Here is how I made the leap from working in an office to working for myself, and my advice on how you can do it too.
1. Making the Decision
For me, this was the easiest part and also the hardest part. If I didn’t have a husband, a family, a mortgage and bills to pay, it would have made things a lot easier, but the reality is, those things are my first priorities. I knew I wanted to do this, but I had to figure out a way to make the transition without allowing anyone or anything to suffer. It needed to be a seamless transition with minimal impact. I think the first time I mentioned quitting my job to Ken, he laughed at me.
Over the course of several months, we worked together to find a way to make it work for our family. We crunched numbers together, we talked for hours together about how we would manage financially and how our lives would change. Maybe for the better, maybe for the worse, but the key is that we worked together. We were a team throughout the planning process. Even though Ken has nothing to do with the business, we still need to work together constantly to juggle schedules, child care and any extra-curricular activities that occur outside of “normal” working hours. I reassured him constantly that I would not make any stupid decisions and I would not rush into anything.
We decided that I would leave my job approximately six months after we made the decision. Having an exact date was important because it gave me a deadline to get my sh*t together 🙂
Quitting my job was never something I took lightly. There was a lot at stake here. I spent months researching and familiarizing myself with the “what ifs?” of business ownership. I joined networking groups, subscribed to blogs and talked to people who have been there. I did all the research I could do until I felt I was ready to make my decision.
2. Weighing the Pros and Cons
Working in an office was safe. It was a cozy little blanket of security wrapped around me while I sat in my ergonomically-correct swivel chair. My paycheck was the same each time, it came on the same day and the biggest surprise would be if they misspelled my name by accident. I showed up in the morning, had coffee breaks, chatted with my friends and had nice long lunch breaks. At the end of the day, I turned my computer off and went home. That’s it. Nice huh?!
Not for me.
At the office, there was no opportunity to make more money if I worked harder. I had to go to the same place every. single. day. I sat in the same cubicle every. single. day. The walls were beige. Everyone wore khaki pants. I was bored.
When I started imagining what it would be like to work for myself, at first I had romantic visions of setting my own hours, working when I wanted to, working as MUCH as I wanted to and going to work in my pyjamas. I anticipated the drawbacks to be minimal. I mean, how much work could it really be?
Fast forward to today. Here’s what it’s really like:
– I am available for my children. Snow days, sick days, cancellations, class trips – I can be there, no questions asked.
– Working when I want. I set my hours and I stick to them. I limit the time I spend away from my family on the weekends and I maximize my hours during weekdays.
– I do go to work in my pyjamas. Days when I’m not shooting or meeting with clients, you’ll find me in my office, coffee in hand, dog at my feet. Bliss.
– Freedom. When I’m stuck or frustrated with my work, I take Rex and we go for a walk. Or I take a long shower. Or I try something new for dinner. I get groceries when I want. I never have to go shopping on the weekends ever again.
– There is never enough time. My work days have to coincide with school and daycare schedules. I never work when I’m with my kids unless they are sleeping. Griffin comes home at 2 pm every day, so my work day often ends then.
– It’s a juggling act. Being lucky enough to work from home comes with one MAJOR downfall – you are in your home. On any given day, I am surrounded by laundry that needs to be done, dishes that need to be washed and a house that is drowning in chores that need completing. It can be hard to turn a blind eye to things that clearly need attention.
– Acknowledging my weaknesses. I have nothing to hide behind anymore. If my business fails, there is only one person to blame – me. For this reason, I have to own up to my weaknesses and figure out how to strengthen myself in these areas. Client relations, networking and talking someone’s ear off? No problem! Accounting, money tracking and controlled spending? Problem. I’m working on it 🙂
– The stigma. Now that I work from home, obviously I’m a stay-at-home Mom, right? Now that I work from home, my house must always be clean, right? Now that I work from home, I’m a better mother, right? Whoa. Easy now. No, no, no to all of these things. The only thing that’s changed is my office location. I still work “full-time,” and if anything, I work harder than I did before.
Don’t even get me started on the stigmas attached to being a photographer 🙂
3. A Little Thing Called Money
It takes money to make money, and I knew I was going to have to cough up a good chunk of change to make my dream a reality. There are many ways to go about doing this – loans, credit, bartering – I’ve used them all. Whatever way you choose, the important thing to remember is that you are completely transparent with your partner, or anyone else who will be affected by your financial decisions. The fastest way to ruin your personal life is by keeping secrets about your professional life. Be up front right from the beginning and keep the communication lines open. Remember that your business affects your whole family, so be sure to follow all the rules. Unless you are an accountant, get one. Do your taxes (on time!) and keep good records of everything. you. spend.
4. Timing is Everything
Don’t rush. There is never a perfect time to make a career change, but there are times when it’s certainly easier than others. For me, it was when our older son started school. By freeing up some of the costs associated with daycare, we were able to justify my career change. Because I am in a field that has many financial ups and downs, it was critical to time the move properly. We were also at a place in our lives where we knew we were not going to have more children and my husband was stable in a job he truly enjoyed. We know there will be good months and bad months and we’ve committed to budgeting our finances accordingly.
5. You Are NOT Wasting Your Time
I wanted to be a photographer for many, many years, but there never seemed to be a good time to consider actually doing it for a living. Working in a position I didn’t want to be in was really hard at times, but when I look back on the experience and skills I gained from my previous workplaces, I am so grateful to have spent 10+ years in the workplace before transitioning to operating my own business. My previous jobs trained me in everything from etiquette to customer service; project planning to cultural competency; cash flow to inventory… skills that are all applicable to the position I’m in now. I’ve taken courses in spreadsheet and database management, project management, and even in dealing with difficult conversations – how lucky am I?
Don’t discount the opportunities your current job is providing you with. Stockpile the information in your head because in some way, it can probably be translated into a language your next job will understand.
6. You ARE Wasting Time.
Seriously though, what are you waiting for? If you’ve been in the same job for years and are dreaming of making a change, what are you waiting for? If you’re waiting for something to fall into your lap, or someone to take you by the hand and lead you to your dream job, you’re going to be waiting for a very long time. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who falls into their dream job by accident… in which case, you probably wouldn’t be reading this anyway! For the rest of us though, the only way it’s going to happen is by making the (educated!) decision for yourself, taking the plunge and just doing it. Remember, NOTHING is forever.
So that’s it, that’s my story. I researched, I worked hard, I drank lots of wine, I cried a little, and I did it. I have awesome friends who I can
bitch to call or email when things aren’t going well. I have a great husband who helped me find my way. He walked beside me; not in front and not behind. I don’t keep secrets. I work as hard as I possibly can and I always put my children first. I am always willing to learn more. I pretend I’m not shy. I pay my bills and I follow the rules. I waited long enough, but not too long. I am a born optimist, but I know when to bring myself back down to earth.
(Although I like it up here in the clouds much better – closer to the rainbows and flying unicorns :))
Loving every minute of it,
Have you ever been in the same position? Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to make a career change?