Photo credit: Jackie Tara Studios
Two years ago, Maggie Germano, then a planning and evaluations associate at The Pew Charitable Trusts, turned her personal-finance hobby into a side business as a financial coach for women. In January of this year, she left her nonprofit day job to focus on her business full time.
Although Germano has shifted her nine-to-five focus, one thing hasn’t changed: her desire to make an impact.
We spoke with Germano about her new career as a financial coach, the lessons from her nonprofit experience she’s been able to apply to her business, and her advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs. Below are her answers, edited just a bit for length and clarity.
How did you come to see financial coaching as a way to make an impact?
Maggie Germano: About two years ago, I was looking for a way to make more of an impact, so I got involved with several women’s organizations in the D.C. area. I started meeting a lot of women who were struggling with personal finances. I noticed that financial issues were holding these women back from the things they wanted to do in their lives, whether that was traveling, buying a home, or taking a job that appealed to them but paid less than what they were already earning. As someone who’s very passionate about women’s rights, I realized that finances are an important piece of the feminist spectrum and of a woman’s independence.
I had been interested in personal finance as a hobby for a long time, so I started offering support to the women I was meeting. I would offer to help them create a budget, come up with a plan to pay off a credit card, or just act as a sounding board.
The more I did that, the more I realized that I was making a real difference. I noticed there were mindset shifts happening, where perhaps someone felt like they were always going to be bad with money and that their situation would never change. But as they started making changes and seeing progress, many of these women realized that their financial life could be different, and that it could even be a source of opportunity rather than a source of anxiety.
What do you do as a financial coach?
MG: I do one-on-one coaching with women and I run a group called Money Circle where women meet monthly and talk about different financial topics. I think that having a sense of community and feeling like you’re not alone is really important.
Money Circle is about creating that safe space where women can come together and talk about the things they’re struggling with, ask questions, and support each other. [Editor’s note: Money Circle meets in the D.C. area, but anyone can join the Facebook group!]
I also have a blog and a newsletter. The topics I write about vary, but I’m trying to focus on financial literacy so that if someone can’t afford the one-on-one coaching or isn’t ready for that, they can still learn about everything from how to change your mindset around your finances to the basics of creating a budget.
Tell us more about your recent decision to leave your nonprofit job and focus on financial coaching full time
MG: For a long time, I was able to balance running my business on the side while working full time. I would do client work during lunch breaks or after hours, and it was nice to have that fusion of excitement and passion in addition to my day job. But after a while, I began to burn out, especially toward the end of 2017; I realized it was the day job that needed to go. I had quite a bit of savings and my partner is gainfully employed, so we did the math and decided it was a good time to make that change.
It was kind of a now-or-never situation. I felt that if I kept pushing it off, I would be able to make excuses forever. I didn’t want to get resentful toward my business because I was so tired. And so I finally just had to take that leap.
What lessons or experiences did you take from your nonprofit career into your work as an entrepreneur?
MG: For much of my career, I was in a big nonprofit that was fairly established and had a lot of processes and systems in place. At the time, it felt bureaucratic. But as a small-business owner doing everything myself, I realize that having systems and processes to make things work properly is really important; otherwise you can feel a little scattered and out of control. Even though it’s just me, I can still bring some of that systems approach to my business by making sure that I stay organized and manage my time. That way, I can get things done sustainably instead of trying to do everything at once.
What advice do you have for aspiring social entrepreneurs?
MG: Ask for help. I’m lucky to know a lot of people who have their own businesses, and a lot of coaches. They are probably part of the reason why I decided to do this: I saw other people doing the same thing, so I knew it was possible. Just because you’re an entrepreneur—or a soloprenuer, as some people call themselves—doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.
Also, recognize that it is an intimidating process. It’s normal to be nervous, to question yourself, and to feel like an impostor. It comes with the territory so you have to push through that and accept that this is going to be scary—but you’re going to do it anyway.
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As a nonprofit advocacy professional living in Washington, D.C., Deborah works with groups across the country to educate their communities and lawmakers about public policies that can help low-income residents make ends meet. She is passionate about helping people connect their interests to a cause they believe in and empowering them to take action.