Mightify Success Stories Series: Iain Donnelly

This week's Success Story comes from Iain Donnelly, and tells a very honest and personal account of his own successes and battles after leaving the police and setting up his own business.

I retired from the police after 30 years in May 2019 and I hope this account will be helpful to colleagues and that by reading it they can avoid some of the pitfalls that I have experienced.

I had a more or less very enjoyable career, spending the first half in the Met and the second half in the West Mids. I was a PC and DC for 14 years and finished as a Superintendent. I believe that I kept my feet on the ground over the years and resisted becoming one of those senior officers who talks in corporate jargon.

I had always been interested in technology and in the last five years of my career I had led on digital investigations and intelligence. It was therefore obvious that I would pursue this interest in the commercial sector after my 30 years. I was very fortunate retiring at superintendent, because my pension would be generous, and this allowed me to take some risks in terms of what I did next.

I’m going to talk first about how it felt for me to leave the police, and then I will talk about starting a business. I must emphasise that these were my experiences and yours may be very different, so don’t assume that any of these things will happen to you.

The count-down to retirement felt like it accelerated incredibly quickly. Five years left quickly became three years and suddenly I was in my last 12 months. Most people in this position feel a combination of excitement and trepidation and I was no different. I fantasized about all that free time and what I was going to do. I thought about the lump sum and what I would do with it. No more pointless meetings. No more office politics. No more commuting or getting up at stupid o’clock in the dark and cold to go to work in the winter. Brilliant!!

However, when I walked out of Headquarters for the last time, I actually felt like I was having a weird out of body experience. I think I had built it up in my mind so much that when it happened it felt unreal. My wife took me to a nice restaurant in Birmingham to celebrate and we drank cocktails and we both got pretty drunk.

It all felt weird in the next few weeks, but like many people in their last years of service, I had accrued time off and annual leave, so I was basically on holiday. I’m a keen fisherman, so I did a lot of fishing when the kids were at school and because the weather was lovely I had a great time for about five or six weeks. I then cycled to the South of France with a good friend and had an amazing summer with my wife and kids.

During this time I registered a limited company to advise technology providers developing solutions for law enforcement. I know my stuff and I have a good reputation nationally. I felt confident that I could make a good living to supplement my pension, put some money away for a rainy day and support my wife and two young children. I had been divorced eleven years earlier and taken a massive financial ‘hit’ as a result. I had already put two older children through school and university, so complete ‘retirement’ wasn’t an option for me and to be fair stopping working would have driven me to boredom and distraction.

Starting a new business is scary. I was filled with nervousness and self-doubt about whether anyone would actually give me work, how I would be paid, what the tax implications were

and a hundred other things. However, I basically believed that I had qualities and knowledge that others would pay for.

Quite quickly I had a lucky break, when I was introduced to a venture capitalist who was investing in a number of businesses where he felt I could help. He took me on and offered to pay my company a day rate plus expenses. The initial offer was two or three days work a week for up to eighteen months. Perfect!

I started work in late summer and I really enjoyed it. I was travelling around the UK and doing some very interesting stuff. I was also learning a lot about the commercial world. I couldn’t believe how lucky I had been.

However, in late September 2019 the VC pulled the plug on the company I had been supporting. This came as a complete surprise to them and also to me. Within a few days I had gone from being busy to having no work. In reality, if you’re delivering three days a week to a customer, means that the other two days are committed to new business development, admin and book-keeping.

To cut a long story short, to this day I have never been paid for any of the work that I did for them and on the 23rd of December they went into administration. I started to pursue my £13K debt in the civil court, however the liquidation meant that this debt is unlikely ever to be paid.

This hit me hard. It was a new business and I had told friends about my good fortune in getting such a great contract and I now felt angry and embarrassed. After a few weeks of no work and frustration, I sank into a short period of total despondency. I found it hard to motivate myself and I was becoming short-tempered with the kids. I could feel a blanket of gloom settling around me. I knew that if I didn’t snap out of it I would be no good to anyone. I realised too that I was also experiencing some ‘delayed grief’ about leaving the police. I had lost my identity as a police officer. I had lost my status as a senior officer. I had lost my professional network and my business was in debt.

I had to force myself back into a more positive mindset. My wife was incredibly supportive, but she also gave me the kick up the arse that I needed. I returned to business development and as I write this I have now been offered two new contracts.

My advice to people leaving the police is this:

"Enjoy the freedom to do what you want, but expect some emotional and psychological adjustment. You have a lot of valuable experience and skills that people will pay for, but don’t be naïve about the commercial world".

It’s mostly about money and whether you can make money for someone else. You will need to negotiate hard on your own behalf which doesn’t come easy for people who have never done that before. However, if you have a pension this gives you a lot of power and allows you to take some risks. If you don’t like the way that someone does business you can walk away. Finally, listen to your instincts. If something doesn’t feel quite right it probably isn’t, so ask lots of questions and do your due diligence.

If you're interested to find out more about Iain, you can find him on LinkedIn here.

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