“You’re so lucky that you could leave teaching.”
“I wish that I could leave my job, too.”
“Are you hiring?”
Telling people what I do is always awkward; there is a huge gray area in running a small business OR having just a hobby that makes money on the side. But leaving my full time career to pursue my passion was a strategic, planned out move that forced what started as a hobby to become my career in order to support my family.
So often when we hear someone else’s story we see ourselves in those shoes, and if my path from working full time to being a multi-business owner can help anyone, then that’s what I am showing up here for.
We’re Building Bridges People
I don’t know what it is about the phrase “taking the leap” that drives me nuts when referring to people who leave their full time careers to do something purposeful to them.
Chances are when this happens, you dream of the possibility for so long and agonize each and every day that ultimately could lead up to saying the words “I Quit”. Trust me, I’ve been there.
In between, grit and determination drive you to take action. It takes a LOT of work and dedication to make life-altering choices like leaving a career.
There’s no freaking leaping. And if there is, then it would likely be a spontaneous, all-out-Clark-Griswold-jelly-of-the-month-style, irrational, last-straw choice made. Zero to one hundred with no logic.
Changing courses from your full-time career was more like building a bridge for me. You need to set a blueprint and build it block by block so you can enjoy the view from the other side.
Now I’m not a business coach or financial expert, and although I’m a cheerleader for people going after their dreams I’m certainly NOT telling you just to quit your job. In fact, I’m not sharing this with you as a self-proclaimed expert, but I know that often when we hear someone’s story we connect and see each other in those shoes too. If I can help ONE person achieve their dreams just by sharing how I was able to, then I’m here for it.
The Last Straw just may become your First
I always thought that I was going to retire as a teacher, and with no ambition to become an administrator, I was comfortable with that. I loved History just as much as I loved the students. What I never anticipated was that as time went on, the more demands would weigh on me within the profession and spill emotionally onto my relationships with others: especially my family. I would be miserable, short-tempered, and drained by 4 p.m. when they needed me most.
“So quit” Ben would tell me. He obviously has a way with words… but he was on to something and for the first time, he made me realize that it really could be an option.
“Fuck off” were the real words that ignited my fire to leave teaching though. The two words a student told me when I requested a phone be put away during an assessment. Refusing to turn it in thereafter, her parents called the school and well, the school sided with them because there technically was not a phone policy at the time. I checked out mentally that day; I knew I was done. How could I continue to have passion in a field without any support? It was just a matter of when I would physically walk out those doors.
If you haven’t read Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a #@%!”, I highly recommend it. In fact, there couldn’t be a better explanation of what I previously described as the “Clark Griswold reaction”. When you are ready to make a big life-change, you shouldn’t just do it because it feels right. Relying on emotional intuition like that is well, just freaking stupid. Mark would agree: he said, “you know who bases their entire lives on their emotions? Three year old kids. And dogs. You know what else three year olds and dogs do? Shit on the carpet.” (35) Being told “Fuck Off” and wanting to quit was not a spontaneous emotional reaction; it was a culmination, and rather than quitting the way I envisioned it in my head, we laid a solid foundation for me to tactfully leave which was the best course of action. This is how we did it.
If you’re nodding your head (or shaking it, because that above is messed up ya’ll), then you too may have completed the pre-requisite: YOU GOT TO HAVE THE DRIVE. Believe in yourself even when, or if, others don’t. And if at anytime you feel underestimated, turn that vibe into drive because sometimes the most powerful thing is in fact, to be underestimated.
You need to know that once you start moving forward, going backward should NOT become an option. When you want something bad enough, you CAN make it happen, and it all boils down to one thing: choice. You can choose to, or not to. Then make it happen.
Here are the five steps on how we did:
Step One: We Were on the Same Page
This is probably the most important when other parties are involved: a spouse, kids, family…anyone who may have a stake in your lifestyle. So it may not apply to everyone, but these stakeholders become your support and will ultimately help in empowering you and managing your way through roadblocks.
My husband Ben was 100% on board, I think even before I was. BUT, he was also the first to ask “What’s next?”, “What will you do with your time?” “How are we going to get from point A to B?” And of course “how will we replace your salary?”
Communication lines had to be open all the time for this to work. When we got married, my life became our life, but his faith in me never changed. In fact, I needed to see it from him in order to believe in myself.
Step Two: Set your goals.
I know, I know. Goal setting is important, we should set goals, review them, yadda yadda.
But guys, Ben and I started writing our goals down in the “Notes” app on my phone in 2013 and HOLY SHIT, I’m an avid believer in them. We recently started to go back and read through them and we are crushing them left and right. They became a time capsule for us and are proof that dreams can be achieved, one goal at a time.
I have a freebie for forming your own goals, but it doesn’t need to be that complicated. Just open up your app like I did and write one sentence:
“I will ______________.”
Then do it. Forget the timelines, forget that there is any time that you are bound to making it happen. Think of all the stepping stones along the way, and when those obstacles pop up, adapt to them and embrace them. Chances are if there are roadblocks to the final destination, maybe you are being pulled an alternate route for a reason. The universe has a very odd way of doing that. But don’t backtrack, pivot. Ross Gellar style.
We used to revisit our goals every year and then acted like it was magic when we could check some off; but now we come back every six months or sooner as a reminder to stay on track and keep the vision.
With goal setting I only have one rule: make them accessible and visible so you don’t lose site of the destination ahead of you.
Start Building your Bridge
Step Three: Put your Money where your Dream is.
We all hear the saying “it takes money to make money”. But that doesn’t mean that you need to spend money in order to make it. It also means that you need to save and build your savings to support your lifestyle, or at least a modified one, on less income. Ben said it best- “it’s not about how much you make, it’s more about how you manage it”. I guess this is where it gets personal and I lay it all out for you.
Ben and I each had a full time career, and he continues to. When we started discussing the possibility of me leaving teaching, we decided to live extremely lean and open a separate bank account to direct deposit my teaching salary into. We would not touch this account and would simply live off of his paychecks to see if we would be able to survive a more frugal lifestyle on them. In fact, we purposely opened this bank account at one of the most inconvenient credit unions in our town without debit card access.
We Dave Ramsay’d the shit out of everything in order to live in the worst-case scenario. To the point where friends and family would ask us while laughing, “do you have an envelope of that?” If we did, it was a bonus; if not, we sacrificed. It was HARD though guys: sometimes I’d find a bag of kids toys or clothing they no longer fit in to sell to get some extra money for birthday gifts. But when you are running low, you get creative. What we LEARNED was that if we wanted something bad enough, we were able to cut ends somewhere else or did it the “old fashioned way”: simply working harder.
We also took leftover money and paid more on the mortgage and invested for optimal return.
What happened after dedicating a year nearly blew our minds: we saved my entire salary, so automatically had MORE than necessary for an emergency fund. Even after I quit my job, we kept up with our budgeting habits. Within one year, we paid off any debt we had. Within just three years, by the time I was thirty-five, we paid off our house and were completely debt free.
Commitment will make you reevaluate how bright that fire inside of you BURNS in wanting to want to achieve a goal. I know I make it sound really easy, but it wasn’t. Old habits die hard. For over 10 years, we haven’t traveled anywhere that was not local. We cut dining out to MAYBE just one meal a week so that became a special treat. I drove a 1999 vehicle, and if something broke, YouTube taught us how to fix it more often than not.
But I am so glad that we made that commitment together. It showed us that not only could my dreams of being a business owner be achievable, but taught us what really took priority in our lives. On top of that, communication was better than ever. Sacrifice is a funny thing and often people categorize it equivalent to a loss or suffering. But don’t we CHOOSE to sacrifice in order to to alleviate future suffering? It’s a temporary choice that could lead to the most profound fulfillment - which ultimately will last much longer. It is worth it.
Even though some of our lifestyle choices were temporary, we continue with the practices still in our personal finances and businesses. As we change, so do our goals and thus our habits too, but block by block we lay the path to achieve more together.
Step Four: Make your presence known.
This should really probably be step 3B, because in between getting your finances straight and goal setting, you simultaneously need to be building the heart of your next big adventure.
So with this step, I have one message: keep working. JUST BEGIN.
Maybe you, too, need to keep at your current full time gig for another six months or year. I know it seems like a long time, but In the grand scheme of your dreams it is just a stepping stone, so view it just as that.
Either way use your time wisely, because each moment you are building your dream job is an investment In yourself. While you’re doing it, make your presence known.
Here is a condensed list of what I did and what I thought worked well for me:
- Once you have a business name, buy all the virtual real estate: Your domain, email, handles on ALL social platforms regardless if you think you may use it or not. I swore off TikTok but whoop- there I am!
- Work on branding, print and digital. I started with a business card with our business info and how to reach us, a standard thank you card to include with orders that had a small discount code on it for the future, and blank note cards for a handwritten message. I still use all these pieces today, and despite that people are torn on whether or not to get business cards I have needed them more times than not.
- Make what you WANT to make and what you see yourself making in the future. Don’t worry, if you aspire to create something that you don’t currently have the skill set for, you can always create a collection and adapt in the future. Growth is good!
- Give it away. I actually started with a facebook post letting people know I was going to be giving away a bunch of my items, and provided further information on what they were and the specific details of them. People caught on and of course were quick to call “dibs”! I also required that upon receiving the item that they would both share the product on social media and tag me, as well as leave a review on google or Facebook.
- Get organized. Investing your time and possibly even some financial assistance to organize your bookkeeping from the beginning will save you hours of time, and weeks of headaches. Register your business with your state, and get your bank account established shortly after that by visiting several banks and seeing what might work for you. Some may have better interest rates, but others may have better hours that are more flexible to your schedule. Then think about how you will choose to track and manage your transactions. It may take some time to see what works for you, and I continue to manipulate four management systems:
- Dubsado: Client Management System
- Paper and Spark: Accounting Organization and Education
- Quickbooks: Accounting Software
- Trello: Product Management Tool
- And since we’re talking about money, also think about how you will set your prices and take a payment. Will you take PayPal, or Venmo? Cash only? Do you need a card processor for working vendor events? I’ll also rip off this band-aid; legitimate businesses pay taxes and you should expect to as well.
For me, getting finances straight, was the most overwhelming because while trying to start a business and learning the ropes of that you are also learning the role of bookkeeping, marketing, advertising and more. Each one a CRITICAL block in the foundation of your bridge.
The best thing to do would be visualize what you want your transactions to look like from targeting a client, the transaction process, and the delivery of your final product. Write this workflow out, and revise as you continue to work out the kinks in the process. Take your time in doing it! Is there ever really a finish line? Break the “Hustle culture” and get focused.
Step five: build your wealth
OK, you got me here! By wealth, I do not just mean make some money- though that IS the end goal. The financial aspect will come when you show you’re ready.
Your wealth is an investment in yourself too, not just your business. Your wealth is all the knowledge and grit you put into building your business AND what you TAKE out of it. Let that sink in.
It’s not JUST checking the boxes - it is the ability to check, inspect, and keep moving forward by making NEW boxes.
Approximately 33% of small businesses fail in the first two years, 50% fail within five years, and 33% make it to 10 years and further. (1)
It’s EASY to start your business… that is where the fire starts that brings so much motivation to get off the ground. Your excitement to get your name out there and be your own boss drives you to get moving. It’s the inspection and management that often present the biggest obstacles and how you respond to them is critical. Obstacles are there to make you sweat and exercise your decision making ability with stress. This is how many businesses fail; when you shut down, so will your business. But if you view these obstacles as learning experiences, the choices YOU make in adapting or altering course are all apart of your bridge building and all of it culminates to a learning experience. Thus, bringing you great wealth.
Wrap it up: Give it Five Minutes.
Setting goals and working towards your dreams is scary. You need to get out of your comfort zone, but like everything else, it starts with that one step that ignites an entire path for you to keep moving forward. Like a workout; the hardest part is getting up and pushing play. It’s hard to put sweat into it. It’s hard to commit to keep going. But if it wasn’t hard, everyone would be self-employed, right?
You can also compare working out to setting and working on your goals. If you can give yourself five extra minutes to get up and work out, you can give yourself five extra minutes a day to work towards your goals. Just that five minutes gets you started and then you will want to keep going all because you made a promise to yourself. The small daily investment adds up over time. Three years from now make sure that you can say that you chose your life and did not just settle for it. You will either have three years of excuses, or three of progress. And remember, there is no finish line. If only 50% of the “Hustle Culture” is making it after five years of business, then that means 50% are failing at spinning their wheels to pump out as much as they can, too. It is natural for every human to keep our hunger going for more… to always want. It’s call ambition. So take your time in building your bridge and walking - steadily- across it.
Jessica Smith is married to her college sweetheart, a mama of five, multi-business owner and a daydream believer who loves to encourage others to follow their dreams too.
She is a proud AEON Laser Partner.
(1) Small Business Administration. "Frequently Asked Questions," Page 2.