I downloaded the Instagram app in late 2011 after reading an interesting article online about it. I only knew it was a social network, and the journalist who wrote the piece rated it more highly than Facebook. Being a Facebook fanatic at the time, I was very curious to find out more.
I had a shiny new iPhone 4, finally, after a ruthless salesgirl had talked me into a Hiptop two years previously. God damn, I hated that phone! But let’s not dwell. I had the iPhone in my eager hands and a brand new app called Instagram that was apparently better than the best thing I’d ever done. (Facebook, how sad for me.)
I can’t believe I found a photo of it! Dreamboat in 2010 using the infamous ‘Hiptop’.
Instagram proved to be a challenging playground for me. Although I fell in love with it pretty quickly, learning all about mobile photography in the process, I was also let loose on the World Wide Web, no longer buffeted by people I knew personally on Facebook. I discovered online bullies for the first time, along with people that were just … shit.
I didn’t know it then, but I was a grade A, card-carrying people pleaser. I HATED when I couldn’t control the narrative and what people thought of me. But as my numbers grew, so did any semblance of control. I couldn’t control what people thought of me, although I tried very hard to.
In 2015, a friend told me they had been grabbing a coffee at a cafe on the Gold Coast and overheard two people speaking badly about me. One was a bit of a known Instagram ‘crazy’. Anyone around in the early days of Instagram will know how competitive it got for many people. I wasn’t worried about what she thought of me. She didn’t like anyone who had numbers on Instagram.
But my friends had managed to overhear the other person’s name, and to my surprise, it was someone I had never met. I immediately found him online and emailed him to tell him all the reasons why he was wrong about me.
Unexpectedly, I got a reply. He owned his behaviour, apologised and suggested we speak on the phone to resolve things. I rang him, we had a great chat, and he became a friend and someone I still talk to today.
An unexpected apology.
Around the same time, I got wind of another guy, this one in the United States, talking shit about me. I slid into his DM’s, accused him of talking badly of me, and we ended up on Skype that very day. (Remember before Zoom was a thing?) We also became friends and occasionally still chat.
(In a bizarre coincidence, I managed to meet up with both of these guys at the same time when I was in California on a work trip in 2016.)
Mean guy turned friend number one.
Mean guy turned friend number two.
These incidences were the exception to the rule. For the most part, people were forming opinions of me all over the world, and many were extremely negative. I’ve even had the privilege of being featured in the Daily Mail and getting slammed in the comments section.
Holy shit, those Daily Mail readers are a hostile bunch. They took issue with my photography ability and speculated that I didn’t deserve my success. (I checked the article before publishing this, and unfortunately, the comments are all gone; they would have made an interesting read.)
My Daily Mail headline.
That was a big theme for me while at the top of the Instagram game. People, usually men, took offence at the fact that I was getting jobs, opportunities, money and media attention with my Instagram following. One day, I’ll share more stories about it, like the time a famous Gold Coast photographer sabotaged my relationship with Nikon or when a Tasmanian Instagrammer told every client they could find that I had no destination marketing skills. (They were both men.)
I had to get okay with being disliked by people who didn’t know me, didn’t know how hard I worked, didn’t understand my client relationships and basically knew nothing at all about my life except that I had average (by their standards) photography and a successful career.
My people-pleasing skills could not keep up with the demands of being so disliked. But they never went away.
I’ve spent most of my life believing that I needed to be liked to be worthy. I’ve regularly gone against every grain of my body, telling me that someone is not to be trusted and instead tried to make them like me.
This process has profoundly affected me and how I show up in the world. It’s had me hide my whole self for years. It’s had me opt out of difficult conversations online for fear of saying the wrong thing. It’s had me BETRAY myself and put other people’s needs and comfort over my own.
Last year was the most challenging year of my life. I chose to walk away from a business that I thought would be my forever business. I lost so much of my identity as an ‘entrepreneur’ and successful business owner. I went from being a famous travel influencer and seven-figure business owner to being … just me. And I didn’t know who ‘me’ was.
And during the comedown of that experience, there was a lot of work to do. Team members needed to wrap up. Systems, software and subscriptions needed to be dismantled and cancelled. Agreements needed to be struck. And, of course, the money needed to be handled and our companies needed to be deregistered. I was in charge of it all.
At the time, we paid a lot for accounting and bookkeeping. When we formed the new business structure, we decided to set everything up professionally. We interviewed three high-end accounting firms that came highly recommended by people in our field. Ultimately, we went with someone well-connected in a community we were enmeshed in. Our contact there strongly vouched for him.
Our final choice of accountant and our new company lawyer drafted up a complex web of entities and holding companies that would protect us, our intellectual property and our businesses. It was a whole new world to me. I was grateful to have expert support guiding us to make the right decisions.
I couldn’t even wrap my mind around this!
However, once we were set up and trading as Phhnix, we noticed some early problems with our bookkeeping. Our assigned bookkeeper wasn’t filing receipts appropriately, making budgeting a complex and manual task. But our main guy was always quick to jump on a call and resolve concerns. I swallowed down my early disquiet. I had enough shit to deal with in the business without second-guessing a highly-paid expert doing work in which I had little experience.
A little while later, there was a major issue with the accounting of my own personal business, Lauren Bath Services. Each quarter, Australian companies registered for GST (goods and services tax) are required to complete a Business Activity Statement (BAS). These statements reconcile how much GST you have paid and how much GST you have received. Each quarter, you receive a refund or a bill for the difference.
It’s crucial to plan for your BAS. You might not have the cash flow to pay a deficit if you don’t. In the case of Lauren Bath Services, I had been slowly emptying it of money by paying myself a wage. I always planned to wind down that company as I moved all my services to Phhnix. All the Business Activity Statements I received from the accountant were for negligible amounts, as the business was barely trading.
And then, unexpectedly, I received a bill for $11,000. Alarmingly, I didn’t have $11,000 in my bank account, and I had zero income streams. I wondered how this had happened, but I quickly solved the mystery. A BAS had been missed by my accountants a year prior. They had kept lodging new BASs in and around the missed quarter, and nobody had picked up the irregularity.
My first ever unexpected debt.
I was scared and in debt for the first time in my life. That’s right, I’ve never had debt. I have a complicated money history due to being raised by a chronic gambler (my dad) and a prudent mother who regularly told me horror stories about my dad’s losses. It was very triggering for me to be in this situation.
I jumped on a call to my accountant and expressed my concern. He quickly assured me that my company tax return would cover the bill. He didn’t apologise. His one nod to acknowledging blame was telling me that systems were in place to prevent this from happening. That’s it. I thought, “Maybe I’m overreacting. Perhaps this isn’t such a big deal. I’ll just wait until our tax return is done, and it will all be fine”.
Shortly after, we decided to close Phhnix and scheduled a call to discuss the next steps with our accountant. He was amazing on the phone. He knowledgeably listed all the next steps and offered a generous package to finalise the work. I felt relieved and assured that this would be one part of the closure that I wouldn’t need to be all over.
That was the last time I spoke on the phone with our accountant. Our relationship and the work of his firm deteriorated rapidly after that.
First, new contracts were sent out for Lauren Bath Services, doubling the fees I was paying. No call, no email. Just a new contract costing me double as much for the same service.
I sent an email expressing my concern and mentioning that a price increase of that calibre justifies a call with the client (me). My feedback was ignored, and my bookkeeping services were promptly cancelled, which lowered my quote back to the same amount but left me without a bookkeeper for the first time in my career.
Then, a new contract hit my inbox for the wrapping up of Phhnix. It was thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars above what we had been quoted on the phone. And, to make matters worse, there was a huge mistake that would see us being billed twice for our end-of-financial-year taxes for two entities, another seven thousand dollars of fees.
I sent a thoughtful, considerate and clear email expressing my concerns and requesting a call to resolve matters.
I was ignored.
I followed up.
I was ignored.
Finally, I reached out to the contact in our community who had recommended this accounting firm and shared my experience—he was a man in a position of authority, power and influence.
He reached out to my accountant, and within an hour, I saw a meeting request hit my inbox. My accountant was finally going to meet with me to discuss my concerns.
That call never took place. The following day I received another email, this one sacking me as a client and leaving me completely in the shit.
Being sacked as a client was a definite low point.
I was heavily pregnant (9 months), in debt and with the responsibility of six companies to look after. I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders.
The day after my world collapsed.
My initial instinct was rage. I wanted to sue. I wanted justice to be served. I wanted revenge. I wanted this guy to suffer like I was suffering.
Then, right when I was at my lowest moment, I logged into Facebook, where we were friends, and saw this post:
Me, he’s talking about me.
I’m not proud to say that I spiralled. I thought maybe it was all me. Maybe I was difficult. Maybe the pregnancy made me overly emotional, and I needed to trust this guy to do his work.
Regardless of all the ‘maybes’, I was in the shit and needed to dig myself out of it, which I did. I hired a new accountant, a woman. I upskilled in several areas, including bookkeeping and registering myself in the ASIC portal to monitor my interests.
I accepted full responsibility for my actions that had led me to this point. I grudgingly knew valuable lessons would be learned once the emotion had passed.
I decided to take the higher road with my old accountant. I thanked him for his service and advice and swallowed down my rage. I didn’t speak badly of him to a single soul.
EVEN WHEN I found out that there was NOT, in fact, a tax return coming for Lauren Bath Services, as he had assured me.
That BAS debt eventually required me to sell the share portfolio I had purchased as a long-term strategy to pay off my car. (Upon the same accountant’s advice). I sold the portfolio way too early when the market was in a downturn. I lost a significant amount of money on it but did pay off my debt. Now I’m in debt for my car, a problem for next year, I guess.
I kept plugging away at the closing down of the entities, onboarded our new accountant and shouldered the responsibility of getting it done. It’s still getting done.
And then, I had a conversation that completely reframed my entire experience.
For the first time since this all went down, I tentatively asked a mutual acquaintance whether they had heard anything about our accountant and shared a little of my experience.
And I heard that many other people had had similar experiences. In some cases, the losses were significant.
It was one of those moments where life shifts in front of your eyes. I had thought back to all the moments I had felt ‘not right’ about this guy, culminating in his treatment of me during a critical and vulnerable time in my business.
I thought back to his smug Facebook post and my rage. I remembered all the times I thought it was a ‘me’ problem.
The floodgates opened. I spoke to other people about him, obviously protecting the interests of all involved.
And finally, I decided to share the impacts of his misconduct with the business contact that had recommended him in the first place.
I did this not to blame him. I accept full responsibility for my actions. I chose to hire him. I chose to ignore early warning signs. I chose to trust him with the most important aspect of my business, it’s money. I have never denied my responsibility in life or business.
I did this to share the impact so that he would understand that his recommendations reflect on him. I assumed he would find a reason to be grateful for my feedback and find a lesson for himself.
After I hit send, I admit I had a moment of self-doubt. It was the most unkind email I have sent in my career. And to be clear, it wasn’t unkind at all. It stated the facts. I didn’t blame. I didn’t use aggressive language. I shared the impact and finished by saying the recommendation reflected on him.
Later that evening, I told Dreamboat what I’d done. It was possibly a wrong choice as he’s also a people pleaser. However, after rehashing why I felt compelled to send the email, he asked me what I would expect if I made a recommendation in business and the person I recommended made grave errors.
I thought of a recent recommendation I had made. I had recommended a videographer to a high-profile event company I had worked for. If this videographer caused my clients significant financial costs and distress, what would I expect from my clients? Backlash. Obviously.
That exercise gave me a lot of clarity. I’ve been in business for ten years. I’ve recommended hundreds of people along the way. Most have done incredible work and reflected very well on me. A handful of times, there have been issues, and I’ve had to accept negative feedback about my recommendation. That’s business. Business is about people and relationships.
With everything clear in mind, I felt good about my decision to email my contact.
Until his reply came.
He mentioned that he was gobsmacked that I was blaming him for someone else’s conduct. (I didn’t.)
He dropped some legalese, stating that he was not responsible. (I clearly wrote that I would not take it any further).
And, most alarmingly, he denied that he was the reason why we hired this accountant. (I had stated that his recommendation was the reason.)
At first, I felt … ashamed.
Feelings of being a stupid, emotional woman in business came up.
I felt misunderstood and, to be honest, a little gaslit.
And finally, I felt … angry.
That was the moment that all of my people-pleasing came into full focus. That was the moment that I realised:
WHAT PEOPLE THINK OF ME IS NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY.
We hear this all the time in tiny little quote tiles from mindset professionals. And while I always agreed on a logical level, it has landed in my body like never before this week.
If I need to play the good girl to be liked and respected in business, traditional business can go and fuck itself.
I know that I am kind. I have integrity, often too much, as I always seem to allow myself to be taken advantage of. I have good emotional intelligence, and I would never hurt someone intentionally. I’m open, always willing to have a difficult conversation, and I show the fuck up.
It is not my job to make people like me or understand me.
My job is to show up in the world and fight for myself.
My job is to honour my intuition and stay clear of people who give me a bad feeling.
My job is to stay solid enough in myself to access that feeling, my inner knowing.
My job is to allow my experiences to be what they are, not deny them or sweep them under the rug. If I feel rage, I need to use that rage to right an injustice done to me.
I am so done with people-pleasing and playing the good girl with people I often don’t even like.
I imagine that this will piss a few people off. And that’s okay. Those people have their own work to do.
I know I’ll attract the right people as long as I stay true to myself. What is meant for me will always come to pass.
It feels like the start of a new era.
P.S. I have also made the decision to report the accountant to the Accounting Ombudsman. I will find closure in this and advocate for myself.
** Originally published to my email database on the 11th of October, 2023 **