"I wanted to take control of the situation and asked if I could work part-time. I was offered a four-day week but was told that I’d have to ‘keep my phone on’ on Friday which would never have worked as it didn’t really change anything. After talking it through with my husband, I decided to resign to focus on exactly what I needed to focus on. That decision changed everything."
"Then since my son went to school, I’ve been able to grow the business much faster by picking up more work and building my profile. I presented on BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen for a year or so as one of their wine experts."
Overview of earlier career.
Most of career spent in the wine trade working for big companies. Long haul travel at least once a month to countries like Australia, South Africa and California.
The trigger for change?
“There were two real triggers which prompted my change. The first was that I was struggling to get pregnant. The second was that even though I had passed my Master of Wine exams first time (less that 1% pass exams first time) I was completely stuck on my dissertation and still hadn’t passed it after five years. I wanted to take control of the situation and asked if I could work part-time. I was offered a four-day week but was told that I’d have to ‘keep my phone on’ on Friday which would never have worked as it didn’t really change anything. After talking it through with my husband, I decided to resign to focus on exactly what I needed to focus on. That decision changed everything.
I resigned in Jan 2011, was pregnant a couple of months later by March and passed my dissertation that same year, in September, to become one of only 370 people worldwide to have gained the title Master of Wine. I loved being a mum and didn’t want to go back to a full-time job. After resigning and therefore having no job to go back to anyway, it definitely freed up space for me to think creatively about my future. It was pretty common to go freelance in the wine industry, so I thought I’d give it a go.”
“Knowing that brand was so important in the wine industry, I met with a design consultant and sorted name, brand and website out but a silly mistake (the name selected was widely already used) meant that a speedy re-brand was required. Over time, I slowly did little bits and pieces of work to keep my hand in while my son was very young – the odd bit of wine judging or running tasting sessions and events.
Then since my son went to school, I’ve been able to grow the business much faster by picking up more work and building my profile. I presented on BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen for a year or so as one of their wine experts and now work with Aldi as their Wine Expert which is a new and exciting assignment for me.
Some people have loved my wine flavour tree infographic and this has given me a nice USP to use at corporate dinners, events and the like.
I’ve started to do more travel again, but I largely work around my son.”
What Sam has learned? Advice she might offer to others in a similar situation?
“It’s been really important for me to connect with people who do what I do. For instance, my first client came from a recommendation from another Master of Wine who was too busy to take on a particular assignment.
Connecting with others who do what you do and understand what you do allows you to price yourself correctly. I started off offering my services at a very reasonable price to ensure I was competitive and as you get more work and grow in confidence you can slowly increase annual rates.
There will always be people doing the same things as you do. You need to find the gap and fill it with your own personal style. It helps to know your competitors so that you understand the market gap. It’s also really interesting to understand related industries – for me technology and food are very interesting industries and I watch how they change and try to figure out the impact on my industry.
Talk to customers, listen to relevant podcasts, communicate with potential customers, clients and people all around your industry.
You’ve got to know where your interests and talents lie. For instance, lots of freelance people write blogs but I have little interest in blogging. I have lots of interest in wine and the business of wine so I’d prefer to be teaching all sorts of people about wine.
By understanding what you are good at and why you are good at it, keeps you very interested in what you’re doing which I think shows to the outside world.
Have faith. If you love what you are doing and are working hard at getting your message out there, the right people will find you…not necessarily the people you want to find you but the right people. But that does take time.
As you get older, satisfaction and balance become more important that they were before.
I took it at my pace which may not be right for everyone. It would be hard to hit the ground running. In that case, it would be important to figure out what your USP is as quickly as possible.
You have to be real. You have to be genuine as if your brand is built on you, you have to represent and reflect the real you at all times.”
What Sam would do differently if she had to do it all again?
“I wouldn’t do much differently…I perhaps wasted time re-branding and I definitely wasn’t quite clear enough on what I wanted.
If I had to hit the ground running, I would have planned more, had a clearer strategy and understood my USP earlier but I allowed myself that time to evolve while loving being a mum. To start faster than I did, you’d need to be very clear on your goals. After that, networking opportunities become clear and you’d need to be very visible to get clients earlier than I did. I did all that in a 5-year time span working part-time but I think it could be done in 2 years working full-time”
How it feels on the days when she knows she has made the right decision?
“Satisfying, really satisfying…and free. I work hard but if the sun is shining, I have a lovely glass of wine and sit in the garden!”
Find out more about Sam and her WINE CONSULTANCY:
Sam Caporn - The Mistress of Wine