Turning Freelance into Fulltime: Taking the Leap
This blog completes a series of 5 posts which outline and address a very valuable lesson for any industry or any career – how to turn your freelancing into a fulltime business. If you’re currently contracting out a set of skills or have at least thought about it, this can be the critical first step toward starting your own business. I invite you to join me each week as I share the 5 most important components needed to prepare for a successful transition from freelance to fulltime.
In case you missed it, read:
Taking the Leap
Last December when I wrote the post “Entrepreneurial Survival Mode,” I talked about how sometimes you have to give yourself no option but to sink or swim in order to find that inner fire to make your business a success. I still believe this. But during my own journey from freelance to fulltime, I didn’t tie a blind fold and allow myself to walk off a cliff. Instead, I carefully calculated the jump before I ultimately made the leap into entrepreneurship. The most important concept I want you to take away from that previous post and now this one is that when you can take the leap – do it without hesitation and get ready to work for all you’re worth. It’s a bold and risky move, but it holds the possibility of the most rewarding career experience…creating something that’s all your own.
Here are the key steps I recommend to every almost-entrepreneur contemplating a leap of faith:
Crunch the numbers.
I still have the first spreadsheet I created with all of my expenses versus the meager income I would make if I turned my freelance business into my sole income. It’s a great reminder of where I started and where I’m never too far from to return. But most importantly, it was the assurance I needed to know that I could make ends meet even if everything about my business stayed the same (which of course I hoped that it would improve). When I reflect on this spreadsheet now, it still offers that same assurance that if all came crashing down, I could stay afloat. At this point in my entrepreneurial journey, I learned the skill of minimizing costs. On my spreadsheet I listed all of my current expenses with my fulltime job. I was paying for internet I never used, far too big of a Comcast package and a reserved parking spot at my apartment. Before I took the leap, I really crunched these numbers. I cancelled internet and began sharing with my neighbor for a fraction of the cost. I downgraded my TV (anticipating 80+ hours a week of work on my new business didn’t leave me much time for such luxuries anyhow). I discontinued my parking spot and as a city resident was able to get a parking pass right across the street for just $5 a year. I wasn’t as surprised with my ability to minimize costs as I was shocked with why I was ever throwing this money out the window to begin with.
When you first start your own business, don’t let anyone convince you that you immediately need to rent an office space, pay for a separate phone line or upgrade the speed of your internet. There are many ways to achieve the same results for little to no cost. Separate business needs from business wants. Later down the road when money comes, so will the corner office, fancy business cards and personal assistant. You simply don’t need these things for the first year…or first five years. How much money you have in the bank isn’t just about how much money you made, it’s about how much money you didn’t spend. Minimizing your expenses will help supplement a smaller income and make your leap less of a stretch.
Consider everything that will be affected.
A salaried, fulltime position has many benefits beyond the stable paycheck. Remember that as an entrepreneur your healthcare, 401K and taxes will become something you actively worry about. These will take research and a critical eye to determine the best option for you. For healthcare, I got lucky with my age. Until 26 I’m able to stay on my parents’ insurance plan for a very minimal cost each month. After that dreaded birthday, I’m not sure what I’ll do next but I do know there are more and more options every day for entrepreneurs and small business owners. I will likely talk to a local independent healthcare provider and outline my options. For retirement, I rolled my existing 401K into a Roth IRA. Again, it made the most sense for me for a variety of reasons, but do your research and talk to several people before landing on a plan. Finally there are taxes. I dread them more and more every year as what I pay goes up in proportion to my income. As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to claim your earnings and pay taxes on them accordingly. For the first several years you may be able to get away with claiming your business as a loss or have enough deductions that you still get money back. But that can only last so long. Eventually you should consider paying taxes on a quarterly basis to lessen the blow come March (which is by the way when business owners must file taxes—note this now and avoid a nasty letter from the IRS later).
My dad gave me the best advice when I first started making freelance money, “Spend only what you need and keep the rest in savings.” He meant this so I would always have enough to cover my taxes, but wouldn’t it be great if we all handled our money like this all of the time?
Have an emergency backup plan.
For some, a backup plan may seem like a way out. I’ve heard, and at times agree, with the theory that a safety net is only an excuse to fall. But for large enough leaps where you are risking your income, career and possibly all of your worldly possessions (not to mention sanity), a safety net is warranted. For me, my emergency backup plan came from solid relationships with past employers and key contacts who said that if I should ever decide to be available for fulltime hire, I have a standing offer for a position with them. This verbal reassurance from people who believed in my skill set was the emergency backup plan I am grateful to have never used. More than just the ability to find fulltime work should I need it, I also keep a financial “runway” of at least 3 months. By this, I mean I aim to keep enough funds in savings and in my business that if one day absolutely all income should go to zero, I would be able to continue living and spending in exactly the same way for 3 months. This is a substantial amount of time to find additional income, cut back on spending and make other adjustments to prevent depleting this runway, but it’s a comfort to know it exists.
The idea of having an emergency backup plan in place reminds me of the quote by Robert H. Schuller. “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” This plan is not to give you an easy way out should things get too hard; it’s to give you the confidence to move forward fiercely and passionately. When you know your next step is not doomed to be your last, you can keep moving forward with courage.
Do it right – and don’t look back.
Once you outline a tight budget, decide how you’ll handle your healthcare, retirement and taxes and setup and emergency backup plan, you’re ready. As tempting as it may be to go out with bang, scream “I quit!” and throw everything off your desk onto the floor, resist the temptation. Your grand finale should be one with grace and professionalism that demonstrates to your employer and everyone else that you are destined to become a great entrepreneur. First, speak directly to your boss. Give them the honor of being the first to know your passion for your side business and plans to take it fulltime. Whether you hate them, don’t want to disappoint them or have no relationship with them, they deserve this respect. Once they’re on board, they can become your advocate and guide you through the process of leaving. Depending on the structure of your business, you may need to speak with the Human Resources Director to place your 2-weeks’ notice. For me, I was also required to write a resignation letter (which felt absolutely wonderful to sign). Going through the proper process of resigning from your job allows everyone to be aware of why you’re leaving and to celebrate with you. It also allows you to take advantage of things like using vacation days, selling back sick days and getting that final pay check 2 weeks after you finished working. By leaving on the right foot, you’ll also start your new business on the right foot. And if you haven’t learned already, this world is a small place and you never know who you’ll see (or have to work with) again.
Once you properly end your fulltime job, that’s it. It’s all you now. During your first year it’s natural to be reminded of your old job by every season, holiday or co-worker’s birthday that would have been a special mile marker. But you have new mile markers now. Don’t look back or keep track of where you might have been had you not taken the leap. The fact is, you did take the leap and every ounce of you should be focused on sticking that landing rather than trying to backpedal mid-air.
Have you enjoyed the 5-part series, “Turning Freelance Into Fulltime?” If so, share this with a freelancer or entrepreneur you know! This wisdom was gained through my own rough and wild personal experiences and I only wish to use it to help others navigate their similar journey. Thank you for reading along.