This month’s interview is with Vicky Mason. Vicky and I met when I came in to consult at Vertu, where she was heading up the customer experience team, during my first years after leaving my corporate job. Vicky herself had been working in big companies since university. It was when she had her second child that she decided to take the leap to work for herself.
Watch the interview or read the transcript below to get Vicky’s thoughts on the ups and downs of her escape from the 9 to 5.
Fearless Fridays: From customer experience to creating positive change
Vicky Mason had worked in corporate since graduating in 2000 and it was during her second maternity leave that she decided to step outside and do something different. It was something she had thought about for a while but maternity leave was the impetus she needed – she wanted to give herself the space to try new things and not be locked in an office all day every day, not seeing her family much. Now, she has a much more varied week, which she loves. She has marketing contracts with companies in the wellbeing sector, who are really making a difference to people’s lives, and run training courses and coaching. She works from home a lot, which enables her to be much more productive, as she can be very focussed and much less stressed. And also, importantly, it means she’s around to drop her kids off at school and nursery and can juggle her work to be around a bit more in the holidays or when they need her.
1) At what moment did you decide it was time for a change?
Anna: This month’s Fearless Fridays, I’m here with Vicky Mason. Now Vicky and I met, and we were just doing some calculations, six years ago, back when I was at the beginning or more or less the beginning of my transition out of the 9 to 5. And we worked together at Vertu, and we had a wonderful time. Of course, at the time Vicky was working full time there and I was consulting, but since then, as you can imagine, a lot of things have happened. Vicky and I have been connecting over the years. I’m now excited, because she’s ready to share her transition with you all. So welcome Vicky, and why don’t you tell us a bit more about already what you were doing before and what you’re doing today?
Vicky Mason: Yeah, sure. Brilliant. Thanks Anna. Yes, I’ve worked in corporate since I graduated back in 2000, so 20 years ago. During my second maternity leave, I decided to take a step out of the nine-to-five and do something different. So up until then, I’d been working for various different corporates, generally in marketing, membership, and customer experience type roles. Worked for people like Porsche cars, McLaren and The Body Shop and of course, Vertu, where we met. Now, I have a much more varied week than I used to have. I have my own customer experience clients, and I also do some training and I also do some coaching. So yeah, very different, generally working from home. So I’ve skipped the long commutes that I used to do. I have a lot more time for basically being around for my kids, but also for the other things that I was wanting to get up to with my life.
Anna: Let’s explore that a little bit more. So you mentioned your maternity leave, you mentioned not having to commute and exploring things. So what was it that made you take that initial step out of the nine-to-five and what made you finally go, you know what, I’m ready to work for myself?
Vicky Mason: It was the maternity leave itself, to be honest. It was being able to be around for my kids and being able to do the school pickups and actually being able to, just generally being around and being more flexible with them. Because before when I was in corporate, I was often very late home. I had an hour’s commute each side of the day and then I was often working late into the evening. So yeah, basically my whole life was eaten up by work. So suddenly taking a step outside that and realising actually there’s a lot that I’m missing out on. That was the big thing for me. An also, because when you’re away from work, you suddenly start doing the things that you maybe would like to be doing. So I started studying, I started reading a lot more. I started doing more coaching and just generally exploring things equally. Creativity, I really like music and design and drawing things. So all sorts of things that actually, my ideal week I would like to be doing, I started doing and I was thinking to myself, why is this not part of my life normally? So that was the big thing for me, really.
2) What was the biggest challenge you faced in making the change?
Anna: That sounds very, hey, this is obvious. This is what I want to do and it sounds nice and smooth and fantastic. What were some of the challenges that cropped up, I guess, along the way as you actually navigated that transition?
Vicky Mason: I chatted to you a couple of times about some of these in the past and I think the big one for me is when you’re in corporate and when you’re getting a regular paycheck at the end of each month, I think you can take it for granted. And obviously you know that when you step outside and do something different, you’re not going to be getting that anymore.
But I think that transition was a big change for me. And certainly getting used to not earning as much money particularly initially was a really big shift. And fortunately, we had got quite a lot of savings, but it was quite a difficult transition.
I have taken on very different roles and things in the meantime, in order to try and to make things work. I’ve now got to the point where everything that I’m doing is all my own business, which is great, but it’s not been a simple, smooth sailing straight out of the gate, if you like. So it’s just been a case of building momentum over the time .
Anna: I think that’s so great. So remind me, when was your second maternity? When did you start this process?
Vicky Mason: So my daughter is about to turn three, so three years ago she was born and I resigned from my job, gosh, part way through that maternity leave. So, yes, it’s been a little while now since I’ve been in corporate.
Anna: I think that’s fantastic and it’s such a great example of the time it does take and three years, to be honest, isn’t that long. We’re young, we’re still going to work for many years to come and I’m sure there’ll be more twists and turns along the way. And I think as you said, taking those pragmatic decisions, I want at least a step in the right direction. And yes, you still chose to do certain contracts and things that maybe weren’t part of your ideal vision, but that then allowed you probably, I imagine, already more flexibility, less commutes because you’re working from home part of the time, until you’re now, I think three years is pretty reasonable. Pretty fantastic to be able to go, actually, I’m completely deciding how to manage my own business and I’m choosing the projects that I want to work on.
Vicky Mason: Yeah, yeah. I think one of the funniest things that I found in the process was the actual leap itself, because I’d spent a lot of time deciding whether to do it, whether to go back to work. I was really in two minds, and then finally got to the point where I committed and I resigned from my job and literally within 24 hours, I had my first contract.
And it was from somebody who didn’t know that I was on maternity leave, did not know that I was looking. I don’t know whether you call it synchronicity or coincidence or whatever, but it was just really, for me, it was almost just a confirmation, right? I’ve done the right thing and things are starting to move in the right direction, but obviously it’s been a real journey since then. But certainly that was a really good start for me, showing me that I was going in the right direction with it.
Anna: And I think that always happens. I wrote an article, I think the first six months after I left my job and it was exactly that. There are opportunities you’re not even aware of, because your eyes aren’t open to it. And as soon as you go to the world, whether you believe in the universe, messages, or if you just think that I happen to be open to it and it’s coming along as you said. That’s really reassuring to know that suddenly, actually, I can do this because of course you can.
3) Where did you get the support you needed to make it happen?
Anna: And having those that reassurance and those messages being sent to you, I think is really powerful. I guess with those challenges in line with of course letting go the salary, what did help you? Was it just time? Was it the little things that happened, building your confidence that actually people are coming to me? What helped you, what was the support you got to help you through the transition?
Vicky Mason: I think the big thing was probably some of the courses I’ve done. I’ve connected with other people. I did a course run by Nat West right at the start, which was connecting with people locally. So that was great. So I’ve got a network in the local area here of people who are also running their own businesses and doing things a bit differently.
Also, I did another course which was online, I didn’t meet local people, but met other people who were quite like-minded, doing similar things. And actually we still get on really well and we went away together before Christmas, which was really nice. Yeah, it’s just nice to have those sorts of people that you can really connect with and just talk to about similar challenges that you might be facing.
So those were big things. And then I also have had some coaching, mindset coaching was a really big one for me. Getting out of corporate and making that shift to marketing myself and selling my services and thing was quite a big change for me. So working with the coach was something that really, really supported me through that.
Anna: With the courses, it’s interesting because you didn’t mention so much the content of them, you were saying more it was the network. Would you say that’s true, that it was actually more the people you connected to rather than necessarily the subject matter?
Vicky Mason: I think it was probably a mixture of both, but I think probably the people were the most helpful. I think if you do any course, it’s not tailored to you and everybody’s running different businesses and has different challenges. I think with things like coaching, it can be tailored to where you’re at and your current challenges.
Vicky Mason: Whereas with the courses, I got some benefits out of them. But I think probably the connections I made were probably the biggest thing.
Anna: Were you really clear on what it was you wanted to do or what helped you make those decisions?
Vicky Mason: No, and it’s been a bit of a journey, to be honest. I know, I really like variety and as a result, actually tried a few different things. I know I enjoy doing the customer experience and the marketing, and for me it was about finding the right kinds of clients. So finding the types of people that I like to work with, feeling they’re actually making a difference through the work that they’re doing and that I’m also helping them by making a difference through what I’m doing.
So that was something that developed over time, I guess, really. Equally, with the training, I’ve always been really interested in training. I’ve always done bits and pieces of training throughout the years. So that’s just a natural development. And equally with the coaching, it’s something that I qualified in back in 2011, actually, back when I had my son.
Vicky Mason: So I’ve used coaching within my business. I’ve had some individual clients, it’s just something that’s grown I guess from there.
Anna: It’s connecting the dots when you look backwards, isn’t it? Steve Jobs used to say. Actually, it makes so much sense now that you look back, but maybe it wasn’t so obvious to you at the time.
Vicky Mason: Yeah, exactly. And I think it’s almost following the clues. So following the things that I’m passionate about, that I’m interested in and trying different things and seeing what works. So for me, it’s been a constant journey of just trial and error really and finding my way and finding what seems to fit best.
Anna: And that’s an interesting. Someone else said follow your curiosity, follow as you said, this feels to me right now, that brings a bit more of this and actually I’m excited to try that. And as you said, not to necessarily try to have all the answers right away. Again, it’s taken you two, three years to get to where you are now, exploring. And that’s okay, because of course we can’t go from one day to the next, doing one thing to the other.
Anna: And also, as you said, it sounds like it wasn’t that you were ripping up your career entirely and going, I hate all that stuff. Actually, you enjoyed the work, you’re bringing your skills and experience with you, but you’re able to now, you’re empowered to choose clients and to construct hopefully your ideal week as you were saying, in a different way than you were before in the corporate confines of the nine-to-five.
Vicky Mason: Yeah, that’s exactly it. It’s finding the bits that were working and tweaking it, so that effectively it’s working better for me and my lifestyle, really. So that’s been a big change, but really good to go through that process.
4) What’s the best part of your lifestyle today?
Anna: What does your lifestyle look like? Is it your ideal week? Tell us about the best part of what you’re doing today.
Vicky Mason: Yeah, so I think probably the best part for me is being able to work from home most of the time. I’ve got two young kids and actually being able to be there for them, for the school pickups. I was able to help out for half a term, an hour a week. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but my son’s support teacher left and I was able to help out in the classroom. I’ve been on a couple of school trips and things with him. It’s just things that I wouldn’t have been able to do before.
So definitely being around for my kids and school holidays makes such a big difference, being able to move my hours. I do more work in the lead up and after the holidays, but it means that I can free up more time to actually be with my kids. And last year we made a point of going away, just to cottages in the UK, but we went away for three separate weeks last year, and that’s just something we would have never done in the past.
So definitely that makes a really big difference to me. And I think probably being able to have the variety as well. So I’m currently sitting in my conservatory. I don’t sit in one place all week long, because actually I might be doing, like last week, I had a training day that I was running. I’d then go somewhere else and do that for a day. I was running some coaching elsewhere.
So it’s the variety I think as well, as opposed to the same thing day in, day out for five days a week.
5) What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is considering making a big career or lifestyle change?
Anna: Absolutely. Okay. Amazing. And what advice might you give to someone, I guess in two scenarios, either or, the person was maybe on the maternity leave and thinking, I don’t want to go back, how can I do this? But also perhaps, I spoke to you a year or two ago when actually maybe you were not quite where you wanted to be, if you want to speak to maybe those two scenarios. And if you have any words of wisdom to share with someone who might find themselves in those situations.
Vicky Mason: Yeah. I think probably from a maternity leave point of view, it’s a great opportunity to connect with what you like doing in your life. I found that a really good time to get back in touch with creativity and coaching, various different things and go, is there a way I can fit that in my life normally? Or, actually do I need to do something different?
So actually the maternity leave helped me to work out what was missing from my life, really, because I had a lot more time. And it also helped me to start thinking through, if I do something different, what might that look like? So it’s the time really that’s the great thing there. You’ve got the time to play with all sorts of different ideas and go actually, am I better off going back or am I better off changing?
I think that’s a great opportunity. And as for when you’re on the route, if you like, I guess for me it was being really focused on what I want. And it’s something that I’ve journaled about a few times. It’s something somebody suggested to me, literally sit down and write down what your ideal week looks like. And I found that really helpful then when I’m evaluating opportunities to say does this align with what I’m actually trying to achieve? Does it take me towards or is it taking me away from it?
I think for me, I very much haven’t had a fixed goal of, I’m going to do X. It’s very much been morphing over time and gradually developing, but having a real clarity of what that looks like, which I guess for me is flexibility to do all the things that are important to me in life, including time with kids and learning, having enough income to be able to pay mortgage, bills and things. So being able to feel like I’m making a difference.
So then every time an opportunity comes along or every time I start looking at something different, I evaluate against those things. I think being really laser focused is really important, because as you know from our discussions I’ve got sidetracked along the way a few times, and maybe panicked a couple of times and made the wrong decisions as a result.
Whereas actually I think being really clear headed, and I think also being really on top of your numbers, because it’s quite easy not to be. And therefore, maybe you panic when you don’t need to or maybe you haven’t saved up enough over the time, such that you can give yourself that flexibility. I think really being focused has been the thing that’s helped me.
Anna: So many powerful ideas. You say focus, which I think is so important, especially we have limited time, perhaps young children, although they are growing up very quickly and so on. We all have limited time, whatever our lifestyle looks like. But then as you said, really spending the time to think, what do I want from the big picture perspective? How much money do I actually need?
Because as you say, if you don’t even do the maths, maybe you need less than you think or maybe you actually need more and you’re not taking that seriously. But also then really logistically, practically, as you said, I want to be able to do the school pickups have X, Y, Z holidays.
I love that you’re checking in regularly then to make sure that is what you’re doing because it’s so easy to, especially this time of year we’re speaking, beginning of 2020, I’ve got this vision, I’m going to these wonderful things. And then suddenly a few months have gone and it looks nothing like that. So being able to really anchor that in your day-to-day and take those little steps and make tweaks and saying no, which you said as well, to the projects and clients that might interfere with that, might have you working evenings and weekends and holidays, whatever it might be.
So lots of nuggets there for people to get their teeth into. Thank you.
Vicky Mason: You’re welcome.
Anna: So where can we find you? Do you have a website you wanted to guide people to? It sounds like you’re doing a couple different things, so you let us know where we can find out more about you and perhaps follow you on social as well.
Vicky Mason: Yeah, so I’m on LinkedIn, you can find me on LinkedIn, Vicky Mason. I’ve got my website, vickymason.com. I’ve also got a group on Facebook, but that’s very niche. It’s very specific to supporting women, so that’s probably not quite as relevant, but those are the main places.
Anna: Well, happy to share that. And also, love, again, I’m such a fan of a portfolio career and the fact that, I don’t know, as you said, you love the variety and so on, but also that you might turn up one piece and turn down the other, depending on if you want more income, perhaps over here or more, you might be doing some voluntary work that is more closely aligned to something personal, but doesn’t necessarily generate a lot of money and so on.
Anna: And so I think that’s really important for people to see that it’s not necessarily, especially when you’re crafting your own business, it’s not going to be something that we can fit onto LinkedIn as a perfect job description necessarily. It might be a bit of a mix of different things, and I think that’s what works for you, which is fantastic. Great. Thank you so much.
Vicky Mason: I do really see it as a portfolio career, to be honest, as opposed to a single thing. And one of the things, like you mentioned volunteering, one of the things I’ve really enjoyed doing is running the action for happiness courses. That’s made a real difference. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but suddenly having more flexibility, I’ve been able to commit to two hours a week to be able to do things like that.
Vicky Mason: So yeah, definitely following the clues of things that you’ve been interested in and passionate about over time has really helped.
Anna: Yeah, love that. Follow the clues. Let’s leave it there. So a good piece of advice for you, whether you’re at the beginning of the process or further on, because again, it’s so easy to get distracted by the wrong things along the way. Cool. Great. Tank you so much Vicky. Thanks for sharing and lots of great insights for people there. So thanks so much for letting us know how you’ve been getting on and best of luck with the next few years of twists and turns and excited to see what happens next.
Vicky Mason: No, you’re very welcome. Great to speak to you.
Anna: Thank you.
Vicky Mason: Bye.
The Outsiders Business Incubator
A year-long business incubator for experienced corporate professionals who want to translate their skills and passions into a profitable and fulfilling business.