Episode 15: I love what I do but not where I do it – with Jane Marshall of Optimising Futures

Jane Marshall of Optimising Futures explains why she didn’t have much choice but to start her own business in order to carry on doing what she loved.

Today’s guest

Jane Marshall of Optimising Futures

Website: Optimising Futures

Facebook: Optimising Futures

Twitter: Jane Marshall

LinkedIn: Jane Marshall

Contact: janemarshallpsi@gmail.com

Jane Marshall and provides expert advice on applications and interviews, giving students the best chance of success.

​Jane has a wealth of experience from the past eighteen years employed by top universities, first LSE and then Imperial College London, working with hundreds of schools in the UK and in various parts of Europe.  She has given Personal Statement advice and practice interviews to thousands of students, including medics as well as Oxbridge and Russell Group applicants, across the full range of subject areas. She is frequently invited to speak at conferences as an expert on statements, references and interviews and is also the voice of the Personal Statement video on the UCAS website.

​Jane has an excellent track record, with her students achieving offers from universities all around the UK including Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, LSE, Imperial, King’s and further afield, including overseas.

​In addition, Jane advises numerous clients on covering letters and CVs, giving them every opportunity to secure the all-important interview.  Her practice interviews are based on constructive criticism to enhance confidence and technique and help performance at an optimal level.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  • Why a degree should be more about suiting you than the career it may lead to
  • The value of taking advice from specialists who have been through the process you want to follow
  • The frustrations of having other people making decisions that you can’t influence
  • How to carry on doing something when the place you do it no longer supports it
  • The value of creating your own personal brand and building your network, and also the drawbacks of a business reliant on a personal brand

Resources mentioned in this episode

Please note that some of these are affiliate links and we may get a small commission in the event that you make a purchase.  This helps us to cover our expenses and is at no additional cost to you.

To see the resources recommended by all our guests, visit the Resources page.

Episode 15: I love what I do but not where I do it - with Jane Marshall of Optimising Futures

Jeremy Cline
Sometimes it's not the job that you do that's the problem, but it's the place where you do it. That was the case with my guest, Jane Marshall, and in this episode we'll find out what she did about it. I'm Jeremy Cline and this is Change Work Life.

Hello and welcome to Change Work Life, the show that's all about helping you beat the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. My guest this week is Jane Marshall who has founded Optimising Futures which helps students with their university applications. Jane spent many years working for the universities themselves, but gradually over time, she realised that the atmosphere just wasn't right for what she wanted to do. And so we'll hear in this episode, her story about how that led her to setting up her own business. So let's go straight to the interview. Hi Jane, welcome to the show.

Jane Marshall
Thanks very much. It's nice to talk to you.

Jeremy Cline
So let's dive straight in. Can you start by telling us what it is that you're now doing. You've basically just started up your own business, haven't you?

Jane Marshall
Yes, January 2019. I set up my own business called Optimising Futures. And what we aim to do is essentially help people get where they want to go - whether that's university, job, apprenticeship applications and interviews. And so that's what I'm doing.

Jeremy Cline
So you've only started that quite recently. Am I right in saying that you actually started life as a teacher?

Jane Marshall
Yes, originally - back in the annals of time - I was a French teacher, and I coached rugby at a boys' comprehensive, which I thoroughly enjoyed. But what I actually wanted to do I realised was work with sixth formers. And then I decided to go into widening participation at the London School of Economics, and I became their first widening participation officer which essentially meant going out to schools and helping kids with their university applications and interviews, which I love doing. Then I was headhunted by Imperial College. That was 16 and a half years ago, and I was doing the same sort of thing there - setting up a network of schools and going out and helping the kids with applications and interviews. And it expanded because of the focus now on apprenticeships, as well as university as future routes, and of course job applications - my remit kind of broadened. And so I've been doing that for the last 18 years in total, which is fantastic.

Jeremy Cline
So teaching in the first place, what got you into that?

Jane Marshall
Mum was a head teacher, dad was a head teacher! I've always liked working with students. And I could see how much my parents got out of it. And so I decided I would go into it with some pushing, should I say from my parents, and actually, what I loved was working with the students. That was the bit that really appealed to me. What I got bored of to be frank was the fact that I spent most of my time saying 'No, it's "je m'appelle" not "je mappel!"' And I was constantly correcting the spellings! There wasn't any kind of anything above GCSE. And I wanted A-level or above. So that's why I left.

Jeremy Cline
A lot of teachers tend to leave the profession not because of the teaching - they actually like that bit - its everything that goes on with it - the admin, the politics and all that sort of stuff. But it sounds like from what you were saying that actually it was the the teaching, which wasn't quite doing it for you. Is that right?

Jane Marshall
I would say it's a combination, because there's nothing nicer than seeing a light bulb appear over a kid's head when they've suddenly suddenly got the imperfect tense. I mean, when that light bulb comes on, that's amazing. And it makes it all worthwhile. But you're absolutely right. The other side of it is a huge amount of admin. And I think I was coming in every morning and ticking a list for every single student for their efforts and their achievements. And as I have classes of 30 plus, every single one of them, every single day - it was too much. And, and I'd had enough I'd had enough of teaching to test as well, because it's all about listening, speaking, reading, writing, with languages, which means you're teaching to test every single half term. No! [Laughs] I decided to move on.

Jeremy Cline
Why do you think your parents encouraged you to go into teaching because it's quite interesting that you get people in some professions be it teaching or medicine or law, where you kind of get the impression that the parents don't necessarily like it, but that's still what they want their kids to do. And so what was your experience there?

Jane Marshall
I think it was the idea of getting into something that would be a career and actually that's something I come across a lot now is parents wanting students to follow a particular career. So they expect there to be a career in the degree title. My parents aren't like that, because they come from education backgrounds, they understand that it's not about that - it is about finding something that's going to suit you. But I think they knew I would be good at working with students because it's something I've always enjoyed doing. So I think that's why they encouraged me because I was a bit directionless to be fair. So I think they did the right thing.

Jeremy Cline
And so when you were reaching the conclusion that teaching wasn't for you, how did you transition from that into what you did next? Because it's going from teaching French to working for universities to help - to presumably help them get applicants basically. So how did you sort of how did you discover that actually, and then how did you decide that that was what you wanted to do next?

Jane Marshall
Well, if you haven't degree in education, that means that any aspect of education is actually open to you. That's the good thing about degrees, they do tend to open doors. And so I had a PGCE because I'd done my previous degree and then I'd done PGC afterwards. And actually, one of the requirements of this particular role at the London School of Economics was somebody who'd been involved in teaching in some way. Because it meant that you would be a person who hadn't just been office bound, you've been working with kids the whole time. So that actually opened the door to me at LSE. My sister had always worked in business. And so she had a very good idea of how to prepare somebody for an interview in a business, which was something I hadn't done before. And so with her help, I was able to perform well at the interview, and obviously they offered me the job. So I think it's going to specialists, people who've been through the process, which really does help when it comes to changing the particular direction you're going in, I would say,

Jeremy Cline
Okay, so that's sort of why you were qualified or why you became qualified to do the job. I'm curious as to why the job was qualified for you if you see what I mean - why was it right for you at that point?

Jane Marshall
I think it was right for me because it was going to get me out of the school environment and away from the bits that I wasn't enjoying. But it was still keeping me within the school environments. I was still working with young people. It was also giving me the opportunity to tackle the university application side of things, because my role has always been kind of dual purpose. It was always not just working with the kids and helping them with the applications, it was working with the admissions tutors, and helping them to essentially decipher the applications and understand all about student disadvantage and so that we could level the playing field for the students who are actually applying to the London School of Economics. That was where it all came from.

Jeremy Cline
So you were doing this while you were teaching?

Jane Marshall
No, no, this was this was after I'd left teaching - but I wanted to get involved in the application side of things because actually, I find that very interesting and I always have done. So I'd started looking at helping sixth formers with UCAS applications from the school side. But I wasn't actually hugely involved with the process when I was teaching so I wanted much more involvement in that because I wanted to be working with sixth formers. And essentially, I knew that if I went to somewhere like LSE, that's what I'd be able to do.

Jeremy Cline
Okay, so it was as a result of doing the teaching that you kind of became aware that this existed as a thing. So I think that's quite interesting that people don't always know what's out there. So it's very important to get exposure to lots of stuff be it in your own area or outside just so you do know what's out there.

Jane Marshall
Yeah, absolutely. Because when you're in school being taught about careers, if there is anything going on like that in a school - I don't think we had a huge amount - they tend to focus on traditional careers, there isn't necessarily a huge amount of branching off and the jobs, I think they always say that the jobs that exist now, for the kids who are applying in 10 years time, it'll be completely different jobs they're applying for, because things move on so quickly. And there are so many different fields you can go into. And if you're a teacher, you may not yourself have any experience of those jobs. I didn't wake up when I was eight years old and say, you know what I want to be I want to be a widening participation manager! That job didn't exist! And I think there's probably a lot of people that haven't got a clue what that means now anyway, but that's my point. These jobs - people don't necessarily know about them all. So it's a case of exploring and listening and finding out, and sometimes you just fall into them by complete accident.

Jeremy Cline
Did you have any particular fears when you were changing from teaching to working for the universities? Was there a part of you that thought this is actually quite a bit different to what I do?

Jane Marshall
Not really because I'd actually done quite a bit of temping in offices in between different bits of university and in summer holidays, that kind of thing. So I knew what offices were like, and I didn't have any fears about working in an office with other people. That was actually great. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've always thoroughly enjoyed doing that. I suppose the difference would be lack of holiday. Because if you're a teacher, you get huge amounts of holiday. To be fair though, if you're a teacher, you're spending an awful lot of that holiday planning, or marking or preparing or just recovering from what's just happened. So yeah, it took a while getting used to the lack of holiday. But you know, to be honest, I didn't end up taking most of my holiday because I enjoy what I do so much.

Jeremy Cline
Was there anything about teaching that you particularly missed - when you were a year into your role, anything you thought 'oh yeah, I do actually miss that aspect of it'?

Jane Marshall
In complete honesty, I would say no - the only thing I would have said possibly yes to would have been the contact with the kids, but because I still had the content but with the older kids - the sixth formers - you know, I wasn't missing contact with students. So I was working with sixth formers all the time rather than year 10s or year 11. So it outweighed it.

Jeremy Cline
Where did you think it was going to go at the time? Or did you even think about where it was going to go at the time? And it's perfectly acceptable to say no if that was the case - but when you started, did you have a 'in five years time, this might get me to here' sort of thing?

Jane Marshall
I think with universities, they do tend to have quite a good progression structure up to a certain point. So I could actually see that I would be progressing up the ladder because you do tend to go up in increments every year. So I could I could see that that was going to be fine. Obviously, because it was a new area - widening participation - I didn't necessarily appreciate that I would be coming from a widening participation officer to become a widely participation manager. But I think I was just delighted to be doing something that I wanted to do that suddenly I realised I was really good at.

Jeremy Cline
And so you said that you started with this role, you were there for a number of years and then got headhunted. Can you talk us a bit through how how that came up, how people became aware of you and put the offer in, and why? Head hunting's an interesting one because I think there's an element of because someone has asked the question, there's what feels like an obligation to say yes sometimes. So if someone says, 'You've come on our radar, and we'd like to talk to you', there's almost sometimes a compelling reason to say maybe I should make this change, even if staying where you are might be the right reason. So can you talk a little bit about that?

Jane Marshall
Well, I was invited to go and speak at a university group, which was basically for student recruitment. I wasn't student recruitment, I was widening participation - even though they're two sides of the same coin - I wasn't part of this particular recruitment group. So I was asked to go and speak there in front of lots of other people who are doing similar things to me, because I've always gone out and done the same sort of thing as recruitment people - I've gone and talked about personal statements and interviews and all the things they normally talk about. And it just so happened that the Head of Outreach at Imperial was at that particular meeting, and I knew her from other meetings we'd had. And then this role suddenly appeared that they were advertising and I was asked if I would apply for it by Imperial. And it was basically written for me because I could see that it was saying, We want you to come and set up what I'd already set up at LSE we want you to come and do this, come and do that. And at the time at the London School of Economics, my line manager was leaving. And what had happened when her line manager had left was she ended up doing all the extra work for no extra reward. So I decided that actually probably it would be a good idea to leave. I didn't want to leave the team I was working in or the senior line manager, who was a fantastic bloke, but I decided it was the right time to go. And in terms of my career progression, it definitely was the right time to go. So that's why I ended up going. And I didn't feel pressurised to say, yes - in fact, I actually applied on the very, very last day of applications, because I was loyal to LSE, and I was very loyal to the senior manager. But at the end of the day, I decided that actually, it was sensible to go for this job at Imperial. And I'm very pleased that I did.

Jeremy Cline
So did you have any external help when you came to making that decision? Because that's another thing that when people have got to make decisions by themselves, you can occasionally get bit sort of stuck in the weeds and not able to sort of step back and that's why career coaches or people like that exist. So was this something where actually you had the clarity to make that decision yourself? Or did you get help from others either professionally or from just family, talking to your parents?

Jane Marshall
Again, my sister and my parents are very supportive. And I think I'd, as I recall, I floated the idea past them and was given wholehearted support, which is always good. So yeah, they felt it was a good idea, a good move as well, which is useful. I think, at the time, if they'd said, 'don't do it, don't move', I would probably have thought twice about it because I was quite young. But actually, they were very supportive. And I think that gave me the confidence I needed to make the jump. But it was very definitely the right move for me to have made.

Jeremy Cline
Out of interest what was your parents reaction when you decided that you were going to move from teaching - them having sort of steered you into that?

Jane Marshall
Actually, I think they could see that it would result in me being possibly quite a lot happier and quite a lot less stressed. So I think they felt that yes, that was fine. And they could see that there was a career path at the university. So, you know, I'm still working in a career - so that was good enough for them.

Jeremy Cline
Fast forwarding, what changed that made you start to think the environment where I am at Imperial isn't the right place for me to be doing this?

Jane Marshall
Obviously, I was there for very long time - I was there for 16 years. And when I started, there was literally the lady who was my boss who'd invited me to apply for the job. And she had a fantastic assistant, who's actually still there, and it was me - and we were the team. And so I set everything up from scratch for Imperial because they didn't actually have a UK recruitment office at all. They had international recruitment, but they didn't actually have a UK recruitment team. So I set everything up. And the beauty of it was because I was invited by UCAS to go and do talks at their conferences around the UK. It meant that I had a quite a lot of schools getting in touch, saying 'can you come and do that in our school?' So it meant that I built up my network really quickly. So the network got established very quickly - I was going to lots of different schools all over London and the South East. I usually worked with about 150 a year. But it was a wide variety of schools so they weren't just state schools, because of the fact that I had kind of a broader remit where I was being told get kids into university, regardless of background. I was looking at GDST schools, which is the Girls Day School Trust (I went to a GDST school in Norwich), they're private schools, because you need to get more girls into science and engineering, which is of course, what Imperial specialises in. And I was also going to really top state schools, which wouldn't necessarily be associated with widening participation - but actually, you tend to find that the brightest kids from the disadvantaged backgrounds end up at these particular schools so they're the sort of students places like Imperial need. So I had this really wide range of schools. And then probably about eight years ago, they set up a UK recruitment team at Imperial, for us to work with and it quickly became apparent that they had a very different way of working. They had targets, they had lists, they had, you know, a range of things they wanted to do, which were Imperial branded. And I had never done anything that was University brand. They all knew I came from Imperial and I was there to answer questions specifically about Imperial. But actually, every presentation I did was to help kids get where they wanted to go, regardless of where it was, regardless of their background - it was just to help them fulfil their potential. And that was not in line with the very Imperial branded marketing approach that recruitment wanted to follow. So we worked alongside them for a few years and then we all ended up in the same division - which was interesting - and then my line manager was made redundant, probably about six years ago. And things had changed quite a lot really. And I was having less and less freedom to go and work with as many schools as I wanted to, and my remit was getting narrower and narrower and narrower. And finally, I decided that actually, that was the time to go because I wanted to be able to help the kids I'd been helping, and I wasn't going to be able to do that anymore. So I thought, yeah, time to go.

Jeremy Cline
Can you identify a specific trigger point - you talked about six years when the change was made - was there a sort of a gradual, gradual - or was there something that made you think, okay, now that's enough, I need to do something different?

Jane Marshall
Well, there were various straws that finally broke the camel's back. One of them was when I was going into the office - because I had to go in for meetings - and I was told that I needed to spend more time in the office, which actually isn't terribly easy to do when you're out in schools all the time, because you're usually zipping between schools, and it takes a lot to get back into London, having been zipping between schools. And so what ended up happening was I was going in for 'desk time' and having to hot desk. And I'd arrive and the hot desk that I was supposed to be using wouldn't have a mouse or it wouldn't have a keyboard or the monitor wouldn't be working. And this kept happening. And it got to the stage where I was having to cobble together computers, and it was taking me 45 minutes to get the right bits and then attach the computer to the printer so I could actually do any work. And the final straw was when I went in, and I was told that they were taking down the video of the personal statements talk that I'd done on a college Open Day, probably about six or seven years before. And that was a bit of a shame, because I'd been using that as a second me - because it was just a video of me doing a personal statement talk, which is incredibly popular - and I was using that when schools would ring up and say can you come in next week I said, 'Well, I can't come in, but here's the link to the video, here are the resources that go with the video - and let's book in a date for next year', and we were doing it that way. So it was a second me. And so when they said they were taking that one down I just thought, Okay. And then the second trigger was when I was told I couldn't actually go on any more overseas visits. And I said, that's fine. I'll go my own time, because I had plenty of spare holiday - and I was told I couldn't even go my own time. And these are schools I'd been working with for 10 years, and I wasn't getting paid to do it. The schools would pay for me to go over, places like Gibraltar and the Netherlands, and I just thought that's really daft. So I decided, right - that's it. And that was August last year. So there we go.

Jeremy Cline
Were they surprised when you quit?

Jane Marshall
I'd alerted my line manager, she knew what was coming. But only just - she didn't have much advance warning. But yeah, I think higher up the food chain they were a little bit surprised. But the good news is I'm still going into the talks I would have always done on campus for my team. So the outreach team who I get on with extremely well get me into do press personal statement presentations in summer schools and workshops in the autumn on interview skills and proofreading personal statements - all the things that I would normally have done for them, I'm now going in and being paid as a consultant to go in and do them, which is lovely, because I still get to see all the people who are fabulous who I used to work with.

Jeremy Cline
So it sounds like there wasn't a lot of engagement when they made all of these changes. They said, right, okay, this is what we're doing. You didn't really like it, but they didn't actually discuss it with you. And then Surprise, surprise, you decide, Okay, I've had enough. And then they're 'Oh, what's happened there then?'

Jane Marshall
I think because I wasn't in the office every single day of the week - to be fair, I was rarely in the office - I had so many schools to work with, I had so much I needed to do to help the schools, that actually I was very rarely in the office. If I'd been in the office every day, I would have been able to fight my corner - I would have had representation, but it's very difficult to do that and be out in schools. So something had to give and my time in meetings, speaking to people was minimal. And I think that's one of the reasons why I knew what was going to be happening because my line manager was very good. And she kept me in the picture. But again, there wasn't a lot of consultation from senior senior level, I mean, I'm talking at the very, very top, because at the end of the day, we were just practitioners and they make the decisions, and then we have to follow what we've been told to do. So that's that's how it tends to work. And it does actually make you feel quite powerless. Because you know you're doing a good job in the schools. But actually, you feel quite powerless in terms of what might be coming next, because you don't know what the decision is going to be from the higher ups. And that's just unfortunate. But I don't have any higher ups now. I'm on my own. I'm in charge, which is great!

Jeremy Cline
Well, I was going to say I mean, you've gone from doing that to doing something very similar but on your own account. Was there any point where you thought that you still wanted to do what you were doing but in a different environment and possibly at another institution, another university, rather than going and doing your own thing?

Jane Marshall
Oh, yes. And I applied for jobs all over the place. And the problem I had was because Imperial actually pays very well. And at my level of salary, and the fact that I was a manager, most people at that level of salary would have been office based and they'd have a team going out doing the work. But that wasn't me, I was managing a massive project myself with no support whatsoever. And I was the one going out and doing all the work because what the schools wanted was my style of presentation, and what I actually offer, rather than what they can get from lots of different places. So I found that when I was applying for jobs, because I didn't have recent managerial experience, even though I've had it in the past - I wasn't actually being selected. I'd get to the interview, the interview would go really, really well. And the bit that I'd fall down on was no recent managerial experience. Even though I'm part of the management matrix, as I've learned to call it, which means you go into the office and you say, Can somebody help me with this? And the fantastic support staff in the office say 'Of course we will'. That's called management matrix. And I was very much part of that - had a great team in the office. But that doesn't count when you're actually going for jobs. So I'd looked at loads, I'd looked at working in schools, a lot of the roles in schools, they were actually going internally. So I'd apply for them and then I'd find out that the reason I haven't been chosen was because they were just giving it to the existing geography teacher rather than actually creating a new role. And it's quite frustrating that companies have to advertise externally for jobs when they're actually intending to appoint internally. So I'd gone through quite a lot of that. I'd spoken to quite a lot of teachers who I worked with and got mixed kind of responses as to whether I should go out on my own or not. I've spoken to other people who were consultants and seen how successful they've been, and some have been very successful and some hadn't. And it took it took quite a lot of time for me to actually make that jump. I'm delighted I did. I'm absolutely delighted I did.

Jeremy Cline
And how much of it was from what you described kind of being almost having the decision made for you, that because you knew that you wanted to carry on doing what you're doing, knew that you didn't want to do it in the environment that you were in, but there didn't seem to be another environment that suited you? So were you almost sort of, you know, kind of squashed into well, actually, if I want to do it, then this is what I've got to do?

Jane Marshall
Actually, that's it in a nutshell. That is what I had to do. It was very strange because I don't really feel that anything has changed particularly much, obviously I'm still working extremely hard, I'm still working out in the schools. The bit that's changed is the admin bit that I now have to do and the fact that I'm not reporting to anybody else, but yeah, I wanted to carry on doing it and I have carried on doing it. And I think it was something that really I did feel that I had to do. It had got to the stage where I was literally on the edge of the cliff. And I had that shove and I was just gonna go for it and jump and I did so. Yeah, it was being pushed, and it was the right thing to happen. Definitely.

Jeremy Cline
And how did that make you feel? At the time because a lot of people when people start their own businesses for lots of different reasons. And in your case, it's almost as a - I'm not going to say that it's a negative reason because that's not not the right word - basically, if I want to carry on doing this, then this is really the only option for me.

Jane Marshall
Yeah, I mean, it's a combination. It is a combination, because over the last 18 years since I started in the universities, I've built up a reputation for being really good at what I do and providing schools with exactly what they want to motivate and inspire their students and help them actually get where they want to go. And it works. And so I've built that reputation up. And so I knew that I had the support out there. So to put a more positive spin on it, I knew that it was the right time to make the jump. So I think, yes, there was an element of 'this is my only option', and there really was an element of this is my only option, certainly for me, but there was also that side of things where I thought, but I can carry on doing what I'm doing and I know the support is out there. So there was that positive kind of safety net while I was making this jump. It's still nerve wracking. [Laughs] Terrifying! Will I be able to pay the bills? But the good news is I can, so that's all good.

Jeremy Cline
Did you ever think whilst you were going through this - I don't want to do this as my own business, I think I'd better find something else to do, get another job so I've got that security rather than starting my own business?

Jane Marshall
No. No, I really didn't actually - I thought, no I'm going to go into this 100%. And my husband came out with a very good point, he said, Look, if you are finding that the jobs you've been going for, for the last, however long are because you haven't got any managerial experience in terms of running a team of staff, you still won't necessarily have a team of staff, but you will have Director of your own company on your CV, which may actually open up some more doorways. And so I think he's right, if this hadn't worked - and touch wood I do think it has - if it hadn't worked, then I would at least have had a different avenue I could have gone down with a different type of managerial experience. So it was a potential win-win. I think it is a win-win, not just a potential one now. So that's good.

Jeremy Cline
And what was the reaction in the schools to your changed status - I mean how much were they wanting to have someone from Imperial, and how much was it that they just wanted to have you wherever you ended up?

Jane Marshall
I would say that actually, the schools that I'm working with now are the ones that are saying, well, we want you in - we want Jane Marshall doing what Jane Marshall does. And that's marvellous. The thing is I come with a wealth of experience anyway. And it's not just with Imperial because obviously, I've always promoted all the universities. So to give you an example, I'm traditionally invited into schools to do their Oxbridge and Russell Group mock interviews. So it's not just Imperial interviews. It's Oxbridge and Russell Group, even though my speciality at Imperial will be medicine interviews, because I was on the medicine interview panel for years, I'm going in I'm doing politics interviews and modern languages interviews so that the schools are actually saying yes, we want you to come in and do what you do. Obviously the main issue you have is with budget because school budgets are very, very tight. So some schools can afford it because they have a bigger budget. So I am doing quite a bit of work with independent schools and schools overseas that I used to work with. But with the state schools, there is funding available, and some schools are finding it other schools aren't. And the ones who aren't finding it for this year are actually turning around and telling me they're going to find it for next year, because I didn't help matters by launching in the middle of the financial year, when the budgets were already committed. I fully appreciate that - so the reaction from the schools has actually been very good.

Jeremy Cline
And it sounds like a large part of that is that you had built up your own personal brand. And it was you know, Jane Marshall does this. She is good at this. We want her to do this. Yeah. Did you build up that brand, consciously? Were you aware that as you were doing this and building up your expertise that you were sort of creating your own internal thing or is that it something that's just turned out that way?

Jane Marshall
I think it initially, it just turned out that way because I would always present myself as Jane Marshall, London School of Economics, Jane Marshall, Imperial College London - I was always part of the bigger whole. But I think once the video went up on the internet, I had people contacting me from all around the world. And it's people saying, Yes, I want Jane Marshall to help with my personal statement. And it did become, and it has become, something that I'm well known in the area for knowing how to help students with applications and interviews. So I think the brand is kind of, it's like a snowball going down a mountain and it has got bigger and bigger, which is lovely, and quite overwhelming. But I think it's enormously helpful for the business is that I was known eventually as 'Oh, yes, we want to get Jane Marshall in' rather than 'Oh, that lady from Imperial College'. They all knew I came from Imperial. And I was able to promote Imperial - but it was, let's get Jane Marshall in, so that has been very helpful for the business.

Jeremy Cline
I think this is a really important point actually, that even it as an employee, someone can build up their own personal brand, their own expertise, their own experience and get personally known for doing something so that, you know, you might never want to leave where you're at, but in the event that you move somewhere else or decide to set up on on your own, then it's likeely to stand you an extremely good stead.

Jane Marshall
Yes. And having a massive network of contacts helps. Because I've never really been one for a lot of networking events. But because I've worked with the schools for such a long time. If somebody in the office came up and said, Oh, we need somebody in Southwark, this particular type of school, I'd be able to say, Oh, you need to contact Mr. So and So from that particular school, and I'd know exactly which name and exactly which school and I'd be able to pass the details on. I think it's being very familiar with your network of contacts. And that's really helpful. And yeah, I mean, I've been very lucky because I've had UCAS behind me the whole way. They've been so supportive. I now do their voice on their personal statement video. And that came about because they'd seen the video that Imperial had put up. And they wanted my style of - I've always called it ranting! - over the top of their personal statement video, to kind of - it's only five minutes - but it gets kids focused and thinking about what we need to do. They've been brilliant. And I still do conferences for them.

Jeremy Cline
And UCAS for those who don't know what it is?

Jane Marshall
The university and college admission service. So that's where kids send their applications to - it's centralised admissions for UK universities. So for example, a kid would fill in a UCAS form, and that's where the personal statement goes, which is essentially their covering letter for their application. And the school would put a reference and they'd have all their qualifications on there, it gets fired off to UCAS, and UCAS then send it to their five University choices. And then all the decisions go back to UCAS. It's all centralised and it's a lot simpler than other countries because in other countries you tend to apply directly to the individual universities, and it can be a very different process for each individual university, like the Netherlands, for example.

Jeremy Cline
So you've been going for four or five months now. Where do you see this going now? Is this sort of what you're going to be doing? Do you see changing, evolving? Do you think you're going to stay as a one person consultant or build up a team? Or what's your thinking as to where this might lead to?

Jane Marshall
Well, I think I need to see how it goes over the year. Because at the moment, I'm in pre application mode. So I'm going into schools and I'm doing talks based on how to think about writing an application, what universities like, what's the benefits of the degree, that kind of thing. In the autumn, that's when all the applications start getting written. And based on what I'm going to be doing for Imperial and their students who are applying and also what I'm going to be doing for various other colleagues I work with around the world, I know I'm going to be doing a lot of personal statement proofreading in the autumn. So the role is going to change - come the autumn, I'll be doing mock interviews and personal statement proofreading. And then next year, it's going to be more of the personal statement talks. So it kind of goes in different waves. And in terms of how the business develops, we just have to see how it goes. Because the problem I'd had as Imperial - the reason there wasn't another me and I didn't have a team of staff because I could have asked and I did ask for an administrator, but I could have asked for a team of mini-me's - was because the schools are asking for me to come in and do what I do. So what I would need to find is somebody else with their own unique style, who could actually do their own unique way of presenting things to complement what I'm doing, because you're not going to find somebody who's exactly the same as me because that's daft, but it'd be somebody who's complements it. So I could see that happening. I'm very open to seeing how things evolve really.

Jeremy Cline
I think you've hit on something that is a real risk of people who develop a personal brand. What happens when you've only got so many hours in the day? And what happens if you want to expand beyond those hours you know - what can you delegate, or offer up as an alternative? Or say, Okay, well, I will come to the initial conference, but then in terms of the follow up and selling it then this person will do that bit and that's better for you because... That's one of the trickier bits, I think, isn't it when you're so much of a personal brand?

Jane Marshall
Yes, it is. And I'd experienced this throughout my time at both universities because obviously you do get booked up. To give you an idea June and July is what we call silly season. And that's when you are inundated with requests to go into schools because that's when a lot of schools start off their application process. I've actually spent the last probably 15 years trying to encourage schools to start their application process a heck of a lot earlier in the year. Because then that way, there's more time to fit things in. It gives kids more time to get prepared for what they need to actually be doing. And what I've always done when I've been booked up - as I used to use the video, so that's one way of doing things - so there will be a video on my website eventually, which actually is a small version of my personal statement talk which schools can use. But also what I will be doing is saying to schools, well, you need to get booked in early for next year. So my diary frequently over the last 15 odd years is booked up a year in advance. So its first come, first served and the schools know that.

Jeremy Cline
That's not a bad position to be in!

Jane Marshall
Good isn't it! [Laughs]

Jeremy Cline
Jane I've absolutely loved talking to you. It's been absolutely fascinating. Do you have any particular tools or resources that you can point people to that just helped you through this process?

Jane Marshall
Yes, so initially, I used wix.com - which is W-I-X - as my portal for setting up my website.

Jeremy Cline
Okay, so a website builder yeah?

Jane Marshall
It is. And that was very straightforward. And even a luddite like me was able to cope with setting up a website. It's very helpful. And I also used 123 Reg - that's where I reserved my domain name, because I wanted to have optimisingfutures.co.uk. So I reserved that on there. And I set up my business insurance because I needed that, because I'm giving advice in schools and to individuals. I set that up through Simply Business, which was very easy and that then linked me up with an online community called Crunch Chorus, which is for people who are self employed, setting out in business and that's been really nice because there's a there's a lot of chat that goes back and forth about what have you done about this and how do you manage tax and all the rest of it and that's really helpful. So I think they've been the main things I've used, and obviously friends have helped me with social media setting up Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and all those sorts of things because I didn't know anything about that.

Jeremy Cline
And where can people go if they want to find out more about you or get in contact with you?

Jane Marshall
My website is optimisingfutures.co.uk. My email is janemarshallpsi@gmail.com. And anybody's welcome to get in touch with me anytime.

Jeremy Cline
I will put links to all those resources and your website and email in the show notes that will accompany this episode. So that's great. Jane, thank you so much. This has been really, really interesting and lots that other people can take away, I'm sure.

Jane Marshall
Thanks very much, Jeremy.

Jeremy Cline
It's really interesting, the reluctance that Jane seemed to feel about, you know, leaving the university system and starting on her own. There's no doubt that she had and indeed has the skills to go out and do this by herself. But it took some time and a real change of atmosphere and priorities at the place where she worked before she finally decided to quit and start Optimising Futures. I love though that she identified this as the way that she could carry on with what she clearly loved doing. And rather than try and find roles which suit her she's basically created her own role using her network and her existing reputation to support her. I think above all else, if it teaches us anything, it's that if you have found what you love doing, then it's really worth holding on to that and trying to find a way that you can continue to do it. The show notes page for this episode is at changeworklife.com/15. That's the number 15 where you'll find links to Jane's contact details and to all of the resources that we mentioned in this episode. If you haven't yet checked us out, do take a look at the change work life.com Facebook group, particularly if you've got a career issue going on at the moment that you'd like advice on, or maybe you've been through it and you can offer advice to other people. And I'll link to that in the show notes. We've got another great interview next time. So please do join me then. Look forward to seeing you Cheers. Bye

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