It’s estimated that the average person changes jobs 10 to 15 times throughout their life. Ten to fifteen times! This hits home that career change is now considered the new normal of working. But how do we continue to develop a strong personal brand through the twists and turns of career transitions? Our guest blogger this month, Claire Norwood, speaks to just that. Claire went from designing shoes for clients like David Bowie to building her own niche property development company in the UK. Here, Claire shares the story of her fascinating journey, reminding us that everything we do – the good and the bad – builds a unique picture and a unique personal brand.
Some people find their one true career early on. Most of us make several wrong turns before finding work that feels authentic. But perhaps they’re not wrong turns. Perhaps they just reflect where we are right now.
My parents were glad just to have a job; nowadays we want our work to reflect who we are, so navigating multiple careers is a fact of life. But back when I was a shoemaker and designer, I never envisaged I would one day have entirely different career as a property investor and developer.
Fashion and making things had always come naturally. I’d learned to sew my own clothes as a child, so drawing and making shoes felt perfectly aligned. I’d just met my husband – fresh out of art college and keen for me to follow my heart – and together we lived and breathed art and fashion. We fitted in perfectly in trendy north London, despite having very little money in those days.
Later, when careers were more established, I invested in beautiful clothes and home furnishings. My shoes featured in Vogue, Elle and Tatler, and on runways for Alexander McQueen and Catherine Hamnett. I even made a pair of kitten heels for David Bowie!
I realise now just how curated my life was back then. I socialised with ‘creatives’, my best friend was the editor of Elle Decoration, and I spent hours choosing fabrics and leather in East End warehouses. Though I didn’t realise it at the time, I had my personal branding down to a tee, so it’s not surprising I felt cast adrift when it all came to an end. My desire to do things perfectly, to be perfect, dealt my business a killer blow. Because of course perfection isn’t possible, or even desirable for that matter.
I had worked myself into the ground, and almost destroyed my relationship in the process. Thankfully my marriage survived, but some friendships didn’t. I no longer carried the magical gloss of fashion and seemed painfully unhip all of a sudden. It took several years in the career wilderness, and much trial and error, before finding my feet in property.
I’d always loved doing up flats and houses, so buy-to-let investing suddenly struck me as the perfect next step. Halfway through a year-long property training course, I met the person who would become my employer and mentor. His property search business was just taking off, and he needed someone organised and with initiative; and who was prepared to work for interns’ wages. In return he taught me everything he knew about property, and allowed me free reign with client refurbishment projects.
In the course of 30 client purchases and over 15 renovations, I built up a portfolio of work, and even bought three rental properties of my own. Although I loved sourcing deals and project managing building works, the most enjoyment came from specifying kitchens, bathrooms, paint colours and flooring, and from furnishing each property for the young professional tenant market. We regularly achieved rents in excess of agents’ valuations, which meant happy clients who came back for repeat purchases.
Working in property seems so much more ‘grown up’ than fashion. I’ve done endless self-development work over the years, and property taps into many of these skills, something I never tire of learning.
More recently, my property career has been propelled to the next level as an unexpected result of joining Sister Snog – a group of businesswomen who meet twice monthly to network, support each other and generally have lots of fun. Less than a year after becoming a ‘Sister’, I have left my job and am branching out on my own as a developer. I’m ashamed to admit that, before Sister Snog, I didn’t know that personal branding even existed. I certainly wasn’t aware that I had my own personal brand!
Hearing the stories of these often hugely successful women made me think more carefully about how my branding might look. There is so much competition in every market sector, so niche marketing makes more sense than ever. I’ve looked long and hard at my background and skills set – my life experiences, personality and values.
Carrying out branding exercises, with the help of books and online questionnaires, has been pivotal in deciding how I want to portray myself, especially across social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. I delight in tapping into my creative side to increase visibility and build my brand. The next step will be attracting new investors and possibly crowdfunding, so a solid brand awareness is key, even at this relatively early stage in my new venture.
None of my experiences has been wasted. Everything you do – the good and the bad – builds a unique picture and a unique brand. Now, more than ever, we need to be true to ourselves in order to stand out.