“It was a toxic environment; not a place that I wanted to be.”

Image of Kelly Shearer
From Marketing to Own Business

When her employer's merger turned out to completely out of sync with her values, Kelly Shearer decided to get help working out what else she wanted to do. Here, she shares how she's reawakened her biggest career passion, and is now enjoying a level of control over her work she's never had before.

What work were you doing previously?

I was working in the head office of a big grocery chain, doing commercial marketing.

What are you doing now?

My husband and I run our own shop selling high-quality food products, near where we live in North London.

Why did you change?

I hated my old job, for a mixture of reasons.

A lot of people there were really unhappy, and there had been some layoffs. It was just a toxic environment.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

The company merged with another big company, which didn’t align at all with my values.

After that, it just wasn’t a place that I wanted to be.

How did you choose your new career?

I always knew that I wanted to have a business of my own, but I didn’t really know what I wanted that business to be.

Food was a big theme for me, though; it’s always been important to me. Every job I’ve done has involved food. I’ve worked in restaurants and as a cook – my first job with the grocery chain was actually cooking. My marketing job there was the most divorced from food that I’ve ever been.

I did the Career Change Launch Pad with Careershifters, and when I went into it I wondered if other things would come up – I thought maybe I was a little bit blindfolded, because I’d only ever worked in food. But in fact, what I got out of the course was confirmation that food is my biggest passion.

Are you happy with the change?

Yes, I love it.

There are still challenges, and stuff I’m learning. Christmas season is really busy. Lockdown was really stressful, too. But during that whole time I just kept thinking how grateful I was that we had our own business that we could control.

I’ve always wanted to work for myself, because I have so much passion, and I like to be in control. So that’s really positive.

Every night, when we close the shutter, I look in and I still feel: Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it’s our shop. It still takes me by surprise.

And when I look back at photos from our opening night, I just can’t believe that we did it.

Getting to know people has been really special, too. We’re in a residential area, and we have a lot of customers who we’re really close with – we know hundreds of our customers by name. It really feels like a community.

How did you go about making the shift?

I left the grocery chain job and ended up working at the cheese shop where my husband was working, just because I didn’t know what to do.

I was working in a marketing role for them, but it was very different. I still wasn’t happy there, though. That was when I signed up for the Launch Pad.

I don’t really know what the transition was, to deciding to open a food shop. I’d always assumed that the rent in London would be unaffordable for a shop space – I just didn’t even think that was on the table.

But eventually, one of my friends told me a food shop near where we live was up for sale, and I realised it was better than I’d thought. So I started exploring that possibility, and eventually it happened.

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

I honestly don't miss anything about my old career.

But the one thing that is a challenge sometimes with being self-employed versus working for someone else, is that it can be hard to switch off work mode, especially since my husband is also my business partner. It's all too easy to bring work home with us.

That said, I love what I do, so it's not something I would necessarily change, I just want to be cautious of my work becoming my only identity.

Also, when it comes to making hard decisions, sometimes I wish (even if just for a moment) there was someone else who could take care of it.

But the plus side is that I've become better at making those decisions and it feels less stressful now when something unexpected happens. We've coped with a flood, staff illnesses, fridges breaking and a global pandemic, among many other day-to-day challenges, so I know whatever comes we can deal with it.

The biggest thing that I feel I've gained (I guess what I don't miss about my old career) is that now I have much more control, and that's been especially important to me in the last couple of years, as we worked through the pandemic.

For example, we've recently decided to reduce our opening hours for the next 6 months to give ourselves a break after what was a very busy period for us.

Knowing that we have the freedom to do that means everything to me. And after just two weeks of this schedule, with a bit more free time, I feel like I'm connecting to other parts of myself outside of work, which feels amazing.

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

I’m using skills from earlier in my career, because I’m back in touch with food now: literally making coffee for people, cutting cheese and serving soups and sandwiches.

As for running the business, a lot of it is learning as you go. The Launch Pad helped give me confidence around that: you don’t have to know every single thing when you start.

Asking other people for help is so useful. There’s a little restaurant a couple of doors down from us, and before we opened I asked them some questions. We do favours for them too now.

It’s also great to be doing this with a partner: there are different skills that we each have. Between the two of us, often one of us has some experience.

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

I still probably am making wrong turns, but nothing has ended up being really bad.

One wrong turn was finding our first accountant through Google – just because we needed one. They weren’t the best accountant for a small business just starting out: they gave us some advice which turned out to be wrong, and ended up costing us money.

But thankfully, one of our customers is also an independent business owner, so I asked him who he used, and he gave me a name. It just goes to show that the help you have is really important.

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

When we first opened, I was still working at my old job part-time.

It was good to have some extra income at that point, as we didn’t really have any income from our own business yet.

At that point, as a brand new business, we weren’t on credit terms with most of our suppliers. So when I stopped working at my old job completely, our business bank account was the lowest it had ever been; it was scary.

But it ended up being OK – it was just a really big lesson. Finance is one of the areas where neither I nor my husband had had much experience before!

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

My husband and I are still navigating how to make the business not take over our lives completely, so that we have a relationship outside of work, too.

It’s really taken over, especially since the pandemic.

What help did you get?

As well as asking others for help, another form of help is the staff that we have now.

We’re really lucky that all three of our staff are people that we used to work with.

It’s also sometimes a challenge being their friend while being their boss – like with my husband, it’s all about navigating personal and business boundaries.

What resources would you recommend to others?

The exercises I did on the Launch Pad really helped me.

I’m the type of person who sometimes has a tendency to just do things, but the exercises helped me pause, and think about what I really want and enjoy.

What have you learnt in the process?

You don’t need to know everything before you get started: you’ll learn as you go.

For instance, when the pandemic hit, we had to make the website, basically overnight, – so we did.

I’ve also learned that while I need to be empowered by other people, I also want to help empower other people myself. And I hadn’t known exactly how to do that in food before. But now, I employ and hire people, like the shop staff and delivery drivers.

For me, it would be the best thing to be a good employer, and to give people opportunities to grow, develop, and have experiences that will maybe even lead to them opening their own business.

What do you wish you'd done differently?

It's hard to have regrets when I'm so happy with where I am now!

I would say, 'I wish I'd done it sooner' but I don't even think that's true - I think it all happened at the right time, and the experiences I had before I shifted have made me better at what I'm doing now.

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

It’s different for everyone, but when I knew I couldn’t go on in my job anymore, I set a deadline for handing in my notice – and I told a few people.

Saying it out loud, and to someone else, makes it real; it also gives some level of accountability.

Think about transitional steps, too – even if your next job isn’t where you want to spend the rest of your life. My job at the cheese shop gave me time to do the Launch Pad and have the space and freedom to figure things out.

To find out more about Kelly's business, visit www.middlelanemarket.com.

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

Kelly took part in our Career Change Launch Pad. If you're ready to join a group of bright, motivated career changers on a structured programme to help you find more fulfilling work, you can find out more here.

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.