As a creative person, when I was starting out in my business, it was the financial side of things that were a paralyzing hurdle. They intimidated me, they perplexed me, and they prevented me from doing what I was really good at, and that was building a brand. I wish a service like Parallel Projects existed when I was in startup phase, a company that is purely dedicated to support the financial & accounting needs of creative artists / business’. Based in New York City, we recently spoke with Founder & CEO, Michelle Funke, on her journey so far. - SWx
NAME: Michelle Funke
COMPANY: Parallel Projects
WHAT WE DO: We are a personal finance team for creative professionals, With offices in NYC & London. We work with photographers, stylists, creative agencies and individuals to help them understand and manage their finances. Our goal is to provide business support, and free up time and energy for the artists to focus on what matters most to them – their art, and their brand.
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Cool, nice, funny, approachable, smart
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today? A few years ago I was fired from my job as a financial advisor at a creative agency. Soon after that, I went through a rough divorce. I was depressed, I was disheartened and I knew that I needed a serious change. My work life up until that point was “stable”. I had a boss, someone paid me and I did what I had to do to get by. I always knew that I was capable of doing more, I had just never tapped into that part of myself. Ultimately those hard times gave me the jolt that I needed to take a step back and assess my life and my future. I went on a yoga retreat, did some soul searching, moved to a new apartment and came back to the city with a fresh sense of optimism. It was around that time that someone I worked with awhile back reached out to ask for my help with his company’s finances. And then it hit me…LIGHT BULB…I could help other creatives with their finances too. And with that, Parallel Projects was born.
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is you elevator pitch on what you do? I own, and manage a personal finance firm for creative professionals.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?) No, I thought I would be settled and comfortable at a 9-5 job. Funny how life takes sharp turns sometimes.
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’? Success means being able to help people and change people’s lives. I think I am on my way there.
What do you still want to achieve (personally & / or professionally)? Professionally, I think the company needs to become bigger in order to give our clients more peace of mind. We are not quite there yet. It takes a lot of patience and determination in training my employees to get them to the level I want them to be.
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in? I studied corporate finance.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date? Gaining the trust of my clients! Getting to a place where people trust my opinion, and trust my advice. That alone is a fantastic feeling. That means everything to me.
Tell us about your workspace (Office / café / couch / aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace? Our team works at the offices of the clients we represent. I find this extremely beneficial for both parties. On one hand, it enables us to observe how they operate day-to-day so that we can better assess their needs. And on the other hand, we are able to guide them in real time.
What are some frustrations you have experiences on your career journey? Being a woman in finance can be frustrating. I have had to fight and go above and beyond for respect in this industry, whereas for men that respect is just a given. I have worked with some pretty mediocre men who didn’t do anything more than clock in and clock out, and yet they still enjoyed the privilege of higher pay and getting promoted sooner. There is also the age-old hypocrisy that when a man states his opinion, he is strong and resolute. But when a woman states her opinion, she is stereotyped as being ‘emotional’.
When was the last time you where overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work / work load? When I had a disagreement with a client, and he questioned the value of the work I had done. We were both well aware that my company had gone above and beyond for him, but sometimes clients get greedy and they don’t want to pay. I cried out of frustration, in private of course.
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this gotten more or less as you progress in your career? Absolutely more! The longer you are around, the more people tend to judge and question you, and your business. I find it so sad that some people are waiting for others to fail. Aside from that, naturally I feel more pressure as the company grows and I have more staff to manage. More than anything, the more clients that we take on, the more responsibility we have to help these businesses succeed.
If you are a business owner – and you often can’t just check out / have a week off when you are dealing with personal things – how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough? You get really honest with your staff and ask them to support you. If you have a good staff, they will take a leadership role in your absence. The past month has been personally very difficult for me, but my staff has stepped up to the plate. When I came back to the office after a couple of rough days, I thanked my staff for taking that pressure off. We all take care of each other. It makes our team stronger.
Has your career affected your personal life / relationships? If so how? Yes! It goes both ways. Either I’m a hermit and need to stay inside to decompress, or I go out, see everyone and let off steam. I guess I am still trying to find a balance.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How? Yes, especially at the very beginning. I was alone in the process of setting up the business, taking care of my staff, and making sure my clients’ needs were being met. A few months ago I joined forces with a partner in London, which has helped a lot. Now I have someone to bounce ideas off of.
What causes you anxiety / sleepless nights? The amount of work I know I need to get done. Not knowing immediately how to solve a problem. But most of all worrying about my clients’ cash flow, and overall business. If my clients are not financially fit, I take that stress on so they don’t have to.
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently? No. I feel like I had to go through all of my painful career choices and decisions, to get to where I am today.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self? Go out less, and study more.
Who are some women in business you admire & why? I don’t really admire anyone in particular. I am sort of paving my own way.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with? The ability to trust, and be trusted.
Work life balance… Does it exist and how to maintain it, or a sense of it? I usually try to give myself Sundays to just relax and do me. But that doesn’t always work out because clients will still text me on Sundays when their credit card doesn’t work. So I don’t know if there really is a work life balance.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit? Yes, when I am feeling super overwhelmed and people can’t seem to get it together. This usually passes as soon as the problem is resolved. I haven’t quit because…this is as good as it gets!
What is the biggest misconception about what you do? That I’m an accountant/bookkeeper.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry? Dig down deep, and don’t give up.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what? Nope, I would do it all over again.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be? 'Michelle was really smart, super cool and all of the creative people she worked with felt taken care of and supported.'
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important / (why did you want to be involved in this interview)? Because more women should know that there are women in finance.
What are some of your favorite quotes? Keep on movin…