Empowering and Encouraging Women in Finance: an interview with another woman who has used a financial career to leverage her into something even bigger. Nicole Bremner of East-Eight and London Central Developments explains…

Nicole, please tell us about what you do now…and your financial background previously…

nicole-bremnerI’m the co-founder of a boutique, London based property development company London Central Developments (LCD). I’m also the founder of East Eight a property investment fund which manages our own funds and raises investor funds to finance LCD’s developments. We raise funds from high net worth investors as well as via crowdfunding. I’m especially excited about the crowdfunding as it allows those with as little as £500 invest in property developments generally only available to larger investors.

I started a pre-med degree after school but switched to commerce once I realised I didn’t want to study 7 years to become a dentist. I then started working fulltime at a broking firm while continuing my education via distance learning. I also completed the equivalent of an IFA qualification and became the youngest qualified IFA in Australia at the time.

Upon moving to London I worked for a couple of fund managers in equity research.

How did you get into this?  Did you attend university, and/or fall straight into a role or was it a more roundabout journey?

Property was very much a roundabout journey. I’d had three kids in three years and knew I couldn’t go back into the City. It was my partner who suggested that I get into property. I bought my first development project in 2012 and haven’t looked back.

Can you explain what a typical day for you would be then?

I start each day at around 6-7am by rolling out of bed and straight onto my yoga mat. I go through a number of sun salutations and poses before facing the chaos of getting my kids ready for school. Once they’re on the school bus I either go downstairs to my home gym or for a 14km run. I then have either a giant smoothie or soy yoghut with seeds and berries for breakfast. By 10am I’m either working at home with my team or at The Devonshire Club. I do spend a few hours a week going around to visit sites in construction meeting with the project managers and making decisions on various stages of the build. Lunch is often sushi if I’m at The Devonshire or soup with good bread at home. I also meet with investors and potential investors as well as a couple of people I mentor.

Between 5 and 7 I pick up my kids from various after school activities, we have dinner together and then I put them to bed. Sometimes I speak at events in the evening or have client drinks. If not I watch something on Amazon Prime or Netflix while working on my laptop or phone. I always read for at least 30 minutes before sleep and then try to switch off by 10:30-11:00.

What’s your experience from a woman’s point of view. Would you say it is a good job for a woman?

Property is a great choice for women or anyone who would like flexible working conditions. I can completely plan my work days and try never to miss my children’s special events.

What would your advice be to someone thinking of entering that profession?

Just do it. Find someone you admire in the industry and ask to shadow them or be mentored by them. It does help if you have a bit of money to invest in your own property initially but this can also just be your own home. Just start though. Don’t overcomplicate things or wait for the stars to align. They never will. Just start doing it and things will fall into place.

How has it helped you in what you’re doing now?

Being a woman perhaps helps because we do have a different approach to risk. Perhaps it makes investors more likely to invest with me. I don’t really know. But having an all woman team in this industry is unique and our female investors like it.
Has it hindered you at all?

It was hard in the beginning to be taken seriously. Agents would just think I was someone’s wife with a bit of money to play with. One told me to go back to playing with my doll’s house and leave property to the big boys. Needless to say I didn’t work with him. I sometimes am included on emails and then get sent the invoice as they think I’m the secretary or bookkeeper rather than a business partner. Another misconception is that I look after the interiors while my business partner looks after the construction. We’re both actively involved in both. But really these incidents are isolated and it’s not happened much. As long as I perform and purchase properties when I say I will agents and other consultants respect me.

What’s your best financial advice for any woman?

Ensure that you have good advice. Whether that be an accountant, lawyer, or both, be sure to structure your business correctly from the outset as it will solve many problems that might arise as you continue. Ensure the structure is scalable too so it can grow as your business grows.

Also make sure you reward yourself. Don’t just pay yourself a pittance or you’ll burn out and become bored. Reward yourself properly. At the end of each project I purchase myself a nice piece of jewellery or art. It is a little something for me to reward me for the hard work I’ve put in.



Empowering and Encouraging Women in Finance: an interview with Orla Shields at who used her  financial background to springboard her into a whole new career as a digital entrepreneur…

Orla, please tell us about what you do now…and your financial background…

orla-shields-bw_1I’m Co-founder and CEO at GetRentr.  I’m responsible for driving the company’s vision, strategy and growth  as we seek to provide interesting and unique ways to improve the rental experience and transform the way landlords and tenants interact with renting.  GetRentr is the new way for landlords and tenants to connect and manage their properties on-the-go. With a few taps and swipes they can quickly resolve issues, find trusted tradesmen and stay up-to-date with important events and reminders.

How did you get into this?  Did you attend university, and/or fall straight into a role or was it a more roundabout journey?

It was definitely a roundabout journey!  I studied Business, Economics and Social studies and spent my early career training as a Chartered Accountant with Ernst and Young – there I learned how different banks and financial services companies work, managed big teams, worked under pressure and did my Chartered Accountancy exams.  Truth be told, the accountant identity never sat that well with me, so after becoming a manager I left EY at the height of the Irish recession to work with the Irish Central Bank in recapitalising the Irish banks.

Like most great ideas, the idea for my company GetRentr was born out of  a frustrating experience, well that, and my need to have an interesting job which makes a difference.  After 2 years at the Central Bank I was lucky enough to work for the London Olympic Organising Committee and after that no ordinary job would do, so I decided I would create my own next life changing job opportunity and solve a big problem at the same time!  I moved to London to work on London 2012. I had a particularly bad experience renting in that first year mostly in relation to my relationship with our estate agent and landlord and had a protracted debacle trying to get my deposit back.  I felt frustrated and a little powerless in the situation.  As I looked for my next career move post Olympics I started thinking about how it could be possible to revolutionise the whole rental experience and raise standards in the industry using technology to create something that had mutual benefits for both landlords and tenants! I took a job as a Commercial Director of a digital ad agency to learn more about tech and how I could start realising my business idea.

Can you explain what a typical day for you would be then?

A typical day involves getting up around 6am to cycle (road cycling is my major other obsession in life), I live in Camden and usually do an hour of laps of Regents Park before work a few days during the week.  From there, I head to our office in Shoreditch. I usually do 30 minutes of emails before a 30 minute catch up with my businesses partner and CTO Alex on the technical side of the business. After that, every day can be so different. Because we are still so small, I generally have to roll up my sleeves and pitch in to do a bit of everything.  At the moment we’re fundraising for our seed round so a lot of my time is spent meeting potential investors and pitching, as well as on business development for our B2B product. The wonderful (though sometimes annoying) thing is that every day is different!

What’s your experience from a woman’s point of view. Would you say it is a good job for a woman?

Hmmm, I don’t think it’s any different as a woman or a man to be honest.  As women are said to be better multi-taskers, perhaps it is a better job for a woman!  The area of Prop-tech is quite male dominated at the moment and I definitely feel ‘different’ on occasion when I attend some events.  I always see myself as equal to men whether it’s during cycling training, negotiating contracts or pitching my business.  There are definitely challenges to being a female entrepreneur, for example just 6% of global Venture Capital  partners are women and studies have shown that female Venture Capitalists are 2.5 times more likely to fund female-led businesses than male VCs but you can’t let that stop you trying to achieve what you need to. You just have to see yourself as one of the people improving these statistics!

What would your advice be to someone thinking of entering this profession?

Anyone can be an entrepreneur if they believe in what they are doing but you have to really want to do it and not be afraid of both hard work and the many ups and downs.  My best tip is to surround yourself with clever and experienced mentors who can help guide and support you when you need it – so much is trial and error and asking lots of questions!

What’s your best financial advice for any woman?

Definitely take an interest in the financial side of things, it’s not that hard and most things can be googled these days – knowledge is power!



Empowering and Encouraging Women in Finance: an interview with customer service manager Alyson Johnson-Smith at The Payroll Site.

Alyson Johnson-Smith
Alyson Johnson-Smith

Alyson, please tell us about what you do… I have been with The Payroll Site for just under 10 years and over that time my role has evolved as the company has grown.  Essentially I run the Customer Service Department and most of my time is spent problem solving and unpicking mistakes customers have made with regards to their payroll figures.  All companies who operate payroll have to submit their figures to HM Revenue & Customs whenever they pay their employees, if this is not done in a timely fashion or the information is incorrect the result can be a financial penalty for the customer.  Helping a customer sort out their figures is therefore a priority.  I also manage our Company accounts, deal with invoices and produce statistics for our CEO to help us move forward as a company.

How did you get into this?  Did you attend university, and/or fall straight into a role or was it a more roundabout journey? 

After studying for a Diploma in Travel and Tourism at college I decided to spend a year in Australia, which was a fantastic experience. I had worked on reception at a hostel whilst I was away and realised that I enjoyed Customer Service so when I returned home that is what I did.  I worked my way up to Management level within Call Centres, which gave me more freedom to help customers and deal with their problems from beginning to end.  I spent many years as a Customer Service Manager working for British Gas, and then a Telecommunications company before joining The Payroll Site in 2007.  The Payroll Site is a smaller company by comparison and so my role is much more diverse.  My responsibilities are greater and so I also deal with HR, recruitment, staff training and looking after the company finances.   Having a more varied role means that things certainly never become routine.

Can you explain what a typical day for you would be? 

There is really no such thing as a typical day in payroll, although my first priority is dealing with any customer emails that have come in overnight.  I also ensure that all customer payments are allocated first thing.  The introduction of the Workplace Pension has made my day a little more complicated.  As most of our customers are small businesses they are implementing their chosen pension for the first time.  Whilst The Payroll Site makes it as easy as possible for the customer to calculate their pension contributions it is surprising how many Pension Companies give little or no help. As a result much of my day will be spent reading between the lines of what the customer actually wants compared to what they need.

What’s your experience from a woman’s point of view. Would you say it is a good job for a woman?

 If you are passionate about working with people, like dealing with figures and get a buzz from helping a company grow then it is perfect.    

What would your advice be to someone thinking of entering this profession? 

Customer Services departments can get quite a lot of bad press but if you like helping people it can be a great place to start.  You will certainly learn problem solving skills, organisational and time management skills, not to mention emotional resilience, all of which can help propel your career in any direction you wish to go in.

What’s your best financial advice for any woman? 

If you can’t afford it and don’t need it then don’t buy it.  As Polonius in Hamlet once said: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” which is a good philosophy to live by.




eunice_enoaccountantsEmpowering and Encouraging Women in Finance: an interview with London based accountant Eunice Onyema of

How did you get into this? 

I became an accountant taking advice from my dad who felt it was a good profession for me to get into. I attended university to study accounting and I have always been great with figures. Partway through my career I hated it and tried to change but couldn’t, however I eventually discovered  a new love for it.


Can you explain what a typical day for you would be?

I work for larger clients which means a daily commute into their offices. A typical day will involve me being in meetings, troubleshooting accounts and challenging operational managers on their spend within their service area. Another day can involve me submitting tax returns for my clients and liaising with HMRC on their behalf.

What’s your experience from a woman’s point of view. Would you say it is a good job for a woman?

I believe that the job is great for women. However it is dependent on the industry you are in. The great thing about accounting is it is attached to the activity level of the company you are working for, ranging from small and relaxed to large and intense with lots of activity. It gives women flexibility to choose because accountants are always needed

What would your advice be to someone thinking of entering this profession?

Recognise the involvement required to keep up your skillset. Continuing Professional Development is quite crucial as there is very little room for mistakes with people’s money.

What’s your best financial advice for any woman?

From an investment point of view, I will say start building up a retirement plan early, develop multiple streams of income and invest in a good portfolio with passive streams of income i.e. income that can come to you while you sleep



Education and Investment Will Get Us Through

Business Life After Brexit

None of us knows what the next five years will bring now that the decision to leave the EU has been made, but what we can do, as business leaders and individuals, is place ourselves in the best position to weather whatever may be ahead.

We have little control over what happens next, but what I know is that we should…

Educate Ourselves

It’s up to us to become more financially aware so that we can make decisions about what is best for our businesses in the time ahead. Read the financial pages and The Economist and instigate conversations with your staff about what’s happening. Many people are complaining that they didn’t know what was going to happen post-vote and are startled by all this uncertainty, but the knowledge of what could happen if we left the EU was all out there. We owe it to our staff and customers to be as educated as possible and share that knowledge.

Stay Calm

The truth is we don’t know what is going to happen and it could actually be good, especially if we are determined to make it so. Now is not the time to panic, but instead stay calm and wait to see the lay of the land. There is no need to rush into making any big decisions. As the months go by it will all be unravelled and then we will be more informed. We are not going to stop trading with Europe overnight. They will certainly want to make sure we keep buying their luxury goods, food and wine and foreign investors are still attracted to our economy.

Above all, don’t let the media whip you up into a panic.

Take Professional Advice

If you employ EU staff then now is a good time to start shopping around for an immigration lawyer who can keep you to date with any needs to get Visas or work permits. Reassure your staff that you’re looking after them and working to keep them with you.

Look to New Partnerships

One thing this will do is open up new markets and make it more likely that trading with countries from Africa and South America become easier and more attractive. Perhaps this will also start to redistribute some of that wealth to the people who really need it at the same time.  Don’t forget that the current position of the pound make our products and services extremely attractive to the overseas market and could be the perfect opportunity to start forging stronger bonds further afield.


Education and Investment Will Get Us Through

A 10 Step Business Model to Help You Think Bigger

How Women in Business Can Break Out of Small Thinking

The No. 1 area where women fall down in business is not honing in on making more money. In my 15 years of working with female business owners as a tax consultant and business planner, I frequently encounters these four scenarios:

  1. Clients being scared to earn too much money in case they need to move into a higher tax bracket and/or pay more tax.
  2. Falling into the “do what you love” trap and spending too much time and energy on small lifestyle businesses, which perhaps start as a hobby but do not develop into a strong business model.
  3. Business owners’ falling prey to false economics, scrimping and saving pennies and cutting back on necessary expenses when they could be focusing that energy on bringing in more sales revenue from new business as well as doing more for existing clients.  By looking at their pricing structure too they may be able to increase existing revenue streams.
  4. A tendency to spend time on the “nice” and “fun” things like multiple group networking and unnecessary social media activity, when in reality their time would be better spent on strategically planned marketing strategies directly leading to sales.

coinsI’m not sure if it’s societal conditioning, but women do often seem to play it safe and fail to pay attention to the money and their finances. Of course, in some cases they may only want to do something they can enjoy and are happy with lower earnings, but I think a lot of women are missing out on their full potential because they are fearful of the serious impact of business and scared of charging the right amount for their worth. As someone who puts together business strategies for my clients, I can see the potential in any business, but feel that some women are not putting themselves out there and giving it their best shot for fear of not delivering or the unknown, and their own dread towards sales and cash flow management.

My top 10 suggestions for women wanting a more serious business model are:

1. Follow The Money

Choose a business that can make real money. Look at the real potential. If you’ve got one asset like let’s say a vintage caravan, you can only ever make a certain amount of cash from that one asset and that may therefore not be easily scalable. Rather than do what you love (unless it can bring in big returns), learn to love what you do and the real money you make from it, there is no shame in that.

2. Consider Upscaling

If you’re working on your own, you only have so many hours in the day to work and make money. Taking on others can therefore multiply earning potential.

3. Know Your Money

Learn what your gross profit margins are and improve them, so that your gross profit is working harder for you and not the other way round.  (Your gross profit is your return on sales before your overheads but less your costs of sales).

4. Be Time Savvy

Understand that for the main part spending time collecting cards at networking lunches and events doesn’t bring good returns. Far better to make authentic, real connections with people and existing or past clients who may already be in more of position to buy your service, and remember that time with your existing clients could be far more effective than time spent making new friends.

5. Put Work First

Plan your life around your business, not the other way around. Should you be putting the washing on in working hours or need to stop work for the whole of the school holidays, and could you benefit from hiring a cleaner?

6. Bring in More

Look at your turnover: increase sales, increase the prices you charge and do perhaps decrease your costs if it doesn’t jeopardise the business. But remember that bringing in more money is far more valuable than spending too much time look for utility bill deals and saving on the small things like your stationery spend.

7. Set Boundaries

Don’t work with awkward clients that take up too much time; set boundaries and don’t allow people to eat up your professional time if they are not paying for it or not going to bring you real business.  Yes everyone might know someone who could be your future client but focus on your biggest referrers, which may even be your existing clients.  Don’t be scared to chase up late payments as sales without payment aren’t real sales. Think of it as educating your client in how you work so that they can be a better client to enable you to better work for them.

8. Build Up A Support Team

Build up a professional support team around you.  That may be in staff, business partnerships, business service providers and advisers, as well as creating strategic alliances with other similar industry professionals who you can cross-refer to.  Most of all, make sure your network is working for you smartly and you’ll no doubt do the same for them, so it’ll be mutually beneficial in the long run.

9. Delegate

Stop trying to do every aspect of the business yourself: aim to delegate, delegate and delegate, and the money will follow as it will free up more of your time to sell more of what you do.

10. Set goals and targets.

Know what and how much you want and then work out how to achieve that by setting SMART marketing and business strategies that really work.

But my biggest piece of advice is:

“Never be afraid to earn more money, or pay more tax. 60% of something is better than 100% of nothing, surely?”

A 10 Step Business Model to Help You Think Bigger


Empowering and Encouraging Women in Finance: an interview with Sue Murray Johnson of The Family and Childcare Trust

What do you do?

Sue_croppedI am the Director of Finance and Resources at the Family and Childcare Trust but I have held similar roles within a range of charities.  The roles in each charity have varied according to the priorities and issues affecting each one.  In this role, as a new charity the development of financial systems has been pivotal but in others I have managed the finance teams whilst dealing with broader organisational development matters.

How did you get into this?

By accident, and by not being scared of numbers!  I graduated in Environmental Sciences with a particular interest in environmental hazards (floods, earthquakes, volcanoes) and joined the voluntary sector in an overseas development role.  My first task was to organise a shipment of water purification tablets to Bangladesh.  It became clear in that role, and in later ones, that I was quite happy to manage budgets and ensure that reports were submitted on time.  This became a key part of later roles.  I took a management role in my early thirties in a charity that had to rapidly modernise their financial management processes and I introduced Sage accounts to the charity.  Within a year I was producing the year end accounts.  My training was very much “hands on” and under the guidance of the charity’s auditor.  Since then, I have held director-level finance and general management roles in three national charities.

Can you explain a typical day?

Not really, and that is part of the attraction.  My recent jobs have all included line management and membership of the senior management team, so there are responsibilities that go alongside the substantive elements of my role.  My tasks over the past week have included writing Board papers, dealing with banking issues, resolving a collapse of the telephone system and reviewing the risk register.  I enjoy working in a medium-sized charity where it is important to be both operational and strategic.

From your experience, would you say it’s a good job for a woman?

In general, yes.  In a financial management role there is an element of routine (despite what I said above) in that month-end, year-end, VAT returns and audits are regular events.  This means that key elements of the role can be planned in advance.  From a personal point of view, I have benefitted from working for some very flexible employees and have had a range of part-time arrangements in place, alongside the ability to work from home.

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?

I think that for finance personnel in the voluntary sector it is important to have an understanding of and empathy with the work of the wider organisation.   Communication skills and getting involved in the charity will enhance the experience of being in the finance team.

Best financial advice for any woman?

Budget, and keep a track of expenditure.