Susan Hayes is Managing Director of Hayes Culleton Ltd., a international financial training company based in Dublin. She has a degree in Financial Maths & Economics, is a Chartered Financial Analyst Level III Candidate, and writes a financial blog at www.thepositiveeconomist.com , so she’s very well qualified to help out with financial advice. Her first book, The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom came out in January 2013 with Penguin Ireland and Susan took a little time off from balancing budgets to talk to Sheena Lambert for www.writing.ie about how the book came about, and her experience as a new author.
Sitting in a warm coffee shop on a Sunday afternoon amid the scents of coffee and the chink of china, I started by asking Susan why she had decided to put pen to paper, and why her book is specifically aimed at women. Susan explained, “Having worked in an investment training company for five years, I had noticed that only 10% of our course attendees were women. I have also worked on several female entrepreneurship initiatives and the statistics are shocking! For example, Irish men are 2.5 times more likely to be an early stage entrepreneur than are women. Approximately 50% of Irish women don’t have a pension at all and yet, they outlive their male counterparts. I felt there was so much I could do to help , but trying to get around to them all one-by-one wasn’t going to be the most effective way! I have given lots of presentations and I love to do that, but I wanted people to take away action points for their current situation and then refer back again to reflect their new “current” situation, and what better way than via a book that could be their manual, their journal, their inspiration, their guide and their friend.
I wrote the book in such a way, that any woman irrespective of knowledge, understanding, financial situation, background, age or experience, could map out a way to her financial freedom. I wanted to invite each reader to explore where they wanted to go in their financial life, why they haven’t got there yet and to clearly articulate what they felt was holding them back. “Financial Freedom” is a nebulous term, but yet we all have an idea of what it means to us and there certainly isn’t a “right” answer. I wanted to encourage independent thinking about life goals and celebrate that difference is what attracts us to our best fit, something to be proud of, rather than hide away. I feel, though I don’t have the statistics to prove it, that many women are under confident and particularly where money is concerned. Hence, I didn’t want this book to simply have “x money saving tips”, but rather I wanted to get to the heart (and I use that word carefully) of why women aren’t letting themselves be rich, by their own definition.”
Despite working in a world dominated by figures, Susan is author of hundreds of articles and blog posts about economics, entrepreneurship, personal finance and investment, in addition to more personal pieces about life as a woman in business etc. Susan has also co-authored the Leaving Cert economics textbook Positive Economics. But it was a chance meeting at an event that led to the book hitting the shelves – Susan explained, “I gave a course one evening in a very technical area of the stock market to a group of people, who happened to be men in the majority. I didn’t know at the time, but a member of the Penguin team was in the audience. A couple of weeks later, I was brought into the RTE Newsroom to explain a technical financial proposal the UK government was considering and that same person saw me. He picked up the phone and asked me if I had ever thought about writing a book and I absolutely jumped at the chance.”
The tone of The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom is very friendly, warm and conversational, as if all the advice is coming from a (very expert!) girlfriend over a latte. I wondered whether this had been deliberate on Susan’s part or if her writing voice had taken over and it had just come out that way? “I’m so delighted that you ask that question as that was exactly what I wanted to come across and you’re literally fairly close to the truth!”
So how did Susan start the book, and how did she keep it practical for the ordinary reader who doesn’t revolve in the often complex world of high finance? Susan told me, “When I started writing the book, I asked my closest friends and family to share with me their deepest, darkest fears about money, finance and all things related. In some cases, I was truly shocked by the depth of the lack of confidence, sometimes I couldn’t believe how a little amount of knowledge was holding them back from revolutionising their views and in others, their answers echoed my own ideas. However, I also had to practice what I was preaching. I also put myself in the limelight and asked myself what mistakes I had made, what false ideas I had held as truth, what excuses I had hid behind? I wrote down a list of these problems and then the solutions that I would recommend to those people that I hold very dear, and this took me a long way into the writing process.
‘Writing the first draft itself was a fantastic experience. I used to take a tiny strand of the overall book and let my thoughts explode on the screen. I really loved delving into my past and extracting a story or taking something that I did naturally and organising it into a step-by-step process. I also felt that by doing so, I was creating something that would outlive me and in a heartfelt way, I believed I could get people out of a financial rut and arm them with what they needed to go the distance. It’s important to mention that I wrote about myself in a very realistic light. I certainly didn’t edit out my own foibles or flaws because this airbrushing would have crushed the very essence of what I set out to achieve. I remember squeezing my eyes together and saying “am I really going to admit that I did this?!”, but unless I was willing to let readers see that side of me, I couldn’t have illustrated that what I espousing was realistic.
‘Writing this book was one of the most enjoyable projects that I have ever undertaken. I loved writing every word, editing every section, proofing every chapter and every single opportunity that I have had since to spread the message that irrespective of your financial situation, it can definitely be improved. It took about five months in total to complete the first draft. You learn a lot about yourself when writing a book as it is quite a long process that calls upon several skills that you might otherwise rarely use. For example, in my business of financial training, I am used to dealing with people who step forward and identify themselves as wanting to better their situation. However, reading a book is a far more solitary, intimate experience and I had to find a way to “speak” to people who would never come to a training course.”
Susan’s voice is as warm as we chat as it is in the book, and she obviously relished the challenge. She laughed as she told me, “I remember that I was on a train one afternoon, passing though some amazing scenery and simultaneously typing what became Chapter Two. I just stopped and took it all in and thought, can I really be lucky enough that this constitutes “work”?! I have similar memories while eating croissants in Paris, sitting by the fire at home in Cork over Christmas, nestling into my favourite coffee shop in Galway where I used to go as a student with my laptop and thinking this was the best thing ever!”
The key with this book is that it takes all Susan’s practical experience and makes it accessible for ordinary people who have no financial background. She explained, “I didn’t have to work hard at coming up with ideas for the exercises I include in the book, as I do them all the time myself. I had them well tested before they ever went into print. I simply documented the systems I use which have helped me to take control of my own finances. My overarching aim was that people would find practical value, actionable steps, tangible ideas and a concrete way forward towards what they defined as financial freedom.
I used beta readers and they brought a lot of perspective to the book. I asked a friend of mine to read the individual pieces before I combined them into chapters. As an avid reader herself, she was quick to tell me what she liked (and what she didn’t), but also was very open to sharing with me her own deeply held emotions about money. In addition, I had two copy editors working with me in Penguin and they didn’t mince their words! I found their feedback immensely helpful and it often revealed my own blind spots, misplaced presumptions and evidence of the naïveté of a first time writer in this context. Needless to say, there was no room for pride in this process, as that would have been at the expense of the reader.
However, I also regularly disagreed with their [the editor’s] comments as they were sometimes symptomatic of beliefs that were limiting, society “status quo” driven or again, illustrated shades of lack of confidence on their part. This was really where “the rubber hit the road”. Even though I had already written about how these psychological (and otherwise) obstacles could be overcome, I hadn’t convinced them and I was being truly challenged to practically demonstrate how my lofty ideals could be achieved in practice. I truly believe that each person that I have worked with along the way brought another dimension to the book and I’m exceptionally appreciative to them all.The part that I liked least was cutting out material. My contract asked for 90,000 words and my final submitted manuscript had 120,000 words – I just kept going!
The team at Penguin are extremely professional and experienced and I was very happy to take their direction on areas outside of my expertise. Penguin suggested a draft cover design that was quite close to the final cover and I loved it.” Susan laughed, “I admit that when I first got the physical book into my hands, I hugged it!”
As well as that fabulous feeling of having produced a book, I asked Susan what other effects writing The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom had had; she revealed, “Since the book has been published, I have received numerous messages from people telling me how much of a difference it has made to their lives. In many cases, it has provided them with the courage to face their financial situation and give them that much needed path to a better financial place. In other cases, it has supplied the tools, resources, know-how and knowledge to progress forward. Some people tell me that it has held up an opinion-altering mirror in front of them as it questions their conceptions about money and challenges them to move outside their comfort zone; to set lip-service aside and truly stride for their own financial freedom. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to speak to all of these people through the vehicle of the book, but when asked about my source of pride, it is undoubtedly them and the journey they have taken ownership of that will bring them so far.”
The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom is available in all good bookshops and online and it’s complemented by an e-mail course to ensure readers have the backup of weekly ideas and inspiration as well as a smart budget and other tools to help them in their financial decisions, all available on www.savvywomenonline.com
(c) Sheena Lambert
Sheena Lambert is a writer from Dublin. Her articles have been published by both the Irish Times and Irish Independent newspapers. Her first novel, Alberta Clipper, is out now on paperback and as an ebook on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00A04SDSC.