When Joanna Streames lost her mother at the young age of nineteen, she immediately became not only a guardian to her young sister, but in charge on an entire household. The proper financial provisions had not been put in place and Streames found herself struggling to even be able to afford food, while mourning her mother and being forced to grow up fast. Streames promised herself that she would dedicate her professional life to making sure no other family experienced what she did as a young women and she decided to enter the financial services sector. But the the male dominated world of finance was everything she didn’t want in a career. Two years ago she started her own firm, Velvet Mortgage & Insure, where she helps individuals with mortgage protection insurance, as well as financial advice on everything from wills to trusts. The Kettering, United Kingdom entrepreneur strives to keep her team diverse and to make sure clients don’t feel intimidated by seeking out financial advice.

Streames’ story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:

What was your reason for starting your business?

My parents separated when I was young and my mother died when I was just 19, so I became guardian to my 12 year-old sister. We struggled financially because there weren’t enough provisions in place. The will was a mess and the lawyers involved took a large cut of any inheritance leaving us penniless. This simple fact is, I don’t ever want anyone to face what we did. The trauma of losing a parent, followed by this type of financial stress was horrendous and made the grieving so much harder. I know with a resilient plan it doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t matter what income you’re bringing in, with sound planning, you and your loved ones can be secure. I set up Velvet Mortgage & Insure to give straight talking, compassionate financial advice so that clients can experience the kind of financial security I never had.

How do you define success?

My personal definition of success is halfway there. I have 3 daughters I adore, who are growing into strong young women. They’ve watched me work hard in a mans world so I have a strong sense of independence and wanting to make their own careers and their own ways. Following in my footsteps and taking up the bigger mission is already making me proud every day. The bigger mission is to make our industry more accessible to everyone – because a lot of adults are scared of the stereotypical grey-suited financial adviser – meaning more people will have the correct protection in place, trusts, wills and mortgage advice. I am on a mission to make our industry more diverse and to make the industry less male dominated with more women and more young people. What could be better than leaving that dream as a reality and legacy for my daughters!

Tell us about your biggest success to date

My biggest success to date is setting my business up two years ago upon realizing I couldn’t change things from the inside so it had to be done from the outside. Initially it was just me, but now we are a team of eight people and I have a brilliant, diverse team including my daughters. We are all bound together by a strong moral ethic of kindness and doing the right thing, combined with strong individual passion and drive for our own personal goals. My mum died when I was 19 and I am proud of where I have made it to from having no parents and being penniless. Now I am making a difference and helping others avoid my fate by having the correct covers in place.

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?

The biggest challenge has been that the financial services industry is so dominated by men. In the places I’ve worked in the past it’s also been a toxic male environment in lots of ways but most notably sexism with harassment as well. A lot of adults are scared of the stereotypical image of men in grey suits, it makes them nervous. I wanted to make advice more accessible to all whilst I was in environments where I was so different, firstly being a woman and secondly not being a grey suit type. 

I couldn’t break through within so to overcome this I just had to set up my own business and am growing it with, I believe, a great culture and a team which is very accessible in all sorts of ways to our clients. It’s about being inclusive of all things – not just women.  We have almost equal men and women in our team and we have different nationalities and ages. We want all men and women who are doing the work for the right reason with great moral integrity and in alignment with our core values, The Velvet Way. 

Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?

My mum dying truly had the most impact on who I became and my life changed straight away. I went from daughter living at home to full legal guardian of my sister and running a house with bills to pay, all without enough money so the loss of that loved person brought financial distress as well. We had a roof over our head paid for but eating, heating, petrol etc that was another story. There were really tough times which made the grief so much harder to bear. Having lost my mum so young definitely made me the person I am today and I am proud of my persistence and determination to achieve what I have so far. There’s a lot further to go yet.

I quickly developed a passion to stop others going through similar experiences when losing a loved one. Working in the industry with a heavy male domination, I suffered a lot of sexism and harassment in previous roles. Not being taken seriously or feeling heard led me to setting up on my own to really make a difference and make a great place for others to work and not suffer any of what I did. A fun environment and where you can put your family first and can speak up.

What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?

My biggest tip is to read and watch anything you can on personal growth as much as you can and also get support in your team by taking on new members as fast as you can. It means you can do the parts you’re really good at. It feels like a risk but be logical, Richard Branson doesn’t check your luggage in for you does he?!

How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?

Just get up, don’t overthink it and put one foot in front of another to get through that day, then eat, sleep, repeat. Things get better, just think about today and not look too far in the future on days like this.

Who is your most important role model?

My mother was strong and fearless but was taken from me too young. I haven’t had any other role models because I was alone bringing up my 12 year old sister and didn’t have my father either. I had to become a role model really young and my children inspired me to be that person as I was all they had; I was the top of the hierarchy so there was no room for failure.

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