Lee Paines always dreamt of earning a living from sport, but he spent more than a decade toiling away at an engineering firm before finally plucking up the courage to quit his job and follow his heart.
The football and martial arts enthusiast devoted his free time to studying for a qualification in sports massage therapy before giving in his notice and turning his passion into a full-time occupation.
"I had a good, stable job and income but wasn't enjoying it any more so decided to go back to college," recalls Lee, 34, from Swindon. "Once I qualified I started the business part time – working in the evenings after work to build up a client base."
He also concentrated on getting his name known in the area by distributing business cards and launching his own website, www.leepaines.co.uk, on which he provides details of his services alongside health and fitness tips.
Since taking the leap into self-employment, Lee has gone from operating a mobile service to working out of a top-class hotel in Swindon and then on to his own self-contained unit where he can train and treat clients.
"Even when you have a client base you're never quite sure when the phone is going to ring, but although things were uncertain for a few months it's been well worthwhile," he adds. "I've even qualified as a personal trainer as well for an added dimension."
Despite the costs involved – he sold his car to help cover the £6,000 for qualifications and the similar amount spent on equipment – Lee has no regrets. "I would tell other people who want a career change to plan their exit strategy and go for it!"
According to Catherine Roan, managing director of the website Careershifters.org (www.careershifters.org), the two most common reasons to begin searching for a new direction are wanting more fulfilment and being made redundant.
"Many people have been doing the same job for a number of years but want to do something that really makes a difference," she explains. "It's either making them completely miserable or just not using any of their skills."
For those that find themselves out of work it's a slightly different situation. These individuals may be more than happy in their current careers but are in an industry that may be shrinking quickly and the chances of getting an alternative position are slim.
"Some people will have a burning ambition of what they want to do with their lives but the majority aren't sure – they just know they want to be doing something different," she adds. "They know they're unhappy and are looking for a solution."
So what can those who find themselves in this situation do about it? What steps do they need to take to get on a more suitable career path – and is there a danger of believing that the grass is going to be greener elsewhere?
Step one: Evaluate your situation
Take a good look at your life and ask yourself a series of searching questions: What is important to you? Do you want to be a corporate high flier, or make more time for hobbies and interests? What will make you happy?
There's little point making a dramatic life switch only to find that you end up having less time to see your family and have simply swapped one job with its assorted office politics and problems for something similar.
Step two: Get inspired
Based on what you want from life, you then need to decide what type of job you want to do. A good starting point is to write down everything you enjoy doing – including pastimes and passions. These may seem totally irrelevant to your career ambitions, but they could be enough to trigger ideas. For example, if you enjoy doing work around the house, then you may want to put those skills to use professionally.
Do your research
There is an important next step before resigning from your job and stepping out in a new direction: research. You need to totally immerse yourself in information about your chosen direction before making the move, insists Roan at Career Shifters.
"Don't just sit at your desk and research online – go out and talk to people," she says. "Find out exactly what their jobs involve on a day-to-day basis and see if it's really something that you will find interesting."
Talking to people is also a great way of making contacts through which you may end up finding job opportunities. Remember: everyone you talk to could be a stepping stone on the way to a new career.
Sort out your finances
You will also need to consider your financial situation – particularly if you are married with children and have a mortgage to pay, points out the financial adviser Andy Merricks of Brighton-based Skerritt Consultants.
"If you're planning a career move then you will need to keep your debts as low as possible," he says. "It would also be good to have three months' worth of salary set aside in case you're not earning for a few weeks, as bills will still need to be paid."
Having such a financial cushion, he adds, can not only help you cover income gaps, it can be put towards paying for retraining. "You also need to take a close look at your outgoings and work out how much you need to survive – and how you will pay your bills if you took a drop in salary, even for a short while," he adds.
Many people are full of ideas of making such a career switch, but most will find it's difficult to do on their own. An increasing number find it useful to have a change buddy – a family member of friend – who will keep them on track.
This is a very good idea, according to Roan at Career Shifters. "A lot of people get really excited about the prospect of changing careers but end up losing momentum if things don't happen as quickly as they expected," she says. "We really encourage people to have a support group around them that will hold them to account and set time limits. They will also help you set yourself milestones and stay focused."
Going it alone
Of course, you could decide to go it alone and set up your own business. If the goal is for the new venture to become your sole source of income, then analysing your market is essential. You need to do proper research – not just carrying out a straw poll of friends and family, who are likely to be biased in your favour. There are plenty of specialists who can provide guidance, but the most effective starting point is the Business Links website (www.businesslink.gov.uk). Here you will find information on subjects such as company structures, tax regulations and insurance.
Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, believes operating in an area you personally find of interest is crucial. "I'd recommend they come up with an idea based around something they enjoy – and then try to make their product or service as niche as possible," she says. "In this way you can keep marketing costs low and customer loyalty high."
Case study: 'My injury left me in a bit of a predicament'
The former professional rugby player Andrew Bailey had to search for a new career after a debilitating illness struck him down in his second season and forced him to retire from the game he loved.
The strapping 28-year-old, who lives in St Helens with wife, Jocelyn, and daughter, Martha, two, played for the Super League sides Hull and Castleford, but everything went downhill when he contracted mumps five years ago.
"I had it for two weeks and then suffered post-viral fatigue," he recalls. "It had quite a devastating effect on my physique as I went from being 16 stone down to 14 and a half stone, so I lost all my size and fitness."
When a pre-season medical showed that he was still a long way from regaining peak fitness – despite him having taken time off to recuperate – he took the drastic decision to throw in the towel on his career as a professional sportsman.
"It left me in a bit of a predicament as far as what my next move was going to be," he adds. "Before getting my professional contract I had done two years of a law course at university, but the course structure had changed and I couldn't get back on it."
It was a difficult period. "I sent my CV to numerous law firms but ended up labouring to earn a wage," he says. "I spent five months on sites before deciding my last part of call was to get in contact with my former agent, who was a sports lawyer."
This was the break he needed. As well as getting to work in the profession, he decided to get qualified via the Institute of Legal Executives. He is due to take his final exams this summer, and is thrilled with how everything has worked out.
"It's been an up-and-down ride, but I haven't got any complaints," he says. "Any young players should consider getting their qualifications because it's a short career and if it's cut short – as mine was – they will have something to fall back on."