You want to have a job that offers you flexibility and fits in better with your home life. Do you try to find something that matches what you need? Or could you create your own job?
In this interview, Alison Colley talks about how she leveraged her background in law to start her own firm and reflects on why making that important leap led her to have a better work/life balance.
Alison Colley of Real Employment Law Advice
Website: Real Employment Law Advice
LinkedIn: Real Employment Law Advice
Facebook: Real Employment Law Advice
Youtube: Real Employment Law Advice
Alison Colley is an employment law and HR solicitor. After spending several years working in traditional law firms, she decided that there must be a better way of enjoying her work and balancing her life.
In November 2013, Alison founded Real Employment Law Advice with the mission to improve the world of work for all…. one business at a time. She believes that as the world is changing, legal practice should be moving away from the traditional ways of working and service should be cenered around what the customer wants.
Her particular specialty is putting clients at ease throughout stressful times. She understands that there are factors outside of the legal position that affect decision making and therefore she is able to appreciate what is important to her clients outside of the black and white lawyer perspective! It is Alison’s goal to provide clear and unstuffy legal advice when it is required and to be on hand to prevent problems from arising.
In August 2014 she launched the HR & Employment Law podcast, and since launching it has been featured in the iTunes New and Noteworthy section for Business podcasts.
Alison lives on the Isle of Wight and so has a great place for activities on her doorstep, with guaranteed things to do all year round. As well as enjoying life on the island, Alison likes to travel, and was fortunate enough to be able to take a ‘grown up’ gap year a few years’ ago, spending 10 months travelling around the world.
A self-professed adrenaline junkie, Alison loves roller coasters, has been skydiving and completed two bungy jumps.
What you’ll learn in this episode
- [01:40] Alison explains why she became interested in employment law and what her career ambitions were.
- [05:53] Why Alison decided to change the direction of her career.
- [07:50] Alison talks about what led her to go travelling shortly after starting out in her career.
- [10:54] How travelling helped build Alison’s confidence.
- [12:07] Alison explains how she adjusted to life back at her job after travelling.
- [15:20] Alison talks about why she changed law firms.
- [17:33] Why Alison decided to leave her job and start her own business.
- [21:23] How Alison got past her limiting beliefs and decided to start her own law firm.
- [25:50] Finding new clients through networking.
- [27:54] Looking at long term plans when starting up a business.
- [28:48] Alison talks about what her firm looks like now and how it has expanded.
- [31:03] Owning a law firm during the pandemic.
- [32:20] Adjusting your workload to accommodate a good work life balance.
- [33:43] Alison talks about what the longer term plans are for the firm.
- [36:35] Alison explains what has been the most challenging part of her career journey so far and what has been the most rewarding.
- [37:19] Advice for lawyers who might be thinking about starting up their own firm.
Resources mentioned in this episode
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To see the resources recommended by all our guests, visit the Resources page.
Episode 132: Creating your own work environment - with Alison Colley of Real Employment Law Advice
Jeremy Cline 0:00
You love your career, you love what you do, but you're just not doing it in the right place. The environment where you work is just not right for you. You don't fit in with the culture, the values, the general way the company is run. Do you find another job with a company that's better aligned with who you are? That's certainly one option. But in the case of today's guest, she decided to create her own job. I'm Jeremy Cline, and this is Change Work Life.
Jeremy Cline 0:42
Hello, and welcome to Change Work Life, the show where we're all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. Sometimes the career isn't the problem. You may be in the perfect career, one that matches your strengths and your values, and yet, you're still unhappy. And the source of that unhappiness is that you're simply not working in the right environment. Maybe you work for an organisation which is overly bureaucratic or set in its ways. Maybe you just don't align with the culture. My guest this week was in that position. So, rather than try to find an organisation which suited her, she created her own. In 2013, Alison Colley founded Real Employment Law Advice, a law firm which specialises in employment and HR law, and she's also the host of the Employment Law and HR podcast. Alison, welcome to the show.
Alison Colley 1:33
Hi, Jeremy. Thank you for having me.
Jeremy Cline 1:35
So, what is it, Alison, that you love about employment and HR law?
Alison Colley 1:40
So, I've really liked employment law and HR, and I have done since I was a trainee solicitor many years ago, because of the fact that it is constantly changing, and it's one of those areas of law which is always developing for one reason or another. I found some of the other areas of law that I did as a trainee quite boring, if I'm honest. You know, private client works, their wills and probate and that sort of thing isn't known for lots of revolutionary changes to the law, whereas employment law is constantly changing.
Jeremy Cline 2:12
I shan't take that personally as a private client lawyer.
Alison Colley 2:16
No, well, for some people, it really suits them, and I get why you enjoy it. But I like the fact that it's always moving, always changing, depending on the political persuasion. I also like the fact that you get to work for both sides. You can see it from both perspectives, both employer and employee. And I think that that brings an interesting slant to it when you're advising on it.
Jeremy Cline 2:37
So, going back to the start, what was it that got you into law in the first place?
Alison Colley 2:43
Okay, so I was one of those sad children who knew exactly what they wanted to do from when I was about age 10. So, I wanted to be a lawyer, pretty much the whole of my childhood. And it was, I don't know, I think it was a sense of working in sort of justice, if you like, and the kind of excitement that came with that, and lots of life experiences when I was a child sort of led me to think, actually, that's the career for me.
Jeremy Cline 3:09
Pretty unusual for a 10-year-old to even know what a lawyer is, let alone want to be one.
Alison Colley 3:14
Yes. Yeah, I don't know. But I was set on it from a very young age. There wasn't anyone in my family who was a lawyer, I didn't follow anyone's footsteps or have any sort of influence there. But yeah, I've just wanted to do it forever. And it was kind of like the path that was set for me from an early age, really.
Jeremy Cline 3:34
So, when you first started as a trainee, and then as a qualified solicitor, what were your career ambitions at that point?
Alison Colley 3:42
So, I really wanted to work in the city. I wanted to go and work for one of the Magic Circle firms, as we call them here in London, to be sort of that city lawyer kind of thing. But that kind of quickly changed when my training contract was with a high-street firm that specialised in legal aid.
Jeremy Cline 4:04
What was it about the city that attracted you?
Alison Colley 4:07
I think it's just that kind of cliche lawyer life, if you like. But then, obviously, I've got to know people who actually worked in the city, and the realities of it are very different to what you kind of see on the TV, aren't they? You know, hearing from people at the time, I don't know if it's the same now, but they had doctors in the building and had to sort of practically live there, and canteens and nurseries and all that sort of thing. So, it just didn't seem like, it didn't sound like the, what should I say, the way in which I led to believe it would be.
Jeremy Cline 4:39
And so, how did you end up practising on the high-street to begin with?
Alison Colley 4:44
So, I didn't do as well as I probably should have done when I was at university. Again, a combination of factors, really, I think I was the first generation to go to university, so I didn't have an experience of learning to sort of guide me, if you like. I worked throughout the time and then probably partied a little bit too hard. So, I didn't get the degree result that I was hoping for, and then quickly realised, when I was applying for training contracts, that I had no chance of getting a job at a city firm. I actually went to work as a counter fraud investigator for the Department for Work and Pensions, straight after university, because I couldn't get a training contract. And they took me on as a graduate, on their graduate programme. So, that in turn led me to getting an interview with a criminal law firm, because they were interested in my background of working for the Department of Work and Pensions.
Jeremy Cline 5:40
So, when you started out in practice, I mean, okay, it wasn't the city, but you had your training contract, and you presumably qualified soon after that, so at that point, where were your ambitions aligned?
Alison Colley 5:53
Yeah, I think I still had a little bit of hope that I might go and do that kind of lawyer in the city life. But I really enjoyed working with the kind of clients that I worked with in the legal aid practice. You know, sort of all kinds of things would come across my desk, as you can imagine, with people's situations. Yeah, so I just found it a lot more interesting in those sort of circumstances. I then went travelling for a year, and my kind of direction in life changed once I was travelling. So, that was really the catalyst for changing my thought processes.
Jeremy Cline 6:32
So, before you went travelling, where did you think your career was going to go at that point? I mean, were you looking at a sort of fairly traditional, get up to partnership, and then be a partner in a law firm for the rest of your working life?
Alison Colley 6:47
Yes, that's exactly it. That's what I thought I would do. And I actually thought that was the only way in which you could sort of progress with law is to do the traditional route of becoming a partner in a firm. Yeah.
Jeremy Cline 7:00
What led to that belief, do you think, that that was really the only route to go?
Alison Colley 7:04
I suppose the influence around, what you're told, what you're led to believe. I didn't have any experience of sort of entrepreneurship or running your own business or the possibility of that. So, I didn't have any kind of influence there. I suppose a bit of limiting belief that you can't do this, you know, there's no way of doing it, you have to do it within a traditional sort of law firm set up.
Jeremy Cline 7:26
So, going travelling, people go travelling for all sorts of reasons, sometimes it's just because you're at a stage in life where you can take the time off, and you've got the financial clout to be able to do that, sometimes it's because you need a period to, for want of a better phrase, find yourself. What was it in your case?
Alison Colley 7:49
Yes. So, I'm not really sure what led it to wanting to go travelling at that time, but I hadn't gone travelling in the traditional route as people do when they leave school, before university or after university. And so, I had qualified as a solicitor and been working for a year. And just the circumstances, my personal circumstances were such that it was a good time. And I knew it was something that I wanted to do.
Jeremy Cline 8:12
How long did you go travelling for?
Alison Colley 8:14
It was about nine months in total in the end. By the time I got, 9 or 10 months, yeah.
Jeremy Cline 8:19
So, that's an interesting time to go travelling for that length of time when you're just a year into qualifying, so really just starting out. So, what was your thinking of going at that time, apart from, well, I haven't gotten had a chance to do it already?
Alison Colley 8:36
Yeah, again, you know, now that you asked me that question, I can't really think back to why, other than I knew that I wanted to do it at that sort of time in my life. And the opportunity was there, I suppose. I think I realise now, looking back on it, the huge impact that going travelling had on me in terms of confidence and sort of outlook of life and that sort of thing. But at the time, it was just something I wanted to do, I guess.
Jeremy Cline 9:07
Do you remember what the reaction was of the firm you were working at, when the year you qualify, you just suddenly say, 'No, I'm leaving now to go travelling"?
Alison Colley 9:14
No, they were really supportive, actually. And I ended up going back to work for them when I came back. They had me back afterwards. Yeah, I think it was a different type of firm, being very family-orientated and family-run firm. Yeah, they were quite supportive.
Jeremy Cline 9:30
What did travelling look like for you? Is this backpacking on your own around the world, or was this something a bit more structured than that, going in, I don't know, working for three months here or there?
Alison Colley 9:41
No, it was entirely no work. It was entirely travel. Myself, my partner, who's my husband now, went together, and we had our sort of flights and our plan in mind, but in between that, we didn't really have much planned along the way. So, it was sort of making up as we go along.
Jeremy Cline 9:59
So, where did you visit?
Alison Colley 10:00
So, we did the States, so we travelled across the States for three months. We went to Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, this kind of traditional backpacker route, if you like.
Jeremy Cline 10:15
And you said that, during the course of that travelling, it really changed your mentality and outlook. Can you talk a bit more about that?
Alison Colley 10:22
Yeah, so I wasn't very confident at all before travelling. And I could, I would say, become stressed fairly easily, and didn't have very good perspective on life, if you like, and on things. And it just gave me a lot more confidence and made me realise that there's more to life than the kind of my small worldview that you have on a day-to-day basis.
Jeremy Cline 10:48
So, what was the small worldview that you had, and how did it expand after the travelling?
Alison Colley 10:54
Yeah, so I think I would get myself worried about things unnecessarily or that were trivial, I didn't need to worry about, or would become bogged down in sort of disputes that were unnecessary. And so, I think it just gave me that bigger picture, gave me, I suppose, a different temperament as well. There's lots of things that came from it that really changed how I behaved and how I looked at things. And I think that opened the door to sort of leading to where I am now. I don't think, if I hadn't gone travelling, it wouldn't have been as easy for me to make the decision and the leap into sort of self-employment that I did, even though there was sort of a five-, six-year gap between travelling and then doing that, I think it still changed me as a person and enabled me to do this now.
Jeremy Cline 11:47
Immediately after you came back travelling, and you mentioned that you went back to work for the same firm that you had worked at previously, did it feel like going back to things exactly the way that they were, or had something changed, either in the place that you're working, or in you internally, in the way that you approached your work?
Alison Colley 12:07
Things had changed in the place I worked. So, if I just give you some context, we left the UK in October 2007, and returned in August 2008. So, we were away when basically everything kind of happened in terms of the economy, huge changes at the time with all of the mortgages and everything else that was going on. So, it was quite a different financial and economical outlook, if you like, when we returned. And the firm I worked for had changed considerably, in that they had made a number of changes and a number of redundancies, had reduced one of their offices, as many firms were doing, to try and make cutbacks. And so, I went in with a kind of a dual role, and more of a role with management than I had before. So, I went in, yes, completely with a different outlook on it than I had when I went, but partly because of me and partly because of the way in which the world was at the time.
Jeremy Cline 13:09
So, when you say management role, because I mean, at this stage, you're still a sort of, technically two years after qualification, but a year of which was spent travelling. So, what was the management aspect of it?
Alison Colley 13:22
So, I was doing the HR management for the firm, and looking after the perception and admin team.
Jeremy Cline 13:29
Well, and how did that compare with what you've been doing previously and what you wanted to do?
Alison Colley 13:35
Yeah, so previously, I had just been doing fee earning work, you know, working on files, both employment and a bit of civil litigation, so not involved in business development or business generation or management at all.
Jeremy Cline 13:50
And now that you'd started doing management, what did you think of it?
Alison Colley 13:53
I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed the challenge, and I really enjoyed the skills and experience that it gave me. I enjoyed doing the sort of application of some of the things that I was advising employers to do, being able to actually put some of those things into practice in a management role.
Jeremy Cline 14:12
You mentioned that, after you came back from travelling, it was five or six years before you started your own firm. Was that five or six years all spent in the same place, or did you change firms in the interim?
Alison Colley 14:26
Yes, no, I changed firms. And I think, so what happened was, I was commuting from my home on the Isle of Wight to Eastleigh, which is just outside of Southampton. So, I'd have to drive to the ferry, get the ferry, then get the train, and it was about a two-hour trip there, a two-hour trip back. And it was fine doing it for a couple of years, and I really enjoyed the work and was really working hard at it. And then, I was sort of getting fed up with the commute and some of the ways in which the firm was going, the direction of the firm and that sort of thing. And so, I started to look at alternatives. And I thought I would give it a try in a different firm, a bigger firm with a bigger team, a big employment team, and just go back to doing the sort of fee earning work. So, yes, I moved to another firm, about a year before I started my own.
Jeremy Cline 15:15
And was the main motivation for that the commute or were there other factors at play?
Alison Colley 15:21
Yeah, there were other things. The problem with law firms, as you know I'm sure, is that sometimes things can move very slowly in terms of decision making. And often because there's a number of partners involved, you have to make the decisions, and some aren't necessarily aligned with others. And so, some of the things that we were trying to implement and some of the changes weren't necessarily happening quickly. And so, yeah, I just felt like it was the right time to move on at that point.
Jeremy Cline 15:52
Did you feel like you were running to, or running away when you changed firms?
Alison Colley 15:56
I think I was looking to find my sort of enjoyment of it again, is probably the way of looking at it. I thought that it would be a different type of work, I think, there would be more challenge and having more sort of employment lawyers, specialists around me, whereas I was the only one in my firm before.
Jeremy Cline 16:16
And how did that match reality once you got there?
Alison Colley 16:20
Yes, it wasn't what I was hoping for, put it that way. And because the firm was bigger, structured differently, and was more of a corporate entity, yeah, all of the things that I didn't like about working in those sort of bigger environments kind of came to the forefront.
Jeremy Cline 16:42
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Would you think, in hindsight, there was anything that you could have done in terms of due diligence on this new place, that maybe might have raised some red flags and made you give some thought as to whether it was the right place for you?
Alison Colley 16:56
No, not really, no, not in hindsight, you know, I thought it would be a good opportunity, like I say, to develop my career, and yeah. So, no, I don't think. It's very difficult, isn't it? Unless you know someone who has worked there, or already works there, it's very difficult to do that.
Jeremy Cline 17:15
At what point during that year, did you start to think seriously that perhaps the right option might be to start your own law firm, rather than to move again? Because it's quite common that people do move somewhere, even for a year, discover it's not for them, and then, just move on again.
Alison Colley 17:32
Yeah, it was probably about six months in or so. And I started to look at all other possible opportunities to run a business for myself. I looked at all manner of things, really, you know, online businesses, physical businesses, that kind of thing, none of which I thought would be a law firm. I was just, I had no idea at the time that it would be a possibility to run my own law practice. I thought I'd have to go into something else if I wanted to work for myself.
Jeremy Cline 18:06
Why at that stage were you starting to think about running your own business, whatever that business might have been?
Alison Colley 18:12
As a result of my commute, I started listening to podcasts. And obviously, it was back when it was all fairly new. I think I'd only just got an iPhone myself. And I started to listen to a lot of internet business podcasts and became inspired by those. I read Tim Ferriss' 4-Hour Workweek, I was reading those on the commute, and basically, just delving into the world of entrepreneurship. I was also doing quite a bit of networking as well to sort of drum up business at the firm I was in, and met lots of people who were running their own businesses and was quite inspired by them as well. And so, it sort of led me to think that that was what I would like to do, realising, I suppose, by the time I had been six months in at this job and had finished, for the reasons I said, at the last one, I thought, actually, if I want to shape my own future, I'm going to have to do it for myself. And that's where I sort of deep dive into the entrepreneurship and internet business world.
Jeremy Cline 19:12
So, was it that networking and being inspired by the other people that prompted you to start listening to these podcasts and reading these books yourself?
Alison Colley 19:20
Yes, it was. Yeah. And like I say, reading The 4-Hour Workweek, I thought, wow, there is another way of living or doing things. You don't have to be a slave to other people.
Jeremy Cline 19:31
So, talk in a bit more detail about the sorts of things that you considered. So, you'd settle on the idea of 'having my own business', but it sounds like you hadn't necessarily thought about what that business was going to be. So, what were some of the things that went through your head as possible options?
Alison Colley 19:49
I considered buying like a shower curtain business, online retailer for shower curtains, and looked at doing an online directory, web directory, wedding business, catering business, all kinds of things. I even did an evening course at the local college on, I think, is it Drupal, the kind of website building thing, to try and do that myself. So, I was looking at all kinds of options. I think my husband was a bit exasperated by the amount of times I'd come home and say, 'I've got another idea.'
Jeremy Cline 20:23
Where did these ideas come from?
Alison Colley 20:25
So, I would just look at what I was interested in, what was available, where my skills and experience lie, and all of those sorts of things.
Jeremy Cline 20:35
So, shower curtains, for example?
Alison Colley 20:38
Well, there was somebody I met who was selling their business or potentially looking to sell their business, and I thought that'd be good to pick that up.
Jeremy Cline 20:45
What was your kind of, I was going to say mental state, the sort of thought process at the time as you're kind of looking out there to see what business you might start? And were you kind of excited by all these ideas, or sort of frustrated that you had all these ideas, but none of them seemed quite right?
Alison Colley 21:05
No, I was excited. And it gave me something to think about on my commute and to work on. I had a lot more time in those days without children. So, you know, I would have the time to look into it.
Jeremy Cline 21:19
So, what stopped you starting any of those other businesses?
Alison Colley 21:24
Yeah. Well, I remember the conversation that I had with my husband about it. We were out for a walk, and that tends to be the best time, really, for flushing things out. And we were talking through how frustrated I was, and where I was, and how unhappy, and all of that sort of thing. And we were just sort of talking through, and I said, 'Well, you know, I'll be really sad to leave the law, because it's what I'd always wanted to do, I'd worked really hard to qualify.' And the thought of leaving it, I suppose, in the back of my mind was, you know, I was quite sad to think how I wouldn't be able to use the skills and experience again. And then, it was just like, 'Well, why, why can't you start your own firm?' And I thought, 'Well, what is the reason I can't start my own firm?' And I think it was my own limiting belief, if I'm honest, my own belief that actually I couldn't do that. And I said, 'Well, I'll look into it. But I'm sure, you know, insurance is too expensive, and all that sort of thing.' And it kind of went from there. Yeah, I think I just had put this block in my mind that there was no way I could do law on my own.
Jeremy Cline 22:31
That's interesting, because looking from the outside, it would seem like it was a natural step, going from being a lawyer. So, you've already got the experience in the expertise, including some of the management expertise that you mentioned. So, when thinking about starting a business, I'd imagine a lot of people would start with, well, what do I already do. So, some people go into freelance consulting, giving advice on whatever it is that they've already done. Accountants might set up their own firm, lawyers might set up their own firm. I'm interested to know why you'd kind of ruled that out and were thinking about things which, you know, apparently you hadn't had any experience with up until that point?
Alison Colley 23:15
Yeah. Again, I think, as I say, just this belief that I couldn't do it and misunderstanding about the cost of indemnity insurance was probably one of the biggest things. I thought it would be far too expensive. And as I say, no one in my family has ever done anything in professional services before, and my family is very working class. So, I suppose it was part of that as well. I think, fortunately, my younger brother had started his own business by then as well, so I was able to sort of think, 'Well, if he can do it, then I can definitely do it' sort of thing.
Jeremy Cline 23:54
So, what got you over those limiting beliefs?
Alison Colley 23:56
Yeah, I think that was it. It was the support, you know, very much of my husband saying, 'Of course you can do this. And if it doesn't work, it doesn't matter.' And like I say, I remember having a call with my brother and saying, 'Look, you know, you've done it, what do you think?' And talking it through with him and getting that, I suppose that help and reassurance from others that actually I could do it.
Jeremy Cline 24:21
Did you have anyone that you could call upon specifically to ask for advice about setting up a law firm?
Alison Colley 24:27
No. No, there wasn't. I didn't know anyone at the time who had done it. Yeah. So, I just sort of launched into the SRA guidance and making the calls and doing the research myself.
Jeremy Cline 24:43
So, what is the playbook for that?
Alison Colley 24:47
The first thing is, obviously, you have to contact the SRA and put together your application for them, which is the Solicitors Regulation Authority, who authorise you, and then, make contact with insurers and insurance brokers, those were the two key things for me that I needed to do. And just to understand that, actually, it wasn't reclusively expensive, and there was a high probability I would be approved. And then, I resigned and waited for my SRA approval.
Jeremy Cline 25:20
And at this stage, was this a sole practice? Or did you have other people on board at that point?
Alison Colley 25:26
No, it was just me.
Jeremy Cline 25:28
So, there's one thing getting set up as a law firm, getting SRA approval, getting insurance and all that kind of thing, but presumably, there's this thing about needing clients and charging fees and paying bills and that sort of thing. So, when you started out, what were your plans for building up your practice?
Alison Colley 25:50
Yeah, so I was going to do what I did, just sort of follow the same things I was doing before, which was lots of networking. So, I'd made lots of good, really good contacts through my networking before. And I just started that, carried on with those that I was able to from before, and then started networking locally where I live, which I hadn't ever done before, meeting businesses. So, it was really just about going out and meeting people and talking about my business.
Jeremy Cline 26:18
And what did you find worked, and what did you find didn't work?
Alison Colley 26:21
Oh, it's absolutely those personal connections is what started the business and grew the business. So, I think I was approved on like the Friday, and then, I found a local networking group on the following Thursday for a breakfast meeting. I've never been to, went along as a visitor, met a lady there who was a HR professional, worked for herself. And she said, 'I've been looking for someone just like you to help my client.' And so, from that, I got my first client. So, in less than a week, I had my first referral from just meeting someone at breakfast, networking over coffee.
Jeremy Cline 26:59
How did that make you feel getting a client that quickly?
Alison Colley 27:02
I mean, it was great, obviously, you know, I was pleased to know that there was a need there, and that the work was available. She also helped me, really, because I set my prices way too low. And she said that to me, the lady who referred, she said, 'You're not charging enough.' And that was straight away. So, you know, there are some really great people out there in business who are happy to help and provide support. But it felt fantastic. And I really was very nervous, obviously, going along, even though I've done it numerous times before, going along to that first meeting.
Jeremy Cline 27:36
Had you set yourself any specific goals or timeframes when you started the firm? You said your husband had said, if it doesn't work, it doesn't matter. Had you figured out in your mind how long you're going to give it to decide whether or not it worked?
Alison Colley 27:53
The whole aim initially was just to pay my salary really, well, to cover the costs and pay my salary. So, there wasn't any great plans for expansion. And I didn't really think about the future too much, other than getting enough clients to pay the bills, really. So, yeah, it kind of just grew very slowly and organically.
Jeremy Cline 28:18
So, the goal initially was always, it was just going to be, I don't want to say a lifestyle business, but effectively, a business where it was going to be just you earning enough to get your own income, which you were happy with, to enjoy the lifestyle to which you wanted to be accustomed.
Alison Colley 28:33
Yeah, that's it. You know, I wanted to be at home more for my children, to be able to have that flexibility. And yeah, just to cover the bills, yeah.
Jeremy Cline 28:43
And describe where you're at now, what does your firm look like at the moment?
Alison Colley 28:48
So, there are now six of us in total. So, myself and three other solicitors, my husband works now with us, and he's the business manager, and we've got admin support, as well. So, there are six staff, and we've got an office base, whereas I was in my own spare room before, well, when I first started.
Jeremy Cline 29:09
And so, how did you go from, 'I just want to do this to pay my own salary and earn my own income' to having four solicitors, your husband working for your business, and a fairly substantial operation?
Alison Colley 29:23
Yes, I don't know, I look back now and then go, 'Oh, gosh, how did that happen?' Yeah, well, the business was growing, and I was working a lot more. My husband was commuting, we had our second child sort of coming. And we thought, well, you know, we could get some extra help doing admin, I could get some extra help with the childcare and that sort of thing. And then, we said, 'Well, actually, why don't you quit your job and come and work with me, and we can then both be around for the children, and be more invested in the business potentially, then, you know, someone who's just helping out with admin now and then.' And so, I took him on, and then, the work just continued to grow. And I was finding I wasn't being able to cope with everything myself, and I had a very lucky meeting with a lady who was returning to the law, an Employment Lawyers Association meeting, who was looking for flexibility, had the same sort of mindset, and then took on Miranda in 2017, so it's just coming up for her fifth year now with me. So, yeah, it sort of just grown really, without too much of a thought to it, until very recently, there hasn't really been a strategy for growth.
Jeremy Cline 30:38
How do you feel about the fact that it has grown, almost, it seems, by accident? I use the term advisedly, and it was clearly because you were doing the right things to get lots and lots of clients. But you started off with this vision as being a one-person law firm, and then, you end up to something more substantial than that. Was there at any point that you looked back and thought, 'Hang on, this wasn't what I signed up for'?
Alison Colley 31:03
During the pandemic, yes, absolutely. Like many people I was in the midst of it and thought, 'Oh, my goodness, what have I got myself into?' The responsibility of other people's wages and livelihoods, that's when I think it really sort of hit home. And I did have thoughts about it, how do we go forward with this in light of everything that's happened.
Jeremy Cline 31:30
Even before that, were there any points where you'd look around you and think, 'How did I get to here?'
Alison Colley 31:37
No, I think it was such a whirlwind of how things have grown, obviously, you have times of reflection, when things are going well, or when things aren't going so well. But yeah, I guess, the big moments were moving into our own office and taking on more staff, but yeah, it was only really a thought about the magnitude of it in the last couple of years.
Jeremy Cline 32:03
So, you alluded to things that might have happened recently. Have you made substantial changes recently, either as a result of the pandemic, or just generally because you wanted to make changes which fit you in your lifestyle better?
Alison Colley 32:20
Yes, so I took a conscious decision to reduce the number of clients that I'm working with, to enable me to spend more time working on the business, because one of the whole reasons of starting the business myself was to have more flexibility and more freedom, time, and again, I found I was becoming bogged down with working in the business. So, I made a conscious change at the beginning of last year to move away from that.
Jeremy Cline 32:50
And what does that look like for you?
Alison Colley 32:52
It's been interesting. It was quite hard for me, I have to say, in terms of my own need to have control of everything, to hand things over more, and to have trust in others. But I've been working on it a lot, and have enjoyed the benefits of that. And having a great team now, you know, I was able to go on holiday in January and went for three weeks, which is completely unheard of, and had time away without really looking at emails or anything. Actually, I didn't look at emails at all, which is, again, a first in eight years.
Jeremy Cline 33:30
Sounds like it was a bit of a revelation.
Alison Colley 33:32
Jeremy Cline 33:34
And so, what does the firm look like in the future, and what does your involvement in the firm look like in the future?
Alison Colley 33:43
So, obviously, the plan is to continue in much the same way as I've kind of been developing, so that I take more of a managerial and business development role in it, rather than doing this sort of fee earning work.
Jeremy Cline 33:58
Do you have any plans to get to a stage where you might sell it on, or is this your baby, and you want to work in it for as long as you're able to?
Alison Colley 34:06
I don't know. It's an interesting question. I suppose, if the right price and the right person came along to purchase it, then I wouldn't say no, I guess.
Jeremy Cline 34:20
What would you do then, in this hypothetical world?
Alison Colley 34:24
Well, I don't know, something else. I would start another business or do something completely different.
Jeremy Cline 34:31
And aside from having this revelation that you can take three-week holidays and not look at emails, what's it been like transitioning to taking a more management role and do less fee earning?
Alison Colley 34:46
What's it been like? Well, sometimes it's been difficult, as I say, that's just from my own hang-up with it, I guess, and control. But actually, I've kind of re-found my love for it, if you like, that I lost a bit during the pandemic, when I was so deep involved in everything. Yes, so it's enabled me to feel more energy in relation to the business.
Jeremy Cline 35:13
Do you miss the fee earning?
Alison Colley 35:15
I still do a bit. I still do a little bit, you know, we have different, we have a membership service, we have different levels of service. So, our sort of premium clients, if you like, are still my clients, people who've been around with me since the beginning. So, I still do a bit, but nowhere near as much as I did before.
Jeremy Cline 35:36
Is that something that you think you will always keep your hand in?
Alison Colley 35:40
Yeah. I think I'm just kind of holding on to them like children, if you like, I don't really want to hand them over to someone else just yet. But I think there will probably come a time when I'll need to.
Jeremy Cline 35:52
So, if I was to ask you in five years' time what's the business like, what would you hope to be able to say at that point?
Alison Colley 35:59
Do you know what, if you'd asked me this in January 2020, I would have been able to give you a very definitive answer of exactly where. Now, February 2022, I don't think I can give you an answer. I don't know is the answer. And I haven't really thought about it too much. And I suppose, in a way, I'm sort of a bit afraid to plan ahead too much, because you never know what's around the corner. But I think, probably, after a period of stability, there might be some more planning going on.
Jeremy Cline 36:29
And so, as you've been on this journey, what would you say has been the most challenging aspects with it?
Alison Colley 36:36
The roller coaster of running your own business has been the most challenging, and the thing I wasn't expecting the most. You know, the highs, the real highs, and then the real lows, and you know, one day to the next, you just don't know what's going to happen.
Jeremy Cline 36:53
And what's been the most rewarding aspect of it?
Alison Colley 36:55
The most rewarding, being able to build a team and to have people around and invest in the local community and all of those sorts of things.
Jeremy Cline 37:06
And if someone comes up to you, they're maybe a five- or six-qualified lawyer, they're a bit disillusioned with where they are, but they're thinking, 'Maybe I could start my own firm, but it just sounds really too scary', what words of encouragement would you give them?
Alison Colley 37:19
Well, if they're an employment lawyer, then I might offer them a job. But otherwise, I mean, it's not for everyone, I have to say that it isn't for everyone. And you have to be prepared to constantly learn and for the uncertainties and the stress that comes with it. And I suppose that's why lots of people start and then don't carry on. But I would say, if you really want to control your own destiny and to make a difference in your own little world, then absolutely go for it.
Jeremy Cline 37:57
Brilliant. You mentioned podcasts and the Tim Ferriss' book, 4-Hour Workweek. Are there any other podcasts, books, resources, quotes that you'd particularly like to draw people's attention to, which you found really helpful for you and which might help them?
Alison Colley 38:12
Yeah, of course, you've got Smart Passive Income, which is, obviously, how you and I have come to meet.
Jeremy Cline 38:18
Yes, Smart Passive Income podcast.
Alison Colley 38:22
And obviously, the Tim Ferriss, I mean, the one I used to listen to the most was the Internet Business Mastery. But they don't do that anymore. But that was a great one. I think you can probably still find some of their stuff online. But really, Pat Flynn and the Smart Passive Income has been fantastic for my business.
Jeremy Cline 38:42
And where can people find you?
Alison Colley 38:44
So, you can find me, my firm's website is realemploymentlawadvice.co.uk. I'm on LinkedIn, all of those, LinkedIn is probably the best place to find me and to connect, if you want to connect. And obviously, I have my own podcast, which you can find on all of the normal podcast places.
Jeremy Cline 39:02
I'll put links to those in the show notes. Well, Alison, thanks so much for coming on and sharing your story, and best of luck for the future.
Alison Colley 39:10
Thank you for having me. Thanks, Jeremy.
Jeremy Cline 39:12
Okay, hope you enjoyed that interview with Alison Colley. One of the things that struck me as really interesting in my conversation with Alison was how she really, really wanted to start her own business, but had ruled out starting a business in the area where she already had the experience, the expertise and the skills. If you don't enjoy what you do, then that makes perfect sense. But in Alison's case, she really liked employment law. She really liked being a lawyer and practising. But it was this limiting belief that she couldn't do it that was holding her back, until she realised that she could do it. I loved the advice that Alison's husband gave her. If it doesn't work, it doesn't matter. We're often so scared of doing something for risk of failure. The easier course of action is often just not to do it at all. But that then lets the fear overwhelm the amazing opportunity that might have been there. I also really enjoyed listening to Alison describe how her business has evolved. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you've got to have this master plan, that you need to know what direction you're going in. But in Alison's case, that clearly wasn't what happened. She said that she started the business intending to be a one-man band, it was just going to be her. It doesn't seem as though she had any particular ambitions at that point to grow the business with multiple staff members and much more work than she was able to do herself. But that's what's happened. It's just evolved that way. And there is a lot to be said for just letting things evolve, letting nature take its course, so to speak. You'll find the show notes for this episode at changeworklife.com/132, that's changeworklife.com/132 for Episode 132, and there you'll find the full transcript of the interview, summary of everything that we talked about, and links to the resources which Alison mentioned. And I know I'm always banging on about this, but it would be amazing if you could take a couple of minutes to leave a review on Apple podcasts. Reviews are a great way of letting other people know that the podcast is worth listening to, and that it's something that's going to help them. So, if you could spend just a couple of minutes leaving a review, it really will help people to find the show. There's more to come in two weeks' time, so if you haven't already subscribed to the show, make sure that you subscribe, and I can't wait to see you next time. Cheers. Bye.
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