Recently I received an email from long-time reader Selene Bowlby – she was excited to let me know that she was giving her two weeks notice at work to become a full time work-at-home freelancer. I knew Selene had been working towards this goal for a long time – and I knew that she had reached her goal much sooner than she had anticipated.
Turns out it was a full 6 months before she thought she would be able to take that freelance leap.
Since I’ve been a freelancer myself in the past, and I knew what an accomplishment she just achieved, I asked Selene if I could interview her about what steps she took and how pulled it off. Not surprisingly, Selene worked her tail off – here’s what she did to go from cubicle slave to self-employed freedom in 6 months’ time.
Selene, you have been hanging around my site now for around 9 months or so, and I’ve watched you grow from anonymous blogger (WAH(Web)Mommy) to ‘freelance moonlighter’ blogger, and now to full time work at home freelancer. I know you sometimes struggled with some decisions along the way, too. How long have you wanted to run your own business from home, and what were the reasons why you wanted to do so?
To be honest, I’ve probably always wanted to run my own business from home. I officially started my web design company, iDesign Studios, back in 2001 – but I had been doing freelance work prior to that even while still in college. I think it’s pretty common for people in my field to at least moonlight on the side, if not freelance full time.
Although this is something that I’ve wanted for years, it wasn’t until this last year that I finally had the drive and determination to want to run my own business full time. The primary reasons for taking the plunge were time, family and money – as well as just having the entrepreneurial spirit!
This last year in particular, I have been working a LOT in order to be able to take my business to the next level. It has been a big strain to work my day job 40 hours a week, run my business 20-30 hours a week, and of course have time for my family (which is heavily centered around my almost three year old).
In juggling both jobs, I was missing out on so much time with my husband and daughter. Yes, I worked at home, so I had been able to spend a lot of time with them. The juggling act really took me away from my family though – I finally had my “AH-HA” moment a few weeks ago – I posted a very heart-felt article about that on my blog.
Of course money played a big part in the decision, too. As an employee, you’re almost never going to make as much as you could working for yourself (unless you’re in a big metropolitan area, which isn’t the case for me). When you know there are so many things you want to do with your life and for your family, but bringing in a small employee salary is just not going to cut it… well then you have to think of other ways to get there.
Aside from this, I just have that entrepreneurial spirit! There’s a drive behind running my own company that I didn’t have as an employee. The entire process from marketing myself, getting new clients, making sure they’re happy, etc… as well as doing the actual work of designing and developing web sites is something that I find incredibly fulfilling.
As an employee you only have a certain role – you’re not involved in the entire process, and therefore aren’t quite as vested in the entire project. There’s something “more” with owning your own business that you can’t get from being nothing more than someone else’s employee.
When you finally made the decision to work for yourself, what was your plan of action to transition from employee to self-employed? Did you create milestones for yourself, and if you did what were they?
There was definitely a lot of planning involved – mostly dealing with money. I had been freelancing for seven years at this point, so I already had several steady clients, with new ones coming up from time to time. However, I knew I needed to be able to bring in a more steady stream of new clients on a regular basis.
On the financial front, “they” always say you should have at least 3-6 months of savings in the bank – at the very least enough to replace the steady paycheck that I was about to give up. This was my #1 milestone, as well as to pay off a few credit card debts in the process.
What helped me a lot was to setup a few extra savings account. Each month I would divvy up my freelance income: 60% went straight to the six month emergency savings fund; 30% went straight into a tax savings account (because as a self-employed professional, you have to make estimated tax payments on a quarterly basis); the last 10% remained in the main business checking account – to be used for business expenses.
What were some of the ‘surprises’ along the way? Did anything pop up in this process that you weren’t anticipating?
Honestly I’m most surprised by my drive and dedication! Looking back on it now, I honestly have NO IDEA how I made it through the last six months working as hard as I did. I guess it’s somewhat of a survival instinct… “you gotta do what you gotta do” and all that.
The last month before taking the plunge, I realized I had reached a point of complete and total burnout. Some days I physically, mentally and emotionally just couldn’t carry on any longer. Something had to give, and I was lucky enough that it was the day job that I was able to let go.
I’m also incredibly surprised by how well I did. I had planned on it taking an entire year to save up six months of savings in the bank so that I could “safely” take the leap. But every month when I looked at my totals, I was astonished to find that I might be able to do this a month or two sooner than planned. Well, those “month or two’s” ended up being six months early!
Did you have your husband’s support during the transition? How did that influence the process?
Yes, I definitely had my husband’s support, as well as that of my family, friends, clients, and even general acquaintances. The encouragement I received from everyone definitely had a big impact on my success.
Taking the freelance plunge is obviously a BIG change – and change is scary! My husband and the rest of my support team has been behind me 100% to reassure me that this is something that I can and should be doing. They stressed the fact that I deserve to be earning a lot more for the work that I do – more than I was making as an employee.
It’s their support that helped keep me up when I was down, and helped me realize that this was a move I finally needed to make
What role did blogging and social media play in reaching your goal?
You mentioned my anonymous profile, WAH(web)Mommy. I started blogging under that name about a year ago, basically as an outlet to write about my goals and to post my progress – nothing like “putting it all out there” to help keep you accountable!
I “met” so many great people through that blog. It came to a point, though, where I realized an anonymous blog could only get me so far. I was anonymous for obvious reasons (I didn’t want to risk my employer finding about my goals before I was ready to take the leap). But being anonymous meant that I couldn’t link to my portfolio – without this, I had no real credibility as a web designer.
I decided it was time to let go of my WAH(web)Mommy persona, and start blogging under my real name. This of course meant I had to give up a huge part of my blog – I could no longer write about my dreams and goals – however I was able to blog about issues relating to web design, small business and web site marketing, etc. Most importantly, I was able to link to my resume and portfolio – and nothing shows a web designer’s skills and talent like their portfolio!
Through social media, I’ve been able to communicate directly with many of the bloggers whose writing I follow closely. I’ve formed relationships that you can’t form from the comment section of blogs alone. I haven’t officially singed any new clients through social media (yet), but have formed such good relationships with several people that I’ve been referred to several times. There are a few potential new clients that might come from this form of networking. I’d say it is a good business move, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was fun, as well!
What resources did you use to research, gather information, and prepare yourself for running your own business?
There are so many great web sites, but I drew the majority of my information from blogs – some of my favorites are Freelance Folder, Freelance Switch, Itty Biz, ProBlogger, Remarkablogger, Shane & Peter, Inc. and Sparkplugging.
I’ve also found great success with the book “Get Clients Now!” by C.J. Hayden. This book goes lets you create a variety of 28 day marketing programs and stresses the fact that you need to place a major priority on self promotion. It serves as a great reminder, because I often find that my own marketing efforts get set on the back burner whenever client work comes in.
Naomi Dunford of Itty Biz was a HUGE help to me. I’ve hired her for her home business marketing services several times so far. Our first consultation, in particular, was incredibly motivational and gave me so many suggestions that I’ve implemented. I honestly don’t think I would have reached my full time freelance goal so quickly without her help!
Now that you are truly “free”, what advice would you give to other people looking to make the jump into full time freelancing?
The number one bit of advice I can give, is to be prepared! You don’t want to just jump into something like this without first having a solid plan in place. You should definitely work out a financial plan first, being sure to have the recommended 3-6 months of savings in the bank before taking the plunge.
Also know that it might be a bumpy ride, but with determination and support from your friends/family, you can definitely succeed and your dreams will come true!
You can find Selene at iDesign Studios – We help you stand out from the crowd
You can also view her web design portfolio or catch up with her on Twitter.
Congratulations, Selene – welcome to self-employment!