“I didn’t feel as though I was directly helping anyone.”
What work were you doing previously?
I was the global product manager for women’s and girls’ footwear at a large shoe brand.
I worked closely with the design, sales, and development teams to ensure the right shoes and boots were being created each season.
What are you doing now?
I run my consultancy and training business The Shoe Consultant.
I help people start successful shoe brands, and I also just launched my new course How to Photograph Shoes to Sell: a creative collaboration with a renowned shoe photographer.
Why did you change?
Although it was an interesting role, I didn’t feel as though I was directly helping anyone while working in the head office of a shoe company.
Volunteering for women’s charity Smart Works at weekends enabled me to help women back into the workplace, and feel as though I was making a small difference in their lives.
I wanted to get that feeling from my day job.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
I’d known I wanted to leave the corporate shoe world for about a year before I handed in my notice.
I scrimped and saved, then did some calculations in the Christmas break and resigned on the first day back in January.
How did you choose your new career?
I think it chose me, or my clients certainly did.
When I left the corporate brand, I created a website with a number of different services based on my shoe expertise. Consultancy for start-ups was the one (the only one!) that people needed and contacted me about.
Are you happy with the change?
I haven’t regretted starting my own business for one moment. Every day I get to support people who are a joy to work with.
I feel very lucky to have been able to create a company that aligns with my values and ethics.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I used to miss casual chats in the office kitchen while making tea.
But a few years ago I started working a day or two a week at a coworking space. This feels more sociable than working from home alone every day.
I don’t miss the office politics and people not being straightforward with one another. I value honesty and openness in business.
How did you go about making the shift?
When I quit my corporate role, I’d saved up enough money to last me a year so I could spend that time working out which service would be revenue generating.
I was fortunate to have these funds in place, to take the leap and quit my corporate job and conduct this experiment.
How did you develop (or transfer) the skills you needed for your new role?
I’d already been working in the shoe industry for 17 years when I started my business so I had the footwear knowledge I needed.
What I didn’t know was how to start a service-based business. I attended several marketing workshops and a start-up business workshop.
Plus I learnt on the job, and from my mistakes.
What didn’t go well? What wrong turns did you take?
When I started supporting start-up shoe brands, I wasn’t selective about who I worked with.
I had a tricky relationship with one client because I hadn’t properly established the parameters and boundaries around our working relationship.
I also used to charge an hourly rate for consultancy and travelled to meet clients.
When I created online packages of support and subsequently courses and a membership, I was able to scale my business. This was impossible when I was spending so much time travelling, and charging so little for my advice.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
I needed to do a lot of personal development to understand who I was outside of the corporate world.
That enabled me to create this beautiful, human, and straightforward business of mine. Offering practical, customer-centred advice to my clients, so we can change the world of shoes together.
What help did you get?
I received the support of two wonderful business coaches in the early years of starting my consultancy business.
Without them, I would still be undercharging for my services.
I also joined a couple of women’s networking groups which gave me perspective and allowed me to benefit from other members’ experiences.
What resources would you recommend to others?
The book ‘You are a Badass at Making Money’ by Jen Sincero is one I return to whenever I need to remember my value or shift out of a scarcity mind-set.
What have you learnt in the process?
Some people say that running your own business means you work longer hours than you would for someone else.
I haven’t found that to be the case. You create your own company culture when you start, and if that culture is that you work 12 hours a day, seven days a week then that is what you’ll do.
It’s easy to forget when you shift from the corporate world to being an entrepreneur, that you’re in control. If you want to work four days a week as I do, or only during school hours, you can make that happen.
What do you wish you'd done differently?
I wish I’d charged more for my services from the start.
This is such a common mistake, particularly among female entrepreneurs.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
I often tell freelancers I work with that they’re undercharging.
They think charging less than their market value will make them more likely to get business, but it can work the opposite way.
Clients may undervalue a freelancer’s expertise and think they wouldn’t do as good a job as someone charging more.
To find out more about Susannah's course, visit https://shoeconsultant.com/how-to-photograph-shoes-to-sell-course
What lessons could you take from Susannah's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.