Taking the plunge – into self employment.

lorraine cairney

Following up on my previous blog and podcast on becoming self employed, I thought it would be interesting to speak to someone who’s taken the plunge recently. 

It’s fascinating to find out what made her do it and how she set up – with some tips on the way that might be helpful if you’re thinking of doing something similar.

Here is a transcript of the interview with Lorraine Cairney, who went from full time very successful employment of over 25 years to setting up on her own.  

You can listen to the podcast here

Carrin:  Tell me, what were you doing before you took the plunge? 

Lorraine: So basically, for the last 25 years, or perhaps slightly more, I’ve worked for large corporates in a business development role, which involves marketing and sales, mostly looking at the banking insurance sectors, so very much a complex sale, working with many stakeholders across the diverse businesses within those large organisations.

Catrin: And where did the idea for you know making the big change taking the plunge come?

Lorraine: Well, funnily enough, it started out really more as an interest and something that I thought would be an interesting hobby. And maybe over time, eventually, I could do either part time or to supplement retirement type income. And how it came about was through one of my previous jobs, I had been asked to record a webinar for clients. And the end of that my then boss said, “actually, have you ever considered doing that as an occupation?”. And I was a bit taken aback so thinking, you try to tell me something, because actually, I’m working for you, and you’re paying for me! But he was very genuine.

I didn’t really think much more of it at that time, but it obviously planted a little seed at the back of my head.

Catrin: So he basically was saying, you had a lovely voice, and you were very professional in your delivery. And there was something there that could be developed?

Lorraine: Yes, he seemed to think that it was something that yes, you know, people would potentially pay me to do.

Catrin: And so the seed was sown?

Lorraine: Yes, yes, it was, but I forgot about it for about a year or so. And then suddenly, I remembered it again. And before lockdown, probably around about November, I did a bit of googling to find out if there were any short courses where I could get a taster, get an idea of what would be involved in that as a job, what skills you need to have, what investment you need to make that kind of thing. 

So I went on a one day course, which was very much high level introduction, and just really enjoyed it. 

Catrin: And so the thought then was?

Lorraine: I really like this. And it’s something different. And it means that I could be learning something new, that I want to actually learn, after years of sitting through e-learning, and being trained on things which were essential for our job, but not necessarily what I would choose to learn.

Catrin: So it was a sort of finding your passion moment and thinking I want to know more….

Lorraine: Yes, absolutely. I really enjoyed it, and just took it from there.

Catrin: And then what made you think of it in a more professional stance? To think – okay, I could really leave my job and make the jump?

Lorraine:  I thought it could to be something that I could do to supplement my income and something that I’d enjoy at the same time. And so I’d set the plans in motion. I thought, if you’re going to be doing that type of work, you need to have a calling card. I need to have a product. So I arranged to have some voice reels made. People want to hear what you sound like. So I had those organised, I did have some photographs taken thinking, ultimately I’d need to have a website. So let’s get that in motion as well. And also I arranged to have some voice coaching. 

And also very importantly, as it turned out, I needed to get hold of the equipment because over the years voice overs have gone into studios, and they’ve had professional sound engineers record all the work on their behalf. However, even before COVID hit, and lockdown, people were starting to change, they were being asked to do their own recording at home and to have their own equipment. And that means having to master the software, having the correct equipment, and meet all of the sound tests necessary to get really good quality audio. And so I had bought that as well in preparation.

Catrin: Okay, so there was some investment up front them. What if there are other people who’ve got a similar passion project, and they’re thinking, but I’m going to have to invest the money – what’s your advice on that? What’s the sort of level of risk that you’re prepared to take?

Lorraine: I think that’s something that’s very personal. The level of investment is not massive – it’s not like I was going out and opening a shop where you would have to buy stock in advance, which is a massive, massive commitment. With this, you’re looking no more than £500 maximum. And actually, if it was a hobby, people pay a lot more and spend a lot more on their hobbies, don’t they?

Catrin: Yes, and what comes through really clearly is that was something that you were really enjoying, you really liked, something that you’d do in your own time, even if it wasn’t a job.

Lorraine: Absolutely. And I think it’s sort of harks back to when I was a child, and used to have to go along to Speech and Drama lessons. It reminded me of that. A lot of what I had learned there – I passed grades just like piano lessons. I had gone through all of the Speech and Drama training. And so that’s why it was a lot easier than perhaps someone that was coming to completely fresh.

Catrin: Absolutely. And so when did you actually take the plunge?

Lorraine:  I was doing this in tandem with my day job, because you get booked maybe for an hour or two maximum. I had approached the company that I did the day’s training with, and who had also done my voice reel. After they had produced the voice ewwl, I said to them, would you have me on your books? 

I think maybe I was on the lower shelf! But certainly, she agreed to that, which was lovely. And I actually did get booked for jobs. And that was the big thing, because without getting booked for jobs, then there is no point. But that reaffirmed the fact that well, maybe this is something that you can actually do because people are willing to hire you.

Catrin: Absolutely. And what’s really impressive with you, and it might be because of your sales background, that you identified what you needed to do. And you weren’t afraid to step up and ask people,

Lorraine: Absolutely. And I think maybe people that haven’t had a business development type background may struggle, or they may find it a bit more difficult. Whereas I could use those skill sets that I’ve been learning over the years. I would say to anyone, look at your existing network, look at the people that you know, and just see where they can help you – either directly or through a friend of a friend. 

If you’re not so confident with that you could look on all of the forums online. So type in voice over within Facebook – there’s lots of different groups, for example  Wales and West forum and it’s just interesting to see the topics that people are discussing, which gives you an idea of what the industry is like, what the competition’s like, what they’re being paid, what are the current things that are affecting the industry which is all good stuff and really useful to know.

Catrin: And what I’m really hearing is that you treated it like setting up your own business, the marketing, the market research, making sure there was the potential and what you needed to do to go out there into market. 

Lorraine: Yes, I think, harking right back to the very beginning. Am I good enough to actually do this or is it just a pipe dream? But if I need this as my main career I need to have all of those ducks in a row.

Catrin: And did you have any fears or worries before you did it? It’s a big thing to go from a long successful career where you get your monthly paycheck, you get your holidays, paid all that sort of stuff to then dive in and be on your own and have to make the money yourself. 

Lorraine: I think capturing that is the main thing –  having been employed and salaried all my working life, that is the big thing that I wrestled with. We all need to pay the bills, we’ve all got dependents as well. But I think being slightly older and not being necessarily at the stage where I’m just building my career, I have got a little bit of cushion. Not a lot, but I have got some cushion there. But I would say absolutely, you need to just make sure that you know what your outgoings are. Can you cover those for a certain period of time, whilst you are building up the business.

Catrin: And if you were going to give somebody some useful tips if they’re thinking of doing a similar thing.

Lorraine: I think research – information is so easy to come, come by and and also networking is so, so important. As I mentioned before, think about the people that you know, do any of them have any connections? For example, an old friend of mine that I go to yoga with works training students at UWE on camera work.

 And one of the things that he suggested was where he had students that were making a film for their graduation and suggested, if they needed any voiceover work done, then I would do it and gladly do it for free, because it’s a win win situation. It’s helping them, but also it’s helping me to build up my CV, and to actually have real live work that I can share with prospective clients.

Catrin: And if there’s somebody who might be listening, who’s just got that fear, who hasn’t quite got the guts to jump off the cliff, you know, in a good way. What would you say to them?

Lorraine: I think you’ve got to think about what is holding you back. And I think definitely, for me, it was very much that giving up the monthly paycheck,  that is a massive step to take. This sounds really cheesy, but I was I was reading something and I came across a phrase, and it was, “if you want to be free, just let go”. And actually, I’m usually quite a cynical person. But it just really resonated with me at that particular point in time. And it made me think, absolutely, you know, what you’re waiting for?

Catrin: What about the reaction of others? Sometimes what holds people back is the judgement of others or what other people think.

Lorraine: Yes – and on the whole, certainly, to my face, people have been brilliant. And I think a lot of what we’ve all gone through has made people reassess, you know, people have lost people close to them, or, again, having had the time, people have reassessed what’s important to them. And so actually, the feedback from everyone has been brilliant, and really positive, really supportive, and doing their best to help where they can

Catrin: And that’s the great thing, isn’t it? Sometimes we have this negative narrative in our minds that people are going to be judgmental, but actually, most people are just helpful and supportive. 

And so plans for the next few months?

Lorraine: Very much marketing – I need to buckle down and really grow the business. I’ve been creating spreadsheets of people I need to contact, I’m working on my website, and also drawing up my marketing plans. 

Catrin: So what’s the website? Can you share that with us? 

Lorraine: It’s Lorrainecairney.com. You’ll find my voice reels from different genres, I’m focusing on corporate because of my background. So corporate explainers, animations, videos, and e-learning.

Catrin: And how did it feel when you got your first bit of paid work doing voiceover? 

Lorraine: It was amazing. I can’t remember being so excited for a long, long time! 

Catrin: I bet! That’s fantastic. Thank you so much, Lorraine. Brilliant story, love hearing all about the challenges faced and the things that you’ve overcome. Can we check in in a couple of months and see how it’s going? 

Lorraine: Absolutely!

I look forward to catching up with Lorraine in a few months to hear how things are going – and whether she has any marketing tips she can share. You can see her website here.