Q&A with Nic Paton, author of The Complete Career Makeover

(63 Posts)
GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 22-Feb-10 11:51:26

Do you dream of making a complete career change, but need some help taking the first step?

If so, help is at hand! Come and put your questions to Nic Paton, author of The Complete Career Makeover, which was published last month.

Nic is an award-winning journalist who writes predominantly on business, employment, education, money and health, for titles such as The Guardian, The Mail on Sunday, The Independent and The Sunday Times, as well as a range of other publications and websites. He has also contributed to The Guardian Postgraduate Guide.

We've got five copies of Nic's book to give away to people who take part in the Q&A.

Just post your question here by Saturday 27 Feb and we'll post Nic's answers a week later.

A bit of background info: Nic works from home and lives in Barnstaple in north Devon, though he says he has, as yet, failed miserably to stand up on a surf board. He's the father of three girls aged 12, 10 and 7 and, away from the day job, is also studying part-time for an MA at Exeter University.

Nic will be following the thread from today, so please ply him with questions about how to go about giving your career a makeover.

TheFirstLady Mon 22-Feb-10 12:55:15

Nic is also my DH, so please be nice to him. He has NO IDEA what I do on here all day from time to time.

ChristianaTheSeventh Mon 22-Feb-10 14:32:24

Message withdrawn

snickersnack Mon 22-Feb-10 15:38:55

Do you think that a successful career change can be driven by "push" as well as by "pull" factors? I have an interesting and well paid job but find it hard to combine it with the demands of a young family, and am therefore considering a career change. However, because I do actually like my current job and don't have a burning passion for anything else, I find it hard to know what my next step should be. I've always assumed that career changes work best when you have a clear idea of what you want (rather than what you don't want) but would be interested to hear your views.

ApuskiDusky Mon 22-Feb-10 15:42:52

Hi Nic. Quick background - I will shortly be starting maternity leave, and fully expect that by the time I am due to return, I will either have been made redundant or offered a job I don't really want. So I am planning ahead with alternatives, the most attractive of which is self-employment as a consultant. My field has a lot of sole practitioners and small consultancies (I buy them in in my current role).

I think I am very well placed with regards to my skills and experience, but two things are making me think twice about this - the quality of my network (I know 'sellers' rather than 'buyers') and my natural tendency to be shy about business development and sales. Any suggestions on how someone can develop the skills, confidence and thick skin to develop contacts and bring in work?

NicPaton Mon 22-Feb-10 20:09:53

Hello everyone, just really to introduce myself and say I'm really looking forward to reading and (hopefully) being able to answer all your questions. Already I see there are some very interesting posts up that I shall have to go away and put some work into!

By the way, the book covers issues around deciding on a new career or new direction, retraining and getting new skills, getting a job once you've got those new skills, starting out in business or self-employment, buying a franchised business and freelancing.

So, over to you....I hope I'll be able to help.

TheFirstLady Mon 22-Feb-10 21:04:20

Hello dear. Welcome to Mumsnet. Ask him anything ladies, he is at your complete disposal.

wilbur Tue 23-Feb-10 16:18:37

Hi Nic. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about establishing a new business, esp in difficult times. I am a freelance writer and still do some dribs and drabs of work at that while I juggle three kids at primary school. However, I have always been a keen photographer and have often done pictures and photobooks for friends and family and they have encourages me to start that as a part-time business. My weakness is marketing - I have a small budget to spend on some kind of promotion, but I don't know where to start. Is it worth hiring a PR person for a day or two to take me through some options? Do they even do that? I have set up a basic website and had some cards prined, but I know there are a lot of family photographers out there and I am looking for some advice about making my business stand out. Any thoughts?

Message withdrawn

Tummum Tue 23-Feb-10 18:03:10

Hi Nic,

I have recently returned to work from maternity leave, and have found myself in a job I can't stand, but it is part time (4 days a week) and it's a job I can do standing on my head in a specialist industry I have worked in for 10 years.

My ideal role would be to run my own business during school hours so I can spend more time with my kids and have no childcare costs. I think I have what it takes to run a business but the biggest problem is I have no idea what sort of product or service to provide. I have considered buying a franchise, but after much research I've pretty much concluded that they are expensive and restrictive.

So my question is how do I go about finding a 'killer idea' for a business?


TopoftheMorning Tue 23-Feb-10 18:29:41

Hi Nic

I can't seem to think through how to move on to a new / better / different career. ie knowing where to start in terms of identifying a likely career that would be

a) enjoyable
b) doable
c) flexible

In terms of my own background, having spent the last 14 years working in management roles in a fairly specialist industry (but which does not require professional accreditation/ qualifications) I would love to find something different, more vocational, active or even intellectual. There are lots of things I like doing casually but nothing I could identify as an amazing talent that I know I could develop. I am, in short, a generalist. Lots of common sense, articulate, able to write well (if not dazzlingly), educated and good at communicating. But I have no professional qualifications, just a good general degree.

I think some of the struggle about identifying a new career comes because not only might there be training involved but there is then also either very low-level entry (so £ become an issue when you're a single parent with dc to support alone) OR because sometimes an ideal-seeming career is several steps away, eg, get more qualifications, get job in related industry to get experience, then try to move into preferred sector.

Any advice you can offer on just how to get started would be wonderful, thank you.

SweetGrapes Tue 23-Feb-10 19:03:59

Hi Nic,
I am an graduate engineer. Worked in a steel plant for 4 years. Then moved into IT and worked as a Java programmer for 6 years. The last 2 as a project manager. I have been out of work for 5 years now and am wondering what to do next.

I haven't really seen any part time IT work around. The only options that I can see are office type work part time or a full-on IT career. Ideally I would like to have something a bit more techy and a bit less hours - something between the 2.

Does this even exist?? Few and far between?

TheDailyWail Tue 23-Feb-10 19:09:11

My ex-colleagues are completely miserable with their work situation.

A lot of them have worked for the company for 20 years+, they're hard workers but they're (IMO) undervalued and completely demoralised.

What plan of action could they put in place to build their confidence, realise their self-worth and know their career options?


snigger Tue 23-Feb-10 19:30:28

Hello Nic

I'm currently a low-level civil servant (where we live, it's practically the only job that doesn't involve fries).

I have a knack for cooking and baking, and after a couple of forays for friends and family, am considering stepping up as a self-employed...erm...cake baker? I'm very precise and have so far taught myself from books with reference to wedding cakes, and this is something I'd like to explore, but I'm hesitant with regards to training, setting up on a 'proper' (ie legal, h&s/hmrc approved) basis, and just generally how to proceed.

I am getting a fair word of mouth reputation, and have catered dinner parties for a colleague 6 times in their own home, and that too is something I wonder about expanding, but how?

moodlum Tue 23-Feb-10 19:39:24

Hi Nic

I promised myself that I would go back to work after ds, and I am sort of doing some freelance PR and copy writing. How do you inspire yourself to really break free from being bogged down with the day to day crap and go out and sell yourself?

I keep meaning to get around to it, and given what I do, you'd think it would be a singe. Its not really about the how (I think I know that), its more the impetus that I need inspiration with.

Thanks grin

Hi Nic

I'm currently a SAHM and would be looking to return to some form of paid work in about 3 years when DS2 starts school.

I drifted into my previous job (worked my way up through the same company from leaving Uni til I had DS1) doing an admin/marketing role. I don't miss it at all!

I guess I've got 3 years to train to do something I'd like to, trouble is I've got no idea what. I'm 40 and still don't know what I want to do when I grow up!

I'm (finally) starting to be at bit more self-aware and now realise I'm really good at finding stuff out (apart from how to find a new career!), I have lots of ideas but rarely see them through and having enjoyed the relative freedom of being a SAHM for 5 years I think I'd enjoy working for myself. Ideally I'd like to do something where I can earn a high hourly rate but only work 15-20 hours a week. How do I work out what I'd enjoy/be good at? There seems like a bewildering array of books around but are any of them any good? Money is very scarce but I'd happily save up and pay to get some professional advice if I thought it would actually provide concrete help...

Message withdrawn

TopoftheMorning Tue 23-Feb-10 23:28:25

lol itwascertainly ... the last few posts I've read and thought, ooh I hope those all get a good answer too as they sound like me! (moodlum in particular)

Perhaps I am you ... I work in a political world too. Probation officer sounds interesting, why did you move on from that?

tryingabitharder Wed 24-Feb-10 00:21:05

Hi Nic,

I'm putting myself in the generalist box here too I think.

I have a chemistry degree but have worked my way from shop floor to senior management in telecomms and gained a management diploma on the way (actually, didn't finish a part time MBA due to pregnancy then reality of adding DS to the family) doing lots of different things and am basically a generalist who is sensible and decent at communicating.

I'm on a great package but just had to take 5 months off due to working myself into a breakdown, and although I'm heading back to work I just don't care about it any more and want to spend my time away from DS doing something I give a crap about. I'm just not sure I can afford to or what that should be, and am pretty scared about starting a new career and chucking in 11 years worth of hard graft.

I'm currently toying with re-training to either be a teacher (which I think I'd enjoy / be good at but seems like a cop-out option and not sure the reality would be that great plus the pay is less than in my first shop job) or going back to uni to study pyschology, which fascinates me but I've no idea how I'd pay for it, what I'd do about childcare and what kind of job I might be able to do at the end.

Whaddya think?

Ta very much smile

worriermum Wed 24-Feb-10 07:53:42

Thanks for coming on MN Nic.

When is it daft, impractical and just plain too late to start again?

I am increasingly interested in becoming a clinical psychologist. But I'd be about 52 by the time I was qualified. Would this be barking mad? I think about the years of experience I have behind me in journalism and I wonder how I could possibly compete with someone who has that much experience in my prospective new field.

At this age and stage (47), do I have to adapt my existing skills rather than making a dramatic change?

Thanks again

GettinTrimmer Wed 24-Feb-10 09:16:24

I hope you may be able to suggest something Nic.

I have a degree in English Literature, I love books and reading, since being a SAHM (since my son was born, he's now 7) I have studied French from scratch, and am doing AS Level French at evening class. I've sold Usborne books and worked as a receptionist in a local Leisure Centre part time since my ds was born, just for a bit of extra money.

I trained as a primary school teacher, but didn't pass my final teaching practice (this was 1995) since then I worked for local government in Admin roles, decided against teaching.

So far, I just haven't found my niche. Both my children are at school, I have started looking at Local Government jobs website for work in libraries, but just found out they have a recruitment freeze. I want to avoid working in a dull office.

I was thinking one option for me could be to continue studying French and when my skills are adequate use them in a job, I noticed another mumsnetter is a translator, but I would need to find out more about this role.

marking place until I have time (away from bf colicky 7 week old) to pose question.

phdlife Wed 24-Feb-10 10:35:19

G'day, I'm just going to lurk and see what gems of advice there are for people struggling to decide what to do. Having spent the better part of a decade getting qualified I then had to make a horribly stark choice between career or babies - babies won. Now I wonder what will happen when they're a bit older. Various mentors advise me to keep publishing, in order to be eligible to get back into it when I'm ready.

I think that any career where smart, nice people can tell you, perfectly seriously, to keep working for free - when they know you're looking after 2 under-3s and haven't had a job in 3 years - in the hope of one day being competitive, is possibly not a sane good career. Otoh, there's that (wasted?) decade getting qualified, the fact I'm good at it and love it, the fact I'm already 40, the fact I have no other ideas....

Like I said, just going to lurk for suggestions.

Romanarama Wed 24-Feb-10 10:40:16

Itwascertainlyasurprise it's me actually grin

Nic, please answer tummum as I have often wondered why I can't have that killer idea. I'm definitely intelligent and creative, but I'm nearly 40 and still waiting for the idea.

I've been a SAHM for 6 months now, not really by choice, as we moved for dh's job, but I did think it would be a welcome break after both working long hours and not seeing enough of our 3 kids. But I absolutely hate it, it feels so inane, and I have become apathetic, unable to use all those 3 hours to enjoy the hobbies that I used to manage to squeeze into the night instead of sleep. Is this normal? To be completely unproductive and unmotivated in any way when one has too much free time? What to do about it?

I hope to have a job by the end of the month (fingers crossed for me please!) partly to jerk me out of this apathy, mostly for the salary and to get my sense of myself as an independent human and not domestic slave back. How can I avoid wishing that I didn't have to go to the office every day 2 weeks in? My career is interesting by the way, dealing with policy in government, with excellent prospects. Part of me thinks I would much prefer to work for myself though, not risk ending up with an idiotic manager, which happens too often, and not have to deal with so much bureaucracy.

My dream would be to be Carrie from Sex and the City. I want fantastic clothes, and a column that doesn't require too much intellectual research seems fantastic. My real-life heroine is Lucy Kellaway, who I guess is similar in a way, but without the wardrobe. Do you think I can get the same fun and satisfaction from my office job, or should I be planning a more radical change?

Message withdrawn

claraquack Wed 24-Feb-10 15:44:56

Hi Nic

I will have been out of the workforce for at least 5 years by the time I start seriously looking for work again, when my second daughter starts school in 2012. I am very worried about all my skills being completely out of date. I keep reading about marketing yourself, but can't keep up with twittering and blogging etc. Do you think we need to be on top of these things in order to be able to compete properly with younger candidates?

I am also, or course, terrified of the dreaded questioning about what I have done with my time since I left full-time work. Do employers take childcare seriously?

Finally, apart from reading your book, what is a good way to go about finding out what it is I actually want to do when I return to work? Is it worth paying one of these companies good money to tell me what I probably already know?


KLDS Wed 24-Feb-10 18:15:03

Hi Nic,

I'm a commercial property lawyer. Whilst I was pregnant I was made redundant and now I am thinking about going back to work I'm not sure that my previous job is for me.

I was very career minded but I know that having a small child and being a lawyer with deadlines (if I was fortunatue enough to secure a role in this market) are not compatible, as from my expercience there is no such thing as a part time lawyer.

I am looking to change careers, I have considered retraining as a teacher but the drop in salary would mean that I couldn't even cover childcare costs so I would actually be working to pay a child minder which seems crazy. I am trying to think of something to do but I seem to be out of ideas. The thought of setting up my own business sounds great but I have no idea what to do and to be honest I don't want to get involved in a direct sales and most of the business franchises I have looked at seem to be this type of role.

Any ideas or suggestions, or even just a push in some direction, would be greatly appreciated.

Kind regards


Niecie Wed 24-Feb-10 18:23:59

I really identify with many of you on here. I have been a SAHM for nearly 10 yrs but have been doing a MSc in Psychology for the last few years. Have also done voluntary work and am sort of starting my own business but can't ever see it taking off to the extent I can make a decent living - it is more for fun (on-line store). Plus I feel like I am wasting my qualifications.

My original degree was law and economics. Started training as a chartered accountant but hated it and didn't finish the exams. In the end did AAT and carried on working in accounts. Couldn't bear to go back to that or any kind of office work.

When I started studying psychology 12 yrs ago I was 31 (Did post grad conversion in psych with OU). Now at 43 I am way too old to be a clinical psychologist. I wouldn't get on a course without relevant work experience and nobody is going to take on a 43 graduate trainee who graduated years ago. I would probably like to do educational psychology but again, no relevant experience and time isn't on my side to do the 4 or 5 yr Phd.

Could do teaching but don't have core subjects and its difficult therefore to get on a training course. Plus it I am not sure if I would be good at it.

I suppose that is my problem. I can't afford to make another career mistake but I don't know what I am good at or even what I want to do. I need careers advice but it needs to be cheap and adult careers advice doesn't seem to be. Free careers advice seems to be geared to the young or the unemployed and those who don't yet have much of an education.

Don't really know where to start!

BariatricObama Wed 24-Feb-10 18:50:14

hi nic

i may be offered voluntary severance this week. should i
a. piss it up a wall
b. retrain
c. start up my own business

i am leaning towards my own business making bits and bobs i don't need to make amillion just enough to supplement dh's salary.

GrendelsMum Wed 24-Feb-10 19:43:17

Hi Nic

Thanks for coming on here after we made such a horrible mess of your Amazon 'people who look at this book also look at this' ratings. I tried to help your wife fix it by looking at intellectual stuff, honest!

My question's pretty much the same as lots of other people on here. I'm mid 30s, and am categorically fed up with the job I currently do (project and change management in the public sector biscuit) and would like to retrain as a gardener / garden designer / garden advisor. Ultimately, I see myself running a garden design consultancy, but after a few years of training and experience in the sector.

Do you have any tips yourself, or recommendations on books for how to build up your own consultancy, what clients would look for, etc? I'm thinking that if I start preparing now, I'll be ready to take off with my consultancy by the time I hit 40! (Woo, GrendelsMum is so organised)

TheFirstLady Wed 24-Feb-10 19:45:11

Grendelsmum - shh! He doesn't know about that! Or at least he didn't....

GrendelsMum Wed 24-Feb-10 19:48:21

Oh no! I thought he must know since he was coming on here. blush

Honestly, Nic, we tried really, really hard to fix it.

TheFirstLady Wed 24-Feb-10 21:03:44

Shall I tell him, or shall I leave him to puzzle it out? He did mention what an odd selection of titles came up on the Amazon page, but I never told him why. grin

Howmanytimes Wed 24-Feb-10 21:09:32

Hi Nic,

I've been a secondary school science/physics teacher for 14 years. For the past 6 years I've been part-time. I like many aspects of my job, in particular working with the students but the increasing pressure to get the kids to meet ever more ridiculous targets is getting me down. My current position, which I've had for 10 years, is slowly but surely eroding my confidence because the faculty is 80% unmarried single males, who basically exclude me from everything. Should I find another school to work at and hope it's more supportive or are there good jobs out there for former science teachers? I have a science and media degree. Thank you.

worcestersauce Wed 24-Feb-10 21:16:09

I love writing......and not my rather dull, responsible job at the local council! But with my youngest child due to start school in a few months, I will finally have some time to try and change direction. Writing is something which I've always been complimented on, and which comes naturally to me. In my current job I write reports, but find this extremely dull and would love to put my skill to something more creative and exciting! I have some ideas, which I'd be really grateful for your feedback on..

I've wondered about feature writing or copy writing -- focusing on my interests (food, clothes, home interiors, family life, motherhood, life events etc.) I have experience at structuring articles, press releases etc. and am good at getting my message across. I've thought about sending in draft articles to magazines? As for copy writing - I'm really unsure how to approach this line of work?

The other idea is editing, which again I haven't a clue how I would approach.

I recently did a creative writing night class as a first step to my 'master plan' - any tips on how to take things further would be really useful.

Thank you

littleblondies Wed 24-Feb-10 22:17:38

Hi Nic
I was online looking for homeworking opportunities and I tried Mumsnet for 1st time and saw this talk board 'Q&A with Nic Paton'. Its 10pm, about the only chance I get!

I've two preschool kids and have not returned to my NHS career after my second baby as I dont want to work full time and NHS part time wages do not cover childcare in my area for two kids. I looked at lots of different options but we decided for me to stay at home for now. This is great but not sustainable forever so I need to think about what I would like to do.
I worked my way up thru the charity and healthcare sector, mainly specialising in information analysis and database admin and management reports. I did this for 11 years and I also have admin experience to supervisor level. Some of my work was very rewarding, having a direct effect on patient care or improving work for colleagues. Other bits were stifling and a bit demeaning!
I need something that fits around my family.
I love photography (I assisted and worked in portrait studios when I was younger) I love the idea of buying and selling second hand china, retro stuff, 'upcycling' old furniture...
But I also think I need a regular money earner, so maybe retrain in proof reading or perhaps teaching assistant or child counsellor. I'm in such a muddle!
I'll read your book but thought this could be a good opportunity to get some advice.
Thanks! Good Luck!

Valpollicella Wed 24-Feb-10 23:21:35

I have no questions but just love how rspectfully these quessions have been framed grin

LackaDAISYcal Thu 25-Feb-10 00:42:49

Ooooh, this subject has been praying on my mind recently.

I am a structural engineer, or was in my former life prior to DC2 and 3. I haven't done that job for almost three years and although I'm keen to get back into the workplace, structural engingeering isn't what I want to do any more...too long hours, too much travelling, not enough sympathy for working mothers, etc etc.

Now as someone who was managing the engineering side of construction projects ranging up to £7m, I am not without a set of what I think are good, transferrable skills, yet I have no idea on how to go about looking into alternative careers. More more crucially, I am stumped as to how to get prospective employers to see that I have a great skill set that could be applied to whatever career I end up considering.

We are also in the position that I need to be earning £30K plus in order to break even after taking tax, NI and childcare costs into consideration. I would retrain, but again, childcare costs are preventing me do anything during the day as we cannot afford to pay full time care costs if I'm studying full time.

I feel like I am a complete failure and that the 15 years of a career I had before having my DD have been a complete and utter waste of time...but my brain is turning to jelly here and I NEED to work!

Any advice? thanks smile

wannafindajobbutwheretostart Thu 25-Feb-10 07:45:20

Hi Nic

I was made redundant in June last year and now want to find a job. I was working in the banking industry within a call center. I don't want to work at the same level now that I have a child and am planning more in the future. I worked my way up and do not have a degree. I'm in my mid thirties and have never had to look for a job before as I fell into my last job and then just worked up.

So my question, how do I decide what i want to do? Where do i start and how can I get a job hen the last time i looked was 12 years ago?


Tee2072 Thu 25-Feb-10 15:45:36

My maternity leave is just about over and I do not want to return to my previous career, or rather job, as a personal assistant.

I have a degree, from aeons ago, in Graphic Arts. I have kept up to date with it and know the latest technology even though I have never actually 'practiced' to borrow a word from the medical profession!!

How hard is it really to set up your own company? My current (hopefully soon to be former) employer has already offered me some contract work for after my leave is up, although not at a rate I'd be willing to work for, but at least its the beginning of a client!!

I'm in Northern Ireland if that makes any difference in your answer!

coxiegirl Thu 25-Feb-10 18:48:47

Find myself in a similar position to lots of the posters on here - qualified as a mental health nurse and loved it for 9 years, then moved and worked with a small and very unfriendly/unsupportive bunch who made it quite clear they didn't like me from day 1. Had 2 miscarriages while I was there and decided to leave, quickly had DCs 2 and 3 - now haven't worked for 3 years so I'd need to requalify...
I really lost my confidence working with that last team (note to self: next time someone says at interview "We're a really friendly team!" run like hell) - coupled with few years trapped staying at home with the children, now I'm not sure whether to retrain and go back to a job I did, once, enjoy, or.... and I'm 40 now and pensions etc seem like a really big deal all of a sudden!
Ta for any suggestions.

coxiegirl Thu 25-Feb-10 19:09:48

Oh sorry meant to say also have trained in reflexology and a couple of other complementary therapies and would love to set up on my own but not sure I could crack a market big enough to make an income like I could in nursing.... have also thought about teaching like many others here, but am aware I really enjoy training/studying and could go on ad nauseam without ever actually starting paid employment...

fatarse Thu 25-Feb-10 19:33:31

My question is simply, should you ever just say, "I'm too old to change career now?" I'm just about to return to work after my first baby and I'm 37 this yea. By the time I've re-trained in a professional career (I'm interested in studying law), I'll be in my 40's and competing with high flying twenty-somethings! I have a feeling big corporates wouldn't touch a forty-something trainee!

skiffler Thu 25-Feb-10 19:51:13

Like phdlife, I have a non-career in academia. I've been on a series of fixed-term post-doc contracts and even if there were any permanent lectureship jobs around at the moment (unlikely given the current state of HE funding) my publication record, the only thing anyone really looks at, is not fantastic and pitted with gaps corresponding to maternity leave and working part-time.

Unfortunately, I have never really found anything I enjoy as much as academic research. Obviously I've invested a fair amount of time and effort on qualifications etc, but it looks increasingly like my career is going nowhere, and I don't have the time resources to give it the kick-start it needs. So my question is, is there a point at which you should give up on trying to achieve your dream, and if so, how do you know when you've reached it and how do you find something else and overcome the idea that you're settling for second-best?

notnowdarling Sun 28-Feb-10 14:29:14

Hi Nic

Just after a bit of feedback on an idea I've got for a career change, (and would welcome feedback from others too). Thinking about coaching, specialising in women returning to work. Am currently training as a coach, and applying it within the organisation I work in, but wondering what the market would be like for doing this part time. Ladies, would you pay for this kind of coaching (obviously it was good)?

getawiggleon Wed 03-Mar-10 21:39:04

Hi Nic,

I know the deadline has passed for questions but thought I'd post anyway in case, by chance, you are able to take any more.

I have come up with an idea for my own business which I think is a pretty strong one. Having done some research I have found that someone else has beaten me to the idea. There is obviously room for more than one of these services in the market and this business is so successful that they are looking to expand further across London and also nationally if their press reports are correct.

My question is would you set up and provide competition for an already succesful (and apparently expanding) business even though the service is currently under-represented in the market -ie they are experienced and are expanding - would it be wise to compete?

And would you recommend pursuing an idea in London (where the current competition exists) or starting somewhere else in the country where I know there could potentially be a demand (even though I think that London is probably the most obvious target market)

Also, what is the most important element to focus on in my initial business plan? Would it be financials (eg sourcing of) or outlining the type of service/s we would provide/ sourcing suppliers etc?

Many thanks (if you have time to squeeze another one in, that is!)

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Sun 07-Mar-10 11:40:53

Update for those of you waiting for answers.

Nic has sent very detailed responses and we're just pulling them into a page, which should be up on the site later today or tomorrow at the latest.

Will add a link here as soon the page is live.

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Sun 07-Mar-10 14:30:39

Nic's answers are on this Q&A page.

Thanks to Nic for such thorough answers, and thanks to everybody who posted questions.

GrendelsMum Sun 07-Mar-10 19:36:37

Thank you very much, Nic! There are some really thought-provoking ideas there. And thank you to TheFirstLady for persuading him.

mrsbaldwin Mon 08-Mar-10 09:47:40

This looks really interesting. Am going to read it all this morning.

Perhaps this is Nic's next book - career makeover for women returners?

claraquack Mon 08-Mar-10 12:39:59

Thanks Nic - I have read your reply to my question and will now try and read all the others. This is all incredibly helpful.

TheDailyWail Mon 08-Mar-10 20:23:08

Thanks Nic. I'll pass on your advice to my friends, they're so desperate to make the break from my old work but really didn't now how to start.

ApuskiDusky Mon 08-Mar-10 21:40:13

Just wanted to say thanks very much Nic - your answers are way more detailed than I was expecting, and really helpful. On with the next steps!!

GoingPostal Tue 09-Mar-10 10:53:36

Just wanted to add my thanks (have de and re registered since posting hence different name) - really interesting and useful answers.

Many thanks for your time. I will be ordering your book!

TheFirstLady Tue 09-Mar-10 11:52:21

Don't order it yet, GP, Mumsnet have five copies to give away!
Getawiggleon - Nic is snowed under with deadlines at the moment but I know he is planning to answer your post on this thread when he gets a chance.

KLDS Tue 09-Mar-10 12:07:13

Thanks Nic,

I really appreciate you taking the time to respond to my post. Good luck with the book.

Kind regards


NicPaton Tue 09-Mar-10 12:43:28

Hi everyone,
Just to say thank you all for your kind comments and I'm very glad you found my suggestions helpful, as that's always a relief! It was really interesting to hear about the very varied issues you were having to deal with.

Getawiggleon I haven't forgotten about you, I'll aim to get some thoughts up for you in the next few days if I can, as I think you have a very interesting dilemma there.

Good luck everyone, I hope you all manage to get to where you are trying to get to. Don't be put off!

All the best,

TheDailyWail Tue 09-Mar-10 17:00:24

Nic - I sent your reply to 4 of my friends who I knew were going through the worst time at work.

I've spoken to 2 of them today and they said that it was hard advice but good advice and probably was the push that they needed. One of them has applied for a new job today and is being proactive about the situation she's currently in.

Thanks for answering so many of our questions.

<Votes for Nic in the MN election>

getawiggleon Tue 09-Mar-10 20:41:10

Thanks, Nic - very kind of you. That would be very much appreciated!

NicPaton Wed 10-Mar-10 13:06:22

Hi getawiggleon,
As promised, here are some thoughts. On the taking on a competitor issue, clearly when you are starting out in business, having a clear run at a market is much more preferable but the reality is most of the time there will be competitors in whatever area you are going into - which to an extent is good because it shows there is at least a market there! The issue I'd imagine is how big and dominant they are already. If they're only starting out, however upbeat they may be on paper, there's no guarantee they will succeed or fail (anymore than you) and your product and your way of operating may end up running rings around them or vice versa. It'll be very hard to tell until you're up and running. You may, too, a bit cheekily even be able to build on their hard work in getting the market established! But it might also be a good idea to work out whether there is any way you can position your idea differently - it may be price (though that can always prove problematic in the long run in terms of if you start at rock bottom it can be hard ever to go upwards), or in terms of quality, personal service, customer demographic and so on. So if you think there is room for more than one operator, particularly if one of you is even just slightly different, it may not be too great an issue that there is a competitor. But it will simply be a case of some hard market research and speaking to as many people as possible.

As to whether setting up in another area in competition might be good, it's the same answer really. Yes of course if you can get it established somewhere where they are not it will turn the tables, but if London is the key market, then by ignoring that will you do your business longer term damage in that when it comes to expanding into London (as you will clearly have to at some point) will you find the market all sewn up already? So lots to ponder, but ultimately the fact someone is already doing it shouldn't put you off in principle I'd have said. But it does mean you have to think it through carefully, and recognise that any half-decent small business bank adviser will want to be discussing this in detail before they lob any money in your direction!

With the business plan, again I cover this in some depth in the book, but essentially there's a lot of mystique around a business plan but, in fact, it should be quite straightforward document. What it should include is an executive summary, a short description of the business, your marketing, sales and promotional activity (and many people actually recommend that a separate marketing plan is a good idea these days), information on who is going to be running the business, your operations and financial forecasts. Organisations such as BusinessLink have a lot of good information on what you should put in a business plan and how to present it.

Other key points are steer away from jargon, keep it short and clear and be realistic both about what you are going to need (don't forget you'll need to live as well as make it work) and what you reckon you are likely to make from it. If anything at the moment, erring on the side of caution when it comes to projections is the way to go - after all no bank manager is going to get uptight if you exceed your projections!

I hope that helps, fingers crossed, and good luck with it!

getawiggleon Wed 10-Mar-10 21:22:06

Wow! Thank you so much, Nic for taking the time to reply at such length. Your comments and advice are extremely useful and very much appreciated.

I will check out BusinessLink and get working on that business plan (whilst also trying to come up with a USP!)

Thanks once again.

Nic, a rather belated thank you! You've given me the encouragement to actually take some action. Good luck with the book.

skiffler Tue 16-Mar-10 20:06:59

Another belated thanks - real life has taken over recently, and I've only just got back to check up on this thread. Your comments are very thought-provoking, and I think I'll stick in there for the time being - as long as it still is my dream!

Thanks very much for taking the time to reply.

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