“I constantly felt that I was letting both my employers and my children down.”

Image of Beverley Essam
From General Manager to Business Owner

Beverley Essam couldn't be the person she wanted to be with her work–life balance the way it was. So, she took time to re-evaluate, and to set up a bespoke career that meets all her needs. Here's how she did it, and the lessons she learned along the way.

What work were you doing previously?

For nearly 15 years I've worked in the fashion industry, predominantly in bridal fashion.

My main focus has always been product – sampling through to production. In more recent years I was promoted to General Manager, so whilst I was still managing the product process, I was also overseeing the company and playing a vital role in the development of the business.

What are you doing now?

I've just set up two businesses.

Firstly, I'm working as a product development and production consultant, helping small UK fashion businesses to set up, develop or improve their product processes.

Secondly, I've just launched a bespoke print business – Rock Paper Print Studio. I'm focusing on wedding invitations at the moment, but have big plans to expand the range.

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

I was very lucky to work for a company which offered me some flexibility when I returned to work after my first child was born, so I was only working part-time, but even so it was a tough year.

I found the juggle of work and childcare really difficult – I constantly felt that I was letting both my employers and my children down. When I went on my second maternity leave I wondered whether it would be feasible to go back, but I left that question unanswered in my head whilst I settled in to being a mum of two under two.

Why did you change?

It really was down to becoming a mother of two.

It made me re-evaluate my work–life balance – I absolutely knew that I wanted to work, but I just couldn't see how I could be the mother I wanted to be while still keeping up with the 9–5 (or 6... or 7).

Deep down I've always wanted to run my own business, but it was the need to be present in my children's lives that really gave me the push.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

If I'm honest, I think subconsciously I knew from pretty early on in my maternity leave that I wouldn't be going back, but in reality it was a slow burn.

Having a newborn and a toddler does crazy things to your brain. So, I decided to ignore it until the new year when my daughter would be two months old. January came and I wasn't ready, so I gave myself until March… but even then I still wasn't ready.

Eventually, after much soul searching, I made the decision in June, and immediately arranged a meeting with my employers to let them know.

How did you choose your new career?

This was tricky.

I obviously have a lot of experience in fashion production so it was a no-brainer that I should use that experience and build on what I knew. And it seemed like the quickest route to ensuring a stable income.

However, I also had a major craving to be doing something creative, and something of my own.

I spent so long deliberating over which was the best path, I nearly drove myself crazy. My husband, whilst incredibly supportive, was also understandably anxious about the perils of freelancing and the financial risks involved, so I wanted to ensure that whatever I chose would be safe and sensible for our family.

In the end I decided to do both – follow my head and my heart. I love my work in the fashion industry, but I knew I wouldn't be happy if I didn't have a creative outlet of my own.

Now I get to do both.

Are you happy with the change?

So happy!

The moment I handed in my notice I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. Whilst there are pressures in terms of bills to pay, I know I have the skills to do this, so I'm really excited to see what the next year has in store for me.

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

Having a team.

This is for sure the big thing that I miss day to day. I was really lucky to work with great people and I do miss the support and office chat.

I don't miss the commute. And the feeling of being restrained by 'office hours' – I'm free now to work when I choose.

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

I'm still pretty early on in my journey, but the big thing I know I've done wrong is not being financially prepared enough for the change.

Income isn't guaranteed, especially in the early days. I'm really frustrated with myself that I didn't knuckle down and save up over the last few years so I could afford things like a web designer or a photographer – I've had to do all this myself for now, which has been a real drain on my time.

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

See above! I wasn't as prepared as I should have been.

My husband and I have had a LOT of money chats to work out what we can cover each month. As we were already budgeting for maternity leave, we've continued that to see us through.

I do also have a small amount of savings to fall back on, so I know I don't have to go into debt.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

My mindset – convincing myself I could.

I spent so long thinking about the pros and cons, trying to make an informed decision, and worrying about whether people would want what I could offer, that I nearly talked myself out of it a thousand times.

What help did you get?

I have lots of friends who freelance or have their own companies, so I talked to them. A LOT.

I also signed up to Annie Ridout's 'Becoming your own boss' course. I had already read her book and I follow her on Instagram, as I love her honest approach. The course really helped me to get things straight in my head and answered a lot of the little practical questions I had buzzing around in the back of my mind.

I'm also just in the process of signing up for a programme in my local area – the Outset programme. It supports new freelancers and small business owners with practical advice and support in the form of workshops, mentoring and online assets. It's currently free for those living in Waltham Forest, which is amazing.

What resources would you recommend to others?

I'd recommend both Annie Ridout and the Outset programme.

I'm also part of the Hive Collective, a Walthamstow-based network for small business owners. It holds quarterly networking events and has a great, supportive Facebook community.

DIFTK (Doing It For The Kids) is another fantastic community for freelancing parents.

What have you learnt in the process?

I'm slowly but surely learning the value of hiring in help where you need it.

My old boss told me her best piece of advice – "Don't be afraid to hire people who are cleverer than you" – and it has always stuck with me.

I wish more and more every day that I had the finances available to bring in all the skills I need, and I'm absolutely budgeting for this in the year ahead.

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

Be prepared and go for it!

I think if you have the ambition to work for yourself then you should absolutely make it happen – the positives are huge!

Be single-minded in your approach, get yourself prepared both mentally and financially, and you will already be a few steps ahead of the competition.

What lessons could you take from Beverley'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.