From School to Consultancy

“The day-to-day bureaucracy was taking me away from the core work I wanted to do.”

Image of Sarah Billingham
From School to Consultancy

Exhausted and frustrated at work, Sarah Billingham decided to become her own boss. Here's how a timely partnership was exactly the catalyst she needed to get her ideal business off the ground.

What work were you doing previously?

I worked in the charity sector as an Assistant Headteacher, in a special school for children with speech, language and communication needs.

What are you doing now?

I've set up an educational consultancy in partnership with an occupational therapist.

We provide coaching, advice and training for parents and practitioners supporting young children with additional needs.

I still work part-time for the charity in their assessment service.

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

There were lots of things I liked about my work.

I really do love supporting kids with additional needs and their families. However, the job had its challenges too. I found that the day-to-day bureaucracy and operational 'stuff' was taking me away from the core work I wanted to do.

This was frustrating and exhausting.

Why did you change?

I was pregnant with my second child.

I decided it was time for me to take a step back and reflect on how I wanted my career to move forward. I spent time really thinking about which aspects of my work I enjoyed most and wanted to pour my energies into.

A huge consideration was the need to be realistic about how much time I wanted to devote to working each week. Whilst raising a young family, I wanted to feel that the work I could do in the limited time I had available was the most worthwhile and enjoyable.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

I'd spent a lot of time looking into different options and planning out what services I could offer in a business of my own.

I showed this to a couple of people to get their feedback.

Then, somewhat out of the blue, Amanda, an occupational therapist that I knew, approached me wanting to discuss her business idea. She wanted to work together and decided to pitch her idea to me.

When we met, she was able to articulate a vision of what she wanted so beautifully. She had a way of crystallising all of my disparate random ideas into a lovely cohesive concept. I felt energised in a way a way I hadn't felt for a very long time.

I was totally hooked from then.

How did you choose your new career?

Amanda and I worked together to refine our vision over a few months.

A period of market research, planning and refining was really beneficial in helping us to distil down exactly what we wanted to do – supporting children in their formative early years (0 - 5).

We feel that getting help early on makes the biggest difference to children in the long term. By enabling families and practitioners to develop a robust toolkit of strategies, they're more confident and skilled in supporting children in their everyday lives.

Are you happy with the change?

Absolutely.

I've learnt so much in a short amount of time about things I'd never really needed to know before (building a website, marketing, using social media, accounting).

I've also had the privilege of being welcomed into a lovely community of freelancers and small business owners. It's been a really inspiring time.

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

There's a comfort, stability and certainty which comes from employment that I miss.

As a teacher, I'd never really left school. Despite moving across the world, I've always lived by the school structure of term times and playground / staffroom politics. Being outside of that has been both exhilarating and terrifying.

There are times when I feel a little deskilled and need to work on applying what I know into new situations. I also miss some of my colleagues a great deal.

On the flip side, I like having the flexibility to work when it suits me, so that I can go to all of my daughter's events or have a day off when I want to.

And I don't miss all of the seemingly endless (and sometimes unnecessary) paperwork.

How did you go about making the shift?

We did lots of planning before going live with the website and opening for business.

Having a partner made all the difference for me. We were able to work to our strengths and cheer each other on. It's been a slow build. We've also spent a lot of time up front on networking and marketing.

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

One early misstep was planning a training event too early.

We didn't yet have enough contacts / reputation to bring in the numbers we needed to make it viable. It was so very disappointing as the content we were ready to share was great!

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

As I was going on maternity leave, the timing financially was good.

I was able to put some time into business development without needing to worry about income straight away.

I saved hard whilst pregnant to build a small working budget and a personal safety net.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

Keeping the faith when there's a setback!

It's difficult not to panic and get into a cycle of being demotivated. I became acutely aware of no longer having the safety net of employment.

What help did you get?

I joined some freelancing networking groups online and found these really helpful.

This led to meeting with a small group of local freelancers / small business owners.

Also, I can't say strongly enough how much my business partner has supported me. She's a great motivator and extremely positive. This has been so helpful.

What resources would you recommend to others?

We love Basecamp.

We find it so useful for sharing our ideas and keeping all of our working documents in one place. There are other free services which we've tried, but we've always returned to Basecamp as the ease of functionality and layout works so well for us.

What have you learnt in the process?

So much! I better understand my own vision and values, as well as the kind of life I'd like to be living.

I've also learnt all sorts of marketing and techie stuff.

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

Plan carefully and research who else is in your market.

Get feedback from trusted friends and colleagues about what you're hoping to do. You don't have to agree with their opinions or do as they suggest, but it helps you to challenge your own ideas and distil what you're trying to do.

To find out more about Sarah's services, visit www.confidentkids.co.

What lessons could you take from Sarah'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 hello@careershifters.org. and you could win a £25 / $35 Amazon voucher in our monthly draw.