"You’ve got to love what you do."
Looking back at her childhood, Stephanie reminisces, “My family was very close knit and we spent a lot of time with my grandparents on my mum’s side because they lived not far from us. We had plenty of adventures together. My parents loved four-wheel driving much to my sister’s and my dismay. We absolutely hated sitting in the back of the car for hours on end, but we did get to see a lot of amazing places.”
Stephanie also happily recalls, “My parents always watched every sporting or musical event we did at school. One thing I really enjoyed were barbeques on Saturday nights where we would all listen to the radio and dance around in the front yard, which was a lot of fun. A few friends would attend, but mainly that was our family time. I appreciate the adventures together with the support and closeness we had as a family more now.
Stephanie believes her father’s entrepreneurialism had an effect on her. “My dad owned his own business, he was an insurance broker. He started his business when he was 21. There have been quite a few entrepreneurs in the family history”.
The urge to have her business started when Stephanie was about the age of 14. “I originally wanted to have a bar or a hairdressing salon. I worked for just one day in a hairdressing salon and hated it, I realised I wasn’t very good at talking to people! I then had to think about what else I wanted to do and, what else inspired me, and what I was passionate about?”
It’s important to be passionate about your work according to Stephanie. “You’ve got to love what you do. One thing my parents always said to me was;we don’t care what you do as long as you love getting up and going to work on a Monday and enjoying yourself. Whether it’s a garbage cleaner or the next CEO of Woolworths, just love what you do.”
Stephanie’s passion for real estate began just after she turned 21.”I started my first business when I was 21 and one of my clients was a property investment company.I saw the returns that property could bring, from a capital growth perspective, and as rental return. I knew then that that’s what I wanted to do – that’s where I wanted to put my money.”
Stephanie then studied for her diploma in financial planning and learnt that property is the only asset class which rises in excess of inflation. “I wanted to be able to have the funds to retire, and then put aside money for the family that I hope to one day have. That was a big motivator.”
Stephanie worked with Federal politician Bronwyn Bishop as a relief policy advisor for six months. “I had joined the Young Liberals and loved being a part of politics and helping others. My branch was aligned to Ms Bishop’s office, so I met her through a few functions and the position came up.Also through the Liberal Party, I met a mentor who gave me plenty of good advice and guidance.”
Having worked in a retirement village, Stephanie adds that this period gave her the knowledge of “how to communicate with people, to listen to their stories and concerns and I was then able to build rapport easily with people a lot older than me. I felt really at home and comfortable.”
Working for Bronwyn and meeting with constituents taught Stephanie about where she didn’t want to be in the future. “I didn’t want to be reliant on the pension. I didn’t want to be struggling to keep my home in old age, or to provide for my family. I also fell in love with meeting people.”
That experience also enabled Stephanie’s new perspective on her future role. “You’re not selling; you’re getting a better understanding of people’s needs. That taught me how to communicate and how to help people without selling in a sense.”
That valuable education came at a very young age “I started working at my local retirement village in February 2005, so I was 14 and nine months, and I worked there for several years while I was at school, doing evening and weekend shifts.
Stephanie continued her business education throughout her high school years. “In Years 11 and 12 I’d often go to work in the retirement village in my free periods. Rather than study, I’d work, much to my mother’s displeasure. At one point I was working five jobs, but my main roles were working in the retirement village and also some work with CPM Marketing Group. From there I went on to work in an administrative role with one of the largest paper globally working on namely the accounts in Australia and New Zealand.
“There was always someone to learn from. I tried to excel as quickly as possible, and get the most out of the experience.” is Stephanie’s perspective on that time.
In order to really learn the ropes of her chosen career, Stephanie then made a strategic decision to go into real estate and became a property manager. “From there I sold a property, which was my sister’s. I think the most daunting experience is to sell your own family’s house!”
Fortunately that was a very positive experience and happily the result was that “She doubled her money essentially in four years which was very good and my love for property was reaffirmed. The next step was toget a better understanding of running the business of real estate. I did some temp work with McGrath Real Estate and they offered me a position to write business plans and oversee a 1,400 property portfolio, which was really exciting.”
With her experience to date, Stephanie “knew then that I wanted to go into mortgage broking to combine the real estate, broking and financial planning experience and knowledge I’d accumulated so I started to research aggregating systems. I had a mentor also who had previously been in broking. I partnered with another company for six months before realising I really wanted to go out on my own. I had a very defined and clear vision of what I wanted to do.”
Looking back on her education, Stephanie now realises “The one thing I really took away from school is my mindset. Our school motto was All Ultimo Lavoro which is ‘Strive for the Highest’. When you hear that every single day it starts to rub off on you. I don’t think it was until after school that I really learnt how to strive for the highest. I wasn’t someone who was very academic. I didn’t see the value of it at the time, and I wasn’t particularly interested, so I didn’t attend school as much as I should have. I almost didn’t pass because I didn’t attend that much.I preferred to go to the retirement village, and take up more shifts.”
From her earliest working days, Stephanie was also accumulating valuable lessons both personally and about business. Encouraged by her mother, Stephanie would clean and paint neighbours and friends houses for pocket money before being old enough to apply for jobs. Stephanie’s attitude to money was already being shaped. As she recalls, “theretirement village paid penalty rates in the evenings so I was getting paid more than anybody else my age which was good.”
Together with strategic guidance from her family, those strategic financial foundation were put in place. “I was also putting money away every single time I got an allowance or gifts or presents. I would opt for money, because my mum made us pay for everything ourselves in order to develop an ability to budget at an early age. We had $125 a month through our high school years with which we had to buy our clothes, pay for our social outings, we even had to pay for our own school tights. So, when I was earning money, I just continued to save it.”
Always wanting to see her savings increase was more of a motivator for Stephanie than having the latest trends. Her philosophy then was “Work hard for a short period of time with a long term gain at the end rather than the other way around. I could never understand it.”
Stephanie started and then deferred from a Bachelor of Business, majoring in event management at ICMS (International College of Management Sydney). “There was a subject on contracts law and I absolutely loved it. I had been tossing up between business or law so then I went to Sydney University completing certificates in forensic psychology, criminal psychology and corporations law. I then moved to Macquarie University and started a Bachelor of Psychology and Law later changing that to Commerce Law. Since then Stephanie has undertaken accreditation in Real Estate, Project Management, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Mortgage Broking just to name a few.
Fortunately, Stephanie can now add that her management experience to date has enabled her acceptance into an MBA.
Stepanie’s company, Step Loans, is a mortgage and finance broking business. They work with over 32 lending partners with 22 service partners in New South Wales alone and is now growing to be a national company. Their service partnerships include financial planning, accounting, taxation, real estate, investment, property maintenance, car buying, selling and repairs as well as business advisory and succession planning consultants.
The decision to set up Step Loans was based on Stephanie’s own experience with investing. “When I first bought my first property, I felt completely lost. I had issues with the banks and with brokers quoting huge amounts in lenders’ mortgage insurance. I didn’t really know what options were available to me and which ones I should take. I really wanted to help others to not feel as lost as I did. There’s a huge lack of guidance on top of a lack of simple financial management education in schools. So, my main motivator was and still is, to help others, to inspire them to want more out of their life and their future.”
Stephanie believes “success looks different for different people and sometimes people enjoy going out and spending money. I enjoyed building a nest egg so I would have the resources to eventually travel and that comes from thinking long-term.”
Another element of Stephanie’s education was joining The Entourage recently. “They’re an entrepreneur development centre. One of the key things they’ve taught me is to look at the end goal and work backwards.That’s what I now say to my clients;‘What do you want to achieve?’ And then let’s break it down into manageable, smaller tasks to get to that point. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. We’ve got all these different puzzle pieces. It’s just about putting them together carefully and then it’s almost difficult not to achieve what you want to”.
It’s no surprise that Stephanie has an interest in having greater financial education in schools as well as other entrepreneurial ideas. “I’d really like to bring simple financial management education into the school system. I’d love to work with a registered training organisation to enable year 12 students to undertake the certificate in mortgage broking for HSC studies. I’d also like to develop a “Pitch to Steph” campaign where other aspiring businesses can pitch their ideas to me and I can help either fund or guide their businesses.”
Business expansion is on the immediate horizon.“I’m in the process of hiring and interviewing for two full-time mortgage brokers as we expand, and that’s a step-by-step process. When you expand the business it’s then about how to manage the resources; when do I add people to my team to best manage cash flow? That’s one of the hardest aspects of the business and one I’m learning a lot about.”
How does Stephanie feel about risk? “In order to grow you do need to spend money which is a risk. You hope that, if you invest time and effort it will provide a good return. It’s very much a balancing act and if I make mistakes the first time it will only teach me how to do it better the second time.”
On the subject of that learning, Stephanie is quick to point out “Failure often precedes success. You learn far more from the things you do wrong than you do right and I also think that often as entrepreneurs or business people we set goals for ourselves that we couldn’t possibly achieve until we first grow into the person that’s capable, competent and confident enough to achieve them. You weren’t born knowing everything – you have to learn it first. Every time you do something wrong it just means that you’re one step closer to the finish line.
Who does Stephanie respect most in business? “Richard Branson has built a phenomenal company, multiple companies. I really admire both his business and personal values.”
In the subject of success, Stephanie is quite clear. “My definition of success is the ability to inspire others. That, to me, is more meaningful than how much money you make and I don’t think that’s necessarily inspiring others to follow in your footsteps, I think it’s inspiring to have others want more out of their own life and future.”
Loving the work Stephanie does is also critical. “I think it’s really important to love what you do. I feel lucky every day that I get to wake up and go to a place others deem work and that I really love what I do. That’s why I can really see myself doing this forever, because to me it’s no longer a job; it’s almost a way of life.
As a young entrepreneur, Stephanie admits, “There are a lot of people who think you can’t learn from young people and, to an extent, I agree. Nothing will really outweigh a proven track record, but I also think there are other experiences and ideas young people have and that combination of ideas and experience is what really can help people to excel.”
“I think empowerment and enabling people is the greatest gift you can give and I really think that it’s important to give back to others and pay it forward. I know there are a lot of people who have helped me on this journey and I’d like to be able to help others as well.”
- “At one point I was working five jobs.”
- “I really wanted to help others to not feel as lost as I did.”
- “Success looks different to different people”
- “It’s important to be passionate about your work. You’ve got to love what you do.”
Although only 24, Stephanie Brennan has already had plenty of experience as an entrepreneur. Skipping school, not to go to the beach, but to work a casual job, she’s now making an incredible impression in the financial services sector.