“I wasn't sure that I could bring any value to anyone.”

Image of Vanessa Samuels
From Large Company to Own Consultancy

After taking time out from the workforce, Vanessa Samuel's confidence in her skills was at a low ebb. But after some encouragement from friends and family (and a couple of wobbles), she's created a new way of working that's brought her the flexibility she always wanted, and a new sense of her own value. Here's her story. 

What work were you doing previously?

I was an HR Director for an airline catering company, before taking time out to be a stay-at-home parent for seven years.

What are you doing now?

I have set up my own HR consultancy and I am working for myself.

I provide HR advice and guidance to small employers.

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

I enjoyed the variety of working in HR, in particular the employment-law side of it.

However, I had reached a level which involved long working hours and some travel; I knew this wouldn't be conducive to having a family without a lot of stress thrown in.

In particular, I didn't want my children to spend most of their formative years in childcare. So when an opportunity came up to step outside of HR for a while, I took it.

Why did you change?

Whilst I kept myself busy by volunteering with various charities and looking after my children during the day, I missed working and the sense of achievement that came with that.

I had it in mind that I would either look for a part-time HR job or put some feelers out to see if I could do some consultancy for local business.

A few months ago a close friend asked if I could do some HR consultancy work for her company. I agreed and then a month later another close friend recommended me to someone she knew; I'm now supporting them with HR consultancy.

So I formally started my own HR consultancy.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

A few months ago when my friend suggested I have a call with her CEO to see how I could help them in their HR provision.

I was very nervous about starting things off but I'm so glad I said yes to that opportunity. I learnt to never let fear put me off from trying something new.

How did you choose your new career?

I have over 20 years' experience in HR; it was something that I still enjoyed talking about with others, and it was something that I knew I could do.

I did, however, have a few wobbles. I ended up completing a Careershifters workshop, which was fantastic; it gave me some tools to assess what work was best for me. It led to an inventory of what I valued in working and how I might replicate that best in my next steps.

I considered a number of different options. However, after the inventory it was clear that HR consultancy would give me what I wanted in my next job, particularly in terms of flexibility for my family.

Are you happy with the change?

Very happy.

I'm loving it.

I have two clients whom I enjoy working with, plus I have ideas as to how I can grow my business. The best thing is that it more or less works around my children and family life.

I do still have to work hard (I'm often working in the evenings until quite late some days), but I really enjoy it. It's great to have some control over how I work by working for myself and I love the fact that my job still has variety as well as the extra interest of learning how to market myself and bring in new business.

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

I don't miss the politics involved in working for a large organisation, especially the dictates from Head Office, which used to be very frustrating to have to accommodate.

How did you go about making the shift?

Once I was hired by my first client I researched how to set up my business.

I'd been keeping up to date on employment law during my seven years at home, so that part wasn't such an issue. However, I needed to draft terms of business, set up a business bank account, sort indemnity insurance and relevant IT security, etc.

At the moment I'm set up as sole trader, which makes things more simple. Once my children are older I will definitely ramp things up and will need to be a limited company, which comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. I will make sure I get a good accountant when that time comes.

How did you develop (or transfer) the skills you needed for your new role?

I started advising my husband on some HR issues occurring within his company and that started to build my confidence that my old HR skills were very much still there.

Likewise, I began advising friends and family on employment issues, which helped me to exercise my old HR brain! I was worried that after seven years out of work I would have forgotten many of the best practices that I'd learnt during my career.

Thankfully, after a couple of months back in the saddle, they all came flooding back. I'm still very cautious when giving advice, as the moment you get complacent is the moment you make an error; mistakes in employment law can be costly.

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

Underpricing myself, I would say.

My hourly and day rates are fine, but I've completed a couple of jobs where I've underestimated the time needed to complete them.

I'm correcting that now and am a lot more careful when pricing up jobs.

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

I was very fortunate in that we'd been living off my husband's salary and were doing fine with that.

Finance was not the main driver in me returning to work, which I'm incredibly grateful for. That helped immensely in dipping my toe back into the HR waters, as I really had nothing to lose other than the cost of the indemnity insurance or the IT security protection I'd put in place.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

Getting over my lack of confidence in myself.

I'd been away from the world of work for years. I was concerned that I'd have to start again on the job front; despite having a good qualifications up to Master's level, I really wasn't sure that I could bring any value to anyone.

I now know that not to be true. I've had feedback from my clients who so far have been very pleased with the support and guidance I've given them.

What help did you get?

Aside from my two lovely friends who recommended me to their employer/friend, just my husband who encouraged me to give it a go.

It was quite obvious from conversations with him that I still got a massive buzz from helping in employment situations.

I did of course get some fantastic guidance from being on the Careershifters workshop, which I'd recommend to anyone who's unsure of their next role.

What resources would you recommend to others?

A network of friends/family to help with encouragement/wobbles.

I had a few of those and really appreciate the fact that my friends and husband have held my hand at those times.

I also have a number of HR resources that I consult, but that's very specific to whatever I'm working on.

What have you learnt in the process?

To believe in myself.

I'm delighted that I took the chance offered to me. I very nearly didn't due to fear and lack of confidence in myself.

For as long as I can remember I've always wanted to run my own business. I'm delighted for myself that I've finally achieved that. The best bit is that I thoroughly enjoy it.

One of my clients has recently offered me a job in their organisation. However, I've declined it as I love the fact that consulting fits around my life, rather than me fitting around my employment.

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

Have confidence in yourself.

It sounds easier said than done, but it you can't find a reason not to go for something then it probably means that you should.

What lessons could you take from Vanessa'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.