About a year ago, I finally started planning to actually do something I’d wanted to since I pretty much graduated from college: Quit my day job and become my own boss. After three years of blogging, writing and developing content marketing programs for a handful of clients in addition to holding down a 9-to-5 job, I felt I was finally at a place where I could make my side gig my full-time job.
My last day in an office was July 1, 2015. (Cue Champagne popping). Overall, self-employment has been amazing. I have the freedom to make my own hours (which is especially great as a new mom), I work from wherever I want, and I only do business with people I like. Of course, not every day has been a good day, and I’ve made bunch of mistakes that have turned into painful/ valuable learning experiences, but all in all I really love working for myself.
If you’re currently straddling the line between being an employee and being a boss lady, I can’t tell you what to do…but if pursuing your side gig is something you think about every.single.day., it’s probably time to at least try and make it happen. Here are a few things I learned through my own experience that’ll help you make the leap.
- Become a part-time pro. If you’re at a place where you feel like you literally can’t take on any more work or grow your business any more without giving up sleep, exercise, or your significant other, then congrats! It’s time to quit your day job. If your side gig is still in the infancy stages and you don’t have an established client or customer base quite yet (i.e. you’re not making regular sales or don’t have a stable of repeat or retained customers), keep at it for a while. Growing your business while you’re still employed by someone else gives you a chance to see if your side gig can be profitable, iron out any kinks and establish yourself in your new industry before you give up the security and paycheck that comes with a 9-to-5.
- Work the numbers. Besides covering your salary, when you transition to working for yourself you also need to take into account paying for the benefits that came with your old job, like insurance and 401k contributions. You’ll also owe income tax on a quarterly or annual basis, and you’ll be responsible for self-employment tax, which covers things like Medicare and Social Security. Find out more about taxes here.
- Save. It’s traditional entrepreneurial wisdom to save money before you start your business, but I think it’s just as important to save once you’re out on your own. When you start a business of any kind, there will be ebbs and flows. I have good months and bad months, and times when all my clients pay promptly and times when none of them do. While it always sucks to chase people for money or lose a high-paying client, it’s easier to take these things in stride knowing I can still pay my bills with my savings in the meantime.
- Find local resources. As a creative type, I’m not what you would call a natural business person. Things like drafting contracts, accounting, generating business and long-term planning are not my forte. Which is kind of a recipe for disaster if you work for yourself … unless you suck it up and decide to learn how to be a business owner. Feeling overwhelmed with all of the nuts and bolts actually ended up being a good thing for me, because it prompted me to seek out the local small business association, which offered free or inexpensive (like $30) classes on things like writing a business plan, keeping track of finances, and doing your own public relations. They also offered a free mentoring service which allowed me to get one-on-one help with some of my early questions, like whether I should operate as a sole proprietor or an LLC, how to get a business license, what I should put in my client contracts, etc. Check out SBA.gov and Score.org for more info on local chapters and resources.
- Don’t take things personally. Or try not to, at least. When you work for yourself you kind of feel like you are your work, so it can be especially tough to hear negative feedback, lose a client, or admit you have room for improvement, because any criticism of your work kind of feels like criticism of you as a person or a sign that maybe you aren’t cut out for this entrepreneurship thing. This is something I have especially struggled with, but I’m learning to accept that I won’t always get things right the first time, that clients come and clients go, and that my husband is usually right when he gives me advice on managing my finances better. There is such thing as constructive criticism.
- Invest in your business. In the beginning it can sometimes feel frivolous to purchase things that’ll make your life easier because you kind of feel like you’re eating into your profits and spending money you don’t have. But if something will truly make your business more organized, help you multitask, spread the word about your services, and you can afford it without skipping a rent payment… then do it. A professional website design, basic accounting software, or service subscriptions like Dropbox Pro, Photoshop, Hootsuite, or whatever else you need to do you job well are totally, totally worth it.
- Set up an office space. Although some days I’m productive working from my lap top on the couch, it’s absolutely imperative to my success that I have a desk (one that faces a wall so I can’t be distracted in my case) and an office space set up. Because most days if I sit on the couch with my laptop, I want to watch Real Housewives and The Voice and then I get distracted thinking about how Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani are doing so I Google that and then I see a photo and like Gwen’s shoes and wonder if they are LAMB….and then it’s noon and I have done nothing. Even if it’s just a desk that faces a wall, you need a place to go when you need to sit down and get shit done.
- Find good help. I was actually kind of surprised by how quickly my business took off. I’m not saying I’m as successful as I’d like to be or that I’ve doubled my old 9-to-5 salary just yet, but I was able to match it, and had enough clients to fill my time within the first few months … and I wasn’t really prepared for it. And then I had a baby, which didn’t help me free up any time. Luckily, I knew a few good freelance writers that I could hire to help out in a pinch, but my advice would be to get good help lined up before you need it, even if it’s just an on-call intern.
- Enjoy it. It’s funny how we quickly we adapt to change in our lives: A year ago I was dreaming of doing exactly what I’m doing now, but sometimes I find myself dragged down by the tough parts of working for myself: Being alone most of the day, having no real reason to get dressed up, running the business side of my business when all I really want to do is the fun stuff. But then I remember: I can work from a cafe on the sidewalk like in that picture above whenever I want. I can choose the people I work with. I can wake up in the morning and not have to rush to get ready and bring my baby to daycare. And I really try to enjoy it all.