Dan goes from Computer Programmer to French Polisher (Partner and Owner of a French Polishing and Furniture Business)
What was the trigger that made you want to stop being in an office & what was the moment you realised you could not be in an office anymore?
I’d been employed in an office as a programmer for 7 years and worked my way up to a senior position. The trigger for me was planning my next steps forward in the company. I looked at my managers and the directors and realised that, to get to those positions, I’d need to become something that I’m really not. I’d also have to be prepared to give my all for a company that I didn’t own, or have any real stake in, I’d have to be prepared to step on other people to get there and become a shameless self promoter. To reach the top I’d need to be aggressive and selfish and willing to play to my manager’s egos.
I realised I wasn’t prepared to change that much, simply for a company and I wasn’t going to allow anyone to extend that much control over me anymore.
How did you plan to escape, what steps did you take?
With any big decision, it’s tough not to let emotion get in the way and keep things logical. It took a lot of thought and planning. Firstly I figured out whether leaving was actually what I wanted to do. Sounds strange but sometimes you don’t really want to leave, you just want to change the situation. So I wrote down all the possible changes, none of which, I realised, would change this need to leave.
Once I decided that leaving was the only option, my next decision was to find a new role, similar to the one I had but within a different company, to see if it was simply a company problem. Within a month of working at the new company it was clear that office life and working for someone else was simply not for me.
I looked around at different things I could do and found a new focus in French Polishing and furniture. I really planned hard how I could change to this career and start a company in something I’d not really done before. How could I sustain myself with this new job and how would I learn the trade?
I looked at all my options and realised that if I was willing to take a big initial pay cut and work really hard for the first year I could work back up to a similar salary, in a fairly short period of time. I cut back on my spending and moved back in with family. I got my head down and really learned the trade. It was tough but I realised you’ve got to make sacrifices in the short term for a big change like this.
How did you resign, did you have a notice period, and what was your resignation process like?
As I’d just changed jobs I was still in a probation period, so my notice period was not really applicable. Though through experience with the previous job, I would definitely advise, arranging a meeting with you’re current line manager to explain things, rather than leaving a letter on their desk, or sending them an email. The latter will put managers backs up and may ruin future relationships. You never know when paths might cross again or if references may be needed in the future, so don’t burn your bridges.
Don’t be intimidated, remember they don’t hold anything over you anymore.
What are the biggest challenges in not being in an office daily, do you miss anything?
Motivation and excitement to run your own company is the easy bit, motivation to get up at a reasonable time and having the self control to actually get things done, day to day, is the hard bit. No one is looking over your shoulder, no one is checking your work, if you’ve had a late night the night before and don’t feel like getting up, you don’t have to phone in. It can be too much freedom sometimes, so it’s really important to set yourself strict boundaries and stick to them.
If you’re working at home, it’s also important to set boundaries with friends and family, as people often view your time working at home as time off, so it’s ok for them to pop by or book lunch/dinner during your work time. If you set Sunday afternoons as your paperwork time, then don’t agree to anything on Sunday afternoons. Don’t do what I initially did and convince yourself you can move it to a Monday evening afterwork or Saturday, just this once. It won’t get done and you’ll only open the way for more arrangements during your work time. It feels harsh sometimes but you need to be stubborn about it.
I found it tough at first that when you run your own company that there is very little appraisal, there is no manager telling you you’ve done a great job. If your work is good, great, fantastic or even phenomenal, your customers will simply pay you, you won’t get a call telling you how good your work is (on occasion you will but it’s rare). Don’t expect a pat on the back for every job you do. Know that you’ve done your best and commend yourself.
On occasion I miss the social side of office life. It can get a little lonely working on your own and it’s harder to arrange things when you can’t just go for a pint after work, you have to go home and get changed out of your grubby work clothes by which time you feel like staying in.
If you chose to go into manual work or something a bit less mentally challenging than your previous role, then mental stimulation can become a real need. I found having small projects outside of work a really great help, I’ve continued with my programming and have set myself the challenge of making an iPhone app. It’s also a great way to switch off from work.
What are the greatest things about not being in an office? What have you achieved since leaving?
I take less holiday, I work harder, I often work evenings and weekends, I don’t get sick pay or holiday allowance.
But these things are nothing compared to the benefits of leaving the office and working for myself; everything I do for my company, directly affects me. I create a great new website and start getting more work in, it’s me that gets the benefits and not my managers. I decide how things are going to be run. If I want to start a new marketing campaign, or buy some furniture to restore and sell, then that’s what I’ll do. If I fancy tomorrow off, then I’ll take it off.
The freedom is fantastic and although it’s hard work, I’d never go back.
I’ve built a company that works, it makes money, it has no debt. We have a great set of customers who constantly come back for more work and we’ve a great reputation in the industry. We can name our price on most things and we are now ready to expand as we currently have too much work. I feel that, that is a great achievement in itself and it’s something I’m really proud of.
Any other comments/ widsom you want to share, please do!
Things can take a lot longer to happen than you think they will, don’t be disheartened, stay positive and carry on.
If you really want to leave, then leave. Don’t do it on a whim, instead put together a logical and practical plan, get others to check it and once you’re happy with it, then quit. Clear your debts first and be prepared to take a pay cut, until you build your business up. When times are tough, just remember what it was like sitting at your desk, watching the clock in the office, it’ll soon lift your spirits.