Side hustle - main hustle

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




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


 


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  


 

Ben Fielding - Corporate IT to IT business owner

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

Overview of earlier career

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

The trigger for change?

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

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

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

First steps?

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

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

What Ben learned?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any regrets?

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

Click here to check out Blucando's website

Click here to check out Blucando's website


http://blucando.it

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

Kate Gregory - Aerospace & Defence career to Gin Distilling

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

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

Kate Gregory - Outside her Gin Distillery in Dorking

Kate Gregory - Outside her Gin Distillery in Dorking

Overview of earlier career.

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

The trigger for change?

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

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

First steps?

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

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

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

What Kate learned?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any regrets?

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

 

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

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

 


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

http://gin.kitchen   @theginkitchen

Kate Gregory Absinthe launch invite.jpg