How to make the leap into another career

MOST PEOPLE, at some time or other, toy with the idea of starting a second career.

Most, for various reasons, do not take it any further. As one of those who made the jump nearly two years ago, there are a certain lessons I have learned that might help others considering doing something similar.

I moved from being a senior partner with a national accountancy firm to owning the Harrogate franchise for The Alternative Board (TAB), the peer support and business advisory organisation.

As a newly formed one-man band, I had to get used to not having any support staff. It was (and still is) all down to me. A friend of mine jokes that, when I started the new venture, a letter put into the out tray at the beginning of the week would still be there at the end.

As with any job, there are pluses and minuses and, for me, the emotional highs and lows have been far higher – and lower – than expected. However, on the plus side, I no longer have to endure internal meetings, so can get on with the job.

Also, TAB exists to help owner-managers, so the people I deal with are those who can take decisions. Most importantly, I’m always working with people whom I like.

On the downside, it can be very lonely running your own business, which is one of the main reasons why people join TAB in the first place. A partnership is a collegiate operation and I no longer have the luxury of being able to pop into a colleague’s office to discuss an issue.

As an owner-manager, I have had to develop my own support network and, of course, I also receive a lot of support and practical advice from the UK master franchisee and fellow franchisees around the country.

Learning curve

Furthermore, while it is very stimulating running your own business, the fact is you are not going to be an expert in every boardroom discipline. In my case, I quickly discovered that I knew the square root of not very much about sales and marketing. You have to learn on the job. If only I knew then what I knew now.

To anyone thinking of buying a franchise, my advice would be to talk to some of the existing franchisees to form a clear picture of what you will need to do to get started and what life as a franchisee will be like.

I found that it took me far longer to start making progress than I had anticipated. This was probably because I focused initially on trying to recruit the chief executives of larger businesses rather than the owners of smaller businesses, those whom comprise the traditional TAB market.

It is always going to take courage to change careers – particularly when it means leaving the security of a larger organisation.

But ask yourself these questions: do I believe I have the ability to run my own business successfully? And if I duck this opportunity, will I spend the rest of my life regretting it?

If the answer to both questions is yes, you will probably know what you need to do next!

So, having done your due diligence, go for it. It is essential that you believe in yourself and stay optimistic. And be prepared to kiss a lot of frogs before you find one that turns into a prince.

Tom Morton is managing director of The Alternative Board, Harrogate, and former senior partner of PKF, Leeds

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