"I retrained and started a new career"As a well-paid 22 year old in a swish corporate accounting job, Valerie Khoo should have been leaping out of bed every morning and running to her office. Instead, she’d feel sick at the thought of a new working week.
“I was in the wrong place and I knew it,” she admits. “There was nothing bad about the job; I’d simply chosen the wrong career.”
For Khoo, the decision to retrain wasn’t difficult. “My dream was to get a job as a writer, but I knew I had to go back to basics.”
After securing a place on a communications course, Khoo resigned from her accountancy job and worked part-time while studying. At the end of the course, it was time to get to work. “I had always wanted to work in magazines and I sent out 40 applications for jobs.” Within a month, she was offered a writing position. “I loved every second of it from the day I started,” she says. “My salary went down by 35 per cent and I had to sell my apartment because I couldn’t afford the mortgage, but within six months I was offered a job at three times the salary.”
Today, Khoo, 41, is a freelance journalist and director of the Sydney Writers’ Centre, where she helps others fulfil their writing dreams. “I love what I do.”
“I turned a hobby into a business”Unlike many of us, shopping for the perfect birthday, anniversary or baby gift for family and friends was Tessa White’s idea of a good time.
“I’d spend hours looking online for the right thing, and then bookmark all the pages when I found it,” she explains. “It got to the point where friends would call me asking where they could get a gift for people they knew. I’d send them ideas and became the go-to person for presents.”
White, now 36, put in six months of solid research before deciding there was room in the market for her hobby to become a money maker. She also looked to friends with professional knowledge of PR and business for mentoring. Five months ago, she launched her own website.
“I set up Down That Little Lane [downthatlittlelane.com.au] as an invitation-only platform for sellers of beautiful things,” she says. “It’s essentially curating the internet and offering the perfect place online to find anything.”
White, a former model and personal trainer, spends her days searching out unique products and has successfully turned a pastime into her full-time job. But it wasn’t easy.
“The financial outlay is huge and I don’t expect to make a profit for a few years, at least,” she explains. “That added pressure does take the shine off the fun slightly, but I love what I do and am enjoying building something I’m proud of.”
"I wasn’t afraid to keep my job small”Sydney, started The Cupcake Room (www.thecupcakeroom.com.au), a small bakery, in 2008. Since then she’s refused several offers to franchise and expand, rejecting big business for the love of her craft.
“I love what I do because it makes people happy,” she says. “If we franchised I’d be worried that corners would be cut and the quality wouldn’t be the same. I’ve also looked at the sums for expanding our operation to include a cafe. But I’d be working more hours, and with fit-outs and staff increases I’d probably end up making the same profit.”
Like anyone wanting to climb the career ladder, Gabbe admits to being tempted when would-be investors promised bigger things and big bucks.
“I would love everyone to experience our cakes,” she asserts. “But I also want what we do to be special. We’re a boutique service and I feel proud that I’ve stuck to my guns to keeping it small.
“I have worked my way to a position that allows me to do what I love and continue to enjoy my life,” she adds. “I’m sure there are competitors who are very happy we haven’t expanded, but we have survived five years in a competitive market, and that’s very satisfying.
“I think work is a means to an end, and if you happen to enjoy it, then fantastic. I love my job, but I don’t let it take over my life.”Image: Getty Images