Going self employed – my story

In this article (originally intended as a short piece about why I chose to become self-employed), I tell the story of how I ended up doing what I’m doing, why mums rock, and where to start if you feel inspired to go self employed, too.

When I decided to start up my own business after having my two kids (who are now nearly two and nearly 4), it was a case of looking carefully at all the skills I had gained over the years of working and being self-employed and applying them to a career and lifestyle that would work for me and my family.

Looking back, I guess you could say journey into the land of self-employed truly began when I was 16, and found a hobby which truly moved me – DJing. I landed my first gig when I was 17 in a smoky pub in a Hampshire backwater and played to 15 or so people but despite the small numbers, from that moment was hooked. Every weekend if I wasn’t DJing at parties, I was out in the clubs, usually in the middle of the dancefloor, or bugging the DJ to find out what the tune they’d just played was, clocking my favourite sounds, and then hunting down the records during the week to put together into a set.

I had an interest in design so spent a year at art college, followed by a year studying Graphic Design before switching on to a degree in Design Management. It’s safe to say that my favourite time of my college years by far was the hours I spent on the decks at home and in the Student Unions.

After finishing university, I moved to London for my first job as a project manager at a very cool design agency in Vauxhall. They introduced me not only to wonderful printed and moving graphics, but also to London nightlife – it was a young agency, and getting out and about in town with work colleagues was all part of my new London life. Of course, it wasn’t long before I was spending a my spare evenings hunting down tunes in bars and clubs, and then blagging myself some gigs. I also began to venture into music production, helping to create a piece of music for a film submitted to One Dot Zero tv.

A couple of years later, I moved to another agency working as an account handler – a job I enjoyed. By this time, I had forged strong connections in the world of music and my ambition for DJing to larger audiences was heightening. I was beginning to produce music with some fantastic engineers, and these late night sessions creating would often lead to me turning up for work having only had an hour or two’s sleep. My directors were very understanding, but in my mind it was becoming clear that I needed to do something about turning my passion into work. So in 2002, I took the huge decision to leave behind my ‘career’ and work in music full-time.

I was lucky to find a part-time job in the merchandising department of Soho’s then-named Blackmarket Records, the world-class music shop where the world’s music lovers regularly passed through the doors – it wasn’t unusual to be saying a casual hello from John Peel as he headed downstairs to the drum and bass section of the shop to search out burgeoning talents, sorting out vinyl orders for Groove Armada, or hearing huge club tunes just before they broke into the mainstream.

At the same time, I entered the DJ competition at the Miami Winter Music Conference. The only female to compete, I came fourth. Not an amazing result, but a great experience and enough to bag me my first residency at one of London’s top clubs, Pacha. From there things spiralled upwards. The more I DJ’d, the more work I got, and my gigs in London soon turned to gigs across the world. Before I knew it, I was an international DJ – something that I had always dreamed of.

Through my years of DJing, I also realised I was able to pass on my knowledge and found I was quite a good teacher, so I taught at a couple of London’s DJ schools helping them with outreach work in some of the tougher neighbourhoods. It was tough, and challenging, but what resonated was music’s ability to cut through any cultural / racial divides and provide entertainment and focus for the youngster who engaged with it.

A heady few years.

During these years, I hoped at some point that I would be able to have a family, and in late 2005, a proposal from the love of my life brought me out of London to Suffolk. I still gigged in London, and internationally, but less so. Moving from city to country was a tough one for me, but I soon found work helping to set up Soundwaves, a youth music project based on the East Coast of Suffolk, and more outreach DJ tuition. I also continued my personal journey learning how to make music.

In late 2007 and 5 months pregnant with my first child, I played my last gig in London for a while. Staying up til 5 in the morning was, to be honest, a bit much for my rapidly tiring pregnant body! In preparation for the birth, I took birthing classes with Lazy Daisy in Ipswich, and through chatting about work was asked by the company’s founder, Julie Long, to create a piece of music in response to my birth experience. The piece, “Silver Lake”, was written while my son was 5 weeks old, feeding on a cushion on my knee! The track formed the musical background for the Lazy Daisy birthing programme which now has more than 90 franchisee’s across the UK, and there is even a Bollywood remix of it for pregnant mums to exercise to. It gives me huge satisfaction to know that a track I created (which still brings tears to my eyes when I listen to it!) is attached to a company who do such important work in empowering women to have positive birth experiences however they play out.

In 2010 I had my second child, and this changed my world. I simply couldn’t concentrate or focus on work looking after a 2 year old and newborn. In fact, looking back, I remember feeling like I never wanted to work again. Sleep deprivation and exhaustion robbed me of almost all my creative energy – what was left was put into raising my two beautiful children. So I handed over my arts projects, and spent a year being mum, and doing some gentle composing work.

Time out, space to think, and children who were finally beginning to sleep reignited my desire to get back to work. I did consider ‘a job’, but I quickly realised that despite the temptation of a regular wage and hours, I was definitely more suited to being my own boss. Plus I needed something flexible enough that I would be around for my kids, and creative enough that I would feel the fire in my belly.

Going back to my arts project management didn’t feel right, so I began a process of working out who the new, post-kids-me was, what I enjoyed, and what skills I had so that I could have a fresh start and earn a decent income doing something I was passionate about.

What I discovered was that the post-kids me is in fact very closely related to the pre-kids me! I still loved music, still hunted it out, and still loved playing it. I still loved being creative and having something new to do every day. I still enjoyed being out and about meeting new people. I still found pleasure in teaching, and passing on knowledge.

During this time, I started going to exercise classes, and found out that I loved keeping fit. It gave me a chance to have some time for me, to listen to loud music, dance, but without getting home at 5am in the morning after a night’s work with the kids bouncing on my head at 6.30am. It also made me feel stronger mentally and physically.

After much headscratching I realised that the perfect new career for me would be to become a fitness instructor – more sepcifically an exercise to music instructor. I could easily create great mixes of music (giving me the perfect excuse to indulge my love of finding and hearing new music), my design and branding skills would mean that marketing wouldn’t be too much of a biggie, and my dancing wasn’t bad – at the very least my timing was sorted thanks to years of counting the beats of music for mixing.

When I started studying for the anatomy and physiology part of my qualification, I had a moment when I wondered what the hell I had done. I thought I knew about the human body, but it really was right back to square one for me and I had to study hard to make the knowledge stick, and I’m not afraid to say that not having studied for years and years made it even harder. Once I got over that initial hump though, I am pleased to say that it became very clear in my mind the decision had been the right one.

I have just created my very own style of fitness class, Swing Me Fit (swingmefit.com). It’s a fusion of aerobics and dance set to a sizzling soundtrack of 1920s and 30s music fused with modern beats. I teach one class a week at the moment, but in April launch new classes in and around Ipswich, and plan on launching the classes nationwide eventually. Thanks to qualifying with a CYQ qualification, I know I am delivering a safe and effective workout. Not only that, but I’m staying fit, and it is a lot of fun!

My composing work for Lazy Daisy continues and I have also started presenting a series of radio shows for them featuring mum to mum conversations, which are very inspiring (to listen in to one of the episodes, visit thelazydaisychain.co.uk – you will also find another on the blogs page). I have also just picked up two gigs for this year – they’re not international, but I am looking forward to dusting off my headphones and getting back on the decks. Mums can rock, I have decided!

These are busy and exciting times and of course it is a juggle managing everything – relationship, friendships, family, work. But I love a challenge so it suits me down to the ground. Giving one piece of advice to anyone considering becoming self employed is hard – there’s a lot to consider! But taking time to figure out where your passions lie, and how they might combine with your skills to form the basis of a new career is a very good place to start.