Tossing around in bed one day, my head and throat were pounding.
Working long hours at my job as a business manager for an oil and gas company, I was incredibly run-down. Plus, I’d spent the past eight weeks recovering from glandular fever.
Although I liked my job, I’d been in the same role for 10 years and had started to get itchy feet. And with two young sons, Jude, then 10, and Dane, six, I felt like I was missing out on their childhoods.
‘Will you come to my school assembly, Mum?’ Dane asked one day.
But instead, I was stuck in board meetings while my sister Diane, then 51, went in my place.
My kids are growing up in front of my eyes, I thought sadly.
Still, I was earning a six-figure salary, and money like that was hard to pass up. But I knew if I kept working myself into the ground, I’d end up burnt out.
With previous experience in entrepreneurial work, I had the skills to start my own business. I just needed to think outside of the box.
A few years earlier a friend had mentioned that she knew someone who cut old people’s toenails for a living.
‘That’s disgusting!’ I’d replied.
But the more I thought about the idea, the more it made sense.
Though I’d never had any issues cutting my own toenails, I knew elderly people often struggled
to reach their toes.
In fact, my own dad needed to see a podiatrist to have his talons trimmed.
Thankfully, he didn’t have to travel far. But it got me thinking about all the people who had to make the long and expensive trek for such a simple task.
So that night I sat down with my then husband Paul, to talk about taking the leap.
‘I want to start a business to cut people’s toenails,’ I said.
At first he looked at me like I’d gone mad. But once I explained how I could help others, he was on board.
‘I think you should go for it,’ he said.
So, using the money I’d saved from a recent work bonus, I decided to purchase a Sydney franchise of The Pedi People in January 2015.
After undergoing training at a private institution, I became fully accredited.
Although it felt awkward touching other people’s feet at first, my job was to make them feel at ease.
‘How has your day been?’ I’d ask, while I got to work on their tootsies.
I never imagined I’d be tending to people’s toenails for a living, but I felt like a natural.
And when others asked about my career change, I loved seeing their reactions.
‘You did what?’ they’d ask shocked.
‘That’s my worst nightmare,’ said another.
While it wasn’t something I ever imagined I’d be doing, I was proud of taking the leap.
Putting an ad in the local paper, I couldn’t wait to get down and dirty with feet.
Still, I didn’t want to get caught out by putting all my eggs in one basket, so I stayed part-time at my office job until I built up clients.
But as word spread about my simple service, I could barely keep up with demand.
And just two months after launching, I was able to leave the corporate life behind and work the hours that suited me.
Though I’m sure many were grossed out by the idea, I didn’t mind.
Travelling all over Sydney to trim nails, remove callouses and massage feet, I’d never been happier.
But the best part was seeing what a difference I was making to the lives of my customers.
‘You’re so gentle,’ one lady said.
‘I feel like a new person,’ said another.
Before long, I was working six days a week.
Seeing up to 17 customers a day, I was busy but loving every minute. And soon some of them even became close friends.
Sometimes I was the only person my elderly clients would see all week. So after transforming their tootsies, I’d often sit down with a cup of tea and talk about their days.
Reminiscing about their lives and what they’d learned, I gained some golden advice.
‘Make the most out of every moment,’ one customer said.
Others spoke about the importance of family after they’d lived through the horrors of wars and even the Holocaust.
During every appointment I’d gone to help them, but the reality was they were helping me.
I’ve never appreciated life more, I realised.
Within six months, I’d managed to bring on over 150 clients across the city.
But my services didn’t just benefit the elderly.
I also tended to pregnant women, people living with disabilities and others who just wanted to be pampered in the privacy of their home.
With express toenail cutting services starting at $45 and a full manicure and pedicure for $160, there was something on offer for everyone.
And in January 2016 – a year after purchasing the franchise – I went all in on the company with the original founder, Karen.
Now, almost four years on, we’ve since launched six more franchises across NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Canberra, and manage a team of dedicated employees.
The business is showing no signs of slowing down either.
I’m definitely no worse off now than I was working in a corporate environment. And the extra cash has given us the freedom to go on much-needed family holidays.
It’s hard to believe that I can now pay my bills with toenail clippings.
While it’s not for everyone, I’m proud to have found my talent for tending to tootsies!