This is a guest post I wrote this week for the Spence Club – South Australia’s new networking group for young women.
From a young age I was always a bit of a stickler for rules and was probably seen as a bit of a scardey cat. At school, you would have been unlikely to see me taking risks like asking a boy out, wagging school or breaking the rules. But despite my naturally cautious nature, I loved being in front of a crowd public speaking and performing, went on exchange to Denmark as a 17 year old, and went on a work exchange to Slovakia in the dead of winter as a uni student. Joining Foreign Affairs and Trade was certainly an exciting adventure but during my 15 years working in a bureaucracy, I would have to say the focus was on following the rules, and not on being creative or disruptive.
But whether it was age, the confidence that comes from finding your soul mate and having kids or just being surrounded by amazing people and an inspirational social media feed, I found myself questioning this “safe” path. Part of it was feeling unhappy about what it was – or wasn’t bringing me – and realising that I wasn’t prepared to compromise who I was or what I believed in to get ahead. Blame Facebook and Twitter for giving this once shy girl a bit of a platform to say what she really thought.
Last year, in one of my riskier, more daring moves, I finished my posting overseas, took a redundancy and moved with my family to a new town in a new state, where we knew only a couple of people. Some might suggest this was a brave move, and some might suggest I was running away. I wasn’t even sure what I was going to do next. For the first few months I studied, made friends, settled the family into our new life (without the trappings of an expat posting) and unpacked hundreds of boxes.
But then the time came to start looking for my next career – or even just a job to support my love of all things retail – and it became clear that my options were perhaps a little more limited than I had expected. I decided that a commute to Adelaide was no longer desirable (or practical with two small children). I don’t have any hospitality experience, so that ruled me out of a lot of jobs. Weekend work was out as my husband worked most weekends. When I didn’t get any of the jobs I applied for, friends would sympathise – “of course, you’re not from around here”, “you have such great experience, most companies would love to have you” and so on.
Around this time, I was doing some coaching with a very talented and entrepreneurial friend has just launched her coaching business. We had chatted when I first arrived back in Australia about what my plans were. I had laughed at her suggestion that I start my own business, but when the opportunity to do some coaching came up, I jumped at the chance. I had left my career with a fairly clear idea of how I wanted to work, but not what I wanted to do.
During the time we worked together, we focused on identifying my skills and interests and refining my vision for this blog, which I had just started writing. It was a really useful process and I highly recommend coaching to anyone who might be feeling stuck in their career. I was able to identify what my interests really were, and more importantly, I came to realise that so many of the skills I had gained over 15 years as a diplomat, policy analyst and trade negotiator were really valuable outside of a government role.
Somehow, and I don’t even know where it came from, I decided I may as well start my own consultancy. I think it was borne out of the frustration that if I was going to end up doing bits and pieces for various companies (not that there had actually been any offers) I may as well brand myself and start a business.
My vision is to work with small and medium enterprises in rural and regional South Australia (and perhaps beyond) to identify opportunities and networks in overseas markets to grow their business and contribute to strong, sustainable rural communities. I am not an expert, but I’m good and finding and connecting with people who are. More importantly, what I do have is 15 years of experience in trade agreements, visit programs, helping companies gain access to overseas markets, advocating on behalf of business and a very strong belief that I can contribute something.
So in my last coaching session, we started work, with Lisa laughing that most people started coaching at this point. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it’s frustrating thinking about how I could have better used this coaching time or that I could have set aside some of my redundancy to launch the business. But the reality is, I don’t think I would have even considered starting my own business without the coaching. I wouldn’t have believed in myself enough to launch my own business. I wouldn’t have thought I had any useful skills to offer.
So after 15 years of (mostly) toeing the line, I’m gradually shaking off the bureaucratic shackles and realising that deep down inside, there is an entrepreneur. I’m listening to podcasts about start-ups (my favourite at the moment is Being Boss), reading blogs about branding and design, going to seminars, setting up budgets and systems and networking with all sorts of people to refine the vision for my consultancy. I’m laying the groundwork like getting an ABN and a bank account and insurance, and in the coming weeks and months, I hope to have a name and brand to launch the business officially. I have been surprised at the resources available here in the Barossa to support the development of small business.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there are (many) moments of feeling like I’m way outside of my comfort zone. But these moments of fear are greatly offset by the excitement of realising that I am creating the career and the lifestyle that is the best for me and my family. It won’t be perfect straight away, but it will be authentic and driven by passion and excitement – and who could ask for more than that!