What if we have been served a big fat lie about what it takes to be successful at work?
In today’s episode, I chat with Business Chicks founder, Emma Isaacs, who believes the hustle is dead and what her rules are for working better not harder.
In this Episode:
02.07: About Emma Isaacs, Business Chicks and how she ‘fell’ into business
07.11: How the Business Chicks team pivoted the business during COVID
12.14: Why Emma’s new book redefines the work environment
19.00: How a simple question from Richard Branson led to Emma opening the business in the US (and the challenges that surrounded that)
Emma Isaacs is the Founder and Global CEO of Business Chicks.
A business owner by the age of 18, property investor by 19, and self-made millionaire by 23, Emma Isaacs has entrepreneurship and achievement in her DNA.
As founder of Business Chicks—a thriving global community that operates on two continents in eleven cities – her team produces more than 100 events annually, with past speakers including Sir Richard Branson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane von Furstenberg, Kate Hudson, and Arianna Huffington, among others.
She’s also the author of bestselling book Winging It and a mother to six kids aged 12 and under. In 2020, Emma livestreamed the homebirth of her sixth child from her living room with tens of thousands of viewers tuning in to watch his peaceful arrival, and as a committed philanthropist has now raised more than $13million for various charities.
What if we’ve been served a big fat lie about what it takes to be successful at work? Today’s guest on the podcast is Business Chicks founder, Emma Isaacs, who really believes that the hustle is now dead. In today’s episode, we chat about how you don’t have to work harder, you just need to work better. And Emma shares some of her rules for incorporating that into your business. Today’s episode was one of my favorite episodes to date, so I hope you enjoy.
Hello and welcome to The Clare Wood podcast, where myself, an incredible guest share about money, mindset, financial successes, and how to manage your money in a fun and practical way to create wealth and abundance in both your business and your life. I’m your host, Clare Wood. I’m a business coach and a money mentor. I strongly believe that money has the power to positively change the world. I can’t wait to help you transform your mindset around money, create a love of numbers and build the business of your dreams so you can live a life of financial freedom, giving and global impact.
Well, a big warm welcome to the podcast, Emma, I’m so excited to find only have you here. I think I first asked you to come on the podcast maybe a couple of years ago, and it’s such an honor to have you here today. So thank you so much for taking the time.
Before we dive in for anyone who’s listening and who doesn’t know who you are, would you like to introduce yourself and maybe share a little bit about your business journey to date?
Yeah, I’d love to, and thank you for your patience. I feel really bad that you’ve had to wait…
It’s worth the wait, Emma.
We were just talking off air a moment ago because we were actually scheduled probably about six weeks back, or maybe it’s even longer than that. And we’ve had to subsequently reschedule you a couple of times this round. So I feel really dreadful about that, but I appreciate you persevering with us and having all the patience. So thanks. Thanks for having me Clare.
About Emma Issacs, Business Chicks and how she ‘fell’ into business
So hey, everyone, I’m Emma Isaacs I have an amazing opportunity to lead an incredible organization called Business Chicks, which is a fantastic company and community of amazing women who are really, I suppose, synonymous with the way that we think and the way that we support each other.
People often say to me, who is a business chick? And what’s the average age? And what do they do? And it’s really, really, really hard for us to define that. I think the people who are attracted to Business Chicks and the people who be members for years, like you’ve been a member for many, many years, and the people who come along to our events realize that we’re up to something and we’re trying to make the world a better place for women, which is our mission. And we really try and do that by being very genuine in our relationships and trying to show up for women. To try encourage us all that there’s an amazing opportunity for us in this moment in time to really get ahead. And whether that is climbing the career ladder or building your own business. Yeah, it’s a really, really exciting gig that I get to do.
So I actually fell into Business Chicks. My backstory in a couple of minutes or less, I had my first company when I was 18. I bought into a little recruitment company, which you know all about Clare and just really got to work. I rolled up my sleeves and I had no clue of what I was doing. I dropped out of university so I had no formal education and I didn’t come from a family of entrepreneurs. My dad’s an accountant, my mom’s a teacher, so I didn’t really have any role models around me or any influences to tell me that I would be an entrepreneur or that I’d be interested in business. But my dad got laid off from his corporate job during my teenage years and he started getting into sort of multi-level market working out what he was going to do for his next gig. And as a result, we had a ton of personal development. I mean, back then it was cassettes and… It wasn’t DVDs, it would’ve been just books and cassettes. But he’d drive to a netball game and I’d put in a cassette and we’d learn from Anthony Robbins or Zig Ziglar or Robert Kiysosaki, or whoever it was. So I started to get really clear on, you can be as successful as your mind allows. So these people who are teaching these courses and running these seminars are really self-made. So I started to get really excited about that, clearly not knowing where I’d end up, but at the age of 18, I met someone just out socially and she’d started a little recruitment company. I joined her and like I said, we rolled our sleeves up and got to work. And I was in that recruitment company for yeah, seven years. We built it into a really great little business, won a lot of awards. About that time. I was going through a tremendous amount of personal change and left a relationship and went backpacking in India, which these things were things I’d never allowed myself the time for. Being in business from the age of 18, I would work around the clock six or seven days a week. So I hadn’t done the… I’d never been drunk or on a Contiki tour or gone backpacking. I sort of just skipped that phase altogether and got very serious. So yeah, I went along to a Business Chicks event when I was going through this personal change and deciding what I wanted to do next. And I remember walking into that room and thinking, wow, something is happening here and I don’t know how to articulate it. And 15 years on, I still don’t really know how to articulate it, but I learned the business was for sale. And I bought it. So yeah, that was 15 years ago. Obviously we’ve grown a whole heap. I live in Los Angeles in California. We’ve moved here six years ago to try to get the business off the ground over here. And we’ve morphed and we’ve changed and grown our offering and our products. But, the one, I suppose, common denominator has always been that we’re still here for women and we are here to build our relationships and to be kind for people. And I think if you kind of have that north star, if you have that compass to guide you back to what your core values are and what you stand for, then what you do doesn’t actually really matter. So gosh, I told you two minutes, that was probably damn near 10.
No, no, that was fantastic. It’s so wonderful to hear. And obviously, I followed your journey for a long time, so it’s wonderful listening to you share that with the listeners. So, I am a loyal Business Chicks member, and I have to say, I love your events. I seriously think the Marie Forleo event… I remember being like, this is one of the greatest moments of my life, was meeting Marie. We love your events. And last year with COVID obviously, your world must have changed significantly being… Primarily running a lot of events. I’d love to hear how it affected you guys as a leadership team and how you decided to pivot during this period of time?
How the Business Chicks team pivoted the business during COVID
Yeah. Gosh, that’s such a big question. It’s a beautiful question. And really I’m sure… I don’t want to as be assumptive, but like most of the world, I think we are still recovering and that’s just not from a financial point of view it’s from just being thrown into the washing machine of such turmoil and change. And we certainly were not immune to that. And yeah, significantly affected because as you said, a large part of our revenue and activity comes from large gatherings. So we do conferences, we do lunches, and evening events and brekkies and one day and two day seminars. So we can have up to 5000 people in a room at one time. So it was definitely challenging. I remember I had CEO in the business for the past six years and she’s a very, very dear friend of mine, Olivia Ruello, and she’s just left to go into a government role, which we are very, very… Obviously we’re still very, very close and we look on in awe as to what she gets up to next. But I remember having a chat with Liv when the world organization announced it as a pandemic and I remember Liv saying to me, “Okay, what I’m going to do, I’m going to sit everyone down and reassure them that everything’s going to be okay.” And I said to her, “You can’t do that. It’s not going to be okay.” That’s not what we’re going to do. That ain’t it. We have got to sit everyone down and say, “Guys, we have to employ a level of foresight. We have to think with a ton of agility, we have to look into a crystal ball and try and work out not only what our plan’s going to be, but what the fallout’s going to be from this.” So she was quite optimistic and let’s just sit down and have a kumbaya with the… Of course, it wasn’t that, but I was like, “No, we need to really strategize this. We really need to come up with a bit of a game plan before we bring the team together.”
So we did that and it wasn’t elegant. There was no elegance with the way we pivoted, maybe it looked like that from the outside, but there were a lot of-
It sure did.
Oh, that’s lovely. But there were a lot of, not emergency meetings, but getting the team together. And I remember sitting down with our communications team and they were saying, “Okay, so we’re going to schedule.” I said, “There’s no scheduling anymore. Those days are gone.” So you’re telling me you’re going to do a scheduled EDM or a post in three months, guys stop. The way that we used to work is dead and gone maybe not forever, but certainly for the foreseeable future. So I want you to put your pens down. I want you to stop talking about scheduling. I want you to try and read the room. Try and be talking our members, trying to understand what they need right now. And what came back was definitely a sense of comfort. They wanted a sense of comfort. They wanted a community more than anything. And so the problem became how do we create that without the tools and the tricks that we had to do that when we brought 500 to 5000 women together in a room. So we got an online event together really, really, really quickly. I think in a couple of… It was either the week after or in a couple of weeks. And that sort of set the scene and set the pace for how fast we were going to deliver content and deliver experiences that would hopefully help people feel less alone and less frightened.
Listen, Clare, we were doing sometimes three or four events, digital events a week, and it was a tremendous toll on resourcing and effort. And we were trying to do all that with having our revenue severely sliced. So it’s all well and good to say, “Okay, we want to show up and we want to service our members more and we want to do all these amazing activities.” Which we ultimately did, it’s also like, well, how do you do that when you’re trying to manage the cash and the business model at the same time? So, yeah. I mean, like I said, I think we’re all still feeling a level of PTSD from it. I think, the team is probably the most lethargic they’ve been. And I think when you have your… We know what we’re good at. We know ourselves well enough to know what we’re really, really good at and when that magic is kind of taken away, it does take you a little bit of time to recover.
So we now feel pretty confident that we can start planning a bit more to bring that magic back. And it’s exciting, but we’re going to crawl to the end of 2021, and then we’re going to come out all guns out blazing next year. I can’t wait.
Yeah. I can’t wait to get back to live events. And obviously back to Business Chicks events again soon. So one of the big things that I wanted to chat to you about today is your brand new book called The New Hustle. So you wrote in the book that this was something that was a real passion project of yours, and I’m writing a book at the moment, it’s bloody hard work. So talk to me about out why you wanted to write this book.
Why Emma’s new book redefines the work environment
Yeah, great. Great question. So I wrote my first book three years ago now, and the way that book came about was, I mean, people have been saying, you guys do special stuff at Business Chicks, and you’ve obviously been in the business world for 20 years now so it’d be really great if we could hear more of your strategies and ideas. And so I wrote Winging It three years ago and that really surprised us all. It still continues to sell really well to this day, which is just phenomenal because really I had no concept of how to write a book and how to market a book. And I just tried to be as me as possible. And that was really a gift to have that book so well received and so loved this day. So that happened.
And then once you get a bit of a taste of success and… It’s not even about the success, it’s not about the advance or the money or the print runs, or how many copies… We know all that data obviously, but what makes a book successful to me is when I meet people and they tell me, “Oh, I quit my job because of Winging It.” Or “I asked for a pay raise because of Winging It.” Or “I decided to write a book myself.” Or “I moved…” Whatever it is, they did something, they got into action. So I loved that sense of empowerment that other of people got and that really buoyed me to want to do more. And of course once we were in the kind of sausage machine of publishing and we have a really great… Two really great publishers, I have a publisher here in North America and I have one in Australia. They were obviously, “Hey, this went really, really, really well, now we need book two.” So, that was good. I actually submitted two manuscripts for my second book wrote, I think, 220000 words. So just my method or my style of writing tends to be, I tell myself all the time, no wasted words. I want to get my point across with brevity. I want to get my point across as to respect the time of my reader. I want people to feel… I speak very quickly, I walk very quickly. When I’m in my office, I’m like, let’s walk and talk, let’s go, let’s go. Time is money, we just got to cut some corners and get to the outcome. So that’s how I try and write, so to really edit down well is a whole process then obviously the pandemic happened. So anything I’d written previously just felt like it didn’t fit anymore.
And because we were going through such an immense period of change and upheaval with the business I was finding myself and I’ve said it before, but really trying to get back to the lessons that I had mainly taught myself as a young entrepreneur about being scrappy about focusing on net profit rather than… We talk about profit is for vanity… Sorry, revenue is for vanity. Profit is for sanity. So I’ve always said, doesn’t matter what your top line is doing, doesn’t matter if you turn over… I used to be in an entrepreneur’s group a hundred years ago. And I’d be in groups with guys and girls that were doing 200 million dollars in revenue, but I was making more than them. Because I was so focused on the bottom line and it doesn’t really matter what you earn. You can earn 200 million dollars, but your expenses can be 250 million dollars. So you’re losing 50 million. I’ve always been really, really, really focused on our profitability and how we drive that.
So I was kind of writing and I was updating our core values and I was trying to think what my team might need to learn in these times and how to tell them gently you don’t need to schedule anymore, that’s not going to happen. We have to get back to the way that we used to do things and we have to get back to our uniqueness and what makes us special and really trying to get them to take a off the corporate garb and the armor that we all think we have to do. So in meetings, we have to present ourselves a certain way and… I don’t wan to say there’s a fakeness to it, but I really wanted to direct us to being really real, really focused on time, really focused on our customer.
So I started writing, writing this for my team. And then before I knew what I was kind of getting to the flow of that, and my editor that I was working with, I was sending her some stuff, and she was like, “This is brilliant. Keep going, keep going.” So yeah, it wasn’t meant to be a book and it just kind of fell into that and it became, I suppose, a set of, we call them anti rules. There’s 77 anti rules. And it’s stuff that categorizes the way we work and the way the path that’s led us to success. So, that’s how the book kind of came to be.
I love it. And I think the way that you’ve written it, I love that… To your point, I’m one of those people I’m like, just tell me what I need to know and I think that it’s really, really practical. I loved the examples that you kind of were using about if a meeting doesn’t need to happen, it doesn’t need to happen. And I think maybe it’s a carryover from corporate life that I’m so used to having the meeting scheduled in, so we’ve got to have the meeting and I’m loving that my team are doing that too. They’re like, we don’t need this meeting. I’m like great.
Music to my ears, yeah.
It’s brilliant. I think the big premise that I kind of rediscovered is that we are often, I call it autopilot. We are on automatic transmission and we just do get up every single day and we go about doing things the way we’ve always done them. Whether that’s a hangover from corporate life or whether that’s me with no education and no guidance from role models. So it’s, how do we sit in and go, hang on a minute, is this serving us? Hang on a minute, can we do it better? Hang on a minute, is there a faster way? And so really trying to encourage that level of curiosity and that level of questioning with the people around you has been really, really good. And I think once you start to talk about that more, it really becomes part of the fabric of your culture. Like your team is saying that. And then you get into this discussion around ego. Because so much of what we do is so ego led, you feel you have to have a meeting with me because you’re my manager and you have to look like you know what you’re doing. And it’s like, well, we’ve got nothing to talk about this week, so we don’t really need to get together. So when you can strip away the ego and when you can just look at what actually moves the needle towards success, or what actually makes us enjoy our work more, or what actually has an impact on our customers, it starts to get fun and exciting again I think that, that was a real gem that we all found from the process of this book.
Yeah. Well, I love the book, I highly recommend it. So make sure you do go and check out The New Hustle. There was something that I did want to talk to you. My podcast is all about money and there was something in particular that you spoke about in this book that really resonated with me and I’d love for you to share with the listeners, which is about your experience of when you wanted to diversify into America. So you were running Business Chicks here in Australia really successfully and you obviously had the nudge, let’s go take it over to the states. So what was behind that shift initially?
How a simple question from Richard Branson led to Emma opening the business in the US (and the challenges that surrounded that)
Okay. There’s a little story to that. And it might be worth sharing. Probably believe one of the worst parts of my job is that I get to take a group of Business Chicks members to Necker island every year. Right. And I get to host this… It’s a conference, it’s a leadership gathering every year with Richard and it’s really, really beautiful. One morning I was sitting up there with the members of Business Chicks and Richard was there and he looked across the table, he was talking to one of our members and he said to her, what do you do? And she was explaining it. And then he just sort of went really dead pan. He looked at her and he said, “Is it possible to make money in Australia?” And he wasn’t meaning to be derogatory or negative and in any way, but for him, Australia was this little kind of dog in the ocean floating in the Southern hemisphere that for him, didn’t really register on the radar of relevance or huge success. He makes his money in the US. He makes his money in the UK, whatever. And so he was asking with true conviction is it possible to make money in Australia? And I mean, I just went about the day and we’re in the conference sessions. But I kept on coming back to that, it’s like, yeah, Australia is a really little place. And I felt like if I’m the person who’s trying to stand before the members of our community and say, “Hey, I reckon we can do more and be more.” And again, not in a way about… Really for me, it’s about expansiveness. So it doesn’t necessarily mean making more money or being more famous or none of those things drive me and I couldn’t care less about them, but how do we expand spiritually? How do we expand personally? How do we expand our influence so we can help others? All of that stuff really interests me.
So I just couldn’t shake that little. I mean, he didn’t even know that it had an impact, but that little question, so went back to Australia, got my leadership team really focused on how can we look to take the brand and the offering to the US? I don’t know why I chose the US. People have said to me, it was most stupid decision I could ever make and that even though we are so similar in so many ways, we might as well be speaking different languages because it is so culturally nuanced. Honestly, people said to me, “You would’ve been smarter starting in China. We’re so different.” Anyways, me and the team would go back and forth with the US and we’d have lots of meetings with people and we’d say, ‘Hey, we’re trying to get this thing off the ground.” And we did probably, I don’t know, three or four or five trips. Decided to launch had some great, big, beautiful events in New York and LA and San Francisco. And it was amazing. And I often say it was exactly like in Australia, but with American accents and it was beautiful.
We had a ton of members come from Australia and cheer on, and it was extraordinary experience. Did a few rounds of events like that and then… Well, actually on the first launch, instead of launch events, my husband actually saw what was going down on social media and we were chatting and he said, “Hey, that looked like it was amazing. Would you ever consider moving to America?” I was like, “Okay, let’s go.” We had four kids at the time, I remember just sort of packing up our house. It happened within a couple of months, we were living in Sydney, standing on the curb of Sydney airport, I remember it’d been such a whirlwind and it happened so quickly that we’d forgotten to dress the baby. So he was just there in a nappy and we were just sort of on our way. And we landed here and all was sort of, well, we bought our dream house pretty quickly.
And I really didn’t have much of a sense of a plan. And then I had an office in New York and I had all these expensive people working there and before I knew it, the excitement had kind of worn out a little bit and we’re in the grind of holy crap, this takes so much money. And I just felt like we… I mean, not originally, not initially, but it became very, very apparent that I’d run out of runway before the plane was even anywhere near taking off. And I do talk about in the book, some of the, what I call, radical action that our family had to undertake to kind of get through that time. And it was things like putting our house on Airbnb and moving the whole family out of that house to go to a cheaper one down the road and just doing all these crazy things. I’d make sure I’d be on the red eye flight to New York sitting on 78 J just so I could save a bit of money.
And after probably about six to eight months, it became really apparent that I’d have to make a decision, whether I’d keep going or my leadership team in Australia are like, “You’re going to bleed us dry. We need to keep this business really healthy.” So yeah, all up it was a monumental kind of failure from a business perspective, I suppose, but personally, a huge gift, we’ve been here for six years, I had the fifth and sixth kids here. Well, I had the fifth one back in Australia but we were living here at the time and what I’ve learned as both a business person and just a regular 42 year old woman has been pretty extraordinary. And it’s been just a massive blessing to be able to have been here and live through such crazy times as well. So yeah, overall a massive blessing and gift, but super, super hard.
Thank you so much for sharing that story in the book, because I think what happens and as a coach, as a mentor, I see it all the time that people are like, “Well, that person doesn’t ever struggle.” And I know it’s really easy for people to put their role models up on pedestals and think that person’s never been through a challenging time or they never struggle with cash flow. And I think this is something that we need to be talking about is that even people running hugely successful businesses who are pivoting or going through something different can go through a really challenging time. And I read that chapter and it just… I just felt so honored that you were sharing so transparently about going through that because it is, it’s a normal part of business and it can happen to anyone. So I love that you’ve shared that. How is the US business going now?
Yeah. I mean, good. We have a number of members. We do digital events, obviously, we’ve been… I mean, we had 13 months of lockdown here where our schools were completely shut. So my focus, I suppose, for the last five or so years has been really supporting the Aussie business, but also trying to have myself stand alone as a brand, which still feels really awkward and clunky to say, but I make money through my speak engagements and the books, and we got a really great book deal here, which has been fantastic. So I think there is a real depth to be found if you can extract yourself from your business and the day to day. And if you can try and kind of helicopter up and see things with a different lens, I just think it can give you so much value for your business and that certainly happened.
I know Business Chicks would not be where it is today if I hadn’t been here. So yeah, it’s fun. And I think we all just need to keep in mind this idea of reinventing ourselves and trying to not get stale and it’s something that I try and you all the time and for some people that comes very, very naturally and for others, they have to really work at it. But yeah, it’s good. Yeah, I love our life here, it’s amazing.
So no plans to return back to Australia anytime soon?
I don’t know. I’ll let you know. I don’t know. I get ask that every single day. It’s tricky. The US is really set up for big families and I just look at what’s happening in Australia, where are you based?
I’m in Brisbane.
Brisbane. I knew that. I knew that. So maybe you have bigger land size and everything. I’m from Sydney originally, so I look at the land size, and I look at the prices and I think, oh my gosh, we just have it so good here. So I’m not sure. I can’t tell you either way. The jury’s out for the moment.
Yeah. I came from Sydney, actually, I had my first son down in Sydney and we were living in this two bedroom cottage, and then we’ve moved up here and our friends are like, whoa. And we’re like, this is actually cheaper than our two bedroom house in Sydney. So interesting times with land values, but yeah.
Okay well, thank you so, so much for sharing. This book, if people want to get a hold of it, what, the best way that they can grab a copy of The New Hustle?
Yeah. I mean, it’s sold online and in bookstores, if you guys can get to bookstores right now. Yeah, but it’s online, I believe on Amazon and Booktopia and Dymocks and all the places. So yeah, I’d absolutely love your support and love to hear from you if any parts of it resonated and if you loved it
Amazing, well, I will pop the links for the book. And if you would like to join Business Chicks, which I highly recommend that you do, I’ll pop the link for that in the show notes for today’s episode as well. Emma, it’s been wonderful having you on the podcast today. Thank you so much for joining us and we look forward to seeing what happens next.
Thank you so much, you’re the best. Thanks Clare. Appreciate it.
Thanks so much for listening. If you loved this episode, please share it with your audience and don’t forget to tag me on Instagram at @Clare_wood_coach, and also make sure you hit subscribe so you never miss an episode. Have an abundant week and I look forward to talking to you again next week.