Full-time to flexible

Lou Kirby - Project Manager to Publisher & Life Satisfaction Coach - simultaneously.

“We gain confidence by doing things.  And that’s how we change our comfort zone - by stepping out of it.”

“I have my health and I have friends - some of whom have been very ill.  That’s a big driver for me...to be in charge of my own destiny, doing work that I’ve chosen to do.”

Lou Kirby.jpg

Overview of earlier career 

My background is in business project management and I worked at Microsoft for a large part of my career.  I looked after teams in various parts of Asia and South America so did a lot of travel which I loved – such a great way to see the world! 

The trigger for change? 

After the kids came along I couldn’t do the travel, so I resigned and secured a job locally 2 days a week. 

There was lots of change around this time.  Becoming a mum had a huge impact on me and my own mum passed away in an accident when I was pregnant. 

I had also hit my 40’s and felt this loss of identity and loss of confidence. I started to question what I wanted out of life too!  Was I doing what I wanted to do? Had I achieved what I had set out to achieve etc?

I’d always been interested in women’s confidence and thought I’d write a book about it - so I did. And sent it to a publisher. They really liked the content but told me I needed a platform before they would consider publishing it. 

 I began to talk to lots of different women and realised lack of confidence affects so many of us.  And I really wanted to do something about it!  

Another trigger for change was the prospect of regret, later on in life.  There were still so many things that I wanted to do and wanted to make sure that I actually did them!

These were all the drivers for me in setting up Woman Ready.

First steps

Working 2 days a week has given me the time to work on my other job - the platform I created (womanready) on the other days of the week and also be around for the kids. 

I spent a little time each day in the beginning learning what I needed to know: How to set up a website, how to do social media, how to get a little PR...everything. I also trained and qualified as a coach through The Coaching Academy. 

My end goal is to create a hugely successful platform and publish my book.  In the meantime, I’m building Woman Ready and focussing on my coaching business.  Our mission is to help women to recognise their potential, embrace who they are (as they are) and believe in themselves more. 

Lou Kirby 3.JPG

What Lou learned

  • Don’t give up the day job!

That’s my biggest learning.  Setting up Woman Ready has taken a lot of time and effort and initially you make little or no money. 

I was in a position where I had to change jobs however if this hadn’t been the case, I would have tried to juggle my ‘paid work’ with my new business for longer.   

  • Work-life balance is hard when you are juggling family, a job and a business. 

When it’s your own business, it can become all-consuming.  I could work 24hrs a day.  I try to work in 30minute windows with regular stops. I then stop to pick up the kids from school and try to spend some quality time with them (but do sneak on my phone a bit!). It's a tough one to juggle! 

  • Perfectionism is crippling 

Luckily, I get better at not focussing on perfectionism the busier I get!

  • Be real. 

You need to be authentic. If I make a mistake - I just own up, say sorry and move on. 

  • Nothing happens overnight. 

Don’t get down-hearted when you’ve posted your first tweet and no one notices. It’ll happen but recognise that it just takes time and persistence. 

  • Putting yourself out there is bloody hard but necessary. 

In our heads, everything is worse thant it is in reality. I recently did my first panel discussion and of course I was nervous. But once I got going it was fine.  I even enjoyed it!

  • It’s hard to have a career confidence and children. 

Years ago before the kids arrived, I had a great job, travelled the world, led meetings, gave presentations and got really confident doing all of that.  When I stopped doing those things, I lost confidence.  My comfort zone shrank - temporarily.  

  • Your comfort zone shrinks and enlarges all the time. 

You can learn how to do anything, if you want to.

Before I created Woman Ready, I was not a techie and had no idea how to design a website.  I didn’t know a thing about PR, had never written a blog post or published anything but now I work on all those things all the time. We gain confidence by doing things.  And that’s how we change our comfort zone - by stepping out of it. 

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

Some days you have to just trust your own feelings. Some days, I just go with what I feel and do what feels right.  That’s confidence and I’m getting more of it each day.   Sadly, as women, I think we often look too much for approval from others.

I just have to keep telling myself that I’ve got forty eight years of life experience and twenty-five years of work experience!  

I have my health and I have friends - some of whom have been very ill.  That’s a big driver for me...to be in charge of my own destiny, doing work that I’ve chosen to do. 

Regrets?

If someone had told me it would take me 4 years to get to where I am, would I do it all again?

Mmm, I don’t know.  I’ve very stubborn (my husband calls me pig-headed!) but I’m still totally passionate about helping other women feel as confident as they possibly can. 

Lou Kirby 2.jpg

Find out more about Lou

https://womanready.com

email: lou@womanready.com

Instagram @womanreadyblog

Twitter @womanreadyblog

Pinterest @womanready

Facebook @womanreadyblog

Other career change stories you might like:

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.”

“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 .” Stephen Hall

“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.” Stephen Hall

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’d hoped and he was forced to walk away.

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/


Some other career change stories you might like:

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/


Some other career change stories you might enjoy:

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




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


 


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

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

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

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

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

 

Career overview:

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

What triggered a change?

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

First steps?

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

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

What did you learn during that process?

  •  Knowing what makes our family happy makes it easy to say no to things that don’t fit.  

We love being on the water in any form – paddle-boarding, surfing, diving or kayaking.  We love walking our dog on the beach which is 10 mins away.  I love a single malt whiskey of an evening. None of these things cost a fortune so our lifestyle is not lavish.

  • I was able to turn the skills I learned previously in the practice

I just pointed them in a different direction, towards setting up my own business supporting local estate agencies doing EPC Surveys.

  • On average, I earn about half as much as I used to but seem to have the same about of money in my pocket.

  • Paying off the mortgage was the key to my flexibility. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regrets?

“I have plenty of regrets about the recession happening but not regrets about how I reacted.   In a perfect world, I’d be doing work that I absolutely love every single day but I really enjoy half of the work I do – the other half gives me financial stability to enjoy the flexibility.  

Over-time, I’ve developed a system where I have regular income from multiple part-time sources which gives me amazing freedom and flexibility.  I get to be out on the Atlantic Ocean many days a week when others are sitting in offices or doing long commutes.  

I am very fit and healthy for a 50 year old.  I have almost no commute, a fabulous relationship with my daughter and wife based on time together doing the things we like to do together.”

 

 

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

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

Previous Career Overview

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

Trigger for change?

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

First steps?

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

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

What Liz discovered?

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

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

Would she do anything differently?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regrets?

”None”

 

 

David James - Full-time finance career to flexible contracting

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

David James - photo taken by his son

Career overview:

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

What triggered a change?

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

First steps?

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

What David learned?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regrets?

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

 

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

Liz Wilson - Teacher to Micro-Baker

“Don’t give up the day job.” 

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

Liz Wilson

Liz Wilson

Previous career overview

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

Trigger for change?

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

First steps?

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

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

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

What Liz discovered?

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

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

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

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

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

What she would do differently?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regrets?

“Not one!”