be for a first time author who’s, as I say, flailing around in that kind of fear soup that we talked about earlier, what would you say to them?
Nancy Youssef: Absolutely get a mentor, a second opinion, and somebody who’s not going to tell you what you want to hear, but challenge your manuscript to make sure that you’ve really got your message and the content that you’re putting in there. You really need another opinion. And I think also going back to what you said, get a few people to read it upfront before you, you know, seal it as the final, the final version.
Alison Jones: You’re like, ‘Next time I write, I’m going to try that.’.
Nancy Youssef: Absolutely. It, it was, it was the game changer for me. So I definitely think that that’s my biggest tip.
Alison Jones: Brilliant. Thank you. And it’s not an uncommon one actually I have to say, just just going back into that for a second, because it occurs to me that that must have been quite a profound experience for you. What do you think, I mean, obviously professionally this is terrific. You’ve got a really incredible book that sets out your story, and it’s very much supporting the idea of a, you know, businesses as purpose driven and, and business making a change in the world. So there’s all that great stuff about your message. But on a really personal level, what would you say the book, the writing of the book did for you?
Nancy Youssef: You know, it was almost a therapy. I’m not, not, not in a, not in a negative way, but I think it’s, it’s just the satisfaction of knowing that I had such a big, lofty goal as a 14 year old teen to one day write a book. And you know, I can’t tell you the feeling you get when you walk into the bookstore for the very first time and you see your book there along all these favourite, some of your favourite authors and alongside books that you’ve read and really enjoyed it and recommend it to so many other people. For me it was just this huge sense of accomplishment, a huge goal that I’ve achieved. It was almost like, yes, I did it. And it’s almost infectious because now I’m, I would never have thought I’d think about writing a second book, especially throughout the journey because it’s as painful as it was.
Nancy Youssef: But personally it was also great to get a lot of my own experiences and I guess, you know, not just my successes but also my failures and know that it’s going to have such an impact in inspiring other business owners, and helping them through their own challenges. And I think the effect that that has for me particularly around purpose in that I do a lot of mentoring and helping other small business owners, is just the collateral effect that that has. And I’ve had so many beautiful messages and emails sent to me on how this book has inspired others. And I think if there’s anything there, one of my biggest goals was to get it out there to inspire other people.
Alison Jones: Oh that’s wonderful. And then coming back to that moment when you walked into the bookshop and there it was one of the books on the shelves… Okay, so name one book that – apart from obviously your own – that you would recommend other people read. Because we were, before we came on we were just talking a bit, you know, before I switched the mic on about the whole reading business books, writing business books and the close relationship between them. So I think it’s really important that people who aspire to write a good business book fill their brains with good business books because it really is helpful. So what would you recommend to someone?
Nancy Youssef: Look, I mean, I guess I love reading across so many different topics and I mean, some of them are business books where they are really about your management system or your employees or your team. Others are really about your own personal development or professional. And others, purely around, being real and being human. And I think they’re the sort of books that have been appealing to me lately. And I love the work of Dr Brené Brown. A book that she recently released, Dare to Lead, has been a great book. Some of the previous, books I’ve read, books by, you know, even Gino Wickman, a book called Traction, which was fantastic for me as a leader to help get focus in my organisation and working with my team. So there’s that, you know, I’d say, you know, the work of Dr Brené Brown’s great, Traction is probably one of my favourite all time business books and Good to Great by Jim Collins is also a good one. So yes, there’s a few different ones that I really enjoy.
Alison Jones: Yes. Absolutely. Classics. Do you know Traction is on my list for this year. it’s the only one of those I haven’t read yet. I’ve heard really good things about it…
Nancy Youssef: Alison. It is fantastic. Honestly, it was a game changer for my business. I absolutely love it. I’ve read it twice now.
Alison Jones: That’s the thing is that when you go back and read a book again, you know it’s really landed with you because so many books, so little time, you really have to want to read a book again.
Nancy Youssef: So many aha moments reading that book. It was fantastic.
Alison Jones: Oh, that’s, that’s a good spur to me. Thank you. I’ll go, I’ll get onto that next. Wonderful. And if people want to find about more about you, Nancy, and obviously more about your book, about your business, where should they go?
Nancy Youssef: NancyYouseff.com.au. It’s all on there. And that’s my personal site, and it talks a lot about some of the other work that I do. So yes, feel free to jump on.
Alison Jones: Awesome. And I will put that link up on the show notes at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com. Nancy, it was such a pleasure talking today. Thank you for, for just bringing you know the whole story about writing that book. And I think that you will have inspired so many people because they can relate to all the fear that you’ve about, but also that sense of what it’s like to come out the other end. I think that that’s hugely inspiring to people. So thank you so much.
Nancy Youssef: Thank you so much for having me, Allison. Lovely chatting. with you too. Thank you.