Today we’d like to introduce you to Melanie Lockert.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
In January of 2013, I started a personal finance blog called Dear Debt. The previous year, I was depressed and anxious around my student loan debt. In total, I borrowed $81,000 for school: $23,000 for my degree in theater from California State University Long Beach and $58,000 for my M.A. in Performance Studies from New York University.
I ended up moving to Portland, Oregon in 2012 and could only find temp work for $10 to $12 per hour. Having so much debt, a master’s degree and few opportunities filled me with anxiety and shame. At the end of 2012, I discovered personal finance blogs and thought of starting my own, so I did. I needed something positive to throw my energy into as my debt was weighing me down.
Every month I posted my debt repayment progress and adventures inside hustling. I wrote breakup letters to debt and invited others to do the same. I tackled the emotional aspect of debt and talked about the relationship we have with money and debt.
The blog led to freelance writing opportunities and other gigs. A year and a half after starting the blog, I was able to become a full-time freelance writer and significantly grow my income. Due to my income increasing and keeping my expenses the same, I paid off my debt.
I paid off my debt in 2015, wrote a book called Dear Debt in 2016 and then started to wonder what was next. Inspiring people to get out of debt will always be a part of my story, but I wanted something more.
In late 2016, I met Emma Pattee, another personal finance blogger. We bonded over our shared interest over women and money and decided to create Lola Retreat where we could have conversations no one is having and bringing women together to learn about money. In August 2017, we had our first event in Portland, Oregon with 60 women.
We had sessions on love and money, debt repayment, investing, budgeting, and money mindset. After the first event, it was no longer an experiment. There was a need for this event. The feedback we got was amazing, and overall the event was more than I could imagine.
We hosted a second event in April 2018 in New York City and had sessions on Fuck Off Funds in the #MeToo era, how to prepare for financial disaster, negotiating, side hustling and more. Now, I’m so happy to bring Lola Retreat to Los Angeles over President’s Day weekend.
We’re having sessions on why diet culture is making you broke, impact investing (aka socially responsible investing), paying off debt and saving in a high cost of living city and more.
Has it been a smooth road?
Building a business around a live event is tough. There are so many logistics to manage.
On top of that, it can be hard to tell people that yes, we are charging money for an event on how to help you save and invest money. It seems counterintuitive, but really the event is an investment in your education and accessing a community of like-minded women.
The main challenge is how to make it as affordable as possible while still having a profitable business model. I work to get scholarship sponsors and other session sponsors, but it’s tough. The event is capped at around 60 women as relationship building and community are big aspects of the event.
Implementing an idea and building something from scratch is one big lesson. It’s been a lot of trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t. I don’t claim to have the answers, either. I just keep trying.
At this point, the main struggle is how to scale. My main income source is still writing, so Lola Retreat is my passion project and side business. Obviously, I want to grow it but have to manage that along with what pays the bills (my writing).
We’d love to hear more about your business.
The Lola Retreat is about facing your fears, owning your dreams and figuring out a plan to be in control of your finances. It’s a weekend filled with deep discussion, impactful workshops, delicious snacks + drinks and the chance to connect with other like-minded women. You’ll get to learn from a group of experts on how you can build a solid financial foundation.
Each part of the retreat has been designed to bring you financial confidence, accountability, and a roadmap that you can put into action the moment you get home. At its core, Lola values supporting women, educating women, building community and giving back.
As a women-led, women-focused company, it’s really important to me to walk the walk and talk the talk. So after the first event, I made the decision to pay every speaker and be transparent about what we could pay. If I want others to start the conversation around money and to be transparent, I need to do the same. Also, I’ve seen so many events around equity and empowerment but ask people to work for free.
I recognize the irony in that, and if I want to be serious about women’s empowerment and telling people to charge what they’re worth, I need to pay my speakers. Even though we can’t pay a ton (we pay $500 for a session speaker, $200 for a panelist), I am proud that we do offer pay to our speakers as well as a complimentary ticket to the event.
I have many speaker friends who lament about getting asked to work for free or even having to pay to speak at events. I think that is outrageous. I believe this sets us apart as we are a new business and committed to working toward pay equity and empowerment.
What sets Lola Retreat apart is that we focus on financial empowerment and economic justice. I believe these areas are some of the last frontiers of feminism that still need to be conquered. Women will not be equal until our pay is and when we have the same financial resources and education.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Lola Retreat changes locations, but I am based here and bringing Lola to LA. I will say I was hesitant as throwing an event in LA can be costly with deposits, food and beverage minimums and of course, the traffic is always a factor. It’s tough to decide where and when people are willing to travel. I am excited to bring Lola Retreat to LA and connect with others who live here.
I think LA can be a tough place to build a business, but there is a huge community of people and resources to draw from.
- $450 for the full weekend retreat (Use GOLOLA for $100 off)
- Website: https://www.lolaretreat.com/
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lolaretreat/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LolaRetreat/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/LolaRetreat
Kathleen Celmins, Vernée Norman