“I questioned whether I was living my life with integrity and it hit me that I needed to make the change.”
What work were you doing previously?
For the last 13-14 years I worked as a project manager, as a contractor.
I worked across the private sector, public sector, charities, and I've worked in many different industries – finance, education, hospitals, the police.
What are you doing now?
I launched my interior design studio earlier this year.
The studio specialises in residential interior design, in colourful interiors. We bring colour into people's homes in a way that reflects their personality and gives them the confidence to have some colour in their home.
How did you feel in your work before you decided to make the change?
I knew what I was doing, and I was good at it.
I kind of bunny-hopped around and I really enjoyed that. I liked choosing the projects that appealed to me and interested me. I’ve always liked being my own boss in that way. While I had people to report to, I've never really been 'managed' in a traditional business sense, and I always quite enjoyed that.
But I realised that the projects I was working on in my last role I'd lost the passion for.
Why did you change?
For about the past eight years I'd been studying interior design online with KLC Design School.
I started the course before my eldest child was born, simply because I was interested in it. I've always loved learning. I also wanted something to distract me while we were trying for a child which was quite a stressful process.
My studies took a long time as I had my two children close to each other (there's 15 months between them) which put a gap in my studies, then we had Covid.
But I really enjoyed it.
I've always been interested in interior design. Even as a child I enjoyed rearranging my room and styling it differently.
So that interest had always been there, but I think there was some imposter syndrome around it as an adult, thinking I couldn't possibly do it as a career.
As my studies progressed and I got a bit older and a bit more confident, I thought 'well why couldn't I do it?'. It's only me that's stopping that from happening.
I continued to do other courses, short courses, day courses, just to continually build my knowledge.
Then the real push to make the shift came last year.
I read a book by Martha Beck (The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self) and it made me question whether I was living my life with integrity. Am I enjoying what I'm doing? Am I creating value with what I'm doing?
Not long after I was walking across the field near my house one day listening to a podcast that was talking about integrity and I started crying because it hit me that I knew what I needed to do.
I needed to commit to pursuing interior design, to jump and see what happens.
Are you happy with the change?
One of my friends said to me recently that I light up when I talk about my new role, and I definitely didn't do that before.
I now look forward to my day, and I love how every day is really different.
Especially if I go to a trade fair, or am out sourcing products, I think 'I can't believe this is my job now'. Those were the sort of things I liked to do before I was an interior designer, but I'd have to take a day off work and I felt like I didn't really belong there.
It makes me really happy being creative. You can't put a price on how nice it is being creative for your job. I think it's good for your brain to challenge yourself to work in different ways.
My role wasn't creative before, it was very formulaic. With the creative design process you might start off with an idea of what you're designing but what you end up with is very different.
I love that surprise element. It's really thrilling.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I miss knowing what I'm doing!
It's all still new and the learning curve is huge, but I'm also enjoying the opportunity to learn.
I miss having colleagues. I don't really have anyone I can pick up the phone to and ask 'what should I do?'.
But I'm part of a community called the Interior Designers Hub. It’s all fellow interior designers who are either setting up a business or are in business, so get a community through that, and the support has been invaluable.
I miss the regular paycheck. Cash flow management is much harder now than it used to be.
I don't miss being tied to my desk, and working on projects that I could do with my eyes shut. I don't miss the predictability of what I was doing before.
How did you go about making the shift?
My last contract was due for renewal, so I just didn't renew it, and took the plunge.
I spent the next two and a half months solely on setting up my business. It was really nice to have two months just to focus on all the admin and processes surrounding setting up a business, because there is so much to it.
I think it worked quite well for me as I am quite an all-or-nothing person. I think I've seen more tangible process doing it in that way rather than trying to snatch pockets of time alongside a day job.
I didn't have time in my old role to build up the business on the side. I'm not great at working in the evening, and I've got children. To do my job, get the children sorted in the evening then get back to work on my business after that, wouldn't work for me.
How did you develop (or transfer) the skills you needed for your new role?
There's a lot of project management in interior design, so that skillset was very transferable.
My course has given me lots of practice.
I also did a few practice projects for friends before I finished my last work contract. They were a bit more formal in that I produced drawings, whereas in the past I would have given verbal advice or suggestions. I treated them more like clients. So I had 3 or 4 friends whose rooms I designed.
Over the years I've done design and renovations for my own homes, so I was able to make and learn from mistakes on my own property that I hopefully wouldn't repeat.
Practicing on my own home and for friends has been invaluable in terms of tracking how long it takes to do things. I track things as I go, and I think that's the project manager in me as I'm used to tracking resources and time, scheduling tasks etc.
What didn't go well? What wrong turns did you take?
I'm not great at planning my time.
I underestimate how long things are going to take me, so there's been a few late nights trying to fit everything in.
So I’m trying to get more realistic in my planning and scheduling, though to be fair it's still early days in the business so I'm learning how long things will take me.
How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?
I put some money aside to help me set up the business.
Having worked as a contractor, I was aware of how much things like insurance and accounts can cost, so I was able to budget for those and put that aside.
I’d also put a pot of money aside for my branding and website, because I knew these were things I'd want to get help with and that I wanted to get right. I wanted to pay for them and have them created upfront, to have the best stab at getting them right from the start.
My plan now is to get a part-time job to supplement my income while I grow my number of clients.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
I didn’t really find it difficult, because it was something I desperately wanted to do.
I like change, but again it's probably the project manager in me as I'm good at change management.
As a contractor, I’d be changing my role quite frequently, so every year or two I'd go to a new project, so I've never been afraid of meeting new clients or having interviews. As I was constantly changing the projects I'd work on, I didn’t find this change hard.
What help did you get?
The Interior Designers Hub has been invaluable as a community, knowledge resource, and support base.
I've also joined some interior design groups local to me where I've met up with other interior designers. It’s been great to know that that knowledge-sharing and combined support is available. And it's not competitive – we help each other out in a way you might not expect competitors to do.
What have you learnt in the process?
I could probably write a book!
The biggest thing I've learnt is to appreciate and understand that what I do now is still work even though I'm enjoying it.
There's a temptation to keep pushing. Just because I'm enjoying doing it, doesn't mean I should keep doing it at the weekend.
Attending a trade show and networking all day is still work, even if there's no tangible outcome. It’s still draining. So I've learnt to value how I'm spending my time, to see it as work, and to make sure that I rest.
I had got a bit burnt out as I'd been loving the work so much and enjoying the progress that I kept going and going. I realised that I have to step back a bit and put boundaries in place.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
Read The Way of Integrity by Martha Beck!
Make sure you have support around you, because the change can be hard and there'll be things you don't know how to do. Be it local business groups or people in the same trade as you, you'll be surprised how many people will offer their help.
And, just go for it.
There will never be a perfect time. You don't have to be perfect at something before you do it. You will never know everything. I might not be (or ever be) the best interior designer, but I'm a good interior designer, so I'm going to go for it.
To find out more about Becky’s business, visit www.beckyharrisondesigns.co.uk.
What lessons could you take from Becky's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.