I started my company SmartFox in April 2017. And a lot of people in full time jobs with good salaries quietly ask me how I went about it. But I didn’t wake up one day and think “yeah, I’m going to change the world with one digital marketing project at a time!” and then started SmartFox the very next day. An awful lot had happened to bring me to that tipping point, and it all started with being made redundant in October 2016 and then 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 and starting 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. 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.
Or for a lot of my female acquaintances, it seems to happen when they are working hard in their roles. But because their workplace culture doesn’t suit full-time working mothers, they end up going nowhere in their career while they watch others progress. Well, that’s even if they have a job when they come back from maternity leave (another story).
They might take a look at a few other job ads, but don’t want to take the risk of moving to a new company. They might look at me and get the fear of God when they think about how I got made redundant eight months into a new job and think, “no way am I moving to a new company”.
And then 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 seeing 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.
I was interviewed by the Director.
He didn’t know what SEO was. And I explained what it was. 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 that 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 whole job spec made complete sense.
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. And then add on a few hours of research and interview prep, and travel time to and from. Easily 5 hours of 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.
She rang a few days later and there was a smile in her voice. She told me that the Director had passed on feedback to the HR exec who had in turn passed it on to her.
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 5 months of interviews. First rounds, second rounds. Presentations of my “digital marketing vision” for various companies. Spotting issues, giving advice, and even letting them know where the broken links were on their website and then not getting the job and getting ghosted when asking for feedback. I told one company that the location on their Twitter account was Bangladesh. They were a Cork company, with only one office. In Cork.
So yeah…it was no surprise when I seriously considered freelancing.
Freelancing was a safe word. It had a ‘gig economy’ air about it. Even the word itself ‘free’ conjured up images of temporary-ness, where I would be a sole trader, casually getting in bits of work here and there. I could get a part-time job to supplement my income and so if it didn’t work out, then it was grand. Risk-free. I wouldn’t lose face and be the girl who had been made redundant and then failed at freelancing.
And then 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.
Freelancing also just made sense seeing as I was putting 150% into interviews and getting zero back. More than zero. Probably leaving part of my soul behind in the interview room as it was slowly being destroyed by the process. So much so that I was ‘minus soul’ by the time I got out of the building.
It was logical then to take that 150% of ‘interview’ effort and move that energy and invest it into working for myself. Surely there had to be some monetary gains, I thought? And I was right. There are monetary gains to be had. And slowly I rebuilt my soul.
But I never actually freelanced though.
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 I don’t even drink coffee or tea! 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 – your 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.
Hindsight is 20/20 vision
In a strange way, I owe the five months of ‘Interview Hell’ a lot 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.
From my experience, MDs, CEOs and Directors do not know what digital marketing is. And it is not just Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter or LinkedIn. The amount of times I hear of people throwing money "at digital" and then saying that it doesn't work, really annoys me. What is your strategy? How well do you know your customers? In my LinkedIn training, I ask trainees to tell me how their product or service brings joy to their customers lives. And would you believe the amount of people who either don't know or who just can't articulate it. Then I ask, "So if you stopped trading tomorrow, how would that impact your current customers?". Silence. If you don't know or can't articulate your USP and how you change your customers' lives...well, maybe hold off on the Facebook posts for a while until you figure out your message first. And if you don't know your customers at all, well no wonder your social media posts aren't resonating.
But thanks to the five months of Interview Hell, I now have joy back in my life because I love what I do. I get to help other businesses to increase their bottom line by implementing correct digital marketing strategies. I see where things are not aligned and I fix that. 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 mins into an interview.
So when your tipping point comes, you will know it.
Listen to it. Embrace it. And go for it.