Helen's escape story - What I learnt since leaving the corporate world and moving country
I first came across Escape The City five years ago when I was working in corporate marketing in London for a large global consultancy. On paper, it was a great job – well paid, friendly people, room for development and a supportive environment. However, I knew deep down it wasen’t the right place for me. At the time I was also suffering with progressively worsening depression and anxiety and having regular panic attacks. It was a very scary, lost and lonely time filled with many dark moments, but one that I now look back on as being pivotal. It catapulted me into building my own business, doing work I love and on my own terms.
For about 18 months as I was going through this, in an effort to feel better I immersed myself in the world of wellness. I started training to be a yoga teacher on the side, learnt meditation, gave up alcohol and educated myself about nutrition. I was soon spending all my free time reading wellness blogs, books, attending events and learning everything I could about wellness and holistic healing. At the same time I also became really interested in entrepreneurship, lifestyle design and small business, soaking up podcasts and reading books such as The $100 Start Up, Daring and Disruptive and Escape The City’s book.
When I was at a real low point and had been signed off work, I had already booked to attend a ‘Design A Career You Love’ workshop by Escape The City. I summoned all of my energy, battling with my anxious and depressed mind to attend. The workshop was incredible and gave me so many ideas, I connected with like-minded people and still remember a concept that remains with me today:
“Just start and correct the course along the way”
As my mental health gradually improved, one day at work not long after the workshop, thinking ‘there must be more to life than sitting at my desk feeling unfulfilled’, it dawned on me that I could combine my skills (marketing) with my interests (wellness and entrepreneurship) – why didn’t I go freelance doing marketing for small wellness businesses? In Japanese this is called ikigai – your purpose as the intersection of your passion, mission, vocation and profession.
I could see that the wellness industry was booming and needed dynamic marketing to match it, I knew it was time to make a big change and this felt completely right. Plus, having been so ill, in my recovery I felt that I had a new chance at life. I was also turning 30 and like many people, having been on the school-university-graudation-job route, was naturally thinking about what life outside the matrix would look like.
Once this realisation had landed in my head it wouldn’t go away, it was just a matter of time before I built up the courage to take the leap and quit my safe, corporate job. The universe was listening as one day at work I could feel a panic attack coming on. My (very understanding) boss suggested I leave the office and go to a yoga class. I did just that and at the end felt compelled to go and talk to the teacher (something I had never done before). I asked her if she’d always been a yoga teacher. ‘No’, she replied, ‘I used to work in marketing but I kept having panic attacks so I left’. That was the sign I needed to make the jump. The next day I handed in my notice to go freelance as a wellness marketer.
My first couple of clients came by chance – the meditation school I had learnt with and the yoga teacher training school were both looking for help. I also consulted as a freelancer for a couple of digital marketing agencies on (non-wellness) clients pretty much straight away so I was able to develop my confidence in working independently and keep myself going financially whilst I pursued my dream. Having qualified as a yoga teacher, I was also able to supplement my income with teaching.
After around a year of working in this way, I felt that I wanted to make things official by building my own agency. By chance, a friend told me about an amazing business coach she was working with (Lucy Sheridan). I got in touch and began working with her on launching the agency – it was immensely valuable working with someone to help refine my proposition and clarify what I was bringing to the industry. Having the accountability, support and different perspective of a coach was also key as well as helping to expand my mindset of what was possible. It really helped me to feel much more confident (and of course a little nervous) when I launched the agency in February 2017.
What happened after that still blows my mind as the flow of clients started to come through immediately in a very organic way, via word of mouth, social media and through a co-working space I joined. I started to diversify the agency’s offering beyond retained client work by creating a series of panel discussions with small wellness business founders called How To Build Your Wellness Business (the next one is in November), began offering mentoring sessions and wrote an ebook of the same name.
Having the freedom to run my own working day and support my mental health was key to me when I transitioned from the corporate world to being my own boss. After I graduated I had spent time teaching English in Salamanca, Spain and fell in love with the country, its culture and language. It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to move back one day and be able to run my business from abroad. Earlier this year events conspired and I was able to move to Ibiza – a dream come true. I am so grateful for every step of the journey – even the hard parts – because it all brought me to where I am today.
When I was packing up my flat in London before the big move I found the notes I had made from Escape’s ‘Design A Career You Love’ workshop. As I flicked through, I saw a drawing I had made as part of a visualisation of where we wanted to be in three years. I started crying as I realised I had drawn the exact house in Ibiza I was about to move into, down to the exact details of the pool and complete with a roof terrace where I could practice yoga from!
Here are my biggest learnings from the past four years since I left the corporate world and created my own business and career:
- If you’re not clear on what you want to do – keep exploring, meeting different people, trying new things, follow what interests you and lights you up. Steve Jobs’ ‘How To Live Before You Die’ beautifully sums this up.
- Be flexible – supplementing your income with freelance consulting in your existing industry where possible can help supplement your income whilst you build your dream business.
- Equip yourself with knowledge – on finances, tax, accountant, contracts, marketing or anything else that is your weak spot. If this is too much, don’t hesitate to hire the experts as this will ultimately save you time and money in the long run.
- Being very clear on what I bring to the table and the purpose of my business really helped me. Work out what your unique offering is and how you are best placed to add value to your target customer / clients’ lives. Know who your ideal customers are and how you are uniquely placed to serve them. Clarity = confidence. Write down your overarching vision of what you are doing and what you want to achieve and pin it near your desk. Seeing it every day will help to keep you aligned and motivated. Know your worth and back yourself.
- Make sure you look after yourself – physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s easy to become consumed by your business – I have burnt out a good few times over the past few years. Recognise the signs of emotional and mental exhaustion and be sure to take adequate time off from your business – rest time is equally as important as work time.
- The hard times are when you learn the most. It’s a cliche but don’t be afraid to fail or make mistakes. Be flexible, agile and ready to pivot the business when something isn’t working.
- No (wo)man is an island. Looking back, I wish I had hired people to help me sooner as it would have helped to reduce overwhelm. Hiring people on a project basis allows you to have the flexibility to work with people as and when you require and in line with the fluctuating needs of you and your business.
- Set specific goals and have regular planning sessions – eg I want to run an event with [insert specific brands / people], I want to hire a person with these qualities etc, and then write down the actions you need to take to bring these goals to life.
Want to make your own escape? Take your career in a new direction alongside likeminded escapees & coaches. Find out more about the Escape The City 12-week part-time Accelerator programmes.