Scary, isn’t it?
The idea of that safety net being pulled away, and suddenly you have to jump into this world of freelancing with full confidence that you’re going to land on your feet…
… it’s downright terrifying.
But you know what is scarier (to me at least)?
Waking up one day and realizing that you’ve spent 20 years doing a job you hate for 40 hours every week.
Factor in overtime or a commute, and you spend 25% of your time on this earth (or maybe even more) working, if you work full time. Sleep 8 hours per night? Then you probably spend 35% of your waking hours on work…
…doing a job you hate.
If you start working when you’re 20, by the time you’re 40 (not even close to retirement yet), you’ll have spent a full 7 years doing something you hate during your waking hours!
When you could be writing… when you could be supporting yourself and your family doing something you love… when you could be acting as your own boss and making your own rules… when you could be happy.
I hope I don’t have to sell you any more on why you should take the leap. Let’s talk about how to do it!
Your Exit Plan
Unlike some people, I do not recommend quitting your job without a plan, especially if you have a family to support. I’m a big believer that you can make six figures per year as a freelance writer, but that doesn’t happen for most people right out of the gate.
If you don’t have a plan, you might give your full-time job the middle only to find yourself slinking back to the office with your tail between your legs, asking for your old job — or any job.
Instead, an exit plan means you can actually succeed at what you love to do — write — without having to think about getting a “real job” ever again!
Every good freelancer exit plan has three components:
- Proof of concept
- A business plan
- A personal financial safety net
If you have three things in place, you have a much higher chance of success as a freelance writer. (Plus make sure you know these brutally honest truths about freelancing.)
#1: Proof of concept
In the business world (and a lot of other fields) “proof of concept” is used to ensure that you idea doesn’t suck slimy toads.
I’m of the opinion that anyone can become a good freelance writer as long as you have a passion for writing, a strong worth ethic, a desire to learn, and time to practice. But before you quit, you should prove to yourself that this is the right career move.
What if you quit your job, and then find out that you don’t really like writing for a living? Writing for dollars is very different than writing for fun.
For example, one of the biggest challenges for me personally is that working from home means I don’t have a clear separation between work and my personal life. I never leave the office. (That’s not the only downside to freelancing; that’s just my own biggest dislike.)
I recommend that you start writing part-time while you are still working your current job. Test those waters! That way, before you take off your floaties, you can make sure that you’ll be able to swim.
As a bonus, you’ll be able to build your portfolio a bit and learn some great marketing techniques, which will help you with your business plan, and you’ll earn a bit of money on the side, which is going to help you with your personal financial safety net.
#2: A Business Plan
Do not make the mistake of thinking that you don’t need a business plan, just because you’re going to be a solopreneur. Yes, if you are a freelancer, you are a business owner!
Many would-be business owners use their business plan to get investors and apply for a business loan. As a freelancer, you don’t need to do that.
But you do need a plan of attack.
You don’t have to do this alone. You can find tons of business plan templates for freelancers online, including this one from by Regina, which is completely free and comes with a training video.
Your business plan is going to evolve over time. I actually recommend editing your plan at least every 6 months over the first 2-3 years, and every 12 months after that. You need to be honest with yourself about what’s working and what’s not, so you can continue to evolve as a writer.
With your business plan in place, you’re going to have a more stable way to approach your days. This is super important when you are the boss, because it is way too easy to blink and suddenly realize that you’ve spend your entire “work day” binge-watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix. A business plan holds you accountable to get stuff done and reach goals.
#3: A Personal Financial Safety Net
Last, but certainly not least, I recommend that you take a long, hard look at your finances before you quit a stable job.
How much money do you need to make every month to maintain your current lifestyle? (Or, what are you willing to give up?)
It’s not just about replacing that income directly, because with freelancing you have to consider…
- The paycheck you currently receive likely has federal and state taxes already taken out. When you get paid as a freelancer, you have to remove the taxes yourself and pay them as estimated taxes once per quarter. If you don’t, you’ll face big fines and a huge bill every April.
- Depending on your state and local laws, you may have to purchase a business license. You may also wish to name your business something other than your legal name, which means you need to apply for a fictitious name. Other common business expenses include office products, a post office box (if you don’t want to give out your home address), stamps, and PayPal fees.
- When you work from home, you spend more money on common household items and utilities, such as coffee, electricity, toilet paper, and Internet. You’ll also likely need to replace your computer more often.
- As a freelancer, you don’t get paid sick days or vacation days. You’re the boss, so you can take off whenever you want to, but you only earn money when you are actually writing (unless you have some sort of passive income set up with a blog or other income source).
- No more bennies! You have to purchase your own health, dental, and vision insurance once you are freelancing, and the only retirement plan you’ll have is one you create yourself.
Sit down and figure out your personal budget. If you have a partner, this is an activity you should do together. Be really honest about the things in your life that you don’t want to give up. You might not have to go on an annual trip to Europe or eat out at restaurants every single night… but if you are used to doing those things, it can be a big lifestyle change to give them up in order to start freelancing.
No matter what, it does take a little time to build up your business. If you’ve already been freelancing part-time (which I do recommend as a stepping stone), you will have an idea about how much you can expect to earn and how quickly you can build up your business to earn enough to replace your income.
Make sure you have enough money in your savings account to tide you over. Then double that amount, just in case.
Your Exit Plan Needs a Deadline
Before ending this post, I need you to understand just how important it is that you give yourself a deadline to quit your job.
It’s really easy to go with the flow and stay in that comfortable job, even if it is horrible.
Then, suddenly, you’re hitting retirement age and you’ve wasted your career doing something you hated every single day.
Set a date, and make sure that date is sometime within the next 6-12 months, at the most. Then, set goals for yourself so you can hit that date. Get your first gig so you can test the waters on a part-time basis. Create your business plan. Save enough money so you have the safety net you need.
Then, give your employer your 2 week notice.
Don’t burn bridges when you quit, if you have control over that. Sometimes, managers or bosses are hurt, but remember to be professional when you deliver the news that you’re leaving. You never know — you could find yourself working with your employer again someday, as a freelance writer working on your own terms.
I want you to comment below telling me your exit date goal. Put it in writing! It can be scary, but studies show that when you put your goals in writing, you are more likely to achieve them.