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/