Kick-Start Your Second Career
The five things you need to know before telling your current employer where they can stick their job.
We’ve all been there: staring out of the office window thinking, “There has to be more to life than this,” aware that we’re wasting our best years working for The Man when we could be doing it on our own terms instead. So what’s stopping us? If those numpties on The Apprentice can be entrepreneurs, surely any of us can? Wouldn’t it be better to be CEO of a company of one than just another minion struggling up the corporate ladder?
That’s essentially what I did. After years of producing magazines and content for other people, a chance meeting in a pub (with art director Mr Sam Walton) ended up with the launch of our own independent magazine, Hole & Corner, which focuses on makers and creative people, many of whom have quit their jobs to work on their own terms. If they can do it, we reasoned, why couldn’t we?
Once you’ve made the decision, there are plenty of new and very scary factors to take into consideration. Yes, you’re free to do whatever you want, but you won’t have the safety net of a nine-to-five job. And when you’re working for yourself, sickies aren’t really an option. Here, then, is a five-point plan to going solo and what it takes to make the leap – aka Why Don’t You (Just Jack In Your Day Job And Go And Do Something Less Boring Instead)?
Find out what you want to do
It’s all very well saying you want out of the rat race, but first you need to identify an alternative. Mr Ben Short was a creative director for an advertising agency in London until he gave it all up, aged 37, and moved to the countryside. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he says, “but I knew I wanted to be useful.” After picking up some forestry skills with the National Trust, he now makes, sells and markets his own charcoal in rural Dorset. Of course, you don’t have to live in the hills and smell of wood smoke for the rest of your life; just as long as you establish an area where you have a genuine passion (is it something you’d stake your career, reputation and mortgage on?) and a way of living that suits you best. And then the fun bit begins. No one will tell you that working for yourself is easy, so always remember your original motivation. Mr Short works long, back-breaking hours, but says, “I still love the smell.”
Just remember: learn to tell the wood from the trees.
Find the right idea
It’s easy to pick something you enjoy doing, but you need to make sure it’s a viable idea. Many people make the mistake of thinking a hobby can be a second career. The crucial difference is that, unlike a career, a hobby doesn’t have to pay your bills. (In fact, a hobby will often make up a major proportion of those bills.) So you need to work out how you can make your new way of life pay its way. Is it something you’d invest in yourself? It doesn’t have to be an original idea. Indeed, the less original, the lower the risk. When Mr Sheridan Coakley launched furniture store SCP, he was inspired by the idea that he could reproduce classic designs at more competitive prices. The reproduction furniture market is fierce, but Mr Coakley got around it by focusing on quality. “We were able to sell a good-quality Le Corbusier [-type] chaise longue to somebody who would never think of buying the official one,” he says. “They all tried to stop me doing it. I’m proud to say a lot of them were knock-offs. I was exposing them. My things were the same quality as theirs. It was about the margins.”
Just remember: the right idea is the one that makes money.
Make a business plan
You know that episode of The Apprentice when all the candidates have to face the Interviews From Hell™? And there’s always one who’s scribbled their business plan across three pages of A4 in about 10 minutes? (And one of those pages was just doodles of pirates?) Don’t let that be you. In the simplest terms, your idea has to make you more money than you spend. Covering your costs simply brings you back to square one, so you need to ensure you’ve got an idea that leaves enough room to expand. So factor in the upfront set-up costs, the overheads, the rent and the stock you’ll need to get your business off the ground, and then work out how you’re going to make your idea grow year on year from there. Once that is done, feel free to draw all the doodles you want. When we raised investment to launch Hole & Corner, we had the hardest test of all: we had to prove to our friends, family and peers that we would make them their money back.
Just remember: the difference between net and gross.
Not having someone else to blame is part and parcel of running your own business. Likewise, the only person who can tell you where your next pay cheque is coming from is you. Once you’ve got that, then… well, life doesn’t get any easier, but at least you’re going into it with your eyes open. Mr Roger Saul, founder of Mulberry, has since launched a second career as an organic spelt producer with Sharpham Park, which has now been up and running for more than 10 years. He also owns a designer outlet village and gardens at Kilver Court in Somerset. “You have to recognise that as an entrepreneur you are often underwater,” he says. “You pop up for breath occasionally. But you know that you’ll come out the other end and it will be amazing, as is the journey. When you are underwater, it’s often quite exciting.”
Just remember: it can be quite nice underwater if you bring a snorkel.
It’s never too late
Going it alone doesn’t have to be a young man’s game. You may be 10 or even 15 years into an unfulfilling career, but that doesn’t mean you’ve left it too late to start your own business. Sure, you may wish you’d done it sooner, but if you take the Zen approach, perhaps sooner wouldn’t have been the right time for you. In fact, the more knowledge and experience you acquire on somebody else’s time, the better for you. Mr John Allen spent decades at the Royal College of Art, running the knitwear department and teaching successive generations of British fashion talent. It wasn’t until he was in his seventies that he had his first ever one-man exhibition, at the Knitting & Stitching Show in London. His fashion friends warned him the venue would attract the wrong sort of audience, but Mr Allen reasoned “they may be my customers”. His hunch proved right, and he sold 90 per cent of his debut collection.
Just remember: a safety net might also stop you jumping.
What to do next
Three books and two events to provide inspiration and practical advice
The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District by Mr James Rebanks A surprise bestseller, tapping into the market for people desperate to quit their desk-bound careers.
_Failed It! _by Mr Erik Kessels The co-founder of creative agency KesselsKramer reveals how to turn mistakes into successful ideas.
The Luxury Alchemist by Ms Ketty Pucci-Sisti Maisonrouge A step-by-step guide to building your own luxury brand (because you may as well aim high).
London Craft Week Learn a practical skill in this week-long showcase of global craftsmanship (3-7 May 2016). londoncraftweek.com
Port Eliot Festival This celebration of imagination, ideas and nature includes a Makers’ Tent curated by Hole & Corner (28-31 July 2016). porteliotfestival.com
Illustrations by Mr Giordano Poloni