Tired of your daily routine, disgruntled with your job? Thinking about a career change?
Being a “career changer” myself I am always interested in hearing other’s stories about why the left their occupation, how they found their passion, managed their transition and what advice they may have for others considering a change. I recently had the opportunity to interview Kim Phelan, owner of Down to Earth Décor (interior decorating) about her recent career change.
Q: Kim, tell me a bit about your background and what you were doing before your career change
A: I have a degree in Psychology with a Minor in Economics and I took a Post-graduate Diploma in Business. I’ve always wanted to be in business, so I focused my job searching in that area once I graduated. I started my career in Marketing at a Software Company. I managed trade shows, marketing collateral, sales support etc. After a while I became very involved with the software product itself. I did competitive research, product marketing and over time became a product manager & a director of product management. A product manager is basically a “CEO” of a product — they figure out what customers want, what to build and make sure it all happens.
Q: What motivated you to change careers, and why did you move from marketing to interior decorating?
A: After 15 years in marketing and product management, I found that I was no longer challenged. There were no problems I hadn’t encountered in some way before and it wasn’t very motivating. What I did find motivating was my home projects, home decor and different refinishing projects. I like using my hands, and seeing my vision come to reality. So when my last job ended, I reflected (with the help of my partner) on what I actually loved to do; software didn’t make the list but interior decorating did.
Q:Did the change require going back to school? How did you manage the transition and how did you know that this occupation would be suited to you?
A: To become an Interior Decorator, I needed to go back to school. I researched my options for length of program, the qualifications I’d have when I graduated and the reputations of the schools. In the end, I decided to take a diploma in Interior Decorating from George Brown. Because I wanted to do residential design only, I didn’t need to become an Interior Designer; a Decorator was enough. I decided to do the part-time program in a full-time manner, so I was done the program in 10 months compared to the 3 years part-time it usually takes. I knew that the program was for me because of what I did in my spare time: I loved tracking style trends, and doing home renovation projects. When I reviewed the Diploma curriculum, I was very excited by each course that was listed. I knew that this was the path for me. It allowed me to capitalize on my past experience running a business, marketing and managing technical people, while still allowing me to be creative. Creativity was something that I had relegated to my home life, not my work life up until that point; the ability to combine the two seemed too good to be true.
Q: Did you do information interviews beforehand, have mentors or have some kind of exposure to the world of interior decorating?
A: I read a lot of information about the industry and how the jobs worked, from blogs and other publications. I spoke to some seasoned Interior Designers about my plans and incorporated their advice. I also spoke to potential customers. As a Product Manager, my old job was to understand what the customer needed and what problems they had, so I used that skill in a new area. By interviewing people who I knew I was able to understand the type of business that I wanted to run and how I could become successful.
Q: What advice can you give to a potential entrepreneur interested in building a business?
A: Understand what you will offer, what makes you different. Talk to the people you think would be your ideal client. Understand the problems they want solved. If you can position yourself in a way that speaks to the pains your customer has, that’s half the battle.
Q:What challenges did you face (ie: loss of income/financial, back to school stress/anxiety, loss of former identity?) and how did you manage?
A: I definitely had a loss of income, but I was able to overcome that with a supportive partner and funding from Employment Insurance for retraining. Because I had been an expert in my former career, I often had to battle the idea that I don’t know it all yet. Although that seems logical, after years of knowing what to do in most situations, most of my stress comes from not knowing the answer and having to figure it out on the fly. Because I am a home based business I was able to avoid much of the upfront costs that a lot of companies have. I decided I wanted to keep my costs low initially to reduce my stress level.
Q: What advice would you give to someone considering a career change?
A:You are only limited by your imagination. By sitting down and figuring out what you love, you may discover a totally new career for yourself.
Q: How do you define success?
A:I define success in a few ways…
The first is happiness: Am I happy every day? Do I feel inspired by what I do?
The second is reputation: Are my clients happy? do they give me referrals? am I running a business that is fair and ethical?
The third is monetary: Am I running a business that is making money? Am I running it effectively? This doesn’t mean being a millionaire, but it does mean having enough.
So for me success is running a business that makes me happy, allows me to sleep at night and provides me with a comfortable living.
Kim, many thanks for the interview!
Kim’s website is Down to Earth Décor
If you are thinking of making a career change, but not sure about your direction, start with some self exploration. Brainstorm possible options with friends, family and Career/Employment Counsellors, and target fields of interest with in-depth research. Labour market analysis, information interviews, job shadowing, networking, connecting with associations should all be part of your information gathering (have a look at our blog post on this topic). Kim assessed why she was unhappy and took time to discover what motivated her. She spoke to seasoned professionals in the field (and potential clients) in order to gain valuable advice about her career change and that along with researching, returning to school and her background in business all laid the path for a successful career change.
You can assess your interests, values and skills through the exercises in the book What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles (10 Speed Press)
Other recommended books include:
- I Don’t know What I Want But I Know It’s Not This: A Set By Step Guide to Finding Gratifying Work by Julie Jansen (Penguin Books, 2003)
- I Want Something Else, But I’m Not Sure What It Is by Ron and Caryn Krannich (Impact Publications, 2005)
- 12 Steps to a New Career: What to Do When You Want to Make a Change Now! By Carl J. Wellenstein (Career Press, 2009)
- How to Start a Home-Based Business by Bert Holtje and Susan Shelly (Morris Book Publishing 2010)
- 50 Best Jobs for Your Personality by Michael Farr and Laurence Shatkin (Jist Publishing, 2005)
At JVS Toronto we offer services to assist individuals to explore careers: