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Insights on money, career and trading

How to quit the day job and prosper

Posted on July 24, 2013 by Daniel at 1:20 am


Millions of people who work in steady jobs dream about doing something different and more exciting on their own account, from writing children’s books to running a rural gastropub. Hilary Mantel, the double-Man Booker prize-winning author, once worked in a department store.

If you are serious about going freelance or starting a business in your late 20s or later, financial concerns are likely to be the main barrier. However, career experts say that if you have a good idea, do your homework before you quit the day job and possess grit, it is possible to minimise the risks and make the transition.

Jenny Ungless, of City Life Coaching, the career coaches, says: “Jobs for life no longer exist, so sticking with something that you don’t find rewarding is not necessarily the safe option. If you have the desire to do something else, with a solid plan and timetable for transition, you can’t go far wrong.

“Pursuing it will arguably make you more self-sufficient and better-placed in a world where today’s thirty and fortysomethings will be working for 30 to 40 more years.”

How do I make the leap?

If start-up costs are low, it may make sense to test-drive your proposed career alongside your existing one — for example, writing a novel or running an online sales business at evenings and weekends. That way you have a safety net until you are confident that your alternative career is viable.

Juggling isn’t an option if you want to switch to a role that takes full-time commitment from the start, so you will instead need to put in lots of research in spare time before you make the leap. That includes doing work experience and market research and creating a business plan. Work experience is just as important for prospective business owners as anyone else — you won’t run a decent gastropub if you can’t hack it in the kitchen, for example.

Either way, that is easier said than done time-wise, but you may be able to take a career break or sabbatical from your existing job or negotiate a four-day week or nine-day fortnight to free up extra hours.

In some cases, the “dream” won’t be viable as a standalone career but will work as part of a portfolio career. That might mean running a country B&B but also doing consultancy work in your old industry.

Will money be an obstacle?

Starting a business or going freelance requires some admin work, including a straightforward change in tax status. You will also have to think about a personal pension provision that may be less generous than your existing workplace scheme.

Concerns around mortgage finance tend to be the biggest obstacle, with lenders typically reluctant to lend to people who work for themselves but don’t have a well-established business or earnings history. So, if you are looking to buy or remortgage, sort out finance before changing track, provided your (realistic) likely future income will cover repayments. That way, you should have time to build up an earnings history to reassure future lenders. Two years is typically enough.

It is, nevertheless, smart to have a cushion of at least six months of your current salary put aside to cover outgoings in the event of any problems or last-minute changes of plan.

What help can I get?

Before you commit to career-change, you should speak to as many people as possible with connections in the new area that you’re looking at.

That includes existing business owners or freelancers and contacts at professional bodies and small business or entrepreneurs’ organisations.

The Government’s Gov.uk website and Startups.co.uk are good starting points if you are thinking of launching a business; with advice on key areas, such as market research, registering a company and locating start-up funds, plus plenty on the tax implications. You can also call the Business Link helpline on 0845 600 9006.

The National Enterprise Network site at nationalenterprisenetwork.org can help you to find local support, including help with developing business ideas and creating a business plan.

Your local authority may be able to signpost further help, and any relevant education and training opportunities.

You can also get assistance from a range of professionals, including career coaches, financial advisers, business consultants and creative agents for help getting into your new field.

Careershifters provides tailored help and also has has useful free guides and case studies at careershifters.org.

Case study: ‘People were shocked at first’

Dee Ripoll, 27, trained as a solicitor with the encouragement of her family who liked the idea of her going into a stable profession. However, her real passions were for surfing and music.

She started surfing aged 20 in 2008 and was Scottish ladies surfing champion three years later. She also plays drums and sings in her band, Evera.

Ms Ripoll did not work in law after she qualified in 2011 but took a surf instruction course and taught at surf schools. This March, she started Coldwater Surf School, operating from Aberdeen, Banff and Fraserburgh.

She didn’t borrow any money, but instead ploughed her life savings into start-up costs such as boards, wetsuits and insurance. She also worked as a nanny for three months to boost her income. Her legal skills helped her manage the paperwork.

“People were shocked when I left law and I’ve been called a surf bum. In fact, I’m often checking e-mails at midnight. But I’m doing what I love and getting lots of booking. My family can see it’s working out,” she says.

Insights on money, career and trading