The road to consultancy

Kristy Davies-Sumpter was global director of product support for a travel tech company. It was a really demanding job with long hours and a lot of travel, difficult to manage with small children. So she set up her own consultancy. She spoke to about how she did it.

She had worked her way up, spending 14 years in the hospitality industry then four to five years in the travel technology sector in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “I knew a lot of people across the world and got to experience many different cultures and see how different countries work differently,” she says. On one trip she was away for a month.

She left the job a few weeks before she went on maternity leave with her first child because the company was undergoing a restructure and the new role she would have had to take was not one she wanted to do. She adds that part of her decision to leave was that she didn’t want to be a “part-time mum”. She knew she didn’t want to be a stay at home mum, but she wanted to be sure that if she wasn’t going to see the baby in the mornings she would at least see him at night. Doing a 14 or 15 hour day did not chime with that.

All her family – her two sisters and her mum and stepfather – lived on the south coast. She had lived in Buckinghamshire because of her job and because there was good access to airports. She decided that, as a new mum, it was better to be around her family. “I would not be able to do what I am doing without them,” she says. So the family moved to Bournemouth in January 2011 when the baby was just three months old.

Thirty-nine-year-old Kristy had no idea what she would do when she left her job. “I didn’t know if I would go back to a full-time job or whether I would work for myself,” she says. “I was trying to think what I could do if I worked for myself while at the same time I was looking for a job. My biggest challenge was to find a meaty enough job in Bournemouth.”

She either couldn’t find anything that interested her or she was too experienced for the jobs she did apply for. But she says it was not in her nature not to work. By the summer of 2011 she decided to set up her own sales consultancy – KDS Business Solutions Ltd [] – after talking to friends who are contractors. “They suggested the idea and knew my capabilities,” she said.

She didn’t know anyone in Bournemouth except her own family, but some friends recommended her and she got a bit of work in London to start the ball rolling. Then she hit the local networking scene as she tried to identify her target market. She went to everything from women only groups to solicitor and accountancy groups and Chambers of Commerce and attempted to get her name known and build up a client base. “The hardest thing is that it is just you,” she says. “In a big global company you can offload so much, but when you are on your own you are it for everything.”

Work life balance
Having a small baby, she also had to learn patience and not to expect things to happen overnight. In the early days, she says, she was doing too much so she had to learn to slow down. “I can’t work a 17-hour day in one go. I had to learn to prioritise,” she says. “My son was at nursery and I would do bath and bedtime and then be back on the computer, eating my dinner there. It was not sustainable. You get really exhausted and you don’t get your best ideas when you are too tired. If you go out to networking events you want to be on top form and look motivated so that people can see your enthusiasm. I am trying to work hard on getting the right balance now,” she says.

“I was working every weekend and that wasn’t really why I set up the business. I was losing sight of the goal I was trying to achieve,” she adds. “Now if I have to work at the weekend I get up early and get it done before my son wakes up or do it at night when he is in bed.”

Her son is at nursery three days a week from 7.30am to 6.30pm. The other two days Kristy has less work on and if she needs to do any work her family can be called on to help out. She catches up on emails and business calls when he is sleeping. “It makes you really good at time management,” she says.

Her main focus now is on building a pipeline of work. She hopes to take on more people and train them up. At the moment it is just her and the associates she uses on an as and when basis. She works from home, but most of her business is conducted on clients’ premises. She has one client in London and others in Dorset and Hampshire, but says she could cover the whole country.

“There’s a guilt element to all of this as I constantly ask myself if I am spending enough time on the business and enough time being a mum. It’s so hard to get the balance right,” she says. “I’ve come to the point, though, that I feel I need to stop beating myself up about it.”

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