Glittering new career for ex-City lawyer
This week we spoke to Rebecca Doyle. Lying on a beach in Antigua last June, with her blackberry in one hand and her work mobile in the other, she had something of an epiphany: there is more to life than conference calls on the beach... She has now traded in her life as a corporate lawyer for running Chez Bec, an online jewellery business, which sources contemporary jewellery from designers around the world and delivers it, beautifully packaged, to your desk. We found out how she made the move…
mtl: Hi Rebecca, you’ve gone through quite a change. Why did you want to leave law?
Rebecca: I did my law degree at Exeter and trained at Linklaters as it seemed like a great place to work and the people who I met while being interviewed there were lovely. I qualified into the corporate department where I specialised in private equity. The work was high quality and I really liked the team I was in.
However I was also aware that I did not feel fulfilled enough by my work. Added to this I had a lack of work-life balance which meant that my social life really suffered. I could see my life drifting off ahead and I didn’t feel in control of it.
The turning point came in June 2005. I had a new boyfriend of four months (who is now my husband) and he took me on a truly wonderful holiday to Antigua. The day before I left, Linklaters presented me with a blackberry and I was told to check it every day. On the phone to work from a beach in Antigua, I realised that this lifestyle was no longer for me and that I didn’t want to do it any more. Life was just too short.
On holiday I discussed with my boyfriend what I could do instead of law. I had always enjoyed art and drama but couldn’t imagine either of them as a career. I knew I wanted to do something fun for a few years that I felt passionate about, and that if it didn’t work out I could move on to something else.
I have always loved jewellery and it suddenly occurred to me that there was room in the market for a high-quality online jewellery business that catered for women in the City with lots of disposable income but no time to spend it. (In actual fact though, 50% of my orders are from men making use of the gift-buying service).
Within three weeks of getting back from that holiday, I had set up a company and had thought up potential names. I spent every spare second over the next three months going to trade shows and researching the jewellery industry, e-commerce, jewellery designers, website designers, competitors and packaging.
I resigned in September 2005, when I was one year qualified. Resigning was hard as I liked the work and the people I worked with. I just hated the hours and the lack of balance in my life. I thought about going to a smaller firm but realised that if I was going to work in private equity, I wanted to do it at the best place, which was Linklaters. I worked my notice period and left in December 2005.
mtl: So how is life after law?
Rebecca: It was quite scary to begin with. I was working from home in my second bedroom, with just a desk and a laptop. My web designer created a holding page for my site announcing that we would go live in Spring 2006. I spent 75% of my time at the beginning working with the designer to translate my ideas into a beautiful boutique website. The rest of the time I was looking for jewellery and asking people where they had found particular pieces that I liked. I actually bought my first bracelet on a Linklaters retreat in the South of France. I traced the designer to Paris and now stock their designs. The label is “Poggi” and their only other stockist in this country is Fenwicks of Bond Street.
Exeter - Law
Law School - Oxford
Training contract at Linklaters
Qualified into mainstream corporate private equity department
Launched Chez Bec
The website, perhaps predictably, took longer to launch that I had expected. It went live in June 2006 and spread by word of mouth through people I know. I was expecting it to take longer than a high street shop to get going, but the response so far has been fantastic. I got married in August, which was absolutely magical, and then appointed a PR firm who arranged an official press launch at the end of September. I have had a lot of exposure in the areas that I want to target, which has been great.
I love running the business and being my own boss as I have so much job satisfaction. It sounds cheesy but it’s true. Every day is a challenge where something new happens.
It is still quite scary, but I find it very rewarding that people are buying things that I have chosen myself, and every minute that I put in to the business is for my benefit. My hours are still long but it is a completely different way of working. I don’t miss my old job, although my legal training comes in useful at times as it means I can draft my own agreements and terms and conditions.
From my research I knew that I would have to be able to survive for a year financially without taking any money out of the business. I am still not taking a salary and am living very minimally, though I am lucky that my husband can support us both. The only other thing that is hard is doing absolutely everything myself because there are obviously no support services around me. Unfortunately there is no instruction manual for running an on-line jewellery business so I learn day by day by networking and from my mistakes.
mtl: Where do you want to take Chez Bec?
Rebecca: Ideally I would like the site to be the number one port of call for anyone looking for contemporary designer jewellery, whether as a gift or for themselves. Within the next 12 months I hope to have launched a new bridal collection and have at least two more designers onboard. I would also like to be employing someone to help me out with the day-to-day running of the business. Oh, and making some money too would be nice!
mtl: Any tips for us?
Rebecca: I was motivated by the number of entrepreneurs out there and I thought that if they can do it then surely I could too. I was also impressed by the number of women going it alone and that really inspired me. I was wholeheartedly supported by my husband and the rest of my family and they gave me the confidence to give it a go.
I had a lot of first hand advice on tap at all times from family members and that was such a help. I also called up a lot of other new businesses and spoke to them about their experiences. I looked into seeking advice from Governmental agencies but to be honest there were not enough hours in the day to do it all and other things took priority. I guess I was lucky in that we managed to fund the business from our own personal savings rather than having to seek out loans and grants. I would definitely have used more business advice centres if we had needed to apply for outside funding.
I instructed a great accountant who has advised me how to run the financial side of things. I also set up a business bank account and that entitled me to free consultations with a whole raft of other advisers such as lawyers, marketing personnel and tax advisers.
Setting up your own business isn’t rocket science. You just need an idea and determination to see it through. You also need to be incredibly motivated, ambitious, determined, hard-working, organised and to have a good sense of humour for when the going gets tough!
Plan well and be aware that these things always take longer than you think. Go for it, though make sure you do your research and have a good support network who you can bounce ideas off. It is the most challenging and the scariest thing I have ever done but it is also incredibly rewarding and exciting and I have absolutely no regrets.
mtl: Thanks for your time Rebecca and good luck with the site.
To visit the Chez Bec website click here.
If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.
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