It was 2007.
I was an Account Manager for a startup-ish company (read: cool downtown office, lots of young people, OK to wear your pajamas to work) that seemed like the perfect match on paper. Unfortunately, it came with a verbally abusive boss that left me psychosomatic. My breaking point was having to run off a rush hour train to dry heave into a trash can at one of the busiest NYC subway platforms…and feeling fine once I knew I couldn’t go into work that day.
Talk about a wake-up call!
At 29 years old, I was desperate to find a “grown up” job that would give me the benefits I wanted while being something that was also enjoyable. With my BFA in musical theater from NYU, I spent my whole life until that point chasing after work that I loved. While I no longer wanted to make acting my career, it was unacceptable for me to spend the next 36 years of my working life in a job I didn’t find fulfilling.
As much as I wanted to resist it, it became evident that being an entrepreneur fit into my lifestyle goals in a way that being an employee just couldn’t. I realized that I wanted to become the coach I couldn’t find—one that would help other creative types discover their dream career.
It took me two years and seven months to get certified and build my business up enough to be comfortable making the leap, but I was able to give notice in March 2010 to become The When I Grow Up Coach full-time. I’ve never come close to having to put my Plan B into motion, and I’m now making more money and feeling more authentic in my day-to-day than I ever have before.
Here’s what I did to make it happen:
1. I got a “bridge job.”
The job I had with the abusive boss came with needless travel and the expectation to be available on your Blackberry 24/7. There was no way that I could have done that job and got my coaching certification and build my business in a way that would have led me to quit within the timeframe I wanted. So I found what I like to call a “bridge job,” which I took solely to give me the time and energy to work on my career change without having to worry about covering my bills. I became an Executive Assistant at a finance company, where I was expected to clock in at 9 am, clock out at 6 pm, and take a lunch break. Because you were paid for overtime, they didn’t want you to take it. It was ideal to claim my nights and weekends for my business while paying me a salary that met my needs and providing health insurance and a 401K.
2. I saved my own severance.
Every cent I made coaching went into its own savings account, and was only taken out for business expenses. I had my first paying client in January of 2009, and by the time I gave notice in March of 2010, I had about five months of salary saved up. I knew that I could stretch five months severance into seven or eight months of bill paying if I was careful, and that felt like a great nest egg to me.
3. I kept my overhead low.
When I first started out in early 2008, my husband (who is not a designer but knows a bit about coding) made my website. I blogged, tweeted, and emailed via newsletter for marketing purposes—all free. Within a few months, I paid under $200 to a graphic designer to make my logo, my blog banner, my business cards, notecards, and letterhead. When I wanted a professional website to kick off 2010, I bartered with a website designer. If you’re in a service-based business, there’s no need to spend the big bucks right off the bat. Keep that money in your pocket and put it towards your savings.
4. I worked on my business every day.
Nights. Weekends. Lunch hours. No matter how busy the day, I spent at least 15-30 minutes doing something to move my business forward. And not that I condone it, but I took advantage of the downtime I had at work by blogging, tweeting, and answering emails. 15 minutes each day equals almost 8 hours of work, so don’t discount it!
5. I said “no” to lots of social dates.
Yes, I lost some friends who didn’t understand why I no longer attended most happy hours and birthday parties. But when you’re working a full-time job and trying to launch your business, you need to say No to certain things in order to say Yes to others that are more important.
6. I opened my mouth.
I got my first client because my husband told his improv class that I was getting my life coaching certification. I got my second client by sending a Facebook message to a college friend (who I hadn’t seen in 10 years) who I thought could benefit from working together. Other clients came through family, friends, social media and online classes I took that I was active in. If you don’t tell anyone about your business, then you can’t expect to have any sales.
7. I regularly blogged and tweeted.
We didn’t have as many options to use social media as a promotional tool back in 2008 as we do now, but I hopped on the blogging and tweeting train and showed up often. I don’t think it’s necessary – or possible! – to be on every social media platform in 2016, but picking a couple and being there regularly will take you far. Take it from me, 10K Twitter followers and 1300 blog posts later!
8. I become an LLC.
Once my husband and I bought our apartment and I knew that I was going to be able to give notice at my job, I incorporated my business as an LLC. It was important for me to protect myself and my property in case I was ever sued, and it made this whole “starting a business” thing very real.I ignored
9. I ignored certain advice.
My Dad always means well, but he told me that my first website made me look unprofessional since the tone was too casual and the colors too bright. “I wouldn’t hire you,” he said. Since I wasn’t looking to work with 60-year-old business men, I told him I felt confident that my copy would resonate with the 25-45-year-old creative people I wanted to work with. I didn’t change a thing. When Newsweek asked to include me in a video feature on life coaching a few months later, my Dad apologized and told me that I obviously knew what I was doing.
When you leave a stable job to launch something as risky as your own business, you’re going to get a lot of “advice.” Make sure you know what’s worth paying attention to and what, well, isn’t.
While these were the 9 things that led me to ditch my day job and become a successful entrepreneur, I firmly believe that everyone has their own path. Make a list of your non-negotiables in starting your own business, and know that you’ll be able to quit in a way that’ll make you feel comfortable and confident. Instead of taking “the leap” in quitting your job, it’ll be more akin to walking on the ground with a tightrope under you – and realizing, eventually, that you’re walking on your own.
Start building a career you love.