Sally Smy - Retail Buying Manager to Personal Stylist

"It took a long time to build my own confidence as I felt too shy to say that I have ‘my own business’ when it was really just me, the kitchen table and not many clients!"

"Action results in confidence. It’s so easy to stay behind the computer but you need to get out there and try things in the real world."

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Overview of earlier career.

Over an 18 year career, Sally worked her way up to a management buying positions for major retailers including Debenhams, Arcadia Group and Tesco. 

The trigger for change?

“After my daughter arrived I found work pretty intense.  Over the last 10 years of my career, buying trips involved long visits to Hong Kong and India. I'd always previously enjoyed these but knew they would be difficult after my second child was born. Whilst on my second maternity leave, my request to work part-time was refused and I was offered a 9 day fortnight. 

I considered it but long haul travelling would have meant that sometimes I might have been away for multiple weekends in a row.  I didn’t feel I could commit to that schedule so I resigned.”

First steps?

“I had an inkling during my first maternity leave that I might set up my own personal styling business but as soon as I went back to work the idea faded.  In my second maternity leave knowing that I wouldn’t be able to go back full-time I really began to focus on it.  I filled many, many notebooks with those ideas in an attempt to think through options.

It took a long time to build my own confidence as I felt too shy to say that I have ‘my own business’ when it was really just me, the kitchen table and not many clients! 

It was hard giving up the security of that monthly pay cheque and it’s very tough doing everything, especially tech, yourself!  I got a real sense of achievement, however, from creating my own website and doing lots of activities that would have been done for me before when working for a large corporation.

There’ve been lots of ups and downs and experiments.  For instance, I trialled a partnership with someone who specialised in vintage clothing but realised pretty quickly that I really wanted to help people like me, professionals who needed a bit more confidence and they could get that from dressing well.  So, I had to have a difficult conversation with that partner.  Not a highlight for sure.

Then I started off working with women returning to work which I absolutely loved.  I understood their situation because I had had what I call my “beige moment” on maternity leave.

I caught sight of myself in the window of a shop, many, many months after the birth of my first child with no make-up, still wearing my scruffy maternity clothes and it was a real wake-up call.  I felt I needed to get myself back on track and feeling like 'me'.

When I shared this experience with friends, it really resonated with them.  I empathise with the situation of going back to work and not feeling confident in your own skin.  I understand these feelings because I've been there.  I’m not some scary fashionista and have definitely suffered from imposter syndrome in the past.  I didn’t feel trendy enough, thin enough or fashionable enough to be the stereotypical idea of a fashion buyer!

Now as a personal stylist, I simply want to help people have confidence in how they look.”

What Sally has learned?  Advice she might offer to others in a similar situation?

“Action results in confidence.  It’s so easy to stay behind the computer but you need to get out there and try things in the real world.   Networking for instance.  I’m getting better at it but I’m not a natural.  I have to keep reminding myself that people are not focussed on you when you are networking, they are focussed on themselves. It’s easier if you just ask a few questions and fill in the gaps.  You don’t actually have to say much if you don't want too.

Don’t underestimate the power of marketing and the need to learn as much as you can about marketing especially if you are doing everything yourself.

Know your worth and be brave with pricing.  I worked with friends for free in the beginning and got great feedback and satisfaction.  After that I priced myself extremely low (£30 per hour) which didn’t reflect the fact there is so much preparation and follow up work to my job - I calculated it at about £4 p/h in real terms!  I felt a great deal of angst about increasing my pricing but realised I had to in the end. I feel that my pricing now gives very good value for the help I am offering and my years of experience.

There is no perfect.  It’s a continuous journey where you are constantly learning.  We need to remember to enjoy the journey and the process not just aim for the goals.

You don’t need lots of clothes – you just need a collection of well chosen pieces and to know how to create outfits with them.”

What would Sally do differently if she had to do it all again?

“I would have probably attended a social media course earlier.  I was late to the party with it and still haven’t mastered it!”

How it feels on the days when she knows she has made the right decision?

“I absolutely love it!  It’s an amazing feeling when I help someone dress with confidence and look great.  I love seeing that change.  I love receiving positive emails from my clients! 

My family say that I am definitely less stressed and also…I dress better!   There’s no slumming it in the playground anymore.  I always have my face on and consider whatj consider what I'm wearing!

Also, I am dressing more for me now than ever before.  No head to toe black and no slaving to trends. I have less clothes than I used to but I can do more with them and as a result am far more creative with my outfits.”

Regrets?

“No – but 8 years on I’m still learning.  It’s all a learning process. I don’t get it right all the time – I have really busy periods and then really quiet periods.  There’s lots more I can do and learn but I'm thoroughly enjoying it!”

Find out more about Sally's Queen Bee Styling

M: 07956 293845

W: http://www.queenbeestyling.com/www.queenbeestyling.com

T: @Queenbeestyling

F: www.facebook.com/queenbeestyling

Lindsay Cornelissen - Corporate banking to wine entrepreneur

“I felt like I'd been in the industry so long that I was on repeat.”

“Someone asked me what my Plan B was, and I didn’t have one which seemed crazy! I needed to take control and create one. ”

“Every Monday night for 15 months I would traipse out of the office at 6.30pm armed with my tasting glasses. The first night of that course, I felt a little intimidated. But I learned to have more faith in myself.

Overview of earlier career.

Lindsay “fell into a graduate scheme in the City after university” not knowing exactly what she wanted to do but she was drawn towards a career in finance.  She moved companies a few times to widen her experience and “to keep moving up the ladder” and spent 18 years with her last employer with her final position as MD and Head of UK Corporate Clients.

The trigger for change?

Lindsay described her need for change as a “slow burn” rather than one trigger.  

She loved the client relationship side of her work and whilst she enjoyed managing teams, Lindsay realised that as her career had progressed she’d moved further away from the element that she “really loved doing” - looking after her customers and negotiating deals. 

“I had become restless as I’d been doing the same thing for a while and when the financial crisis happened, it forced me to take a step back and look at where my career was heading

I realised that I had progressed as far as I wanted to in banking.  I felt that I was moving further and further away from clients which was the part that I really loved.”

A late-evening conversation with colleagues in 2008 prompted some deeper thought on Lindsay’s longer-term career.  They were discussing the tv coverage of the Lehman’s crash where people were filmed leaving the Lehman’s office with their belongings in card-board boxes.

“Someone asked me what my Plan B was, and I didn’t have one which seemed crazy!

I needed to take control and create one.”

First steps?

“Over the years, my love of good wine had grown, and I was lucky enough to have tasted some lovely wines when entertaining my corporate clients - wines that I would rarely have had the opportunity to taste in other circumstances. 

We sometimes held wine tastings for clients where a wine expert would join us to talk about the wine.  It was at one of those talks that I had a lightbulb moment and thought ‘I want to do that!

I had always been interested in wine and my husband and I had done some basic evening courses in 1990s for fun.  I decided to take the next level of exam, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust's Diploma which is considered equivalent to a degree and a stepping stone to the Master of Wine qualification. 

So I went back to night school though I still didn’t have a "grand plan" and at that point I also didn’t even have much confidence that I could actually do it.

Every Monday night for 15 months I would traipse out of the office at 6.30pm armed with my tasting glasses. 

The first night of that course, with over 50% of the attendees being from the wine trade, I felt a little intimidated but I learned to have more faith in myself.   

We did a blind tasting and there was huge debate about one particular wine.  I had a really strong feeling that it was one particular grape, but others felt differently.  That night I learned to trust my judgement as I was correct even in the face of stiff competition from those who were more experienced.”   


What Lindsay learned?

In 2011, I’d completed my diploma and still wasn't sure how or if I was going to use it professionally.

But the banking industry, in dire need of stability, was faced with increasing legislation and regulation to say nothing about the general animosity towards that world.  

The thought of a completely different challenge became increasingly appealing and I began to ask myself if I was in the right place?

When another restructuring was announced at work 18 months later in 2013, I felt like I'd been in the industry so long that I was on repeat. It seemed to be the right time to take the opportunity to leave although I still had no clear plan. But that plan evolved over the next 12 months.

I researched the wine industry in general and thought long and hard about whether and how to set up my own wine business.

I re-engineered my CV and  applied for a couple of jobs in the industry but as I had no wine trade experience my expectations remained low.  I did however get selected for an interview to be the number 2 to a wine entrepreneur. 

Whilst I didn’t get that job, during the interview I was able to quiz the owner on how he had set up his business and took away some pointers to help me with my own business idea. 

Over those 12 months my thoughts and research developed. I went to wine trade fairs and met so many people in the industry who were helpful when they found out I was thinking of setting up a wine business – much more helpful that my old cut-throat world would have ever been.  

I spent so much time listening to other people’s stories in the industry that when I was ready to activate a business plan it was credible, well-researched and convincing enough to secure me a start-up grant.  

Whilst I am evolving the business all the time, I have stuck to that original business idea - a wine e-commerce business combining great wine and great customer service.”

 What Lindsay would do differently if she had to do it all again?

“I would have learned more about marketing the business on-line well before I launched the business (SEO, Social Media, Press, PR, Podcasts etc) though I'm not sure when I would have found the time to do it!

It would have been helpful in the early days especially when the website was being developed.  I’m learning it now as I go along but it takes time so I wish I had prioritised it earlier.”

 How it feels on the days when she knows she has made the right decision?

“Every day I know I made the right decision. I partly feel relief but mainly freedom.  Whilst I enjoyed working in my last organisation, I feel liberated from the bubble of that world, from the commute and from the structure. 

My former life was very City-focussed.  Now I spend every day learning something totally new. I am enjoying the freedom of a new world out there.

If I don’t want to work one morning I don’t have to.  It’s not in my personality type not to but I like having the freedom of choice.   

I enjoy meeting other entrepreneurs and small business owners too; they form a great support network.

I keep in touch with my old colleagues and meet for coffee or lunch occasionally.  Listening to them, I know the business cycle never truly changes and I feel some relief that I’m not still in that cycle.

That's not to say I don't miss the "large corporate world" altogether and I'm looking to fill that gap with NED positions where I can contribute some of the benefit of my experiences and have the best of both worlds."

 Any regrets?

“What's to regret? I work with wine!”

Learn more about Lindsay and her business:

Wines With Attitude saves busy wine lovers time by seeking out truly exceptional wines from around the world that do not disappoint. Lindsay loves helping consumers feel more confident in their wine choices through her blog posts (https://www.wineswithattitude.co.uk/blog) and through educational & fun wine-tastings for corporate events and private parties.

Email: hello@wineswithattitude.co.uk

Website: https://www.wineswithattitude.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wineswithattitude

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wineswithattitude/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/wineattitudes

Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/company/wines-with-attitude/

 

Denise Quinlan - Corporate IT career to Visual Narrative Specialist / Photographer / Speaker

“I was lured into the larger corporate world by the money, the identity and the potential for a longer career.  I ‘tried’ that for 18 years!”

“I used to escape from work – now I don’t need to.”

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“In my first job working within an educational IT company, what motivated me was helping people learn and communicate.  Latterly, I focussed on primary and special needs sectors where IT helped individuals to be part of a community, to connect and to learn.  I loved that!  

Then I was lured into the larger corporate world by the money, the identity and the potential for a longer career.  I ‘tried’ that for 18 years!  I did a partnering role for 10 of those years and loved some of the charity stuff but realised after a while that I was in the wrong business as my values were so different to those of the company. 

While there were some great people, everyone there was white collar middle-class and not hugely diverse.  I didn’t feel a real connection to organisation’s goals or values.  I realised that I missed doing something that I really cared about.”

The trigger for change?

“I used to cycle from the city office and remember leaving the office one January in total darkness.  It was freezing outside. I wondered to myself why I was doing this?  I was so unhappy but couldn’t articulate it then other than describing the concept that my mood matched the total darkness of the evening.

I knew I had to do something different.  My boss was aware that I was not happy as even though I was doing a decent job, I wasn’t excelling.  Around my 40th birthday I remember saying to a friend that I might take a sabbatical to do a 4-month cycle ride from the top to the toe of Africa which would allow me both escape my unhappiness and have some time to think. I just knew I couldn’t do another winter feeling like I did.

Roll on a couple of years, and I ended up taking a 4 month sabbatical to cycle and volunteer in both India and Nepal.  5 months later I returned to the UK, met with my boss and agreed it was definitely time to do something different even though I still didn’t have a clue what that was.”

First steps?

“A friend suggested photography and a little spark of interest lit up inside me.  It wasn’t just the 7,000 story-telling photographs taken during the trip that resonated with this idea.

 

It was also an experience with Raisa, an organic model farm consultancy, in Tamil Nadu, southern India, that cemented the idea of visual story-telling in business through images.  I got to share my knowledge of the SWOT analysis tool (Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) to this creative social enterprise leader which really connected.   They had so many projects spanning wildlife conservation, commercial coconut farms and local householders with mango and banana trees in their back yard. This defining moment gave me the biggest clue to my future.

I knew that both the photographic and business coaching markets are very crowded but I also knew gut-instinct wise that there was something unique here in this combination.   I could see from my research that there was a huge lack of understanding of visual impact.  Essentially, we’ve all been seduced by the amazing technology that it’s almost been forgotten that people connect with people, in both the ‘real’ face to face world and in the online world too.  The ‘first impression’ impact occurs when we meet in person but also when we’re reviewing someone’s profile photo on LinkedIn, their website or social media business accounts.

Subliminally, we’re establishing trust and whether we can see ourselves doing business with the person we see.  People in almost every area were under-valuing the power of the visual. Especially in the small, medium enterprise space.

At base level – I could see professionals on linkedin.com with headshots which were certainly not helping them in their goals to create trust and rapport.  I realised that rather than being just another photographer, my 23 years business experience would help people to understand the impact of the visual and this has become my unique selling point.”

It’s not just about profile photos though.  As a result, we have a 3-step process to help our clients become more visible, attractive, trusted and connected to the clients they seek.

What Denise learned over the course of her career change?

·         “Networking is key but can be superficial.  Actually, just getting out there and talking to real people is crucial.  Finding a niche where I fit and share values has taken time.

 

·         I’ve researched lots of different networking groups and settled on a couple of key ones:

1.       The Institute of Directors which I initially joined as a young entrepreneur and then later joined their Advance Group programme and have found it really valuable. 

2.       A more local Chiswick lunch group where there are none of the 60 second pitches, that attention-span-wise have me reeling after the 5th person.

 

·         Moving from a social office to an isolated environment doesn’t work for everyone.  If I spend more than 2 days by myself I go crazy so I’ve built that knowledge into planning my week.

 

·         If you want something deeper than a networking group, join or create a mastermind group.

 

·         Coaching is a very useful tool when it is done right, by the right person ie one that matches your values, as a minimum.

 

·         Connecting with people who have the same shared values and are in a similar situation make it all so much better.

 

·         Understanding your own personality helps to make decisions accordingly.  For instance, I’m introverted in the way I process information and thoughts but my creative process is more extroverted and needs external stimuli.  This knowledge helps me to define where I am when I need to focus on different tasks.

 

·         Outsource some stuff – the stuff that you are not good at – as early as you can afford to.  This frees up time to do more value-adding.”

What Denise would do differently if she had to do it all again?

“I would have found a mentor that worked for me earlier.  I did have one lined up, but for various reasons their implementation got delayed.  So, not only had I unfortunately already handsomely invested but I felt in limbo for more months than planned.  My learning? To go with my initial gut feel.  My gut feel was that their profile photo was significantly out of date, and that was a red flag warning signal to me.  I overrode my gut instinct but realised it was actually spot on.”

How it feels on the days when she knows he has made the right decision?

“I just love what I do!  I love enjoying my work without the financial/profit/corporate stress/misaligned values and without feeling so frazzled.

I used to escape from work – now I don’t need to. I have my sanity back.

I just love what I do!

My creativity is unfettered in both the entrepreneurial sense but also the hands-on visual portrayal of each client’s ‘personality, messages and values’ to their target clients .“

Regrets?

“None…although I do have an impatience and want to do everything faster, you have to work through the ups and downs to creating a brand that works.”

 

Learn more about Denise and her business:

Website: http://insightfulimages.co/

Twitter: @Insightfulphoto

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/denisequinlan/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/insightfulimages/

 

Duncan Haddrell - Senior Finance Executive to Distribution Business Owner

“It feels easy...but scary because now I hold in my hands the mortgages of 10 employees - not just my own.   I don’t hold that responsibility lightly.  It’s huge.  That’s the difference.  If I cock it up, the impact is huge.  But, the opportunity is also huge.”

“Being conscientious, working hard and being good at something sometimes doesn’t really get you where you want to be.  I sort of just lost faith in corporate life.”

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Career overview

A twenty-year career in senior finance positions including Group Finance Director and Non-Executive Director Positions within both public and private businesses.

What triggered your career change/career re-design?

“Lots of things.  I should have done it years ago.  But, I went through the public school system and ended up towing the line and doing as was expected in my career progressing from trainee, management accountant, Financial Controller to Finance Director. 

Until the point where I looked up and realised that the people above me were not there because they were worked harder than me or were better than me.

Being conscientious, working hard and being good at something sometimes doesn’t really get you where you want to be.

 I sort of just lost faith in corporate life.

After 20 years of working my socks off for the benefit of others, I reflected and realised that I was being neither valued nor appreciated.   

As well as managing the challenges of reporting and trying to make a difference to organisations’ current operations, I’d been trying to convince people for years about the benefits of long term planning. But businesses didn’t want or value the long-term focus.  Frustration crept in.  

I think I’ve always wanted my own business and always kept my ear to the ground looking for opportunities.  I often evaluated possible business opportunities that I could both afford and that I believed had long-term mileage as both a product and a business.”

First Steps?

I’d looked at other businesses where the owners were in their 60s and wanting to retire in the near future, but only took a couple as far as the real due diligence process.   

When I found the right one, I knew it very quickly.   It was the easiest purchase ever due to a perfect match between the owners’ ethics, values and desires for the business and my own.    

My long-term goals for the business linked exactly with the sellers’ values.  It was a perfect fit.”

 Duncan with Terry Dakin - the previous business owner.

Duncan with Terry Dakin - the previous business owner.

What did you learn during that process?

“I am truly motivated by taking care of a company and the people within it for the long-term.  The last ten years of my career didn’t fit with this deeply-held motivation.

I want and need to be in control of my own destiny and that was also not the case over the last ten years of my finance career.

Stress can be positive and drive people forward but stress caused by poor leadership is negative stress with no upside.  Poor leadership really impacts the people within a business, not just the business.”

 

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?  

“I would have been able to leave finance work within corporates 10 years ago - I’d learned enough by then.  I’d learned what good and bad leaders look like.  I had experienced so much...enough.

That said, I would have needed a little more financial security to have taken this kind of risk at that time.  

Perhaps the time was right because the time was right?  The opportunity to invest in my future and this business was perfect.   Perhaps I needed to gain more consultancy experience to have a real grasp of how I want to proceed?  Perhaps...!”

 On the days that you know you’ve made the right decision, how do you feel?

“Where would I rather be?  Here.  Without a doubt.  Why? The frustrations of going through the same “I need to change but need more influence to make it happen” cycle within corporates wore me down.  

I’m now in charge of making change but I can’t do it alone.  I listen to the opinions and insights from staff who are the experts.  I understand the big picture landscape and it’s a long-term landscape.  I understand what the right direction is.  

It feels easy...but scary because now I hold in my hands the mortgages of 10 employees - not just my own.   I don’t hold that responsibility lightly.  It’s huge.  That’s the difference.  If I cock it up, the impact is huge.  But, the opportunity is also huge.

I arrive to work knowing what we are going to do that day.  Then we constantly tweak.  It’ll pay off.  We will see the benefits.”

Any regrets?

“None at all!”

 What one piece of advice would you give to anyone re-designing their mid-life career?

“It might not always work out and that might not be due to your efforts, so don’t risk what you can’t afford to lose.”

Duncan now owns International Tiles & Bathrooms - Please have a look at their new web page:-

https://tiles.uk.com/

It is the aim for International Tiles is to become within 5 years the No.1 best for service, produce, quality and customer care and customer satisfaction tile brand throughout the South West of England (Somerset, Dorset, Devon & Cornwall) Tile Industry.

We aim to be the best employee we can. Our staff are valued and it is up to us to make their time here as fulfilling and as rewarding as possible.

While we recognise that being in business is not easy and we will have some difficult times we also want to have some fun.

I am very lucky to have taken over a company with such strong foundations, with a strong and loyal customer base, with experienced and loyal staff and loyal and quality suppliers.




Joanne McGowan - Serial Entrepreneur to Charity Digital Development Manager

This big career change has given me confidence. If I can move from being a serial entrepreneur for 20 years into a brilliant corporate role so happily, it’s made me feel I can cope with anything.

I just feel…more relaxed. My stress levels have definitely evened out. When I was self-employed I always felt like I should have been doing something, working on the business in some way.

Overview of earlier career.

“Most of my career moves have felt like an accident or probably just being at the right place at the right time.  As I was about to graduate from my degree in Theatre Studies, an opportunity came up to run a dance and drama school where I had worked part-time.  I doubled the size of the business and loved it but after 9 years it was time to sell.

After my son George was born in 2006, I’d imagined that I’d enjoy having some time off but was back teaching part time when he was 6 weeks old. I loved being a Mum but I loved my work too. By the time he was 2 years old, I had an idea that I could run a children’s party business and gave it a go.  People liked it and it grew quickly.  This suited our lifestyle then as I would work mostly on the weekends when my husband was around to be with George.  Over time, I learned so much about getting a new idea off the ground and became pretty good at community group marketing.  The good old Mummy grapevine worked its magic and I grew that business over seven years without a penny of paid advertising – just word of mouth and social media marketing.  

I loved running the party business but saw an advertisement that caught my eye on twitter for a tutor to lead digital training for women returning to work or thinking of starting a business. This was the start of my social media marketing training work.   George was a little older and I didn’t want to sacrifice our precious family time at the weekends and this seemed a perfect way to start transitioning.

That experience opened up the chance to buy into a local business community franchise which allowed me to make amazing contacts who grew into friends but it didn’t turn out to be the business opportunity I thought it would be so we parted company.” 

The trigger for change?

After that experience, Joanne paused for a moment as she wasn’t quite sure what she actually wanted to do next. 

“I did some freelance work but then I thought – maybe I might like a proper job!?  I felt like I’d been there and done it as far as buying businesses and growing them and starting businesses from scratch for the last 20 years.  It didn’t feel like there would be enough of a challenge for me to do it again.  I fancied something different and I think I needed a bit more of a routine.  I was curious how it might be working in a team environment rather than doing everything myself.”

First steps?

“I was drawn to the charity sector as I’d done some freelancing work with a charity and it felt more rewarding than other work I’d done - it felt like I was making a difference.  Once I’d decided what I wanted to do, I went application-happy!   I soon realised that the whole job application process is so exhausting and I began to be much more selective.  That’s when things started to happen for me.

In the end I had four interviews for four jobs – I got down to the final two applicants for a role with a big corporate and whilst I was really disappointed that I wasn’t chosen, ultimately, I think it would have probably been too corporate for me at that time – probably a bit of a shock to the system after my early career.   I was nervous meeting the CEO of that business but we spent 2 hours together and think I held my own.  I was given very good feedback which boosted my confidence. I think that ultimately helped me get the job I have now. After a 2 hour interview I felt ready for anything!”

 What Joanne learned?

“The thing about being a working mum is that you re-invent yourself every few years. When George was small, I needed to do work that was flexible but he’s heading off to secondary school in September so the time felt right to try something different.

This big career change has given me confidence.  If I can move from being a serial entrepreneur for 20 years into a brilliant corporate role so happily, it’s made me feel I can cope with anything.  Having the confidence to just go for a career change is important. 

I knew I wasn’t alone.  I talked about my decision to look for a job rather than set up another business/freelance with lots of mum friends of a similar age who totally understood my motivations.

You need to be prepared for all the obvious but tough interview questions and have convincing responses.  For instance, I wasn’t sure if I was actually employable after 20 years of owning and running my own businesses and never having had a real job!  I knew I’d get asked why I wanted a job now so I was prepared with a good, but truthful, answer.  

The right job is out there.  When my friend, the photographer Kerry Harrison heard me talking about my new role, she described it as ‘a job that’s good for the soul’.  And it is. There are amazing people working here at the National Garden Scheme (ngs.org.uk) and an amazing group of volunteers.  We also work with nearly 4000 amazing gardens that have a common aim, to raise money for some fantastic nursing charities. My office is based only a few miles from my home on the beautiful Hatchlands estate, but if I need to work from home or flexibly on occasion I can, I just prefer to go into the office – it’s more fun."

How it feels on the days when she knows he has made the right decision?

"For pretty much 20 years I worked on weekends now I actually get that Friday feeling.  I love my job and I love my 2 days of freedom at the weekend to do whatever we want.  There’s no negotiating or cramming stuff in.  It feels amazing!

I can definitely switch off more.  When I come home, I don’t feel that anyone is expecting me to still be working.

It’s not just me - Jon [Joanne’s husband] says that he’s noticed that I switch off more easily than before.  I agree.  I just feel…more relaxed.  My stress levels have definitely evened out.   We all have stressful days and bad days at work but when I was self-employed I really struggled to get the balance right.  I always felt like I should have been doing something, working on the business in some way.  

This is my first proper job.  I’ve never had regular monthly pay and it’s bloody lovely!  But the work itself is also really great.  I thought that working in an organisation and not just for myself would mean that it would take longer to see results but in the 8 months I’ve been there I feel that I’ve made a difference.  I feel like I’m part of a team that is making a huge impact and we have big plans for the future.  I feel like I’m contributing to something very exciting."

 Regrets?

“None, none at all.  I’ve never had any regrets.  I’ve done so many things and gained so many transferrable skills and I now have a job I absolutely love with a good work-life balance to boot."

 Find out more about Joanne:

Twitter @guildfordjo,

Instagram @guildfordjo

Linked In - https://www.linkedin.com/in/joannemcgowansurrey/

Rob Young - Army Career to Business Career

"I had a strong feeling that if I left at 50 or 55 that I would then be unemployable as I’d appear institutionalised and perhaps even weary.”
"If you are anywhere near 50, you really need to put your back into finding a new job or a new career.  It’s definitely not easy.  You need to attack the situation like you’re climbing a mountain." 

Overview of earlier career.

Left school at 18.  Spent 24 years in the Army as both a solider and an officer.  Resigned his commission at 45.

Trigger for change:

There appeared to be two clear triggers for Rob’s desire for change:

“I felt that I’d had the best from the Army and wanted to give civvy street a crack.  As my daughter was also starting university there was an opportunity for my wife and I to settle down in one country after having been moved all over the world for so many years. 

Also, whilst I had lots of confidence that I could actually do anything with my experience, I also had a strong feeling that if I left at 50 or 55 – which was the traditional break-points from the army – that I would then be unemployable as I’d appear institutionalised and perhaps even weary.”

First steps?

“I didn’t know what kind of work I actually wanted to do but I certainly knew what I didn’t want to do i.e. anything to do with the military, defence sectors or logistics which had been my arena.

I felt so optimistic, like I could do almost anything - unless of course it was highly technical or required specific qualifications.   I had a sense that I was likely to end up in a big corporate in some sort of management role.”

Rob decided to access all the support groups which were available to him as an ex-soldier and officer to help him get settled in civilian life.  One of those was The Officers Association which advertised (for a nominal fee) jobs for companies who were interested in attracting ex-army personnel. 

“I accepted the first job offer I received and worked for a very small company in a logistics position which I hadn’t really wanted but my wife/mentor/coach gave me some great advice that ‘it’d be much easier to find a great job from a position of having a job’.  She was, of course, right.’

A year later, having done some good work and recruited his replacement, Rob moved on to bigger things and kept moving onwards and upwards in a variety of positions.   In different industries, in different roles, in companies with different problems until he found his niche in leadership roles within transforming businesses.   Over the next decade Rob had a whole range of “fantastic”, “interesting”, “challenging” , “angst-filled” and “fun” career moves.  At its height – he had a spell of travelling around Europe with a European billionaire in his private jet acquiring businesses and at its lowest point doing some seasonal work over Christmas at M&S – "and every type of experience in between!" 

What Rob learned?

 Networking is important.”  Rob didn’t expressly recommend networking until I prompted him but our conversation was peppered with references to friends gained through business, connections made through playing sport and connections through old careers and previous jobs.  Networking appears to be something Rob does very naturally.

"Everyone I know who was in the army for a long-time and left accepted the first job they were offered – I think we all knew how important it was to get started.

Be wary of who to take advice from.  Taking advice from too many different perspectives just leaves you confused. Don’t ask friends what they think of your CV. Find experienced hiring managers who know what good looks like and experienced CV designers.  It’s the hardest thing in the world to put together on the easiest subject in the world – you.  At one point, I totally and utterly wasted £5000 employing a company to slightly enhance my CV and tell me some average advice that we all know – get out there and network.  They did it over some very nice lunches in nice restaurants but that was a total waste of cash and time.  

Know thyself.  Self-awareness is a key factor in career change.   For instance, I was fired once from a job and was so surprised that I hadn’t seen it coming.  I took from that that I needed to brush up on my self-awareness.  How you see yourself and how you view your world have an impact on the work you do and the work you could do.

If you are anywhere near 50, you really need to put your back into finding a new job or a new career.  It’s definitely not easy.  You need to attack the situation like you’re climbing a mountain.

Don’t dumb down even if you are desperate.  At one low point, I just couldn’t get a job but really needed a job to pay the mortgage.  I dumbed down my CV, not really lying but certainly not telling the full truth about my previous leadership positions.  I secured a seasonal job at M&S which helped me pay the mortgage.   But, ultimately, I could see nothing but opportunities to improve their operations and logistics and it was difficult not to tell someone.   I knew my expertise would help the business but they didn’t want to know.  I would never have fit in the long-term and would have been seen as a trouble-maker.  The last thing companies need is some over-qualified smart ass when all they actually wanted was someone to do the job the way they wanted it done.  But that was never going to be me.

There are good people in the world who just need a break and it pays to use your talents to help them.  If I have a client who’s in a bit of a fix and can’t pay me my fee for helping them re-design their CV and linkedin profile and coaching them on interviews, I just ask them to pay when they get a role and only if they agree it’s been helpful.  I enjoy helping them because I’ve been there and would have appreciated someone doing the same for me back then.  And have never once not been paid.  Win win."

What Rob would do differently if he had to do it all again?                   

“I wouldn’t have touched the 3rd sector (Not-for-profit organisations including charities).  I wouldn’t ever recommend becoming a trustee of a charity unless there is a deep, deep connection with their goals.   I would have saved myself a great deal of angst.”   Enough said.

How it feels on the days when he knows he has made the right decision?

“Even though I don’t need to work, I love to work.  I love the buzz of winning new business.  I love the thrill of finding the right person for one of my clients.  I love convincing my clients to choose beyond the right person for one job but to choose the person who can help the company grow in the future.   I love choosing to work with a small number of clients who work mostly exclusively with me.  

I do know myself and I know that I love being in charge.  The leadership bit throughout my career has been the most enjoyable parts but I know it’s not for everyone.   It was a real privilege to command in the Army and it has also been a real privilege to lead in the civilian sector.   People rely on you to do what’s right and in most cases they enjoy having someone decisive in charge.   Very few things get done well in a committee.  I always like a committee with an odd number…and the best odd number for me is 1!  I’ve always enjoyed the pain-pleasure experience where the buck stops with me.”

Any regrets?

"Sure there are regrets about investments around the financial crisis that listening to my wife/mentor/coach Mrs Young might have avoided.   But apart from the charity sector experience (see above), I have spent my life looking forward not back – that’s where the opportunity and danger lie."

If you'd like to learn more about Rob and his current business...


Email:  rob@armstrongdenby.com

Web:  www.armstrongdenby.com 

Linkedin:   https://www.linkedin.com/in/justrobyoung/ 

Twitter: @justrobyoung     

 

Jennifer Corcoran - Executive Assistant & PA to Social Media Trainer

"Honestly, the thing that kept me there for so long was the annual bonus.  There was always something I was saving up for – the new kitchen, the holiday etc.  Years would go by and I was still there, sticking around for the bonuses." 

"It feels good to be of value and to be appreciated for helping others to do something they couldn’t do without me."

Jennifer Corcoran 1.png

Overview of earlier career.

Studied English and French at university.  Jennifer had no clue what she wanted to do for a career but knew with certainty that she didn’t want to be a teacher or journalist.  She fell into a short-term administrative role for a technology magazine in Dublin (Jennifer’s home town) and loved it.  She then relocated to London and found it hard to break into magazines so ended up in other industries doing Executive & PA work for 15 years. Worked for a financial services business the last 11 years.   

The trigger for change?

“How the hell I fell into working in a financial services business (a shipping finance business), I don’t know!  I felt like the fraud in the team because everyone loved the products but I found them dull.  Honestly, the thing that kept me there for so long was the annual bonus.  There was always something I was saving up for – the new kitchen, the holiday etc.  Years would go by and I was still there, sticking around for the bonuses. 

The wake-up call came for me when I slipped a disc.  Pain management included 4 epidurals over 2 years and 60-70 physio appointments in an attempt to avoid surgery.  A couple of years ago, just a few days before Christmas I woke up one morning and just couldn’t stand up.  I was in agony and decided enough was enough.  I begged for surgery and my request was approved for early January.   Even on the day of my surgery I was receiving work emails on my blackberry.  Not one of them said ‘good luck with the surgery’ and certainly no-one from my immediate team sent me flowers after more than a decade of working there.   I realised there and then that I had had enough of this culture of profit over people.  I had a degree like all of my team members however I didn’t feel respected for the work I’d done to keep everyone’s seemingly more important work moving. 

Towards the end, just to prove a point and my own worth, I applied for and won awards for my work such as Most Networked PA in London” and a Pitman Training’s “Super achiever” global award.        

After the surgery I couldn’t work for 6 months and had to lie flat on my back for 2 long months which gave me lots of time to think.  I’d gone through a divorce a few years earlier and I’m sure the stress had also impacted on my back.  I’d had a great boss who really valued my work for about 7 years before one of my peers was promoted.  That new boss didn’t appear to value or respect my work or experience and it felt like I had had been given a demotion of sorts.

It all culminated with me deciding to resign because frankly, life is too short.”

First steps?

“I had a staged re-entry into the workplace and then resigned and began to work out what to do.

I set up my own business to train entrepreneurs to do their own social media marketing. I’m using the combination of all the skills I’ve learned in my life – from my English degree, to my networking skills to my love of training people.  I am using a life-time of skills.”

What Jennifer has learned?  Advice she might offer to others in a similar situation?

“Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean it is you.  

I asked myself the question - If I die tomorrow would I die happy? No, not while I was in my old role.  If you asked me that question today I would say yes because I would die feeling truer to myself, feeling valued and definitely feeling respected.

Sure, I’m earning less than I was in my old career but I work autonomously and do things that I love for the majority of the time.

You need to work out why you are not happy in your role and then write a list of pros and cons.  I was going to leave before the credit crunch hit and then I felt that I couldn’t.  There are always reasons not to leave.  You need to listen to your gut and even if you can’t afford to leave at that moment, you can always sow some seeds.  Otherwise before long 1 year will turn into 11years and then 20 years before you know it.

You’ll always have your friends and family but they might not understand your journey or what you actually need to feel valued and respected at work.  Lots of my friends and family thought I was sorted and should never leave mostly because of the bonuses and their impressions of the industry.  You need to make the right decision for yourself rather than letting other people influence you or one day you might wake up and say ‘how did this happen?’ It is so easy to get carried away by other peoples’ expectations.

Knowing yourself is important. I’m an introvert so whilst I can run big events and workshops I need to give myself time to re-charge alone and as an introvert I train most people on a one-to-one basis which I totally love.

When it comes to my mindset and setbacks I try to talk to myself as kindly as a good friend would.  Also, a good friend can be objective and help you figure out different paths so that you can make your own choices.  

It is important when you are doing things for the first time or changing your world that you surround yourselves with others who are doing the same.  I’ve found a new group of local entrepreneurs who started their businesses around the same time as I began mine and we meet a few times a year over coffee or wine and support each other though good and bad weeks.”

What would Jennifer do differently if she had to do it all again?

“I wouldn’t change quitting for sure.

Perhaps I was a bit naïve when I started my social media training and consulting business.  I did the website and thought interested people would just start to trickle in!   But I realised fairly quickly that I still needed to do the face-to-face networking.  At the time, I didn’t realise the importance of things like email marketing.  I also naively thought that my friends and family would be very supportive and would recommend me everywhere but that hasn’t happened.  I’m still not sure why.  My customers are coming from my own efforts or from difference sources.  That was a big learn.”

How it feels on the days when she knows she has made the right decision?

“It feels good to be of value and to be appreciated for helping others to do something they couldn’t do without me.  By training the individuals behind companies to do their own social media marketing I feel like I am increasing their confidence.   I can relate to my clients who don’t know where to start with social media because I was once exactly where they are but have learned lots of tips and strategies that can make a difference to them and their businesses.  It is exciting for me to do that.”

 

Regrets?

“Perhaps not leaving earlier?

But if I had left earlier I wouldn’t be doing what I am now – I might have been doing a similar job in a different company and I might have liked that more than where I was but it wouldn’t feel like doing this does.  I have found my sweet spot.”

Jennifer Corcoran is the CEO and Founder of My Super Connector which is a social media consultancy.  Jennifer helps professionals and entrepreneurs to share their stories online.  She does this by polishing up their profiles and teaching them how to connect with finesse. Check her out here: 

Website: https://mysuperconnector.co.uk
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennifercorcoran1/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SuperConnector
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mysuperconnector/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mysuperconnector
Pinterest: https://uk.pinterest.com/superconnector/

 

Sam Caporn - Corporate Wine Trade to own consultancy - The Mistress of Wine

"I wanted to take control of the situation and asked if I could work part-time. I was offered a four-day week but was told that I’d have to ‘keep my phone on’ on Friday which would never have worked as it didn’t really change anything. After talking it through with my husband, I decided to resign to focus on exactly what I needed to focus on. That decision changed everything."

"Then since my son went to school, I’ve been able to grow the business much faster by picking up more work and building my profile. I presented on BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen for a year or so as one of their wine experts."

Sam Caphorn Photo 1.jpg

Overview of earlier career.

Most of career spent in the wine trade working for big companies.  Long haul travel at least once a month to countries like Australia, South Africa and California.

The trigger for change?

“There were two real triggers which prompted my change. The first was that I was struggling to get pregnant.  The second was that even though I had passed my Master of Wine exams first time (less that 1% pass exams first time) I was completely stuck on my dissertation and still hadn’t passed it after five years.   I wanted to take control of the situation and asked if I could work part-time.  I was offered a four-day week but was told that I’d have to ‘keep my phone on’ on Friday which would never have worked as it didn’t really change anything.  After talking it through with my husband, I decided to resign to focus on exactly what I needed to focus on. That decision changed everything. 

I resigned in Jan 2011, was pregnant a couple of months later by March and passed my dissertation that same year, in September, to become one of only 370 people worldwide to have gained the title Master of Wine.  I loved being a mum and didn’t want to go back to a full-time job.  After resigning and therefore having no job to go back to anyway, it definitely freed up space for me to think creatively about my future.  It was pretty common to go freelance in the wine industry, so I thought I’d give it a go.”

First steps?

“Knowing that brand was so important in the wine industry, I met with a design consultant and sorted name, brand and website out but a silly mistake (the name selected was widely already used) meant that a speedy re-brand was required.  Over time, I slowly did little bits and pieces of work to keep my hand in while my son was very young – the odd bit of wine judging or running tasting sessions and events. 

Then since my son went to school, I’ve been able to grow the business much faster by picking up more work and building my profile.  I presented on BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen for a year or so as one of their wine experts and now work with Aldi as their Wine Expert which is a new and exciting assignment for me.  

Some people have loved my wine flavour tree infographic and this has given me a nice USP to use at corporate dinners, events and the like.

I’ve started to do more travel again, but I largely work around my son.”

What Sam has learned?  Advice she might offer to others in a similar situation?

“It’s been really important for me to connect with people who do what I do.  For instance, my first client came from a recommendation from another Master of Wine who was too busy to take on a particular assignment.   

Connecting with others who do what you do and understand what you do allows you to price yourself correctly.  I started off offering my services at a very reasonable price to ensure I was competitive and as you get more work and grow in confidence you can slowly increase annual rates. 

There will always be people doing the same things as you do.  You need to find the gap and fill it with your own personal style.  It helps to know your competitors so that you understand the market gap.   It’s also really interesting to understand related industries – for me technology and food are very interesting industries and I watch how they change and try to figure out the impact on my industry.

Talk to customers, listen to relevant podcasts, communicate with potential customers, clients and people all around your industry.

You’ve got to know where your interests and talents lie.  For instance, lots of freelance people write blogs but I have little interest in blogging.  I have lots of interest in wine and the business of wine so I’d prefer to be teaching all sorts of people about wine.

By understanding what you are good at and why you are good at it, keeps you very interested in what you’re doing which I think shows to the outside world.

Have faith.  If you love what you are doing and are working hard at getting your message out there, the right people will find you…not necessarily the people you want to find you but the right people. But that does take time.

As you get older, satisfaction and balance become more important that they were before.

I took it at my pace which may not be right for everyone.  It would be hard to hit the ground running. In that case, it would be important to figure out what your USP is as quickly as possible.

You have to be real. You have to be genuine as if your brand is built on you, you have to represent and reflect the real you at all times.”

What Sam would do differently if she had to do it all again?

“I wouldn’t do much differently…I perhaps wasted time re-branding and I definitely wasn’t quite clear enough on what I wanted.

If I had to hit the ground running, I would have planned more, had a clearer strategy and understood my USP earlier but I allowed myself that time to evolve while loving being a mum.   To start faster than I did, you’d need to be very clear on your goals.  After that, networking opportunities become clear and you’d need to be very visible to get clients earlier than I did.  I did all that in a 5-year time span working part-time but I think it could be done in 2 years working full-time”

How it feels on the days when she knows she has made the right decision?

“Satisfying, really satisfying…and free.  I work hard but if the sun is shining, I have a lovely glass of wine and sit in the garden!”

 

Find out more about Sam and her WINE CONSULTANCY:

Sam Caporn -  The Mistress of Wine

 

 

Ges Ray - Lifetime Banker to Public Speaking Guru

"I am retirement age but the sky is my limit.

Every day when I wake up (although it’s hard to rid yourself entirely of the 40 years of tough Mondays) and feel like I will never be done learning."

Ges Ray - 2.jpg

Overview of earlier career.

“The first 25 years were the epitome of stability; a traditional route from Junior (read making the tea) to Manager with Natwest Bank.  When banking changed radically around the late 1990s, we all had a choice; stay in the bank for heart attacks and early deaths or leave on less than favourable terms – most of us signed the papers before they hit the table!” 

10 years of Business Development/Relationship management roles within a range of SME businesses followed where “instability became the norm”.  The rollercoaster experience of 3 redundancies with minimal or zero redundancy packages with an uncomfortable spell of being on benefits is not one Ges would wish on anybody.

The trigger for change?

There appeared to be three defining triggers for Ges’ change:

“I had secured a career advisor (Peter Wilford) to help me re-shape my career, re-design my CV etc and I sent out hundreds of job applications but of course because I was in my 50s by then, I heard nothing back.  When my career advisor put me through a Myers Briggs test, it was a clarifying moment.  I discovered that I didn’t want to or maybe couldn’t ever work for another boss again.”

“My wife and I found ourselves living in an empty nest after both our daughters had left for university and Lidl opened near my home in Dorking!   Our household bills went through the floor.  These two factors were absolutely key in giving me the confidence to take a risk and give my own business a go. As an ex bank Manager my natural inclination is to be risk averse, but this encouraged me to have a go at starting my own business, even if it meant that we might end up having to eat baked beans for a while and live off my wife’s part-time salary. She supported me so that I could try something new.”

First steps?

“I realised that I had actually had a secondary career in public speaking bubbling beneath the surface throughout my working life. In the late ‘70’s I was ‘encouraged’ into Public Speaking competitions, the training for which meant I would be the one to volunteer to give speeches on Bank training courses, and volunteer to MC at events and to lead workshops both in the bank and when employed in SME’s.  In my private life, I’ve been radio broadcasting, MC’ing events at the Leith Hill Music Festival for many years and was a Sunday school teacher for 30 years – if you can control a bunch of 8 year olds, a room full of adults is a cinch!  Even in my early 20’s I was a British Junior Chamber of Commerce Regional public speaking finalist.  What I didn’t realise was that when I volunteered to do these things, the others in the room visibly sighed with relief.  I was able to do something that others found really difficult.

When I figured out that public speaking could be my ‘something new’, I took the advice of my career advisor and began networking everywhere.

After attending a great deal of networking breakfasts, I’d gained a stone and a half in weight but had also fully formed the idea of what I wanted to do.  Then with the help of that newly-created network I began to be approached for all sorts of public speaking assignments, from keynote speaking at business events to delivering workshops and 1-2-1 sessions to build people’s confidence in public speaking.

It was this series of serendipitous happenchances – strange how these things occur when you are open minded enough to go looking for them – that enabled me to combine the threads of four decades of commercial roles together with a lifetime of experience in public speaking that had been running in parallel, and venture into the world with my new idea”

What Ges learned?

“All the skills I’d learned in my career combined with all the snippets of life experience that I didn’t view as important at the time combined to create something new. 

Nothing in life is wasted if you grab it and make use of it.

Simply being yourself, rather than the person that you feel you ought to be because of your role or title, is important. People buy people. By being yourself, you are the authentic you, and all the more memorable for that.”

What Ges would do differently if he had to do it all again?        

“Probably nothing.  There’s no real value in what-ifs.  What if I had stayed with the bank?  I might have been dead by now with the stress.  What if I hadn’t been made redundant in the smaller businesses?  I wouldn’t have had to put so much effort into doing something new and I wouldn’t be where I am today.   No.  Nothing.”

How it feels on the days when he knows he has made the right decision?

“Absolutely liberating!  I am retirement age but the sky is my limit.

Every day when I wake up (although it’s hard to rid yourself entirely of the 40 years of tough Mondays) and feel like I will never be done learning.   I try to take advantage of everything I can learn e.g. being a founder Institute of Directors Advance member to take advantage of several evening workshops a month delivered by other experts on their field. There’s always something new.

I feel respected for what I contribute and what I deliver, not my grade, not my job title or my years of service. Also, the reward of building someone’s confidence in public speaking and watching them spread their wings and fly is beyond any salary package.

Opportunities are out there – in fact the opportunities are endless if you are open to them.  For example. I’m collaborating with an overseas university spin-out on a virtual reality public speaking training project, which is really exciting. I’m also being coached in the authoring of a book on public speaking; that’s really really exciting!"

Any regrets?

“I have a couple of financial regrets – I wish I had not been such a loyal, naïve and faithful shareholder in the bank, for example.  I should have had a six-figure retirement fund but I ended up with zero. With 20/20 hindsight, I wish I’d invested my first redundancy package in a few buy-to-let flats but I needed the money at the time to look after my family and anyway, the term “buy-to-let” wasn’t really talked about back then!”

If you’d like to learn more about Ges and his public speaking business…


Email:                    ges.ray@speakinginpublic.info

Web:                    www.speakinginpublic.info

Linkedin:             http://www.linkedin.com/in/gesray

Facebook:           www.facebook.com/SpeakingInPublic

Twitter:               https://twitter.com/gesspeaking  


 

Elizabeth Draper - Film Business Executive to Gluten-free Baker

At the age of 48, Elizabeth was made redundant.  Oddly redundancy, gave her the permission to stop trying to make things fit her old identity and to attempt to use her other passion to do more fulfilling work.

“I can now do what I want to do, not what is expected of me. I could stop tidying up my CV which had begun to look less linear and less focussed as I lost faith in my old career. It was liberating.”

ElizabethDraperwithCake.jpg

Overview of earlier career

Elizabeth’s career began when she joined a small art house film distributor.  Over the years she moved to other small independent distributors where she gained experience in sales, marketing and buying.  She enjoyed the privileges of a life travelling all over the globe to attend film festivals to acquire new films for her companies.  In the later stages of her career Elizabeth grew to one of the most senior Executives in the independent film industry.

The trigger for change

A feeling of career discomfort had been rumbling under the surface for probably 5 or 6 years.  Elizabeth described it “something was telling me that my future was no longer here – part of me needed to do something else”.   Rather than making a giant leap into the unknown Elizabeth threw herself into consulting for a few years to see if she could quiet the career discomfort voice in her head by learning slightly different niches of the broader film industry or companies located around the fringes of the industry to understand if she could find more fulfilling work.

In one of those steps, she became an expert in the digital transmission of other art forms into cinema which was interesting but ultimately at the age of 48, Elizabeth was made redundant.  Oddly redundancy, gave her the permission to stop trying to make things fit her old identity and to attempt to use her other passion to do more fulfilling work. “I can now do what I want to do, not what is expected of me.  I could stop tidying up my CV which had begun to look less linear and less focussed as I lost faith in my old career.  It was liberating.”

ElizabethDraperKitchen.jpg

First steps?

The first steps were “baby steps”.  Elizabeth felt that she needed to brush off all ego and any desires she had to keep her previous organisational and financial status to allow her to do something that loved and to start at the bottom of a new industry.  Her first passion had been cinema and her other big passion is baking.   She started “where everyone starts” by baking in her tiny home kitchen and taking the results to a variety of street markets in London.   She began testing her bakes in Brick Lane Market to “understand if people liked my baking, if they would buy my bakes and how much they might buy.”   

When Elizabeth heard that Greenwich Waterstones would be opening the new Café W, she camped outside until she created an opportunity to meet with decision-makers on baked goods.  She offered to be their gluten-free baked products supplier.   “It took 8 months of badgering/negotiation/opening doors before they agreed to sell my cakes.”  It has been a huge success and now Elizabeth has been taken on as a main supplier for all Café Ws across the Waterstones chain.   

What Elizabeth learned?

“I had learned many things in my previous career that were crucial to the success of my new career.  My tenacity, my persuasive power, my negotiation skills all have taken me business to where it is today.”

“Over those eight months of trying to tie down a deal with Waterstones, I continued to attend street markets, sold to other independent cafes, learned about packaging, pricing, delivery and building a wholesaling business from my home kitchen.  I spent every penny of savings I had accumulated to be able to succeed.”  She describes having unwavering belief even in days where she was working 18hr days that if she couldn’t make it work, no-one could.”

What Elizabeth would do differently if she had to do it all again?

“I had all of these skills and understood the financial principles of business but in my old career I had always had the support of great finance strategists and accountants.  I wrongly thought I could do it all.  If I had to do it all again, I would definitely employ a partner whose financial skills complemented my operations, sales and marketing skills.  I would encourage others considering this move to find a trusted advisor who can help with investment and cash flow planning whilst you focus on the business.”

Elizabeth hinted that her previous career success had given her a certain status and identity which was difficult to walk away from - “If I had been less concerned about losing my identity as a successful senior executive in the film industry,  I’d have been much happier long ago.”

How it feels on the days when she knows she has made the right decision?

“I feel free. It’s liberating. Even on the days when I have financial headaches and a tonne of deadlines, I feel free.  I have confidence that I am walking on the right path and that whatever is thrown at me, I can handle.   I know that there is nothing else that I should be doing right now.”

“My close friends tell me that they are glad to see me doing this as I look so much happier.”   Not everyone thinks this though – about half of my old colleagues who see me selling in Berwick Street market in SoHo - the hub of the film industry – avoid catching my eye as I now no longer fit with their image of success.  The other half are delighted to see me, buy a box of cakes and say the board will be delighted to know where they came from.”

Any regrets?

“Not a regret so much but I do wish I had started earlier.  Those 5/6 years when I was doing consulting work in my old industry could have been more valuably spent doing more fulfilling work here.   Whilst I am not physically perhaps as strong as some of my younger competitors, I have gained so many skills from my previous career that they may not have.  Experience counts.” 

Check out Elizabeth's beautiful bakes here: http://elizabethdbakes.co.uk/

Ben Fielding - Corporate IT to IT business owner

Ben fielding profile.PNG
"The best thing is that now everything just feels connected – like this is my life.  I’m not switching from Dad mode to husband mode, to work mode to business owner mode.  It’s just my life now. I am just doing what I want to be doing…doing what I love.”
 

Overview of earlier career

Early career in graphic design. Moved into IT within big companies and moved up the ranks from technical roles to management positions. Then joined a small 50 person IT firm which more than doubled in size over Ben’s time there and moved into account management roles.  Started his own company with a partner 6 months into this final, full-time role working as an employee. Three children (9,6 and 2).

The trigger for change?

Ben choose to work within a small, high-growth IT firm for the last few years of employment but began to notice that others around him had several business ideas running at the same time and was inspired to join with a partner to start up his own business on the side.  “As I don’t play golf or tennis - the side business became my hobby on the evenings and weekends.”

“The company I was working for went through the growing pains of getting bigger, with the arrival of more specialist roles and many senior management personnel changes - some were great but others were destructive.  One new leader proved to have a cataclysmic effect on my enjoyment of work”.  Ben put a great deal of energy into that particular relationship but there was some fall-out as one might expect.

In this instance the fall-out was Ben’s motivation.  After a family holiday Ben returned to work and could distance himself from the personal emotion of his situation and could see more clearly that his future was not within that company.   “I decided that I would deliver and make sure that the team performed well but not with the level of commitment and loyalty I had previously offered.”

First steps?

“My business partner and I had long discussions to agree practical and financial targets relating to the moment when I would join the business full-time i.e. the point at which our company could nearly manage me.   I made a commitment to join as soon as that happened and then make the success of our business my focus. We agreed that I would  keep working and earning money from my other job until that point.

Even though a new boss arrived, “the best boss I have ever had – an utter genius” who convinced Ben to commit to a 6 month turnaround project, his previously unwavering commitment to the company and his role had both been irreparably damaged. “It was only a matter of time” before he jumped into his own company full-time.

What Ben learned?

“Not that I got it right in the early days but I’ve learned to get all the stakeholders on board to help structure my days and my weeks.  I have a wife, three kids, a dog and older parents who worry about us all the time. I had to negotiate with my employer, my business partner, my wife, my kids and my parents about where I would spend my time rather than reactively being pulled in lots of different directions.  That made a big difference.”

Knowing my business partner inside out was key.  Luckily, Stuart and I have had 20 years to get to know each other but we are still learning business behaviours beyond our personal behaviours.  For instance, I have a different way of reacting to negative feedback to Stuart and we have different decision-making processes. We are chalk and cheese in so many ways but knowing exactly how we differ and allowing each other to react to the same things in different ways makes communication much easier.”

“We’ve discovered that having loose agreements on common goals works better than if the agreement is too specific.  If we are very specific and don’t hit a goal, we are both gutted. On loose agreements we work towards the same goal and more often one or two of us is happy.”

“When we agree on spending or anything important – which happens about once a week – we make sure we look each other in the eye and shake hands.  This burns it into our memories and differentiates it from all the hundreds of conversations we have on a daily basis.”

What Ben would do differently if he had to do it all again?

“I had an opportunity to leave and join a much smaller company about a year before I left my last employer.  If I had put my energy into a smaller company, I might have found new enthusiasm and learned more to take with me into this business.   Easy to say in hindsight though.”

How it feels on the days when he knows he has made the right decision?

“There are definitely days when my head is swimming but I just need a few minutes to level out and then carry on.  The best thing is that now everything just feels connected – like this is my life.  I’m not switching from Dad mode to husband mode, to work mode to business owner mode.  It’s just my life now. I am just doing what I want to be doing…doing what I love.”

Any regrets?

“I don’t regret the mistakes we made. They have either toughened us up or made us grow up. If it had been too easy, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

 Click here to check out Blucando's website

Click here to check out Blucando's website


http://blucando.it

Partners, not providers – that’s the Blucando motto. We genuinely care about the relationships we develop with our clients. It’s a better view of things and it’s about more than just business.

Charlotte Moore - Social Media Editor to Fab Foodie PR Specialist

“Find a way to take a leap into your dream – volunteer, start a side-hustle, work on your idea at the weekend, test and tweak it with the audience you're after to see if they have an appetite to pay for your goods or services. We all know that nothing in life is guaranteed but that having said that, you are guaranteed to have regrets if you don’t give it a go in some way.”

Career overview

10 years as a copywriter across many sectors. Founding member of Tesco’s social media team in 2011 and helped to create some amazing social media campaigns.

What triggered your career change/career re-design?

For a long time, Charlotte loved her role at Tesco. “It was wonderful to grow a huge brand across lots of different social channels, with the added perks of huge budgets to work with and hanging out at Facebook and Twitter headquarters.”  But three years in, the glossy sheen had worn off as social media marketing budgets were outsourced to agencies, reducing the in-house team to little more than content editing – “I felt creatively stifled as I no longer had a real say in campaign development.”

As her interest in work at Tesco was declining, Charlotte started up her own food blog and spent lots of time visiting food shows and fairs at weekends “talking to anyone who moved” says the self-confessed Northern chatterbox. “I spent a great deal of time talking to small food business owners and realised that these start-up entrepreneurs had the least amount of time and money, but needed the most amount of help with growing their brands.

”I realised that I had never had a genuine love for the Tesco brand, but I LOVED these tiny food entrepreneurs.”  In April 2015, there was an announced round of redundancies at Tesco and Charlotte had fingers and toes crossed that she would be on the at risk list as she knew that it was “time to explore something new.”

First Steps?

Sadly, Charlotte wasn’t offered a package as her job still existed in the restructure, but as her heart had already left Tesco, she resigned and began her own business – copywriting for food start-ups - and used her final 3 months’ notice period salary to fund it.

“It took a year of hard graft on very sporadic funds for me to realise that most of the small food business owners that I spoke to didn’t actually know what a copywriter was or did.  It was no wonder that I was always struggling to get a regular stream of clients. Yet at the same time, I was doing bits of PR for myself and friends as a favour, but wasn’t actually telling anyone about this – yet everyone knows what PR is!”

“With a very heavy heart, my bank statements clearly told me to head back to the corporate world where regular pay cheques would help me pay the bills. Thankfully, it was then that I had a lightbulb moment about my business which changed everything.”

Charlotte realised that putting affordable PR at the forefront of her brand was going to be the way forward. She re-named her company Smoothie PR, re-branded the business and got her lovely partner to create a brand new website and logo.

“PR was not my background, but I figured out a way to do it differently to the usual traditional and very expensive model. Most agencies charge anything from £1.5k-£4k per month and write a lot of generic press releases on your behalf.  I designed Smoothie PR to use a model that allows small business owners to do their own PR in a 10 minutes a day for only £49 per month, without writing a single, boring press release.”

What did you learn during that process?

“I have never laughed or cried so much in a year. Without trying to sound like an X Factor contestant, the highs are the greatest you’ll ever know and the lows make you wonder why on earth you’re doing this!”

“I couldn’t have done it without the fabulous support I’ve had from my boyfriend, my parents and my wider family and friendship networks. Support from an emotional perspective, comfort when needed and encouragement to keep going have all helped me to get to where I am today.”

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?  

“If I’d done more thorough research about starting my own business then I probably wouldn’t have done it, as it can look daunting on paper.  But, I was so unhappy at Tesco that I just had to give something different a try, so kind of made things up as I went along to see what worked for me.”

“I would have taken the need for regular cash flow more seriously in my first business. I was stubborn when it came to freelancing at agencies that stand for everything I don't. The second time around, I was so motivated by NOT going back to work for an agency or another corporate that I concentrated much more on creating a stable business model that would bring in a steady income.”

On the days that you KNOW you have made the right decision, how do you feel?

“I can’t believe I get to do this as a job – in fact, it doesn’t feel like a job at all. I’m excited to get out of bed in the morning and get started on my day.  I’m so lucky to be working with clients that I really care about; we get to share our mutual passion for food and a virtual smoothie every time they get another piece of PR for their fabulous food business.  I'm like a proud mother hen when I see them compete alongside the big boys with their big budgets.”

“I don’t think I could find this satisfaction in another corporate role.  I do care more about my clients than my own cash flow which probably means that Smoothie PR has grown a lot slower than is ideal, yet this organic approach means that I know every one of my Smoothies well and we really have become #TeamSmoothie.  On the back of this approach, Smoothie PR is steadily becoming more and more well-known and is doing well.”

“My main business motivation is being a small part of a team that helps my Smoothies to grow their brand, or in less official terms, I'm after the warm and fuzzies from each time they get their brand out there!  I’m not money motivated so that probably doesn't make me a brilliant businesswoman in the traditional sense.  But, my honest and passionate approach seems to have inadvertently given me my own USP. I follow my heart and give great service.

Any regrets?

“None. I had to go on my own crazy journey to get the experiences I needed to grow and change my new business.”

What one piece of advice would you give to anyone re-designing their midlife career?
“Find a way to take a leap into your dream – volunteer, start a side-hustle, work on your idea at the weekend, test and tweak it with the audience you're after to see if they have an appetite to pay for your goods or services. We all know that nothing in life is guaranteed but that having said that, you are guaranteed to have regrets if you don’t give it a go in some way.”

“Be brave and learn what truly matters most to you in your work life.”

If you too have a fabulous food business, find out how you can do your own PR in 10 mins a day for only £49pm at www.smoothiepr.com or follow @SmoothiePR on Twitter.

Louise Brogan - NHS IT Project Manager to Social Media Entrepreneur

“First time around, I would pick a business that I was genuinely passionate about or created a business doing something that I was truly good at."  

"I created a social media business which represents ALL OF ME:  the real technical geek, the person who loves teaching AND the person who loves learning.” 

Previous career overview

MSc Computing.  Several years at BT before a successful 10-year career in IT Project Management within the Health Service.

What triggered your career change/career re-design?

After yet another re-shuffle, Louise found herself in a senior but temporary role and when the re-shuffle settled there were no equally senior positions on offer.  Louise felt that she had no choice but to accept a lower grade position.  That didn’t sit well at all with her. 

“I felt under-valued, as if the wind had been taken out of my sails.” Louise very firmly felt that her decision to work part-time since the arrival of her first child had been taken advantage of.  These feelings strengthened her resolve to take the reins of her career fully into her own hands and resigned after 10 years with the company. 

What were the first steps you took to changing career?

The feeling that there had to be “something more” to work than her current career had been growing over the few years before her resignation.  Not being someone to sit on her laurels and wait for opportunities to come to her, Louise had set up a company 2 years before actually leaving her corporate job.   

“I saved everything I earned.  On my days off [from my part-time corporate role] I would squeeze as much work as was possible [in my own business] into the hours when the kids were at school or when my husband came home from work.”

While that first business was very different to Louise’s current business, it taught her all that she needed to know to evolve her business ideas. 

What did you learn during that process?

“I learned that you have to love what you do so that you can really thrive.  I thought I could make my first business work because I had noticed a gap in the market.  But I didn’t enjoy working in it like I love working in my current business.  It’s a whole different ball game.”

“My first business was a craft supplies shop which I started while I was on my first maternity leave.  By the time I had my third child, I had opened a retail shop thinking it was a way out of this corporate life.  I applied for help from a local business development scheme.   One of the advisors there was less convinced by my craft shop business, but she was really impressed with my social media knowledge and said that it was more advanced than most of the other business owners she had been working with.   That was it – the genius idea was born!   I closed up the shop and started my social media business.” 

Louise’s social media business has grown into the very successful (https://socialbeeni.com/) with a podcast, on-line courses and social media advice.

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?  Why?

“I wouldn’t have opened a craft shop!   I knew nothing about the business but I learned lots about buying from suppliers, selling and wholesaling which helps me mentor people in those industries now.   So, nothing I have learned has been wasted.”

“First time around, I would pick a business that I was genuinely passionate about or created a business doing something that I was truly good at.   I created a social media business which represents ALL OF ME:  the real technical geek, the person who loves teaching AND the person who loves learning.” 

 On the days that you KNOW you have made the right decision, how do you feel?

“On top of the world!”

“I can sit outside the school gates waiting to pick up my kids and do interviews or send emails.  My life feels so much more integrated.  I am making it all fit together - family and work.”

“It is very possible to have a very satisfying and enjoyable career between the hours of 9 and 2 every day – as long as you put a very high value on your time.  If it is important to you to be there to pick up the kids after school, then you have to be clever with time management – but it is completely do-able.”

Any regrets?

“I was gullible at the start.  I believed what people said.  I wasted time trusting people when my time was so precious.  I am much wiser now at picking who to meet and when to meet them than I was in the beginning.”

 “What one piece of advice would you give to anyone re-designing their midlife career?

“You’ve only one life!  And you have to take some risks.”

Julia Duncan - Head of IT to Photographer of Little People

"Motherhood knocked my confidence dramatically. I under-valued myself in my first role after voluntary redundancy and took a pay cut that I shouldn't have. Whilst I correctly that fairly quickly, it probably took me a year to get my confidence back."

“I feel grateful to be able to do the school run, chuffed to be able to be present with my daughter when she is at home but also to have time to myself to do something I love is great. The guilt has disappeared.”

 Career overview

After finishing university, Julia quickly accepted a temporary role for Ericsson. This role formed the beginning of a near 20-year career in Telecoms and IT ending ultimately with a “Head of” role reporting directly into the CIO for Telefonica.

“I had essentially fallen into a career that I hadn’t really planned.”

What triggered your career change/career re-design?

“I went on maternity leave knowing that I needed a change.  I was scared to death of leaving but even though Telefonica had technology systems to allow for remote working, I would still have been traveling a lot and working long hours.  Since the arrival of my daughter, my priorities had changed.”

Whilst on maternity leave, voluntary redundancy was offered which gave Julia a fantastic opportunity to make a change.

“I was worried about how friends and family might judge my departure.  I was concerned about how I would be perceived in the market-place after voluntary redundancy and my perception as a mum if I ever needed to go back to the corporate workplace.”

“I had always been quite an arty person and wondered if I could make that work as a business but had no real, firm ideas.  That said, I felt like I had an opportunity to try something that I would regret if I didn’t take it.”

“My daughter was born in May 2013 and I left Telefonica under voluntary redundancy in October 2014.”

First steps?

Even though I had made the decision to accept voluntary redundancy I had no clue what I would do.   A dinner table conversation changed that.   Whilst discussing my lack of next step career ideas, my mother-in-law suggested that since I loved photography I might consider doing something in that field.  A bolt of excitement ran through me. That was it!”

Then Julia began a huge research project to figure out what kind of photography would work and what business model would be best.  “After investigating franchises in detail I decided to go with the Photography for Little People franchise.  I liked the support that they offered.  Decision made – then I just had to find the money to pay for the franchise!”

“I took me two years contracting part-time to save up pennies to buy into the franchise.  At the same time, I honed my photography skills, learned about the business and spent some lovely time with my daughter.” 

“There is a misconception from the corporate world that it’s really easy to run your own business.  It is hideously hard.  There is no-one to delegate anything to. You can’t blame anyone when things go wrong. You have to do all the managing, the doing AND also have the entrepreneurial vision to make it work.  The other thing I spent time doing was to shake off the corporate mould that I spent nearly 20 years building.”

“I read an enlightening article once that said that photographers spent about 20% of their work time actually taking photos and the rest of their time is spent editing, social media marketing, networking, planning campaigns and running their businesses.  I’m so glad I read it as it gave me forewarning about the reality.”

What did you learn during that process?

“So much it’s staggering!  There are 2 sides to my learning:

1) Motherhood knocked my confidence dramatically.  I under-valued myself in my first role after voluntary redundancy and took a pay cut that I shouldn’t have.  Whilst I corrected that fairly quickly, it probably took me a year to get my confidence back and get my professional head back on.

2)  Support:  it is amazing how much support there is for people wanting to set up their own business.  The amount of free training available is incredible – if you know where to look.  Also, so many people are willing to help you for nothing, to give you the benefit of their experience.  This realisation is what led me to set-up my own networking group for local business ladies. Find us on Facebook by searching Beccles Business Babes.”   

“Making a change is hard work.  Some days, I feel dragged down by the need to keep plugging away at it.  I have to remind myself to take time out and to remember why I wanted to become self-employed in the first place.  Having a vision board helps as does writing down 3 good things that have happened that day when I go to bed.”

“If I look back at just this year on how much I’ve learned and how many amazing people I’ve met, I still can’t quite believe it.  Each conversation seems to open another door or spark another idea.”

“I had a period recently when I couldn’t work on my business as much as I had hoped due to personal illness and a family bereavement.  I kept up the crucial elements of the business and no one noticed except me. The flexibility to work hard when I can and not if life takes over is fantastic.”

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?  Why?

“I would have sought out more inspirational entrepreneurs who had set-up their own businesses to understand the pitfalls and get their tips etc.  There’ve been a few mistakes I’ve made that they might have saved me from doing.”

“To have had more belief in myself and my abilities in the first year.  I was scared to ask for what I was worth and spent too much time comparing myself to competitors.”

On the days that you KNOW you have made the right decision, how do you feel?

“Relieved!  Liberated and excited!”

“On a good day, I find myself smiling and singing to a good tune on the radio knowing that I feel proud.”

“When I over-hear my daughter proudly telling people that her mummy is going to take a photo of someone today, I feel great that I am inspiring her as well.”

“I feel grateful to be able to do the school run, chuffed to be able to be present with my daughter when she is at home but also to have time to myself to do something I love is great.  The guilt has disappeared.”

Any regrets?

“I’m 43 and wish I’d discovered my new career earlier.  That said, maybe the timing was just right.”

What one piece of advice would you give to anyone re-designing their midlife career?

“Don’t rush it.  Take time to really think about the skills you have and the value you can add.  Don’t judge yourself just on academic qualifications.  Visit trade fairs / franchise events / networking events / courses aimed at those thinking of starting a business or retraining.  Some will be useful, some won’t, but they will help you to structure your ideas and focus in on your priorities.”

Find out more about Julia:

Networking Group - https://www.facebook.com/groups/1664449473582717/

Business website - http://photographyforlittlepeople.com/user/julia/

Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/PhotographyforLittlePeoplebyJulia/

Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/photographyforlittlepeoplebyjd/

Twitter - https://twitter.com/plpnorwich

Google+ -https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/108953534854529658326/+PhotographyforLittlePeoplebyJuliaWorlingham

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Eaton - International FD to owning high-growth accounting firm

“I love my work now. I learned that I am never going to retire. I’m going to be carried out in a box."

"In my previous career we were all just looking up through the branches at that dead wood in their 50s. At a certain level you just had to sit still staring up at them, waiting for them to fall off. I’m on a different path now."

Career overview:

Trained within PWC in London then moved into industry with Smith Kline Beecham as it was then.  Spent decades moving up the ranks of mostly internationally listed Pharmaceutical, FMCG and latterly engineering companies.  Started a small consultancy business selling to mostly American client-base which collapsed after the September 11 disaster.  Returned to Finance Director roles within corporates and private-equity owned businesses. 

What triggered a change?

Andy described a gradual erosion of work enjoyment over quite a few years. 

In his earlier career “I would generally move on when I realised the work was less interesting.  I realised that between 1993 and 2015 I had spent 40-60% of my time travelling globally.  In the height of the mergers and acquisitions trend, I found myself regularly scanning the newspapers to see if we were in talks to be acquired. In short, I was having less and less control over my destiny.”

“I was 49 when I finally realised that even though I had always been fairly good at securing new jobs I was sitting in front of Managing Directors in interviews and just not connecting with them.  I got feedback that I was too expensive or that I was too opinionated but I had a feeling that I was maybe too old, too grumpy and perhaps not mouldable.  

I got the sense that these MDs wanted change but they just wanted someone to make their change happen, not make the best change happen.”

A final wake-up call arrived when Andy realised that the role of the CFO had changed from commercially supporting and enabling business change to governance, share price protection and endless board presentations. 

“At the ripe old age of 49 I made a decision that I wanted something different.”

First steps?

I got out a piece of paper and a pen and wrote down absolutely every job I could do that didn’t require a qualification I didn’t already possess.  The list included publican, taxi driver, letting agent and about 30-40 bonkers job titles. 

At the bottom of the list I wrote Accountant. I didn’t love book-keeping, I’d never worked in a small business but I did know book-keeping and accounting and thought that maybe I could do it in a different way.”

“I started to research the market asking friends who had their own businesses how they did their accounts, what more they’d like, how much they pay for their services etc.”

Then I decided to go for it.  I changed my LinkedIn profile, set up a company and found my first customer. I had no idea how much to charge but we worked it out together.  I then realised that I needed to get my network moving within the right circles but totally different circles than I had operated in for all of my career.  I joined a BNI network (www.bni.co.uk) which didn’t have an accountant.  I told everyone I met what I was doing and even found a new client in my gym.  Each customer has referred new clients to me.  Now, just over 2 years later, my own client base is the main source of my new clients.”

What did you learn during that process?

“In the first year, I did a 2 day a week contract which helped me make it through financially while doing some intensive personal learning.  I’d had a 3 decade career in finance but this was a different kind of financial work.”

I learned that the business model had to be scalable to make it successful so I worked on different business model ideas.

I learned that stress comes at you in different ways. I now wake up at 4.30am most mornings worrying about the cash. But I can do something about that – it is somewhat within my control. In my previous world, I would wake-up worrying and working on things where the success of those projects/ideas/plans was outside of my control.  I spent most of my corporate life wondering whether the sword to drop. I know which one I would choose over and over again.

I love my work now. I learned that I am never going to retire. I am going to be carried out in a box.  In my previous career we were all just looking up through the branches at that dead wood in their 50s. At a certain level you just had to sit still staring up at them, waiting for them to fall off. I’m on a different path now.

What would Andy do differently if he had to do it all again?

“I would have worked harder on securing the base level in the short-term so that I could have got to the longer-term vision quicker.

“I always advise my clients to make sure that when they get a degree of success that they don’t buy a new flash car or get distracted by a new business venture. Easily said, tougher to do. I tell them not to get cocky.” 

How does it feel on the days you know you’ve made the right decision?

“A major difference is that I see my kids more. For so many years I left before they went to school and I’d return when they were in bed. Or I would travel the world for 2 weeks at a time.

I know for sure that I’ve made the right decision every Friday at 4pm when I take my 13-year-old to the local pub. I have 2 pints and she has 2 pink lemonades whilst holding court and entertaining the locals on what teacher X has done at school that week. It is a fantastic start to the weekend.

I also never travel on a Sunday night or come home late on a Friday evening. I’m just not grumpy at the weekend anymore.

I don’t miss the futility of big corporates, especially at the higher end. I don’t miss the point-scoring.  I don’t miss the Christians and Lions moments when you spend an age preparing a presentation for the board and travel half-way around the globe only to watch it get pulled apart or worse thrown out because something had changed the whole landscape.

I make my own choices on how I spend my time. I don’t get dragged into pointless meetings. I have control of my working day. I am not beholden to anyone except my fee-paying clients. I really enjoy the flexibility of being at my desk between 8am and 4.30pm, being with the kids for a few hours and working later if I need to.

The business is successful enough that I have had to employ a house-keeper to make sure we all eat and enjoy the quality time as a family.  

Regrets?

“None.” I noticed a slight hesitation and probed Andy for more detail. “I should have done it sooner…but I wasn’t ready and my network wasn’t ready.”

“I should have probably also taken my own advice and not bought the Tesla!  But I did and it is sooo worth it!” (see photo above)

 

 

Stephen Wright - Architect's Technician to flexible working with an incredible coastal lifestyle

“Paying off the mortgage was the key to my flexibility. My wife and I chose a lovely house to live in but made sure that we could live mortgage free. That was the key to our freedom.”

“I look at the tide tables and surf reports for the next week and plan my work around those where possible so that I can make the most of the surf conditions. In the past, I had to wait until work ended, then drive to the beach – now I fit work around the surf conditions.”

 Stephen in action in Portstewart, Northern Ireland - mid-October!

Stephen in action in Portstewart, Northern Ireland - mid-October!

 

Career overview:

Almost 2 years in the 1980s in the Northern Ireland police force with a “nuts” year on the ground for a 19 year old.  Accepted a much lower-paying traineeship in a local architecture business “feeling safe going to work” was more important than salary.  Studied and learned on the job and stayed in the technical side of architecture for 23 years in various small practices.  He lives on the north coast of Northern Ireland.

What triggered a change?

Stephen’s final practice was successful and grew in size over the boom years but when the recession hit in 2007, slowly, year-by-year the business shrunk.  Stephen and the owner were the last two men left standing and they did everything to keep the business going – working 4 day weeks and then 3 day weeks just trying to eek out a working existence until the down-turn up-turned.  Sadly, the business only survived until 2011.  “I really loved my work but I went down with the sinking ship.”

First steps?

“I had a daughter to support and a mortgage so I didn’t have time to wallow.  I asked around for work and sorted a decorating job for the Monday after we closed the office.   I knew that earning money was my only priority and I wasn’t fussy.  Choice just wasn’t a factor.” 

“Over-time I got a name for myself for being able to turn my hand to lots of different things and I always found work.  Over time I began to be able to turn down the jobs that I liked less.  Today, I have one flexible part-time job and my own small business which gives me freedom.  I may not enjoy my work in the way I used to but I have freedom – which is absolutely priceless to me.”

What did you learn during that process?

 “Knowing what makes our family happy makes it easy to say no to things that don’t fit.   We love being on the water in any form – paddle-boarding, surfing, diving or kayaking.  We love walking our dog on the beach which is 10 mins away.  I love a single malt whiskey of an evening. None of these things cost a fortune so our lifestyle is not lavish.”

“I was able to turn the skills I learned previously in the practice to turn towards setting up my own business supporting local estate agencies doing EPC Surveys.

“In terms of earning money, some months I do well and others not so well.  On average, I earn about half as much as I used to but seem to have the same about of money in my pocket.”

“Paying off the mortgage was the key to my flexibility.  My wife and I chose a lovely house to live in but made sure that we could live mortgage free.  That was the key to our freedom.”

“There are always jobs out there if you look and are open.”

What would Stephen do differently if he had to do it all again?

“That’s a difficult one.  If I had to do it all again, I might start at a different start point but that would be dreaming.  It is what it is.”

“As it stands there are times when I think I could be doing much more but then I look at my average week and know that not many people get the flexibility, the freedom and the opportunity to be on the water as much as I do.  There are some sacrifices but not enough that would make me change the situation.”

How does it feel on the days you know you’ve made the right decision?

Check out the photos – Stephen looks blissed out in most of them!

“I spent much of the school summer holidays this year with my 13 year old daughter diving, paddle boarding, surfing.”

“In one week in January, the conditions were fabulous and I was in the water every day that week.”

“I look at the tide tables and surf reports for the next week and plan my work around those where possible so that I can make the most of the surf conditions.”

“In the past, I had to wait until work ended, then drive to the beach – now I fit work around the surf conditions.”

Regrets?

“I have plenty of regrets about the recession happening but not regrets about how I reacted.   In a perfect world, I’d be doing work that I absolutely love every single day but I really enjoy half of the work I do – the other half gives me financial stability to enjoy the flexibility.  Over-time, I’ve developed a system where I have regular income from multiple part-time sources which gives me amazing freedom and flexibility.  I get to be out on the Atlantic Ocean many days a week when others are sitting in offices or doing long commutes.  I am very fit and healthy for a 48 year old.  I have almost no commute, a fabulous relationship with my daughter and wife based on time together doing the things we like to do together.”

 

 

Liz Thomas - Full-time Financial Controller to tango-dancing Freelance Consultant with regular breaks

“I am one of life’s natural planners so spending that time working out what was important to me and what exactly I wanted out of life made the change possible.  Then it’s possible to start planning." 
"If I were to do it all again, I would invest in coaching right at the beginning. It took time to get real clarity on what was important to me.  To have that at the beginning would have definitely helped.” 

Previous Career Overview

Liz worked her way up to Financial Controller within various international companies. She enjoyed her career but began to feel that she wanted more. 

Trigger for change?

The arrival of a big birthday, her first grandchild and her separation from her partner initiated a total re-think of Liz’ long term career goals.  Historically Liz had always been aiming for a Finance Director role and after having the opportunity to deputise for the FD in her business, she knew she could do it.  That said, the experience also gave her insights into some of the downsides to her goal – long hours, added stress and inflexibility.  She had a choice. She either kept working full-time towards her goal of FD with full understanding of the monetary upsides but lifestyle down-sides OR she could take a risk and stay at her level (a level where she was very accomplished) but design her work life in a way that fit with her other life goals.

First steps?

Liz’ first steps were unlike any others.  She initially negotiated a 3 month sabbatical and booked not one but three holidays of a lifetime! One month in Crete, a month in Scotland on an intensive tango course with Jenny and Ricardo Oria “the best tango teachers in UK” (http://www.oriatango.com) and a month in Argentina. One of Liz’ life goals was to celebrate her 50th birthday by dancing Argentine Tango in Buenos Aires.

Prior to taking the sabbatical, another opportunity came up to spend the previous month touring round Europe on a motorcycle with her new partner. Liz thought through her options and realised that she couldn’t take that opportunity as well as the sabbatical and that those three months would be her only holiday that year.  She’d been bitten by the travel bug and wanted much more of it in her life.  That appeared to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and Liz resigned fully, allowing her to leave in time to take the full four months of travelling.  She decided that afterwards, she would create her own business as a professional contractor where she would use the time between contracts to travel to amazing locations, dance and enjoy time spent with her grandchild. 

What Liz discovered?

Whilst the prospect of running out of money from being out of a full-time secure role was a little scary, it wasn’t as unappealing as working full-time for another couple of decades.  Liz has worked around this by working hard in the beginning to make sure that she has enough of a financial cushion to feel secure.

Liz feels really energised by her learnings recently. “Over the last year, I have learned bucket loads”.

Would she do anything differently?

"If I were to do it all again, I would invest in coaching right at the beginning. It took time to get real clarity on what was important to me.  To have that at the beginning would have definitely helped.”

Liz became crystal clear on her life priorities “You have to be really honest with yourself.  I realised that whilst I wanted the salary and benefits of the FD job, I really didn’t want the job and all that came with it.  I realised that I wanted to spend more time with my children and grandchild.  I also wanted to spend much more time travelling.”

“In the world of contracting, you have to know what you are good at and be happy to keep doing that. That insight has been key.”

“I am one of life’s natural planners so spending that time working out what was important to me and what exactly I wanted out of life made the change possible.  Then it’s possible to start planning.  There will be lots of different ways to get what you want out of life but planning is really important as then it becomes a choice on how you get there as you will fully understand the pros and cons of your choice.  I think it’s very important to plan – but not to set that plan in stone. Things happen when they happen, not necessarily when you want them to.”

“Networking is more important now that it ever was so investing time in creating long-term relationships is a priority for anyone wanting to be a professional contractor.  That doesn’t seem so important when you are in a permanent role as you are not changing jobs so often.”

Without the safety net of a full-time career Liz suggested that she has to be creative and strives to introduce new elements to her work that can both sustain her in the long-term and offer different lines of revenue.   For example, “I have set up a financial modelling course to help small businesses with planning and administration and I have invested in coaching training.” 

How it feels on the days when Liz knows that she has made the right decision?

“I feel very, very happy.  When I meet up with people who haven’t seen me for a long time, they always comment on how well I look.  I am sleeping very well and investing time in me and my family.  I have a lovely relationship with my grand-children (there are two now) because I look after them regularly, which would have been impossible in a full-time role.  And I get to do work that I love and am good at.  Life is great.”

Regrets?

”None”

 

 

David James - Full-time finance career to flexible contracting

"Freedom is important to me.  The shackles and small print of long-term incentive programs don’t work for me. I want to get paid for doing good work – it’s that simple.”
“I put family first in nearly every time conflict.”
 David James - photo taken by his son

David James - photo taken by his son

Career overview:

David qualified as an ACA and had an audit career in London and Budapest with KPMG before realising that partnership was not on the cards for him. He moved to the world of finance within industry and progressed onwards and upwards in large corporates before changing his pattern of work.  He has three children (now 11-16).

What triggered a change?

When David’s youngest child was a baby, David had started in a job that was not working out well.  Even though he worked only 5 miles away from his home, he was rarely able to make it home to put the children to bed.  He was often at work until 8-9pm or even later.   A helpful HR manager advised him to consider contracting work which she thought might be a way he could aim for “that lifestyle choice”.  He mulled the idea over.

First steps?

After he had resigned from that unhappy job in 2007, David was offered a contracting role and found that it fitted with his work and life expectations.  Then, when that ended just as the banking crisis hit, the only work available seemed to be on a contracting basis so he carried on contracting and liked it.

What David learned?

“I enjoyed the freedom.  I was only there because I wanted to be there and because the company had asked me to do a specific piece of work.  I enjoyed being needed and I felt like I was solving problems. I also enjoyed never having to ask anyone’s permission to take a half-day off to go to my children’s school plays when they were in primary school – if it fitted with the client’s needs I would simply say I would be taking some time off and, of course, didn’t charge for that time.”

“I put family first in nearly every time conflict.”

“Day rates were good enough even in 2009 to compare reasonably with permanent work, especially when the taxes on contractors were then noticeably lower, but I hadn’t ruled out the idea of returning to a permanent role until I attended an interview for one.  During that interview, I started to feel claustrophobic as I began to envisage their holiday calendar.   It was at that point that I realised I didn’t want permanent employment, to have my free time rationed and permitted only when it suited an employer, and the idea of running the same annual cycle for the foreseeable future didn’t appeal.”

 Freedom is important to me.  The shackles and small print of long-term incentive programs don’t work for me. I want to get paid for doing good work – it’s that simple.”

Contractors are often treated with more respect than permanent staff. There is no assumption that they own you because clients know you can leave if they behave unreasonably, so they tend to be careful of making unreasonable requests in a way that doesn’t always apply to permanent staff.  Of course, the same lack of permanence means the client can let a contractor go if they are not happy with them, but that is something I can influence by doing a good job.”

“I like the more task-focused work that an interim tends to do.  It is satisfying because I am there to help with a problem and not to be distracted by lots of meetings and internal politics, and every assignment means another achievement on my CV.  I had been concerned that the roles would all require only existing experience and not allow growth, but working in many companies and resolving varied issues has broadened my experience to make me more marketable.”

“It’s important to work out what you enjoy doing and see if that is a niche that would work within your market. I enjoy financial reporting and multi-currency consolidations and there’s a good market for those skills in and around Surrey.  Talking to trusted advisors on positioning yourself to companies was very helpful.  Building long-term relationships with agents who want to get to know you beyond the financial benefit to them has also been crucial to my success.”

How does it feel on the days you know you’ve made the right decision?

"I sleep well at night knowing that my experience allows me to walk into all sorts of problems and to figure out a way to solve them.  I see problems as challenges now.”

“Every day I work as a contractor I KNOW I am better off than I was doing a permanent role.”

“Lots of the work I do is within international companies so I get to speak to people all over the world and learn cultural insights that I’d never have known otherwise. I can take the time to get under their skin, which in turn helps me to do better work.”

Regrets?

“No..none.  Even the bad experiences have been part of the path to where I am.“

 

Find out more about David by clicking here or reviewing his linked in profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-james-fca-35363711/

Liz Wilson - Teacher to Micro-Baker

“Don’t give up the day job.” 

Over time, Liz decided to combine her old and new careers.  “It was very scary but I started to teach bread-making and that’s when I had the sense that it would truly work as a full-time business.”

 Liz Wilson

Liz Wilson

Previous career overview

An early career in marketing.  When children arrived, re-trained as a primary school teacher.  In her third career Liz has re-trained as a baker and runs her own very successful micro-bakery.

Trigger for change?

Liz loved teaching but as the children grew up she knew that she wanted to end up doing something in the food industry.  She was a very keen home baker and had always baked cakes and biscuits with the children but was attracted to an advertisement for a course in “how to set up a micro-baking business”. This course “ignited” something within her. 

First steps?

“That course changed me - I became bread-obsessive.  I bought books, googled recipes, baked bread constantly and was determined to make bread successfully – just for me – not as a business idea.  I offered to volunteer in bakeries and cooking schools – just washing up to begin with.  Then over-time we’d get talking about bread and I’d get to help out a bit more in the actual baking.  I learned so much and met such amazing bakers.” 

“When I think about it, all of the people on that initial course were women in transition.  Either women with new children or older children leaving home, women of a certain age.  They had either had enough of something or were at a cross roads and wanted more of something else.  If you ever need to think something through – make some bread.   It’s mindfulness. You have to stay in the moment to knead and it feels great.”

The initial course which Liz joined gave her one-third of the full Bread Angels accreditation and access to a network of micro-bakers across the UK.  “This meant that I could access support from a huge network of people who have done it before.  These bread angels are all over the country and we meet for a drink, share ideas, go on training courses together and offer support to those who need business support.  I’ve met everyone from new friends to professional mentors through that network.”

What Liz discovered?

“The hardest thing was to sell that first loaf.  You can’t test the product.  It was so easy to give it away but friends kept telling me to stop.  I didn’t want the criticism if it wasn’t good enough…if I wasn’t a good enough baker.”  Liz had an unusual brave technique to test her baking confidence – she entered the Home Bread Awards and was delighted to be a runner-up. This raised her confidence to a level that she felt she could sell that first loaf.

One piece of advice she has for those thinking of a midlife career change is “Don’t give up the day job.”  Liz remained working part-time as a teacher in her local primary school but on her days off she kept learning her new craft, practicing hundreds of recipes, personally delivering her bread to the doors of customers.  She then received an unexpected boost of a little bit of local PR started to grow the business organically. 

Over time, Liz decided to combine her old and new careers.  “It was very scary but I started to teach bread-making and that’s when I had the sense that it would truly work as a full-time business.”

She owes her success in this new part of her business model to a combination of her old career and her stage of life.  “I wouldn’t have been as good at teaching bread-making if I had not had all of my teaching training and years of life experience.”

“I knew nothing about business but I very purposefully began to learn things and attended all sorts of training.  I even got a bursary to do a 1.5 day training course at the School of Artisan Food I started to do tutorials and webinars on everything from accounting, to social media marketing, packaging, PR and photography for food.  If you really care about what you are making, it’s very easy to want to learn everything that relates to it.”

What she would do differently?

“Support from others is key. There is so much free support for new businesses out there through seminars/information/networking events.  It’s fantastic.   I was never confident about selling me and getting people to buy into me but I’ve appreciated that I am part of the story behind my bread.”

“I’ve learned so much through networking and talking to people in similar situations.  I’ve bartered bread for services at these events.  You never know who will come into your life at these events and how you might be able to help each other.  You’ve got to try to be the best you can. I put a lot of pressure on myself to try to the best I can all the time.”

“I even teach others how to set up their own micro-bakeries now. Micro-baking is very attractive to women because it starts at home and can be fit around jobs and family.”

“The media presents entrepreneurship as a young person’s game – it’s not.  When you are creating something that you care about, you want it make it the best it can be for your customers.  If you don’t know how to do every bit of that – it’s so easy to learn.”

“Have a go – you just never know what could happen.”

How it feels on the days when Liz knows that she has made the right decision?

“Everywhere I go, people ask me ‘what’s next?’ There’s so much pressure to grow. I could have my own bakery which would be open 9-5 but being bigger give me anymore?  I’m not entirely sure why I would do that.  I have a great, profitable business.  I deliver to my customers sometime in the afternoon so there’s no time pressure.  I walk downstairs to work.  I can have a day off when I want to.  I feel blessed.  Most days I think - am I really doing this AND getting paid for it?  

“There is magic in the process.  I feel joyful.   I love teaching people to bake – it can be transformational.  Baking comes from the heart.  I love bringing joy into other people’s lives.  Baking is a slow form of therapy. I’ve got a lot to lose if I took the next step.”

“I sometimes have to forget my age when I walk into these networking events as lots of people appear much younger.  I have to forget my perception of my age.  But, bread doesn’t care what age you are.  I forget my age when I’m working.”

Regrets?

“Not one!”

 

 

Kate Gregory - Aerospace & Defence career to Gin Distilling

"We made sure that the risk of failure would not impact us financially.  Zero financial risk.”

"Part-time was the only way that we could have done this as we both have children and mortgages. Our investment was in time and effort."

 Kate Gregory - Outside her Gin Distillery in Dorking

Kate Gregory - Outside her Gin Distillery in Dorking

Overview of earlier career.

Early career in the defence & aerospace sectors.  First job at the MOD found Kate accumulating more time flying simulated combat sorties than most RAF pilots, whilst evaluating future systems. Worked her way through the ranks at MOD before moving through the ranks within a private company and ultimately leading international innovation projects - initially based in France and currently in UK. Three young children (7, 5, 5)

The trigger for change?

Kate engineered her return to UK after 5 years in the headquarters in France but found that interesting roles at her level were far and few between. So she continued to perform in her old role from UK.   When her children started school she was constrained by the assignments she could accept while still making the school run. She felt frustrated by not being able to find interesting roles from which to have an impact on the business. 

The trigger:  There was an exact moment.  She remembers traveling to a board meeting in Paris. While driving to the airport, she was listening to a radio show discussing the current global gin renaissance and micro-distilleries. She felt a flutter of entrepreneurial excitement and in an instant knew she would start up a micro-distillery.   Kate called her good friend Helen to invite her to join her in becoming part-time gin distillers. By the time she had got on the plane, she’d also researched how to make gin, had assessed the market opportunity and mocked up a rough business plan.

First steps?

Together, Helen and Kate agreed their mission “to make the finest gin on the planet”. They did a little more research into the market and financial viability and decided to take the time and effort to create an ultra-premium gin.  They assessed feasibility in terms of time, effort, split of skills, accessibility of gin making equipment and agreed their plan of attack : “we can do this” if we start on a very small scale and grow in line with demand and our readiness.  The Gin Kitchen was born in Kate’s kitchen and launched in November 2016  http://gin.kitchen

We invested the money that we would usually spend on gin to fund purchases (a still, the pure alcohol base and botanicals) and tested recipes for months. ‘We didn’t want to rely solely on our own judgement’.  They invited a big group of gin-loving mums over for blind tasting sessions and watched what happened.  The bottles of their hand-crafted summer and winter gins were sipped dry whilst bottles with other premium gin brands were left. “That’s the moment we knew that this would work”.

They launched The Gin Kitchen in a Red Bar in Dorking, Surrey, where Kate lives, with a cocktail designed specifically for the event “the Woodcock” (http://gin.kitchen/images/woodcocks.jpg) and very quickly were stocked in 3 bars and 2 local shops.  When those sold out and they wanted to order more, “we had yet another confidence boost”.  More and more venues came on board as “people seemed to be really passionate about the gins and the word spread".  The market reaction was so strong and their confidence so high that they took a bottle into Fortnum and Mason’s and asked to speak to their spirits buyer.  He loved both of their gins so much that he offered them “Spirit of the Month” twice in 2017.  They couldn’t accept the first offer as they simply weren’t able to make the stock fast enough but happily accepted the offer of a later date.  Dancing Dragontail exceeded Fortnum and Mason’s expectations and stocks had to be replenished twice after selling out over the course of May 2017.   Bear in mind The Gin Kitchen had only launched in November 2016.

What Kate learned?

“Having an awesome business partner with complementary personality and skills has been key.  It’s not just great to have someone to share the workload with, it’s really good fun when something brilliant happens and we can share the glory.  In a partnership two heads are better than one.”

“In the extreme uncertainty of start-ups you could spend months trying to reduce risk without increasing chances of success.  I love making decisions – in minutes rather than after 6 months of risk assessment, by trusting my intuition and then working through any difficulties.”

“A great deal can happen with an idea, 2 jerry cans of base alcohol, a still and some juniper.”

“I am creative.  I used to spend hours drawing every night when I was a child so I was very keen to design the label for our new winter gin.  When the time came to design our summer gin label, I realised that my talents didn’t extend to water colour so we asked our friend Helen Sweeting to paint a butterfly garden for us. I adored the professional results and was excited about commissioning the design of our new Absinthe from an amazing local tattoo artist and I think it's perfect. 

“Part-time was the only way that we could have done this as we both have children and mortgages.  Our investment was in time and effort.  We spent evenings and week-ends trialling recipes, navigating all the regulations, distilling, bottle-labelling and delivering stock to customers.   We still do but we have some extra help now.

“Grow at the rate that you can afford to grow.  We were limited in the amount of gin we could produce by the amount of ingredients that we could afford and could only buy more when we had sold our stock, and been paid.”

“Our attitude and our growth model in the beginning meant that even if this turned out to be an elaborate hobby and we were left with 80 bottles of fabulous gin that only we loved – that would have been fine. We probably only spent the amount we would have spent on gin in that period anyway!  We made sure that the risk of failure would not impact us financially.  Zero financial risk.”

What Kate would do differently if she had to do it all again?

“I wouldn’t change anything. But if I could go back in time, I would have started The Gin Kitchen two years earlier to catch more of the earlier upsurge in interest in gin.  We are tracking so well, it’s hard to imagine it being better but we would have even faster traction – I’m not complaining at all though.”

How it feels on the days when Kate knows she has made the right decision?

“It feels great being creative all day.  Being involved in everything from gin distilling, label design, launch planning, marketing, operations and delivery all involve creativity.  Even the seemingly “boring” elements like risk assessment or designing processes behind 5* food hygiene ratings etc. feels creative. There is a level of care required in every activity if we are to continue to aim towards creating the finest gin in the world.”

“I sort of hope that my children catch a little of the entrepreneurial spirit.  The twins are too young but my 7 year old was playing war games with a big group of friends recently. He had organized a team of boys to collect spent nerf and he had set up a shop selling them.”  I think that entrepreneurial spirit might have seeped in already!

“We feel happy, proud and confident in what we have produced and we are having such a lot of fun along the way. “

Any regrets?

“None - every aspect of this has been fun.”

 

6 months later after our interview Kate got in touch to tell me that The Gin Kitchen has now grown to a size where she has been able to move full-time into the business leaving her old career behind.  When I asked how she was finding the new shift she replied  "I'm loving every minute." 

Click here for more stories of individuals in their 40s, 50s and beyond who have changed careers successfully.
 

 


Find out more about Kate and Helen's Gin Kitchen by checking out their website and following them on social media. 

http://gin.kitchen   @theginkitchen

Kate Gregory Absinthe launch invite.jpg