Sylvia MacFarlaine – CPA/BBus (Acc), MFAA/FBAA Accredited Senior Mentor
“Helping Mortgage and Finance Brokers build their ultimate level of business success & create their legacies”
- Married 25 years to Troy
- Two Kids – Montana (21) and Logan (19)
- Lives on the Mornington Peninsula on 10 acres with 3 dogs, 2 cats, 1 bull, 3 sheep, and 8 chickens.
- I have a weakness for crème Brule
- I love the outdoors – camping, skiing, 4×4 driving and travelling
- Family is my everything!
So, what was your childhood like?
My family (mum, dad, brother, sister and little brother in utero) and I migrated to Australia from Serbia (former Yugoslavia) in 1971 and literally stepped off the boat into Melbourne with $2 bob. Yes, I was an off the boat Wog!! We struggled with language barriers and had to learn to survive in a Western Culture during a time when racism was very real, but my parents were sure the move would lead to a better life with more choices for their kids. My youth was spent growing up in government housing. Our lifestyle was modest at best, but we never went hungry and we always had the necessary essentials. Mum was a factory worker and a brilliant cook, and my dad was a spray painter and panel beater with a passion for mechanics.
You note the cultural and racism challenges, how did this affect you growing up?
As a new immigrant to Australia my parents were quite progressive and wanted to integrate – changing our names to English ones as new citizens and did their best to adopt an Aussie way of life. However, some of our traditions were hard to break. I think my lunches gave me away – I was the kid with the salami sangas at school. There were cultural barriers and I did see some stuff that would make you churn in today’s environment as hard core discrimination.
I witnessed my parents being taken advantage of, being bullied, even attacked and beaten up. I was bullied as a kid for speaking a different language, eating different foods, and having to do housework and cook at 10 years of age. Well the upside is I can make great pasta, but I do have slight OCD!!
Despite these hardships, my parents demonstrated tolerance, resilience, selflessness and never got angry. They accepted that what they had was enough, but they were also naïve in many ways and allowed fear to control their decisions. My parents were fighters, but they didn’t have to be. They were very proud people and culturally you didn’t admit you made mistakes, or you didn’t know, you just got on with it.
When I look back now, I didn’t realise these scars lead to my underdog advantage. Coming from a low socio economic environment, and no support, I decided pretty early on in life that I would break the cycle and vowed that I would NEVER allow myself to be controlled by fear and that I would continue to learn and grow wherever I can to make sure I could make better decisions. I made sure that I would ask questions from those whom I can learn from, read books, get an education and never give up. I developed a strength I never really understood until I became an adult.
I have come to understand that life happened for me not to me. If I had life on a platter, I don’t think I would be the person I am today.
Over the past 12 months my own coaches have helped me with self-discovery and self-reflection to identify my own unconscious competence. I never really owned it or paid attention, but I approach everyday life with a focused mindset to find solutions, think outside the box, innovate, keep learning and grow. I am always looking for ways to add value to anyone with my knowledge and support others so that they too can make better decisions.
What was your first job?
I didn’t finish my final year at high school. I felt a disconnect from traditional learning. My older brother (12 years my senior) was an early influence on me and often told me to get in the real world, so I did. I was 17 and started my working life in retail. I was working for a retail strip shop selling bras, hosiery and dresses to elderly woman. It was a fascinating experience. I didn’t mind selling, I was quite good at it. But my curiosity got the better of me as a I become more interested in the business side, I was less interested in fitting bras and explaining the best denier stockings woman should buy. Suffice to say curiosity killed the cat!!
How did you discover your passion for helping business owners?
I always had an insatiable and relentless appetite to understand the ins and outs of how people think and why they do what they do. I also like to provoke people to step out of their comfort zones or challenging their thinking. I was a naturally curious kid and it only intensified when I saw people in trouble. It my natural instinct to jump in and find a way to help. Watching my dad lose his panel beating shop after working so hard was really difficult to watch. It’s still a scar to this day I wish I could have been in a better position to change as he was a brilliant technician. With help, he would have had a different outcome.
How did you perfect your skills and establish yourself as an expert to help small businesses?
I invested heavily in myself through formal and informal education. I have a Bachelor of Business (Acc), postgraduate as a qualified Accountant – CPA, A Cert IV in Financial Services and work with my own coaches and mentors – two of the most renowned experts in the self-education industry who hold me accountable daily. Tony Robbins and Dean Graziosi. My extensive experience, and constant learning, has given me the capability to pass knowledge onto others. We live in a world of constant change, so unless I keep pivoting how can I help others to do the same Over the past 26 years I have successfully established myself purely through the sharing of knowledge and educating my clients to make better decisions.
Why did you decide to start your own Accounting Practise?
After my 5 years on the job training as I call it, I made a conscious decision that I wanted to be more than a typical bean counter and offer a personalised service to SMEs, my way. I was also ready to start a family.
In 1997 I became a CPA and set up F.A.B Solutions – Finance/Accounting/Bookkeeping Solutions. I had built up 20 client groups whilst working full time. My fees book was approx. $30,000 at that time. I borrowed $10K from CBA as an unsecured loan and opened up shop!! Well it was more a home office. I was keen to be a work from home mum. The rest as they say is history. I wrapped up my practise in 2006, after earning 6 figures working part time with two support staff.
What strategies did you use to build F.A.B Solutions?
Back in those days there was no social media, mobile phones (well not straight away), only faxes and computers with dial up internet. Marketing was print media, networking, word of mouth and cold calling. Emailing eventually became a mode of communication and a means of getting to decision makers. I read magazines, newspapers and publications looking for opportunities from content where I could start a conversation. You had to think outside the box and have a crack. It was pure grit, never giving up and pushing past the fear of rejection.
How did you handle challenges and overcome your fears?
You never really get a manual for being “in business”. But I was never really one to conform and if someone told me “that would never work” I had to prove them wrong. I was always resourceful and found ways to create momentum. I used my fears to harness my motivation. I was always mindful that I wanted more out of life and my parents came migrated to give me choices. It was up to me to leverage that. I didn’t allow my fears to control me and I always faced my challenges head on. In the back of my mind I never really saw myself as inferior to anyone even if they had a CEO after their name. I simply used to tell myself they are just another person and I can learn from them. Did I always like the outcome NO!! But it didn’t stop me from trying again. Rejection and failures are all part of the game. The only regret I have is that I didn’t engage support for myself earlier.
Have you faced failure and what did you learn from it?
It’s strange to look back now and realise that I was on that dang hamster wheel of just doing – I suffered burnout. I was solo, everything depended on me and I had no one to consult with. For the first time I felt completely lonely in business. On strict doctor’s orders I needed to take it easy. I really couldn’t afford it, but I had to hire another me. Everything was in my head, my processes, systems, office set up everything was custom build for one. How was I going to pass my whole business and the care of my clients into a stranger’s hands literally overnight? My business was at serious risk of failure. I was fortunate enough to have a friend in recruitment – he found me an absolute gem of a candidate. She absolutely saved my business and not only that, but she exposed my numbers. I learnt that I was grossly undercharging my clients. I really was quite sloppy with my 6min increment timesheets. To survive I had to more than double my fees. Whilst it wasn’t east to implement my clients adapted. My lessons were aplenty. This was the first time I questioned my self-worth and relationship with money. I learnt that I had to get my business out of my head and document my processes, hire an admin staff to free my time to focus on my strengths. I was able to identify my target market and focus on business growth. It was a pivotal time in my business.
What were some of your greatest achievements?
There were two magical moments for me. My first came when one of my Mentees from Small Business Victoria went on to win in the Telstra Small Business Awards and the other was being recognised by my peers and CPA Australia as an Entrepreneurial Accountant. I was the front cover feature in the June 2002 edition of Accounting in Australia – now know as In the Black.
Following my scope with CPA Australia, my business model became a hot topic as did the large network of professional capabilities that my clients has access to for every aspect of their business e.g. – lawyers, graphic artists, finance specialists, marketing people, printers and each other (our very own internal tribe). This opened the door for Accountants to let other disciplines in under one roof. Effectively I pioneered what is today known as a multi-disciplinary practise. I created a very sticky environment for my client base and they really didn’t make a move without consulting me first. What a legacy!!
How did you commence your career in Mortgage and Finance Broking?
After working with one of my referral partners – Asset Finance Specialist Barry Oxley (he’s still going strong to this day), it made sense to bring finance in house. Barry was really nice to me in helping me get onboard and so in 2003 I became accredited as a Finance Specialist in Asset and Commercial Lending and added Finance Direct (tag line – “why go anywhere else”) to my business. This completed our in-house suite of services. At this time the industry was not regulated, there were a small number of aggregators, compliance was almost non-existent, and you had to figure it out – the hard way. All stakeholders were learning together really. My accreditations were direct with lenders and applications were manual – yes try faxing 200 pages for a commercial deal when the classic paper jam happens halfway through!! I do sympathise with today’s Brokers getting frustrated when lenders misplace an electronic document!!
How did you come up with your current mentoring program?
Throughout my journey as a Broker I had many challenges myself with lack of educational support. In addition, as a Coach and Mentor I have seen firsthand just how traditional self-paced learning keeps missing the mark. Brokers want to be SHOWN. This really is our point of difference. Stats are clearly showing Broker are still struggling and they are voting for more support. The industry is based on transactional education but not how to be in business. I have recognised this gap and created a blueprint to support Brokers generate leads, serve those leads, and build a business whilst giving back the Broker the freedom to enjoy life. In addition, 80% of business starts with the right mindset. Stress and suicide are on the rise in the financial services industry, our program also embraces mindfulness.
What do you want to achieve in the Mortgage and Finance Industry?
I want to impact with better training/coaching/mentoring services for Brokers. My goal is to help them achieve their ultimate level of success and create their own legacies. Live life on their own terms and release them from being prisoners of their own businesses.
What direction would you like to see for the Mortgage and Finance industry?
I love this industry and want to see it thrive and survive. I would like to see Brokers pivot and focus on building solid businesses by investing in themselves and their business. I would like to see a collaboration of stakeholders all working together to bring transparency and better support to Broker development and ultimately customer experience. I believe this starts with better quality training, coaching and mentoring. In the 2020 Adviser survey on Banks, Brokers rated training rated as a top 3 need. I am confident that we have developed a program that addresses a Brokers whole business end to end. Furthermore, the industry is saturated in Brokers being all things to all people. I would like to see Brokers niche build their own zone of genius as an expert in that niche. This will to only open the industry but also support better Brokers and better customer outcomes.
What is exciting about the Mortgage and Finance Industry currently?
I love that the industry is pivoting and fast changing. Change means stepping out of your comfort zone and when you do that, you grow and learn. This brings opportunity and innovation and I love that.
Where do you turn for inspiration?
My inspiration comes in three’s:
My own coaches and mentors. My constant need for knowledge is great but action is the secret sauce. My coaches keep me accountable and give me the inspiration to challenge the status quo, make an impact, become a better person and keep the needle moving toward my WHY. I am constantly learning and improving both my mindset and keeping myself focused to achieve my legacy to impact lives.
My parents – have given me some of the best foundations in values. As their carer now I watch them with steely resolve as they fight each day past their limitations and keep going as if they were 30 years younger. Their never say die attitude is inspirational and I am privileged to still have my parents around, my mum 85 and dad 82 years young. My mum battles with her dementia daily yet she keeps her routine to cook and clean and get on with life. My dad fights through his heart and lung disease and even though he struggles to breath doing just the basic of things. He too gets on with it and just keeps going. God bless them!!
My kids – kids have an incredible power to keep you grounded and force you every day to level up. I work on being a better person each day to make sure I can help them realise their own purpose in life and support them through their journey to reach their ultimate level of success whatever that may look like. Warts and all!!
Tell us some things people don’t know about you?
I used to be a professional dancer at night clubs. I won a gold medal in weightlifting – clean and jerk at high school lifting my body weight at 45 kilos!! I have also been a sports manager for my nephew who was an up and coming formula one driver. If you think business is tough, try convincing companies to sponsor a relatively unknown kid with a talent for racing.