career change 50

Stephen Hall - International Teaching Career to Food Entrepreneur

“When someone I don’t know sees me at a trade fair and shouts over to me ‘I’ve tried your balls and I like them!’ It’s funny and satisfying!

“There is a smile in my belly! It feels right. It feels positive.”

“Whilst I was thinking about next steps, I was in the kitchen cooking and making healthy snacks for my children. People were always saying that I should sell them so  I decided I would give it a go .” Stephen Hall

“Whilst I was thinking about next steps, I was in the kitchen cooking and making healthy snacks for my children. People were always saying that I should sell them so I decided I would give it a go.” Stephen Hall

Overview of earlier career.

Stephen has always been motivated by making a difference.

After graduating, he volunteered on a teaching project in Lesotho, Southern Africa for two years not really intending to teach for a career; but discovered he loved it. After a short spell teaching English in Poland, he returned to England to do his post-graduate teaching qualification at Cambridge. Afterwards, he taught at Kings’ School in Grantham, where he met his wife.

Stephen and his wife both then spent two years teaching in Malawi which inspired him to complete a Masters in Development Economics, but subsequently found that he was either over-qualified or under-qualified for his desired career change. So, he decided to continue his teaching career.

After various experiences, he ended up as the Head of English at a boarding school and absolutely loved the mix of pastoral work and teaching. It was the pastoral focus that led him to becoming a House Master, responsible for 50 plus teenage boys.

A clash in philosophies between himself and a new Head Master over a number of years, combined with working longer hours than was sensible took a toll on Stephen’s physical and mental health.  He tried returning to the classroom, but this led to further panic attacks. So, at the end of a very long road, Stephen walked away from his teaching career and decided to set up his own business.

Utilising his knowledge of the Education and Teaching sectors he worked on setting up an online tutoring system for International Students. After 6 months working on integrating two systems, the technology didn’t work as well as he’d hoped and he was forced to walk away.

First steps?

“That failure hit me hard and after a few months I got a job working for somebody else. Ultimately though, I realised that I needed freedom and autonomy to thrive.

Whilst I was thinking about next steps, I was in the kitchen cooking and making healthy snacks for my children.  People were always saying that I should sell them so I decided I would give it a go.  

I went into create mode and set up lots of snack tasting sessions in my kitchen.

I started to research the market for healthy snacks and sought advice from the local Chamber of Commerce who were excellent and I set up conversations with friends of friends who had built their own food businesses.

What Stephen learned?  

  • Simplify your ideas

You can get caught up in new ideas, new recipes, new markets to attack.  For instance, I ended up being interviewed for Countryfile after trialling some high protein brownies made from crushed up crickets!  It was such an interesting experiment but most ideas need to start simple.

  • Seek advice from others in the industry.

For example, a mother of an ex-pupil had built up a successful “bottom-bursting puddings” business, selling into all the major supermarkets and gave me some great advice that saved me time and energy.

  • Joining on-line food forums would have saved me time and energy if I’d found them sooner.

These have been invaluable to me. Forums like The Food Hub, Lifestyle Kitchen and The Foodpreneur Coach Generally speaking the food start-up community is a really supportive one and people are willing to give support and advice.

  • Be honest and get help quickly with the things you struggle with

Trying to do every single thing yourself is tough.  For instance I really struggle with accounting and decided to get help. I chose a Virtual PA who can not only help with accounting details but will be able to help with research and other projects in the future.  

  • Grow your network

Over time I have developed an incredible network of food business people locally from large company owners to small artisan producers. I found, with only a few exceptions, that everyone has opened their arms to me and is more than happy to offer advice and help.  

I’ve had conversations with people I respect who’ve challenged my thinking which I have found invaluable. They’ve helped me consolidate my thoughts and make better decisions.

On occasions, I need to find someone with a special skill and I’ll end up getting introduced to the perfect person at a trade fair or networking event..

  • Go with your gut instincts!

I’ve made mistakes that have cost me a great deal of time and energy by not trusting my instincts.

If it feels wrong, it’s probably worth listening to those instincts and probing more deeply. One of the best things about being your own boss is that you make the decisions - so you can say no and walk away!

  • Protect your IP

I’ve almost had my recipes stolen on a collaboration that didn’t work out.  I’d have been stuffed if I hadn’t set up ip protection and non-disclosure agreements from the early days.

  • Branding and marketing are important but make sure you believe that your product can justify itself financially.

I’ve made some difficult decisions on products that I’ve invested a great deal of time and resources in but they just didn’t stand up financially.

So, I’ve designed and researched new products on the back of both flavour, gut instinct AND financial insights.

  • Good is good enough

Start selling your product as soon as it is good - not perfect.  That way you can be nimble and make changes as you go along, based on customer feedback.

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

There is a smile in my belly!

It feels right.

It feels positive.

I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD so there are days when my brain and my body conspire and tell me to stop but I don’t want to; because Bakes and Balls is important to me.  It’s mine and it’s a part of me.

When someone I don’t know sees me at a trade fair and shouts over to me ‘I’ve tried your balls and I like them!’ It’s funny and satisfying!

I love the feeling that my healthy snacks are solving a problem in a family and giving them viable alternatives to what’s on the market (in the free from ranges) that actually taste great.”

I’m excited about the new Frocolate truffle and spread ranges which we’re launching.

Regrets?

Occasionally I meet up with an ex-pupil who might be in their 20s or 30s and they tell me what they enjoyed and liked about my teaching; which texts they still remember (it is often the more risque sections of Chaucer’s ‘The Miller’s Tale’ where Nicholas’ bottom is branded; or the more gruesome parts of Webster’s ‘Duchess of Malfi’.

But it is also really touching when ex-pupils tell me why I was an important influence on them. I do miss my teaching time, but I couldn’t go back to it.”


If you’d like to find out more about Stephen and his business, contact him here:

Buy their goodies: www.bakesandballs.com

Twitter: @BakesandBalls

Instagram: @BakesandBalls

Facebook: .facebook.com/BakesandBalls/


Some other career change stories you might like:

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

Some other career change stories you might like:



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.”