The following is an interview with Nicole, who recently left her full-time job to put her effort into her business. She wrote about the process on her blog, but I had more questions for her. Her business is Breaking Even Communications, which is a full-service internet marketing and web content creation company.
What made you decide to leave your full time job and strike out on your own?
It was both one of those wonderful and completely stress inducing realizations. I’ll start with the stress.
I’ve been wanting to work for myself for awhile (the last few years) and I began doing internet marketing/copywriting part time with my website/blog over a year ago. Early this year, things started to pick up and at one point I was working 60-70 hours a week: 40 at my normal newspaper job, 5 or so as an adult ed teacher (conversational French if you’re curious), and 20ish as Breaking Even Communications. One day, I ran out of gas driving to work. A different day, I forgot to wear a jacket in the middle of January. In short, my brain was fried and I realized I couldn’t keep up the pace indefinitely.
The more beautiful, romantic part of the story was a meeting with a client in my apartment one day. I had a great time with her and at the end, she paid me more money then I earned in three days at my newspaper job. That’s when I realized I could love what I do and get paid. It could actually work.
So it was a combination of not being able to continue the status quo as well as realizing I not only had the skills but the income stream to make it happen. I gave myself a deadline to decide what to do and as the day approached, the decision became obvious.
It was hard to leave the newspaper because I love my coworkers and really learned a lot (and I think would have continued to do so if I stayed). But this work is more in line with my career/life goals, and in the end, my old workplace was quite supportive of my venture.
What financial preparations did you make before doing so?
So I’ve been saving $25 a week for about a year and a half into an ING account I never look at. I called the account “European Vacation” but I knew it has other possibilities. That money would be enough for me to live off of for the summer if it came down to not having any money come in at all.
I also secured a part time job for the summer. I live in a very touristy area and a three-month, $10/hour part-time job (at an inn) with regular hours is just enough to give me a steady paycheck to pay the bare essentials (rent, food, and gas) while I ramp up my workload for my business. I can also do other things while I am there, like read trade books or answer client emails, which is kind of handy.
And as an absolute last resort, I have a little bit of money in the bank I received when my father died two years ago. I haven’t touched it. I think I was saving it for when I had a family or wanted to buy a house. I realize now though that this business is really important to me and not at all a frivolous way to use it. My goal, however, is to continue not to use that. But having it there does give me extra comfort.
How long did it take you to prepare?
It took me about a year an a half. I gave myself a go date: June 1, 2009. I figured it would become clear by then whether this was viable or not and it gave me a deadline, which motivated me to put in big hours these last few months. I just kept my eyes on the prize…
How did you decide the form of your business?
I remember last January, a local businesswoman came into the newspaper to ask me some questions about blogging. (She was going to blog on our newspaper site.) She had just set up a blog on her own business website and after talking to her for ten minutes, she said something like “You’re really smart and know your stuff. How would you like to help me with my blog a few hours a week, and maybe some other things?” I remember thinking, “What, someone will pay me to do this?” And it kind of branched out from there. People began asking me questions about social media or affiliate marketing and I’d do my homework and experimenting on my own and come back to them.
I realized that I had to keep my business and personal stuff seperate yet related so I set up a business page off my blog and a business account at my local bank. I slowly grew my presence, slowly adding things like a price list and client list and focusing my services.
So while the business did happen accidentally and grow organically, I did take the time to structure it for its success as I went along.
How did you decide what you wanted to do?
I’ve always been really good with people and I didn’t realize how rare my skills were until the past couple of years. People enjoy working with me, and that’s worth a lot I think. Business owners have enough to think about that I don’t need to make them feel stupid about technology.
Besides being social, I actually know internet marketing. I’ve learned a lot from doing my blog the past year and a half. I have not only experimented on the blog but have expanded my network, read books, followed trends, and really I think taken a lot of opportunities to learn. That’s not to say I couldn’t know more but I sometimes feel like I say really obvious things about a website or concept, and someone will look at me and say “I get why people pay you to do this.”
And finally, I love the internet, and I love helping business people. I am a great user and appreciator of technology. I also am a big proponent of local business. (I am actually trying to do everything with Breaking Even Communications locally, from business cards to my new desk chair.) It seemed natural for me to combine the internet and working with businesses.
So to have a job I like and I’m good at, finally, in my late 20s is pretty amazing. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
Have you always had entrepreneurial leanings?
I grew up with parents who owned the local hardware store. It’s been in the family for four generations. I remember doing things like helping with inventory at the end of the year or sealing bills (my mom would pay us to lick the envelopes, I think mostly to keep my sister and I busy). I saw how hard my father worked and how proud he was of what he built (the store was expanded underneath his management). I think growing up with a business I saw the fun and reality of working for yourself: that you had to work hard but that it was flexible in its own way too.
Also I’ve always been really self motivated and a natural networker. A few years ago, in the midst of a career crisis, one of my very best friends told me she saw me owning my own business. What kind of business? I asked. Something that hasn’t even been invented yet, she said. It’s so funny how other people saw this entrepreneurial spirit in me way before I did.
What would you tell someone contemplating starting their own business?
If you can, try it part time. If you can work 40 hours a week at your normal job and still love putting in an extra 10-20 every week, I’d say it’s clear you love it.
Also seek feedback from people. You’ll be able to figure out if you’re good at what you are doing or not. For example, I realized in doing this that I am not the greatest copywriter, I am much better at marketing. So I shifted my energy away from seeking writing work and towards marketing jobs. Don’t be afraid to not only seek feedback but use it to adjust your course; it shows you can be flexible, which is very important.
And finally, write a business plan. What would your business do? How is it different from what other people are doing? It’ll feel tedious but outlining it will save you headaches and heartaches and do things like keep you from undercharging for your work or overspending on “necessary” equipment.
How have things gone for you so far?
So far, things are going well. I have a few small clients and I am working on a contract with a larger client, which I didn’t think would happen so soon in my venture. In short, money is starting to come in quicker then I thought. So far so good!
To be honest, I expected a lot of backlash about this. Quitting a good job in the middle of a recession seems like it would have been perceived as a stupid, cocky thing to do. But I have not gotten one negative response. People say that I was thoughtful about it and went about it in just the right way. One of my friends replied to my email simply with “Leap and the net will appear.” I thought she was a little cuckoo, but it really did.
I won’t lie, the first two weeks I didn’t sleep well. I was worried about the money not coming in and whether I had made a huge mistake. But this could never be a mistake. I am lucky enough to be able to give a dream a shot, and no matter how well it turns out, that’s pretty fantastic.