“I kept thinking: 'I can do what this job asks of me, but I hate what it stands for.”
From Newspaper Sales to Magazine Entrepreneur
What work were you doing previously?
I used to be an actor, and from that I went to work in newspaper sales; first for the Mirror, and then the for the Daily Mail’s travel section.
What are you doing now?
I run my own online magazine, Minty Bit Stronger.
Why did you change?
I always wanted to be writing rather than working on the sales side of the newspapers I was with. I got to do some freelance articles now and again, but it never felt like enough. Plus when I was an actor, I loved entertaining and engaging with people. There was no room for that in sales, so there were big parts of me (the writer and the performer) that felt really suppressed.
If I had been motivated by my work it might have been different, but I wasn’t. I kept thinking: “I can do what this job asks of me, but I hate what it stands for.” I ended up having a disagreement with the Mail and they offered me three months’ payout as extended garden leave.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
I started an internship with another magazine after leaving the Mail, and I just found myself thinking: ‘I could do this better myself’ all the time. Maybe it sounds arrogant, but we all feel that way now and again, right?
I remember a particular incident when a member of staff there went to a cocktail class. They came in the next morning and asked me to write the piece, even though I hadn’t been at the class. It was another example of the way I saw magazines operating across the board; it was deceitful, both to the readers and the class provider. That was when I decided I was going to do my own thing, and do it with honesty and style!
Are you happy with the change?
I still feel a lot of anxiety about the challenge I’m up against, but the work I’m doing day to day just makes me so happy. I feel really lucky.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I miss the freedom of not having the full weight of responsibility on your shoulders. I’m up at 8am and go to bed at 1am, and there’s a constant demand for my attention. It’s still early days though, and I know things will ease off as time goes by. The project takes up my entire brain – but I describe it as a good burn, like when you’ve been for a long run. You’re aching and tired, but it still feels good! As for what I don't miss... pretty much everything else!
How did you go about making the shift?
I had been blogging for a couple of years on the side of my day job, and I’d gathered quite a large following of readers. Lots of my friends were inspired to write their own blogs, but often found it hard to keep up with posts and maintain them, so I started to offer them work writing for the magazine instead. I’ve approached lots of restaurants, designers and theatres, offering them reviews, and built up content from there.
How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?
At the moment the payout from my old job is carrying me through, but I’ve had to get creative with ways to save money. The great thing is that now I can tie my social life to magazine reviews; I’m constantly dining out for free. That was a surprise bonus; this is a great industry to move into if you’re poor!
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
I think the biggest struggle has been finding time to improve on the areas of my work that I’m weakest at. I can work an iPhone, but put me in front of a laptop, mention html, and I start coming out in a cold sweat! Given that I’m running an online magazine, I thought I’d tackle that potential problem early by focusing on learning the tech and web side of things. In reality, I’ve hardly had time.
What help did you get?
I’m a very independent, driven kind of person, so I haven’t really needed much help. Having said that, my writers and photographers have been absolutely great; this would have been much, much harder without them. My partner has also been really supportive and patient; it can’t be easy dealing with me sending e-mails from bed at 1am!
What have you learnt in the process?
I used to be an actor, and I learned back then that you can spend the first 2 weeks of rehearsal playing dominoes and somehow everything will still end up coming together for opening night. That’s only been reinforced since starting the magazine; I’ve developed a deeper faith in things simply finding their way to fruition.
I’ve learned that I can absolutely hammer my way through a to-do list when the list contains things I actually want to do. Your motivation is incredible when you’re working on something that’s actually yours – I’m amazed by how much I get done every day.
What do you wish you'd done differently?
I wish I’d started sooner, definitely. When I first started at the Mirror, they asked me where I wanted to be in five years’ time. My answer? I said I wanted to write and run my own magazine. It’s crazy; all that time ago I was talking about what I’m doing now, and now it feels like I’m coming late to the party.
I started in Sales by accident, simply because I was desperate to pay the rent after an acting job, and now it feels like I derailed myself by staying.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
Get your house and financial affairs in order for security, and then go for it.
Don’t waste time thinking: "if I was doing this, I’d do it better than them." If that’s showing up in your head, stop thinking about it and just do it!
With a CV full of sales experience, no magazines would have taken me seriously as a writer, so I had to start my own. If you can’t find an opportunity, you have to manufacture one.
What lessons could you take from Robert's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.