Toni Sharp has created an inspirational portfolio career spending part of her working week in her role as an Employment and HR solicitor whilst also spending time working as a travel consultant with Holidaysplease. She has recently commented, ‘Not sure if there are many other practising lawyers/travel agents around?’ I think she might be right!
- Hi Toni, we first met when I was also a practising solicitor many years ago: What prompted you to start working as a travel consultant alongside your legal career?
I have had a varied career over the years and since qualifying as a solicitor in 2009 I have been a lecturer for Coventry University in employment law, an Assistant Manager for a Remortgage Team and a Travel Agent. I did reach a stage in my career where I lost faith in the law and my experiences were completely out of sync with the reasons why I entered the profession in the first place. I decided to turn my hand to something brand new but which I had a passion for – travel. I had no official experience, I was just good at organising our own holidays but that didn’t stop me, and within a short while I had created my own website and managed to obtain experience with a travel agency. By this stage I had given up my practicing certificate and focused solely on travel, obtaining as much experience as I could. I encountered a very different industry where everyone wanted to help, prospective suppliers were very generous (in the legal industry you’re lucky to get a decent cup of coffee!) and I was writing to customers about happy things rather than their dismissal.
- What steps have you had to make in setting up your own business?
With Holidaysplease, it has been very easy. I have joined the team and have paid a very reasonable fee for training and access to systems and then it was over to me. I do not have to invoice every month; the sums due automatically get paid and I have a small insurance policy through the company to cover any liability. The only thing I have to ensure I do is account for my tax each year.
My new self-employed legal career means I need to set up a company. Fortunately I had a dormant company already which was very easy to set up at Companies House in the first instance. I just had to make some small changes. I also needed to register for VAT, set up a bank account for my business, consider appropriate insurance cover and find myself a good accountant. I have been completing my own filings at Companies House for a few years now and I have also been completing my own tax return because this has been quite simple. However, now the business is growing and becoming more complex, I want an expert to assist me to ensure I get it right and also to free up valuable time.
I know the list above would put some people off but it’s not as difficult or time consuming as you may think and there are lots of people out there that can help. Don’t let the red tape stop you!
- What were the biggest challenges you faced in combining your legal career with your love of travel and how did you overcome these challenges?
Customers rightly expect a responsive service which proved a problem in my travel business when I was working full time. The best way to manage expectation is to tackle them head on. I explained my position and managed customer expectations from the very first telephone call.
The biggest challenge however was time. I returned to the law in January 2017 after a break of over 2 years. I returned on the basis I could take my travel business with me and they obliged. I have been running the two careers alongside one another for about 18 months and it has not been easy. My hours as a solicitor are exceptionally good, 9am to 5pm. However, my travel work has had to fit in around this. Often I am posting a deal on social media before work, preparing the quote at lunchtime and then booking the holiday in the evening when home. I can be working until very late into the evening, not having a lunch break on many occasions and working lots of my weekends and so it can be exhausting despite my love for what I do.
I was then approached by Carbon Law to become a Carbon Law Partner which gave me the opportunity to run both careers alongside one another. With Carbon Law my role is self-employed so I can work when I want and to a very large degree, how I want. I am given the flexibility to do it the way I want to, putting clients at the heart of what I do and being the lawyer I want to be. I can work within my client’s business, be on call when they need me and be in control of my workload so that I am not overstretched which often leads to an inferior service. I can then work on my travel business throughout the day, when my customer needs me and not just outside my employed working hours.
- Tell us a bit more about Holidaysplease and how combining this alongside your legal career suits you
I now have the best of both worlds! Some people think you can’t have your cake and eat it but you can if you manage it correctly and you want to. I have a very odd combination of careers I know but it has helped me. I have worked with businesses in the leisure and tourism sector and my background has helped me with my understanding of their challenges and opportunities. I have also assisted one of my travel customers in recouping a sum of money they were overcharged on holiday. The dual role means I get to be the lawyer I want to be whilst also getting to send those emails people want to read.
One of the best things is that it gives me a personality on the legal stage. It’s not something you’d expect of a lawyer and it makes me more human, more approachable and builds a link with clients and associates very quickly. I’m not the boring geek in a black and white suit any longer!
- What advice do you have for those feeling unfulfilled by their career and thinking about what other options may be available to them?
Life is short. You have precious little time with your family and friends and so why spend it being miserable and worrying about having to go back into work? There will always be an excuse as to why you shouldn’t leave and why it’s best staying where you are. I have become quite straightforward in my thinking the older I’ve become and so now when I hear people complain about their job, I tell them to either leave or stop complaining. It sounds harsh but it’s the cold truth. Everyone has a choice about everything that happens in life. It may not always be a great choice but we have it. Staying in a job which makes you miserable or which is unfulfilling may lead to stress, depression, more arguments at home, relationship breakdowns etc. You need to ask yourself whether taking that leap of faith is more of a risk than staying put and if things don’t work out, there are other jobs out there.
Do not think for a second you are trapped; that’s just your mind telling you that to protect you from doing something different and taking that risk but it could just be the very best thing that happens to you. If I hadn’t taken risks I would never have lectured, I wouldn’t have travelled upper class to Barbados and had an incredible learning experience, I would have missed out on meeting truly wonderful and inspiring people, my world and my horizons would have been limited. Success to me is being happy and being able to learn new things and grow as a person. It’s not about living in a secure bubble. I know my next chapter will be positive and if something doesn’t go to plan, I will just turn the page and start my next chapter and see where the adventure takes me.
Stop standing at the end of the high diving board considering whether you should take the dive…..just go for it!! You are very likely to land the dive, find yourself swimming along nicely and you will have the confidence to do it again. The worst that could happen is you belly flop but at least you tried and with the right support perhaps that next dive will be spectacular. Have confidence and faith in yourself and never be afraid to fail.
Thank you, Toni, it is so inspiring to hear how it can be possible to combine different interests within your career.
Find out more about holidaysplease here