“The usual frustrations of working for somebody else who was purely focused on the bottom line were starting to kick in.”

From Recruitment to Inspiring Networking Events

After working together for 10 years in a recruitment agency, Debbie Hockham and Julian Smith decided to follow their passions for people and charities, and start bringing people together in a meaningful way. Here's how they did it.

What were you doing previously?

Debbie: My background is twenty years in marketing and events.

Julian: Mine is twelve years in recruitment for the charity sector.

Debbie: We worked together for the last ten years, doing very different things in the same company.

And what are you doing now?

Julian: We set up the I Am Group as a resource for the charity sector, to bring people together and to skill people up through training, information, master classes and workshops.

Why did you make the change?

Debbie: I’d spent ten years organising an annual recruitment event, but the usual frustrations of working for somebody else who didn’t quite see my vision, and was purely focused on the bottom line were starting to kick in.

Julian: Similarly to Debbie, I needed more freedom and flexibility, and wasn’t enjoying being in a corporate environment any more. I needed the creativity that being my own boss would give me – as well as a chance to be in charge of my own destiny!

What was the moment that you decided to make the change?

Debbie: It was back in 2010. Neither of us had been happy for a while, and we were watching people coming and going all the time. The catalyst was a mutual colleague who ‘upped sticks’ and moved to start a new life in Goa...

Julian: ...you could say it was jealousy, I guess!

Debbie: Exactly! It was at that point where we both realised we had to think of something else to do...

Julian: ...and we decided that we would join forces, and set out together! Six months later, we not only had a business idea, but also a plan on how to achieve it!

Are you happy with the change you made?

Julian: Oh! You have NO idea! When I think how far we have come, and what we’ve achieved in less than a year since we started – not to mention the HUGE learning curve!

Debbie: I agree! I remember when we first started working from our new office, based in Hub Westminster, we would have so much fun – and we realised that we were laughing and enjoying work – something which hadn’t happened for years!

Julian: We still have so much fun – although we’re working 6-7 days per week

So what are the practical things you did to go about making the shift?

Debbie: Researching the market, going to exhibitions, holding focus groups with trusted friends and contacts, all the time trying to hone in on our exact offering and translating it into a business plan.

Julian: For me, it was often the visuals that I needed to organise, such as the name the brand and logo, the website, etc., which finally helped us to take the plunge!

Debbie: We were also lucky enough to have a couple of sessions with the East London Small Business Centre, as well as support from people who had set up their own businesses.

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

JulesJulian: I was fortunate in the fact that I was paid commission in my last role, and managed to save as much as possible, knowing that I’d need it for a rainy day.

Debbie: The finances were always going to be the most challenging aspects of setting up a business. We didn’t look for funding or loans, and set everything up on a shoestring budget, where every pound was accounted for before it was spent!

What’s been the most difficult thing about changing?

Debbie: Probably the self discipline. I’ve never really worked from home before, and now I do it at least twice a week. An office full of colleagues (even if the atmosphere was rather gloomy most of the time) meant that that there were still people around me if I was having a bad day – though, of course, I haven’t had any bad days since we started!

Julian: I must admit, for me, it’s the constant ‘to do’ list. Mine looks like a Hydra – as soon as I cross one thing off the list, two more take its place. That, and the fact that we’ve had to become technically proficient in areas new to us such as website maintenance, finance, etc...

Debbie: ...not forgetting social media, of course!

Did you get any help with your change or did you just do it by yourselves?

Julian: It was a huge support to have each other, of course – but we have a long list of people who have helped us out with thoughts and ideas, as well as marketing, IT, the website, policies, etc...

Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

Debbie: No. I just wish I’d done it sooner!

Julian: Me too! I kept dreaming of changing careers, but never found the confidence to do anything about it!

What would you advise others to do, who are unhappy or unfulfilled in their work?

Julian: Firstly, join our networking group and come and meet others who have faced what you are going through and done something about it! Sometimes you just have to take a chance, and do something different...

Debbie: I agree. Networking is key; we still rely on our networks for help and inspiration, but the great thing is, they now rely on us as well – for training, consultancy, recruitment and advice! Ultimately, you have one life, so you might as well spend it doing something you’re interested in!

Julian: And finally, don’t automatically think that you can’t do something just because you haven’t done it before...

What lessons could you take from Debbie'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.