From public servant to entrepreneur

May 8, 2015

From public servant to entrepreneur

May 8, 2015

Taking a redundancy and leaving the public service with no clear direction, and only a sense of how I thought work should look, was a huge leap. I didn’t really know anyone who had made such a drastic career change which is why I am so excited to share this career change Q&A with you today.

I heard about Matt Fenwick through Emma Grey, who I first worked with in 2011, soon after starting work in Hanoi. I read her e-book 7 Types of Busy, then did her home study course before working through her Career Transformation Course. When she launched this, I was convinced she had written it just for me. I’ve since done her My 15 Minutes Program, which she runs with Audrey Thomas from Chick Chat Coaching.

When Emma introduced Matt on her Work Life Bliss page, I was fascinated. Here was a guy writing a book about leaving the public service to start his own business. I quickly signed up to back the book through Kickstarter and then asked Matt if he would answer my Q&A. I was very excited to quickly receive a positive response!

Although I have already moved to a life without a lanyard, as I launch my consulting business, I’m really looking forward to reading Matt’s book when it is released next month.

Matthew Fenwick
Matt Fenwick
  1. What did you do before?

A lot of things! I think one of the prerequisites for being a writer is to have had a whole load of other random careers first. My first ‘proper’ career was as a legal researcher, but before that I was a library assistant, cleaner and briefly, an ill-fated door-to-door salesman. I also spent five years in the Australian Public Service, first as a policy advisor, and then as a corporate communications officer.

  1. What are you doing now?

I run True North Writing. We’re a content solutions provider. What that looks like on the ground is this: I find out what an organisation wants to achieve, I work out how content fits into the picture, and then I help deliver that. The simplest scenario would be ‘we need a website. Can you write the content for us? (Yes). But I also get into the more strategic side. Right now I’m working with:

  • a coach to define their value proposition
  • a professional organiser to improve her confidence in blogging
  • a Sydney manufacturer to rename their product range
  • a research institute to develop a messaging strategy for new software
  • a headstone builder to write their content.

I’ve also just written a book. Life without Lanyards is a how-to guide for every public servant who’s dreaming of starting their own business. It’s the book I wish I had back when I decided to make the shift. Right now, I’m running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication, which is almost finished. After that, I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief!

Life without Lanyards - Matt's soon to be published book
Life without Lanyards – Matt’s soon to be published book


  1. What made you decide to take the leap and change?

I didn’t want to die wondering. Being in government, I had very clear ideas about the type of work I wanted to do, and how to go about it. In government, though, you have to get someone else’s permission. I felt that if I stayed in government, I was only ever going to achieve an average level of happiness and career fulfillment.  I wanted to shoot for more than that. Specifically, I wanted a career that would let become a better writer. I felt that if I stayed in government, I was going to get frustrated; banging my head up against processes.

All this crystallised for me when my wife and I decided to go travelling round the world for six months. At that point, I already had my business running on the side. But back then, I thought it would just be a vehicle to broaden my experience and get a better job in government. I didn’t ever imagine working for myself. But I realised that I couldn’t expect my ideal career to land in my lap. If I wanted to get more interesting work, the only person who’d make that happen was me.

We wanted to have a baby in the next year or so following our travels. I knew that having a new baby, running a business, and holding down a steady government job wasn’t going to work. Something had to give.  So I decided to take an extra six months leave after our travels and see if this self-employment thing worked for me.

  1. What has your career change given you?

Autonomy is really, really important for me. Now, if I see an opportunity, I can go for it. That freedom is enormously fulfilling.

I’ve also discovered things about myself that I never would’ve found out otherwise. In my book, I talk a fair bit about networking. The public service hierarchies never quite made sense to me. I always felt that I was trying to learn a foreign language, with the elaborate protocols. In business, I’ve discovered that I’m actually really good at networking; at finding relationships that benefit everybody concerned. I’ve had plenty of other experiences like that; realising that the ideas I had about myself were actually tied up in my public service identity.  In a new situation, I’ve become someone different.

Matt edits his book with his son
Matt edits his book with his son
  1. What have you learned?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about ego. It’s funny.  As I’ve gained confidence, and established a reputation as an expert in my field, I’ve become less and less interested in what I think of my abilities. I’m more objective. If a new, challenging piece of work comes through, I’ll look at my capabilities as resources, and just ask the question: do we have enough to deliver on this work?

Ego is unhelpful at either end of the spectrum. If you think you’re awesome, that leads to over-confidence, which can lead to getting careless. Of taking what you have for granted. If you think you’re terrible, that limits your potential for growth; it’s not a constructive place.

Working that out is an ongoing process, but launching my business has helped me get further along the way than if I’d stayed in a nice, comfortable secure job.

  1. Is there anything you would do differently?

Definitely. There’s always the ‘growth experiences’ where you make a mistake and emerge a stronger or smarter person (when the bruises fade). But one thing I would change is that when I left, I would’ve spent more time doing short contracting jobs, such as writing web content for government departments. At the time, I was feeling all heroic, and wanting to forge a new direction. Looking back, though, I think doing those contracting gigs would’ve helped our cash flow and given me some very useful contacts. 

  1. Inspire us – your favourite quote, mantra or piece of advice for anyone else thinking of a career change.

You are enough.

  1. Where can people learn more about you and the things you are doing?

You can find my writing business at, and the Kickstarter campaign at:

Angela Pickett

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  • Liz May 13, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    This is a very inspiring Q&A! Thank you for sharing it. Matt’s book looks very interesting.. I think it could be worth grabbing a copy.. We all need some encouragement to get out of our comfort zone

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