I started my company SmartFox in April 2017 and a lot of people in full time jobs with good salaries have quietly asked me how I went about it.
An awful lot had happened to bring me to that tipping point, and it all started with being made redundant in October 2016 and going through five months of what I call “Interview Hell”.
But while redundancy made me throw caution to the wind, I have noticed that for others, in ‘good jobs’ with good salaries, their tipping point comes at a time when the daily grind has well and truly ground them down, chewed them up and spat them out.
So what is the tipping point that makes good employees on good salaries consider leaving their jobs to start their own business?
Whether it happens because of a frighteningly huge amount of global travel for work, stress, anxiety, unrealistic KPIs, internal workplace politics or a myriad of other work-related factors, the result is that the joy of work is gone.
You really know things are bad when you hear them say, “Well, it’s not great but we’re paying the mortgage and we’re just about covering childcare costs”
They have no passion for what they do and getting out of bed in the morning with any enthusiasm is a distant memory. Dread becomes a constant companion.
For a lot of my female acquaintances, it seems to happen when they are working hard in their roles but their workplace culture doesn’t suit full-time working mothers. They realise they are going nowhere in their career while watching others progress.
You really know things are bad when you hear them say, “Well, it’s not great but look, we’re paying the mortgage and we’re just about covering childcare costs and we get to Spain for a week every August with the kids”.
And then something happens.
Maybe it’s constantly reading articles about other people who did something about it and hearing how these people talk with such passion and joy about their work.
Or how these people are motivated, driven, have a hunger for more and are happy when they talk about their work – as in actual happiness radiates from them.
Or maybe it’s closer to home through witnessing friends, family or ex-colleagues who have gone out there, started their own business and are thriving.
Whatever it is, there comes a moment when someone begins to quietly but seriously consider working for themselves.
My Tipping Point
My moment came when I was in an interview for 1 hour and 40 mins. The company were in the engineering industry and they were recruiting a digital marketing manager, who could also do sales, build up a database, do event management and even cold calling. So not a digital marketing manager role at all! But hey, I was desperate.
A previous company I’d interviewed with had told me that they’d realised that they didn’t need a digital marketing manager and would just get an intern instead to tweet and post on Facebook as that was what they considered their digital marketing to be. So at least this job was an actual real digital marketing manager job. Or so I thought.
He didn’t know what SEO was. I explained. He didn’t think it was important to be on page one of Google for anything. #bigredflag
I was interviewed by the Director. He didn’t know what SEO was. I explained. He didn’t think it was important to be on page one of Google for anything. #bigredflag
When it came to that part of the interview when you can ask questions, I said, “Do you mind me asking how the role came about?”.
He explained that they had lost some business lately because they “took their eye off the ball” and now needed to “get back out there”.
They had considered hiring a sales rep to drive around the country but figured with this new “resource”, digital was a better way to go. They could reach a lot more people “through digital” for the same salary as a sales rep would have cost but they needed a lot of sales work done too – hence the cold calling, database, direct mail, events etc.
And you wouldn’t have any access to their website as that was all done by HQ.
I thought about this and then the whole job spec made complete sense.
The whole interview was 2 hours. Add on research, interview prep and travel time – easily 5 hours of my time went into that interview.
I said, “<insert polite phrase here>….but it sounds like you need a business development executive who is comfortable doing some LinkedIn and Facebook posts, but you do not need a digital marketing manager”.
The Director was slightly taken aback, and we chatted about my thoughts for a while and then my interview was over. The whole interview was 2 hours. Add on a few hours of research and interview prep, and travel time to and from – easily 5 hours of my time went into that interview.
I rang the recruiter as soon as I got back to the car and told her everything. I let her know that my feedback would be terrible and that they would probably say that I was a bit nuts, rude and behaved terribly. She laughed and said not to be so pessimistic.
The recruiter sighed and said, “You should send him an invoice for your time and consultancy. Seriously, you should”. That was the moment.
She rang a few days later and there was a smile in her voice. The feedback was all positive. He thought that I was great and really liked my honesty.
However, after careful consideration, he felt that they needed to rework the job description. He had realised that what they really required was a business development executive to drive sales who is also comfortable with Facebook and LinkedIn and unfortunately, they did not require a digital marketing manager.
We both laughed for a few seconds. The recruiter then sighed and said, “You should send him an invoice for your time and consultancy. Seriously, you should”.
That was the moment.
But it had come after five months of interviews. First rounds, second rounds. Presentations of my “digital marketing vision” for various companies. Spotting issues, giving advice, getting ghosted when asking for feedback.
So yeah… it was no surprise when I seriously considered freelancing.
I had notions of popping over to London and working there for two weeks, where I could work in the morning at some café and then sightsee in the afternoon.
I had notions of popping over to London and working there for two weeks, where I could work in the morning at some café and then sightsee in the afternoon. And then I got mad notions and thought about working in Milan for a month. Where I could learn Italian in the morning and then hang around cafés (even though I don’t drink coffee) working away on my laptop for the afternoon, doing freelance-type work and whatever else freelancers do.
But I never actually freelanced.
Instead I did a ‘start your own business’ course, formed a limited company, registered for VAT, built my own website, got a retainer for over a year and carved out a niche in LinkedIn training.
Good big or go home.
1. It’s not easy.
I don’t outsource any of my work. I work a lot of weekends. And ‘work’ has taken on a whole different meaning.
One day I could be doing my VAT return in the morning and then switch into writing website copy for a new client and then meet someone for a ‘coffee’ chat while they try and pick my brain for free.
And then there’s creating bespoke LinkedIn training for clients which takes days to put together (but which I secretly love doing).
2. Start with a side hustle.
Don’t quit your job on a Monday and then start a brand new business without a business plan on a Tuesday. Instead, consider doing a ‘side hustle’ first.
Do a ‘start your own business’ course and finish a business plan before even trading. You will be thankful for this later on.
Once you have your business plan, start small. Keep working in your day job, and then gradually, as your little side project takes off, you will get joy back in your life. However, you will cut back on social events and there will be no Netflix binge watching. Your time will be a precious commodity.
And then the day job becomes just that – a source of income until such time as you are ready to make the jump. But only if you feel that it’s the right thing to do at that stage. It might not be.
When your tipping point comes, you will know it. Listen to it. Embrace it.
Hindsight is 20/20 Vision
In a strange way, I owe a lot to my five months of ‘Interview Hell’ and bizarrely it was a very rich period of market research, in hindsight. A lot of hindsight. A year and a half later of hindsight.
But thanks to that period of my life I now have joy back because I love what I do. I get to help other businesses to increase their bottom line by implementing correct digital marketing strategies. And I empower people through my knowledge, expertise and passion for LinkedIn training and social media training.
I love going to networking events and meeting so many new people and growing my network. And I get to decide what training courses I want to do and am constantly upskilling.
For example, I just finished a two-day tendering workshop, and in the next few weeks I will be doing a change management workshop, a ‘how to create great videos on a shoestring budget’ workshop and an eight-week Women in Business mentoring programme with some amazing business women. Well, try getting approval to do all that from your manager!
And it all started with a tipping point that came 1 hour and 40 minutes into an interview.
So when your tipping point comes, you will know it.
Listen to it. Embrace it. And go for it.
About the Author
Louise Bunyan, Director of SmartFox.ie, is an award-winning digital marketing consultant, social media trainer, speaker and writer based in Co. Cork with over 15 years’ experience in communications and digital marketing.
Winner of Best Marketing and Communications Blog and a LinkedIn training specialist, Louise and SmartFox Training are on a mission to empower everyone, through in-house corporate training and open workshops, in how to harness the power of digital marketing to drive their own goals.
Find out more at www.smartfox.ie