Tyler’s Note: This is a Riskologist Field Report by Sarah Russel of Common Sense Marketing. Field Reports are written by readers just like you, so be nice, enjoy the story, and take action on the lesson. To contribute your own Field Report, go here.
When I think about risk-taking, I think about people who drop everything to move across the world or those who make it a personal mission to scale a mountain on every continent (yep… looking at you, Tyler!).
In fact, I don’t even think of myself as a naturally “risk-oriented” person, but in February, my husband and I both took an uncharacteristically major leap and quit both of our jobs on the same weekend.
A little background, first…
I’ve been working online since 2007 as a freelance writer, affiliate marketer and blogger. In nearly all those instances, though, I’ve been making money online alongside a day job – meaning that I never really had anything “on the line.” The extra cash was nice, but if I slacked off and let things slide for a few weeks, I still had a regular paycheck coming in to pay my bills.
Around June of last year, I started thinking about making the leap to full-time self-employment. I can’t say it was the result of a single, life-changing moment—rather, I’d begun to feel disillusioned about what the traditional work environment entails.
I enjoyed some aspects of my job, but I was growing frustrated with the inefficiencies of the corporate structure and the lack of personal and professional development opportunities available to me as someone else’s employee.
So, I started planning. I mapped out how much self-employment income I’d need to have to make working for myself feasible, as well as what I’d need to earn to pay off the credit card debt my husband and I acquired when we were young and stupid.
I analyzed what I’d need to set aside for taxes and what we’d be looking at for individual policy health insurance costs—even going so far as to calculate what my husband and I had spent on discretionary purchases in the last year to see how much extra money I’d need to earn to not seriously compromise our quality of living.
Nothing says “I’m a huge risk-taker” like months of concerted planning and effort…
With the results of this analysis, I started growing my writing client list and web businesses while my husband picked up a few extra nights of work as a bartender. I won’t lie—it sucked. It sucked hard.
With both of us working nearly 70 hours a week, we hardly saw each other and we were both sick, tired and stressed out most of the time; I’m just now getting over a cold I’ve had for four months straight!
But the results were worth it. After about six months of working these crazy schedules, we’d paid off nearly $15,000 in credit card debt and I’d built up enough steady income through freelancing to cover our regular expenses.
I was on track to put in my two-week notice mid-January, but over the Christmas holidays, we started to discuss my husband leaving his job, too. The bar he was working at had gone downhill, substantially decreasing his income and increasing his stress level.
It was always his intention to find another job, but we began to look at the possibility of him taking a full month off to recoup and get healthy again after years of bar work—something that seemed pretty risky given the state of the job market and the uncertainty of finding another job in our timeline.
On February 3rd and 4th, my husband and I both quit our jobs. It certainly hasn’t been all “margaritas on the beach” like most of the “work from home” programs out there have you dreaming of, but we’re making it work for us, due in part to the lessons we’ve learned so far:
Lesson #1 – Managing a major change together takes effort (aka, how to not kill your husband when you’re home together all day)
My bartender husband and I had worked opposite schedules for nearly six years – so suddenly being home together, all day every day, was a huge change. I wouldn’t say we handled everything perfectly, but we did put a few ground rules in place that made the transition easier:
- Respect each other’s boundaries – Since my husband and I are both very independent people, we established pretty early on that we’d both need alone time (even if that simply meant hanging out on different floors of our house). Being able to say, “I need to be by myself right now” isn’t always easy (especially since my husband and I have both had to adjust to having much less social contact outside the house), but I think it’s helped to keep both of us sane.
- Maintain social ties – You really take for granted how much social contact you have at a regular job, even if it’s just idle “water cooler” chatter. To go from gossiping away half the day to having one person as your sole social network isn’t sustainable (especially considering that person is dealing with many of the same transition issues you are), which is why my husband and I were careful to keep in contact with our separate groups of friends and make those relationships a priority as well.
- Be open about what’s working and what’s not – My husband is about a hundred times better at talking about feelings and emotions than I am, but we’ve found it’s crucial to check in with each other regularly to see how we’re doing. I think we both really underestimated how much of a mental and emotional transition it is to go from full-time work to being at home full-time, and there are many different feelings associated with the process. It’s been great to have someone going through the same thing with me and even more important that we’ve been up front with each other about what is and is not working throughout the process.
Lesson #2 – Talking to extended family about a major change is tough (aka, how to get your in-laws to think you’re batsh*t crazy)
In a lot of ways, I’m lucky in that my family has always been incredibly supportive of my self-employment goals. There’s no one in my life telling me I’m silly for wanting to work for myself or that I’m doomed to failure since most small businesses fail within the first year or two.
However, we did find that talking about wanting to be self-employed versus actually announcing your concrete plans is a bit of a different game—especially for my traditional, conservative, businessman father. I imagine my husband and I both announcing our plans to quit our jobs was quite a bit removed from the tame, settled life he always pictured for me!
The thing that helped us most was having a very clear plan we could share with them. We weren’t just saying, “Hey, I think we’re both going to quit our jobs next month!” Instead, we shared the long-term preparations we’d been making, as well as the backup plans we had in place.
I think any parent’s biggest worry is that his children will go without, so knowing that we had plans for covering health insurance, taxes and other expenses helped put our family at ease.
In fact, it was my former co-workers who freaked out more than anyone about us leaving steady paychecks and employer-paid health benefits. If you and your partner are thinking about making this type of leap together, I highly recommend developing a thick skin and embracing the motto “Haters gonna hate” while letting their faux-concern criticisms roll off you!
Lesson #3 – Financial planning for a major risk doesn’t look the same for everyone (aka—no, we don’t have a six month emergency fund and here’s why I don’t care)
I’m a huge Suze Orman fan, but I’m guessing if she and I got on the phone together, she’d be pretty pissed about the financial risks we’re taking…
We don’t have a six month emergency fund–heck, we barely have enough to pay one month’s mortgage if the sh*t hit the fan. After putting all our effort into paying down debt, we only have about $1,000 in the bank as a safety cushion, and although we certainly plan on growing that amount significantly, there’s no arguing with the fact that it won’t get us far in an emergency.
At the same time, I don’t regret the decision to leave our jobs before the account was fully stocked.
We both could have worked a few more months to beef up that number, but we were so burned out by February that staying would have seriously compromised our health. We have extra credit card space to use in extreme emergencies, but I like that the threat of racking up debt again or losing a big client (and the related income) keeps me motivated to push forward with my businesses.
In many ways, I actually feel more secure now. I’ve built my writing business to the point where, even if I lost all my existing clients, I believe I could find new customers fast enough to minimize the blow.
Compared to putting all my eggs in one basket (aka, working a day job with a sole employer who could fire me at any time), I feel like I’m more in charge of my future than ever before and will be able to better protect us from emergencies by taking responsibility for my income.
Who would have thought that leaving a “secure” job could lead to feeling more secure than ever?
The lesson we’ve found here is that only you know what’s right for your financial situation. There are tons of books and blogs that’ll tell you to have a certain amount in the bank before you consider making the leap to full-time self-employment, but like so many other blanket recommendations, I believe these should be taken with a grain of salt. As long as you fully understand the risks of the decision you’re making, you’ll be able to figure out what’s right for you in terms of savings and income before taking a major risk like this.
If that’s you, good luck!
Sarah Russell is a newly full-time self-employed writer and marketer who shares her experiences with affiliate marketing on the Common Sense Marketing website. Say hi to her on Twitter—being home alone all day can get awful lonely!