Career change: From retail manager to interior design business owner
Updated: Feb 18
'Career Change Chronicles' is my new regular column about the lives of brilliant women who’ve changed careers to follow their dreams. Here, we meet my client Rebecca Milum, who’s been working in retail for 7 years and is about to leave her current role to set up her own business in sustainable interior design. She lives in Bristol with her husband Ash and you can find her on Instagram @rebeccaclaire_designs.
When did you kick off your career change?
It's all very early days, and I only really started seriously considering interior design as a career during the last lockdown. Being furloughed meant I had a LOT of time on my hands, so I decided to set up an Instagram account purely as a passion project. This snowballed into a lot of my friends reaching out seeking styling tips and advice, with a number of them asking me to design rooms in their homes. It was only then that I asked myself why I couldn't turn this into my career. Skip forward to 2021, and I've handed in my notice at work and am in the process of starting up my business.
What were the challenges that drove you to change career and how were they impacting your life?
I loved my job in retail and was incredibly lucky to work for a fantastic company that gave me a multitude of skills and opportunities. I was working towards a promotion, however the nature of retail means you either need to wait for a position to become available locally, or you need to relocate. Neither of those things were happening for me; and I started to feel as though I was getting everything out of my current role that I possibly could and wanted a change. I knew I didn't want to move to another retail company as working late hours and weekends wasn't massively compatible with my family life; and so I knew I was looking for something with an element of flexibility, whilst also giving me a new challenge and something I could foresee doing long-term.
How long had you been thinking about changing career and what made you decide to finally do it?
Working in interior design had been on my mind for years but had always felt like a bit of a pipe dream. From spending hours in my teen years playing The Sims, to moving furniture around in my childhood bedroom on a regular basis, playing with interiors had just been something I'd always loved to do! In regards to what finally made me decide to make the career change was lockdown. Having that time on my hands to redecorate certain areas of my house and create content for the Instagram page reminded me just how happy it made me. I think the clincher was when I went back to work after the first lockdown and realised I would rather be at home planning out new designs for my home than be at work. That was when I started to explore the different avenues of a career in interior design.
How did you make the change?
Initially I started reaching out to a number of interior designers to get some first-hand accounts of how to get into the industry and to ask for advice for newcomers. This was incredibly valuable as I was able to hear a variety of journeys from people who had successfully set up their own interiors business. Initially my plan of action was to study and complete a Diploma in interior design. However a large number of designers I spoke to didn't have any formal qualifications and were able to become successful through a passion for design and a lot of hard work, so was starting to question whether a formal qualification was a step I wanted to take, or one that I had originally felt was a necessity. It was around this time I was introduced to Topology Interiors Designers’ Toolkit, which was a huge game changer! The Toolkit included a number of useful documents, guides and tips to help designers start or grow their businesses and included a Facebook community of like-minded designers and the support of a business coach, Lauren Leopold. This has empowered me to just crack on with the hard work whilst learning all the tricks of the trade as I go. Being able to share ideas and ask for advice from interior designers with a wealth of experience and different journeys has been incredibly helpful. Working with Lauren in particular has also been a huge eye opener. Hiring a business coach was never something I would have previously considered, but Lauren has helped me to create tangible, achievable goals that are setting me up for success from the get go.
What process did you go through to decide on the type of career you wanted to change into?
It was always going to be interior design but was mindful that it is an incredibly competitive field with a lot of amazing, established talent. My previous role was for a company whose foundations were built upon ethical products and sustainability for the planet and it definitely instilled a more ethically-conscious mindset in me. As I was researching UK-based interior designers, I was seeing a real opportunity for more designers who centered their business around sustainability and ethical eco-friendly design. Whilst I absolutely cannot claim to be an expert in sustainable design, it is something that I am becoming more and more passionate about and would love to be able to design beautiful homes without negatively impacting the environment.
Once you'd decided, how did you get started?
Reading and googling and pestering! Speaking to a number of interior designers about their careers solidified for me that interior design was the right move for me, and was a career I could see myself doing. Getting on board with the Topology Business Toolkit has also been a huge contributor to help get things off the ground. With the sustainability aspect of interior design, that is still very much something I am still educating myself on. I'm in the process of contacting a few interior designers who specialise in sustainable design, as well as reading as many articles and books as I can on the subject alongside following anyone and everyone of relevance on Instagram.
What is life like for you now that you're changing career?
It feels terrifying and liberating all at once. Not having that security of employment and not really knowing what the next few months/years will look like is scary. That being said, the opportunity to shape your career from the ground up in something you are passionate about makes the hard work seem far less daunting and makes me feel excited for the journey ahead.
How has your life been positively impacted by making this career change?
From a mental health standpoint I definitely feel a weight has been lifted. That's not to say I was miserable in my job, but more that I feel more of a sense of clarity and excitement as to what my future will be. Being in a job where you are 'umming' and 'ahhing' as to what you should do next felt really unsettling, but taking the risk and making the change has made me excited about work again and has also given me a new sense of purpose.
What have been your biggest achievements?
So far it's all very small-scale. But I'm teaching myself to celebrate the small wins. Reaching 200 followers on Instagram doesn't really sound like much, but when I sit and think that that is 200 people that want to see what I do, that is something to celebrate.
What are the challenges and how do you deal with them?
I think one of the scariest things about starting out fresh in a domain where you have little to no experience, is that you can feel as though your business is never really going to touch the sides. One of the conversations I had with Lauren was about Imposter Syndrome and constantly comparing myself to other people's successes. Lauren's response was that as an entrepreneur we are essentially welcoming Imposter Syndrome into our lives as we are deliberately entering something we have no previous experience of doing, but to remember that we are still an individual and there is no other 'you'. So whilst there may be thousands of interior designers out there, we all possess a different set of skills, qualities and characteristics that are going to make us appeal to different audiences.
What else have you learnt along the way?
How to properly set goals that will help make my ambitions a reality. Breaking each and every goal down into small detailed tasks so that I'm taking a step forward each day. It's very easy to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the work, but creating deadlines for yourself and celebrating the little wins really makes the big picture big more achievable. Also pushing myself to ask 'why' I want to achieve certain goals, and then using the 'why' as the motivator to keep pushing forward.
What 3 tips would you give to people wanting to do the same thing as you?
Reach out to anyone and everyone you feel is relevant to what you want to do. If I hadn't have gotten in touch with Danielle from Topology Interiors, I wouldn't have come across the Designers’ Toolkit and wouldn't know half the stuff I do now about starting your own business.
Work with a business coach. Lauren was incredible.
Celebrate the little wins, even if they seem tiny in comparison to others.
How has having a business coach helped you along the way?
As someone who instinctively dreams small, Lauren was able to push me to realise that I can achieve far more than I gave myself credit for. Before I spoke to Lauren I was feeling tentative and unsure about my career change, but after just an hour and a half with her I came away feeling focused and excited about getting to work!
If you're feeling unfulfilled in your job like Rebecca was and want some direction and clarity to change career, then book in a free discovery call to see if we vibe!
Career Change & Business Coach and Side Hustle Queen
Hi, I'm Lauren. I burnt out, hit rock bottom and used the experience to manifest my dream life. I now help passionate and ambitious women change career, start side hustles and grow businesses. I'm living proof that you can - and deserve to - have it all.
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