“I became increasingly unhappy and started to look for alternatives where I could be in control of my own destiny.”

Image of Alistair Gill
From Employment to Self-Employment

Some people aren't cut out to work in a corporate environment. Alistair Gill was one of them. Though he regrets not doing it sooner, he's now been able to transfer his analytical and business skills into working for himself – and getting the control over his destiny that he wanted. Here's how he did it.

What work were you doing previously?

I worked for Caterpillar in a project management role.

I was responsible for improving the safety, quality, velocity and cost of manufacturing processes. In total I worked there for eight years after graduating.

Prior to that I studied Mechanical Engineering and Business Management at university. During my time there I decided to take a year out in industry to gain experience and make myself more employable. I enjoyed my placement at Caterpillar so much, I asked the company if they would sponsor me through my final year, which they agreed to on the condition I returned to work for them for two years after graduation. This was a huge help as it meant I could concentrate on my final year without having the added pressure of searching for a job.

What are you doing now?

I'm a self-employed business consultant.

I help other small businesses and entrepreneurs to get found online. Sometimes this means designing a website for them; other times it involves increasing the traffic to their existing website. I specialise in search engine optimisation (SEO) and Google Analytics reporting.

Although this is a completely different industry to Engineering, I definitely feel that the analytical skills and business improvement techniques I learned in my former career are transferable to what I do now.

Why did you change?

At first, I loved my job.

However, over time I became frustrated working in Engineering. It's a difficult industry to work in, especially in the UK.

I was also at a company that supplied equipment to the construction industry. When the recession hit in late 2008, we were one of the first industries to be impacted and it hit us hard. Despite our best efforts, it was difficult to implement improvement projects when there was never any money to spend.

It was also very apparent how insecure our jobs really were. I became increasingly unhappy and started to look for alternatives where I could be in control of my own destiny.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

I'd followed the typical path of school, A-levels, university, career.

At no point did I really stop and think about what I wanted to do with my life. I just took the next logical step each time: the step that everyone else was taking or that I was 'supposed' to take.

I was keen to progress my career, so I used to attend college in the evenings and I started buying business books to read. One such book was The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. I admit, the title sounded too good to be true, but the reviews were great so I went ahead and purchased it.

That book was a revelation for me. I had no idea that people could run their own business online. I had never come across the concept of location independence but it appealed immensely to me. It was the first book I have ever read again straight after finishing it.

There have been a number of tipping points along the way since then, but reading that book was the moment I realised I needed to make a change.

Are you happy with the change?

Yes, completely.

I don't regret my past career as it was a valuable learning experience for me. I do, however, wish I had read that book and started my own business sooner.

I love working for myself. I have the freedom to work when I want and from wherever I want (as long as I have an internet connection!). I get to work with amazing clients all around the world. The most rewarding thing for me is the feedback I get about how I've been able to help a client to grow their business.

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

I miss the colleagues I worked with.

I worked with those people for so long they became like a second family. I still see some of them today, but in a social setting rather than in an office.

I was never a fan of meetings so I don't miss those at all! I always felt like they went on too long when I could have been doing something more productive.

I also never liked the office politics and email tennis that seems to come with working in a corporate environment.

I'm also quite sensitive to noise, so working in an open plan office wasn't conducive to working for me. My office never had external windows. In the winter months, it was dark when I went to work, and dark when I drove home. I didn't see daylight and sat in a fluorescent cubicle all day.

I certainly don't miss the morning and evening commute, sitting in traffic. I also don't miss having to get up and scrape ice off my car in winter. Sometimes it's the simple things that make all the difference.

How did you go about making the shift?

I started my business on the side while I still had a full-time job.

After reading The 4-Hour Work Week I knew I wanted to run my own business but I struggled to think of what that could be. All I knew was manufacturing and engineering and it didn't really lend itself to an online business I could run from home with few start-up costs.

So, I took a course called Location Rebel by Sean Ogle. It features a number of blueprints that teach marketable skills you can perform from anywhere. The one I enjoyed the most was SEO.

I decided to build a website to practise my new found skills, but I needed a subject for that site. I decided to write about Lean Manufacturing as I had been training others in the process for years. It was easy for me to create content which allowed me to focus on improving my SEO skills.

The next step was to start reaching out and trying to offer my services. At first I did this for free to build up a client base and get some testimonials to help people trust me. I got great results which allowed me to start charging for my services.

From that point I focused on growing my business and saving as much money as I could, ready to quit my day job.

Before I had chance to hand my notice in, I was told that I was being made redundant. However, by that point it made no difference to me. I was planning to leave anyway and all that did was bring my timeline forward.

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

I don't feel like I took any 'wrong turns'; I feel more like I waited too long without taking action.

I felt stagnant and stuck. I didn't know what I wanted to do so I just smiled and pretended everything was okay. It was only once I took action that I started to understand what I liked to do. It was by building websites for myself and others I started to know what I enjoyed.

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

The fact I started my business on the side allowed me to build up a client base, so I already had work coming in when I finally left my job. I also used to save a portion of my monthly income to build up a buffer to see me through any quiet months.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

The most difficult thing for me was establishing a new routine.

I went from a corporate job with schedules, meetings and fixed office hours to complete freedom working for myself. I work from home now so it's difficult to know when to switch off and stop working.

What help did you get?

I hired a life / business coach to guide me through the transition.

She had already been through a similar career change herself, so it really helped me to have someone who knew what I was going through. I liked the fact that she walked the talk, running her business from Peru, Sweden, Canada and even Antarctica!

What resources would you recommend to others?

Tim Ferriss' The 4-Hour Work Week and Sean Ogle's Location Rebel.

The LEAP Guide.

I'm Fine, Thanks (a film I helped fund on Kickstarter).

What have you learnt in the process?

I have learnt so much!

I think the biggest lesson has been that it's okay to feel how I did. I used to feel guilty for being unhappy in a job that others would love. I used to wonder what was wrong with me. I now know that I'm not alone. Not everyone is cut out to work in a corporate environment and that's okay. I just had to find the work that excites me.

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

The first thing I would recommend others in the same situation to do is really ask themselves what they want to do with their life.

I don't think many of us ever really stop and think about that question. It's not easy but you owe it to yourself to figure that out because nobody can do it for you.

Once you know what it is you want to do, seek help. Surround yourself with the people who can help you make your dream a reality.

What lessons could you take from Alistair'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.