When Kiani Mills returned from maternity leave at a law firm to find she no longer had a job, it motivated her to start a conveyancing company. She faced many obstacles, including her own inexperience and lack of confidence, but used them as a foundation for growth. Here she shares the lessons she learned from doing business differently, including why women need to embrace their superpowers.
What inspired you to launch your own business?
I knew immediately that I wanted to be a lawyer after sitting through my first legal studies class in high school. Unfortunately, not many other subjects interested me, so I didn’t pass my senior year. Instead, I found a way to immerse myself in the legal industry. I handed out hundreds of resumes to Melbourne CBD law firms, landing a traineeship earning $14,000pa.
With most of my wage being spent on train fares to and from work, I could only afford sausage rolls from 7/11 for lunch. I didn’t care; I was there and quickly realised the only way to get to the top was to work.
Before landing in property, I worked in every area of law I possibly could. Working through the ranks in the property industry meant long, hard hours, but they were exciting and fun – until I returned from maternity leave to find out I no longer had a job. What seemed like the worst day of my working life led me to my future: running my own business.
My eyes were quickly opened to the ‘real world’, which was outside of the clinical, removed, disjointed culture of law firms and showed me that business could be personal and positive and better than I ever imagined.
Launching my business, Impériale Conveyancing, was borne from wanting to do things differently – be personable, provide full transparency, build relationships, and change the stigma of a ‘typical conveyancer’. As a female in a male-dominated industry, I had to use the skills at my disposal to build my business rapidly. Fortunately, being a good communicator who was empathetic to my client’s needs, I was able to build rapport and cement my position within the industry quickly.
Starting a business takes courage. What obstacles did you have to overcome?
I started my business with absolutely zero knowledge of how to run a business, so I learned by ‘doing’ and overcoming obstacles daily. Obstacles included (but were not limited to) cash flow, accounts, staff, IT, suppliers, leasing office space, telecommunications, hardware, my time, emails and finding balance.
When I started, I felt like I was learning a new skill hourly. It was very much like a rat race, and I was not winning.
I was fortunate that when I started my business, I had immediate clients, but this also meant I couldn’t slowly grow and work my way through issues as they arose. I hit the ground running and was promising the world, then trying to manage the overwhelm that came with it.
During the day, I spent my time servicing clients and referral partners and at night responded to emails while juggling the needs of two children as a single mother and getting the remaining work done in preparation for the next day.
Fair to say, my time management skills were lacking, and because I didn’t put the right people in the right roles, the service level I promised dropped. I chose to outsource the chaos and bought on business consultants who helped me systemise and optimise my business, so the obstacles are now almost non-existent.
However, as a female running a business, you quickly learn that there are two types of people: Those who champion you and those who don’t think you’re capable and expect you to fail. The latter were the ones who pushed me to be better, and the former became my ‘humans’.
What challenges have you faced running your business, and how did you resolve them?
The biggest challenge I have ever faced was people. When I solved the ‘people problems’, my world changed. When I started hiring, I thought I needed to recruit people who were just like me – people who could socialise but who were also dedicated to their work and able to meet deadlines and maintain their workmanship.
I learned quickly that I was looking for a unicorn, and the only real people who fit this description are other business owners. In reality, no one will ever be as in love with your business as you are.
So, I found myself with an office full of socialites who couldn’t meet the work requirements or amazing workers who could not network or build relationships. I learned that I needed to hire people in areas where I didn’t have the skills or the time to manage. This gave me time back to harness my ‘superpowers’ and allowed my team to be brilliant in their own areas.
To get to this point, I had to admit that I wasn’t good at everything – ouch! Then I had to really look at my strengths and my weaknesses as a worker, leader, business owner and human. Once I knew where I was, I could then fill the gaps. I was able to specifically hire for the task at hand, which bought clarity, direction, and excellence into the company.
Women are powerful, especially when we know our worth and value which is why I have a powerful team of women, who are way more educated and knowledgeable than I am, with clear roles and responsibilities. We can now empower, rise, and lift each other!
What achievement/s you are most proud of and why?
Looking back, I am proud of being able to go from a burnt-out, time-poor, mentally, physically and emotionally depleted single mum, into the person I am now. That is, finding my work/life balance, running multiple successful businesses with happy and dedicated staff, servicing amazing clients and maintaining and growing relationships with incredible referral partners.
The road wasn’t straight nor linear, but hard work and dedication forged the path ahead to emerge as the leader I am today and the leader I will be in the future.
I have stayed true to myself and my values along the way and believe that being a woman in business is a privilege. If we learn to harness our superpowers, there is no industry that wouldn’t benefit from having a woman lead the ship.
Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? How did you address it?
HECK YES!!! This is only something that I have recently, in the last two years, been able to shift away from to accept my leadership role. I was 26 when I first went into business, with no idea, and was playing in a world of middle-aged adults who had successfully run businesses for 10+ years! I never felt like I belonged or fit in, and I struggled with this daily. I had to create a façade to go out, network, be seen, and build relationships.
I gained a different perspective when I was told to take note of where I was right at that moment and where I had come from. This was so important, and if you haven’t done it – please do! I was in a position I never dreamed was possible when I first started. My whole life had changed (for the better), but I hadn’t once taken stock of where I was.
As women, we tend to be ‘doers’ – we do everything we need to do for everyone around us and very rarely sit back and give ourselves a well-deserved pat on the back. Business can be lonely sometimes, so it pays to learn some self-love and self-care. YOU DESERVE IT! And there are times when you will need it.
What skills do you believe women must have to succeed as a leader?
As women, we are natural-born nurturers and instinctively do more for others than we do for ourselves. In my experience, this is something we need to learn to control when we lead.
If we lead ignorantly, we will allow people to walk all over us and become bogged down in the ‘doing’.
Leading is a selfless act because we lead others to improve, grow and learn. However, if we lead from an ignorant state, we come out second best. Leading with honourable selfishness allows us to lead with awareness, observe others, and decide based on their actions and behaviours if it serves the greater good.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s not selfish as in ‘what is best for me’. It is selfish as in ‘what is best for the outcome, group, business or end result’. If you lead with that mentality, selfishness for the direction or path ahead, partnered with the honour of self and honour of others, any woman will succeed in leadership.
This type of leadership comes with an air of fearlessness and self-assurance – not from the ego but from the heart. We are heart-centred beings, and because we are so dammed good at putting everyone else first, we will naturally have this capability. Some of us have been through some tough times, which has seen us grow a thick skin to protect this internal state. If this sounds true to you, you may need to soften that outer layer to be able to lead with honourable selfishness and connect with others in a mutual way.
Work/life balance can be difficult. What are your ‘tricks of the trade’?
It is very difficult! Work-life balance is the dream, right? I live by the theory of ‘organised chaos’, which means I have deemed areas of my life which are OK to be in chaos (such as my messy car, weekend plans and Friday night dinners) and others which are organised (such as our morning routine, task lists for work and kids after school activities).
I subscribe to the 80/20 rule and have learned to be comfortable achieving a balance of 80% because being able to achieve 100% is unrealistic. I simply mark the other 20% down as ‘room for improvement’.
I have also learned to leave my life at the door – work is for work; home is for home. It can be hard to separate the two when you work from home as I do (and many others now post-pandemic). However, I have learned not to allow my workday to impact my time with my family and loved ones and vice versa. I understand this can be hard because we aren’t robots. However, the stress won’t carry over if we can mentally separate the two.
Every night I ‘reset’ before I go to sleep at night which means I let the day go. I let go of the things I didn’t do or things I said or didn’t say. I did my best with the tools and skills I had at my disposal, and I will do my best again tomorrow.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
This is hard because if I had changed a single thing in my life, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
So instead of changing my past, I will pass on to my kids the things I wished I had done, such as:
- travel the world;
- grow up before having kids;
- SAVE money;
- follow ALL OF THE dreams wherever they may take you; and
- if you’re not happy with where you are, change it!
And know, you have EVERYTHING you need in you right now, so love who you are and listen to what YOU need.
Kiani Mill’s Top 3 Leadership Lessons Learned:
1. Leading by example – others will respect and value you if you value yourself.
2. Don’t judge others and don’t make assumptions – turn off your mind and feel.
3. Believe in yourself – you are capable of anything you set your mind to.
© Laini Bennett, MBA