Denise Duffield-Thomas - Knowing What it Takes to Succeed
From teenage ‘sermons’ inspired by Oprah to online dating tips for men, Denise Duffield-Thomas has spent her life giving advice. These days, though, the guidance is a little more on the serious side as she spends her time mentoring the new wave of online entrepreneurs who want to make money and change the world.
The Newcastle entrepreneur is a renowned mindset mentor, bestselling author and self-made millionaire who helps women across the globe charge premium prices, release their fear of money and create first-class lives.
Her most recent book, Chillpreneur: The New Rules for Creating Success, Freedom and Abundance on Your Terms (Hay House), challenges the old, boring assumptions of what it takes to succeed in business, so you can create financial independence with ease and grace.
Hi Denise, thanks for taking the time to chat with intouch Magazine. You’ve built an amazing business out of your money mindset coaching – has helping others/giving advice always been a part of your personality?
As a kid, I was always a “little Miss Fix-it” for my friends, or we’d start clubs to make extra money. I was always good at starting things – like convincing my friends to collect horse poo to sell – but often wouldn’t get around to the actual selling.
When I was a teenager, I’d watch Oprah after school and then give mini Oprah sermons to my friends. I was always getting into trouble for talking in class! During my twenties, I really struggled to find my “thing”, and I had no idea about the world of coaching, so I often went from job to job, getting bored after six months.
One of my very first forays into advice was my first, self-published book, Internet Dating Tips for Men; it was back in 2003 when both internet dating and e-books were seen as new (and a bit weird!). I’ve just always been a person who tried something and then immediately wanted everyone to know about it!
I’m fortunate that I was born into a time where technology means I can reach many more people and give advice without having to be as famous as Oprah!
You studied a Bachelor of Commerce in Australia and later finished your degree in the UK – what career did you envisage yourself doing at the time?
When I started my Bachelor of Commerce at Macquarie University, I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to do – and actually, I found university really lonely and hard. I didn’t know anyone. I failed ECON 101 (three times!) and felt lost and alone.
I did really well in my marketing exams, and my lecturer said he gave me marks based on creativity, but it was clear I hadn’t attended the lectures or read the books. The best part of my uni experience was living right in Sydney, on Abercrombie St in Chippendale. Very different from growing up on the Central Coast.
Luckily, I joined an international student organisation, AIESEC, focused on leadership, which helped me decide I wanted to go into business. I moved to London to work for AIESEC (where I met my husband Mark) and finished my degree at the London Metropolitan University.
What was the moment that changed you in terms of the career path you were on and where you have ended up?
For a girl who grew up in the Del Mar council estate on the Central Coast, it felt so fancy living and working in London for a big accounting firm (one of my many career experiments).
But I decided the corporate life wasn’t for me when I started getting hives walking into the office and when I pretended to drop a pen under my desk to hide from my boss! I struggled with the bureaucracy of working in a big firm and often got into trouble for not following the rules! I just didn’t belong in that stuffy culture.
On my lunch break, I’d read personal development books and spent my weekends going to business seminars.
There wasn’t one big moment, just a growing realisation that I had to get out. It helped when I started meeting more entrepreneurs – when you can see it, you can believe it for yourself.
You talk a lot about the Laws of Attraction – how did you come across these principles, and what did they mean to you? How did you put them into practice in your life?
After high school most days, I’d go into this second-hand book shop in Long Jetty and stand around reading books as fast as I could before closing time.
I found a tiny self-help book called The Magic of Believing by Claude M Bristol, published in 1948, which changed my life. He wrote, “We become what we envisage.” I’d never heard of the concept that you could influence your reality by changing your thoughts.
It was a little old-fashioned, but it led me to many other books, and from that day, I became a regular goal setter.
During my HSC, I listened to subliminal cassette tapes about having a good memory – it really helped me believe it was possible to get into university.
My philosophy on the Law of Attraction is practical. Manifesting just means to “make real” – it’s not about magic.
There are so many ways you can train your brain to look for opportunities and to tip the odds in your favour. For example, if you think of yourself as a lucky person, you’re more likely to see opportunities and take action. And self-described “unlucky” people seem to attract misfortune because they often expect it.
If you can change your thoughts about yourself (for example, “I deserve good things to happen to me”), you’ll make micro-changes in your daily habits and behaviours. Those habits compound over time and eventually become your everyday reality. It’s easy to let self-doubt trip you up, so it’s a regular practice. Listening to something positive on the way to work would have a massive impact on your day.
One of the more unusual “jobs” you had before launching your coaching career was as a travel blogger after you and your husband won a six-month competition to travel the world – tell me how that came about and what the experience was like?
It was incredible living in London for ten years, but the cold weather was getting me down. During our honeymoon in Indonesia, I stood outside one night and made a wish, “more of this”.
When we returned to London, I wrote on a post-it a goal to go travelling for six months. A few months later, I found a job ad for a six-month all-expenses-paid blogging trip around the world. That’s a massive tip – share your goals with others. One of my friends only sent me the job ad because I talked about my goals with her.
The trip was mind-blowing – we travelled to Kenya, Zanzibar, New York, Indonesia, Thailand, Malta, Ireland, Spain and Jordan. Funnily enough, the last leg of the trip was Australia, which made me want to move home.
How did that travel experience highlight the issues you had around money and the “money blocks” you had in your life? How did you turn things around?
When the magical trip ended, I had to take a good look at my career goals. I didn’t want to go back to a normal job after that, so I got my butt into gear – finally got my life coaching certificate and started writing my first book. Staying in five-star hotels also showed me what was possible when you had more money!
Now I know that having money isn’t just about what you can buy and experience with it – it’s the freedom. It made me reflect on my upbringing – where my single mum had to work so hard to put food on the table for us.
I know intimately the struggle that women face when they have to make choices solely based on money.
My passion for business now comes from a desire to help women have financial independence. So they can be, do and have anything they want.
Explain to those unfamiliar with the term “money blocks” – what are they and how can they hold people, and particularly women, back in their lives and their careers?
Money blocks are your negative beliefs and stories about money. From hearing “money doesn’t grow on trees” to being told it’s not polite to talk about money. Many women struggle to ask for the sale, negotiate a higher salary, and feel guilty raising their prices.
If you have an underlying belief that you can only get ahead by slogging your guts out – you’ll probably unwittingly make things harder for yourself by refusing to delegate or reinventing the wheel all the time.
If you were told repeatedly that “artists don’t make money”, chances are you’ll sabotage yourself and procrastinate selling your art.
And if you believe that making money is generally unethical, you’ll resist asking for it in the first place.
I work with so many people who almost gave up their business dreams because the money side felt so awkward – they hated asking for it, or they didn’t charge enough to include a decent profit.
We all need to get better talking about money – but it often starts with unravelling our ingrained experiences. You should be able to make money doing something you love.”
Not everyone gets that privilege so if you have the creativity and energy, do it. Make sure you’re surrounding yourself with positive people who back your dreams. For women, especially, there aren’t too many positive role models. You only go back a few generations, and our grandmothers couldn’t get a bank account, loan or mortgage without a husband’s signature.
Most movies and TV shows portray rich people as bitchy or evil, and you tend to only read about things like tax-cheating billionaires in the news.
It’s the reason why I often share my real income figures or my actual tax returns (really). I’m passionate about normalising talking about money! Money isn’t a dirty word. Money is just money!
How did you start your coaching business, and what was the earliest lesson you learnt in terms of taking it to the next level?
My coaching business started with a few flyers on Darby Street notice boards! I ran a couple of goal-setting workshops around town but enjoyed the one-on-one work the most. At first, I was happy to help anyone with any problem – a life coach isn’t a replacement for therapy, but it’s a great way to get support for your dreams.
Some people needed accountability; others needed a positive voice to bounce around business ideas. I realised how much I loved helping entrepreneurs with the money mindset part of their business and so I decided to specialise in that.
I’m not a financial advisor or accountant – often my work is giving people permission to actually charge for their skills and talents.
My main work now is running an online version of my coaching, called The Money Bootcamp. I host monthly group coaching calls and answer questions in my online group.
The most amazing thing is seeing the daily wins – it’s very rewarding. Many of my clients don’t have role models or supportive people in their friendship group – again, when you can see it, you can believe it for yourself. Thanks to the internet, I now have a global business with clients all around the world. If you can take your business online somehow, do it!
An early lesson that every entrepreneur needs to learn is setting boundaries! A global business can mean 24/7 queries so I could spend every waking moment helping my customers. You can’t over-give to your clients to the point of burn out. It’s hard when you want to help so many people – but you have to take care of the Golden Goose – your energy.
What have been the key moments or milestones in your career since becoming a money mindset mentor and author?
Pre-COVID, my favourite thing was the book tours around Australia and places like New York, London and L.A.
Writing can be a lonely experience where you second-guess every word, and it’s the most gratifying thing to meet people who have not only read it but implemented your advice! I had no idea my work could have such an impact.
I felt like I had made it when I got to meet Oprah during her last Australian tour and after she complimented my Camilla kaftan, I told her I had grown up watching her show. “Ah,” she said, “I raised you.” And yes, I am basically where I am because of Oprah.
You’re the author of multiple books, you run your successful Money Bootcamp and have started hosting private retreats for clients at your Rose Farm – what are you most excited about when it comes to your business in 2021?
Like many people, I’m cautious about making travel plans even though I’m supposed to speak in Iceland and London this year. I’d also like to resurrect my podcast – anyone who was told they talked too much in school should start a podcast!
I would love to write more books. I am such a procrastinator though – I’m the sort of writer who does one sentence and then rewards myself with four hours of Instagram!
I’m excited about the new wave of students into my course – a lot of people decided they wanted to start a business during COVID and I’ll be there to help them with their money gremlins.
On a more personal note, you’ve lived in Newcastle for around a decade now – what was it that made you move here and what do you love most about this region?
Growing up on the Central Coast, Newcastle was just always “there” – and I was much more excited to explore Sydney. Little did I know!
We initially moved here so my hubby Mark could work for the Jets (he used to work in marketing for Manchester United FC) but now we can’t imagine living anywhere else. His English family can’t believe we can see dolphins every day.
Mark is now our marketing manager, and we work in coffee shops all over town (Talullah at The Junction is our fave). Every day we feel like we’re so lucky to live in such a beautiful place.
Where is your favourite place to hang out and relax?
Of course, the beaches are incredible, among the best in the world. The kids love Blackbutt – and it’s the best place to take our friends and family from overseas to tick off the koala/kangaroo/emu experience.
You balance your career with raising three beautiful children – what do you love most about being a mum?
I’m not going to lie – I find motherhood challenging as an introvert, especially with three early birdies! The best thing is seeing how their personalities develop and all the in-jokes we have as a family.
I love showing them what’s possible as a businesswoman – they know I’m an author (they are seriously unimpressed when I show them my book in bookstores) and they think my Money Bootcamp is called Mummy Bootcamp.
My seven-year-old helps me stick address labels on my Money Bootcamp welcome postcards. I can’t wait to get them involved as they get older. I’m hoping they’ll all be entrepreneurs!
Your most recent blog post was about the importance of setting three money goals for 2021 – what are your goals for this year (personally or career-wise)?
Personally, I want to read more books instead of Twitter! Business-wise, I’m writing another book and learning to write a screenplay. I’ve never met someone I can’t help make more money – and so I want to continue doing that – inspiring people to live their dreams!