The other day I had an epiphany…

Unbelievably, it’s almost 20 years ago I started my business. But what initially triggered my thinking about becoming my own boss and what are some of my key lessons learnt from changing careers and two decades as a business owner?

I had almost forgotten. Then I had this sudden recollection of the day I had the first gem of a business idea and how it came about. I thought I would pen this blog to share my story and hopefully my epiphanies and lessons learnt from changing careers can help any aspiring business owners.

Meetings Bloody Meetings!

I’m sure most senior professionals and executives will relate to the never-ending rounds of meetings. I thought this one was going to be different but how wrong I was. It did however become a catalyst for a big change of thinking for me.

I remember how shambolic the meeting was. No proper management and timekeeping. Yet another meeting where we spent an inordinate amount of time discussing and arguing over minutia, rather than what was important or critical for the business. Does this sound familiar?

I vaguely recall being allocated 45 minutes for a presentation and Q&A on a major project I was leading. I knew there would be many questions and potential objections to be aired and overcome, so prepared even more thoroughly than usual. We massively overran. My slot was pushed to the end. Everyone was tired and I was given only a few minutes to give the barest overview.

Dawn of reality was I had spent around half a day of travelling time to and from home to the venue. The project needed proper discussion and buy-in, as it was likely to have a profound impact on the staff and the business. I was absolutely seething!

I remember my colleague, who drove me back to the airport, for my flight home, was also bewildered and agreed what of a waste of a day it had been for us all. I still remember asking ‘why do we always complicate everything’Why don’t we keep things simple?

It was then, out of frustration, I had an epiphany moment and blurted out…”I’m going to set up a business of my own one day and call it SMP Solutions”. My colleague was intrigued and asked what the initials stood for, assuming it was my initials. My initials are SMP but my very first business idea was SMP would stand for ‘Simple Methods Pay’!

Have you had a similar experience where you suddenly had a vision for a business idea? If so, what happened? 

That was over 22 years ago. I was determined to see the project through to conclusion and eventually got buy-in from both the SMET and the company Board. Celebration time, or so I thought.

Corporate Politics

My reward for achieving project buy-in was a 121 meeting to present to the Group FD. I walked into the meeting feeling excited and ready.  This was a brilliant opportunity to get my project rubber stamped. However, what happened next was a lesson I shall never forget.

I remember walking out of the meeting completely devastated. We never even discussed my final project proposals. I was told that there were going to be significant changes to the leadership of the company, which would impact on any new projects the Board had sanctioned. In a matter of minutes, my pride and joy project and 2 years of my life were crushed.

Major reorganisation did follow. Not just in my company. The biggest irony was the Director, who canned my project, became one of the first casualties of a Group Board level cull!

The experience taught me much about corporate politics and I didn’t want any part of it, as you might also be thinking too.

Knowing When to Walk Away

They say ‘fortune favours the brave’. So, when reorganisation would have meant relocation for me and the family, I played my ‘get out of jail card’ and opted for redundancy, despite not having a clue what I was going to do next.

Knowing when to walk away is one of the most important aspects when considering a career change… Sometimes it just takes the guts to take the leap of faith

This was a career and life defining time but relocation was never an option for our family. The the biggest lesson was undoubtedly…

I didn’t want an employer telling me where to live, what job they wanted me to do and controlling my life. I felt it was time to take the money and for me to become the architect of my own future and take back control of my career and life, whatever that meant!

What Became of My Business Idea?

I had been flirting with my business idea but not done anything concrete. ‘Simple Methods Pay’, eventually evolved into ‘Sales, Management & People’, my main areas of interest at that time.

My redundancy started a long transition and voyage of self-discovery, during which I eventually decided I did want to be my own boss and not live by other people’s visions and dreams. SMP Solutions was finally born in 2002, on the anniversary of my late father’s birthday, in his honour.

Evolution & Reinvention

At that time the business was just me, so I became the focus of the business, so the SMP initials worked well. My business quickly evolved from an HR & Training Consultancy into a Career & People Development Consultancy, following my passions. We gained an enviable reputation for quality Outplacement and Career Development programmes with me driving the business supported by a team of talented associates. We won a number of prestigious projects and had some brilliant collaborations and the business morphed into SMP Solutions (Career & People Development) Ltd. A simple addition to the business name, which gave real clarity to what we did.

Over the ensuing years, the business has continued to evolve, been rebranded, and reinvented but always keeping the same name.

Another key lesson here.. most businesses will evolve, so it’s best not to choose a business name that will restrict you in what services or products you offer. Otherwise, you will be constantly changing names!

What Have Been the Biggest Challenges?

Like most small businesses, there has been the constant drive and challenge for new business. We have had our good years, not so good years and a few brilliant ‘champagne’ years.

If you decide to go self-employed and become a business owner, you must expect peaks and throughs and an emotional roller coaster ride. Don’t let anyone tell you any different!

Creating a Personal Brand as an Author and Speaker was also a major challenge. When I was writing my first book and looking for a publisher, I was told I needed to have a different brand to my company brand, so people would associate with me as an author, speaker, and leading career coach. This made perfect sense, but I wanted something I could also trademark, which proved way more challenging than I expected. Having sought feedback from some of my valued clients, The Career Catalyst ® was eventually born.

Whatever people might say, writing books (especially very comprehensive ones) isn’t easy. It might be a great ‘business card’ but it takes time, effort, and energy. You will get deflected from other mainstream business activities unless you have a team of people to cover you. You will also need to decide on the best method for publishing. There are now many options, so involves much research. Then, once your book is published the hard work starts on marketing and selling it!

My first book was an emotional roller coaster of a journey. My global publisher decided to pull the plug at the 11th hour, having ripped the guts out of it and ruining 18 months of my work. A real irony, as my book was ‘Winning Through Redundancy’ and I had been laid off by my publisher and was left in limbo!

Resilience, resourcefulness and adaptability are three key attributes business owners need in bucket loads. Within 24 hours I had secured a new publisher who shared my vision and was keen to publish the book I had always dreamt about, to make a positive difference to the lives of others.

Another lesson learnt…if working with a large publisher, they own the book and they are only interested in it from a commercial focus, which is understandable. Nowadays, it will more than likely pay you to self-publish or some form of ‘hybrid’ publishing. This way it’s your book and you will retain most of the royalties.

Despite the time distractions, I’m immensely proud of having 3 Internationally acclaimed published books and 2 audiobooks. I still have another 2 books on the back burner. Maybe these will become retirement ‘passion projects’.

I always say ‘expect the unexpected’. What I didn’t expect was that my Career Catalyst personal brand would become better known than my company brand and be my prime business focus.  As a result, more evolution and I’m currently in the process of reviewing and simplifying my business. The aim is ultimately to focus on my Career Catalyst brand for online courses, books and coaching.

The Benefit of Time to Reflect

Without doubt the Covid pandemic has been the most challenging time of all. However, like many people, it gave me time to reflect, reset, refocus and research. I had been thinking for some time I should repurpose my books into online courses and now I had the time and motivation to make it happen. These became my passion projects during the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. The result was two, now proven, breakthrough online courses and a huge amount of new learning for me.

What Has Been the Most Radical Change Since I Started My Business?

Without doubt, social media, along with digitalisation and online meeting platforms. These have all changed the face of business. Twenty years ago, it was all H2H, ‘human to human’. I was staggered when I researched start dates of the major platforms:

LinkedIn 2003

Facebook 2004

YouTube 2005

Twitter 2006

Instagram 2010

Teleconferencing / Video Conferencing

Most started life purely for teleconferencing, then evolved with video capability:

Skype 2003

WhatsApp 2009

Zoom 2010

Would I Change Anything – Any Regrets?

I don’t believe it’s healthy to harbour regrets. There have been many times when I wished I had started my own business much earlier. However, if you believe things happen for a reason, I was meant to follow my career journey until circumstance and ‘fate’ played their hand.

A Few Top Tips for Anyone Considering Changing Careers and Starting Out on Your Own  

  • Understanding your ‘WHY’ is essential e.g. this is mine…I’m starting this business because I want to do what I love and make a positive difference to the lives of other people
  • Consider spreading your risk by creating a Portfolio Career and blended working lifestyle of your CHOICE, earning a living from different passions, interests and talents …the pandemic has proven that the traditional 1 job or 1 type of self-employed work paradigms are broken
  • Warning…starting a business or going ‘freelance’ because you are good at something but don’t really enjoy it isn’t sustainable
  • You are never too young or old to make a change and reinvent your career but if you have a partner, getting their buy-in to setting up a business and going self-employed is essential, otherwise it’s a recipe for disaster!
  • Everyone has the power to think like an entrepreneur, even the most surprising people… learn to be opportunistic by seeking out and also creating new opportunities!

Want to Know More?

You will find many more tips, lessons learnt from changing careers, and real life case studies in these two books Winning Through Career Change, Portfolio Careers – How to Work for Passion, Pleasure & Profit and in much more depth in my breakthrough Online Courses  

Steve Preston is known as The Career Catalyst ® A leading Career Coach for professionals and executives, Internationally Acclaimed Author, Speaker, Broadcaster and Creator of Breakthrough Career & Personal Development Courses