Growing up, and during my college years at Howard University, I dreamed of working on Wall Street. I knew I wanted to make waves as a profound African-American woman living in New York City. Wall Street seemed like the perfect way to do it. Once I graduated, I got a role in asset management. My job was to work with individuals who made $25 million dollars or more.
In that first year, I learned all about the money habits of wealthy people: where they lived and traveled, how they saved, how they did their taxes, and where they invested. Working with these clients, I was inspired about what could be possible for me.
Over the course of three years in asset management, I worked with more than 100 millionaire and billionaire clients and their families. But in 2013, I realized that in order to build the type of wealth they had, and build a legacy for my family, I needed to create something.
I knew that helping other people maintain their wealth for the next 5, 10, or 20 years would not get me to a space where I'd be making $25 million. My biggest clients created something and worked for themselves. I knew it was time for me to go the moment I knew I deserved more and could also build something of my own.
Around this time, I also began to wonder why the money strategies used by the wealthy were so inaccessible. I wanted to show everyone how to build wealth and use the tools and resources that the wealthy have been using all along. So I left my job to build my own financial education company and never looked back.
I named my business Empify, which is the words EMPower + modIFY merged together. Our mission is to educate, empower, and modify the mindset of every individual, inspiring people to achieve career, life, and financial success. Today, we have worked with more than 2,000 students in more than 50 schools and organizations across the country.
As I have grown my company over the last 7 years, I learned some life-changing money lessons.
The first lesson I learned when it came to money and building my business was you have to pay yourself first. For so long, I put my all into building Empify, taking care of people, taking care of our community, and taking care of our customers. I felt like I wasn't worthy of paying myself. I had this belief that if I paid myself, my business couldn't survive.
It was nearly 4 years before I started paying myself a salary. But once I started to honor myself and my work and pay myself first, I started to see significant changes — I landed 6-figure contracts, I was sought out by different schools, companies and organizations from all over the world, and our revenue began to grow exponentially.
Another way I invested in myself and my business was hiring help. I hired a supportive CPA who helped me figure out how to grow my business. I also created my own personal financial plan that outlined what I wanted and goals I had for my personal money. I used online platforms like Goldman Sachs' Marcus Savings Account, which automatically deposited a portion of my earnings into the account, which made it easier to save, rather than having to remember to manually do it.
I learned that wealth is built by habit, not simply by dollar amount. One of the most important things you can do as a business owner is to take care of yourself. And when I started to pay myself consistently, it made my business stronger and made me stronger as a CEO.
Video by Stephen Parkhurst
Think of building wealth like you would learning a language. Immerse yourself in the world: Read and study it and speak it daily. A great way to stay consistent and develop that muscle is to surround yourself with people who are speaking the same language.
For those first couple of years, I was so locked into my business, and thought that I had to handle it all on my own. I didn't see that there were people who understood my life and could add value. For me, a great way to build that broader support system is social media.
I had to surround myself with individuals who were making money, running a business, and investing, especially because it's not common for our community to talk about wealth building. So I started following fellow business owners, people who are in the tech space like me, and people who are motivated and goal-oriented.
Don't be afraid to engage with people that inspire you online. I've found that authentic relationships can blossom even by just starting a conversation with a comment or a like. Online communities can be a great source of mental support and accountability.
You have to believe in yourself. In the beginning, I had doubts. I didn't believe that I was worthy of creating Empify. I had worked on Wall Street and had years of experience in the financial world. But I felt like if you pulled the curtain back, I was afraid people would see I wasn't perfect.
When I started Empify, I had over $100,000 in debt. I had mastered the art of ignoring debt collectors. I was ashamed. And at that point, I had no goals for myself, but I wanted so much to help other people who were in the same position I was in. But for 3 years of my life, working with those wealthy clients, I had seen what was possible. I just needed the world to see what I saw.
It took a few years, and a lot of trial and error, but as my belief in myself started to grow, so did my business. Over time, I went from building a business and making a couple grand a month to bringing in 6 figures a month. As we scaled, I made a habit of paying my bills early. Now I'm on track to be debt-free by this summer.
Your mindset is a major factor when it comes to money. When I let go of those limiting beliefs, and switched from a lack mindset to an abundant mindset, that was when I was really able to start achieving my dreams.
Video by Courtney Stith
In the fall, the Empify team and I launched an app called The Wealth Builders Community.
By providing easy to understand and culturally relevant financial tools and information, our goal is to break down the mental barriers created by social conditioning and even our own upbringings that make it tougher for so many of us to feel confident about money.
With my platform and this app, I want to show people, especially people in my community, how to write their own wealth-building narrative. It is so easy to feel worried and stressed about money. But we want to create an environment where people are constantly growing and learning, and are approaching their finances from a position of strength. I know from personal experience that when you change your environment, you can change your life.
Ultimately, we are unlearning what no longer serves us. Then the next steps are bolstering those skills with that abundance mindset, and a support system of people on the same journey. My hope is that making financial education more accessible will help everyone build the legacy they deserve.
Ashley M. Fox is a former Wall Street analyst and the founder of Empify, a social enterprise created to modify the way people perceive themselves and the role of money in their lives. Through informative digital content and interactive events, Empify teaches basic wealth fundamentals to both adults and children by pouring belief into communities through financial education, inspiration, and implementation. Our WealthBuilder Community app shows working professionals and entrepreneurs how to confidently build wealth, so that they can live a stress-free, debt-free, and financially free lives.
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