Stephen Hall - International Teaching Career to Food Entrepreneur

“When someone I don’t know sees me at a trade fair and shouts over to me ‘I’ve tried your balls and I like them!’ It’s funny and satisfying!

“There is a smile in my belly! It feels right. It feels positive.”

Overview of earlier career.

Stephen has always been motivated by making a difference. After graduating, he volunteered on a teaching project in Lesotho, Southern Africa for two years not really intending to teach for a career; but discovered he loved it. After a short spell teaching English in Poland, he returned to England to do his post-graduate teaching qualification at Cambridge. Afterwards, he taught at Kings’ School in Grantham, where he met his wife.

Stephen and his wife both then spent two years teaching in Malawi which inspired him to complete a Masters in Development Economics but subsequently found that he was either over-qualified or under-qualified for his desired career change. So, he decided to continue his teaching career.

After various experiences, he ended up as the Head of English at a boarding school and absolutely loved the mix of pastoral work and teaching. It was the pastoral focus that led him to becoming a House Master, responsible for 50 plus teenage boys.

A clash in philosophies between himself and a new Head Master over a number of years, combined with working longer hours than was sensible took a toll on Stephen’s physical and mental health.  He tried returning to the classroom, but this led to further panic attacks. So, at the end of a very long road, Stephen walked away from his teaching career and decided to set up his own business.

Utilising his knowledge of the Education and Teaching sectors he worked on setting up an online tutoring system for International Students. After 6 months working on integrating two systems, the technology didn’t work as well as he had hoped and he was forced to walk away; having suffered a second breakdown.

First steps?

“That failure hit me hard and after a few months I got a job working for somebody else. Ultimately though, I realised that I needed freedom and autonomy to thrive.

Whilst I was thinking about next steps, I was in the kitchen cooking and making healthy snacks for my children.  People were always saying that I should sell them so I decided I would give it a go.  

I went into create mode and set up lots of snack tasting sessions in my kitchen.

I started to research the market for healthy snacks and sought advice from the local Chamber of Commerce who were excellent and I set up conversations with friends of friends who had built their own food businesses.

What Stephen learned?  

  • Simplify your ideas

You can get caught up in new ideas, new recipes, new markets to attack.  For instance, I ended up being interviewed for Countryfile after trialling some high protein brownies made from crushed up crickets!  It was such an interesting experiment but most ideas need to start simple.

  • Seek advice from others in the industry.

For example, a mother of an ex-pupil had built up a successful “bottom-bursting puddings” business, selling into all the major supermarkets and gave me some great advice that saved me time and energy.

  • Joining on-line food forums would have saved me time and energy if I’d found them sooner.

These have been invaluable to me. Forums like The Food Hub, Lifestyle Kitchen and The Foodpreneur Coach Generally speaking the food start-up community is a really supportive one and people are willing to give support and advice.

  • Be honest and get help quickly with the things you struggle with

Trying to do every single thing yourself is tough.  For instance I really struggle with accounting and decided to get help. I chose a Virtual PA who can not only help with accounting details but will be able to help with research and other projects in the future.  

  • Grow your network

Over time I have developed an incredible network of food business people locally from large company owners to small artisan producers. I found, with only a few exceptions, that everyone has opened their arms to me and is more than happy to offer advice and help.  

I’ve had conversations with people I respect who’ve challenged my thinking which I have found invaluable. They’ve helped me consolidate my thoughts and make better decisions.

On occasions, I need to find someone with a special skill and I’ll end up getting introduced to the perfect person at a trade fair or networking event..

  • Go with your gut instincts!

I’ve made mistakes that have cost me a great deal of time and energy by not trusting my instincts.

If it feels wrong, it’s probably worth listening to those instincts and probing more deeply. One of the best things about being your own boss is that you make the decisions - so you can say no and walk away!

  • Protect your IP

I’ve almost had my recipes stolen on a collaboration that didn’t work out.  I’d have been stuffed if I hadn’t set up ip protection and non-disclosure agreements from the early days.

  • Branding and marketing are important but make sure you believe that your product can justify itself financially.

I’ve made some difficult decisions on products that I’ve invested a great deal of time and resources in but they just didn’t stand up financially.

So, I’ve designed and researched new products on the back of both flavour, gut instinct AND financial insights.

  • Good is good enough

Start selling your product as soon as it is good - not perfect.  That way you can be nimble and make changes as you go along, based on customer feedback.

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

There is a smile in my belly!

It feels right.

It feels positive.

I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD so there are days when my brain and my body conspire and tell me to stop but I don’t want to; because Bakes and Balls is important to me.  It’s mine and it’s a part of me.

When someone I don’t know sees me at a trade fair and shouts over to me ‘I’ve tried your balls and I like them!’ It’s funny and satisfying!

I love the feeling that my healthy snacks are solving a problem in a family and giving them viable alternatives to what’s on the market (in the free from ranges) that actually taste great.”

I’m excited about the new Frocolate truffle and spread ranges which we’re launching.

Regrets?

Occasionally I meet up with an ex-pupil who might be in their 20s or 30s and they tell me what they enjoyed and liked about my teaching; which texts they still remember (it is often the more risque sections of Chaucer’s ‘The Miller’s Tale’ where Nicholas’ bottom is branded; or the more gruesome parts of Webster’s ‘Duchess of Malfi’.

But it is also really touching when ex-pupils tell me why I was an important influence on them. I do miss my teaching time, but I couldn’t go back to it.”


If you’d like to find out more about Stephen and his business, contact him here:

Buy their goodies: www.bakesandballs.com

Twitter: @BakesandBalls

Instagram: @BakesandBalls

Facebook: .facebook.com/BakesandBalls/





Michael Owen - Business Communications to Fashion and Publishing.

“If we live for 1000 months, we will be 83 years old when we die.  When I decided to make my change I had lived about 600 months.”

“We were living a life of shoulds. We were doing what we thought we should. What society suggested we should do. And I wasn’t sure that the work we were doing actually mattered. I was rudderless. And worse than that - purposeless.”

Michael Owen - after he stopped living “a life of shoulds”.

Michael Owen - after he stopped living “a life of shoulds”.

Overview of earlier career

I founded four business communications companies over 15 years or so. Running concurrently, they turned over about £1.25 million, employing 30 people at their peak. I think we were well respected by most people as clever and innovative. We won 70 awards around the world.

The trigger for change?

The companies were doing well. My partner Lisa worked inside the businesses with me. We had nice cars and bought the picturesque 5 bedroom house we’d imagined. It had a nice big garden of course. With one of those gates that opened when you pushed a button. All very showy and, as we soon found out, all rather unnecessary and vacuous too.

We had everything we wanted.

But it was the wrong everything.

Within 6 months, we’d split up.

We were living a life of shoulds. We were doing what we thought we should. What society suggested we should do. And I wasn’t sure that the work we were doing actually mattered. I was rudderless. And worse than that - purposeless.

I had to dig deep to decide whether I was working with the right kind of clients at the Business Communications agencies. Was I really helping them do what they needed to do? Or was I just servicing a million pound overhead?

Lisa and I got back together. And eventually I realised that I wasn’t doing the work that I was supposed to be doing. As I’d got older, I had met more and more people who weren’t doing work that they were supposed to be doing - people who were stuck. And I had become one of them.

What was it that I was born to do?

I had become part of that same problem. I was not doing what I felt I was born to do.

Quite suddenly, at the age of 45, I decided I didn’t want to be part of that problem any more. I wanted to become part of the change instead.

Discovering which direction

I didn’t know how to do work that mattered in the beginning. Or which direction to point at. So I waited.

I closed all my businesses within a year. And spent 3 months or so thinking.

In the far distance past, I was a creator of furniture and an interior designer. In my teens and early twenties.

When I ran the agencies, I ran creative processes and built creative teams.  But I wasn’t being creative at all. I’d become a formulaic business man. And formulas bore me, big time!  I knew I needed to be creative again.

Another catalyst for the direction of change was Claire who lived up the road from me when I was fifteen.  I couldn’t speak to Claire unless I was wearing my special T-shirt.  It had the power to transform my confidence. That was key to my direction change.

I had always wanted to create clothing. But in a world where 70% of all clothing is burnt or buried within a year of it being made, why do we need more clothes?

I understood that what we wear has the power to change how we feel and change what we do.  Certain clothes make us stand taller, walk with more confidence and do amazing things.

I decided to create classic, beautiful, exceptional clothes to help people do amazing things.

A ‘buy less, buy better’ brand.

“Imagine a clothing brand whose purpose was to create confidence in the wearer…” I thought.

And Always Wear Read was created.

Michael “Time is running out. Ours is just a visit. Decide what to do with your remaining months.”

Michael “Time is running out. Ours is just a visit. Decide what to do with your remaining months.”

First steps

I found the best makers who make for the best brands in the world and got them to fall in love with my vision.  

I wanted clothes that would last many, many years. And I wanted to support them with a repair service. They saw me as adventurous and they liked my stories.  These makers make for Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry - and me.

I chose to have red in every item to show off the exceptional craftmanship (it’s easier to see the top edge of a belt polished blood-red and is a nightmare to make) and it’s also the colour which is associated with confidence and the colour that the human eye sees first.

The colour red sat at the heart of our story.

Next Steps

The brand is now worn by Idris Elba and Will.i.am amongst others. Ralf Little owns the Always Wear Red business with Michael.

The brand creates amazing caps, hats, scarves, ties, pocket squares and socks.

Our sock maker makes for the British royal family. The material for our flat caps is woven in Yorkshire, and the caps themselves are hand made in Yorkshire.

Between 2015 and 2018 I mastered many items within the man’s accessories category.

And in 2019 to 2020 I am changing again. Morphing. Into a gender neutral brand that creates only amazing hand knits.

I have found the piece of clothing I love. So from 2020 I am focusing on doing one thing - really well.

What Michael learned?  

  • Lifestyle changes aren’t the end of the world

Lifestyle changes can, in fact, be the start of a new world. A much better one.

We definitely have less stuff.  When we decided to sell the big house we discovered so much stuff that we didn’t need.  I’ve always loved clothes but am not sure I appreciated them as much as I do now. When we were decluttering and getting ready for the move, I found two pairs of the exact same All Saints trousers in the loft that I didn’t even remember buying.

Embarrassing. But true.

  • Always have a crazy, unusual side project.  

It makes other things in your life seem less crazy when you do this.  50odd.com is my crazy project where I promised myself I’d write a decent blog story every day for ten years. From the very day that I was 50. That commitment was definitely a bit crazy but it reframes what “crazy” means and makes me braver in other areas of my life.

50odd.co.uk is so called because, when I started it I was 50. And because I’ve always been odd. Perfect!

  • Time is running out. Ours is just a visit. Decide what to do with your remaining months.

At the heart of 50odd.co.uk is the notion of 1000 months. If we live for 1000 months, we will be 83 years old when we die.  When I decided to make my change I had lived about 600 months. If I was average, I’d have 400 left to live and I had to decide what I wanted to do with those months.

Men live to 80 years in the UK (960 months). Women live to 86 (1032 months).

  • Decide if you are the hero of your story, or if somebody else is.

I chat to lots of people who say that they can’t make a change because they have a mortgage to pay. Or because they like their two or three holidays a year. This is fine. But, mostly, we cannot have things all our way. If we decide to let our landlord or our mortgage provider be the hero of our story then, of course, we can’t be the hero. They are.

I imagine that on some people’s tombstones it will say “Here lies Ben. A man that never realised his true potential because he chose to be led by his mortgage payments.”  Life is short. Lead; or be led.

  • Consider what your children would wish for their Dad

When our daughter Izobel came along two years ago, I found myself wondering what she would want for her Dad in the future. A dad who was living a life of shoulds (and had all the trappings of “success”) or a Dad who was doing work that mattered? To him. And to others. I chose the latter.

  • Find a new tribe

I wouldn’t have made it this far without the help and support of my new, more adventurous and tuned-in tribe. They understand the stresses and strains of being pioneering. Doing things that have not been done before would have been a lonely journey without this new tribe.  

We are all very supportive of each other. For instance when a chap I know, Ben Branson from Seedlip battled to get the first alcohol free spirit into the market, he was bullied by the traditional spirits industry.  He battled on with plenty of behind the scenes support from our tribe of pioneers. He’s now the first non-alcoholic spirit on Virgin Atlantic and many leading bars around the world.

You need a similar tribe to keep you going on the bad days.

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

I don’t always wake up knowing I’ve done the right thing because I understand that I can’t have it all.

Well, not yet I can’t.

I learned how to get good at building a business-to-business brand and got paid well for it. But what I am doing now is different. I’m now learning how to grow a business-to-consumer brand and it takes time. We’re in our fourth year.

But in general, I wake up feeling happier because I am surrounded by the right people. I have some lovely, old friends who live very safe lives. That’s fine. But it’s not for me. I crave creativity.

I needed to find my new, more adventurous tribe who do lovely interesting pioneering things.  They’re a whole different breed. We’re able to keep each other going and pick each other up when things are not going so well.  

I mostly feel excited by the potential of what I do. It could fail or fly. I’m excited because I don’t know what will happen but I’m invigorated by what could happen. I’m kind of enjoying the conclusion being out of my control. The balance of certainty and uncertainty.

And I am glad that I am not a talker. I am a do-er.

When our daughter Izobel came along, I found myself wondering what she would want for her Dad in the future.  A dad who was living a life of shoulds (and had all the trappings of “success”) or a Dad who was doing work that mattered?

When our daughter Izobel came along, I found myself wondering what she would want for her Dad in the future. A dad who was living a life of shoulds (and had all the trappings of “success”) or a Dad who was doing work that mattered?

Regrets?

Yes. Sometimes I would like more things.  For example, I’d love my little girl to have the big garden of our old house to run around in but we sold that and moved into our smaller city centre home.  

But timing is everything. What may be right now was not right then.

I am building. A new future. For me and my family.


Find out more about Michael, his writing and his business:

Angelfysh - Michael still takes on a small number of select brand and marketing projects.

Always Wear Read

His blog - 50odd

Instagram

Facebook

Andy Arnold-Bennett - Professional Actor to Gin Maker

“The way the job market is going, there is no stable employment anymore.  If you have an idea or a passion and think you could either make a living or bring something valuable into your life, you’ve just got to try!  

Zoe and I love the sense of having control. We love being able to make decisions on what happens in our lives.”  

Overview of earlier career.

After redundancy in his early 20s, Andy took the opportunity to fulfil a life-time ambition and began training as a professional actor. His acting career has spanned more than two decades and comprised theatre work in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and other theatres all over the world including in South Korea – where he met his wife, Zoe.

Andy has also appeared in one-off tv dramas and made several appearances on Coronation Street and Emmerdale.

The trigger for change?

Typically, theatre contracts last between 2 months and 18-months so Andy had spent a large part of his career being away from the stunning part of the world he calls home. 

“I just felt like I was dipping in and out of life in Cumbria and I found myself just wanting to be at home more.”

Andy and Zoe Shed 1 1a.jpg

First steps?

“A few years ago, on the last night of a play in the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, I got talking to the father of another cast member. He asked what I was going to do for work next.  After discovering that I was off to find a part-time job in between acting contracts, he offered me a job driving for his beer bottling business.  I accepted and over the months I spent driving around Scotland, Northern England and the Midlands I got to meet lots of micro-brewers.  I got to chatting with them all and learned how they had started their businesses from very little.

At the same time, Zoe had been making sloe and damson gins at home for years and one evening, on tour, when I was quarantined in my dressing room with a heavy cold, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself so I decided that we should give Gin-making a go.

Zoe was up for it.  We started researching and very soon we bought the distillery equipment and the correct licences and set up our micro-distillery in our 7ft square shed.

We opened the doors of Shed1Gin in October 2016.”

What Andy learned:   

·         “By starting small, we risked little. 

We are moving into new premises soon, more than 2 years after setting up the business so we are now taking on more risk.  But in the beginning, we started very small and we felt completely reassured that if all else failed, we’d never have to buy gin ever again!  There were no downsides.

·         The process of creating something is fun.   

Figuring out how to make compound gin, working out which ingredients we liked and in which quantities was really good fun.  We spread the fun around and became very popular with neighbours and friends who all became our dedicated, personal and loyal tasting team!

·         You need to enjoy learning and researching to get involved in something like this. 

Even something as simple as sourcing bottles can get very complicated for a small batch producer.  Lots of suppliers have minimum order levels which are often way beyond the resources of a young business. Even that one decision took quite some research, but the process was interesting and we got the result we wanted.

·         Differentiation is key.  Small batch, big flavour is our motto.

Everyone likes there to be a story behind your business but in the end, if they don’t like the taste of what’s in their glass you have no hope.  Our motto is small batch, big flavour.  It’s our differentiator.  Our flavour is much more intense than many gins in the current market.

·         Growing organically has worked for us. 

We had the idea that it might work on our first night when we invited local businesses to come and taste our products. We thought we’d need to do loads of promotional work just to get our first orders but that night we got orders. 

Within a couple of weeks, word of mouth spread and we were off!  We now sell in specialist delis and spirit retailers across all of Cumbria and into the Yorkshire dales as well as having our own on-line shop.

·         Get involved in local business networks

We came across Cumbria Growth Hub whose advice and knowledge has been invaluable to us at every stage of our development.  They couldn’t have helped us more.  

·         Minimise risk where you can.  

We set up a PLC from the beginning as we’re not the sort of people to risk our home. 

·         It’s possible to minimise risk but at some stage you need to jump.

I guess I was kind of lucky - the career of a professional actor is economically unstable, so I’ve been used to that level of financial instability.  

I’ve always had the attitude that if I need to just get a part-time job to keep money coming in, I will.  Zoe and I always said that if, at any point along the way, we needed to get out and get another job to keep doing this, we would.  It’s great if you have money behind you but if you don’t it’s not the end of the world.

·         It takes time. 

We’ve been going since October 2016 and we’re still developing the business to the point where it will give us a decent level of income and while we are getting closer all the time, we’re not there yet.

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

Zoe and I love the sense of having control. We love being able to make decisions on what happens in our lives.  We’re enjoying feeling like we have control over our future – the ideas, the drive and the determination.  

Of course, we can’t control the external environment – suppliers, customers, regulations etc but no one can.

The way the job market is going, there is no stable employment anymore.  If you have an idea or a passion and think you could either make a living or bring something valuable into your life, you’ve just got to try!  

Regrets?

None!

Find out more about Shed1Gin at:

Website: https://www.shed1distillery.com/

Twitter: @Shed1Gin

Instagram: shed_1_gin




Lisa Smith - Art Therapist to Ginger Baker

You can’t start a business unless you just…start! Have a go and then evolve it in a way that feels natural for you. You don’t need to take giant leaps or risks.”

“I’m not stuck with a bad boss or a work situation that doesn’t suit me. I love holding the power of my future fairly and squarely in my own two hands.”

Lisa Smith Brill.jpg

Overview of earlier career.

Lisa followed her passion into an industrial design degree before travelling, doing a couple of ski-seasons and relocating to Hong Kong to teach both English and Design.  By the time she wanted to return to UK, she had become disheartened by the design industry and re-trained in Art Therapeutics before spending many great years working with children with learning difficulties in schools.  

While doing work that she loved, Lisa also met her husband who was in a similar field and they decided to relocate back to his stunning homeland, the Lake District. 

The trigger for change?

“The only real trigger for my change was a lack of enough therapeutic work to sustain me in the local area.

I’d always baked for friends and family and enjoyed it.  So, I began to bake cakes for a local café to supplement my income until I could build up enough work in Art Therapy. 

It was early 2000s and the British food scene was really exciting. Farmers’ markets were booming and there were endless opportunities for individuals to get involved and offer their products to new interested, excited customers.

After 18months of making cakes for the local café, I decided to take fate into my own hands and bake for myself.  There was no big life change or any grand plan…it just gradually happened. There was no conscious decision about my future, I just knew that I would enjoy working for myself. 

So, I did.

I began my business in my kitchen, 13 years ago.”

First steps?

I baked an awful lot.  I trailed myself and my cakes around so many farmers’ markets and promoted the business everywhere.  People liked my products and bought more. Over time, I began to gain traction.  

I just loved the feeling of being creative.   I loved getting stuck in with my own hands.  I found it really rewarding doing it for myself, in my own way.  Just slowly and steadily growing the business.

In my family, I’m surrounded by individuals who own their own businesses, so I wasn’t that daunted by going it alone.  Even though it felt like business ownership was in my DNA, I still needed to learn lots along the way.”

What Lisa has learned? 

·         “I realised that creating something that gives others pleasure is important to me.  

This is one of my great drivers. There is emotion and comfort built into my cakes, more emotion than there ever could have been in any nuts and bolts creation from my design days.  

·         Have confidence in your products and yourself.   

In those early days, I worried too much about if I would be taken seriously.  I didn’t have enough confidence about being a business owner and felt intimidated.   I could have eased my pain by asking for help.  My confidence developed slowly, over time.  

·         Seek out help early.

There is so much help out there, but in the early days, I didn’t take advantage of it.  I was too caught up in worrying about what others were thinking or just feeling anxious that I was doing it all wrong.  

·         Try to get to grips with the business behind your business earlier than I did.

If I were to start again, I would approach it differently.  My approach was to start with the best product I could come up with and worry about the business behind it later.    I’ve since met other creatives who often come from corporate backgrounds who have imbedded a good business structure from the beginning.  I didn’t really grab the business by the horns in the early days.  

·         Do business your way, instinctively. 

There isn’t a wrong way to do business even if it seems like it when you start out.   

·         Be transparent about yourself and your business.  

I am known in the local area for being very open to having conversations and to helping others out.  For that reason, I have good relationships with journalists and other business owners.  That has meant that I have accidentally secured lots of different little bits of PR, here and there.  I enjoy helping others out. What goes around comes around.

·         You can’t start a business unless you just…start! 

Have a go and then evolve it in a way that feels natural for you. You don’t need to take giant leaps or risks.

·         Try not to give yourself such a hard time. 

I gave myself an awful hard time in the beginning thinking I was doing it all wrong but in fact I was doing everything just fine.  There are many ways of doing business.  You just have to find one that suits you.

·         Don’t waste time waiting for the perfect moment.  

Decide the right moment to start for yourself and just take it.  Then see what happens.  If it doesn’t work, you can tweak it for the better and then keep going.

·         Speak to as many people as you can to avoid re-inventing the wheel and to get some reassurance that you are on the right track.

This will help you tweak a business earlier rather than later when you have invested more.

 ·         Resilience.  If you are creating any personal business, you’ll need to have plenty of resilience and expect it to be tested regularly.  

You’ll need to build up your reserves so that you are strong enough to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and keep moving onwards.  My resilience reserves have certainly been tested in recent years.   The floods of 2015 wiped out my business premises AND wrecked my home.  But I started again.  I also spent last year undergoing cancer treatment.    

·         All good things start small

My little business began in my home kitchen but we have grown and developed over 13 years and now have a fantastic team of eight.”

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

“Gosh, it’s the best thing ever!

I love being in control! I feel empowered by my personal control.  This is my own creation.  I’m responsible for everything.  If it doesn’t work, there’s no one else to blame.   

I don’t have anyone else but me to point the finger at and that is very freeing.  I’m not stuck with a bad boss or a work situation that doesn’t suit me.  I love holding the power of my future fairly and squarely in my own two hands.”

Regrets?

None!

Find out more about Lisa and her Ginger Bakers

Website: www.gingerbakers.co.uk

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

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




Barney Whiter - Accountant to Financially Independent (The Escape Artist)

“I’ve met high flying partners in law / accounting firms who earn in excess of £750,000 pa who told me they couldn’t afford to quit their job. They had allowed their lifestyle to ramp up and it had become their prison camp.”

“I grew up with an unusually vivid fear of poverty.”

Interview with Barney Whiter - The Escape Artist

Interview with Barney Whiter - The Escape Artist

Overview of earlier career

After doing a degree in Economics, I qualified as a chartered accountant and then moved into the world of corporate finance - where I worked for 20 years.

The trigger for change?

Well, it’s a story that I can trace back to my childhood. I don’t claim to be normal…I grew up with an unusually vivid fear of poverty and of being homeless which was “hard-wired” into me via childhood experience.

When I was 11 (1981) my parents bought the biggest house they could afford and then interest rates rose to 17%. Imagine the devastation that would cause now!

My parents cut back sharply. Our holiday that year got cancelled. The newspaper was cancelled. Dad started brewing his own beer rather than buying it.

There weren’t many positives but, on some level, I gained an appreciation of how it’s possible to tighten your belt when you really put your mind to it.  

I think that period had an impact on almost every decision I made in the future. Deciding what to study at university. Where I lived. What career to pursue. These choices all revolved around trying to make sure that I would not end up poor and homeless. And yes, I realise how strange that may sound!

I got my first mortgage aged 26It was a normal 25-year term mortgage, but I wanted to clear it as soon as humanly possible.  By age 32/33 I’d developed the habit of saving and had paid off that mortgage.

Around that time, I’d taken a new job that wasn’t working out. The culture felt entirely wrong for me. Even though I had paid off the mortgage, I felt trapped as I still needed to earn a salary. My wife wasn’t working as our second child had just arrived.

I hated my job and felt like I was hanging on by my fingertips.


First steps to freedom?

To build up a “safety fund” in case I found myself unemployed, we slashed our outgoings from ~£3,000 per month to ~£1,000 per month…remember this was for a family of four.    

Eventually I found another job that felt less soul-destroying. But rather than getting comfortable and allowing our spending to inflate back up, I decided to continue to save hard.

After a number of discussions (and some arguments!) with my wife, I vowed to save and investing at least 50% of my income to give me the freedom and the choice that I craved.

Fast forward 10 years to 2013 (when I was 43) and I stumbled what I then thought was an obscure website about financial freedom in the US called Mr Money Moustache. This is a blog written by a software engineer who, by frugal living and sensible investing had “retired” at 31 and now did pretty much whatever he wanted.

What Barney learned? 

I learned that there was a whole Financial Independence movement which had started in the USA and was spreading internationally. This movement combines frugality, environmentalism, hard work and investing to get to financial freedom.

I learned about the 25x rule whereby you probably have enough to never need to work again if you can amass a portfolio worth >25x your annual spending. I realised that I probably had enough so I handed my notice in at work.


How can financial independence help with career change?

  • When it comes to career choice, I see two logical career strategies:

a) Do something hard that is well paid to allow you to save hard towards your financial freedom   OR

b) Do something you love

I did a) for long enough to fund a move to b). 

It’s possible to work a job you love that doesn’t pay much…but only if you have a freedom fund and / or a reasonably low-cost lifestyle.

  • If you want to change career you have to address lifestyle inflation.

I’ve met high flying partners in law / accounting firms who earn in excess of £750,000 pa who told me they couldn’t afford to quit their job. They had allowed their lifestyle to ramp up and it had become their prison camp.  

  • Financial independence is back-end loaded

It’s hard to save meaningful amounts in the beginning so many people never get started. But if you can get into good saving habits early on your money starts to work for you and amazing things become possible. £15,000 saved between 18-25 can turn into a pension pot of £1,000,000 over 40 years, thanks to the magic of compound interest.

  • You need to discuss your escape plan with your partner

To crush your spending, you need to have some very open discussions with your partner to get them on board.

They need to be on-side with your long-term life vision to be committed to the changes required.   It might not be what they originally signed up for.  They might have signed up to marry a stock-broker and all the trappings that sort of life brings with it.  Change is always possible but it can be hard.

  • You can have anything, but you can’t have everything.

It’s a bit silly to think you can have it all.  Life is about choices.

Lots of people fantasise about having financial freedom, doing work that they love or just dream of the day that they can stop doing a job they hate.  

The press often highlight the part of the story that involves retiring early but the live frugally with reduced consumerism for years part of the equation gets less prominence! 

  • Even when the cell door is open, some prisoners choose not to escape

The work that is required to attain financial freedom requires sacrifices and lifestyle compromises.  Not everyone is prepared to dig deep over a decent period of time to get the results they dream about.

Just because individuals could learn how to create financial freedom for themselves, doesn’t mean that they’re up for it. Remember how the movie Shawshank Redemption? One of the escapees couldn’t handle the freedom offered by the outside world, having become institutionalised.

  • Who the hell wants to retire at 40 and do nothing all day long?

Not me. I enjoyed having time off to “decompress” after my escape but eventually we all need to find something to do that provides meaning, purpose and challenge. I get this through writing, teaching and providing financial coaching for other people.

Financial freedom allows you to step away from the metaphorical “Prison Camp” that many of us have created for ourselves and decide what your future could look like.

How does it feel?

I feel grateful to wake up without an alarm and that I don’t have to get on a soulless, grey-suited commuter train.

I laugh a lot more than I used to. The fun and humour had been slowly squeezed out of my life in the corporate world.  Laughing is one of the most under-rated pleasures in life and I’m grateful that I can choose to do things that allow me to do it more often than in the past.

I have a lot of fun writing The Escape Artist blog and have enjoyed seeing the readership grow over the last 5 years from 1 view per day to 10,000 page views in a day. I hope it will continue to grow, but even if it doesn’t I’ll still have fun.

Find out more about Barney:

https://theescapeartist.me/

https://www.instagram.com/barneywhiter/?hl=en




Drew Boyd - Airforce to Marketing to Academic Career

“Never let a year go by without developing your professional career or personal career. There are so many individuals I have seen or met who have not lived by this life rule.  When they reach their mid-50s, they are dead-men walking because they haven’t stayed relevant.  They have stayed safe.”

“I’m 64 and technically retired but if I did retire, what would I do?  I look at my 89-year old mother who is still running a successful business and think…that will be me.”

Drew Boyd - Something tells me this chapter of his career is unlikely to be his last.

Drew Boyd - Something tells me this chapter of his career is unlikely to be his last.

Earlier career

Drew has had several diverse successful careers, initially working his way up to the rank of Captain in US Airforce in the nuclear missile division and later in strategic war planning but he knew long-term his career would be elsewhere. 

On leaving, he took up a position within United Airlines where he was the youngest sales manager leading a team who were all much older than him.  Ten years into this chapter of his career, after completing his MBA he was deciding whether to become a function or an industry specialist when he was head-hunted to join Johnson & Johnson in their…wait for it…gynaecology market development area.  Even though he had known nothing about that area of specialism, Drew flourished there for 17years becoming an expert in systematic creativity before retiring for a short time.

His trigger for change

Shortly after he left J&J, Drew received a call from the Dean of a small college in Chicago asking him to head up their new marketing faculty.  After one semester he received extremely positive reviews from his students and decided to begin the fourth chapter of his career as a full-time professor. Today he now spreads innovation across an entire university campus.

Drew’s first steps:

“The first step towards the current chapter of my career began with an openness some time ago to new opportunities. When I was asked to do some teaching after my MBA, I had a young family and said yes to some extra work on the side.  I continued moon-lighting and teaching on and off in one way or another throughout the rest of my career as I truly enjoyed the feeling of sharing ideas”  

What Drew learned about career change:

·         Lean into things that you are sure that you can’t do.

This is where growth happens.

 ·        Careers have to be driven with intention, but we also need to layer in some opportunistic meandering.

By that I mean that we need to say “yes” to doing jobs that others are not willing to do, to take some risks that others might not wish to and to put our hand up for roles that we are certain that we do not know how to do…yet. This adds that extra something to a career that leads to growth and relevance in both the short and the long term.

·         Never let a year go by without developing your professional career or personal career.

There are so many individuals I have seen or met who have not lived by this life rule.  When they reach their mid-50s, they are dead-men walking because they haven’t stayed relevant.  They have stayed safe. 

·         Managing your career means managing your relevance.

I made clear choices throughout my career to put my hand up early for projects, to get in on the ground level and to get out before their peak and before I got stuck. I see lots of people staying too long on projects where they might have done great work but they get stuck and this impacts their futures.

·          Work hard to be on the life-boat

If your business needed to be re-started tomorrow, would you be one of the chosen few that would be on the life-boat?  The only way that you get to be on the life-boat is if you have continually stayed relevant. 

Your functional expertise isn’t enough to keep you highly relevant or crucial.   If you stay stuck in Supply Chain or Finance or any other functional area, it’s simply not enough.  You have to constantly learn and that involves being outside of your comfort zone.  You have to be continually learning and evolving into that crucial member of the life-boat.   It’s a choice. 

·          Surround yourself with a small group of valued advisors – your own board of directors.

You need a confirmed inner circle throughout your career. These people offer you their valuable counsel and are interested in your valuable counsel in return. They can be colleagues, mentors, specialists, family members or neighbours but they have your back and offer valuable opinions.”

·         If career is important, never stop renewing yourself, learning and growing

Learning and growing is exactly how to move on from a transition period. For instance, I spent 5 weeks in Ottawa with one of the world’s foremost guitar makers, learning how to make a guitar.  I’ve now designed a creativity experiment around teaching students how to make their own acoustic guitars.”

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

“I feel just great!

No two days are the same. I get up, my feet hit the ground and I throw myself at whatever diverse challenges are in that day.

I’m 64 and technically retired but if I did retire, what would I do?  I look at my 89-year old mother who is still running a successful business and think…that will be me.”

Regrets?

“None at all!” 

 Find out more about Drew by checking out his new book – So, You want to be a Professor and his first book Inside the Box at:

www.drewboyd.com

 

Andrea Mara - Financial Services Career to Author

“Redundancy was the best thing that ever happened. I would never have been able to trial a writing career without the redundancy package and the support of my family. “

“Although I’m writing books full-time now, I’ve had times when I felt my funds were running low.  I would panic worrying that I didn’t have enough work.  Then, the very next day I’d wake up and start to panic because I had too much work!   But that’s the way of freelancing, I think. “

Andrea Mara 1.jpg

Overview of earlier career:

“I loved my job! I really liked the company and was very happy in my career.  I’d progressed through the normal promotional routes from junior positions, through to team leader and then into management over 17 years.

I enjoyed the work itself and over-time my work conditions had evolved into something that really worked for us as a family.  I felt lucky with my 4-day a week, one day from home and a precious permanent car spot.

Then the news landed that our Dublin branch was closing.  We were offered two choices: redundancy or re-deployment.  I was sad about losing my job but I was really sad about losing this wonderful work set-up which had taken such a long time to evolve and just worked really well.”

The trigger for change?

“The offer of redundancy was definitely my trigger for change.  My husband and I discussed it and agreed that it was the perfect opportunity to see if it was possible to make a living out of writing.   

The redundancy package would give us and me that window of opportunity.

When I’d pretty much made the decision to take the redundancy package, another opportunity came up within the business that threw a spanner in the works.  It caused a little wobble, mainly by my husband, who had been completely behind the idea of my career change experiment.  Perhaps the reality of our family’s income being chopped in half overnight had hit home.  Nevertheless, I realised that to accept a position I wasn’t passionate about at all felt like an all-head-no-heart decision.  Not the right thing at all. 

Other than that momentary blip, we both knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to try to create a new career for me.”

First steps?

As it turned out Andrea took her first steps towards a writing career without knowing, 2 years before the redundancy package was offered. 

I’d discovered that I loved writing after I’d started a blog while I was on my third maternity leave.   I started it after feeling so frustrated by the disconnection between what my friends and I were discussing as working mothers and what I saw, heard and read in the media.   I had a desire get more real conversations going which sparked enough interest to set up a blog.

I started writing on all things working mother but ended up writing about anything that took my fancy.  I’d write in the evenings after work and after the kids were asleep. People would always ask me where I found the time or if it was exhausted but honestly it became the really enjoyable part of my day and didn’t drain me at all.”

The blog grew over those two years and Andrea began to get tapped on the shoulder to write articles for other people.  So, her first steps towards a full-time career in writing, even if she didn’t know that she might write as a future career option, began out of her desire to write about something she cared about in her free-time.

“I decided almost randomly to give myself a 6-months deadline to prove that I could make it work as a full-time career or I’d go back and get a job.  I put myself under-pressure to work it around school and pre-school and I also had our youngest child at home for the first 5 months. 

I’d work mostly in the evenings and in free moments during the day.  I probably made it more stressful that it needed to be but that’s how I work.  Knowing that I had a tight time-frame was important.  It gave me a clear focus.  I could have extended the original time-frame but it would have felt like failure.  

It was absolutely exhausting looking after the kids during the day and working at night.  I put myself under a great deal of pressure to secure ad hoc freelancing work and even managed also to secure a few regular gigs.  

The timing might have been a coincidence, but I also won an award for Best Parenting Blog by the Irish Blog Awards at the 6-month mark which I felt was symbolic.  It sort of cemented the idea that this was possible.

The 6-month experiment was a success.  I knew it was possible simply because I’d done it.  I broke out the bubbly and moved my big box of work dresses to the attic.

Towards the end of the 6-month trial, my youngest entered pre-school which then meant I had 2.5hrs every morning as well as the evenings to do more work without spending any extra on child-care. 

Keeping childcare costs at an absolute minimum was and is the key to my flexibility.   The compromise is that over school holidays I don’t get to do as much work as I might want to or attend as many events as I’d like to.  But these are compromises I’m more than happy to make to enjoy the privilege of doing work that I love.”

What Andrea learned?

·         If you can, do something you love.

Not everyone can love their work every day, whether it’s paid or unpaid.  You have to be in a particular place, at a particular time, to be able to take the risk that I took with my career change.  But the risk has paid off.

·         Redundancy was the best thing that ever happened.

I would never have been able to trial a writing career without the redundancy package and the support of my family.

·         A little risk is a good thing.

Taking a little risk is worth it if you could find work that might make you happy, that might allow you to feel engaged and to find opportunities to learn.  

 ·         You might not need to do something that you love.

Doing something that you enjoy or are good enough at that you can enjoy enough work-life balance that you don’t need to lie down when you get home from can be very fulfilling.

·         Unromantic practicalities matter.

It’s necessary to focus on the unromantic practicalities to be able to make an informed decision.  Like getting a real grip on your overheads.  Your savings.  Agreeing how much you are prepared to spend on experiments.  Without the redundancy money, we couldn’t have made it work but there are other ways that we might have made it work.  I was already doing some freelance work while working full-time and it didn’t drain me.  I could have continued down that path.

·         Nothing is perfect.

There are always sacrifices and compromises.  It can be challenging enough just keeping it together on some days.

·        Employ a career coach, if you can afford it.

I was so lucky to have a career coach included in my redundancy package and she was brilliant.  The good ones aren’t cheap.  If you’re at a cross-roads but using all your energy just keeping things moving – work, home and family, it’s hard to change the way you think about work.

You often need a different perspective to help you see work from a different angle and someone to help you think through the practicalities while you take the next steps.  My career coach prompted me with great questions and re-framed some of my thoughts from a completely different angle.  That helped greatly.  I can’t recommend getting a career coach enough, if you can.

·         It can be a bit of an emotional and financial rollercoaster ride. 

Although I’m writing books full-time now, I’ve had times when I felt my funds running low.  I would panic worrying that I didn’t have enough work.  Then, the very next day I’d wake up and start to panic because I had too much work!   But that’s the way of freelancing, I think.  You don’t have total control of your earnings.   

I still work a lot in the evenings but that’s my choice.  That’s the life of someone who is self-employed. I’m happy to give up my free hours in the evenings.  Happier than I’d ever be if I was back earning a regular salary.”

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

“Amazing!  It’s amazing every day.  I’ve never had a moment of regret. It feels brilliant!  Of course, it’s not brilliant every minute of every day.  As I sit here talking to you, I’m sitting at my kitchen table, on a sunny day staring at the undone breakfast dishes.

Some weeks I’ve got no meetings because am just writing and that can feel a little lonely - in between school runs.  But I’m still doing something I love. 

I will never go back, unless I can’t pay the mortgage!”

Regrets?

“None!”

 

Find out more about Andrea: (Please add any social media links incase anyone wants to contact you/buy books etc.)

Website: OfficeMum.ie

Twitter: @Office_Mum

Instagram: @officemum

Facebook: Office Mum – Andrea Mara

Linkedin: Andrea Mara


 


Kelly-Ann Grimes - Hospitality IT COO to PA franchise owner

“I was in my mid-40s and I began to consider how many more years I wanted to or needed to work which led me to think through how I wanted to spend that remaining time.”

“It feels like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  I’m in charge of my own destiny and it feels good. I’m enjoying not doing it for others but doing it for myself.”

Overview of earlier career.

Kelly-Ann spent 29 years in the hospitality industry working her way up from junior roles to an Operations Director role for a group of hotels and then COO for a technology business whose clients were in the hospitality industry.

The trigger for change?

“The main trigger occurred after 3 years in my last company, it merged with another business and my position was no longer required.

A few years ago, I’d toyed with the idea of starting my own business, but I had no idea what I wanted to do, and as I didn’t understand what it would take to do it, it felt too risky.  When I left my last company, I re-considered the idea.

I knew I was in my mid-40s and I began to consider how many more years I wanted to/needed to work which led me to think through how I wanted to spend that remaining time.   I knew that I was fed up working 60 hours a week for someone else.  We all work those hours when we are in our 20s and building our career but I had begun to feel like a commodity.  I made the decision - I wanted to work for myself.”

First steps?

“I began to think through what I was good at, what I loved to do and what I could actually do without intensive re-training. 

I discovered that I loved to organise, was great at planning projects and decided that I would really love to be a PA.  I began to do some research and came across a franchise opportunity that would fit really well called Pink Spaghetti.   It was a lightbulb moment.  

They offered head office, marketing and social media support while I would be responsible for finding my own clients.  After meeting with them and doing some more research to understand if my area was available I decided that if I didn’t do it then, that I may never do it.   It was too good of an opportunity to miss.”

What Kelly-Ann learned? 

·         “You need to trust your instincts and believe in yourself.

 ·         Even though everything felt right it certainly wasn’t easy. 

After so many years of working in teams with constant interaction I was surprised to find working alone difficult. That has been a hard adjustment, but I have set my goals to secure enough business to employ someone to work along-side me as soon as I can.

 ·         Networking has always terrified me

I’m not naturally good at talking to strangers.  But, I’ve found networking with other small business owners really good – there is none of that super-competitive corporate stuff going on

It is a very welcoming collaborative environment and even amongst people who do similar things to me, I’ve received offers of support that were so pleasantly unexpected.”

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

“It feels like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  I’m in charge of my own destiny and it feels good. I’m enjoying not doing it for others but doing it for myself.

I feel happier at home with my children and husband and more relaxed with my friends.  The kids interact with me more than before (but they are teenagers of course!).  They said I’m not so short with them and grumpy.  Not that I was grumpy all the time of course!  

There are different stresses financially but I’m not as stressed as I was before.  

You get to an age where the financials are not as important as other things.”

Regrets?

“No – definitely not.  It feels like I am doing the right thing.”



Julian Abel - Various Careers to Food Entrepreneur

“We knew that if we didn’t try, we’d always regret it.”

“I might be doing something I love but I’m also working longer hours than I’ve ever worked.”

Julian Abel.jpg

Overview of earlier career:

“I undertook a 4-year apprenticeship in mechanical engineering with the MOD in the early 80’s and loved all the top secret, defence of the realm style projects and stayed for further year before deciding to study my first love at Manchester Polytechnic – Photographic Technology.  Basically, everything else to do with the photographic process other than the arty side. It was all applied and forensic photography, Holography and the chemical interactions between film and developer chemicals – it was fascinating.

Following my graduation in 1989 I became a camera repair technician, combining my love of photography and high precision engineering and after a couple of years became UK service manager for a luxury Japanese camera importer based in Reading.

Julian Abel Camera.JPG

Two years of long distance commuting from Lancashire to Reading, 90+ hour weeks and a growing interest in starting my own company meant that in 1993, I started my own professional photographic equipment repairs company based in Manchester and did that until I sold it in 2000.

I then had three years working for the company that bought me out, doing similar work. That was an unmitigated disaster. My wife and I had made a little money on the house we bought years ago, sold it, paid off the mortgage and bought and renovated houses for a while.”

The trigger for change:

“Both my wife and I have always loved food. Real food. Home-cooked. I’d been on various courses over the years learning to cook but I was certainly not a chef. We often discussed the generation of children of the 80s and 90s who’d never been taught to cook and were now parents. Parents who used pre-prepared food that was often really high in fat, salt and preservatives because there were no healthy and affordable alternatives.

We talked about some of the prepared sauces we saw on the market and just knew we could do it better. We had an itch to try to prove that pre-prepared food could be made with real ingredients that tasted great but without all the rubbish, the minimum of ingredients but with the maximum taste.

We knew that if we didn’t try, we’d always regret it. So, we took the plunge.“

Karen Walker 2 Nowt.JPG

First steps:

“After we’d decided on the brand name, we asked a corporate lawyer friend to have a look at it and she asked for opinions around her office. The resounding opinion was that Nowt Poncy was the freshest brand name that they’d seen in a decade and highly recommended we trademark it.

So we did.

We thought that we would trademark into two areas related to food but on the advice of our trademark attorney, ended up in eleven areas such as clothing, accommodation, insurance, telecommunications and a few more. Essentially, a high quality product without all the bull****.

We started small by creating just one product, our premium Tomato and Basil Sauce without all the nasties that other commercially-made sauces are made with, closely followed by our Curry Sauce that’s nothing like the curries you find in a UK curry house.  

Then we took it back to our roots at Manchester Metropolitan University, to their food science department to check whether they thought we were crazy or not. They didn’t. They were fantastically supportive and helped us get started by recommending a lab to help with shelf-life testing and other necessary food industry tests like nutritionals and of course labelling that was suitable for trading standards approval.

That kicked off an intense learning journey over that first year that blew our minds. Packaging, hygiene standards, labelling, bottling, testing, brands, trademarks, marketing, legals, distribution, retailing ……. the list goes on.

We knew nothing at that point but had to know everything to even enter the market.

We’ve since branched out into our other sauces and been stocked in major retailers. Additionally, we have a growing e-commerce presence and our sugar claims have recently been validated by the internationally recognised Sugarwise.org.”

What Julian learned:

·         “We can’t do everything well, but we had to do everything until we were big enough to get specialists to help us.

Everything is a steep learning curve but social media learning has been harder than other areas simply because is wasn’t something we grew up with. We are beginning to get some specialist help with that now which is a relief. 

Having to be knowledgeable on operations, marketing, sales and distribution at the same time is a stretch which is why Karen now deals with Ops, finance and customer services.

 ·         I might be doing something I love but I’m also working longer hours than I’ve ever worked.

We have a grand plan but at the moment we are in the depths of brand building.

We knew we had great products but we didn’t know anything else and the sheer size of the food business means we needed to learn so much. That takes time. You need plenty of energy, boundless enthusiasm and a thick skin to help keep negativity at bay.

You also need to be mentally fit. Our vision for the brand is much wider than just food but this is way beyond our skillsets at the moment and at some stage we will need someone to help us create the path forward.

·          Finding the right business support is key

Some days we feel like we are swimming in a sea full of sharks and we’re so far from the shore that we need to paddle much faster than we feel capable of.

That’s when finding people who can nudge you along your business journey becomes so important. People who are helping for the sake of helping, not just to line their own pockets.  We’ve come across both types but it soon becomes obvious which ones are ready to come on the long-haul journey with you.

·          Changing careers in your 50s can be really exhausting.

No one told us about the financial black hole of the food industry. There was so much to learn and we needed to learn it all if we wanted to be successful.

We sometimes joke we wish we had done this twenty years ago because it really is exhausting.

I know mid 50’s is no age but the physical and mental demands of starting and running a food company with all the margins, deals, logistics and physical manufacturing of the products as well as deliveries is a huge challenge every day.

·         You can’t do it half-heartedly

If you believe in the service or the product that you offer you have no other choice but to JUST DO IT

·          Small or large, being in business can be stressful. Sharing the downs as well as the ups is freeing and can give others reassurance.

I went to a business event recently with some really impressive CEOs in the food industry and was asked to speak for a few minutes about our brand and our journey.

I was so honest about some of my worries, my hopes and my fears that a few of these uber successes of the food world chatted to me privately at the end. They told me that they wake up worrying about exactly the same things as I do, just on a bigger scale. That was so reassuring as they seemed so confident and so successful.

The truth is, we’re all worried about where the next sales will come from.”   

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

Julian Abel 2.JPG

“We have definitely done the right thing!

Every day we are waking up to our new selves. We are loving creating and growing the Nowt Poncy brand one mouth at a time.

It’s fantastic when we watch people taste our products for the first time.  Their eyes sort of pop open with the ‘My God, it tastes homemade - it’s real food’ feeling.

We’ve become brand freaks. Obsessed by what other brands do well or badly. I will hang around in supermarket isles watching which brands people go for and asking them why they chose it. Price? Branding? Offers? It’s a fascinating subject.

Karen is forever saying “will you come on” as I pick up products and pull their labelling apart.”

Any regrets?

“None at all!  We would have had many more regrets if we hadn’t done it. If we were sitting in our dotage, we would have been having one of those recurring if-only conversations. There are huge highs and equally huge lows but we are moving forward, albeit slowly and carefully.

We face daily challenges and have to find ways around them but giving up is just not an option. Challenges are what being self-employed is all about and if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

Find out more about Julian, and his wife Karen’s, business The Nowt Poncy Food Company:

Website: www.nowtponcy.co.uk

Twitter:@nowtponcy

Instagram:@nowtponcy

Facebook:@nowtponcy

Linkedin: nowtponcy



Karen Walker - Head Teacher to Food Entrepreneur

“We just had the feeling that it was a now or never moment. That we’d regret in our old age if we didn’t do it. So, we did it.”

Karen Walker and Julian Abel

Overview of earlier career.

“I graduated from teacher training in 1988 and taught in mainstream schools for 10 years.   After that I joined the special educational needs sector and worked with children with learning difficulties and additional needs and felt like I was doing joyful work. 

I moved up through the ranks to Deputy Head Teacher and absolutely loved that job.  I enjoyed supporting the goals of the Headteacher.  It was a joy.

But all that changed.”   

The trigger for change?

“I was encouraged to apply for a Headteacher role in a special school.  I had no intention of going for it because I didn’t really want to be a Headteacher but I buckled under the pressure of other people’s faith in my abilities and agreed I’d go to the interview. 

Even preparing for the interview, which was a 2 day assessment process, was painful.  I did well and was offered the job.  That’s when the trouble started.

There were so many problems.  I couldn’t make the changes I wanted to and didn’t have the support I needed.  I tried in every way possible to make it work, to the extent that it made me ill.  I was working every waking moment.  With no down time.  Feeling very, very stressed.  In the end, I left the position, but it had taken a great toll on my health.

One of the saddest things is that I knew deep down that the role was not for me but having accepted it, I worked unbelievably hard to do my best to improve the school.

After I left, I went straight home and got into my bed and pretty much stayed there for 6 weeks.  Julian cared for me every minute.  I emerged slowly and continued to rebuild myself slowly. The recovery process was a long and hard one and took well over 18 months.” 

First steps?

“Christmas was approaching and since our household was living on one salary, we were economising.  We decided to spend some time making a really simple tomato and basil sauce, bottling it, wrapping a couple up in pretty gift wrap and hand-crafting little labels to give to friends and neighbours instead of presents.  

We gave one of these little packages to our local butcher. He tasted it and said if we could make more, he could sell them.   We did and then began to think more seriously about the idea of setting up a food company, selling similar simple, tasty, healthy natural sauces for people who are time poor but don’t want to eat pre-packed sauces with lots of nasties.

After long discussions, we just had the feeling that it was a now or never moment.  That we’d regret in our old age if we didn’t do it.  So, we did it.   We created our Now’t Poncy brand and began to figure out how to create a food company from scratch.”

What Karen has learned? 

·         “It’s a marathon not a sprint.  Julian said that to me recently and it’s true.  We’re trying to pace ourselves and our expectations.

·         You need to be prepared to live on a shoe-string given the investment required to start a food business.    Even though we had savings and I had a lump sum from my pension we still needed more money.  The company is a bit of a money pit.  It swallows up money like you have no idea!  2 years in we’ve stopped needing to put in lumps of cash from savings and using sales to purchase ingredients, but we are still experiencing the lean years where every penny was going towards our dream.

·         If you can get a part-time job while you are building the business up, do.  In the beginning Julian encouraged me to help out a friend in his business a couple of days a week, just to help me get back some of my old confidence.  I’m still working there which has been great for lots of reasons, not least to have a little regular cash coming in.

·         You need a huge amount of energy and drive to launch a food business.  We only recently reached the turning point, 2 years from starting.   Rather than going out there every day pushing the business, people are now starting to come to us.  We now feel really connected within the food industry but that has taken time and a great deal of effort – primarily from Julian – to put us on the map.

·         It takes time to build a business.   At the minute we are probably working 6 days and week and on day 7 we don’t work but we think, talk and plan for a few hours of that day.   It is definitely not a 9-5 job, but we love it.   We were brought up by strong parents who taught us to do what it takes and to work hard to achieve your goals.   We know that if we put in the time and effort, we will reap the rewards.

·         You need to know yourself.  I love supporting Julian.  He works so hard and it’s good to be able to take some of the responsibility from him. I love splitting the responsibility with someone rather than holding it all in my hands.   I am more comfortable in this situation.

·         You need to be willing to learn and ask for advice.  We’ve learned so much about everything from manufacturing, labelling, jarring, sales, marketing, accounts, etc., but social media has been one of the trickiest to learn.  We’re at a stage now where we need extra help.  We’ve begun to utilise the skills of younger associates, people who can help us market to the younger generation and who understand the way in which they interact with social media.

·         Having a fantastic partner beside me to work on this business and go on this life journey with has made it all so much more enjoyable.   We used to be ships that passed in the night – I’d either be working or sleeping.  Now, not only do we spend our free time together, we spend a great deal of our work time together too.  We never ever thought we’d be working together but we work incredibly well together.  We don’t have children so our focus is each other and the business.

·         Knowing what I’ve been through, I have to prioritise down time.   If not, my brain goes into shock and then I can’t work smartly and nothing gets done.   As long as I get some down-time regularly, I feel re-generated and raring to go.

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

“It feels incredible to be working on our business with Julian all day.  We have such a great partnership.  I couldn’t do this without him – I have so much appreciation for his talents, his driving force.  

We’ve just taken on a little office space which was offered to us by a friend a few weeks ago.   We have a marvellous start to the morning where we get up, have breakfast, do about an hour of work from home and then go to the office to kick start the rest of the day. Working outside the house, but still being together is fantastic.”

Regrets?

I shouldn’t have taken the Headteacher’s job.  I knew before I went to the interview that it wasn’t for me.  But everyone else had such faith in me.  I should have listened to my instincts.

My only regret about setting up Nowt Poncy is that we didn’t do it in our 30s.  Some days I really feel every one of my 56 years!  But I suppose if we had done it in our 30s we’d have more energy but we also wouldn’t have all the life experience of dealing with lots of different people and different situations.  That has helped us considerably.  

If you think about it like that it’s a positive.  We’ve got experience instead of energy – it probably all balances out!


Find out more about Karen and her husband’s, business The Nowt Poncy Food Company:

Website: www.nowtponcy.co.uk

Twitter:@nowtponcy

Instagram:@nowtponcy

Facebook:@nowtponcy

Linkedin: nowtponcy

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.”

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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.”

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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/