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How Tammy Barton built a $34 million a year business

Tammy Barton, is an inspirational business woman who now has a $34-million-a-year business.

Barton founded MyBudget in 1999 after witnessing the devastating impact debt can have on people’s lives. Today, MyBudget is a financial services company turning over $34 million a year dedicated to reducing financial stress in the community by freeing people from their money worries.

In 2017, she won the Telstra South Australian Business Woman of the Year, a program that empowers and celebrates women who have achieved success in business by doing things differently.

Dynamic Business had a chat to Barton about her journey in business and how she got to where she is today.

How did you start MyBudget?

I was 22 and worked at a legal firm where I witnessed the impact of financial hardship on clients who had little understanding about how to control their money.

I started at my kitchen table showing friends and family how to put a budget together. This evolved into a business where clients would give me their pay cheque, I would pay their bills for them and then give them back a budgeted amount of money for living expenses. For a lot of people, it was the first time in their lives their finances were under control. Word spread from there.

How did you receive the initial funding?

MyBudget was entirely bootstrapped. I didn’t draw a wage and I used the cashflow from the business to fund it. Initially I worked from home, before eventually taking a small office and purchasing second-hand furniture. I lived what I teach our clients – I was cautious with expenses and stretched resources as far as I could.

What impact did winning the 2017 Telstra South Australian Business Woman of the Year Award have on you?

I believe it is so important to acknowledge and celebrate women in business. It was a huge honour to be placed in the company of such an incredible group.

The Telstra Business Women’s Award process was also a chance for me to reflect on the journey that I have been on over the past 18 years. When I started this business, I saw an opportunity to help people and make a difference in their lives. Everyone at MyBudget puts their heart and soul into achieving this for our clients every day, and we are all proud to see our work recognised.

Top tips for getting funding/top pitch tips?

Being your own financier is a risk, but it is cheaper and means you don’t have to compromise the business in the early days to appease an investor. I believe it is important to ask whether you believe in your business enough to back yourself. I borrowed money against equity in my home to fund the initial development of our bespoke software. Other start-ups might be eligible for a small business loan.

At some point investors will expect a return, which might place you under pressure to make decisions purely for profit rather than what is right for the business. Maintaining control and autonomy was a successful strategy for me.

Some businesses, however, may need investors early on, especially capital-intense businesses. If this is you, be very selective about who you choose. They need to work as your partner, not your superior. They must share your passion and enthusiasm and bring complementary skills that will help take your business to the next level.

How did the business become a $34 million a year business?

The simple answer is that MyBudget filled a gap in the market and added real value to people’s lives. The business concept was a game changer and was always rooted in exceptional client experience. This meant that much of our growth in the early days was organic through client retention and referrals.

We also followed a considered growth strategy. We expanded into one state at a time, rather than trying to go big too early. We managed internal budgets and forecasts the way we would our customers’ budgets – what gets measured gets done. We also continuously made technology improvements to our website and app.

Above all, we hired well. The people who work for us truly care about our clients’ wellbeing and making a difference. This sets the tone and culture for the whole organisation.

What are some of the trials and errors that you have encountered along the way?

My error was not trusting in myself and believing that someone older or more experienced in areas that I am not would know the business better than me. I was only 22 years old when I started. There are always times when you need to give up control and trust others’ expertise, but don’t ignore your gut instinct either.

Do you have any tips for being a confident and efficient business owner?

Believe in yourself and don’t expect others will. We all have doubts and fears, and it is important to plan for the ups and downs. But be relentless in pursuit of your goals. There’s no greater satisfaction than proving to yourself that you can do it. This builds the confidence you need to keep going.

Part of this is entering awards programs like the Telstra Business Women’s Awards to own your achievements and test yourself – it’s a huge confidence booster.

How do you stay ahead of competitors?

We focus on what we do that’s unique, exploit it and stay true to it in the ways we innovate.

How do you stay on top of the game in an ever-changing economy?

Manage cashflow well, so if there is a downturn you can handle the lows. I always look at the greatest return for the lowest risk – not simply the greatest return, which might be fraught with risk.

Stay laser focused on your top priorities. You can always do more, but don’t let yourself become distracted.

Having your work endorsed by others, like winning a Telstra Business Women’s Award for example, also gives you and your business credibility.

As a Founder- how do you manage your time to include some down time?

Work is generally on my mind even during my downtime – I think most founders find it hard to escape that – but I don’t mind because I love my job.

We travel as a family and go to Bali every year.  We also spend weekends at our holiday house and I find time to switch off with friends and family over a BBQ and a glass of wine.

How do you avoid burn out?

I prioritise my physical and mental health. I go to bed relatively early most nights (10pm) and wake up early to exercise before work. I try not to drink alcohol during the week and eat well most of the time – the basics, really. The most important thing is not to sweat the small stuff. I’ve learned along the way to let things go that are beyond my control.

How do you know when to delegate and when to take the lead?

Delegate to the people you trust. If you build a good team, this will be easy.

I encourage my team to come to me with solutions, not problems. I like to ask people what they think should be done and allow them to run with their ideas if the task matches their ability and they have the resources to do it. I like to create an environment where people can think independently and have a sense of ownership over their work.

I take the lead when I feel that no one is positioned to handle it, if it is a sensitive business matter or of real strategic importance.

Any exciting news?

We are in process of evolving our product and technology to reinvent the way people relate to their money. Watch this space…

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Gali Blacher

Gali Blacher

Gali Blacher, editor, Dynamic Business

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