"Be always focussed on the big picture": Q&A with Melinda Livingstone August 2019

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With her social enterprise, IncomeConnection, Melinda Livingstone is on a mission to set people, over the age of 50, up for financial success. She tells Industry Moves about the impetus for the business, what she misses about her previous life working in the finance industry, and about the joys that the new role brings her. She also reflects on her father's influence on her life and career and reminds her younger self to 'enjoy the game'.

What was the impetus for you to start Income Connection?

I saw that there was an opportunity to improve people’s incomes, and with this, to improve their inclusion in society.
The problem is that financial planning modelling assumes that clients can work longer or save more to accumulate more capital. But in reality, this is actually hard to do.
Working longer can be hard due to age discrimination. Saving more is also difficult due to flat wages growth and rising expenses. I’d researched the future of work as part of my masters and saw that technology is enabling a growing range of flexible income options, particularly the on-demand sharing economy.
So I put the problem of not enough money together with the solution of the technology-enabled on-demand sharing economy.

Looking back… in a corporate environment, it can be easy to feel successful; working with talented people and benefiting from large budgets. But I always wondered, what if all that support I have around me was taken away - could I do this for my own business?

So in 2017, I gave it a go...

"Working longer can be hard due to age discrimination. Saving more is also difficult due to flat wages growth and rising expenses."

Can you tell us a little about the services you offer?

At IncomeConnection I ask people what sort of things they like to do, what their interests, skills and assets are, how much time they have. I then match them to opportunities to earn an income and purposeful work. Most of the opportunities are from the on-demand sharing and gig economy … current count is 167 options to choose from. I spend time setting people up for success. I help people one-on-one, I speak to groups and run workshops. I work with superfunds and financial planners to help their clients become aware of the range of choices available to them. Even being aware that there are choices and options available can be empowering in itself.
Established in 2017, my target market is people aged over 50.
People can subscribe to my newsletter where I post updates on the new income opportunities that have become recently available or people can follow me on social media.

What research did you do before setting it up?

I did desk research on the over 50s market, the sharing economy opportunity and met with sharing economy companies and other businesses in this space. I used design thinking to develop my business concept which is a research process where I empathised with my target market, prototyped and re-tested my business concept. I recruited people to participate in the design thinking process from Airtasker. I also talked to people who had recently started businesses and they pointed me in the right direction for setting up a website, payments, email marketing, insurance etc.

" Financial planning also helped me appreciate that the age pension is truly inadequate and is only going to get worse given Australia’s dependency ratio - and motivated me to do something about it."

How have your previous roles in the finance industry prepared you for this one?

Working in financial planning gave me an insight into the money challenges people face as they get older. Most people haven’t saved enough. Poverty leads to stress and social isolation. Financial planning also helped me appreciate that the age pension is truly inadequate and is only going to get worse given Australia’s dependency ratio - and motivated me to do something about it. Product development and strategy gave me a good grounding in the steps to commercialise an idea; the customer side and the business side. So many components are required to develop an initiative and make it successful; IT, marketing, sales, investments, pricing, legal, compliance – so having an appreciation of all those facets was really helpful when I started a new business.
I now spend half my time doing marketing, especially copywriting, so my time in marketing was really valuable.
I am very appreciative of all the clever people who I have worked with over my corporate life who have shared their wisdom with me – I am drawing on it now big time!

"For me, the opportunity to align my work with my values of helping people, social inclusion and sustainable living has been the opportunity of a lifetime."

What do you most enjoy about what you do now?

I love that there are constantly new income innovations being launched by Australian entrepreneurs. I enjoy keeping on top of these and researching how they can help my clients.
For me, the opportunity to align my work with my values of helping people, social inclusion and sustainable living has been the opportunity of a lifetime. I have for most of my life worked part-time in the social sector (most recently in children’s disability and with refugees) and the chance to do this as my day job has been such a privilege. There is a deep joy and wellbeing that comes from living out my purpose.

"For me, the opportunity to align my work with my values of helping people, social inclusion and sustainable living has been the opportunity of a lifetime."

Can you name something top of the list that you miss about your previous life working for a large corporate?

I miss working in a team environment. It is great to be surrounded by other people who are working in the same space as you that you can run things by. There is a wonderful energy that comes from working with other people. If you are having a flat day, the momentum of meetings (which aren’t all bad) can carry you through the day.
In contrast, meeting up with people is now something I have to plan for.

"...I was a teenager and we would have homeless people living with us in our suburban home while they were in transition to other housing."

Who has been the biggest influence on your life/career?

My father, Elwyn Chapman has had the biggest influence on my life and career. I was interested in business at age 15 and he thought marketing could be my thing and introduced me to business people in his network who I could explore my interest with. He has always encouraged my career, helped me to feel I could achieve anything I wanted to.
He has also been a great role model in terms of his capacity. He, my mother, Judith Chapman and others started a charity for homeless people whilst he worked full time in a corporate role. It was the 1980s, I was a teenager and we would have homeless people living with us in our suburban home while they were in transition to other housing. I was able to visit one of our past guests in gaol, which was super-exciting for me. My parents still run the homeless charity today, 30 years on. I loved the rich and exciting experience growing up and I took away that life could be unconventional, inclusive and that I could achieve many positive things for myself and others.

What advice would you give to your 21 year old self?

See working in big work places as a game to be played. Enjoy the game. Be always focussed on the big picture, rise above the detail and take learnings out of each rumble so that you can sharpen your craft for your next challenging experience. Don’t take anything too seriously. Write learning reflections in a journal at night.

View Melinda Livingstone's profile