A creative's approach to making money work


When you're busy running your own business, personal finances and business finances can become inter-related. For creative agency director Shani Langi, successfully managing both is a question of balance.


Shani started her business Usual Suspects, a live experience and events agency, in 2016 after working in creative agencies for more than 15 years.


"When I was a CEO, I learned all the things to watch out for. Balance is one thing I think about all the time. It's not only the bank balance, it's all the things that make up a good business."


She says the best advice she got when starting Usual Suspects was "if it doesn't directly make you money, outsource it."


Hiring a bookkeeper and financial adviser helps Shani validate the business plan and implement a strong financial system.


"We tried a few systems, and we now use Workamajig for all our financial reconciliation and reporting, and Xero for payroll. We couldn't go back to Excel."


She says visibility is very important, so she looks at the reports all the time. "We can look at the big picture and the granular detail. That helps me have more confidence, I've learned to trust my instincts."


The key is to get the number-crunching done by somebody else so we can focus on what really drives our business – our relationships and creativity. Money is just the enabler.


Usual Suspects' financial system also makes the team more efficient. "We can turn things around really quickly, and we all know what's happening. We're all working mums, so we need to be as productive as possible because we've got other priorities as well as the business."


"The key is to get the number-crunching done by somebody else so we can focus on what really drives our business – our relationships and creativity. Money is just the enabler."


Shani also puts balance first when it comes to the personal lives of her team.


"When we started the business, we wanted to be able to make our own rules. Work/life balance is so hard to achieve. So as a business we're closed on Mondays."


Everyone who works with Usual Suspects has to embrace having a four day a week job, Tuesday to Friday.


For Shani and her husband, a musician and radio presenter, finding balance with two young children is also about working out priorities.


"He has flexible hours, so we can juggle the family. But now we have to be realistic about spending and saving. I'll admit I love spending, but with two mortgages I have to be really strict. So we have two bank accounts: one for fun spending, and one for all the necessities – mortgage, bills, kids and a bit of saving if we can."


When her first child was born, Shani didn't think they'd ever be able to buy in Sydney so they bought an investment property on NSW's far south coast.


"We'd saved enough to do that, and we kept renting. But then one day our landlord told us he was selling. I was seven months pregnant. So we decided to bite the bullet and buy in the same neighbourhood."


She admits it was hard. "It was a huge step in financial accountability. It literally doubled our housing costs, and so we really needed to start planning rather than just 'see how we go at the end of the month'.


Travel is important to this family. "We do have an overseas holiday every year – it not only gives us downtime, it bonds us. We want to make the children as worldly as possible."


Using two accounts allows her to prioritise the 'fun stuff' with the realities of managing a household budget. Shani also uses Macquarie's banking app to track her spending.


"I really like the technology – I think Macquarie is on the front foot here as a nice alternative to the big four. The app is fun – who knew banking could be exciting, but it is!"


One of her favourite features is the tax coding for expenses. "You can just tick whether it's tax deductible or not – at the end of the year, you can pull a report. It's really amazing and a huge time saver."


"The interest rate is competitive. I think as a bank, Macquarie is quite unexpected. I also love their philosophy about empowering people's lives."


With her husband now setting up his own business, these creative professionals are adding another priority to balance.


"I think, looking back, I'd probably tell my 25 year old self to value experiences over things. I never regret all the travel we've done, but I've learned now material things don't matter. It would have been good to have saved a bit more, but we'll be more cautious now as we've got other priorities."


She says she expects her bank to be an 'enabler' – not just financially, but in saving time too. This support makes it easier to find balance across all the different priorities of her life.