Career change

Sam Caporn - Corporate Wine Trade to own consultancy - The Mistress of Wine

"I wanted to take control of the situation and asked if I could work part-time. I was offered a four-day week but was told that I’d have to ‘keep my phone on’ on Friday which would never have worked as it didn’t really change anything. After talking it through with my husband, I decided to resign to focus on exactly what I needed to focus on. That decision changed everything."

"Then since my son went to school, I’ve been able to grow the business much faster by picking up more work and building my profile. I presented on BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen for a year or so as one of their wine experts."

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Overview of earlier career.

Most of career spent in the wine trade working for big companies.  Long haul travel at least once a month to countries like Australia, South Africa and California.

The trigger for change?

“There were two real triggers which prompted my change. The first was that I was struggling to get pregnant.  The second was that even though I had passed my Master of Wine exams first time (less that 1% pass exams first time) I was completely stuck on my dissertation and still hadn’t passed it after five years.   I wanted to take control of the situation and asked if I could work part-time.  I was offered a four-day week but was told that I’d have to ‘keep my phone on’ on Friday which would never have worked as it didn’t really change anything.  After talking it through with my husband, I decided to resign to focus on exactly what I needed to focus on. That decision changed everything. 

I resigned in Jan 2011, was pregnant a couple of months later by March and passed my dissertation that same year, in September, to become one of only 370 people worldwide to have gained the title Master of Wine.  I loved being a mum and didn’t want to go back to a full-time job.  After resigning and therefore having no job to go back to anyway, it definitely freed up space for me to think creatively about my future.  It was pretty common to go freelance in the wine industry, so I thought I’d give it a go.”

First steps?

“Knowing that brand was so important in the wine industry, I met with a design consultant and sorted name, brand and website out but a silly mistake (the name selected was widely already used) meant that a speedy re-brand was required.  Over time, I slowly did little bits and pieces of work to keep my hand in while my son was very young – the odd bit of wine judging or running tasting sessions and events. 

Then since my son went to school, I’ve been able to grow the business much faster by picking up more work and building my profile.  I presented on BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen for a year or so as one of their wine experts and now work with Aldi as their Wine Expert which is a new and exciting assignment for me.  

Some people have loved my wine flavour tree infographic and this has given me a nice USP to use at corporate dinners, events and the like.

I’ve started to do more travel again, but I largely work around my son.”

What Sam has learned?  Advice she might offer to others in a similar situation?

“It’s been really important for me to connect with people who do what I do.  For instance, my first client came from a recommendation from another Master of Wine who was too busy to take on a particular assignment.   

Connecting with others who do what you do and understand what you do allows you to price yourself correctly.  I started off offering my services at a very reasonable price to ensure I was competitive and as you get more work and grow in confidence you can slowly increase annual rates. 

There will always be people doing the same things as you do.  You need to find the gap and fill it with your own personal style.  It helps to know your competitors so that you understand the market gap.   It’s also really interesting to understand related industries – for me technology and food are very interesting industries and I watch how they change and try to figure out the impact on my industry.

Talk to customers, listen to relevant podcasts, communicate with potential customers, clients and people all around your industry.

You’ve got to know where your interests and talents lie.  For instance, lots of freelance people write blogs but I have little interest in blogging.  I have lots of interest in wine and the business of wine so I’d prefer to be teaching all sorts of people about wine.

By understanding what you are good at and why you are good at it, keeps you very interested in what you’re doing which I think shows to the outside world.

Have faith.  If you love what you are doing and are working hard at getting your message out there, the right people will find you…not necessarily the people you want to find you but the right people. But that does take time.

As you get older, satisfaction and balance become more important that they were before.

I took it at my pace which may not be right for everyone.  It would be hard to hit the ground running. In that case, it would be important to figure out what your USP is as quickly as possible.

You have to be real. You have to be genuine as if your brand is built on you, you have to represent and reflect the real you at all times.”

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

“I wouldn’t do much differently…I perhaps wasted time re-branding and I definitely wasn’t quite clear enough on what I wanted.

If I had to hit the ground running, I would have planned more, had a clearer strategy and understood my USP earlier but I allowed myself that time to evolve while loving being a mum.   To start faster than I did, you’d need to be very clear on your goals.  After that, networking opportunities become clear and you’d need to be very visible to get clients earlier than I did.  I did all that in a 5-year time span working part-time but I think it could be done in 2 years working full-time”

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

“Satisfying, really satisfying…and free.  I work hard but if the sun is shining, I have a lovely glass of wine and sit in the garden!”

 

Find out more about Sam and her WINE CONSULTANCY:

Sam Caporn -  The Mistress of Wine

 

 

Elizabeth Draper - Film Business Executive to Gluten-free Baker

At the age of 48, Elizabeth was made redundant.  Oddly redundancy, gave her the permission to stop trying to make things fit her old identity and to attempt to use her other passion to do more fulfilling work.

“I can now do what I want to do, not what is expected of me. I could stop tidying up my CV which had begun to look less linear and less focussed as I lost faith in my old career. It was liberating.”

ElizabethDraperwithCake.jpg

Overview of earlier career

Elizabeth’s career began when she joined a small art house film distributor.  Over the years she moved to other small independent distributors where she gained experience in sales, marketing and buying.  She enjoyed the privileges of a life travelling all over the globe to attend film festivals to acquire new films for her companies.  In the later stages of her career Elizabeth grew to one of the most senior Executives in the independent film industry.

The trigger for change

A feeling of career discomfort had been rumbling under the surface for probably 5 or 6 years.  Elizabeth described it “something was telling me that my future was no longer here – part of me needed to do something else”.   Rather than making a giant leap into the unknown Elizabeth threw herself into consulting for a few years to see if she could quiet the career discomfort voice in her head by learning slightly different niches of the broader film industry or companies located around the fringes of the industry to understand if she could find more fulfilling work.

In one of those steps, she became an expert in the digital transmission of other art forms into cinema which was interesting but ultimately at the age of 48, Elizabeth was made redundant.  Oddly redundancy, gave her the permission to stop trying to make things fit her old identity and to attempt to use her other passion to do more fulfilling work. “I can now do what I want to do, not what is expected of me.  I could stop tidying up my CV which had begun to look less linear and less focussed as I lost faith in my old career.  It was liberating.”

ElizabethDraperKitchen.jpg

First steps?

The first steps were “baby steps”.  Elizabeth felt that she needed to brush off all ego and any desires she had to keep her previous organisational and financial status to allow her to do something that loved and to start at the bottom of a new industry.  Her first passion had been cinema and her other big passion is baking.   She started “where everyone starts” by baking in her tiny home kitchen and taking the results to a variety of street markets in London.   She began testing her bakes in Brick Lane Market to “understand if people liked my baking, if they would buy my bakes and how much they might buy.”   

When Elizabeth heard that Greenwich Waterstones would be opening the new Café W, she camped outside until she created an opportunity to meet with decision-makers on baked goods.  She offered to be their gluten-free baked products supplier.   “It took 8 months of badgering/negotiation/opening doors before they agreed to sell my cakes.”  It has been a huge success and now Elizabeth has been taken on as a main supplier for all Café Ws across the Waterstones chain.   

What Elizabeth learned?

“I had learned many things in my previous career that were crucial to the success of my new career.  My tenacity, my persuasive power, my negotiation skills all have taken me business to where it is today.”

“Over those eight months of trying to tie down a deal with Waterstones, I continued to attend street markets, sold to other independent cafes, learned about packaging, pricing, delivery and building a wholesaling business from my home kitchen.  I spent every penny of savings I had accumulated to be able to succeed.”  She describes having unwavering belief even in days where she was working 18hr days that if she couldn’t make it work, no-one could.”

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

“I had all of these skills and understood the financial principles of business but in my old career I had always had the support of great finance strategists and accountants.  I wrongly thought I could do it all.  If I had to do it all again, I would definitely employ a partner whose financial skills complemented my operations, sales and marketing skills.  I would encourage others considering this move to find a trusted advisor who can help with investment and cash flow planning whilst you focus on the business.”

Elizabeth hinted that her previous career success had given her a certain status and identity which was difficult to walk away from - “If I had been less concerned about losing my identity as a successful senior executive in the film industry,  I’d have been much happier long ago.”

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

“I feel free. It’s liberating. Even on the days when I have financial headaches and a tonne of deadlines, I feel free.  I have confidence that I am walking on the right path and that whatever is thrown at me, I can handle.   I know that there is nothing else that I should be doing right now.”

“My close friends tell me that they are glad to see me doing this as I look so much happier.”   Not everyone thinks this though – about half of my old colleagues who see me selling in Berwick Street market in SoHo - the hub of the film industry – avoid catching my eye as I now no longer fit with their image of success.  The other half are delighted to see me, buy a box of cakes and say the board will be delighted to know where they came from.”

Any regrets?

“Not a regret so much but I do wish I had started earlier.  Those 5/6 years when I was doing consulting work in my old industry could have been more valuably spent doing more fulfilling work here.   Whilst I am not physically perhaps as strong as some of my younger competitors, I have gained so many skills from my previous career that they may not have.  Experience counts.” 

Check out Elizabeth's beautiful bakes here: http://elizabethdbakes.co.uk/

Ben Fielding - Corporate IT to IT business owner

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"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.”

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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