Interview by Ceri Wheeldon
In the latest of our ‘Fab women’ interviews, Karen Espley talks about the changes she has made in her life since turning 50, including travelling, setting up a business and how she pivoted during the pandemic to not just survive but thrive!
A little bit about you
Karen Espley, 58, single, no children, two cats (!) and living in Horsham.
What were your main activities ( job, commitments etc) before turning 50?
25 years in the corporate world and then freelancer for many years and just prior to 50, I was the director and part owner of a consultancy business that got sold to a larger company at the end of 2012.
What have been your main activities ( job, commitments etc) since turning 50?
As a result of the sale (which was very messy and scarred me) and an annus horribilis, I rented my flat out in London and went campervanning around New Zealand and Australia for five months.
On my return, I set up a business coaching practice helping micro businesses to implement the right structures and processes to grow their businesses. And latterly I have changed direction slightly and now provide full back office ops support to small consultancies via The Ops Department – https://theopsdepartment.com/
And I finally published my book, The Impulsive Explorer which I started writing nearly 20 years ago!
What prompted you to start your business/ take up the challenge/follow your dream.
My initial life change was in my late thirties when I went on a life changing trip to the Antarctic which opened my eyes to a life lived outside of the corporate world. And then after the events of 2012 and when I hit 50, I was determined to create a life and business on my terms rather than one dictated to me by others.
Did you have to take any courses or training to do this?
I was lucky enough to have been paid by a company to do an MBA which helped with some of the good structure and business understanding. The rest has come from a lifetime of practice, experience picked up from a wide variety of jobs and roles and hands on work.
What does your business / dream /job/challenge look like today?
I’m still on my quest to reach the place I want to be. But my dream is to have a portable business that allows me to live independent of location. I’ve been looking at properties in Spain (and Portugal) where I can live my life in shorts and bare feet and still deliver fantastic service to my clients. Alternatively, my book(s) become international best sellers and I get to go and give lots of inspirational talks about my adventures and the importance of seizing the day.
How has the pandemic affected your plans?
The pandemic halted my research into places I may want to move to. But that aside, it made me really focus on my business and I pivoted into a different business model which is working better for me and I have probably done better business-wise in the last 12 months than I have done in the previous five years!
What has been the best aspect of your journey so far?
Being single/childless has given me the freedom to chart my own life – I’ve had some amazing travel adventures that I quite probably wouldn’t have had if I had been married and had children.
What was /is your biggest fear?
That I’ll never find my place in the world where I finally feel at home with myself or find the right balance to my life.
What challenges did you initially face? How did you overcome them?
Massive fears – imposter syndrome, can I make it on my own, am I good enough? etc.
One of my big life savers has been having savings – which has given me a buffer and enabled me to do things I wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to do.
And technology was another big challenge – running your own business requires you to be everything and it can be overwhelming trying to work out what tools to use and how to use them effectively.
Selling has probably been my biggest challenge – it terrifies me and my business hasn’t been as successful as it could be due to my fear of selling myself.
Some challenges are overcome with time – learning and failing and then working out what works.
Regarding selling – it’s about finding ways that work and for me that’s not cold calling, but networking, demonstrating my expertise and having lots of useful tools for people to use. And now most of my business is either repeat business or via referral. Which works for me.
How did the opportunity come about?
As above – the sale of the business I co-owned back in 2012 left me high and dry and having to work out what next.
What other opportunities have materialised as a result?
In addition to my recent book, The Impulsive Explorer. I ended up publishing a business book snappily titled – The profitable business – how to create a thriving business that works for you in seven short(ish) steps.
And actually the Impulsive Explorer wouldn’t have been finally published without prodding from people in a mastermind group I was part of.
What are your next steps?
Hoping to keep my Ops business ticking over with a few good clients and hopefully I can create success around the Impulsive Explorer so I can write the next two books in the series – The Curious Explorer and the Escaping Explorer (about my mid life crisis post 50).
How have friends and family reacted?
My parents have never understood the entrepreneurial journey – they still send me job adverts, but have reluctantly accepted I will never go back to corporate.
I don’t like to regret anything. Mistakes make for a rich tapestry and my friends love reading my end of year letter with the latest shenanigans from the pen of Espley!
What 3 tips would you give other women over 50 looking to do something similar?
1. Having the buffer of savings gives a huge level of comfort. I always bang on to my clients to save money. My doing so meant I got through Covid relatively unscathed.
2. Don’t wait – just do it. If not now, when? Take a leaf from Richard Branson ‘If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”
3. Research, plan and get support and advice
The Richard Branson quote comes with a big caveat for me – if you don’t have any business knowledge – get it. There is more to a business than just your passion/or what you are good at. I have seen so many people founder when they realise that delivering what you are good at is probably only 50% of the story.
A little bit more about you……
How would you describe your own style?
Really practical, honest (to a fault), challenging, somewhat irreverent, but dedicated to quality and delivering the best I can.
Three words that sum up your life over 50