“After working for other people for so long, I wanted something that I could call my own.”

Image of James
From Teaching to Own Business (Plus Post-shift Update)

James Alger had a working lifestyle that many would envy. But all the perks in the world couldn't satisfy the growing urge he had to create something of his own. Here's how he took a chance on building something new, and how things are panning out two years on.

What work were you doing previously?

About eight years ago, I began working as an English teacher in Moscow.

I specialised in working with children and worked exclusively with wealthy 'VIP' Russian families. I worked for three families over the next six years.

In each family my duties were the same – to spend as much time as possible with the children after school and at the weekends teaching them English. I used to read with them, give them conversation practice and engage them in sports and other activities in order to bring their level up towards fluency as quickly as possible.

What are you doing now?

For the last two years, I've been running my own job site.

The website specialises in advertising tutor, nanny, governor and governess jobs from a variety of agencies offering VIP work, similar to the positions I held myself.

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

I was certainly feeling ready for something new – an adventure.

After working for other people for so long, I wanted something that I could call my own. Whilst I loved my job, the urge to build something for myself became stronger.

Why did you change?

Whilst I loved my previous job, working full-time in families was high-energy work and after six years I felt ready for a change.

I still wanted to enjoy the lifestyle that working as a high-profile English tutor offered, with travel, nice restaurants and comfortable transport, but I was certainly ready to be independent, have my own space and 'do my own thing.'

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

When I completed my final contract working in Moscow.

The weather was cold and the days were dark. It's hard to pinpoint a specific day, but my general mood moved away from tutoring and towards being free to travel and to set my own schedule.

How did you choose your new career?

Having worked as an English tutor / governor, I felt that I understood the business extremely well.

I also recognised that others would surely want to take the same path as I'd taken, and that I'd be happy to be part of the process.

Working with VIP families offers unparalleled perks, such as yacht trips, private jet travel, five-star hotels and fantastic cuisine. It's equally extremely rewarding to be able to teach a child to the level of fluency in your native language and then watch them grow up to enter a prestigious international school.

I was convinced that whilst this was a business I understood very well, it was also one where I'd be able to make a difference to other people's careers.

Are you happy with the change?

Of course! The freedom I have now is exhilarating.

It's wonderful to plan my own schedule, travel at will and know that the success of my job site depends on me.

I love the creativity I have now, and the feeling that I may be able to build something big that thousands of others can benefit from.

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

Naturally I miss the fantastic food, the luxury trips to the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, and the Instagram photo opportunities!

But I don't miss having to adhere to a schedule that I didn't set myself.

How did you go about making the shift?

As per my tutor / governor contract, I was required to give one month of working notice.

I was spending the summer working with my boss's kids in the south of France, so I simply told them that I felt my time was up, and that at the end of the summer I'd be returning to the UK to work on my own business. I wished them all the best and offered to find a replacement English teacher for the family.

It went quite smoothly – my boss and my students were sad to see me go but understood my reasons.

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

It's never easy to set up your own business.

I certainly could have planned the marketing side of the website a little better, and written a more detailed business plan.

However, all in all, I weighed up the risks and I'm happy with my decision.

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

My English tutor / governor role was extremely well paid, so I'd been able to save a large amount of money over my stint working in Moscow.

I stayed at my parents' home upon returning to the UK to save money on rent and used my savings to kick-start the business and continue to pay for my lifestyle.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

Of course, it was a bit of a blow to no longer have the large salary landing in my bank account every month, and I missed my workmates – the other household staff, including the kids' nannies and the family drivers.

But the freedom I feel now has made me feel better about it all!

What help did you get?

I asked various friends for help getting the website up and running.

I took paid consultations on how best to run my job site. Friends helped me with the structure and photos for the site, while I wrote most of the site content myself.

And of course my parents were supportive in terms of offering me a place to live (and a full fridge!)

What resources would you recommend to others?

It's tough to name a specific resource for those wanting to change career.

I would simply recommend doing as much research as possible – both online and offline.

Think about who you know who may be able to advise you on your situation. Often your parents' friends (or indeed your friends' parents), have the life experience to advise you, as well as some great connections.

What have you learnt in the process?

Although it's clichéd, during this process I've learnt that you need to follow your heart.

If you feel deep down that you want to do something different, then you really have no choice but to go for it.

What's life for if not for doing the things you love?

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

I advise a sensible approach to knowing when is the right time to save money, when it's OK to spend money, and to always be planning for the future.

Any money that you can make in a high salary position I'd always recommend to be 'investing' – either in an account that brings you returns, or in a business that can one day provide you with passive or residual income.

I would advise other people to save as much as they can and then think wisely how they can put that money into something that can benefit them for many years to come, instead of splashing out on a car or holidays and having little to show for it at the end of the day.

We caught up with James recently to see how his shift was working out, roughly two years on. Here's what he's been up to, and the biggest lessons he's learned.

What's changed for you in your career since we first published your story?

The simplest way to break down various career updates since then is to simply say that I'm starting to look at the bigger picture. 

Having done the 'day job' where you trade time for money and then the grind of opening an 'own business', I am starting to think about what I see as the next stage: how to get money to work for me. As Robert Kiyosaki famously said, you need to figure out how to make money while you sleep, or work until you die. That may be a little full-on, but I think that it's definitely a good idea to think about passive income and about effective and profitable investment strategies to wind down the number of hours spent actively working. 

Areas like real estate, dividend paying stocks and growth investments are very much on my radar. So, in summary – I have been trying to outsource a little of the management of my business, continuing growth whilst giving myself the opportunity to focus on these more 'macro' areas.

How do you feel about your work now?

Whilst my work is still important to me, along with the 'bigger picture' I touched upon above, there is definitely now an aspect of trying to focus a little more on myself. 

As soon as the COVID closure floodgates opened I decided it was time to get some travel done. I have therefore been spending time in Central and South America learning Spanish, attempting salsa dancing (badly), and generally seeing more of the world. 

I am currently in South-East Asia where I am learning local languages, trying weird and wonderful foods, hiking through mountains and jungles and trying not to crash my scooter.

What challenges have you come up against since making your shift, and how exactly have you dealt with them?

The main challenge I had was COVID continuing to slow things down. 

Luckily, the childcare industry is one of those that can't really be outsourced or given to robots (at least not yet), so demand bounced back pretty well after the initial lockdown shocks. In fact, many parents realised that childcare was absolutely essential – so many recruitment companies actually found themselves more active than they were even before COVID!

The other challenge has been with trying to outsource some of the site management tasks. It is always difficult finding the right person to do a job, and Jobs in Childcare was no exception. 

I developed a few 'rules' for hiring people to try and make the process more successful from our end, including giving applicants questionnaires or small tasks to check that they are serious as well as their performance during the application process before spending time interviewing, and ultimately we got there.

How is the financial side of things panning out, and is this what you'd expected?

Jobs in Childcare is stable and doing well. 

We have more users and site visits than ever. Things are good financially and I am very happy. 

Having said that, there's always room for more growth! It would be great to think about some additional revenue streams for the site, and this is something I am doing now.

What have you learned, since making your shift?

Fundamentally this comes back to the universal philosophy that life is for living – you only live once, so make sure you give it your all! 

Having worked very hard for a long time I am now making sure that I keep it in mind to enjoy myself too. I am learning to remember to work on myself, to have more life experiences and to spend time with my friends and family, not simply focusing on numbers, growth and the day-to-day slog. 

After all, this is a one-way trip!

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Just to say that If there are any business owners who are struggling a little with the old work/life balance I can wholeheartedly recommend South-East Asia. 

Indonesia in particular is very cheap for day-to-day living and welcomes tourists or those working away from home with open arms. 

And don't get bogged down with putting the hours in – you need to have fun too, and it doesn't necessarily have to be expensive! If you can combine life experience with getting your work done, I say go for it!

To find out more about James's business, visit www.jobsinchildcare.com.

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.