In September 2013, I walked out of my office and into the unknown. I had resigned from my job, the first after my studies, with no concrete plans as to what I would be doing next. I emptied my apartment of seven years, put my boxes into storage, and moved into my parents’ guest room as I thought about my next move. My intention since the start had been to create a more independent and flexible lifestyle. I wanted to continue to work in digital marketing, where I had both the knowledge and the passion from my previous role; to pursue my more creative side by taking my writing more seriously; and, of course, to combine all this with the opportunity to travel and to spend time with friends and family. Here’s what I learned from running my own business…
So far, so good! This time last year, I officially incorporated my own consulting business and I’ve been busy on great projects ever since, working with big-name clients, making new connections, and sharpening my skill set. I finished my MatadorU travel writing course and I’ve been maintaining a regular post schedule and a growing reader base on my blog, as well as contributing guest posts to other websites. And I’ve continued my travels with weekend breaks in Europe as well as a longer trip to New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore.
What I learned from running my own business
1. Life on the other side is not as scary as you think.
As I looked out at the world from the comfort of a steady job, the fear of leaving that security behind was almost paralysing. Once I had made the decision to quit and my perspective shifted to one of zero salary, 100% possibilities, that fear all but disappeared. I felt empowered and excited by my ability to make things happen, and I armed myself with information by reading books about freelancing and consulting, talking to people who had set up their own businesses, going to events where I met like-minded people. I also realised that the security I had felt in my previous job was an illusion: people get fired, departments are restructured, companies fold. Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you in a job that makes you unhappy.
2. You have to stick to your guns.
I thought I’d made The Big Decision once and for all but I’ve had to keep questioning myself. The call of the corporate world is loud and alluring: recruiters call with tempting job titles, my parents worry about my pension, clients want full-time support. Each time, I have to reaffirm my decision to leave that world behind, and each time, I come out that bit stronger and more determined to stick with my new way of life. I’ve always looked to other people for reassurance and confirmation that I’m making the right decision, but I know now that I’m the only one who knows what’s right for me. So once you’ve made that decision, run with it, trust your instincts, and don’t look back.
3. There are more options than you ever thought possible.
In my previous job, I was surrounded by people with the same academic background and with the same ambitions of salary increases and promotions. We were all comfortable within that world and unsure of what lay beyond. As soon as I had left, though, I encountered people with diverse backgrounds, with much broader ambitions, and with altogether different priorities. Travelling in particular allows you to meet people with all kinds of plans, and lack of plans, and this is both reassuring and inspiring. Open your eyes, and your heart, to the different ways of life that are out there and you may be surprised at the possibilities that are open to you.
4. You can easily live on less money than you think.
With a monthly salary flowing into my bank account, I was buying clothes I didn’t need, taking taxis, and going out with no thought of the future. Being ‘unemployed’, I became more prudent: I bought less lattes, I walked more, I cancelled Spotify Premium; and I didn’t feel at all sorry for myself. It’s quite painless to cut down on little luxuries, and having some buffer of savings will also give you added security and confidence to pursue your plans. The danger is actually the opposite: once the money starts flowing in again, it’s easy to upgrade your spending habits to previous levels. So focus on the true necessities, and then spend the extra on experiences – travel, friends, family – rather than buying material things that will only clutter up your life. And, yes, do think about saving and investing for a rainy day…
5. New opportunities will appear from nowhere.
I left my job without knowing exactly what I was leaving for. I had thoughts of travel, starting a consultancy, taking a year off ‘to write’, taking another full-time job in an exotic location or in a not-for-profit organisation. Since leaving, I’ve become involved as a mentor in two start-up incubators, run workshops with big companies, worked on exciting projects with big-name brands, and done interviews and guest posts for various blogs and websites. None of these things were even on my radar while I was in my old job. I’ve also become aware of, and grateful for, an amazing network of people who are eager to make mutually beneficial connections and collaborations. So talk to friends and to strangers, go to networking events, and above all remain open to unanticipated opportunities from unexpected directions.
6. It doesn’t have to be perfect from day one.
I was always looking for the ideal job, in the ideal location, in the ideal industry – but this fantasy doesn’t exist. I moved to Geneva to work at the United Nations but ended up in consumer goods marketing, developing valuable skills and knowledge while making lifelong friends among my colleagues. I hadn’t planned to move back to London but I’ve had some great opportunities here and for now at least I’m really enjoying it. And many of the seeds that I started sowing a year ago, which at the time didn’t grow into anything concrete, are now bearing fruit. I don’t expect to be a world thought leader and best-selling author living in my dream home by next week; but with each client, each project, each post, I’m shaping the life that I want. As long as you’re progressing in the right direction, a step or two closer to where you want to be, then consider it a good move.
7. Nothing is forever.
It seemed like a huge decision to leave my job. I’ve realised, though, that the worst thing that can happen, in the event of being unsuccessful in shaping a more independent lifestyle, is that I will have to go back to a full-time job. I know people who have decided to go back to a permanent role after a period of running their own business, happy in the knowledge that it’s the right move for them. If my company isn’t doing as well a few years down the line, or if I decide I want to do something else, I can always shut it down. If I don’t like the country I’m in, I can always move. Nothing is set in stone, everything can be changed – if not immediately, then over time. So give it a try, and see how it goes.
8. You are not alone.
It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one with doubts, the only one not fulfilled – it’s just not true. In my ‘Fearless Fridays’ interview series on my blog, I’ve been talking to others who have left the corporate world behind to do something less conventional, whether it was to write about healthy eating, to produce TV shows, or to run an arts centre for children. They all faced their own fears and challenges, and some have returned to the corporate world in some form or other, but not one of them regrets their move. Just pull up a chair in a hostel or even in your local pub and you’re bound to meet someone on his or her own journey of self-discovery. It’s up to you to find your own way, but there are millions out there who are with you in spirit.
9. You’ll never have all the answers.
I’ve been on a steep learning curve this year. As a new business owner, I’ve had to learn about limited companies, corporation tax, VAT, PAYE, NI… I’m creating proposals, contracts and invoices, I’m editing the CSS of my website, and I’m devouring articles on both digital marketing and freelance writing. Possibly the biggest challenge has been finding the best way to balance work and income on the one side with fun and freedom on the other; but I’m learning! Don’t wait for the point when you have the perfect plan and you’ve answered every possible question, as you’re never going to have 100% certainty. There will always be some risk – but that’s okay!
10. Not all who wander are lost.
Life doesn’t have to be about finding a job, meeting The One, getting a mortgage, having children. It can be hard to watch “everyone” around you settling down; but if you don’t want to follow that path now, or maybe ever, then there’s nothing wrong with continuing to explore different paths, meeting new people, living in different cities, travelling the world… Life doesn’t have an end point – well, death, but I don’t think you should be working towards that as a goal – so why not let it be an endless journey of discovery and continuous learning? I say, bon voyage! And if you happen to see me in that hostel bar, come and join me for a drink and we’ll share our stories over a pisco sour.