Key tips on how to survive a mid-life career change

Starting my own business was exhilarating. It brought out my creative side and made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile with my life.

With it – also came self-doubt. Because it’s hard to know if you are making the right decisions, especially when you are going it alone. I asked myself many times if I was doing the right thing. And while it’s still early days for me, it’s always timely to spend a moment on reflection.

I must first tell you that I have never owned a business before, and I have no experience in designing a product. What I do have – is lots of motivation, dedication, and passion. But that alone is not enough. I’ve made mistakes and I will continue to do so. It is my mid-life learning journey. The question is – is a mid-life career change right for everyone?

When started my new business, in my mid-40’s, I did some things really well and there were other things that I would have done differently if I had my time again.

For those who are keen to grab some tips, here are the key things that I would have done differently in hindsight:

Firstly, I would have undertaken more research and asked more questions about what would be involved in the day-to-day operation of running of a business. I was so focused on setting up the company and developing the product that I gave little thought to how I would sell the product. I wasn’t expecting it to be so hard. E-commerce is a cut-throat world, and it requires skills in many different areas, particularly if you don’t have the cash to employ experts to do it for you. Social media marketing and using influencers can be hit-or-miss. One month I posted to the Chooice NZ Facebook page (a buy local sales platform) and had the best few days of my new career! The sales came in thick and fast, and I was on top of the world! It was pure delight mixed with relief that I hadn’t made the wrong decision in changing careers. Then exactly one month later I posted on Chooice again. I prepared in advance and overstocked all my products and then waited excitedly! But alas, I made zero sales. I was devastated.

Hindsight lesson one – look beyond the start-up phase before you begin and gain a good understanding of the workload involved in the day-to-day running of the business.


There are many sayings about how everyone has million-dollar ideas, but not many are willing to take the steps to turn the idea into reality. When I was ready for a career change (because life had become too predictable), I turned to the thing I was most passionate about at the time. Something that impacted me hugely and negatively. My issue was bladder leakage. And I couldn’t find anything in NZ that was reusable and comfortable. It made me feel like I was the only one in NZ who had bladder leaks but also cared about the environment. Just think it through, a little sneeze here, a laugh there, every little dribble creates waste that will sit in landfills for 500+ years.

Long story short, my passion was to not only to create the most absorbent reusable leakproof underwear I could, but also to reduce the shame surrounding the topic of bladder leaks.

In hindsight however, I had no experience in running a small business, nor any experience in manufacturing underwear. I wonder, if I had my time again, would I choose a new career that was so different to the previous 20 years I’d had in policy and strategy.

Hindsight lesson two – it is said that you should always focus on what you are passionate about, but it wouldn’t hurt to explore other possibilities more aligned to your experience, when pondering a career change.


Another thing I would do differently is try harder to find a business partner to share this journey with. Someone who I could bounce ideas off. Someone with skills different to mine. Someone who is like-minded and has a similar work ethic/style. Small business can be a lonely journey when it’s just you.

Hindsight lesson three – before you start, attend some entrepreneurial start-up networking events to see if you could partner with anyone. Partnership is like a marriage. You need to find a good fit. But try hard because it’s worth it!


On the plus side, I have done a few things well and I would repeat if I had my time again.

  1. When I first established my business, I gave myself a set timeframe and certain amount of money that I was happy to spend/sink. This three-year timeframe set a clear boundary around my career change decision. Every time my dad would ask if I was going to get a real job again, or my husband would ask if I made any sales that day, I would remind myself that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Success doesn’t often happen overnight. For some it does! But for most, it’s something you need to be prepared to put the effort into. So I take deep breaths and try not to panic when I have a day without sales. Because I believe in myself. And I know, you can’t learn a new profession overnight.
  2. One more thing I did from the start has worked really well, was collect every email address I could, from people who tested my sample products through to people who gave me advice. Then every month, without fail, I would email out a newsletter that shared the highlights of my journey (good and bad). This group are now ‘my people’. They are helpful, encouraging and regular customers!
  3. Lastly, the thing I’ve done best, is use my time wisely. Because when I know what actions to take next, I move faster. Having a plan also removes anxiety and me keep focused. I started with a 6mth plan broken down into tasks for each month and as I waited for my products to arrive, I prepared everything I could so I could hit the ground running. I had my website ready to go. I prepared automated responses for things like ‘abandoned carts. I sorted packaging, branding and new product designs. You name it, I did it. It was a huge learning curve, but I was enthusiastically dedicated. The thing is, it’s easy to get distracted on tasks that are fun but ultimately will not progress you forward. Instead, I remind myself constantly to prioritise tasks that are most productive. I rarely aim for perfection because it’s in finishing that last 20% where I waste the most time.

Starting a new business in my mid-40’s was, and continues to be, a rollercoaster. If you feel uncomfortable learning new things, or you are not ready to put in the hard yards, then starting a new business may not be right for you. Alternatively, learn some tricks to help you change your mindset asap. Because with new business ownership, learning new things, along with highs and lows, is a daily occurrence. But in my opinion, it’s totally worth the ride!

Should you know anyone who needs these tips, or who could benefit from some amazingly comfy reusable absorbent leakproof underwear for periods and bladder leaks, then please recommend Vivo Bodywear. It simply perfect for replacing pads, liners and tampons. Allowing you to Live life with confidence, freedom and control!

Four essential tips for new businesses starting out

It takes perseverance to remain motivated, especially when progress is slow.

Some of you may know that this year I started my own business – to develop absorbent washable leakproof underwear for pee, periods and perspiration.

It has been an exciting yet tumultuous rollercoaster. Today I wanted to share with you my four essential tips for those who are just starting out.

  1. Perseverance is key!

It takes a lot of motivation to dedicatedly work for yourself day in a day out. Particularly in the early days you must be the ‘master of all trades’ (the CEO and decision-maker, the strategist, the product designer, the investor, the marketer, the logistics expert and so on). Some tasks are easier than others. But when things get tricky it is hard to keep slogging away at it.

I have goals to keep me on track – work wise. But what keeps me – pushing forward – is a verbalised aspiration (that I’m committed to). You see, I found that I needed to be clear about what I wanted to achieve, and by when, because my family kept asking me when I was going back to work. So here it is: my aim is to give the business two years to break-even and three years to make a viable profit.

In addition to this, I let my family know what my boundaries are, to protect myself from risk. That is, when I have spent a certain level of funding, without any profit then I would stop and go back to full time work.

Three years to achieve my first big milestone is long enough for me to think “I’m in this for the long term”, which keeps me jumping over the short-term hurdles.

  1. Clarity is essential.

I never realised just how hard it would be to find the right specially fabrics for moisture wicking, absorbency, comfort and odour reduction.

It’s been a hard learning curve. My one piece of advice for dealing with any type of suppliers, is to be as specific as possible with what you want. If that means you must ask a million questions first to better understand the lay of the land. Then ask away. There is no harm in asking. I like to lay out my requirements in clear tables, or under specific headings. I then number each question and answer. I give my emails informative subject lines so that I can easily keep track of information down the track. But importantly, I never let myself stay in a position of doubt. I clarify immediately when uncertain.

  1. The 80/20 rule is beyond helpful.

It’s easy to waste time perfecting certain elements when it’s your own business. But taking the approach, where you keep working on something because you don’t want to risk getting it wrong, will slow you down unnecessarily. Try to accept that things will evolve rather than be perfect the first time. When you start to spend too much time on a task – STOP immediately and put some time restrictions in place. Because when you think of the time that people will actually spend looking at it, it’s just not worth your valuable and limited time. This is why it is so important that new businesses land a minimum viable product as the primary goal. Because perfection is impossible to achieve, whereas trial and error keeps you moving forward.

  1. Build a following.

As you start your business you will meet many people who will help you or take an interest in what you are doing. Make sure you add their email address to your contacts database and grow this list as you progress your business.  

It’s important to nurture this group by keeping in regular contact. One way I do this is to send out a monthly newsletter that provides a simple update on my progress and some interesting tidbits. It doesn’t matter how you keep in touch but just that you do. Your early tribe are your greatest supporters. Mine mean the world to me and I cherish their feedback and support.

If you are keen to show a fellow start-up support, I would love it if you could like or follow my facebook or Instagram page. Just go to:

https://www.facebook.com/vivobodywear

https://www.instagram.com/vivobodywear/

Thanks for reading! Catch you next time.
xxoo

Step 1 – in my entrepreneurial journey towards the world of ecommerce

It’s exciting and a feel silly for jiggling in my seat, but I’m also grinning with pride, because I have hit two key milestones this month.

Now I’ve got to say – there have been roadblocks. Home schooling during Covid19 lockdown for one! I have now walked around the block and played Monopoly Deal more times than I can count. Because my kids have a clear limit of patience and focus when it comes to schoolwork.  

And while I have felt pulled in many directions and have had to jump from one task to another in rapid succession, I am still moving forward. Mmmm, maybe I deserve a glass of wine!

Wine aside, the first milestone I hit was coming up with my brand name. I didn’t think coming up with a brand name would be that hard. But it was the HARDEST! Note to self – if this ever happens again – ask less people for their advice. Because everyone has a different opinion!!

The worst enemy to creatively is self-doubt.

Sylvia Plath

I reached milestone number two when I finally choose the selection of fabrics that I’m happy with to progress to the next stage (prototype development). I have now tested hundreds of fabric samples. Not only have I undertaken all the scientific tests but I also borrowed a friends sewing machine and made some very rough prototypes to exercise in. Because that is the ultimate test! Running without leakage, especially after a day of drinking tea. I was so disappointed when the first few didn’t work. My bottom lip was out and I was not happy. But it didn’t take many mishaps to realise where I was going wrong. On the plus side – I have also somewhat improved my sewing machine skills, which – if I’m being honest – were absolutely terrible. But when I finally found the right fabric layers – I was surprised my neighbours didn’t hear my huge sigh of relief!

It’s early days yet and I know I have a long road ahead. But it feels rewarding to be stepping over the hurdles just the same.

How I started my entrepreneurial journey

Starting a new business venture is exhilarating! It brings out my creative side and makes me feel like I’m doing something with my life that adds value. With it – also comes self-doubt. Because its hard to know if you are making the right decisions.

I have asked myself many times if this is the right thing to do. Yet, in saying that – I don’t like to waste too much time on self-doubt because it takes my mind away from other more productive thoughts. Instead, I acknowledge the thought (when i have it) and remind myself of my three key reasons for doing it and then I swiftly move on.

Now – before I get into my recap on the key activities I’ve done in starting my entrepreneurial journey.  I must first tell you that I have never owned a business before, and I have no experience in designing a product. What I do have – is lots of motivation, dedication, and passion. I realise that – that alone is not enough. I will make mistakes (and I already have). My aim is to learn from my mistakes and not spend too much money on them. It helps that with Covid19 lockdown we have no money coming in – so it’s hard to spend when you have none to spare! All my knowledge is coming from either podcasts, google or the Creative HQ Incubator Program. Which is a tad restricted by the fact that the country went into lock-down one week before I was meant to start and we are still in lock-down.

That aside, I’ve still been able to find time to work on four key focus areas. The boxes shown below identify the key tasks that I have done. Some further insights are covered in more detail below that.


Guiding documents


Market research


Prototype prep


Online presence

1 Business Plan

2 Project task register

3 Marketing strategy

4 Forecast financials

5 Brand Framework

1 Online surveys

2 Competitor research

3 Problem and solutions review, incl: scientific journals, online research and chats to specialists

1 Sample materials purchased

2 Fabric tests performed

3 Potential suppliers identified

4 Pattern maker selected

Personal website: tamsinsomerville.com

Started a blog:
enablepositivechange.com

Guiding documents

I started my journey by developing a business plan. I used the template from the NZ central government business support agency. It gets you to cover everything from your timeline and market analysis through to supply chain, product creation and financial strategy. This document has been invaluable in making me think through the multiple elements required and I think it is an essential starting point for any new business.

I use Excel for my project task register. Every time I think – “owww, that’s something I should do”, I add it to my register. Its currently list over 100 tasks that I need to do under key themes. This is guided by goals that I have set myself to achieve over the next 1, 2, 3, 6 and 12 months.

With my marketing strategy I first started quite detailed but then I simplified it into a one A3 page that simply sets out my goals, approach, marketing pillars, product niches, and key messages. It is super helpful!

My brand development framework starts off with elements that I will retain throughout my business journey, such as outcomes, goals, vision, values, strengths, insights, and desired brand experience. But then it moves into elements that I will change over time once my branding is finalised, including words that describe the brand, brand name ideas, logo ideas, as well as colors and fonts I like.

Market research

I used Survey Monkey to test the market viability of my product. I avoided friends and family because I needed the results to be honest. I sent out about a hundred emails and received 40 responses. The results were clear – progress forward!

My second survey tested my six possible brand name ideas and the associated tag lines. The results were not overly clear. Everyone thought differently. The best advice I received was by reading a book called Hello my name is … Awesome.

Prototype development

Arguably my hardest task to date. I have ordered and tested more fabric samples than I care to admit. This has been my biggest expense to date, and I have now learned the importance of asking more questions prior to excitedly ordering the fabric of my dreams. Finding the right fabrics is so much harder than I thought it would be. Especially finding sustainable fabrics that will work.  Note to self – when designing my next product – hire a professional!

Online presence

I developed a personal website because I thought it was important that if people wanted to learn about me, they would be able to. I paid US$50 for a domain name and website hosting for a year. This included an easy website template, which had me up and running in a morning.  

I developed my blog so that I could share the reasons of why I was on my entrepreneurial journey and share some tips along the way.

My next website development, will be my online retail store. This will not be so easy or cheap. Eek! I’ll keep you posted.

Life essentials – steering me towards entrepreneurial success

It’s been eight weeks since I started my entrepreneurial journey towards developing an online business selling leakproof underwear for pee, periods and perspiration.

I found it quite easy to stick to a healthy routine for the first five weeks, but since then I begun to slacken off. I’m hoping that by writing this post and becoming more aware of my naughtiness, that I will start to do better.

Below is my list of five essential healthy habits that I’m trying to stick to. The checkbox identifies how well I’m going.

Sleep – the no-brainer! Go to bed and wake up at a similar time each day and allow for some quiet wind-down time before bed. Not only is this great for my mood and focus but its also great for my skin. My current problem is waking during the night. If I wake then I focus on my breathing and try to clear my mind. If that doesn’t work then I read a book on my dimly lit phone with the black back light. I realize that this is probably not good. But it does take my mind off everything else and put me back to sleep swiftly. But I’m sure that listening to a meditation podcast would be better. Might have to try that.

Water – drink a full glass of water with lemon or lime first thing each morning. Then grab a 1L bottle of water and I make sure that I get through this, and then some, each day. Initially I was trying to aim for 2L but that was impossible with my weak bladder.

 3Exercise – I like to exercise as soon as I wake up, but if that’s not your best time – then find a time that works for you and program it into your day. I find that if I look at my phone when I first wake up then I am more likely to skip exercise. NAUGHTY! But if I get up and put my activewear on straight away – then I’m good to go! The question is – how best to stick to this? Because I started off great and now, well – I’m just ok. Starting NOW – I’m going to make a goal (not too ambitious) and stick to it.

 4Stretches – for me this involves stretches for a frozen shoulder, a stiff neck and pelvic floor exercises (gosh I sound old!). I’m not sure why I’m so bad at this – but while initially I started off doing this daily and I felt great too – now I’m lucky if I do it once every three weeks. I need to do better! Much better!
I know that I’m pretty good at doing them if I remember. So, starting NOW – I’m going to set a daily reminder alarm to get me back on track.



 5Staying positive and motivated – remaining positive through problems and roadblocks is very difficult – but absolutely essential! I’ve been able to do by being diligent with four things. But that is way too much information for this one blog post – so if you are keen to read more go to: The key to staying positive and motivated.

Remember – happiness is contagious!


My passion project

It was 22 January 2020, when I chose to tell my husband that I’m taking a year off from full time paid employment to work on my passion project – and that he would have to go back to work. My profession at the time was consulting/contracting for government agencies, primarily in policy and strategy development. I was paid well and I enjoyed it, but when I thought about what I’d do if money wasn’t an issue/requirement then I knew it wasn’t that.

So when I had my lightbulb moment (see previous blog story) I thought to myself – there is never going to be a better time to make a change. It was on that day when I registered my new company, with the intention of developing leak-proof underwear for pee, periods and perspiration. I was beyond excited!

I knew deep down it was the right decision. But self-doubt plagued me. It was very hard saying “no thank you” to the first few policy contract roles that were presented to me. And even after a month, when my husband still had no job, I was tempted to accept yet another short-term role. But I knew if I did this then I would lose momentum.

My husband and I had agreed that I could spend our savings, we would scrap the planned holiday, and there would be no more take-out or meal kit delivery. 😦 Plus we would need to take out a loan against the house for my first product shipment. This was my chance and while the since the family was being impacted I knew that I needed to have faith in my ability to deliver.

I started with a business plan, and then a brand strategy, a marketing strategy and a project task register. After that my primary goal was to develop a minimum viable product. However, textile manufacturers are not that common in New Zealand anymore. Not to mention, no one sold the fabric that I wanted. So while I waited (rather impatiently) for fabric samples to come from abroad I focused on everything else, such as pattern making, label requirements, packaging, and learning about online sales and marketing.

It is fair to say – that since I had never developed a product before, let alone sold anything online, I had a lot to learn.

With more time available each morning (because i was not rushing off to town on the train) I would walk/run and listen to podcasts. My husband turned the garden shed into an office for me and I would work all day out there. I was so excited to start each day. Then at night-time, when I would normally enjoy watching a light-hearted tv drama series, I found that I could no longer pay attention to them. I wanted to be thinking about my business or watching Startup School videos instead. My mind, which had previously been completely exhausted from working a solid 40hrs each week was now alive and in overdrive. This was a bit of a revelation to me. It was like a creative driven entrepreneurial energiser bunny was just desperate to be free. Who knew!

The exciting part is that its more than just making and selling a product. I am passionate about the subject of light bladder leakage because it has negatively impacted me for the past 12 years. I wanted to try and make a difference to somehow empower women to feel more confident in living their best life without limitations. I want to encourage others to share their stories and hopefully we can create a more open dialogue where we share information about the wide range of support and treatment available. Whilst also reducing some of the sensitivity around the subject.

The light-bulb moment that caused the passion project

One day I was on an overnight tramp with friends. We were sleeping in a Dept. of Conservation hut at the top of a gorgeous mountain, in a dorm room with single mattresses covered in thick durable plastic. The kids got to sleep fine after a long day of hiking, but I lay awake all night feeling uncomfortable, hot and with a mind full of thoughts. It was that night that I had a bit of a light bulb moment.

I had not been open with my girlfriends about my personal problem – and yet we are really close friends. I guess its because no one really wants to talk about bodily fluids – because that’s nasty!

But here I was, lying awake, thinking about how annoying it was that my backpack waist-strap had dug into my bladder all day during our hike and that I wish I had better pelvic floor muscles. Because not only had I leaked through the pad in my undies that day – but I was also dreading having to put another pad in the next day, as the only private place to do that was in the outdoor long-drop toilet, which was a haven for mosquitoes. 

As I lay awake that night there were three key fields of thought that just kept swirling around my head.

Firstly, I wanted to understand why I wasn’t being more open about my bladder leakage issue. I remembered some data that I’d read once that said only 1/3 of people with incontinence issues seek help. This felt wrong to me and I vowed then and there to be more open about my issues. But i thought – why not also see what I could do to foster a more open conversation about female incontinence in general.

Secondly, I was annoyed that I hadn’t been able to buy any leak-proof underwear in New Zealand prior to our overnight tramp. I had found some online providers overseas, but the cost of the product was out of my price range, particularly when I added shipping. So I decided then and there – I needed to do something about this too!

Lastly, I was annoyed with my husband. We’d had a disagreement prior to the hike and my inner self was telling me that something had to change. The thing is – I am a naturally positive and optimistic person. My husband on the other hand, is more of a realist, or a pessimist some may say. For the past 24 years that we have been together my constant level of happiness outweighed any negativity that he could bring to the table. But over the past year something had changed. I was becoming resentful and less happy.

Initially I blamed him – and that was what our disagreement was about. But then I realised – it was me that I could change. Not him. And that was the start of my much better life. And also the start of my passion project!