I was awake in bed again, running through my morning to-do list and stressing about work deadlines. My restlessness caused my husband to turn over and mumble, “You’re not the same person you used to be.” I wanted to scream at him for not comforting me, but at that pivotal moment, I realized he was right. I was a 28-year old CPA working as a manager at one of Canada’s largest banks. I had a window office and an accounting career that many would dream of — but why wasn’t I happy?
How I accidentally launched my business
Being a newlywed, the chaos of wedding planning was still fresh on my mind. I DIY’d many of the decorative elements of our wedding to save money. I had done graphic design in the past as a hobby, so one of the DIY projects I enjoyed the most was designing my own invitations and stationery. Little did I know, I had done early market viability testing! Our guests were so impressed that I had made these invitations with my own hands that I got requests from friends to create more for their weddings. Just like that, I got my first few clients, and my first bonafide business was born.
My custom invitation design business started off as a side hustle. I spent my days working at my corporate job. I answered business emails in the evenings, and spent nights sourcing suppliers, learning how to use printing equipment, and refining my design skills. After a year of moonlighting as a graphic designer, it became hard to juggle the demands of my wedding projects along with my job. Here are the key steps I took to transition into full-time entrepreneurship:
1. I went from a full-time to a part-time employee at my day job
I negotiated with my work to reduce my working hours from 5 days to 3 days a week. I was honest about my personal situation with my boss and had already demonstrated solid performance in the workplace. I had to take a pay cut, but it was worth it. I ended up gaining 2 full days a week to focus on my business guilt free.
2. I figured out my business budget
My accounting background came in handy at this stage. I knew it was crucial to have a financial projection and a business budget in order to build a successful business, so I created a spreadsheet to estimate my income and expenses for the next 2 years. This acted as a blueprint as I worked on growing my business.
3. I saved up money to invest in my business
I cut back on personal spending like shopping, entertainment, and eating out and instead started saving more of my money. Gradually, I adjusted my mindset to think of it as redirecting spending towards my business like an “investment, ”instead of splurging on luxuries that provided no future return. I set a goal to save si month’s worth of estimated business operating expenses so that I could have a buffer. Also, thankfully my husband continued to work at his corporate job.
4. I spent money to make more money
Early on, I met clients at coffee shops with a binder full of paper swatches and samples. Going forward, I wanted to look more professional. I decided to rent a small, 200 sq ft., office space, where I could display my work and meet clients in a private, yet comfortable setting. Signing a lease felt terrifying, but once I displayed a real business address on my website, I gained instant credibility over my online-only competition. In the wedding industry, clients value face-to-face interaction, so this decision took my business to the next level.
5. I quit my six-figure job!
Siz months after going part-time at my day job, I mustered the guts to finally exit the rat race. I had booked up a solid roster of clients for the upcoming busy wedding season, so I knew there was enough income to carry me through the end of the year. Ultimately, the only way I could provide my best work was to focus 100% of my efforts into serving my clients.
What life is like on the other side
It was tough explaining my life choices to people after they found out I quit a six-figure job to venture out on my own. In fact, I didn’t even tell my family for a whole year because I was terrified of dealing with their skepticism and warnings about how I’d take a career hit if things didn’t work out. Instead, I became friends with fellow wedding vendors that I met through my clients and at trade shows. This brought collaboration opportunities for creatively styled photoshoots. My best work got published in high-profile wedding blogs and magazines that boosted my credentials and generated more business.
Two years to six figures
After my second year of running my business full time, I finally cracked the six-figure revenue mark. On the surface, that milestone felt like a fairytale, but it didn’t come without sacrifice and late nights! Once my business became profitable, I started to take a structured approach to pay myself first. I use a modified method from the book Profit First by Mike Michalowicz to manage my cash flow. It involves allocating a percentage of all my cash receipts into different “buckets” like paying myself, operating expenses, taxes, paying freelancers, or reinvesting into the business.
Aspiring entrepreneurs are often glamorized by social media posts as someone with their laptop on a beach or jet-setting to exotic locations. Contrary to popular belief, most success stories don’t happen overnight. In reality, entrepreneurship is a journey that often feels lonely. Being around like-minded people is vital. Find fellow business owners in your network or in mastermind groups who can relate to your struggles and way of life — they can motivate you and keep you accountable to your goals. Entrepreneurship is the path less traveled. Get used to the feeling of constantly swimming upstream, and be motivated by the possibility that once you finally achieve success, it’ll all be worth it! You’ll prove to the skeptics that it’s absolutely possible to make a living doing what you love!
Charlene Li is passionate about helping other creative entrepreneurs cash in on their passion. Her blog, Crazy Cute Co. empowers creatives with the financial mindset to succeed in business.
Image via Unsplash