This month’s Fearless Fridays interview is with Daniel Franzén, who is currently working with me in The Outsiders Business Accelerator. He left his 9 to 5 as a product safety engineer in the forest industry when he was “lucky enough” to have his job removed as part of an organisational restructuring. He had always been interested in being self-employed and, over time, he also gained the self-awareness that he was more of a ‘people person’ and wanted to help people in a more direct way.
Watch the full interview below or read the transcript to discover the moment when Daniel made the decision; the challenges he faced, and where he got the support to overcome those challenges; the best part of his work and life today; and, of course, his best advice for you if you’re considering a similar transition!
Fearless Fridays: From product safety engineer to grief worker
Daniel Franzén spent 13 years in the forest industry in Sweden, as a product and applications specialist, and a sustainability manager. Based in Åtvidaberg, Sweden, today Daniel is empowering women to change their lives through grief work and empowerment coaching over phone or video call. He is currently planning a Zoom-based grief course for sexual abuse survivors.
1) At what moment did you decide it was time for a change?
Anna: Hello, everybody, and welcome to this month’s Fearless Fridays. I’m here with another member of The Outsiders Business Accelerator. So lots of accelerating business owners participating in the interview series at the moment, but I wanted to share Daniel’s story with you.
So this is Daniel Franzén. We’ve been speaking Swedish just now, a few minutes ago, but we are going to transition into English on your behalf so that you understand what we’re saying. Daniel, why don’t we dive straight in and ask you a little bit about what were you doing before and what are you doing now in your business?
Daniel: Yes. I was working for the forest industry for 13 years. I studied chemistry originally at university, and I held a few positions. I was a product safety engineer. I was a product and applications specialist, and a sustainability manager. So that was my old life.
Last year I switched to being self-employed, and now I do grief work. I do life coaching, and I’m currently planning for a grief course for sexual abuse survivors, which I think is a very important topic, and perhaps something that’s missing out there.
Anna: Absolutely. A difficult one as well. So, I guess, what was the moment or what made you decide both to leave that industry, to quit your job, and then also, interestingly, to focus on these very challenging topics?
Daniel: Well, I guess I’ve always had the feeling that it would be fun to be self-employed, and I was lucky enough to have my job removed in a reorganisation. So I didn’t have a job. I could have been asking for a different job within the company, but I felt the timing was right to make the move and do something else.
I think what I’ve learned over the course of my life so far is that I’m actually more of a people person than an engineer, perhaps. So helping people in a more direct way has always felt… now it feels more relevant to me. So that’s what I wanted to do.
As for the difficulty in the topics I’ve chosen, I think that’s second nature to me, to just be… Making a difference is important to me, and simple topics, if you will, don’t seem as appealing to me as the ones where people actually need a lot of help, if that makes sense.
Anna: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve not heard it put that way, but absolutely, that’s an interesting perspective. Out of curiosity, when you first chose your degree and your job, did you have that self-awareness that you were this people person and you wanted to make difference, or was that just sort of a student who was like, “Yeah, I’ll study engineering. I’ll do this, chemistry”?
Daniel: No, I don’t think I had that self-awareness. I think, as a Swede, and as studying science and engineering, you’re taught to focus on logic and those very sort of square values, and emotions and feelings are not really something that’s focused on. Actually, you’re more taught to hide that and ignore that. I think I realised along the way that that’s not a good way for me to live my life. I don’t work that way. It became obvious after a while. But when I chose my education, I didn’t know.
Anna: That’s interesting. Almost jokingly I’m saying this, especially as a Swede myself, but the stereotype of Swedes, I guess, is that we’re not very in touch with our emotions. I don’t know. It’s quite sort of a wooden… So is it perhaps not even just the engineer, chemist side of things, but also would you say the culture as a whole?
Daniel: Yeah, I would say that.
Anna: It is not so-
Daniel: The grief course that I teach has a portion about how almost everyone is hiding their feelings and we’re pretending things are well, and that’s based on an American concept. So it’s true there, but I would say it’s 10 times as true in Sweden. We’re really bad at talking about feelings and emotions. I think, because I have many friends abroad, I’ve also learned that speaking about important things and feelings is something that we are extra bad at in Sweden.
That leads us to actually the sexual abuse course that I have. The idea came from realising how many female friends I have that are survivors of sexual abuse in some ways, and I didn’t know that when I just had friends in Sweden because in Sweden we don’t really talk about it in the same way as my American or British friends do. So that’s something as well.
Anna: We’re talking obviously at sort of… we can’t say post-COVID because we’re still in COVID, but after a period of COVID and some challenges there and, in a way, I’ve heard a lot of people say we’re actually going through this collective trauma and, of course, specifically there have been lots of issues with domestic abuse and that kind of thing. So I imagine it’s… well, I feel it’s an important topic for all of us now, as you said. It’s something that we do need to begin to express ourselves, especially in the age of social media, where we’re just presenting our best and shiny selves, and just saying, “Hey, look at me. It’s all wonderful and hunkydory,” and we’re not actually opening up.
Daniel: That is true. I think social media perhaps has a too bad reputation when it comes to that because if you look for the real stuff, it’s there. If you want to follow people who are going through grief and they’re posting about their experiences, they’re out there too. Or sexual abuse. There’s a lot of good, deep, real information out there as well. But, yeah, the surface of it is-
Anna: So technology doesn’t have to be an evil, we can actually also use it to connect with people and to share and to learn.
Daniel: Yeah. It’s up to people what they follow and what they want to read. I understand that for many people it’s a pastime and it has to be sort of… you want it to be easy and just look at the pretty pictures. That’s fine. But if you want something else, it’s out there too.
2) What was the biggest challenge you faced in making the change?
Anna: That’s a good, nuanced perspective. So I’m getting a bit sidetracked because it’s such an interesting topic in itself. Maybe we need to do a whole different interview on your expertise but, I guess, sticking to the career question, what were some of the challenges that you came across in this discovery, I guess, that you wanted to work more with people and then now getting your business up and running?
Daniel: Yeah. Well, it’s a scary thing to just decide that, okay, I’m not going to try to get a new job for a while, I’m going to do this instead. It’s just a scary step to take, I guess. Once you’re there, there’s all this, how do you do that? What do you need to do? What’s important? In my case, I need to market myself. How do I reach an audience, and the right audience? That’s something that I’m obviously still struggling with, and that I think, as an entrepreneur, you will always struggle with, finding new clients and reaching the right people.
I do have a social media presence, of course, and I know that I’m visible because I’m approached by a lot of people who want to sell me things. You know?
Anna: Okay. Yeah, that’s true.
Daniel: So I know I’m out there, and there are also, of course, people who want to buy my services, but it’s mostly people who want to sell, and that’s also, how do I get followers that are interested in what I’m doing rather than trying to sell me something? So that’s definitely a struggle.
Anna: That’s interesting. In a way, again we’re joking a little bit, but that is almost a sign that things are going well. I’ve had that recently. I’ve been stepping up my Instagram and suddenly I have sort of 10 people every week saying, “Hey, I’m seeing the amazing stuff you’re doing on Instagram. Let me sell you my Instagram package,” right? So it does mean, as you say, that we are obviously becoming an important person who people think are worth targeting, but that is always the challenge.
Likewise for me, I get business coaches following me, and I think they’re rather looking at what I’m doing rather than wanting to work with me. Having said that, you know what, they may well need your services in the future. I’d like to think that coaches need coaches, for example. So hopefully they will still be able to benefit from the content that I put up. But absolutely, that’s something that we continue to, and I do too, learn about, in terms of building the audience.
You also mentioned you were lucky to not have a role anymore but, as you said, it’s still a big shift to go, “Hang on, I’m not going to get another job,” to not be tempted onto the job site. Again, I think Sweden, maybe almost more so than in England, also is quite traditional in terms of… I always had people ask me, “But what’s your job going to be after university in England?” We just study something and then we do something. Whereas I think it’s more you’re an engineer, you’re a doctor, you’re a nurse, you have a role. So I can imagine there might have been some kind of doubt there in your social circles as well as to what you might be up to.
Daniel: Yeah, definitely. I noticed a difference in how supportive people are. Again, my friends in America, they’re always like, “Yay, go for it. Wonderful.” My Swedish friends are more like, “How are you going to be able to survive that way?” So they’re not unsupportive, but they’re not as daring, I would say. For them it’s a bigger step. So there are cultural differences.
Another thing to struggle with, of course, is the Swedish system is extremely bureaucratic and taxes are quite high, and things like that are also a struggle.
Anna: In terms of the actual business structure and taxes and so on.
Daniel: Yeah. I don’t know if it’s the same in England, for instance, but I have to guess how much money I’m going to make and pay tax in advance, which is sort of-
Anna: No, that’s not the case here, no. But I know I’ve had that in other European countries as well. So that’s quite a tricky one.
Daniel: Yeah. So right now I’m just… because I guessed too much, I’m just paying a lot of tax. I’ll get it back again.
Anna: You’ll get it back, yeah.
Daniel: It’s not-
Anna: It’s a cashflow problem.
Daniel Franzen: It’s not lost money, but it’s still like, why do I even have to bother with that? Can I just show them how much money I made and pay tax on that? In Sweden, it’s always complicated.
Anna: Yeah. So it’s not quite kept up with… Well, that’s interesting because, again, stereotypes galore, but I think of Sweden as being quite sort of tech-savvy and future, and there’s lots of start-ups and so on. So you’d like to think the culture, the environment, would be set up to encourage that. So that seems a bit of a relic of the past, but hopefully that will get fixed in the future because that seems, for a small solopreneur business, that why should be paying too much tax, that doesn’t seem particularly conducive to encouraging people to grow their businesses.
Daniel Franzen: No, not quite. But, yeah, like you say, I think it’s a relic of the past.
3) Where did you get the support you needed to make it happen?
Anna: Okay. Where did you get support? So it sounds like you had lots of go-getter friends in America. Where else have you begun to overcome some of those challenges and to learn and grow as an entrepreneur?
Daniel: Well, I think friends have been the most important support in many ways. When I took the education to become a coach, an ICF trained coach, I made a lot of friends in that group. So I have coaching colleagues, and we support each other quite a lot as well because we’re in the same boat. Many of us are trying to set up businesses, or have set up businesses. So that’s fun.
Then, of course, I have you as my mentor, which is a tremendous support. I have another mentor as well. Or two mentors, you could say. I got one when I lost my job. I got a mentor for free that I worked with for a while, just helping me with the business as well.
I just think to me it makes sense to listen to many people and get a lot of information in, and then make what you can out of that because it’s still about authenticity and doing things your own way, but there are rules and there are things that you can learn, and then there’s maintaining your own personality and your own authenticity within that field. So I think I have support. I’m lucky enough to have support from many, many people in many angles.
Anna: Amazing. And that is, as you say, it’s important, especially at the beginning, to learn from a lot of people, to get a feel for what you enjoy, what feels authentic to you. Some gurus will teach something that you’re not so aligned with and, as you say, ultimately, it’s for you to decide what’s the right strategy for you, which channels. We were just talking about LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, what feels right for you and so on. So that’s great.
And as you said, just like-minded people. So some people are mentors who can guide you, but others are just going through the same stuff and can cheer you on and empathise when you’re struggling as well, and celebrate your wins, which is just as important.
Daniel: That’s true, yes.
4) What’s the best part of your lifestyle today?
Anna: What would you say the best thing is? So how long have you been now working for yourself and what would you say the best thing about being an entrepreneur is, the lifestyle you can lead now? Tell us the dream.
Daniel: Oh, well, I think it’s about a year now since I set up the business. I think the best thing is that I get to decide. I get to choose when I work, how I work. That freedom is quite important to me. If you need to go to the dentist or something, it’s only open during working hours. So now I don’t have a problem with that. In the past, I would have had to struggle with asking my manager and taking a day off or whatever. Now that sort of thing just works itself out. I can work early in the morning, I can work late at night, it doesn’t really matter.
The other side of that freedom is also geographic freedom because I have a web-based service. Everything I do online. I can go anywhere in the world really, and work from there. The only difficulty with that would be to have a good internet connection, and make sure I remember the time difference. I like that.
I’m not a very good Swede. I don’t like the winters here. The dream is to be able to live somewhere else in the winter, at least in the winter, and just be wherever I feel like, or have a home somewhere else where it’s warm. If this business turns out to be something that I can live off long-term, that’s going to be possible. That’s a big deal to me.
Anna: Oh, that’s my dream too, to spend the summers in Sweden and then the winters somewhere else, I think. But that’s also-
Daniel: Yeah. I think everyone wants that!
Anna: So it’s interesting because it’s the autonomy from sort of a big picture perspective, but then, as you say, the practical reality of being able to go to the dentist, the doctor, the shop, which is crazy that that’s so important, but it just makes life easier, doesn’t it?
Anna: And then, as you said, to be able to work with clients all around the world from wherever you are is amazing.
Daniel: Yeah. It is. It really is. I’ve chosen a type of business that’s perhaps more viable abroad than in Sweden as well. We’re quite used to things being tax financed in Sweden. So people are less likely to pay for this kind of thing themselves than in other countries, is what I’ve found.
Anna: Yeah, that’s interesting. I’ve heard that too. There’s another girl in the Accelerator who’s in Norway… in Finland, in fact, sorry. She was saying how it’s exactly the same: people are used to getting things for free, so people aren’t used to spending money on training. Whereas in America, England, we’re very sort of, “Yeah, I’m investing in my personal development and [inaudible 00:16:45],” and so on.
Daniel: Yeah. That’s a difference for sure.
Anna: Okay. Do you mind sharing… because I know you spent some time in the forest, speaking of forests, a few weeks ago. Do you mind sharing a little bit about that? Because I think that’s quite an interesting, perhaps unusual choice to make.
Daniel: Sure. I can share something about that. It was basically a getting away from it all kind of thing. I had been working on my business for… well, maybe a little bit too much because I was tired of it. I took some time off and I moved into the forest, to a tent in the forest where it’s… My parents have… I grew up on a farm, a dairy farm with some forest, in the south of Sweden. So I put up my tent in their forest and I stayed there for a while, and I got to spend quite a lot of time with my parents. I got to swim in the creek, close by to the tent. That was my shower for the 19 days.
I just really like being in nature. I think it’s very grounding. It’s much more real to me than living in an apartment in town or whatever. Nature is soothing somehow. So I had a good time doing that, and just hearing all the sounds of the animals walking by in the night, or the wind in the trees. There’s something about that that I think is… it’s probably very deep within us as humans to have that. So it was quite wonderful.
Anna: Amazing. And to be able to make that choice as well. It’s come up again and again. Also in the incubator, where people are still working on leaving their job, I’ve had a couple of clients recently who are taking a good chunk of time, six weeks off actually. We’ve found again and again that you get the rest and relaxation, you actually come back rejuvenated, excited to get going. And even, if you want to, you have lots of new ideas and things that comes from being in nature, taking time off, and so on.
So I’m more and more about this idea of taking time off, in a way, and not just hustling away in the business and, “I’ve got to do more. I’m got to do more.” It’s just so easy to get into that mindset, isn’t it, when you’re starting out?
Daniel: Oh, yeah, definitely. I think it is important to take time off and do just something else basically. A vacation can be quite kind of stressful. You’re travelling somewhere, you’re trying to do as much as possible. This year, what can you do? You can be in the forest. Tourism is hard with the corona and everything. So staying in the forest was a reasonable option to do something else. I have wanted to do something like that for a long time, but it just never seems to happen until this year. That was good.
Anna: Yeah. No, that’s interesting. I’ve seen lots of people get creative with their so-called staycations, and some people are posting beautiful photos, especially from Sweden. Also my friends in Switzerland have beautiful nature at your disposal. So the fact that you don’t have to, as you said, plan a stressful sightseeing holiday somewhere is actually perhaps a good opportunity to visit your own country and to have some much needed proper relaxation, and not just that sort of hustling tourist vibe as well.
Daniel: Exactly. In a way, it’s too similar to everyday life with the hustling and the stressfulness. So it’s good to just relax. I have to say, I did come back with a different mindset, and I was much more inspired to get going, and working was fun again, which in June, it wasn’t fun. I ended up feeling just stressed out, I guess, and it just changed things.
Daniel: So I can recommend it if you have a forest nearby.
Anna: Absolutely. I was going to say, I didn’t realise it was your forest, but, yes, that’s good. If you have a forest nearby, that sounds a good option.
Daniel: It doesn’t have to be your forest. At least not in Sweden. You can stay in the forest anyway.
Anna: That’s true.
Daniel: But that varies, of course, from country to country.
5) What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is considering making a big career or lifestyle change?
Anna: Yeah, no, but that’s fantastic. I guess the final question would be, and we’ve already shared some insights, taking time out being one of them, but what advice would you give maybe yourself from a year ago, or anyone who’s in that same situation just starting out?
Daniel: I would say don’t be afraid to try it. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Maybe your business doesn’t take off and you apply for another job some time later, but that’s always going to be an option, so it’s not that scary actually. Saying that, still afraid, but I think it’s fun. It’s also very much what I want to do.
Get going, see where it takes you, and get help. Find someone who can coach you or mentor you or help you get started because there are so many things. You could work 24/7 and actually not get anything useful done. So getting some help with what to do is not a bad idea.
Anna: So true. I’ve become like this ghost, I think the sun is shining onto my face, so apologies. It doesn’t really matter what I look like, but I’m just getting distracted by my ghost-like presence in the corner. But absolutely, I think asking for help is always… we think of it as a sign of weakness. Again, it’s kind of our culture that we’re not supposed to ask for help, which is such a shame because we’re wasting time, and there are people out there who are so willing to help. There’s so much out there now, isn’t there?
Daniel: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Anna: The other thing, as you’ve said, the fear never goes away. I always say scary and exciting come together. So you want to make sure that the exciting is sort of slightly ahead of the fear, that it’s not sort of panic, “I don’t want to be here. I’m unhappy working in my business kind of fear,” but it’s, “Oh, this is exactly what I want to be doing. It is scary but I’m enjoying it and let’s see how we can get stuck in and make this work,” and, as I said, try it, and then, what’s the worst that can happen?
Daniel: And finding a goal that isn’t about… obviously the goal is to make enough money to be able to live off it, but the real goal is something else: it’s to help people, or whatever your business is about. So find that goal early on because it’ll help you. It’ll be your North Star and it’ll show you the way.
Anna: Yeah, you’re speaking my language. I love the idea of a North Star. As you’ve said, for many people it is helping people. It might be in different constellations, it might not be in… and it won’t be in the exact same way that you are, but absolutely, I think a lot of people have this hunger now for making a difference, doing something meaningful, creating a legacy, whatever you want to call it, and I think that’s something to listen to. I think that is so powerful, isn’t it, and so needed as well in society now, I think. So hopefully more people can awaken to that and go out and contribute in their own individual way.
Daniel: Yeah. I really hope so. I think it’s a healthier way to live actually.
Anna: Oh, my goodness, thank you so much, Daniel. It’s been such a pleasure talking to you and hearing a little bit more about your experiences and insights. Where can people read more about you online?
Daniel: Oh, well, I guess my website would be a good place to start. It’s www.franzengrief.com. Maybe we should spell that out in writing.
Anna: I will write it out, don’t you worry. I’ll link it so people can find you. Please follow Daniel if you are interested in his services, so that he’s not just chased by these salespeople but actually have people who could benefit from his message. So absolutely, no, I’ll link to that as well. Is there a social channel that you’d like people to follow in particular or is the website [crosstalk 00:24:25]
Daniel: I think Facebook or Instagram are the most important perhaps. I am on LinkedIn as well, still figuring that out. But Facebook and Instagram definitely, I’m quite present there. So if you’re interested, please follow me.
Anna: And as you said, I loved what you said about let’s not demonise social media. At the end of the day, it’s not technology, it’s the people, isn’t it? So if you are looking for some more honest, serious stories, as well as help, there are people that you can follow, and I’m sure you can help people with that as well. So thank you for reminding us of that as well. It’s easy to say these platitudes about dismissing social media, but you’re absolutely right as it can be a force for good as well. There’s lots out there that can be helpful.
Daniel: I think it can, yes.
Anna: Amazing. Thank you so much, Daniel.
Daniel: Oh, thank you so much.
Anna: I’m sure that was so powerful for people, and best of luck and look forward to continuing working with you.
Daniel: Thank you so much. Thank you. Bye.