Transform your passion into a pay packet

Quitting a regular job to do work that you really love needs serious planning, says David Prosser

All is not well in the corporate rat race. Some of Britain's biggest companies are facing a recruitment drive for senior executives because their directors are quitting in favour of a better quality of life.

All is not well in the corporate rat race. Some of Britain's biggest companies are facing a recruitment drive for senior executives because their directors are quitting in favour of a better quality of life.

Last month, Roger Payne, finance director at Rentokil announced his departure, to spend more time "living life". He follows Cookson's finance chief, Dennis Millard, who is leaving to spend several months surfing, and Emap's finance director, Gary Hughes, who plans to take the summer off to spend more time with his family, before returning to business in the autumn.

The trend is not confined to the highest echelons of the boardroom. A recent survey from insurer Prudential concluded that almost one million people between the ages of 30 and 54 were making "serious plans to downshift", that is, to dump their ostensibly rewarding careers for a more fulfiling lifestyle.

In many cases, that means following your passions. Very few people are financially secure enough to give up work altogether, but many more are exploring whether it is possible to make a living from doing something they love, rather than pursuing a conventional profession they don't really enjoy.

Jo Moulds, 32, is a good example. Six years ago, she felt she was stuck in a rut, having become increasingly disenchanted with the publishing job she had held down since leaving university. "I didn't want to stay working five days a week, eight hours a day, in an office," says Jo, who then spent nine months plotting her escape.

Initially, Jo turned to her passion outside work to provide her with a get-out. She rented out her home in north London and talked to an independent financial adviser about what to do with her savings and investments. Then she signed on to work as a scuba diver in a marine conservation project in the Philippines. For three years, Jo travelled the world working on diving projects before returning to Britain in 2002.

Back home, making a living from diving proved harder, but by then she was fascinated by environmental work. "I had spent so much time learning about other countries' conservation issues that I wanted to find out what was going on here," she says.

Jo got a job as a marketing manager for a company making environmental products out of recycled materials - last year, she quit the firm to start her own environmental consultancy business.

Anna Bowes, of independent financial adviser Chase de Vere, says Jo was able to change her life so radically because she had thought ahead - she had considered how her finances would be affected and planned accordingly.

"People can change tack at any stage in their lives, but they have to be realistic and know their limits - it's just not possible to live on nothing," Bowes says. "It's crucial not to have too much debt and to have as big a buffer of savings as you can manage to accumulate before you take the plunge."

Bowes says the best way to start planning for a major lifestyle change is to draw up a realistic and comprehensive budget for the transition and life afterwards. "What will it cost to achieve your dreams and what will you survive on while you're trying to realise your goals?" she says.

David Hollingworth, of independent mortgage adviser London & Country, says your home should be your most important financial consideration if you're planning a major lifestyle upheaval.

In an ideal world, sort out your living arrangements first, Hollingworth says. "Often, when people change their lives, it means a move too, which can be a problem if you don't have an income, because mortgage lenders won't offer you a loan," he warns. Equally, check the small print on your current home loan - although most lenders claim to offer "flexible mortgages", many turn out to be pretty rigid.

Lenders offering conventional products will often allow long-standing customers to take a repayment holiday for a month, but for more flexibility than that, you may need to switch to a specialist product.

"The One Account, for example, will allow you to draw down loans on the equity you have built up in your home," says Hollingworth. "Lenders such as Standard Life, Intelligent Finance and Direct Line offer similar products, though all mortgage companies will want to be sure you are not running up debt you can never afford to repay."

Hollingworth also warns that renting out your home - if you're moving abroad, say - may not be straightforward. "You must tell your mortgage lender what you're doing and, in theory, it could require you to switch over to a buy-to-let product," he says.

Another financial issue to consider is protection: health and life insurance , for example. Many people get this sort of cover through their employers, but give up the job and you'll lose your insurance.

It is possible to do without some insurance policies. But other cover may be crucial - if you have dependents, for example, life insurance is a must.

It's not enough to think about the financial commitments you already have. In addition to paying the mortgage and generating an income to live off, there is also your financial future to consider.

Tom McPhail, of independent financial adviser Hargreaves Lansdown, says pension planning can all too easily get left behind in the excitement of quitting the rat race. "At the very least, manage the savings you have already made," McPhail says. "The quickest way to pensions disappointment is to forget all about it, so when you leave a job, don't just stick details of the pension in a drawer."

In an ideal world, try to continue saving, he says. If you're resident in the UK for tax purposes, you can save up to £3,600 a year in a stakeholder pension, irrespective of how much you earn. After tax relief, that would cost a basic-rate taxpayer only £2,808.

Even if you don't want to tie up money in a pension, consider using more accessible tax-efficient savings vehicles such as individual savings accounts (ISAs). "If money is going to be tight, it makes sense to play the tax-efficiency game," McPhail adds.

Finally, Anna Bowes says it is worth remembering that your life may change again in the future. "If you're giving up work completely, you're likely to have to earn a wage again at some stage in the future, and if you're going it alone, your plans may not work out," she says. "While it's hard to walk away from a secure career, it will be even harder to come back again if you burn your bridges; so don't be tempted to tell your boss where to stick his job."

Nikkan Woodhouse, from solicitor to art dealer

Nikkan Woodhouse, 34, spent two years thinking about a change of scene. "When you first start out in a career, you don't always have a chance to plan it out and you can end up pigeonholed," she says. "I wanted a broader experience from work, not least because I felt I would be better professionally from extending my horizons."

Nikkan enrolled on a two-year business course in her spare time, before giving up her job as a City solicitor in 2002 in order to launch Elevation X ( www.elevationx.co.uk), an affordable art business aimed at individuals and professionals such as interior designers and architects. The business took some time to get up and running. "The experience was very different to the plans I had made because things come along that blow you off course."

She thinks Bowes's advice on being realistic is crucial. "I didn't borrow money to launch the business, I tried to build up my savings instead," she says. "I also deliberately came up with a business plan that did not have huge start-up costs."

Three years on, Nikkan splits her time between Elevation X and working for companies in the telecoms and computer sectors. "The experience I've had doing this has turned me into a smarter lawyer," she says.

Ken Finn, from hairdresser to campaigner

Ken Finn has made an unlikely transition from professional hairdresser to environmental campaigner. Until the mid-Nineties, he ran a successful hair salon, with a string of celebrity clients, but the work began to bore him. "After years in the business, I was fed up being stuck in the same place every day," he says.

After giving up his business and starting a new job in marketing, Ken got involved with the campaign against the Newbury bypass. He became even more politicised after spending time travelling. "I remember sailing down a river in Borneo and seeing all these huge logs piled up on barges," he says. "This incredible rainforest was being reduced to something as banal as toilet seats."

Ken, 51, travelled to Cambodia last year and has just published his first book. My Journey With an Incredible Tree tracks Ken as he follows a Cambodian spirit tree, which is logged and eventually ends up in the furniture corner of a Home Counties garden centre (see www.eye-books.com/remarkabletree/home.htm).

Ken, who lives in Brighton, has had to make financial sacrifices to fund his new life. "I certainly have less disposable income these days, but I don't feel worse off - I used to spend more."

Francesca Maurice-Williams, from lawyer to garden specialist

Francesca Maurice-Williams took planning ahead seriously, before giving up her job as a lawyer two years ago to launch The Urban Garden ( www.theurbangarden.co.uk). The business, which sells furniture and other garden equipment tailored specifically to the needs of city-dwellers, was five years in the making.

For Francesca, 33, the passion she wanted to indulge was a desire to run her own business - the gardening idea came later. "I had been thinking about it for five years and I toyed with various ideas," she says. "Then I bought a one-bedroom flat in west London and I couldn't find anywhere that sold contemporary furniture for my small garden."

Francesca quit her job in 2003 and spent a year conducting market research. She then put together a business plan, before launching the firm last summer.

Although the business is now on track, the transition has been a challenge. "At one stage, I had to claim on my mortgage insurance," she says.

"But I've never regretted the move: I was an unhappy lawyer and I knew I wasn't in the right environment - I've learned more in the past two years than in six as a lawyer."

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