“I was living for the weekend, and spending too much money to make myself feel better during the week.”

Image of Claire Sanders
From 9–5 to Freelance

Claire Sanders loved her work, but something about the context needed to change. So, instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, she made a simple sidestep. Here, she shares how getting real with her finances helped her create a career on her own terms.

What work were you doing previously?

I have worked in marketing for 20 years, both agency side and client side.

I started as an account manager in an advertising agency before working my way up to account director running a team.

In my in-house roles, I've been a senior marketing manager across numerous brands, mainly in financial services.

What are you doing now?

I'm now a freelance marketing consultant, helping businesses define their messaging strategy and then getting it out there to the right people.

My working environment varies. I work everywhere: client offices, home, co-working spaces, or my partner's restaurant in St Ives, Cornwall!

How did you feel in your work before you decided to make the change?

I felt stuck, frustrated, and trapped.

I suffered anxiety and burnout twice – once during the recession whilst at the advertising agency, and then towards the end of my last role in a bank.

I was living for the weekend, and spending too much money to make myself feel better during the week. I used to book as many holidays to escape as I could afford.

There were structural changes in my last team, which meant job losses, and so I put my hand up for voluntary redundancy.

Why did you change?

I was exhausted by all of it.

I'd been thinking about going freelance for years but had been too scared to make the jump. The voluntary redundancy offered the perfect opportunity as I received a payout which gave me a financial cushion.

How did you choose your new career?

I took six months off before setting up as a freelancer.

I used that time to reassess, spend time overseas (I spent a month in Bali on a co-working retreat) and explore my options.

I'm good at marketing and I love it, but going freelance means I can work on my own terms.

So, this shift has been more about a new way of working than changing the nature of the work I do.

However, I'm looking to retrain as a life coach further down the line, and I'm hoping working freelance will give me this flexibility.

Are you happy with the change?

It depends which day you ask me!

Freelancing is harder than I imagined, but then again I'm only just starting out.

It's scary not knowing where the next pay cheque is coming from, and you have to wear so many different hats – business development, marketing, accountancy – as well as doing the work itself. But when I don't have to commute, and I can spend time working in a style that suits me, I feel invigorated and excited.

I also started a new long-distance relationship when I finished work and knew I had six months off. To be honest, I wouldn't have even considered it if I'd still been in the old role, as it would have been impossible. But it's been an amazing six months, and I've been able to spend time between London and Cornwall.

I'm even considering a move down here longer term, so it's been more transformative than I could have ever imagined!

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

I miss the security of a regular income.

I miss the office banter and having a work 'family'. And I miss having a regular routine.

I don't miss the daily London commute. I don't miss office politics and the inefficiencies of big corporates. I also don't miss working long hours for very little reward.

How did you go about making the shift?

When I knew I was being made redundant, I drew up a mind map of all the things that were spinning around in my mind.

I divided it into sections – money, training courses, networking, resources, actions, etc. – and just worked through it one thing at a time, which made it seem more manageable.

The co-working retreat was also key. I used it as a 'trial run' of being a freelancer, and lined up a pro bono marketing project to work on while I was away. It was for a charity too, so they really appreciated the free support.

What didn't go well? What wrong turns did you take?

I underestimated the emotional challenges.

Once my 'sabbatical' was over I had a huge reality check, and started to panic. But I held my nerve.

How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?

As soon as I knew I was leaving my role, I set a new budget and starting living on less even though I knew I was still getting my regular pay cheque for another three months.

This enabled me to save even more before finishing.

I set up an account with a pre-paid debit card, gave myself a monthly budget and stuck to it. And I could see exactly what I was spending on through their app, so it held me accountable and I could see where I was spending and where I could cut back (e.g. eating out).

I drew up a spreadsheet of all my costs so I knew exactly what was coming out each month. And I worked out what I could minimise each month – I downgraded my phone tariff and Sky package, cancelled Spotify Premium and Netflix, amongst other things.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

The unknown and the uncertainty.

I like to have a plan, and I suppose I still do, but I've had to learn to be more reactive, more flexible and more able to go with the flow and deal with challenges as they arise.

What help did you get?

I worked with two coaches during my transition.

One was provided as part of my redundancy package – she was a life coach and we worked on some negative patterns of behaviour and also dealing with uncertainty and change.

I also worked with a career coach whom I knew through my network. He helped with more practical tips like promoting myself on my website and LinkedIn, etc. We also worked through my strengths and weaknesses and it made me realise what kind of role would suit me. He was surprised I'd lasted as long as I had in a corporate environment as I was really having to adjust my working preferences to fit into that kind of organisation.

What have you learnt in the process?

I'm learning every single day.

I'm in marketing, but I'm also learning how to market myself, so lots of new tools like e-marketing, etc.

I'm finding out all about being a limited company and tax obligations!

I'm also learning so much about myself. I'm having to draw on all my resilience and keep my emotions in check. But I'm reaching out and asking for help, and it's amazing how much support I'm receiving.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

Take a long hard look at your outgoings and start cutting back now.

You'll be amazed how much you can save if you try hard enough. This gives you a financial cushion and makes you realise you can live on less.

Talk to others that have made the leap. Be around like-minded people who champion you and energise you. Don't spend time with people who are negative and bring you down.

Then jump! The worst that can happen is that you go back to what you were doing before.

To find out more about Claire's services, visit www.collab-associates.co.uk.

What lessons could you take from Claire's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at [email protected]. and you could win a £25 / $35 voucher in our monthly draw.