“I wanted to work from home, during hours of my choosing.”
What work were you doing previously?
I'd worked in the TV industry for over 15 years, directing, producing and series-producing a variety of light entertainment shows.
I worked on shows including The Sharon Osbourne Show and The One Show, and lots of nonsense in-between.
What are you doing now?
Most days, writing wedding speeches for grooms!
Around four years ago I founded Speechy – a wedding speech writing service that uses the talents of TV scriptwriters to help people deliver great wedding speeches.
The team works with grooms, brides, best men and women, dads and mums, crafting speeches that are modern, witty and memorable. We're helping people tear up the old etiquette guides to deliver something that's heartfelt and humorous. No clichés or Googled gags!
How did you feel in your work before you decided to make the change?
I enjoyed my job – it was interesting, challenging and creative.
Yes, it depended on what show / TV company I worked for, but I'd grown in confidence over the years and was generally able to handle the stress and hours involved.
Why did you change?
I'd had my second child and knew that as a freelancer it would be hard to negotiate flexible hours.
Sometimes necessity breeds creativity. I wanted to be able to have dinner with my children (even if they were throwing their fish fingers at me and arguing about the colour of their spoons).
It's obviously extremely frustrating that a career change is often necessary after having children. Some mums manage to maintain a TV career after having kids, but there's so many of us who just don't see it as a viable option.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
I started thinking about a change during my second maternity leave.
I wanted to work from home, during hours of my choosing (a.k.a. the classic parent-dream).
There was no big eureka moment, just lots of crazy thoughts swirling through my head whilst pushing the pram or squeezing my bottom through another ridiculously small tunnel at soft-play.
How did you choose your new career?
I started to think about what I was good at and how that could become marketable.
I also wanted to be my own boss.
I'd enjoyed the writing aspect of my TV career; plus, a couple of years earlier I'd given my own bride speech (and written most of my groom's!). A few friends had also asked me to help them with their wedding speeches, so I knew people were in need of help.
I started to research the wedding speech market and discovered there was definitely a place for a more modern writing service.
Are you happy with the change?
If you'd asked me a couple of years ago, the answer would have been a definite no.
But last year I finally started seeing the effort pay off, and my answer is now yes (with a few caveats).
I wouldn't recommend setting up a new business to anyone who wants an easy life. It's been hard. It's involved a lot of stress, expense and uncertainty.
No matter how good your idea is, running your own business is a lot more effort than you'd imagine.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I don't particularly miss anything about my old career.
It simply wouldn't have worked for me with my two young children.
How did you go about making the shift?
I set about designing a website.
I'm slightly tech-phobic (I didn't even have a Facebook account at this stage), but I knew the content and look I wanted.
I worked with a great design company who took me through the back end of a site, and how I could technically upload and develop content.
I naively thought that once I had a website, people would come knocking. Turns out that's not quite the case...
What didn't go well? What wrong turns did you take?
Probably the biggest 'mistake' was investing thousands of pounds exhibiting at a Wedding Fayre.
It just wasn't the right marketing route for us. Writers need to sell themselves with words, not on a stall. (Also, the demographic was 90% female and there's still a reluctance to shake up the traditional lineup or for brides to think their groom might need help with his speech).
On a more fundamental level, I seriously underestimated the hours and stress involved.
Setting up your own business meant that as well as gaining credibility in my field, I also had to become a business person. I had to learn to make savvy choices (i.e. instead of just spending money in the hope that it 'might' help business). I had to understand my accounts, GDPR, marketing, social media, SEO, and so much more.
How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?
I was in the fortunate position of having just enough money to set up the business and cover costs until we made a profit.
Of course, the biggest financial challenge was that initial year, where I had all the major costs and yet limited business. There was plenty of soul-searching (and bank-statement-searching), wondering whether I'd done the right thing, and sometimes being convinced that, no, I hadn't!
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
I believed that being my own boss meant my working hours would be under my control.
This seems a ridiculous idea now!
When your business is online, it means being accessible 24/7. So, while I try to manage my workload into my 'working day', I often end up responding to emails in the evening or speaking to clients in the US at night. Even though I now have a team, it's still far from easy.
What help did you get?
A super supportive husband.
Yes, he gets frustrated by my constant email-checking, but he appreciates that my career change has benefitted the whole family.
He's more techie than me and has helped me with everything from SEO to Google Analytics. I think he rather enjoys getting involved and I know he's proud that I've made Speechy a success.
I also feel we've been very lucky with our website design team. They've become trusted allies.
What resources would you recommend to others?
If you're setting up your own business I can recommend Westbrook Creative and People Per Hour.
Also, Digital Mums are a great way of handling your social media.
What have you learnt in the process?
Whilst a good business relies on great services or products, making your business work is all about persistence and hard work.
It's been a massive learning process, some days have felt painful and pointless, but eventually, those days have become rare.
Doing something I believe in, and know that customers appreciate, has helped me keep going.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
Think very carefully.
There were probably easier part-time career options available to me if I'd taken the time to consider them.
Having said that, running my own business, employing three fab writers and making clients around the world happier as a result of my business is extremely satisfying. And crucially, it's now working for my family.
We're finally seeing the fruits of our labour. Speechy is getting great press attention (from The Observer to Radio 1), our web stats are great and our turnover is enough to keep me in my hot chocolate habit.
Sometimes the effort is worth it. But be aware, it will involve a lot of blooming effort.
We caught up with Heidi recently to see how her shift was working out, roughly three years on. Here's what she's been up to, and the biggest lessons she's learned.
What's changed for you in your career since we first published your story?
Speechy has grown exponentially.
I’ve recruited more talented writers to the team including professional comedians, journalists and novelists.
I bought the .com of our website (which was previously speechy.co.uk) and since then our clients have become more international. Brits are still our core market but visitors from the UK only make up 30% of visitors to our site. Last month we got 35k visitors to our site and we expect to double that within the next couple of months.
I’ve also been commissioned by the Little, Brown publishing group to write a modern wedding speech guide. I’ve just completed the first draft and very excited about the launch already.
Over the last couple of years, Speechy has also had some amazing publicity – featuring everywhere from The Daily Mail to The New York Times.
How do you feel about your work now?
I am surprised and delighted that Speechy has grown to be so popular and valued by our clients.
I am also a little overwhelmed!
The concept was originally a lifestyle business but it has grown into something more. In fact, it’s proven so successful, I’m now having to consider how to make the business more manageable from my personal point of view. No easy answer as yet.
What challenges have you come up against since making your shift, and how exactly have you dealt with them?
Covid was obviously a huge challenge seeing as we specialise in wedding speeches.
We essentially had to shut down for six months (which I was happy to do considering the impact of home schooling!).
This period proved that even an online service-focused company accrues considerable costs. It was a challenge financially but the subsequent year, our busiest yet, has helped ensure no long term damage was done.
How is the financial side of things panning out, and is this what you'd expected?
I thought making money would be a hell of a lot easier than it actually is!
There are just so many costs involved in running a company, and hitting the VAT threshold was incredibly challenging. Suddenly, 20% of your revenue disappears which is a big hit for a small company.
What have you learned, since making your shift?
I still hark back to my previous advice.
Starting your own business is going to be much harder and much less profitable than you imagine. I think I’ve aged about a decade in the last five years.
Running your own company can be rewarding, both professionally and financially, but you need an excellent support system to make it work. I’ve seen many fellow entrepreneurs give it up to return to a career, so before taking the leap make sure you speak to people who have done something similar and who you trust to be honest with you.
Remember, the glossy image of business owners is only the image they project. They don’t post pictures of themselves up at midnight responding to client emails and firing off invoices.
If you do still want to go for it, good luck and have fun with it!
To find out more about Heidi's business, visit www.speechy.com.
What lessons could you take from Heidi's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.