career change 45

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




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/




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


 


Kelly-Ann Grimes - Hospitality IT COO to PA franchise owner

“I was in my mid-40s and I began to consider how many more years I wanted to or needed to work which led me to think through how I wanted to spend that remaining time.”

“It feels like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  I’m in charge of my own destiny and it feels good. I’m enjoying not doing it for others but doing it for myself.”

Overview of earlier career.

Kelly-Ann spent 29 years in the hospitality industry working her way up from junior roles to an Operations Director role for a group of hotels and then COO for a technology business whose clients were in the hospitality industry.

The trigger for change?

“The main trigger occurred after 3 years in my last company, it merged with another business and my position was no longer required.

A few years ago, I’d toyed with the idea of starting my own business, but I had no idea what I wanted to do, and as I didn’t understand what it would take to do it, it felt too risky.  When I left my last company, I re-considered the idea.

I knew I was in my mid-40s and I began to consider how many more years I wanted to/needed to work which led me to think through how I wanted to spend that remaining time.   I knew that I was fed up working 60 hours a week for someone else.  We all work those hours when we are in our 20s and building our career but I had begun to feel like a commodity.  I made the decision - I wanted to work for myself.”

First steps?

“I began to think through what I was good at, what I loved to do and what I could actually do without intensive re-training. 

I discovered that I loved to organise, was great at planning projects and decided that I would really love to be a PA.  I began to do some research and came across a franchise opportunity that would fit really well called Pink Spaghetti.   It was a lightbulb moment.  

They offered head office, marketing and social media support while I would be responsible for finding my own clients.  After meeting with them and doing some more research to understand if my area was available I decided that if I didn’t do it then, that I may never do it.   It was too good of an opportunity to miss.”

What Kelly-Ann learned? 

·         “You need to trust your instincts and believe in yourself.

 ·         Even though everything felt right it certainly wasn’t easy. 

After so many years of working in teams with constant interaction I was surprised to find working alone difficult. That has been a hard adjustment, but I have set my goals to secure enough business to employ someone to work along-side me as soon as I can.

 ·         Networking has always terrified me

I’m not naturally good at talking to strangers.  But, I’ve found networking with other small business owners really good – there is none of that super-competitive corporate stuff going on

It is a very welcoming collaborative environment and even amongst people who do similar things to me, I’ve received offers of support that were so pleasantly unexpected.”

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

“It feels like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  I’m in charge of my own destiny and it feels good. I’m enjoying not doing it for others but doing it for myself.

I feel happier at home with my children and husband and more relaxed with my friends.  The kids interact with me more than before (but they are teenagers of course!).  They said I’m not so short with them and grumpy.  Not that I was grumpy all the time of course!  

There are different stresses financially but I’m not as stressed as I was before.  

You get to an age where the financials are not as important as other things.”

Regrets?

“No – definitely not.  It feels like I am doing the right thing.”



Julian Abel - Various Careers to Food Entrepreneur

“We knew that if we didn’t try, we’d always regret it.”

“I might be doing something I love but I’m also working longer hours than I’ve ever worked.”

Julian Abel.jpg

Overview of earlier career:

“I undertook a 4-year apprenticeship in mechanical engineering with the MOD in the early 80’s and loved all the top secret, defence of the realm style projects and stayed for further year before deciding to study my first love at Manchester Polytechnic – Photographic Technology.  Basically, everything else to do with the photographic process other than the arty side. It was all applied and forensic photography, Holography and the chemical interactions between film and developer chemicals – it was fascinating.

Following my graduation in 1989 I became a camera repair technician, combining my love of photography and high precision engineering and after a couple of years became UK service manager for a luxury Japanese camera importer based in Reading.

Julian Abel Camera.JPG

Two years of long distance commuting from Lancashire to Reading, 90+ hour weeks and a growing interest in starting my own company meant that in 1993, I started my own professional photographic equipment repairs company based in Manchester and did that until I sold it in 2000.

I then had three years working for the company that bought me out, doing similar work. That was an unmitigated disaster. My wife and I had made a little money on the house we bought years ago, sold it, paid off the mortgage and bought and renovated houses for a while.”

The trigger for change:

“Both my wife and I have always loved food. Real food. Home-cooked. I’d been on various courses over the years learning to cook but I was certainly not a chef. We often discussed the generation of children of the 80s and 90s who’d never been taught to cook and were now parents. Parents who used pre-prepared food that was often really high in fat, salt and preservatives because there were no healthy and affordable alternatives.

We talked about some of the prepared sauces we saw on the market and just knew we could do it better. We had an itch to try to prove that pre-prepared food could be made with real ingredients that tasted great but without all the rubbish, the minimum of ingredients but with the maximum taste.

We knew that if we didn’t try, we’d always regret it. So, we took the plunge.“

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First steps:

“After we’d decided on the brand name, we asked a corporate lawyer friend to have a look at it and she asked for opinions around her office. The resounding opinion was that Nowt Poncy was the freshest brand name that they’d seen in a decade and highly recommended we trademark it.

So we did.

We thought that we would trademark into two areas related to food but on the advice of our trademark attorney, ended up in eleven areas such as clothing, accommodation, insurance, telecommunications and a few more. Essentially, a high quality product without all the bull****.

We started small by creating just one product, our premium Tomato and Basil Sauce without all the nasties that other commercially-made sauces are made with, closely followed by our Curry Sauce that’s nothing like the curries you find in a UK curry house.  

Then we took it back to our roots at Manchester Metropolitan University, to their food science department to check whether they thought we were crazy or not. They didn’t. They were fantastically supportive and helped us get started by recommending a lab to help with shelf-life testing and other necessary food industry tests like nutritionals and of course labelling that was suitable for trading standards approval.

That kicked off an intense learning journey over that first year that blew our minds. Packaging, hygiene standards, labelling, bottling, testing, brands, trademarks, marketing, legals, distribution, retailing ……. the list goes on.

We knew nothing at that point but had to know everything to even enter the market.

We’ve since branched out into our other sauces and been stocked in major retailers. Additionally, we have a growing e-commerce presence and our sugar claims have recently been validated by the internationally recognised Sugarwise.org.”

What Julian learned:

·         “We can’t do everything well, but we had to do everything until we were big enough to get specialists to help us.

Everything is a steep learning curve but social media learning has been harder than other areas simply because is wasn’t something we grew up with. We are beginning to get some specialist help with that now which is a relief. 

Having to be knowledgeable on operations, marketing, sales and distribution at the same time is a stretch which is why Karen now deals with Ops, finance and customer services.

 ·         I might be doing something I love but I’m also working longer hours than I’ve ever worked.

We have a grand plan but at the moment we are in the depths of brand building.

We knew we had great products but we didn’t know anything else and the sheer size of the food business means we needed to learn so much. That takes time. You need plenty of energy, boundless enthusiasm and a thick skin to help keep negativity at bay.

You also need to be mentally fit. Our vision for the brand is much wider than just food but this is way beyond our skillsets at the moment and at some stage we will need someone to help us create the path forward.

·          Finding the right business support is key

Some days we feel like we are swimming in a sea full of sharks and we’re so far from the shore that we need to paddle much faster than we feel capable of.

That’s when finding people who can nudge you along your business journey becomes so important. People who are helping for the sake of helping, not just to line their own pockets.  We’ve come across both types but it soon becomes obvious which ones are ready to come on the long-haul journey with you.

·          Changing careers in your 50s can be really exhausting.

No one told us about the financial black hole of the food industry. There was so much to learn and we needed to learn it all if we wanted to be successful.

We sometimes joke we wish we had done this twenty years ago because it really is exhausting.

I know mid 50’s is no age but the physical and mental demands of starting and running a food company with all the margins, deals, logistics and physical manufacturing of the products as well as deliveries is a huge challenge every day.

·         You can’t do it half-heartedly

If you believe in the service or the product that you offer you have no other choice but to JUST DO IT

·          Small or large, being in business can be stressful. Sharing the downs as well as the ups is freeing and can give others reassurance.

I went to a business event recently with some really impressive CEOs in the food industry and was asked to speak for a few minutes about our brand and our journey.

I was so honest about some of my worries, my hopes and my fears that a few of these uber successes of the food world chatted to me privately at the end. They told me that they wake up worrying about exactly the same things as I do, just on a bigger scale. That was so reassuring as they seemed so confident and so successful.

The truth is, we’re all worried about where the next sales will come from.”   

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

Julian Abel 2.JPG

“We have definitely done the right thing!

Every day we are waking up to our new selves. We are loving creating and growing the Nowt Poncy brand one mouth at a time.

It’s fantastic when we watch people taste our products for the first time.  Their eyes sort of pop open with the ‘My God, it tastes homemade - it’s real food’ feeling.

We’ve become brand freaks. Obsessed by what other brands do well or badly. I will hang around in supermarket isles watching which brands people go for and asking them why they chose it. Price? Branding? Offers? It’s a fascinating subject.

Karen is forever saying “will you come on” as I pick up products and pull their labelling apart.”

Any regrets?

“None at all!  We would have had many more regrets if we hadn’t done it. If we were sitting in our dotage, we would have been having one of those recurring if-only conversations. There are huge highs and equally huge lows but we are moving forward, albeit slowly and carefully.

We face daily challenges and have to find ways around them but giving up is just not an option. Challenges are what being self-employed is all about and if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

Find out more about Julian, and his wife Karen’s, business The Nowt Poncy Food Company:

Website: www.nowtponcy.co.uk

Twitter:@nowtponcy

Instagram:@nowtponcy

Facebook:@nowtponcy

Linkedin: nowtponcy



Lindsay Cornelissen - Corporate banking to wine entrepreneur

“I felt like I'd been in the industry so long that I was on repeat.”

“Someone asked me what my Plan B was, and I didn’t have one which seemed crazy! I needed to take control and create one. ”

“Every Monday night for 15 months I would traipse out of the office at 6.30pm armed with my tasting glasses. The first night of that course, I felt a little intimidated. But I learned to have more faith in myself.

Overview of earlier career.

Lindsay “fell into a graduate scheme in the City after university” not knowing exactly what she wanted to do but she was drawn towards a career in finance.  She moved companies a few times to widen her experience and “to keep moving up the ladder” and spent 18 years with her last employer with her final position as MD and Head of UK Corporate Clients.

The trigger for change?

Lindsay described her need for change as a “slow burn” rather than one trigger.  

She loved the client relationship side of her work and whilst she enjoyed managing teams, Lindsay realised that as her career had progressed she’d moved further away from the element that she “really loved doing” - looking after her customers and negotiating deals. 

“I had become restless as I’d been doing the same thing for a while and when the financial crisis happened, it forced me to take a step back and look at where my career was heading

I realised that I had progressed as far as I wanted to in banking.  I felt that I was moving further and further away from clients which was the part that I really loved.”

A late-evening conversation with colleagues in 2008 prompted some deeper thought on Lindsay’s longer-term career.  They were discussing the tv coverage of the Lehman’s crash where people were filmed leaving the Lehman’s office with their belongings in card-board boxes.

“Someone asked me what my Plan B was, and I didn’t have one which seemed crazy!

I needed to take control and create one.”

First steps?

“Over the years, my love of good wine had grown, and I was lucky enough to have tasted some lovely wines when entertaining my corporate clients - wines that I would rarely have had the opportunity to taste in other circumstances. 

We sometimes held wine tastings for clients where a wine expert would join us to talk about the wine.  It was at one of those talks that I had a lightbulb moment and thought ‘I want to do that!

I had always been interested in wine and my husband and I had done some basic evening courses in 1990s for fun.  I decided to take the next level of exam, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust's Diploma which is considered equivalent to a degree and a stepping stone to the Master of Wine qualification. 

So I went back to night school though I still didn’t have a "grand plan" and at that point I also didn’t even have much confidence that I could actually do it.

Every Monday night for 15 months I would traipse out of the office at 6.30pm armed with my tasting glasses. 

The first night of that course, with over 50% of the attendees being from the wine trade, I felt a little intimidated but I learned to have more faith in myself.   

We did a blind tasting and there was huge debate about one particular wine.  I had a really strong feeling that it was one particular grape, but others felt differently.  That night I learned to trust my judgement as I was correct even in the face of stiff competition from those who were more experienced.”   


What Lindsay learned?

In 2011, I’d completed my diploma and still wasn't sure how or if I was going to use it professionally.

But the banking industry, in dire need of stability, was faced with increasing legislation and regulation to say nothing about the general animosity towards that world.  

The thought of a completely different challenge became increasingly appealing and I began to ask myself if I was in the right place?

When another restructuring was announced at work 18 months later in 2013, I felt like I'd been in the industry so long that I was on repeat. It seemed to be the right time to take the opportunity to leave although I still had no clear plan. But that plan evolved over the next 12 months.

I researched the wine industry in general and thought long and hard about whether and how to set up my own wine business.

I re-engineered my CV and  applied for a couple of jobs in the industry but as I had no wine trade experience my expectations remained low.  I did however get selected for an interview to be the number 2 to a wine entrepreneur. 

Whilst I didn’t get that job, during the interview I was able to quiz the owner on how he had set up his business and took away some pointers to help me with my own business idea. 

Over those 12 months my thoughts and research developed. I went to wine trade fairs and met so many people in the industry who were helpful when they found out I was thinking of setting up a wine business – much more helpful that my old cut-throat world would have ever been.  

I spent so much time listening to other people’s stories in the industry that when I was ready to activate a business plan it was credible, well-researched and convincing enough to secure me a start-up grant.  

Whilst I am evolving the business all the time, I have stuck to that original business idea - a wine e-commerce business combining great wine and great customer service.”

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

“I would have learned more about marketing the business on-line well before I launched the business (SEO, Social Media, Press, PR, Podcasts etc) though I'm not sure when I would have found the time to do it!

It would have been helpful in the early days especially when the website was being developed.  I’m learning it now as I go along but it takes time so I wish I had prioritised it earlier.”

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

“Every day I know I made the right decision. I partly feel relief but mainly freedom.  Whilst I enjoyed working in my last organisation, I feel liberated from the bubble of that world, from the commute and from the structure. 

My former life was very City-focussed.  Now I spend every day learning something totally new. I am enjoying the freedom of a new world out there.

If I don’t want to work one morning I don’t have to.  It’s not in my personality type not to but I like having the freedom of choice.   

I enjoy meeting other entrepreneurs and small business owners too; they form a great support network.

I keep in touch with my old colleagues and meet for coffee or lunch occasionally.  Listening to them, I know the business cycle never truly changes and I feel some relief that I’m not still in that cycle.

That's not to say I don't miss the "large corporate world" altogether and I'm looking to fill that gap with NED positions where I can contribute some of the benefit of my experiences and have the best of both worlds."

 Any regrets?

“What's to regret? I work with wine!”

Learn more about Lindsay and her business:

Wines With Attitude saves busy wine lovers time by seeking out truly exceptional wines from around the world that do not disappoint. Lindsay loves helping consumers feel more confident in their wine choices through her blog posts (https://www.wineswithattitude.co.uk/blog) and through educational & fun wine-tastings for corporate events and private parties.

Email: hello@wineswithattitude.co.uk

Website: https://www.wineswithattitude.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wineswithattitude

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wineswithattitude/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/wineattitudes

Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/company/wines-with-attitude/

 

Denise Quinlan - Corporate IT career to Visual Narrative Specialist / Photographer / Speaker

“I was lured into the larger corporate world by the money, the identity and the potential for a longer career.  I ‘tried’ that for 18 years!”

“I used to escape from work – now I don’t need to.”

Denise McQuillan 1.jpg

“In my first job working within an educational IT company, what motivated me was helping people learn and communicate.  Latterly, I focussed on primary and special needs sectors where IT helped individuals to be part of a community, to connect and to learn.  I loved that!  

Then I was lured into the larger corporate world by the money, the identity and the potential for a longer career.  I ‘tried’ that for 18 years!  I did a partnering role for 10 of those years and loved some of the charity stuff but realised after a while that I was in the wrong business as my values were so different to those of the company. 

While there were some great people, everyone there was white collar middle-class and not hugely diverse.  I didn’t feel a real connection to organisation’s goals or values.  I realised that I missed doing something that I really cared about.”

The trigger for change?

“I used to cycle from the city office and remember leaving the office one January in total darkness.  It was freezing outside. I wondered to myself why I was doing this?  I was so unhappy but couldn’t articulate it then other than describing the concept that my mood matched the total darkness of the evening.

I knew I had to do something different.  My boss was aware that I was not happy as even though I was doing a decent job, I wasn’t excelling.  Around my 40th birthday I remember saying to a friend that I might take a sabbatical to do a 4-month cycle ride from the top to the toe of Africa which would allow me both escape my unhappiness and have some time to think. I just knew I couldn’t do another winter feeling like I did.

Roll on a couple of years, and I ended up taking a 4 month sabbatical to cycle and volunteer in both India and Nepal.  5 months later I returned to the UK, met with my boss and agreed it was definitely time to do something different even though I still didn’t have a clue what that was.”

First steps?

“A friend suggested photography and a little spark of interest lit up inside me.  It wasn’t just the 7,000 story-telling photographs taken during the trip that resonated with this idea.

 

It was also an experience with Raisa, an organic model farm consultancy, in Tamil Nadu, southern India, that cemented the idea of visual story-telling in business through images.  I got to share my knowledge of the SWOT analysis tool (Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) to this creative social enterprise leader which really connected.   They had so many projects spanning wildlife conservation, commercial coconut farms and local householders with mango and banana trees in their back yard. This defining moment gave me the biggest clue to my future.

I knew that both the photographic and business coaching markets are very crowded but I also knew gut-instinct wise that there was something unique here in this combination.   I could see from my research that there was a huge lack of understanding of visual impact.  Essentially, we’ve all been seduced by the amazing technology that it’s almost been forgotten that people connect with people, in both the ‘real’ face to face world and in the online world too.  The ‘first impression’ impact occurs when we meet in person but also when we’re reviewing someone’s profile photo on LinkedIn, their website or social media business accounts.

Subliminally, we’re establishing trust and whether we can see ourselves doing business with the person we see.  People in almost every area were under-valuing the power of the visual. Especially in the small, medium enterprise space.

At base level – I could see professionals on linkedin.com with headshots which were certainly not helping them in their goals to create trust and rapport.  I realised that rather than being just another photographer, my 23 years business experience would help people to understand the impact of the visual and this has become my unique selling point.”

It’s not just about profile photos though.  As a result, we have a 3-step process to help our clients become more visible, attractive, trusted and connected to the clients they seek.

What Denise learned over the course of her career change?

·         “Networking is key but can be superficial.  Actually, just getting out there and talking to real people is crucial.  Finding a niche where I fit and share values has taken time.

 

·         I’ve researched lots of different networking groups and settled on a couple of key ones:

1.       The Institute of Directors which I initially joined as a young entrepreneur and then later joined their Advance Group programme and have found it really valuable. 

2.       A more local Chiswick lunch group where there are none of the 60 second pitches, that attention-span-wise have me reeling after the 5th person.

 

·         Moving from a social office to an isolated environment doesn’t work for everyone.  If I spend more than 2 days by myself I go crazy so I’ve built that knowledge into planning my week.

 

·         If you want something deeper than a networking group, join or create a mastermind group.

 

·         Coaching is a very useful tool when it is done right, by the right person ie one that matches your values, as a minimum.

 

·         Connecting with people who have the same shared values and are in a similar situation make it all so much better.

 

·         Understanding your own personality helps to make decisions accordingly.  For instance, I’m introverted in the way I process information and thoughts but my creative process is more extroverted and needs external stimuli.  This knowledge helps me to define where I am when I need to focus on different tasks.

 

·         Outsource some stuff – the stuff that you are not good at – as early as you can afford to.  This frees up time to do more value-adding.”

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

“I would have found a mentor that worked for me earlier.  I did have one lined up, but for various reasons their implementation got delayed.  So, not only had I unfortunately already handsomely invested but I felt in limbo for more months than planned.  My learning? To go with my initial gut feel.  My gut feel was that their profile photo was significantly out of date, and that was a red flag warning signal to me.  I overrode my gut instinct but realised it was actually spot on.”

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

“I just love what I do!  I love enjoying my work without the financial/profit/corporate stress/misaligned values and without feeling so frazzled.

I used to escape from work – now I don’t need to. I have my sanity back.

I just love what I do!

My creativity is unfettered in both the entrepreneurial sense but also the hands-on visual portrayal of each client’s ‘personality, messages and values’ to their target clients .“

Regrets?

“None…although I do have an impatience and want to do everything faster, you have to work through the ups and downs to creating a brand that works.”

 

Learn more about Denise and her business:

Website: http://insightfulimages.co/

Twitter: @Insightfulphoto

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/denisequinlan/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/insightfulimages/

 

Duncan Haddrell - Senior Finance Executive to Distribution Business Owner

“It feels easy...but scary because now I hold in my hands the mortgages of 10 employees - not just my own.   I don’t hold that responsibility lightly.  It’s huge.  That’s the difference.  If I cock it up, the impact is huge.  But, the opportunity is also huge.”

“Being conscientious, working hard and being good at something sometimes doesn’t really get you where you want to be.  I sort of just lost faith in corporate life.”

Duncan Hadrell.png

Career overview

A twenty-year career in senior finance positions including Group Finance Director and Non-Executive Director Positions within both public and private businesses.

What triggered your career change/career re-design?

“Lots of things.  I should have done it years ago.  But, I went through the public school system and ended up towing the line and doing as was expected in my career progressing from trainee, management accountant, Financial Controller to Finance Director. 

Until the point where I looked up and realised that the people above me were not there because they were worked harder than me or were better than me.

Being conscientious, working hard and being good at something sometimes doesn’t really get you where you want to be.

 I sort of just lost faith in corporate life.

After 20 years of working my socks off for the benefit of others, I reflected and realised that I was being neither valued nor appreciated.   

As well as managing the challenges of reporting and trying to make a difference to organisations’ current operations, I’d been trying to convince people for years about the benefits of long term planning. But businesses didn’t want or value the long-term focus.  Frustration crept in.  

I think I’ve always wanted my own business and always kept my ear to the ground looking for opportunities.  I often evaluated possible business opportunities that I could both afford and that I believed had long-term mileage as both a product and a business.”

First Steps?

I’d looked at other businesses where the owners were in their 60s and wanting to retire in the near future, but only took a couple as far as the real due diligence process.   

When I found the right one, I knew it very quickly.   It was the easiest purchase ever due to a perfect match between the owners’ ethics, values and desires for the business and my own.    

My long-term goals for the business linked exactly with the sellers’ values.  It was a perfect fit.”

Duncan with Terry Dakin - the previous business owner.

Duncan with Terry Dakin - the previous business owner.

What did you learn during that process?

“I am truly motivated by taking care of a company and the people within it for the long-term.  The last ten years of my career didn’t fit with this deeply-held motivation.

I want and need to be in control of my own destiny and that was also not the case over the last ten years of my finance career.

Stress can be positive and drive people forward but stress caused by poor leadership is negative stress with no upside.  Poor leadership really impacts the people within a business, not just the business.”

 

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?  

“I would have been able to leave finance work within corporates 10 years ago - I’d learned enough by then.  I’d learned what good and bad leaders look like.  I had experienced so much...enough.

That said, I would have needed a little more financial security to have taken this kind of risk at that time.  

Perhaps the time was right because the time was right?  The opportunity to invest in my future and this business was perfect.   Perhaps I needed to gain more consultancy experience to have a real grasp of how I want to proceed?  Perhaps...!”

 On the days that you know you’ve made the right decision, how do you feel?

“Where would I rather be?  Here.  Without a doubt.  Why? The frustrations of going through the same “I need to change but need more influence to make it happen” cycle within corporates wore me down.  

I’m now in charge of making change but I can’t do it alone.  I listen to the opinions and insights from staff who are the experts.  I understand the big picture landscape and it’s a long-term landscape.  I understand what the right direction is.  

It feels easy...but scary because now I hold in my hands the mortgages of 10 employees - not just my own.   I don’t hold that responsibility lightly.  It’s huge.  That’s the difference.  If I cock it up, the impact is huge.  But, the opportunity is also huge.

I arrive to work knowing what we are going to do that day.  Then we constantly tweak.  It’ll pay off.  We will see the benefits.”

Any regrets?

“None at all!”

 What one piece of advice would you give to anyone re-designing their mid-life career?

“It might not always work out and that might not be due to your efforts, so don’t risk what you can’t afford to lose.”

Duncan now owns International Tiles & Bathrooms - Please have a look at their new web page:-

https://tiles.uk.com/

It is the aim for International Tiles is to become within 5 years the No.1 best for service, produce, quality and customer care and customer satisfaction tile brand throughout the South West of England (Somerset, Dorset, Devon & Cornwall) Tile Industry.

We aim to be the best employee we can. Our staff are valued and it is up to us to make their time here as fulfilling and as rewarding as possible.

While we recognise that being in business is not easy and we will have some difficult times we also want to have some fun.

I am very lucky to have taken over a company with such strong foundations, with a strong and loyal customer base, with experienced and loyal staff and loyal and quality suppliers.




Joanne McGowan - Serial Entrepreneur to Charity Digital Development Manager

This big career change has given me confidence. If I can move from being a serial entrepreneur for 20 years into a brilliant corporate role so happily, it’s made me feel I can cope with anything.

I just feel…more relaxed. My stress levels have definitely evened out. When I was self-employed I always felt like I should have been doing something, working on the business in some way.

Overview of earlier career.

“Most of my career moves have felt like an accident or probably just being at the right place at the right time.  As I was about to graduate from my degree in Theatre Studies, an opportunity came up to run a dance and drama school where I had worked part-time.  I doubled the size of the business and loved it but after 9 years it was time to sell.

After my son George was born in 2006, I’d imagined that I’d enjoy having some time off but was back teaching part time when he was 6 weeks old. I loved being a Mum but I loved my work too. By the time he was 2 years old, I had an idea that I could run a children’s party business and gave it a go.  People liked it and it grew quickly.  This suited our lifestyle then as I would work mostly on the weekends when my husband was around to be with George.  Over time, I learned so much about getting a new idea off the ground and became pretty good at community group marketing.  The good old Mummy grapevine worked its magic and I grew that business over seven years without a penny of paid advertising – just word of mouth and social media marketing.  

I loved running the party business but saw an advertisement that caught my eye on twitter for a tutor to lead digital training for women returning to work or thinking of starting a business. This was the start of my social media marketing training work.   George was a little older and I didn’t want to sacrifice our precious family time at the weekends and this seemed a perfect way to start transitioning.

That experience opened up the chance to buy into a local business community franchise which allowed me to make amazing contacts who grew into friends but it didn’t turn out to be the business opportunity I thought it would be so we parted company.” 

The trigger for change?

After that experience, Joanne paused for a moment as she wasn’t quite sure what she actually wanted to do next. 

“I did some freelance work but then I thought – maybe I might like a proper job!?  I felt like I’d been there and done it as far as buying businesses and growing them and starting businesses from scratch for the last 20 years.  It didn’t feel like there would be enough of a challenge for me to do it again.  I fancied something different and I think I needed a bit more of a routine.  I was curious how it might be working in a team environment rather than doing everything myself.”

First steps?

“I was drawn to the charity sector as I’d done some freelancing work with a charity and it felt more rewarding than other work I’d done - it felt like I was making a difference.  Once I’d decided what I wanted to do, I went application-happy!   I soon realised that the whole job application process is so exhausting and I began to be much more selective.  That’s when things started to happen for me.

In the end I had four interviews for four jobs – I got down to the final two applicants for a role with a big corporate and whilst I was really disappointed that I wasn’t chosen, ultimately, I think it would have probably been too corporate for me at that time – probably a bit of a shock to the system after my early career.   I was nervous meeting the CEO of that business but we spent 2 hours together and think I held my own.  I was given very good feedback which boosted my confidence. I think that ultimately helped me get the job I have now. After a 2 hour interview I felt ready for anything!”

 What Joanne learned?

“The thing about being a working mum is that you re-invent yourself every few years. When George was small, I needed to do work that was flexible but he’s heading off to secondary school in September so the time felt right to try something different.

This big career change has given me confidence.  If I can move from being a serial entrepreneur for 20 years into a brilliant corporate role so happily, it’s made me feel I can cope with anything.  Having the confidence to just go for a career change is important. 

I knew I wasn’t alone.  I talked about my decision to look for a job rather than set up another business/freelance with lots of mum friends of a similar age who totally understood my motivations.

You need to be prepared for all the obvious but tough interview questions and have convincing responses.  For instance, I wasn’t sure if I was actually employable after 20 years of owning and running my own businesses and never having had a real job!  I knew I’d get asked why I wanted a job now so I was prepared with a good, but truthful, answer.  

The right job is out there.  When my friend, the photographer Kerry Harrison heard me talking about my new role, she described it as ‘a job that’s good for the soul’.  And it is. There are amazing people working here at the National Garden Scheme (ngs.org.uk) and an amazing group of volunteers.  We also work with nearly 4000 amazing gardens that have a common aim, to raise money for some fantastic nursing charities. My office is based only a few miles from my home on the beautiful Hatchlands estate, but if I need to work from home or flexibly on occasion I can, I just prefer to go into the office – it’s more fun."

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

"For pretty much 20 years I worked on weekends now I actually get that Friday feeling.  I love my job and I love my 2 days of freedom at the weekend to do whatever we want.  There’s no negotiating or cramming stuff in.  It feels amazing!

I can definitely switch off more.  When I come home, I don’t feel that anyone is expecting me to still be working.

It’s not just me - Jon [Joanne’s husband] says that he’s noticed that I switch off more easily than before.  I agree.  I just feel…more relaxed.  My stress levels have definitely evened out.   We all have stressful days and bad days at work but when I was self-employed I really struggled to get the balance right.  I always felt like I should have been doing something, working on the business in some way.  

This is my first proper job.  I’ve never had regular monthly pay and it’s bloody lovely!  But the work itself is also really great.  I thought that working in an organisation and not just for myself would mean that it would take longer to see results but in the 8 months I’ve been there I feel that I’ve made a difference.  I feel like I’m part of a team that is making a huge impact and we have big plans for the future.  I feel like I’m contributing to something very exciting."

 Regrets?

“None, none at all.  I’ve never had any regrets.  I’ve done so many things and gained so many transferrable skills and I now have a job I absolutely love with a good work-life balance to boot."

 Find out more about Joanne:

Twitter @guildfordjo,

Instagram @guildfordjo

Linked In - https://www.linkedin.com/in/joannemcgowansurrey/

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.”

 

 

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/

Anil Saggi - Leaving behind a successful career in giant corporations to join a start-up with huge potential

"Putting your career on auto-pilot doesn't serve anyone well. Just because you are on a path doesn't mean it's the right path."“Don’t burn through your funds as this erodes opportunity for change.

If doing something different is what you really want but you don’t exactly have a plan yet, downsize your financial expectations to give you that future freedom to choose when you do have a plan. “

Anil Saggi 2.png

Overview of earlier career.

University of Nottingham – studied Economics with French. Several summer internships within consultancies, but chose investment banking like most of his class.

After 5 years and looking for change, took an MBA at Wharton, followed by McKinsey and a range of other big businesses such as Novartis and GSK. Worked and lived in various locations including: London, New York, Paris, Switzerland and Stockholm.

Married with three children.  Open University qualifications in chemistry and human biology, and Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA).  

The trigger for change?

Before Anil’s 40th birthday, he began to reflect for the first time on his long-term career.  He attributes this thoughtful period to the added responsibilities of being a Dad combined with the approach of a big birthday. 

Historically, he’d simply focused on enjoying each opportunity, progressing onwards and upwards while doing what he believed to be “the right things to be successful”.   On reflection, he’d realised that he’d never actually questioned whether or not he was on “the right successful path but has since recognised the existence of a fear of stepping “off the path”. 

Anil admits to being interested in lots of different areas which prodded him throughout his life to continually challenge himself in different directions and to be “constantly learning new stuff”.  For example, his interest in science found him taking on extra chemistry and human biology studies while working.  This “new stuff” didn’t really sit “on the path” but just kept fuelling his need to learn.

He had begun to have early “small cog in a big wheel” feelings but took no action as he was on a well-trodden career path to country leadership within his company.  This career focus, at that time, still excited him.

In his spare time, whilst at Novartis, Anil offered his Regional MD a piece of analysis on a new joint venture business that was to be set up.  He offered it at the time with zero expectations, just wanting to utilise some of the market analysis skills gained earlier in his career. 

6 months later, he was offered a new position, by that same MD, to lead integration of the joint venture. This allowed him the rare experience of setting up a ‘new start-up’ business within a big corporate. This was the first role where he felt crucial to the success of a business and realised what a big impact he could have. He wanted that feeling to continue.

First steps?

At the end of his integration role within GSK, Anil’s career mindset was changed forever.

After experiencing how much of a direct, tangible impact his decision making could have, the standard corporate career path no longer held an attraction.  He wanted more of that type of exposure where fast, decentralised decision-making was encouraged and felt that was not available in standard corporate roles.

Anil simply couldn’t go back “onto the old path”.  The P&L management rather than P&L ownership and the endless raft of meetings held no sway with him any longer.  He had tasted the freedom of a start-up. 

He began his research into start-ups and young companies which might be attracted to him.  He applied for a few positions which he felt would fit his skill-set. When he came across the Werlabs (medical technology company that provides customers with health analysis via blood testing) advertisement, he didn’t hesitate to apply.   The role was geographically perfect for Anil and his family, the role itself was exciting and would utilise his skills and the sector was both related to his experience and his extra studies.

Anil also had researched the anticipated cultural differences by talking to others in similar young businesses.  One of those major cultural differences is undoubtedly the structure of benefits packages.  

Start-ups expect the individual to hold more financial risk than any big corporate would ever expect. 

Armed with this knowledge it was fortuitous that he and his family had made a decision about a year ago to buy a smaller home rather than rent their house which meant they could afford to take some risk on the package without too much pain.

What Anil learned?

  • Research is important. Figuring out which young companies were growing and trying to match my skills to those became a big research project for me.

  • Identify your fear.  Financial fear stops people taking risks on financial packages.  My wife and I dealt with this fear upfront.  Our concerns were vastly reduced when we started to openly talk about our financial situation. 

When we understood exactly what we needed to earn to cover our minimum monthly outgoings, we took steps to allow us the freedom to consider moving to a smaller business because we knew that they would structure their financial packages differently. 

We talked openly about what could happen if it all failed and at what stages we would draw a line and re-design again.  The fear has disappeared and been replaced with opportunity and back-up plans.

  • Big corporations offer a safety net and that can make some people lazy about their careers – which is dangerous.   If there is no safety net, it forces people to be more entrepreneurial about their careers and their work.

  • Live life on the budget you give yourself to make sure you don’t rely on the safety net that working in big corporations allows.  Don’t burn through your funds as this erodes opportunity for change.  If doing something different is what you really want but you don’t exactly have a plan yet, downsize your financial expectations to give you that future freedom to choose when you do have a plan.

  • You have to open up to your partner, friend or someone you trust.  They can plant a seed of change within you or you within them.  Once you understand what it is you want – changing becomes the most natural thing.  But it requires a supportive family.

  • It appears that the only way to avoid the career shock in your 30s/40s or beyond is to keep asking yourself ‘are my skills still applicable?’ and ‘where else could my skills be applied to great benefit?

  • Putting our career on auto-pilot doesn’t serve anyone well.  Just because you are on a path doesn’t mean it is the right path.

  • The time is right.  Never before has there been such opportunity to be an old intern, to learn coding - even if you’ve no idea about it today, or to re-train to be anything is massive, it’s insane! 

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

“I feel so lucky.  I love being part of a company where every big decision is made by something like 10 people.  I totally love working in an industry and a company that excites me.”

Any regrets?

"None."

 

Werlabs is Swedish health tech company helping people to focus on preventative healthcare through blood testing. By monitoring over time, people are empowered to intervene before major chronic disorders such as diabetes occur. Werlabs was founded in 2014 and launched in the UK this past June, working with NHS laboratories in London, Manchester and soon across the country. Visit www.werlabs.co.uk to learn more.