To mark our business’ 6th month anniversary, Richard and I wrote a blog where we reviewed our journey so far, and what we’d learned. The Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship (IOEE) picked up on it on LinkedIn and got in touch to find out more about us. Following the conversation, they wrote a spotlight about our director, Richard, in their September publication.
This month, you can read the first of a series of guest blogs we’ll be writing for them about our experiences running a business. It deals with the subject ‘Is self-employment right for me?‘
Husband and wife, Richard and Clare Talbot-Jones run Talbot Jones Risk Solutions, based in Felling, Gateshead. Back in August IOEE Fellow, Richard, published a blog on IOEE’s LinkedIn page taking a look back at their first six months in self-employment and we were intrigued to find out more. In this, the first of a series of blogs from the couple, Clare tells us about the start of their journey and the biggest question she faced: is self-employment for me?
“A career in business had never appealed to me. Although I love adventure, any risks I take are generally pretty calculated. I remember when my best friend from university told me that she was engaged to a man who was self-employed, and I felt a genuine wave of panic for her- it sounded so vulnerable and uncertain to me! I thought that it was something I could never be comfortable with, as security and certainty feel very important to me.
My husband, Richard, had been working happily at a local insurance brokerage for years. Within 5 years he had progressed from an entry level job to Director and he was happy and confident working in business; managing people, budgets and resources. He dreamed one day of setting up his own business, but it certainly wasn’t a dream I shared, or liked to hear too much about! Understanding how anxious the idea of self-employment made me, my kindhearted husband laid aside those aspirations and instead set up his own cottage-industry miniature painting business. Not only did it give Richard a hands-on experience of the practicalities of setting up and running a micro-enterprise, it really thrived and he had much more work than he would have ideally wanted.
Around that time, I had been feeling particularly stressed in my job. When I finally recognised that it was having a negative impact on our family life, I realised that I couldn’t let things continue as they were. Instead of just feeling miserable. I had to change something to sort things out!
The idea of giving up my job terrified me! What would I do?! Who would I be?! What would people think?! It was a humbling process, but one that was very helpful in reassessing our priorities and values as a family.
Instead of continuing to pay for childcare, I decided to set up a childminding business- I’d get to spend time with my own children and earn a bit of money while I did it. Before I took the huge leap of resigning, we spent 3 months living on only my husband’s income. This gave me the confidence-net I needed, knowing that even if my business was a total disaster, we could still survive financially, without the contribution of my income.
I needn’t have worried! My childminding business was a real success- we were slightly busier than I would have ideally liked, and were turning work away most weeks. We were having a positive impact on the children and families we worked with and we were relaxed and happy as a family. It was great! The success of both the painting business and the childcare business began to plant a seed in my mind that if you have a good service and the right attitude, a business is likely to do just fine.
At this point, Richard began to be more convicted that he had gone as far as he could at the brokerage he worked at. He needed more challenge and responsibility in order to continue to grow and develop.
He was offered many jobs, but none of them seemed quite right. He wanted a job that allowed 1) us to stay in our beloved Gateshead, 2) Richard to work with the type of clients he loves (charities and SMEs) and 3) an increase in responsibility, challenge and remuneration. Nothing appeared that met all the criteria! It was a very frustrating time, and Richard was becoming despondent and disillusioned. He talked again, about setting up his own business. I was no keener on the idea, but asked him to put together a business plan, so I could at least have a concrete understanding of what he was proposing.
One evening, I came home after a meal out with a friend. Before I even had my coat off, he enthusiastically pulled me over to the computer to show me his completed business plan for an insurance brokerage specialising in SMEs, Not-for-Profits and Professions. He was SO excited! I, on the other hand, was HORRIFED! How much?! The first year projected income was terrifying, the second year was pretty dismal. The third year was beginning to approach something presentable, and the fourth year was the kind of salary I would have been happy with! Turning white, and with shaky legs, I’m afraid to say, I vetoed the whole proposal as something completely untenable.
Richard tried some other employment options. But, at the heart of it, he wasn’t happy and he wasn’t meeting his full potential. After a frustrating day for Richard at work, I was sitting on the sofa, weighing things up in my mind. I thought about the sacrifices Richard had been so willing and ready to make, allowing me to step back from teaching and re-find my happiness and confidence. How could I support him in the same way?
When I looked again at our list of requirements, the answer just jumped out at me. I wouldn’t consider leaving Gateshead. I wouldn’t consider my husband doing a job he didn’t love. I wouldn’t consider a job that didn’t excite and engage him. The only thing on the list, I realised, that we maybe COULD be flexible with, was the pay packet and security.
The idea on living on a tiny, precarious income suddenly didn’t seem so scary. What was the worst that could happen?! For the sake of 3 or 4 lean years, I could give my husband his sparkle back, his dream and the challenge that would let him develop and thrive to use the skills and gifts and experience he has. I felt pretty tearful as I thought of the years of number crunching, budget balancing, meal planning, scant birthdays and hard work ahead, but I realised it was a sacrifice worth making. Richard grinned from ear to ear when I told him he had his full support, and he handed in his resignation that day.
We launched Talbot Jones Risk Solutions 8 months ago, and they have been the happiest 8 months of our lives.
Running my own business gives me the opportunity to do things MY way, without explaining to anyone what or why I’ve chosen to do. I’m able to use my creativity, initiative and instinct, which can so often be dulled when employed by someone else. I’m in my element and I’m so proud of what I can achieve. I’m able to work with my husband, who I admire and respect immensely and we can work together, in line with our family values and objectives. We work hard and never switch off, but at the same time, we get to work around our family and our clients’ needs- we might take a Friday morning off to attend the children’s harvest celebration together, but pop then round to a self-employed plumber’s house in the evening to discuss insurance, so he doesn’t miss out on precious work-time in the day. It’s a balance we’re very comfortable with.
Yes, it is hard work, but we have never been happier. Richard is excellent at what he does- he recently became chartered, showing the high standard of his knowledge and expertise. He is the most honest and straightforward man I know, hardworking, creative and proactive. I feel that as a team, we have a lot to offer our clients. This means that not only am I proud of what we do, I am also very confident and although our budget continues to be tight, I feel very secure. Following a decade of insomnia, I haven’t had a sleepless night since we launched!
Self-employment is where I never wanted to go, but, also, where I’ve found I belong.
How does our journey compare to yours? Are you tentatively considering setting up a business, but unsure whether to take the leap? We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts!
Talbot Jones Risk Solutions is an insurance brokerage specialising in Charities, Professions and SMEs. As a small, independent, family-run firm, we love to support and encourage other small organisations in all the ways that we can. Please get in touch to discuss how we can help you.