From Market Research to Catering

“Life's too short not to have a go at doing something I love.”

Image of Karen Wigley

From Market Research to Catering

Karen Wigley could no longer muster enthusiasm for her work. So, she decided to turn her love of entertaining into a business she could feel proud of. Here she shares how she's combining a realistic attitude to money with something she truly enjoys.

What work were you doing previously?

I was working as a freelance market research consultant, specialising in qualitative research.

What are you doing now?

I've set up The Canape Kitchen, which is a small catering business making canapés for large parties and events but also for smaller informal events where someone wants the food to be a little bit special.

I'm still freelancing in market research (because it pays very well and I am pretty good at it).

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

Bored, unchallenged and uninspired.

I was working on a three-day-a-week contract at a university as well as freelancing, and was tired of running focus groups and interviews. I was looking at doing the same project with different student audiences for the next 18 months to two years and had no enthusiasm for it.

I can't do a job if i don't do it well and give it my all, and I couldn't muster the energy to keep doing the same thing that I'd been doing for so many years.

Why did you change?

I wanted to do something I loved and could get excited about; something completely different that I knew I could do well.

I felt that life was too short not to have a go at doing something I love.

Luckily, I have a very supportive husband who has a good income and who was in agreement.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

Walking along the promenade in Riomaggiore in La Cinque Terre, Italy, when my husband and I were away together for a few days last summer.

I had first voiced the idea out loud to a friend over coffee about two years ago.

How did you choose your new career?

I have always enjoyed faffing about and entertaining I guess.

I've made canapés for parties, school events and for my local tennis club dinners for a few years.

Everybody has always seemed to think they were pretty good, so I just went with my heart – and on a bit of a whim really.

Are you happy with the change?

Yes.

I've loved creating the brand, my website and all of my boxes, bags and leaflets. I feel quite proud when I look at it because it projects exactly the image I wanted – and it's all my own work.

But catering notoriously doesn't pay well – I can make the same in a day freelancing as I can doing a small catering event which takes far more time.

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

I miss the income – and I feel slightly guilty about that from the family point of view as it puts more financial pressure on my husband.

Even though it's my own small business I also miss the slight status of working in something a bit more recognised – I don't think catering has as much kudos or status.

I don't miss the deadlines, the office politics and nonsense, or the wasted travel time to the university I used to work for.

How did you go about making the shift?

I just handed my notice in at the University and then I was committed to leaving there.

I told people I was going to set up a canapé business – and then I had to do it.

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

So far all is going well.

It's quite slow, but I'm seeing threads of it taking off.

I realise I need to do a lot more marketing activity but don't feel I've really taken any wrong turns – yet.

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

I'm still freelancing in market research and my husband has a very good income.

The outlay for my new business was quite low so I haven't had to borrow anything. But we are adjusting to a reduced income from me at the moment.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

Accepting that this isn't going to make a whole load of money – and the slight tension in the family that comes with giving up some of your income.

Also, it's been difficult knowing how to publicise myself, and deciding who my target customer is. I'm probably trying to be all things to all people right now.

What help did you get?

I haven't really.

I've had advice from my husband; apart from that I've just gone with my heart.

What resources would you recommend to others?

The PopUp Business School which visited Chippenham was brilliant.

I received lots of great advice and I learnt so much about just doing it and getting on with things.

What have you learnt in the process?

"Done is better than perfect" is a great mantra for getting things done.

I've also learnt not to be afraid of asking anybody for anything. Facebook is a great business tool, and most people are really supportive of you trying something new.

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

Go with your heart and give something a go – provided you can take the financial risk.

To find out more about Karen's business, visit www.thecanapekitchen.co.uk.

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 hello@careershifters.org. and you could win a £25 / $35 Amazon voucher in our monthly draw.