“I took a look at the future I could foresee for myself, and I didn't like what I saw.” Angela Ford felt stuck. Being trapped in one office and one town, day in, day out, was not the career future she wanted. After finally mustering the courage to make her big leap, she's now created a bespoke career that she's excited about. Here's how she did it, with all the highs and lows.
What work were you doing previously?
I was working as a project manager in health and wellness technology.
What are you doing now?
Now I'm a Digital Marketing Strategist, and author of young adult fantasy novels.
My mission is to help creatives take action to achieve their goals through coaching, creating and consulting.
I help them by creating custom marketing plans putting together marketing campaigns and managing their marketing efforts, allowing them to spend less time fussing with technology and more time doing what they love.
And as a child I always wanted to become a bestselling author – I'm well on my way to achieving that dream and want to help others do the same.
Why did you change?
I took a look at the future I could foresee for myself, and I didn't like what I saw.
I felt stuck. I had to be in the office the majority of the week. I had to be in town the majority of the year.
Instead, I wanted to work with passionate people. I wanted to be ok with going out of town for weeks or months at a time. I wanted to help others and follow a path where I could find meaning and purpose, where I could create a life on my own terms.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
I thought about quitting my job for about a year before actually going through with it.
Every time I thought about it, I found a reason not to go through with it. But finally, I went ahead and quit.
That moment was like the heady rush you get when you're about to get on a roller coaster, just before the huge dip. It felt so freeing to finally quit, step away and move forward into doing what I actually wanted to do with my life.
Are you happy with the change?
For the first week it felt like being on holiday. I was doing something I loved, so it didn't feel like work. Of course there are the not-so-great parts – proposals, contracts and invoices aren't my favorites – but it's fun to spend time working on something I love, with passionate people.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I miss working with my co-workers.
It's quite a change going from an office setting to working from home. However, I have found an amazing community of entrepreneurs, freelancers and small-business owners, online and offline.
I love having the flexibility to come and go as I please. I can wake up early and work on projects, or I can work late. 9–5 office hours don't apply; what matters more is making things happen. In my second month of working for myself I was able to go to the beach for two weeks. That kind of freedom is intoxicating!
How did you go about making the shift?
Two years before I quit my full-time job, I started freelancing on sites like Upwork, oDesk and Elance, picking up clients here and there and establishing a reputation.
I started out providing articles for clients, using my own blog as my portfolio. From there I moved into marketing, learning from my clients as they gave me work to do. This helped me to fill the skills gaps I had coming into marketing from the project management background.
Once I'd written a few articles, I got some positive reviews, and that helped to keep the work trickling in. I had to be upfront with all my clients; I told them that I was still working full time and would only be available between the hours of 6-10 p.m. A few months before I handed in my resignation I amped up my search for long-term clients with ongoing work, and aggressively applied for work that was during normal hours. Happily, the offers started to pour in.
Because of this, I already had a safety net in place. This allowed me to smoothly make that transition from working full time for a business to being self-employed and working on projects as they came in.
Alongside freelancing, I had this huge personal goal to self-publish my first novel. I'd been writing it for months, but once I'd shifted into my new career I had more time to spend polishing it.
With my new marketing skills I put together a strategy for promoting and marketing the book. When I wasn't freelancing I was working on this, pouring hours and hours into it. One of my goals was to get my book into the hands of 2,000 people within two months. I achieved that within six weeks, and I'm now working on my second book.
What didn't go well? What 'wrong turns' did you take?
Working with the wrong people.
One of the biggest lessons I've learned from freelancing is about working with my ideal clients, the right people.
I realised that putting in huge numbers of hours isn't something which makes me happy, nor is working with people who don't have a clear picture of where they are going and aren't able to dedicate time to projects they want to move forward.
I learned that I enjoy working with laid-back entrepreneurs who love to joke and laugh, who know when to put on the business 'hat' and bounce ideas off each other, who aren't worried about being 'corporate', who enjoy lots of caffeine, and most importantly, who love what they do.
Now, I turn away the clients who are time vampires and suck the joy out of my business lifestyle. I've learnt a lot through this about who I am.
How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?
Being self-employed there are always highs and lows in cash flow.
The first month was a low, the second month was a high. In fact, my second month in I made the most money I'd ever made in one month: it was encouraging. Money is always flowing in, but I'm more of a minimalist so my goal is to save during the high months to cover the lower months. Starting my freelancing two years earlier certainly helped ensure there wasn't a break in cash flow.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
Changing my mindset.
We're taught to get good grades in school so that we can go to university. We're told to get a degree, start an entry-level job at a good company and work our way up. We're told we should get married, have kids, get a house, buy nice cars, go on holidays, etc. But that isn't the lifestyle for everyone, and people tend to think there's something wrong with you if you aren't doing what everyone else is doing.
I was taking a different road, so changing my mindset was key in making positive change.
What help did you get?
I have a business coach, which I highly recommend.
It's great to have encouragement and advice from someone who has built a business before.
Additionally, support from other entrepreneurs is essential. I'm part of several communities.
What have you learnt in the process?
I have to work with the right people.
I've learned that it's better to work together with teams than to go it alone. I'm an extrovert and a huge fan of working with people, spending time with people, etc. There's an African proverb that says it best: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together".
What resources would you recommend to others?
I read a lot and listen to a ton of podcasts; it's an excellent way to stay in the know and up to date.
I recommend Natalie Sission's podcast in particular, Suitcase Entrepreneur.
I also recommend the book Walk Through Fire, by Eric T. Wagner.
What do you wish you'd done differently?
In the beginning I was a bit concerned about finances, so I worked on projects with people I wouldn't normally work with.
It's important for me to be selective about the people I work with if I'm going to continue enjoying the work I do. My business coach encouraged me to create a client profile and only work with those people.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
Before you make the leap full time, start your side hustle, and start now.
Life is short, enjoy it!
For more information on Angela's business, visit www.angelajford.com
What lessons could you take from Angela's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.