After logging into my credit card account and doing some quick (yet painful) math last summer, I arrived at the sum total of $26,000. Oops, forgot the negative sign there, I arrived at the sum total of -$26,000.
That’s right, leaving my secure 9-to-5 with a smug look only a naive 20-something can pull didn’t quite pan out as profitably as I had anticipated.
Pursuing my passions wasn’t as lucrative of a gig that a lot of self-help writers profess.
Hence the metaphorical (and literal) giant facepalm. $26,000 of debt. What the hell was I thinking?
Listen, I don’t want this to happen to you. I get it. You hate your work. You commute 10 hours only to sit at a desk for another 14. The day is either unfulfilling or flat out boring. Your co-workers are annoying, your boss is overbearing, and the coffee is always burnt.
You want out.
I’ve been there. But now I’m here.
My goal is to talk you down from the ledge. Don’t jump, or at least not until you’ve made essential preparations first.
I don’t regret my decision of quitting my 9-to-5, however, I wish I hadn’t let my frustrations cloud my judgment.
I can’t go back in time to change anything, but I can share with you what I’ve learned along the way.
In doing so, maybe I can help you avoid the same $26,000 mistake.
Step 1: Stay Patient
This bears repeating first: Don’t jump. Don’t quit. Stay Patient.
As a former eager and ambitious 20-something-year-old, I know this is tough advice for some people. Now in my 30s, I have a much more realistic understanding of self-employment and the challenges it poses.
Namely, how to make money.
I know the gurus like to throw the poofery at you and say stuff like Follow your dreams and Hard work always pays off. Tuck those things away for another day. Today you need to hear the hard truth.
Leaving your 9-to-5 to build your own career is not a decision to be taken lightly. Therefore, I suggest the following.
- Get yourself some advisors or close friends who aren’t afraid to call you out for your bullish!t. Don’t do this alone. Talk to people who’ve done it and succeeded. Talk to people who’ve done it and failed.
- Have a 3-year plan. Over the next 36 months, save money and make money. (More on this in a bit).
- Use this time to build a 5-to-9. What’s a 5-to-9? I’m glad you asked.
Step 2: Build a basic revenue model (or a few)
By the time I left my 9-to-5, I had two clients. Eight months later I had zero.
If you’re wondering how I ended up with $26,000 of debt, here’s a simple equation to remember: zero clients = zero revenue
I don’t have an MBA, but I’m pretty sure I can safely say:
- Having one or two clients isn’t a business
- Writing online and making $3 an article isn’t a business
- Selling makeup on Instagram isn’t a business
At most, they are pieces of a business, the seeds of something bigger. Don’t confuse Hey, I just made $10 on Shopify with Hey, I have a proven revenue model to support me and my family.
While staying patient at your full-time job, focus on building assets that will eventually generate revenue.
If you’re going the solopreneur route, assets are things like an email list, a website, and your unique marketable skill sets.
Take advantage of receiving a paycheck every other week and fund your assets while still working a 9-to-5. This will mean giving up a few luxuries, but what is more important to you?
Trust me, starting from scratch without a 9-to-5 leads to desperation. Build your assets first.
Step 3: Learn to budget and save up cash
Some “experts” set arbitrary targets such as 3 to 6 months of living expenses saved up before leaving your job. I disagree, I say have 18 months on hand.
Remember in Step 1 when I mentioned having a 3-year plan, this is part of that plan. Over the next 36 months, your goal is to save up 18 months’ worth of cash.
That’s a lot of cash and some people might argue that having a safety net encourages you to slack off as a solopreneur. I disagree with every fiber of my body.
If you’re crazy enough to leave your 9-to-5, no pile of cash will dampen your drive and ambition.
When you don’t have a pile of cash to fall back on you don’t take risks. Instead, you play it safe and take on any client and project that comes your way. Eventually, you burn out (like I did).
18 months of cash is a lot of money, so it will require you to use a little old skill called budgeting.
The good folks at YNAB (You Need a Budget) have an amazing tool and philosophy around budgeting:
- Give every dollar a job
- Embrace your true expenses
- Roll with the punches
- Age your money
I could write an entire article series about how this tool has helped pull us out of debt, but that’s for another day. For now, get serious about budgeting and start saving. You’re going to need it.
Step 4: Grow your following
In Step 2 I mention building assets and assets are things you own and generate revenue. Well, you need to get eyeballs to your assets and that takes building a following.
You can go the more “traditional” route and grow your following on Facebook and Twitter and other various social media platforms. Or you can go more niche: Quora, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest.
I’m not a digital marketing expert. I know there are tricks and hacks to growing a following quickly, but I avoid those. If you want to grow a following who actually care about you and what you can offer, stick to this plan:
- Be a real human
- Create good content
- Interact with other humans
Don’t follow and unfollow. Don’t mess with scheduling Tweets. Don’t farm out your content. Educate, entertain, or encourage. That’s all it takes.
Step 5: Prepare yourself mentally
I never considered myself an anxious person before leaving my 9-to-5. I had an occasional bad every once and awhile. We all do, it’s life.
But my mental health has been through the wringer since leaving. I’ve lost clients, I’ve fired clients, I’ve spent time on projects that never pan out. I’ve felt alone. I’ve felt scared. I even looked at local jobs to see if anyone was hiring.
The day you leave your 9-to-5 to go out there and build your thing, that should be a good day. A day to celebrate and fondly look back on, not a day you regret.
Having jitters about the prospect of leaving your 9-to-5 is natural. But you should also have a plan for when those jitters turn into nerves.
But that January of 2018 when I had my one and only client call to say they ran out of funds to pay me. That was a low month. I wasn’t prepared.
From this experience, I’ve learned more about myself than the previous 27 years of my life. I’ve learned that exercise and reading help re-set my brain. I’ve learned to live by my personal mantra: Do something, anything.
Am I still afraid? Of course. But I have a process to deal with that now. When I left my job, I was like Lewis and Clark without a first aid kit.
Everyone has a different approach to mental health. Get in touch with yourself and prepare for the difficult journey ahead.
Where to go from here
I hope by now you’ve taken a moment to think about the implications of leaving your full-time job. I remember the days spent sitting in a drab cubicle, longing for the day to leave.
It’s a big decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
If you want to learn a thing or two more about building your 5-to-9, I’m launching a new free email course to share everything I know.
Until then, stay patient and prepare. Don’t make the same $26,000 mistake.