I’ve known of Amelia Lee for years but it wasn’t until Marie Forleo made it to Australia that we finally met in person and I was so happy that she shares her story with me in this interview.
As a podcast listener, I’m keen to hire her to assist with my kitchen/lounge reno (which isn’t a service she offers) but one can dream!
On a serious note, we both believe that through education you can empower women to create generational change and that ‘there’s lots of potential available to us, and the ability to share and grow our own businesses in our own ways.”
In this interview, Amelia’s shares how she is changing the industry – one homeowner at a time. Enjoy!
Here is my interview with Amelia Lee
What is your age?
45 to 54
Tell me about you and your family
Married, with 3 kids (currently 12, 10 and 8 … a boy then two girls)
What does an average day look like?
LOL … wake up early, go for a walk with the dog, meditate, then get the kids up. Hubby and I generally the wrangle the kids whilst he is also feeding animals (we have cattle, pigs and horses), and get them off to school.
My favourite part of the day is coming back into a quiet house to make my cup of coffee and sit down at my laptop. The activities of the workday itself will vary but will end somewhere between 3 and 5pm depending on what’s happening with the kids, and then its dinner and chill out time with hubby in the evening.
I always feel like there are not enough hours in the day, but I try to get an early night and now avoid working in the evening unless I’m pushing up against a deadline!
Your role within the business
Founder and Owner
Tell me about your business
Undercover Architect is an award-winning business that operates mainly online to help and teach homeowners (especially women) how to get it right when designing, building and renovating their family homes. We do this via a podcast, blog and online courses.
We have a range of online programs to help homeowners with different parts and stages of their projects. I want homeowners to think of Undercover Architect as their secret ally. So, whoever they’re working with, and whatever their dreams, location or budget, they can turn to Undercover Architect to get impartial, professional expertise and guidance to feel empowered and informed in their own projects.
I’m a registered architect by profession and have 25 years of industry experience in over 250 projects, mostly residential. My husband and I have also done 3 renovation/build projects of our own … so I feel I have a personal and professional understanding of building and renovating!
I work from home in the Byron Hinterland, helping homeowners all over Australia and some overseas too. My team is remote. I have one full-time VA, and some part-time help with web development, SEO and podcast production.
What’s your current annual business revenue?
$100,000 – $500,000
Are you happy with this revenue level?
I’m pleased with the growth of the business, and of course, have MUCH bigger goals I’m working towards!!
Has your revenue increased or decreased over the life of your business?
When you hear that only 2% of businesses that are owned by women have revenue of over $1 million, how does that make you feel?
I’m not surprised, and plan to be part of growing that percentage! Less than 1% of director positions in architectural practices are occupied by women, and I’ve had that position twice. I know so many fantastic women helping and serving their communities and creating thriving businesses that do wonderful things, so I’m excited to see what’s ahead as we shape a different type of future. As Barack Obama said recently “If you look at the world and look at the problems it’s usually old people, usually old men, not getting out of the way,” he said.” There are lots of potential available to us, and the ability to shape and grow our own businesses in our own ways gives us so much possibility.
What are your goals for the future?
My goal with Undercover Architect has always been to change the way we build and renovate our homes. I feel it’s an industry that’s been built on delivering the lowest common denominator, and our expectations are based on incredibly low standards and poor quality design and homes. So, I’m really passionate about helping homeowners know better, so they can demand better, and elevate the performance of the industry overall. Which in turn will impact the sustainability of the industry, the quality of our houses, the impact we have on the environment, the nature of our lifestyles and who we are as people. That really excites me.
For my family, I’m seeing my kids transition into their early tween and teen years, and so my goals as a mum continue to be about helping them grow into healthy, contributing humans who care deeply. About growing the sparks of passion they have, of helping them be curious about the world, and keeping their eyes open to all the possibility of that. I was raised by a tenacious, determined single mother who really modelled a work ethic and a ‘don’t take ‘no’ for an answer’ approach to life! I feel that has been so essential in shaping the business and life I have now. So, I’m hoping that my determination and tenacity in my life and business role models that to my kids too.
I have financial goals, goals around our lifestyle and travel, and creative pursuits I’d love to do outside of the business. And I also have a second business I started this year with a builder, Duayne Pearce (it’s called Live Life Build), and so we have big goals around helping builders run better businesses … and that improving the industry as well.
What assistance do you need to achieve your goals or what do you think is holding you back?
I’m an architect by profession. Decided I wanted to be one when I was 16 and went to university straight from school. All the skills it’s taken to shape Undercover Architect as an online business have since been learnt ‘on the job’ and I see others in my industry who are much savvier marketers really creating a strong brand presence that reaches many more people.
Who inspires you?
Oh wow, that’s a big question!! I’m constantly inspired by hearing the stories of others … what they’ve overcome, their own reasons for doing things. I’m inspired by design, by the cleverness of solutions created to make our life simpler, more fun, more beautiful. I’m inspired by learning.
I think one of my fave things about Undercover Architect is that it’s required such a steep learning curve to create and build it … it’s really kept me on my toes.
I’m inspired by my husband and kids too … they help me see the world in really different ways, and my husband has been incredible in helping us establish our life where we are, and learn about animals and their care, and running a property of this size.
Why did you go into business for yourself? Would you do it again?
When I was on maternity leave with my 2nd bub, I was made redundant from the business I’d worked at for 7 years. It was restructuring in response to the GFC, and I’d been part of the senior design team, as well as had a project coordination role between my 1st and 2nd babies there. A group of us from that business founded an architectural practice together when my 2nd bub was 4 months old. We grew very quickly, had studios in Brisbane and Sydney, a team of 20, and were on the BRW Fast Starters List, and a Telstra QLD Business Awards Finalist.
In 2013, 4 years into this business, with 3 kids under 5 at that stage, I started wondering if this was really what I wanted. I was the youngest of my business partners (6 of us in total), and the only other female was 20 years older than me and the other side of child-rearing. I felt I was expected to get through the pre-school phase and then dive into being in the office full-time once the kids were at school, which had never been my long-term plan. As an architect, being at the helm of a successful architectural practice is supposed to be the ultimate, but after 3 babies, and juggling work, our own renovations and life with little people, it felt like A LOT.
In February 2013, I signed up for the Business Chicks and The Hunger Project Leadership and Immersion Program. It required us to fundraise $10,000 for The Hunger Project and then travel to Uganda to see the work on the ground. I partnered with a friend who had also joined, and we fundraised $25,000 together, and in November I travelled to Uganda for 2 weeks to visit epicentres and villages and see how The Hunger Project had transformed the lives of those it worked with.
It helped me realise that I didn’t want to own an architectural practice. My husband and I had been talking about moving to the Byron Hinterland for 9 years or so. Each time we renovated and sold a house, we’d look around at real estate, but it never seemed quite right and so we’d buy another renovator and get to work. We’d had a baby per renovation, all the kids learned to climb ladders before they walked, and then I’d added this business to the mix as well.
I came home and said to my husband, let’s stop delaying the dream. I told my business partners I wanted to exit the business. We agreed on a timeframe (EOFY 2014 – about 6 months later). Our last reno was on the market and so when it sold, we moved into a rental. It took us several months to find the right place to buy down here, but when it happened, it literally all fell into place within such a short time frame, and within a week, I’d exited the business, we exchanged contracts on the property, and we moved into the house.
I actually looked at other business ideas … I was a bit worn out from architecture! But, as I thought about the model used by The Hunger Project … which is all about empowering people (especially women) to create generational change through being educated … I wondered how I could apply that to my own world. I saw people impacted by generations of hunger, who literally knew nothing else, work with The Hunger Project to totally transform their lives. I talk more about a pivotal moment on the trip for me in this blog … it really had me see things differently.
After some conversations with clever people who suggested I look at my skills in architecture, I arrived at the idea of Undercover Architect. I found that any time I spoke with someone about how terrible their renovation or building experience had been, it was because they hadn’t got the information they’d needed at the right time. I felt I had all these different types of experiences that, if I could give people access to the knowledge, would make a significant difference to their journeys.
I knew if I worked as a traditional architect in the Byron Hinterland, I’d be travelling to sites all the time. Whereas working online, from home, could mean I could reach far more people, plus work flexibly from anywhere. I think having your own business is super challenging. I mean, it all stops with you.
It all happens because of you (at least in the early days). I get tired sometimes of that … but I also get super excited. I can pivot, I can change things, I can stop doing things, I can create something … all because I decide. And I love the online world because you can do that all so quickly too. It’s actually pretty magical. Compared to working in traditional architecture where decisions could take months, it could take years to see your ideas come to fruition, it’s really amazing the pace of doing business this way by comparison.
On days when you want to quit, what keeps you going?
My family. The homeowners I help. The goals I have.
Any tips or advice for juggling life, family, friends, health and your business?
Oh wow. I don’t do that great a job of it all the time. I don’t like exercising very much … love the feeling of finishing exercise, but struggle with the motivation to do it. But I do know what a difference it makes to my business and my mental health if I’m getting some balance with all of that.
Is your partner supportive of your business and has that changed over time?
Yes, he’s super supportive. Doing business like this is definitely a team sport!
How have you invested in yourself or your business?
Through coaching, online programs, and a range of things like that.
Believe it’s possible … or variations of it. I have a great wall-hanging that includes the saying “If you don’t know it’s impossible it’s easier to do”.
Business books or blogs you would recommend
The first book I read was Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week. I think it’s essential reading for anyone who is a service-based consultant wanting to approach a different way of working.
- Emma Isaac’s “Winging It”
- Steven Pressfield “Do the Work”
- The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch
- Start with Why by Simon Sinek
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown
- Amy Porterfield’s podcast
- Claire Pells “Get Paid” podcast 99%
- Invisible podcast
- Oprah Super Soul
- Conversations Million Dollar Badass by Rachel Rodgers
- My podcast LOL
How can people find and connect with you?
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