How I changed careers on less than $200


There's one particular comment at the start of my career change that I'll never forget. "What happens if you are too much of a lawyer?"

These 10 little words had a huge impact.

Here's how it went down: through some connections, I was lucky enough to get a meeting with the Managing Director of a large PR Firm. I wanted to chat about corporate communications, thinking that this could be a great way to combine my skills and interests while moving away from the law.

Let's call the Director John. He was great: friendly, easy to talk to, and gave me so much information I walked away feeling like my brain was about to explode. This meeting was at the start of my journey, and I certainly had a lot to learn.

John's comment was an offhand comment, and I'd bet a lot of money on John having no recollection of it. There was absolutely nothing malicious about it, it was really just about me changing careers. John talked about me doing some extra study to prove that I was committed to the career change, and more than just a lawyer. John wanted to know that I had other skills, and that I didn't write in scary old-fashioned legal jargon.

Don't get me wrong: I was 110% committed to my career change. I checked out some short courses, and decided I would take some time off to do a couple of key courses.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, life got in the way. I'm sure that anyone who is working full time while trying to change careers understands this. The courses fell in the last week of evidence preparation for a huge matter I was working on. I wouldn't have time to scratch myself, let alone take some time off to brush up my skills.

Plus, as anyone who is trying to upskill, or add a few extra qualifications to their resume will know, this can come at a serious price.

So I had to get creative.

Feel like you got the wrong degree?

These days, education is expensive. From school fees through to textbooks, living allowances and all the hidden costs that come with studying, it's a huge investment of your time and money. It's not surprising that people stick to careers that they dislike after making such an investment! In fact, it's one of the most common questions I get asked: "what about all the time/money it took to get your law degree?" 

I don't regret my studies. Yes, it's expensive (ie I'm still paying for it!). It was a big investment in my time. I was also only 18 with very little idea about what I wanted to do with my life, and what options were available to me.

The last year has reinforced my belief that you can do whatever you put your mind to. I strongly believe that there are ways to make whatever degree you have work for you. With a little bit of creativity, some help from technology and a good attitude, you can change careers without breaking the bank too!

Disclosure: although these hints will save you money, it doesn't mean it's going to be easy. You have to be ready to hustle!

Want to know how I changed careers on less than $200? Here's how I did it.

Upskill in every way possible

While I missed out on doing the short course, I hunted high and low for opportunities to learn and expand my skills, preferably with lower price tags!

While I haven't ruled out returning to more formal studies one day, the reality is, while you are working full time it's rarely practical to commit to an expensive course or post grad study.

I joined Meetup Groups, attended events, classes, lectures you name it, I was there. I learned a bit of code at lunch, after work I would be at Meetups talking about social media, or a panel discussion about content marketing.

My tip is to look for free events with great speakers to open your mind up to different ideas and possibilities. Great speakers are looking to raise their profile and share their knowledge, and will often be found at Meetups and places like General Assembly.

Read books, articles, blogs. Learn everything you can about the area you want to work in. Challenge yourself and your thinking. Self-help and business books are cool these days, I swear!

[COST: generally free. If an event was ticketed and I saw value in it, I did a bit of a cost/benefit analysis. In fact, some of the best events I went to were actually free, so keep an eye out for these on Meetup and Eventbrite. For the sake of the argument, let's say I attended $100 worth of events]  

Build (and use!) your networks

I won't sugar coat it: when I started job hunting my professional networks were virtually non-existent. I had moved interstate for my job, and had a very limited professional network. When I knew I needed a change, I had no where to go, no one to turn to.

I was also so hesitant to call in favours from anyone willing to help. I felt like I was wasting John's time, and I felt like this every time I had a coffee with a more distant connection. When someone knew a Director of a company I was interviewing with and recommended me, I was mortified.

Everyone talks about the power of networks, and I've learned that it's 100% true.

People want to help you. And you should let them. At the time, I felt so isolated and alone at work. Maybe it's the competitive nature of corporate law that left me feeling a bit disillusioned, but I have been constantly surprised by people's generosity, with both their time and expertise. Don't be afraid to ask for help. After all, what's the worst thing that could happen?

This ties in nicely with my next little project, which was the 50 coffees project. Slowly but surely, it took off. I met Vanessa Wiltshire, who generously invited me along to a lunch with a big tech company where I met some incredible people, some of who I still keep in touch with today. After chatting about my desire to leave law with Simon Terry, he tweeted five excellent people asking them to have coffee with me. And the 50 coffees project started to grow, and one latte at a time I started to get my confidence back.

[Related post: seven lessons from (not quite) 50 coffees]

The next obvious networking tool was social media.

If you have followed any of my journey, you will know how important this was for me. I tweeted and connected with people who I found interesting, and with each interaction I learned something new + grew my networks a little bit more. To this day, I'm still meeting people who I have met online, and through our mutual interests and passions decided to meet up for a coffee and chat.

[Related post: how I used Twitter to change careers]

I think there's two key lessons here:

  • At the start of your career, you don't want to ask for help. You know your place on the corporate ladder. I get it. We work so hard to get the grades to get into Uni, pass and get our first job... and a lot of us did that all through sheer grit and determination (ie without help from anyone else). That attitude ends now, OK?
  • Just because we've grown up with social media, doesn't mean it's just for fun. Think about ways that you can use social media to connect with people where you want to be - it's incredible who you can meet online (and not in a creepy early 2000s chat room kinda way!).

[COST: approximately 15 coffees = $50. But let's be honest, I would have spent this money on coffee anyway!]  

Drive your own brand

Perhaps the biggest investment that I made was starting my own blog.

Desperate to prove that I was more than just a lawyer, the biggest investment that I made was purchasing a domain name and hosting for my blog. I wanted to own my own space online, so I got the domain name for my first blog, Making It Up (funny story: this name came courtesy of a man I got chatting to on a plane!) and a very basic hosting package. With a bit of help from my boyfriend Tom, and a free template, I was away!

I'll be honest: I had absolutely no idea what I was doing

But that's not the point, right? I was doing it! All of a sudden I wasn't "just a lawyer" (and believe me, there's a lot of unhappy lawyers looking for a new career out there), I was a blogging lawyer. I was taking a stand.

I thought that I would start blogging because I loved writing, but the value turned out to be so much more. I had started the process of differentiating myself, and also proving that I had the guts to put myself out there, and really demonstrate my skills. It immediately told people that I wasn't just going to rely on my degree: I was willing to go the extra mile. 

This was the best personal branding exercise, and ultimately landed a new job + a lot of cool opportunities along the way.

Sure, my blog wasn't perfect. It still isn't. I work full time and sometimes life gets in the way. But it's live, and every day I learn something new and I love it. In fact, this is what one of my favourite blogger Regina calls "being scrappy"... when you've got no money to invest in your blog, but you want to do something so badly that you make it happen, the best you can. love this attitude!

[COST: $45.65 for domain name registration (two years discounted) + first year of hosting]  

Experiment and learn

In addition to bluffing my way through the blogging world, one of the cheapest and best ways to learn was simply putting myself out there.

I had to change my approach.

Here's the harsh reality: simply looking for jobs online and submitting the occasional job application probably isn't going to cut it.

You need to get over the fear of picking up the phone, and throw your ring in the hat. Sometimes it will work, sometimes it won't... and boy do I have some stories to tell there! I was going to apply for a content strategy job, and decided to call the recruiter to find out more and get my name on the radar. I told him I was a lawyer, but looking to change careers and so on. He was concerned I didn't have the right credentials (ie degree), so I told him that in addition to my Law Degree, I have an Arts Degree. He proceeded to tell me that this job was about words, not art....! Well. D'oh. Needless to say I didn't apply for that job and I still can't paint to save myself!

Always focus on learning more and pushing yourself to consider new options. During a particularly bad period, where the thought of wanting to go to work made me want to hide in bed, I used to tell myself as I walked in the sliding doors "today I'm going to do something that makes a difference". Small actions, repeated often, have a huge impact.

Trust me: just keep moving forward. 

[COST: Free. Lessons learned = LOTS!]

  So there you go. I hope that my tips and learnings are useful to you. Even if you don't want to change careers, thinking outside the box for your personal and professional development is really priceless, so don't be afraid to give it a go! ... After all, it's cheaper than an MBA!

What's the best thing you have done for your career? I'd love to hear about it!