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How I went from $1 million in debt to two weeks with Richard Branson

Cathy Baker with Richard Branson, head shot of Cathy Baker smiling.
Cathy Baker went from rock bottom to the top of the world. Here's how. (Images: Getty).

Read part two to find out the steps Cathy Baker took to successfully beat her debt, and how you can too.

$1 million in debt.

It’s a figure that’s almost impossible to reckon with, but in 2009, it became a reality for Cathy Baker.

A commercial property project she was working on had fallen through in a catastrophic manner. She and her partner were left holding the receipts.

“My husband walked through the door after finding out the guy [we were doing the project for] was liquidating his company,” she told Yahoo Finance.

It was enough to make people have a nervous breakdown.

“It was pretty apparent to us that we were going to lose everything if we weren’t able to do something about it.”


- Briony's story

Their family home was on the line. She had four children under the age of 10, all in private school. And she was $1 million in debt.

“It was enough to make people have a nervous breakdown,” Baker admitted.

But she was determined not to sink.

Initial steps

Baker spent night after night feeling physically sick, haunted by visions of a bleak future.

But during the day, she was swinging into action.

The boys were pulled from private school, she borrowed money from her relatives, reduced the grocery bill to $25 a week and every morning she spent time on the phone with all of the contractors she owed money to.

She would advise them the money she would be able to direct their way and how her plan to reimburse them was coming along.

And she and her husband took up extra work until they were both working around three jobs each.

I spent a whole night awake and I mind-mapped what I wanted our lives to look like.

“It was just to bring income in and drip a little bit of money through to people… to show them that we were invested in getting things back to them.”

While focusing on the essential daily steps, Baker began forming her vision of a prosperous future.

A vision of a happy future

Baker decided to put together a vision board of how she wanted her life to look in 10 years.

It featured her kids back in private school, a paid-off mortgage, the $1 million debt completely eliminated, and a meeting with Richard Branson.

“One of the bizarre things that I did – and I don’t know why it came into my head – but I spent a whole night awake and I mind-mapped what I wanted our lives to look like,” she said.

“I tried to focus on a clear picture of what that future looked like – all I needed was a plan. My dad, from when I was a young girl, had taught me that I could do anything in life if I put my mind to it and if I fully believed it and had a plan to achieve it.

“His voice came into my head, telling me I needed to do that.”

She put Branson at the centre of her vision board as he was her daily inspiration. He had failed multiple times and managed to become a successful entrepreneur despite the obstacles, something that spoke to Baker.

“He never saw failure as a negative thing,” she said.

Ten years later, every single thing on that vision board has come true.

She ticked off the last item on the vision board last year: she spent two weeks with Virgin founder Richard Branson on Necker Island as an ambassador for not-for-profit Virgin Unite.

Virgin Unite works to support entrepreneurs to address climate change and protect human rights.

Tapping your inner skills and asking for help

Cathy Baker with Cailtin Attard (left) and Linda Gibbens (right) from Belle Property. (Image: Supplied).
Cathy Baker with Cailtin Attard (left) and Linda Gibbens (right) from Belle Property. (Image: Supplied).

Baker credits a friend at her kids’ school with providing one essential lifeline early on: a job.

She’d spent years helping organise fundraisers at the school, and this friend spotted Baker’s potential and offered her a job in real estate.

Baker leapt at the opportunity.

She started out as receptionist but then swiftly moved into a customer relations manager role. Next came a sales associate position, then a sales agent.

Baker also decided that the only way to succeed in this career was to ask for help and to be accountable.

She decided to contact the experts in the industry, tell them her story and ask them for their advice and help.

They all agreed to mentor her. Every week she would phone her mentors, ask for their advice on the next steps she needed to take and report back on her own progress.

Four years after joining, she made her first $1 million in commission fees. Today, she’s the principal at Belle Property on the Central Coast, with a team of 35 staff and has made $4 million in commission.

It sounds like a miracle, but Baker is firm: this success came with a lot of hard work and a clear vision.

Today, her advice for others in dire straits is simple: do something.

Whether it was squirrelling away another $10 from a grocery bill, scoring a promotion at work or spending time on the phone with anxious contractors every morning, Baker knew the worst thing she could do was tread water.

To beat the debt and the overwhelming stress, action was essential.

“Having a plan can transform your life,” she said.

“Surround yourself with the right people to help raise you to the next level, not people that drag you down and people that take energy from you. And just be really true to yourself.

“Just follow your passion and your heart, and do everything you can with love and with great honesty and authenticity. You can never really go too far wrong with that.”

Read part two to find out the steps Cathy Baker took to successfully beat her debt, and how you can too.

- Are you a woman with a great money story? Get in touch here.

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