Transitioning from business owner to working for a company.

Transitioning from business owner to working for a company.

When the world is focusing on startups, growth and entrepreneurship, I took the opposite journey.

Since closing my business after 15 years in October 2018, I’ve been approached by quite a few people who have asked how did you make the transition?

Once I made the decision to close, which wasn’t easy, I was matter of fact about what I had to do. My end game was to work for a company I’d always wanted to work for.

I started to follow businesses in my area of expertise and was a great way to see what work they were doing, where and insight into work culture. I kept an eye on articles and news featuring their work and slowly over a period of a few years I was figuring out who I could see myself working for.

There were a few steps I had to take, the first was to update my resume after 15 years!

That was bloody hard as what on earth do you say about yourself having done everything from grabbing coffees, design, artwork, accounts, courier, strategy, recruitment, new business, finance, studio manager and creative director.

I needed external input and was grateful to have the help of a very good friend, Simon Hamilton in London, who had previously worked at an architectural recruitment agency and was working for an architectural firm. He gave some really great advice.

“Take a long time to write your resume, position it for the job you want and change your title to reflect this”

I had NO idea of what job I wanted or would be suitable for, that was the problem. I was looking at looking at all sorts of jobs: Senior Graphic Designer, Creative/Art Director, Studio Manager, Account Manager and Practice Manager for ad, design, architecture, urban and interior design firms.

So where do my skills and experience fit?

I love the built environment – architecture, landscape, urban design, interiors, wayfinding incorporating digital and user experience. I had been following a multitude of businesses that I admired and could see myself working in that sector.

It was good to meet and talk to recruiters as it helped me discuss my background which in turn made me realise what I did and didn’t want to do. From that process, I discovered:

  • I have a great network - my contacts are in related industries so was interesting to see what was happening in those fields and how I might move across to new areas

  • that I was lucky to have worked on such a variety of projects for large corporates to small businesses - I knew how to plan, manage and deliver large and complex deliverables as well as produce quality work for small business that always needed fast turn arounds

  • I was good with dealing with people at all levels - from NSW Government, top 100 ASX companies down to startups and bakeries, I was adaptable

  • supporting and nurturing people in their roles and businesses - I enjoyed providing advice and guidance and seeing people flourish and grow.

What I didn’t want to do:

  • work long hours

  • operations

  • design/artwork

  • worry on the weekend.

What I wanted to do:

  • work on larger projects to learn (and be supported) with a larger business

  • have less things to do so I could focus with more quality

  • have time to think to add more value to projects

  • work for a high profile company with quality clients.

My approach

I applied to interior design firms, architects, advertising and landscape architects. The time to take writing and rewriting and rewriting my resume definitely paid off, which by the way, took over a month! I was impatient, but it was worth it as I always received good feedback on the resume. I was continually applying for roles around five months.

I still received more noes then yeses from my applications.

I contacted Büro North first, the company I now work with. My approach was that I wanted to meet for a coffee to find out more about their business, the industry and to get advice of how my skills could apply within the business.

I contacted the Managing Director and we tried to organise a coffee for when I was visiting Melbourne next. timing wasn’t right and I thought oh well, it wasn’t meant to be.

A few months later, a role through a recruiter for Büro North came up The MD and I finally had our catch up which went really well. A week later they flew me down to Melbourne for an interview. This went for a few hours as I asked more questions then they did of me as I was pretty excited!

As this was such a big change, I needed to know they would be the right business for me. I found out how they worked, processes, their work, values and culture. I met one of their staff to hear the good and challenging bits. I had a pretty good idea of what was expected in the role.

I was offered the role on the following Monday after Friday’s interview. Very happily, I accepted.

As this was a role where I report in to the MD, it was a big transition from business owner to working for someone and doing things their way. I had to let go and relearn in a good way.

If you’re considering a change like this, be clear to yourself and your potential employer, of what your relinquishing:

  • being a boss

  • managing people

  • designing and delivering work

  • being involved in business decisions

  • new business

I was clear to my future employer that I wanted to learn and was happy to change the way I worked. For me, I wanted to grow my career.

It’s been five months so far and I’ve learnt so much. From working on an incredible infrastructure project to conducting unique user research and supporting a design and strategy team.

I’m still in the process of finalising the old business, this will take 6 to 12 months realistically from wrapping up client projects, payments, accounting, office lease and selling assets.

It’s been therapeutic wrapping it up and letting it all go. I have a lot less to worry about and more free time to spend with my partner, family and friends.