May 30, 2012
A. Hand over my heart, swear on the Bible answer?
I knew I couldn’t continue living life as I had been living it while working a full-time corporate position, trying to be some semblance of a Godly wife, and spending any and all of my spare time (and hours I never knew actually existed) serving my clients and running a business. I wasn’t giving 100% to any single area of my life and there was no pretending that I was excelling at ANYTHING, let alone the things I truly loved. I missed my husband. I cried every single night. I never saw my friends. I wasn’t eating well. I was under-slept and wildly emotional. I saved any social graces I could still muster for client meetings, sessions and weddings and left my family, co-workers and anyone who happened to be on my warpath to deal with the growing disaster that I was becoming. That is the honest answer. I hit my max. I wasn’t myself anymore. And something had to go.
Woofta. Now that is honesty.
Your answer may be (and goodness, for your sake, I hope it is) different than mine. But there’s a likelihood that my answer touches on something you have hidden away deep in the recesses of your heart. Something you have buried because it’s too painful to acknowledge out loud. I’m with you. I am. Those months between where I felt I was ready to make the leap to my last day at my corporate job were some of the hardest months of my life. The knowledge that while things are going to happen that are out of your control, you are 100% in control of your attitude & emotional responses does not make life or handling the emotions any easier.
This was my situation. And yours? Yours is likely to be different but one thing is true; while I talk a lot about emotions, this is not a decision that you can (or should) make based purely on how you do or don’t feel. (As it turns out, you can’t pay your mortgage with emotions.) If you are thinking about taking that jump into making photography (or, really, any self-owned business) your only source of income, here are three things that I believe imperative to preparing for success.
I won’t go much into this one but if you are thinking about quitting your day job and have not yet incorporated your business or have business insurance to cover your equipment and liability? That is a pretty massive necessity. Make sure you have a solid brand & client experience in place to attract your ideal client. If you have not already, run the numbers; make sure you know how much it costs you to serve your clients. Create a budget. (Yes, you have to.) Hire a great accountant who can help you figure out how the ever changing tax laws affect your business. This isn’t rocket science but if your goal is to make your business your full-time venture you need to be dead serious about making sure your company is in a place to handle that transition.
Emotionally before you make the leap you feel like a big, giant ball of INEEDTOBEFULLTIMERIGHTTHISMINUTE and ICAN’TWAITANYLONGERTODOTHIS but what happens the first Monday you wake up without an obligation to be anywhere but right in front of your computer? Well, let me tell you. You end up spending a full 1/2 day visiting six different area Best Buy & Targets looking for High School Musical 1, 2 AND 3 because you know they will make the perfect background noise to editing and by the time you get lunch (because you are out, duh) and get home it’s nearly 2pm and you’ve spent $200 ($40 of which is in Essie nail polish colors) and you are no closer to finishing the edits for the wedding, 3 engagement sessions and 2 lifestyle sessions in your queue.
I won’t lie to you; my dream-like views of “being my own boss” were so vastly different from the reality that it was hard to reconcile. I envisioned waking up, enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee, walking the dog, taking the time to clean the house, fitting in a solid 6-8 hours of working and then having dinner cooked (or on it’s way to being cooked) by the time Matt came home. HAH. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Little did I realize that fitting all of that in meant a 4am wake-up call, a caffeine IV and a time-space continuum miracle.
There are these little emotional daggers that no one really mentions (or it’s possible they did and I just was too wrapped up in my own ball of I can’t do this one minute longer stress to hear them). Like how necessary boundaries are. Especially when you are on your own. Just because you have an extra 10 hours a day doesn’t mean that you won’t end up working until 2am most nights unless you actively create boundaries for yourself. And that a pile of laundry or dishes in the sink (or your dog) can be enough of a distraction to hinder your work. And that yes, yes you can really can waste an entire day refreshing your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds while simultaneously online shopping at J.Crew.
The truth is that working for yourself can also be incredibly lonely. And yes, that is an understatement for this extreme extrovert. After a full work day of not speaking to one other human being, I would literally attack Matt the minute he walked in the door. Hi. How was your day? What did you do? Who did you see? What did you eat for lunch? Did you miss me? My introverted husband put up with that for about a week before he sat me down and told me I needed to find some way to have some human interaction during the day.
The ability to spend all of my time running my business and calling the shots in my own life on a daily basis is such a HUGE gift; please don’t mistake what I am saying in all of this. But it is hard. Like really hard. It takes discipline, eliminating distractions and a whole case burning candles, soy lattes and mellow music and sometimes it even means turning the wifi off, shutting my office door and focusing on the photos. For me, it meant creating a schedule for my day. It meant giving up the notion of walking Gunnar twice a day every day. It meant giving up the notion that being my own boss did not automatically make me a better wife, (dog)mom, cook, housekeeper or friend. (And there is a lot of relief in saying that statement out loud.)
I don’t have all of this figured out. And I don’t know that I ever will figure it out completely but over the last 12 months, I’ve learned that schedules, plans and boundaries actually are effective. And certainly help keep those emotional daggers at bay to give you the space and the freedom to run your business. There are still days where I greet Matt at the door with 20 questions and a serious need to be hugged but we are working on that. Still.
Arguably the most important part of this readiness triangle and also the hardest to talk about. Double whammy.
No matter your financial situation or management, preparation is your biggest weapon. Have an Emergency Fund. Plan for the slow season. Have a real knowledge of how much money you have to make every month to cover necessary bills. Plan for Health Insurance. Budget for your costs that will go up when you are working from home. Things like coffee. And electricity. And…toilet paper. (Truth.)
I truly believe this is the portion that is the hardest. I don’t say that to scare you but if it doesn’t, maybe it should. I somehow floundered through the emotional portion of the transition but the financial part was the biggest obstacle that I was ill-prepared to handle. (See day I spent $200 with $40 on just nail polish for reference.) Even though this was a topic that was covered ad nauseam in our household, the drastic shift in lifestyle change that I knew (and accepted and desperately wanted) had to happen was far harder to actually put into practice when it came down to it. It is a lovely thought to think that these things will just fall into place once you are doing something you love but the reality can be a lot more complicated.
This is why I say preparation is your biggest weapon. Those sacrifices you said would be no big deal to enforce? (Oh, hey J.Crew.) Why not actually DO THOSE THINGS before you are in a position where you have to. Save the money you would normally spend on your daily latte from Starbucks and put it in your Emergency Fund for a month. See how this affects you emotionally. It’s possible that morning latte gives you a solid start to your day and without it you feel unproductive. You should know these things going into it. I had a bad habit of managing my stress with a trip to (insert any retail store ever); this was something I thought would just go away once I was pursuing my passion 24/7 (go ahead, you can laugh at me) and when it didn’t, I had to find other ways to manage stress. It seems SO small but we build habits like these without realizing we are doing it and 5+ years of this habit (in my case) made it one difficult habit to break.
Listen, I’m not an expert on this area but this guy is. You can ignore everything I’ve said on this post but don’t discount the experts. I’m not here to tell you how to handle your finances but there is no creativity killer like stress and financial stress is up there with the worst kind of stress out there. So plan. And execute before you have to. And make sure you budget for toilet paper.
It came and went without much fanfare but two Saturdays ago marked one year since I left my full-time corporate job. And while I still feel akin to a beginner on this whole be-my-own-boss thing, I’ve certainly learned a few things but there are also approximately one million things I would do differently. What I actually have figured out is that this isn’t an exact science. You may already have things figured out. You may not. You might have already given your notice without any of these points in place or you may have had the points in place for years but are having trouble finding the courage to make the leap.
I can’t tell you what to do; the timing is different for everyone but what I can tell you is that this was the best decision I have ever made for myself, my family, my business and quite frankly, my sanity. It has not been without roadblocks and the occasional detour but even in the darkest of nights, this is still the only path for me.
Don’t discount making efforts to prepare (in fact, DO MAKE CONSIDERABLE EFFORTS), but follow your gut. Don’t let fear control this decision. And always, always, always, serve your clients to the best of your abilities. (Even if this means editing with High School Musical in the background. They will never know. Unless you tell them on your blog. Like right now.)
If there are any questions you would like answered, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org anytime. Night or day. Day or night.