Photography by Megan Pesant

As the money expert for CBC Toronto and The Marilyn Denis Show, founder of the New School of Finance and author of not one, but two books - Worry-Free Money and Living Debt-Free: the no shame, no blame guide to getting rid of your debt - she’s one very busy woman.

But just who is Shannon Lee Simmons?

In 2009, having lost out on a townhouse in Queen West and ultimately missing out on a piece of the Toronto housing market, life landed Shannon a lemon, but not in the way she imagined. Fast forward to 2018 and she’s written multiple books and founded an advice-only financial planning firm; yes you’ve got it, making lemonade from a bad situation.

The thing we love about Shannon is the way she successfully balances everyday life, including looking after her son, while simultaneously running a business dedicated to providing financial advice. What’s the secret you ask? A week up North for the month of August to float on a lake.

Keep reading to find out how Shannon makes this work-life balance possible, scaling her business while taking risks and staying relevant to her clients.

Tell us about a time that life handed you lemons. Did you make lemonade?

In 2009 my, then boyfriend now husband, and I almost bought a townhouse in Queen West in Toronto. We could afford it (barely) and we were so close to putting in an offer. In the 11th hour, we didn't. The townhouse went to someone else. We were so bummed about it for a while because right after that the Toronto housing market skyrocketed and we were totally priced out of the market. Had we bought that townhouse in 2009, we'd be sitting on almost $400,000 of equity just from price increases. LEMONS.

That sucked and still causes me some financial regret from time to time. However, because we continued to rent affordably, I realized that our overhead was actually quite low all things considered. I didn't have to worry about the furnace breaking, the roof leaking - nothing. So, I was able to quit my job in 2010 and strike out on my own. Had we bought the townhouse, I never would have left. I would have had the golden handcuffs tying me to my job and I would have needed to stay the course. My business, my books - nothing would have happened because I would have been stuck. That's some lemonade right there.

I love working in an inspired space by myself or with a work buddy. Every year in January, I retreat to Guelph on a “workation” with another entrepreneur and we both just hammer out those big projects or big planning that needs to be done for the upcoming year. It's amazing how much you can get done when all distractions are removed!

After that first year, how did you scale your business and continue to grow?

Building a team. It was so scary to be responsible financially for other people, but it was the best way to grow hands down!!!

How much of your success as an entrepreneur has come from taking risks versus playing it safe?

Hmmmmm..... both. I think the entire risk of becoming an entrepreneur is huge. But, I play it safe in my business from time to time too. I take a balanced approach to ensure that I'm taking enough risk to grow but doing it in a safe and calculated way to ensure that the finances are right where they need to be. Scaling with purpose and on purpose.

How do you measure success in your career?

If I can get up for work on Monday and look forward to the week, that's a win. Also, I still get lost in "the zone" or flow very easily with my job. As long as I'm still inspired and excited about the future, I'm successful.

You're 30 minutes away from walking into an important meeting. What do you do to get yourself in the right head space?

Lol - I am probably trying to find parking. But, if I do have the time to get into the right head space, I love cycling to work or walking with a coffee. That will help me zen out and get into the zone before I go in!

We are changing the way that personal finance is done in Canada. I'm building something bigger than myself and I'm really proud of that.

What is something that you read, watch or listen to regularly?

CBC radio 1. It's the soundtrack of my life from morning to night.

What excites you most about your career?

The growth potential. We are changing the way that personal finance is done in Canada. I'm building something bigger than myself and I'm really proud of that.

Finding time for yourself can be difficult as an entrepreneur. Do you have a self-care routine and what does that look like?

For many parts of the year, my work-life balance doesn't really exist. But, summers are my time. I move up north for the month of August and float in the lake. For me, a work-life balance happens over the year, not necessarily week to week. That's how I ensure I can recharge and refuel. During the regular grind of daily life, I also ensure that I spend a lot of time with the family. I'm home two days a week with my new son. It's not necessarily, "self-care" but it makes me happy to be able to do that.

As long as I'm still inspired and excited about the future, I'm successful.

Remaining fresh and innovative as a business owner can be hard. How do you stay creative and where do you look for inspiration?

Two things. First, I listen to clients and what they want and need. Then, I create it if I'm able to. The online school was born because people were asking for a DIY version of what I do. Second, I try to pay attention to what's happening on a global scale. Then I ask myself if my current business strategy will keep my business relevant in the future. If not, I change course.

What is something on your bucket list?

Family road trip from Newfoundland to Victoria BC. I've done the trip both ways starting from Ontario, but never clear across. When my kids get old enough, I want to pack us up for the summer and drive across the country.

What's something in your bag that would surprise us?

A lot of Starbucks gift cards I constantly forget to use.