Episode 22: “Slashing” your way to a portfolio career – with Isy Otto

Isy Otto explains why she decided to move from an apparently steady job to become a “slasher” with a portfolio career that encompasses everything from weight-loss consultant to dog-sitter with some DIY thrown in.

Today’s guest

Isy Otto of Cambridge Weight Plan

Facebook: Isobel Otto – The 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan

Isy spent 45 years collecting debts for various councils and utility companies.  She then decided to “semi-retire” and is now a weight-loss consultant, dog-walker, DIY handy-person and house-sitter.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  • The importance of recognising the impact the job as on you
  • How you can turn doing a few favours for people into a business
  • The importance of understanding your outgoings and what is “non-negotiable”
  • Switching the balance from working to living

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.

  • Quote: “You can buy anything with money but you can’t buy time”

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

Episode 22: “Slashing” your way to a portfolio career - with Isy Otto

Jeremy Cline
How much variety is there in your job? Even if there's a lot, can you really say that you get to do something completely different every day? Well, with the rise of the portfolio career, maybe that's something you can do. I'm Jeremy Cline, and this is Change Work Life.

Hello, and welcome to Change Work Life, the show that's all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. A trend that's come up in the past few years is this idea of a portfolio career. So it's not just one job at a time but maybe doing several different things - sometimes completely different things - all at the same time. That might sound a bit overwhelming, but it can allow you to choose what you do and when you do it. That's what my guest this week has done. Issy Otto spent some 45 years working in debt collection, but now, as you'll hear, she pretty much does anything she wants to try her hand to. Let's find out what she does, how she does it and why she does it. Hello Issy, welcome to the show. Issy first of all, can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about what it is that you do?

Issy Otto
Okay, my name is Issy and I live in Letchworth Garden City, and I'm an independent consultant for the 1:1 diet by Cambridge weight plan. And I've been doing that for two years now since I lost some weight myself - I lost about four stone and it's been life changing for me - and I wanted to help other people do it as well. So I work from my home for three days of the week. I try and be flexible so if somebody wants to see me another time and I can fit it in, then I shall do that. And so that takes up the bulk of my week and other times I do pet sitting and house sitting for people. And I do general small repairs and DIY things for people. And I also do some baking and I help my daughter - she makes wedding cakes. So I'm involved in that as well. And I'm also on the Alzheimers's Research Group for Stevenage and North Herts fundraising group. So, my week is pretty packed now.

Jeremy Cline
It certainly sounds it! When we first communicated you described yourself as a semi retired slasher, I think that the term was that you used! It's not a term I'd ever come across, and is that sort of a term to describe the portfolio interest that you described - so doing lots of different things?

Issy Otto
Yeah, yeah, exactly so. Because I'm doing a bit of weight loss consultancy, slash DIY, slash... So that's where the term slasher comes in! I've heard it several times now.

Jeremy Cline
I'll add that one to my lexicon! And when you said that you were semi-retired, what were you semi-retired from? What did you do beforehand?

Issy Otto
Right. I've spent the last 45 years doing some form of debt recovery. So I started work 15, 16 and I used to work for a local authority, collecting rents and rates. Then I worked for water authorities, and then I became a bailiff. And then I've worked for housing associations. So I spent all my time collecting debts and sorting out people's arrears and that sort of thing. And how did you get into that? I fell into it! Literally fell in into it. And I think the longer you do it - which is a problem a lot of people have I think - the longer you do it, the harder it is to get out of it. So you find that you move from job to job. And because of your experience, you know, more people will offer you the same sort of job. So that I found very frustrating. And after so many years doing it, I think I became more cynical, I became less tolerant, I could feel my self esteem going down because it's quite a depressing job. Although I was good at it at work, and my self esteem, you know - I was successful, and that kept me going. And yet when I got home, you know, it's not a great feeling when you see people's situations and how people struggle. So it was getting to me. So I decided, after a series of events that happened to me, I decided that life's too short, and I needed to build myself back up, which is why I embarked on the weight loss and trying to improve myself and my health, and then became a consultant and dropped the full time job. And then everything else has fallen into place after that.

Jeremy Cline
We'll come on to that, but I'm just curious, because you said you've been doing this for 40 something years - I mean, at what stage did you start feeling, you know, I'm not sure that I'm really enjoying this?

Issy Otto
I mean we all have ups and downs in careers I think, and you know, life gets in the way. I think some days you get up in the morning and you're ready to go and you're, you know, you're really fighting for it and you're really enthusiastic and you're given targets and you meet your targets and you're feeling good and then other days you come across some sad cases and you know I sympathise with people - you know, I've been in that position as well. So I was doing the job from a position of I've struggled as well. But people don't see that when you're asking them for money, they think everything's rosy in your world. And it's not always that way. So, after doing it for so long, I think it was when I had a couple of sad events happen to me, and I was thinking no I can't do this anymore, my employer at the time, was really, really good, really sympathetic, but I just couldn't go back to doing it. And it was a real turning point for me. So that's why I decided to give up completely and do something for me instead.

Jeremy Cline
Had you ever thought about changing before then?

Issy Otto
Yes, I had and I've done a few little jobs in between. I've had a spell in working for an estate agent. I've worked for sheltered housing. I've been a warden of the sheltered housing scheme, which I love. That was great. So I've done a couple of little things in between, but I went back to what I knew because the money was better. And you know, I was experiencing it wasn't such a struggle. So you find yourself going back into what you know. And sometimes feeling trapped in it.

Jeremy Cline
You described yourself as semi retired - how semi retired are you? Or do you say that actually, no, really, you're working full time, you're just working on lots of different things?

Issy Otto
I'm 62 in February, so I could potentially say I'm retired because these things I'm doing, literally, I could stop them tomorrow - but I want to keep myself going and I've got bills to pay as well. So literally, I'm working to cover my bills and to give myself a little bit of spending money, holiday money, that sort of thing. It's not about the money for me anymore. Now it's about spending time with my friends, my family, travelling that I wanted to do, and doing things that I enjoy doing, like the baking, helping people with the diet, making things. Literally it's just doing things for me. And I wish I'd done it years ago. If I'd known - I said this to my daughter, that if I'd known then what I know now - I would only ever have worked part time, which sounds a bit lazy, but actually, the work life balance is really important and I was finding myself not only doing a full time job but also bringing it home with me. And then as a result, it had an impact on my daughter, you know, other things - friends. So you have to just draw the line and say, no, I want some time to myself. Life is very short.

Jeremy Cline
And that's interesting that you said if you'd known then what you know now, and presumably doing what you do now as a slasher, that's just something that people didn't do. And it just wasn't considered to be an option.

Issy Otto
No, never an option. Bless her my mum always thought I was going to marry you know, some high flying whizz and spend my days doing washing and ironing and that sort of thing, because that was the thing at the time. And I left school, I didn't have a university degree or anything like that, I didn't go to college, and I left with a handful of O-levels and went into a full time job. There's lots of jobs around then so it was easy. So I went into a full time job. And the more you earn, the more you spend, so and the more you get used to it. If I'd known then, it's hard to say I wouldn't have spent as much, but I think I would have been happier if I'd spent it more wisely or had a bit more time. And when I had my daughter, for example, I had three months off, I went straight back to work virtually. And so now I'm thinking, I wish I'd had more time with her, but, you know, big bills and that sort of thing. And you just do what you have to do, don't you?

Jeremy Cline
You mentioned that the 1:1 weight loss had helped you. How did you sort of bridge the gap between that being something that had helped you to wanting to do it yourself? I'm always intrigued as to why people go from 'Okay, yeah, that was great. That really helped me', to 'And now I want to help other people do the same.'

Issy Otto
Yeah. I'd spent all my life yo-yo dieting. So I'd been up, down, up, down. And this particular diet helped me in that I stuck to it. And it was easy. And it was at a time in my life when I really wanted it. And I realised quite how much effect it had on on me. And I literally wanted to be able to help other people feel as good as I was feeling when I'd lost the four stone. And it happened at a time when I had gone part time. I was full time until my mother and my brother were ill. And then I went part time and my employer as I said was brilliant. And so I went part time and then I left it completely but it was during that time that I was doing the diet as well. So it all sort of fell into place and it all coincided. And when that period was over, and I was looking for something to do for myself, that's what I picked up on. So I did the training and I've got a set up at home here so I see people here when I want to. So if my clients drop off - obviously it's quite a transient job - if they drop off then I didn't have to see anybody for a while if I don't want to, or I can pick up clients again. So that's how I sort of made that transition because it still gives me a little bit of an income. But it also gives me the time.

Jeremy Cline
How did the opportunity to do the weight loss consulting present itself? Was it just part of their literature, they have a sort of, you know, interested in joining us kind of thing?

Issy Otto
Exactly. So yeah, that's exactly so. So when you reach your target weight or where you want to be, you can just stop. You don't have to do anything else, that's it, you've just got to maintain your weight. But the consultant that I was seeing, said to me, you know, if I was interested in helping other people, this is what I had to do. And I thought about it for a while - my daughter signed up straight away. She said, Yes, I want to do that mum, she runs another business from home. So she's got two businesses on the go, and another one starting up. So she saw it as an opportunity to earn more money from it, whereas I just want it as just an interest in the sideline.

Jeremy Cline
And so what expectations - I don't know whether it's a franchise or however it's done - but what sort of expectations are you given as to how many people you're supposed to see, how much you're supposed to help, or is it very much up to you?

Issy Otto
I'm self employed, so they don't employ me. It's not pyramid-selling or anything like that. I'm not franchisee, I'm a sole trader - I'm registered as a sole trader. So they don't put any pressure on you, you do as much as you want to do. If I just had one client, if I just wanted to do it myself I could, or there's some people that have got shop fronts and all sorts - so it literally is just what you want to do, however much you want to do. So there's no pressure.

Jeremy Cline
And they support you with materials and that sort of stuff?

Issy Otto
I have to buy all that. Yes, I have to purchase that, and purchase my products and everything. So all the consultants all around the country we buy from the Cambridge weight plan, so yeah, if I wanted to stop tomorrow, I could. If I just wanted to cut down to one client I could.

Jeremy Cline
Okay, and how do you get your clients?

Issy Otto
Social media. Facebook. I've got leaflets printed, I put them in hair salons, tanning salons on sneaky notice boards where I see them! I've got business cards that I hand out. And yeah, mainly through Facebook so anyone can find me at izzy@issycwp.

Jeremy Cline
And you mentioned the other things that you do the dog sitting, odd jobbing, baking - how did you get into or decide that you wanted to do those things on the side? Or did you decide you wanted to do those things on the side, or did it just sort of come up?

Issy Otto
I was fostering dogs for a while. And then the last one that I had, I couldn't bear to give him up and somebody said to me, would I look after their dog? And so I said, Yeah okay then. So that was the first one. It was literally just helping out a friend. And I thought well, I could do this - I've got one dog, I like walking. And so I started doing that - I had some leaflets printed and handed those out to dog grooming parlours and put it on notice boards. I then was offered a job house sitting in East Bergholt, a lovely part of the country, so I thought I'll do that. So I took myself off there for two weeks and looked after the house. And so it gets me out. It gets me meeting people, playing with a few dogs, you know, having a holiday in somebody else's home! So I water plants, I do shopping and just make sure the house is secure - that sort of thing. Then I can fit that round everything else as well. That is that is something that I would quite like to do more of in the future, because you can do that abroad.

Jeremy Cline
Where did that come from? Where did the opportunity to have it come from?

Issy Otto
Literally, it was just through somebody saying, oh, now you're retired, do you fancy... and that is the most amazing thing about doing this, because when you're working full time you get up in the morning, you go off to work, you come home, you have your tea, sit in front of the telly, go to bed, get up again. And when people think you've got time on your hands, you know, you can do more things, literally, you can do more things. So if somebody says 'I've got a room to paint, do you know anyone that can help?' I put my hand up and I'll say, Well, I'll do that. I can do that. I've always had that attitude really. I've always thought 'Why pay someone to do it if you can do it yourself?' And so I think I got that from my dad. I think he'd mend a light bulb if he could. I love being able to do things, I like helping people out. And so if somebody says I've got some curtains, do you know anyone that can shorten them? I'll do it. And so that's how I get my money now - it's just doing little odd jobs here and there.

Jeremy Cline
You said that you need to pay the bills and you want to support yourself going on holiday - when you've got these multiple different things going on, how do you manage them so that you always do have enough coming in? I mean, do you kind of have a baseline where you know if you do x, many hours of this and so on, so forth - how does that work?

Issy Otto
Well, I know my outgoings and I think that's the secret when you when you start doing something like this, I think it's really important to go back to basics and just decide on the expenses that are vital, because you know, you've always got to pay your rent your mortgage, your council tax, your water. They're non negotiable. So anything more than that is mine. And I now spend it more wisely than I did before. So I shop more carefully, I recycle more, I cook fresh more - all sorts of little changes. If you sit down and write what you're spending on each month, you really realise just how much is wasted. And you can trim it right down. So my diary is my Bible, really, and when I want to just block out two weeks for me, I can do it. And I don't have to ask anybody for holidays, or leave or anything like that. I just book things around that two weeks. So like I said earlier, my daughter is also a consultant for the 1:1 so she will pick up my clients if I'm away and I'll pick up hers if she's away. So it works really, really well. But you do have to be organised. And I think the biggest frustrating thing is people thinking that you don't work at all. You know, they just see me wandering out, you know, with the dog at 11 o'clock in the morning and assuming that I'm not doing anything, whereas, you know, it's not the case.

Jeremy Cline
And you mentioned then about how you keep an eye on expenses, do what you can to cut down costs and that sort of thing. So that's the one side of the equation. In terms of knowing that you are going to have enough income coming in to cover the things - you know you can only costs to a certain amount, you mentioned that you've got to pay the water, the so on and so forth. So how do you make sure that the other side of the equation works as well, and that you've got enough coming in?

Issy Otto
Well I do have two pensions. So without going into all my details...

Jeremy Cline
I don't mean to pry! If you could just send me a spreadsheet of your personal finances which I can link to in the show notes that'd be fantastic!

Issy Otto
[Laughs] No, I do have two pensions that I've got - two workplace pensions that I had. So I took those out early. I took one, started one - at 55 you can take a lump sum out and so I took that out, and have an ISA and then when I decided to go semi retired, I took the monthly payments. So that virtually covers my outgoings - those two pensions. I don't get my state pension till I'm 66. They keep moving the goalposts on that. When I first started it was 60 and now it's 66 for me so I've got wait a bit extra. So I took that cash out - so that is my pot for a rainy day emergency pot if I need it. It's just safely tucked away. And so I actually have to bring in probably 300 quid a month literally now, and anything else is mine. And that really if you put your mind to it - is easy to find. And I do sell things, I sell things, I make things - I do all sorts of little, little bits and bobs like that.

Jeremy Cline
Are there any other things that you'd like to try your hand at, I mean it not just as a hobby, but as income generation?

Issy Otto
Well, I did try and learn the saxophone at one point, that was on my list. And I'd like to learn a language. I didn't get very far with the sax - I haven't got enough puff I don't think - and so that didn't really take off. But I would like to learn a language and I'm trying to learn Spanish.

Jeremy Cline
Presumably learning an instrument, you're learning a language, they're things which are kind of you know, just for you. Are there any other things that you'd like to do that you could be paid for?

Issy Otto
My daughter - as I said earlier, I'm helping her with the baking - she makes wedding cakes and celebration cakes and I would like to develop that with her. So that's a bit of a target for me. So, we're both learning. We're both online basically, we're just looking on YouTube and teaching ourselves. That's something that I've tended to do if I've wanted to learn anything I've taught myself really. I haven't been on any courses. I think I'm fairly - not artistic or creative - but I'm fairly practical. And so I like to have a go at things and teach myself, so baking is the next thing on the list. Yeah.

Jeremy Cline
And that's with a view to you and your daughter basically having a baking - wedding cake - business?

Issy Otto
Yeah, yes, we've done three so far. And she's done lots of other little celebration cakes. So it's early days, but we're hopeful that we can spend some more time together doing that. A plan for the future - which is a little bit weird as I'm weight loss consultant at the same time! But there we go.

Jeremy Cline
Everything in moderation, isn't that what they say! And so in terms of your plans, do you ever envisage yourself being fully retired, not doing any of this? Or do you think that as long as you can, you will be doing bits and bobs here and there?

Issy Otto
Yeah. Yeah. Because it's so much fun. It's so much fun and it's not like working. So you're getting an income, but it's not like working, you know, you're not accountable to anybody else. And a couple of times I've thought to myself maybe I'll get myself a proper paid part time job somewhere. But actually, I don't want to have to ask for a day off if I want it. And I don't want to have to be accountable to somebody else. I'm too old for that now, I like being my own boss.

Jeremy Cline
Do you ever go the other way, because this is something that I hear people who work for themselves or have their own businesses say that as well as it allowing them the freedom it almost imposes constraints, in that people feel almost guilty about taking the time off. So even though you know you can, it seems to some people easier when you're in a job and you know, you've got your 20 or 25 days holiday that you can say, right, okay, I'm going for two weeks to Spain or something and you just asked for it. Whereas people who are earning their own money through their own endeavours, sometimes think, Oh, you know, if I do that, then that means I'm not going to be earning money for that time. So I completely understand that - you're not accountable to anyone but yourself. But have you ever found that it goes the other way where you start thinking, Oh, yeah, but you know, I can't afford to do this or no, I need to be constantly working?

Issy Otto
I think I'm lucky. And don't get me wrong. It's not easy for someone with a family and huge commitments to be able to do this, I'm lucky that there's just me, my daughter is married, she lives with her husband, and I've got nobody else here to be accountable to so I don't feel guilty if I think to myself 'I'm having a day off today', because nobody else is relying on on me. So I think if I was 20 years younger and my daughter was at home then yes, you know, it's irresponsible to just take that time off, but this is why I wanted to do it - because I wanted the time. I need to earn some money, but the time is more important.

Jeremy Cline
And you've clearly got that priority very fixed in your head - you know why you're doing it.

Issy Otto
Yeah. Yeah. Very fixed.

Jeremy Cline
Well it's been really interesting actually having this conversation and finding out about the way you're earning the money you need. And I wonder, are there any resources, whether it's books or quotes or just, you know, just something that has kind of helped you or inspired you?

Issy Otto
I think losing my mum and my brother so close together. And my brother was my inspiration for working hard and I felt that I've worked hard all my life and he said to me - one of his last few words - were Issy do it, you want to do it, you can do it. And you can buy anything with money, but you can't buy time. And that really stuck with me because he was only 68 himself. And, you know, I'm conscious that I'm the last one in the family virtually. And my time's running out. And hopefully I've got a few more years left, but I really want to enjoy them. And I really wanted to switch the balance from working to living really, and enjoying myself.

Jeremy Cline
I can't think of a better place to say Issy, thank you so much.

Issy Otto
Thank you very much. Thank you.

Jeremy Cline
Well, I hope you enjoyed that episode with Issy Otto. We've talked a fair bit on the podcast about designing your working life around you. And what Issy's done is a great option for that. Yes, it absolutely takes some planning - Issy knows how much she needs to make each month in order to support the lifestyle that she wants. And she plans accordingly. But she's also willing just to have a go at things and learn how to do new things. And that's opened up all these doors for her. Yes, it can be a bit scary doing something for the first time. But there are resources out there, whether it's YouTube or whatever. And I hope that Issy's provided some inspiration to maybe inspire you to do that. The show notes for this episode are at changework life.com/22. On that page, you'll also find a link to the contact page. A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I'd love you to get in touch and let me know whether there are any particular topics you'd like covered or guests interviewed. I've already had some really great ideas and thanks to those who've already suggested some topics. If you've got a subject you'd like to hear covered, then do get in touch via the contact page. You'll also find a link to the resources page where you'll find some links to the resources as you'd expect that my guests have mentioned. Some of the links are affiliate links and what that means is that I get a small commission at absolutely no extra cost to you if you'd like to make a purchase through those links. So maybe one of my guests has suggested a book, which you thought sounded interesting you'd like to read. Well, if you buy that through the links on my resources page, then you'll help support the costs of running the show. So if you'd like to help support the show, and also read some fantastic books, then please use those links. On the next episode, we're going to be asking what happens if you get the promotion that you wanted only to find out that it really wasn't all it was cracked up to be? It's a great interview and I can't wait to see you then on the Change Work Life podcast. Cheers, bye.

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