Stnce is a platform that believes confidence is the key to taking financial ownership. This is part of a new series we call, “Did It My Way” where we ask people to show off their accomplishments – to own it because they should.
Through The Wellth Company, Lisa Zamparo is an empowered (and empowering) financial services advocate, providing women-led businesses and start-ups with the right tools needed to turn their dreams into a reality worth investing in.
I decided to become a CPA because I love studying business – numbers have always come naturally to me – and it’s a highly respected professional designation. When I graduated, I had this goal of working on Bay Street in Toronto at a big accounting firm, earning six figures before I was 30. But along the way, as I was chasing that paycheque, I got caught up in the corporate ladder. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t have the freedom, flexibility, creativity, or autonomy in my job that I wanted. Nor was I making the kind of impact I knew I was capable of. So, during a very long hike when I was on my honeymoon, my husband and I created a plan for me to make a switch. The path I was on just wasn’t the right fit. There was no room for entrepreneurial spirit, nothing to motivate me or inspire my work. Even though I was comfortable, I knew it wasn’t the dream.
I would say I’ve always known I would start a business in some capacity. People who became successful entrepreneurs informed my idea of what a career looks like – both of my parents are self-employed, and my grandfather owned his own company (still does). In many ways, I feel like deciding to work for myself was inevitable. In fact, other than the few years I spent working on Bay Street, I’ve never done anything else.
When I was kid, I used to play “office” with my sister and pretend to be a secretary or a manager. In grade 6 or 7, I babysat. And instead of getting a retail or food service job in high school, I taught piano. Actually, it’s very interesting how that opportunity fell into my lap. My piano teacher wanted to start a school and bring on a group of young teachers. So, when I joined at 14, I effectively took on a franchise business because I operated under the school’s name and used its credibility to land clients while I was building my own reputation. I had to learn how to design my schedule, keep my students happy, teach the curriculum in a way that fit my style, and allow for a percentage of my profit to go back to the owner. It was good money. But unfortunately, I learned how to manage it through the school of hard knocks.
They say you should do what you love, and the money will follow, but that’s not necessarily true. It’s not just about loving the career or the product or service you’re providing; it’s the financial habits as well.
Partly because I was fortunate to have parents who had the resources to pay for my university experience, and because I found it easy to earn money by teaching, saving up spending money for my post-secondary years wasn’t on my mind. Without conscience, in the summer before I left for school, I went from a few thousand dollars in my bank account to almost zero. Of course, I regret it now, but at the time, no one I surrounded myself with was financially savvy. There was one life-changing moment where one of my friends turned to me and said, “It’s really not that fun to shop with you. You don’t buy anything.” Her comment planted a seed in my mind about what it meant to be liked – saving your money wasn’t cool. So, even though I had hated parting with my money up until that point, I willingly paid the price to be liked. For some reason, it made so much sense to me that because people liked being around those were loose about money; I should be too. Looking back, I wish I could tell my younger self it’s just as cool to save your money – but at least I had a very fun summer!
Funnily enough, while I was operating under this unhealthy mindset of spending real money to gain social currency, I was also learning about compound interest in my spare time. Although I was completely aware that most of my income was going toward an excessive amount of pizza and Canada’s Wonderland trips, it still excited me to see how it was possible to become a millionaire if one started saving early. The math and inspiration for which came from a book my uncle bought me called, “My Kids are Going to be Rich and Yours Will Too.” It was written in a fairly accessible way and explained how compound interest makes all the difference. It’s a concept that’s stuck with me, and I continue to prescribe it to my clients, most of whom are freelancers, small business owners, or self-employed – a pattern I find very exciting.
In this generation, there’s no such thing as a guaranteed pension or “job security”. Nor do people expect it. So many work on contract or have a side hustle for extra income. Nowadays, it seems like if you’re in the same job for longer than three years, it means it’s time to reassess your life and career goals. We expect constant growth and quick promotion – and are ready to move on to find it. It’s a completely different job economy that what our parents experienced. While I realize these are broad strokes, there certainly isn’t a great sense of long term security amongst my peers. So, for me, when I moved from the corporate world to be an independent financial advisor, it didn’t feel like I was taking on a lot of risks. I was merely joining the ranks.
Through the company I’m building and the work I’m doing, I see my role as a resource for support. There are so many ways to turn your skills, talent, and passion into a money-making career, and technology that makes it very accessible. For under a hundred dollars, you can open an online store and market your product or service to the masses. If you have an idea, there seems to be an endless number of tools that can help you bring it to life. But at the same time, so often, people don’t know how to manage the finances in their business. And that’s where I come in.
They say you should do what you love, and the money will follow, but that’s not necessarily true. It’s not just about loving the career or the product or service you’re providing; it’s the financial habits as well. I want to help my clients get to a place where they love looking at the numbers in their bookkeeping system or bank account and be excited to work on their financial plan. Your beliefs around money affect your beliefs about yourself and what you can achieve. I really do think that developing financial skill is an emotional exercise because it means constantly assessing your priorities, your knowledge, and your vision of where you want to be long-term. I’ve noticed through my clients and my practice that the more you understand your finances, the more confident you become – on a professional and personal level.
Speaking of confidence, I can still remember the moment I landed my first paying client – down to what I was wearing. I was so thrilled. It had been about a year since that hike on my honeymoon – I had received my FPSC1 financial planning certification, quit my corporate position, and set up shop. We met at a café in the Junction, and it was the third client pitch I had done. Looking back, I’m almost certain that the previous two didn’t go anywhere because I was nervous about being rejected. What helped was reading about a sales tactic where you see how many no’s you can get before you get to a yes. It’s a strategy that makes no’s feel more like wins. In that third meeting, I walked in with a completely different mindset. After that, it was a watershed moment, and I started getting a lot more yesses.
I did make the mistake of pursuing some people too much in the beginning though. I think I scared them off. Pitching is kind of like dating; if you go after them aggressively, you’re going to turn the person away. You want to be inviting and approachable without making somebody feel like you’re trying to sell to them. The process made me realize that while I had the technical skills to be an advisor, I had to learn the soft skills around selling myself.
If I had to give some advice to someone who’s looking to make a move like I did, I’d say: First, find a part-time gig that will provide you with some stability and the opportunity to act in a leadership or consulting role. You want to start feeling comfortable in an entrepreneurial position while still bringing in a steady paycheque. Second, you’re likely going to do a lot of research about how to run a business – make sure you go out in the world and apply what you learn. It’s one thing to read something and understand intellectually and quite another to practice it well. Finally, plan out how much cash flow you want coming into your account every month. Ask yourself if you’re willing to take on a lifestyle change. If you’re not, plan your goals accordingly.
I think the journey to where I am now could have been shorter if I had learned some of the lessons faster by testing and doing, not just reading and understanding theories. But I don’t regret how long it’s taken because when I work with someone who’s in a similar position I was in, I can share with them what I learned. I lived it. And that’s better than anything that could come out of a textbook.
As told to Cara Lau, exclusively for Stnce. Illustration by Yana Vorontsov. We make taking financial ownership approachable and relatable. Interview has been condensed and edited.