How we went from Boardroom to Breakfast Bar…


An interview with Margaret de Valois and Simon Marshall

In advance of our course on 11 Feb, aimed at professionals considering taking the leap to working for themselves, Simon and I caught up to share our experience moving from Boardroom to Breakfast Bar…

Why did you set up your own business?

MdV: I had slowly been moving away from technical actuarial roles to management ones throughout my whole career, as this is what interested me most and was what played to my skill base.

After doing two senior jobs in the City, both of which involved setting up teams within larger firms, I felt the time had come for a change and going alone was the obvious choice for me. It was a scary leap and, in hindsight, I would have done lots of things differently but I don’t regret it for a minute and the upside of being my own boss and living in Cornwall far outweighs the challenges I face.

SM: It’s hard to say it was just one thing, to be honest. Life outside work needed more attention and greater flexibility, I felt like I was repeating the same things I’d done before at work and I’d long had an idea of setting something up since a friend offered me a chance to go into business a decade prior. Do I regret not jumping sooner? No, I wasn’t ready. I jumped when I was ready.


Why didn’t you stay?

MdV: For me the time had come to leave the City culture behind. I absolutely loved my time in London but, after almost 20 years, was exhausted from the daily commute and knew that if I carried on it would start to affect my mental and physical health. I didn’t want to give up my job but needed to change how I was doing it.

SM: In all honesty, because my values and the values of my employers were no longer aligned. We wanted different things and to do things differently from each other, so it ran its course and it was time to part ways. I’ve interviewed dozens of others who feel like this and who say that they are trapped where they are or are happy having left.


What made it your choice not your employers?

MdV: It was actually a joint decision for me. My role was changing anyway and, whilst I could have adapted to fit the potential new role, I didn’t want to make those compromises so made the decision to leave.

SM: It was a joint decision.


What did you know you could offer that others couldn’t?

MdV: That I could get stuff done and make things happen!  Knowing your USP is pretty vital when you’re working alone as clients will buy you based on what YOU are good at so you need to know what this is pretty quickly. If you’re not sure what your USP is then the first step is to really work it out and then start telling people about it! If you don’t know what your USP is then maybe you’re not ready to make the move to working for yourself.

SM: I’ve spent a long time on this as I become decreasingly institutionalised (well, I did work in law firms for almost 20 years). I generate great ideas, quickly. I get stuff done. I join up all parts of comms, sales and marketing and so I often work for founders who want a turnkey solution.


How did you define this?

MdV: Funnily enough, whilst I knew what I could offer I didn’t actually put it in words until fairly recently when I did some personal branding work with a life coach. The coaching gave me some clarity around telling people what I did and I needed this step to find my own brand. “I am an Actuary” never felt like the whole story for me and in hindsight I should have sorted this earlier.

SM: A wise woman who I met in the first few weeks of going solo said ‘spend a year letting clients tell you what they’ll pay you for and where you add value. Oh and say yes to everything.’ I owe her a drink for that advice: I have a patchwork quilt of clients, doing interesting work all across marketing, comms, sales, business development, web, social media and CRM. I now define that as a ‘virtual CMO’ for those who need one and ‘special projects’ for larger firms.


Did you have a business plan?

MdV: I didn’t and in hindsight I should have done!

SM: Me neither. I had a broad plan but some of the more interesting and profitable work I have done would never have come about if I hadn’t ignored the plan in favour of the opportunity in front of me. In the session, however, I will also cover the pitfalls of this approach and where I could have been much more efficient.


To find out if working for yourself could work for you, join Simon Marshall from TBD Marketing and me on 11 February at the beautiful Hotel du Vin, Exeter for a full day workshop for professionals keen to explore how to make the shift from being in a large corporation to setting up independently.

To sign up, click here.