I know when I quit my day job at the end of last year to focus on working for myself, that many people assumed I’d “made it.” And while my life feels different now- lighter, more in alignment - let me tell you, it’s also not as glossy as it might appear.
That’s a pretty obvious trend: we make assumptions about people’s lives based on what we see online but that’s never the whole story. As I’ve gotten to know more of the online entrepreneurs that I admire, I’ve learned that when it comes to money things often aren’t as they seem. Yes, lots of people are working their hustle full-time but for many of us there are bridge jobs or support from family or inheritances or trust funds or whatever. Or else there are 7 day work weeks and break downs and credit card debt and years working behind the scenes before the “overnight success."
And there’s nothing wrong with any of those things; this is not meant to dampen anyone’s accomplishments. It’s just too say that we’re not anyway seeing the whole picture. And it can be dangerous, I think, this glossing over of the messy parts of our lives. I’ve heard too many stories of people investing everything they’ve got into building a website for a brand new business, that they’re now counting on providing their entire income and that scares me. For most of us it takes a long time to build the vision, structure, and audience necessary to create a sustainable business (as you’ll see, I’m still working on getting there myself).
I recently interviewed Ashley Wilhite who, after busting her ass and reaching considerable success as a coach, threw in the towel and decided that entrepreneurship isn’t for her (at least not right now). It’s just not as glam as it can look online. The hustle is real. The struggles, the uncertainty, and pressure are real.
I’ve been inspired by women like Laura and Chelsea who have been completely vulnerable and honest about what their freelance journeys and income looks like. So today I’m pulling back the curtain and showing you what it took for me to quit my day job and pursue my dream of running a freedom-based business. It’s messy and I’m scared as hell to hit publish but I think the more we can have open and honest conversations around money and dream chasing, the more we’re all be in a good place to design lives we love.
How Long It Took
2015 was the year my business came into focus. I transitioned from running a lifestyle blog to honing in on my niche as a coach and figuring out how I could best have an impact on the world. I launched two courses, hosted several urban retreats, wrote an ebook, created my podcast, and started working with my first coaching clients. I studied my butt off to diversify my skills as a coach and mentor, learned everything I could about running an online business, and hustled like hell tog get things moving.
At one point I was working full-time, writing on every lunch break, recording podcast episodes in the evenings, building my website on the weekend - all while planning our wedding and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life.. And yes, I did burn out and I had to get really intentional about taking care of myself while still getting shit done.
I officially launched my business in July of last year and at that point I knew I wanted to work towards quitting my day job and doing this work full-time.
That being said, I’d been blogging and building my audience for a full FOUR YEARS before that. So while there are definitely stories of people who launch their business and gain tens of thousands of raving fans within months, I was not one of them.
Where My Business Was At
Even though I’ve been at it for a long time in some respects, I don’t have a huge online presence. My website gets around 200 views a day, there are around 1,000 people on my list, and each podcast episode is downloaded by 300-400 people.
Last year I hit the ground running with the intention of building my page views to 30,000 per month. I had a plan, I was working it, and I was seeing results. Instead, halfway through the year, I committed SEO suicide by switching to a different domain and deleting 75% of my content. But I still believe that was the best decision for my business. Numbers don’t mean anything if they’re not coming from people who are truly engaged with and helped by my work. Random Google traffic, spambots, or “follow for follow” bullshit doesn’t do anything to help me grow my business or serve the world.
It’s easy to get caught up in playing the numbers game. And yes, I want to reach more people with my work - both because I want to help more women AND because it can make it easier to make a living. But they’re not everything.
How Much I Saved
Here’s where shit gets really real. Everything I was reading said I should have at least 3-6 months of expenses saved prior to quitting my job. My initial move to the UK decimated my savings and with our wedding, my spousal visa, and our flights to go to Canada this year, we haven’t manage to tuck very much away since then.
I didn’t seem impossible to amass £3,000-6,000 when it already felt like our budget was stretched to the max. But out of necessity, since leaving my job, we’ve reduced our monthly outgoings by £600 per month, so I now realize there were plenty of places we could have cut back in order to save more.
When I left my job I had around £300 in business savings and we had another few hundred quid tucked away in personal savings. But, as I’ll talk about in a minute, I also made sure that we had enough income coming in each month to cover our basic expenses, even if it would be really tight.
One of the ways that I overcame my anxiety about “Oh my god - how are we going to pay rent and feed ourselves?!” was to crunch numbers (even though maths is totally not my subject).
We had a rough budget in place already but what I really wanted to do was figure out the absolute minimum we could spend each month. If you’re planning to quit your job and leap into self-employment, you absolutely need to know what your bottom line is. To do this, I created two minimalist budgets: one that was completely bare bones (rent, bills, debt repayment, and food) and a second that allowed us each a very small amount of spending money (around £20 per week), as well as savings and a chance to eat out once or twice a month.
This allowed me to figure out exactly how much I needed to be earning in order to make sure our basic needs are met. In order to provide us some financial security (and protect my own sanity), I decided to get a bridge job nannying (which I’ll talk about in the next section). Ultimately it was this decision that allowed me to quit my job earlier than I’d expected and without the piles of savings I thought I needed.
My Bridge Job
I’d grown increasingly unhappy at my day job. I wasn’t challenged there, I didn’t see the point of the work I was doing, and ultimately I felt really pulled away from my purpose and the work that lit me up.
Matthew and I had had many conversations about me leaving my job to focus on coaching and writing. He really encouraged me to take the leap and I began making a plan to leave my job by the end of 2016. However, I was then offered an opportunity to nanny a little girl a few days a week and with the prospect of this extra income, it started to feel possible to leave my job even earlier. That opportunity ended up falling through but it had made me realize that a bridge job was the perfect way to transition out of my day job. Using ChildCare.co.uk I ended up I finding the perfect family to nanny for with hours that were even more ideal for me.
It was really important to find the right kind of work. I’d been doing a lot of reflection about why I was unhappy in my current position because in a lot of ways, it was great: there was a lot of flexibility and I worked with really lovely people. But I came to realize that I do not like showing up at the same desk every day to do more or less the same thing and it’s essential that I see the point of what I’m doing or I just can’t bring myself to care. Running my own business means there’s always a new challenge to tackle and for the most part I can work from anywhere, as long as I’ve got my laptop and a WiFi connection.
There were a lot of things that made nannying feel like the right type of work for my bridge job. It gave me two days every week when I’m not tied to a computer. It’s completely engaging as your attention is absorbed by the child in your care, which leaves very little time for worrying or planning - which can become all-consuming when you’re starting your own business. It’s very physical and I quickly realized how satisfying it is to go home after a day’s work feeling physically exhausted. I adore the family I nanny for and it feels very fulfilling to know I’m making a positive contribution to their lives and the development of their son.
But I also took some missteps in figuring out the right balance of bridge work.
In addition to setting up my nannying position, I thought it was a good idea to start taking on some virtual assistant work. Even though I’d created our minimum viable budget, I was still worried that we’d struggle to get by. I put up a post on Facebook seeing if anyone could use my help in their own businesses and soon I had a bunch of small projects come in.
This seemed great at first as it meant money wasn’t as tight. But then I had a major meltdown in February. I had been out of my day job for a month and a half and I felt so free - until one Sunday evening when I was sobbing uncontrollably on the sofa. The tears had been brought on by something completely irrational - like not having the right ingredients for dinner - until I began digging a bit deeper and I realized I was still feeling pulled in a million different directions. I wasn't making the headway I wanted with my business because I had to prioritize finishing other people’s work that I had committed to doing first.
Ultimately I ended up giving my notice or wrapping up my virtual assistant projects to better focus on my business. I knew by this point that we could support ourselves the way things were and my minimalist budgets helped me feel even more secure in that knowledge.
When we’re working to make big things happen, it’s natural that we’ll face fear and resistance. We’re shaking things up in our lives, stepping out of our comfort zones, and that makes our egos very uncomfortable. The point is not to become fearless (because fear is a necessary evolutionary response) but to become resilient in the face of it. To do some strategic planning, tap into our intuition, and step forward in spite of our fears. That’s the definition of being brave.
I faced a lot of resistance around starting my own business. I worried that I needed more credentials. More business savvy. That I’d never really help anyone. That I’d never make any sales. But I started testing the waters anyway. And that’s so important: rather than trying to bite off the whole thing in one go, just taste the first morsel. Write the first blog post. Take the first photo. Launch the first product. Whatever it is, we always have to start with the first step.
I knew from putting my work out into the world that I was already in a place where I was helping people so even when doubts and fraud-y feelings came to the surface, I was able to use that knowledge to bolster myself and make brave choices.
Many of my fears were based around how we’d survive financially and in those cases it actually helped me to consider the worst case scenario.
The actual worst case scenarios for most situations is that you die (sorry - it’s true). But if we paid too much attention to those kinds of worst case scenarios, no one would cross the street or even take a shower.
When we dive into the more probable negative outcomes for the case at hand we realize that they could happen and we’d still have options. We’d still be okay. Actually, in most cases these kinds of worst case scenarios closely resemble our current circumstances (failing! having to get another day job! being broke!). When looked at in this light, the choice becomes: stay in the circumstances we’re unhappy with or try something new and maybe end up back in the circumstances we’re unhappy with (in which case we could try something else).
Examining what possibilities I’d have if I failed, taking things one step at a time, surrounding myself with supportive people, doing my research, and creating a plan were all important factors in overcoming my resistance but ultimately I had to leap. I had to wake up my morning knowing I was going to quit my job, walk into my bosses office, and do it. It was scary but I knew that no matter what happened, I’d be okay.
Business Role Models
Whether it’s giving up alcohol or launching your own business, it always helps to have role models: people who have already accomplished what you’re setting out to do and thus stand as a testament to the fact that it is possible.
I found myself really inspired by Sarah Morgan who has written a lot about how she made the escape and features interviews with entrepreneurs who have done the same. By Sarah von Bargen who seems to master a great balance of business success with fun life shenanigans. By Mariah Coz who proves time and time again that a lot of tenacity and hustle can create huge results in a relatively short amount of time.
But for me it was also really important not to get caught up in what other people had done. What works for one person might not work for you, especially if they started their business at a different time. So I really focused on letting these role models show me what was possible rather than allowing them to dictate what I should do in my own business.
Three Months In
The thing that’s surprised me the most about the first quarter of this year is that I’ve been doing less selling than I expected. And I don’t mean that in terms of the numbers I’m making but rather that I’m not focusing very much on selling right now. As I mentioned, I started out by trying to diversify my income too much and ultimately this took my focus away from my own business. So now I’ve scaled things back and I’m spending the first four months of the year building really strong foundations for my business: cleaning up the back end of my website, writing sales funnels, and working through a group coaching program. Even though I’d done a lot of content marketing over the years (before I even officially had a business), there are a lot of nuts and bolts components that I didn’t know about back then. Or that I’d never had the time or know-how to implement. By living lean right now and making sure my foundations are strong, I know I’ll be in a much better position to grow my business and increase my income.
So far in 2016, my business is earning about £300 per month through a combination of digital product sales, 1-to-1 work, and in-person events. This is definitely an improvement from the fits and spurts I was earning previously but it’s still not “quit your day job” kind of cash. Which is why my bridge job has been absolutely critical.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert has been a big inspiration for me in that regard. In it, she really stresses the importance of not making your creativity responsible for your livelihood - at least not at first. It’s a surefire way to crush your inspiration and as with the example of my virtual assistant work, it can lead to us making decisions that pull us away from our soul work. There’s no shame in doing something to pay the bills while you work on building a passion project or pursue your creative projects on the side. In fact, I feel really proud of my bridge job. In some strange way, it feels like I’m putting in my dues like a waitressing actress while she builds her fabulous Hollywood career. Plus I was very careful to find work that I adore, so that I no longer feel out of alignment with myself like I did in my day job.
In terms of what a typical day looks like for me right now, there’s a lot of variation but on the days that I work from home generally I get up, meditate, get ready for the day, and sit down to eat breakfast while setting my top priorities and responding to e-mails. I have a call with my mastermind on Monday mornings but other than that I generally dedicate the first half of my day to writing and strategy as it’s when I do my best creative thinking. I break for lunch around 12:30, make myself something to eat, and either go for a walk or watch something on Netflix if the weather’s bad. My afternoons are really variable depending on what I need to get done. They might include podcast interviews, coaching calls, admin, working on collaborations, marketing, or other tasks depending on the day.
Because I had the experience of working as a full-time, freelance writer a few years ago I had already learned to navigate some of the difficulties that come from a less externally structured, self-employed lifestyle in ways that work for me. This looks like setting three top priorities for the day, tackling the most difficult one first, getting out of the house every day even if it's just for a short walk, creating rituals and routines, and interacting with my peers - either in-person or on Skype - throughout the week.
It takes a lot of discipline to work for yourself but it’s definitely a muscle that you can build (it’s not a quality I’ve always had). If you’re interested in learning more about how I keep myself on track, you might enjoy this post about my personal reflection ritual and this one about how I juggle multiple projects at once.
My Long-Term Vision
Since January, my profits have been growing slowly but surely so things are definitely moving in the right direction. By launching new programs, taking on new coaching clients, building up my in-person events, and growing my audience I plan to be earning the same income I was from by day job by the end of 2016. I have a lot of exciting things planned for this space and I’m looking forward to sharing more of my journey with you.
You might walk away from reading this article thinking, “Good for her. Not possible for me.” And I get that. It would not have been much more difficult for me to take this leap so soon if it weren’t for the financial and emotional support of my husband. Not everyone is in that position. But I also wasn’t earning much more than I am now when I first moved to London and I managed to make it work.
What I hope it does show is that there isn’t just one way to quit your day job. It’s all about working what you’ve got, choosing what you’re willing to sacrifice, and getting creative. That’s how I was able to make the money I needed to move from Canada to the UK. And how I helped launch a magazine with no financial backers. And it’s what we do in The Daydream Revolution (registration reopens on April 4th!): we work together to create a clear picture of how the hell you’re going to afford this big thing you want - whatever your starting point it.
I want to be as transparent about this process as possible so if you have a question about how I’ve built my business or how I was able to quit my day job, just pop it in the comments.