I lay awake in bed — again, stressed about corporate deadlines, and running through my morning to-do list. 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 saying something more comforting, but in that moment of truth, I realized he was right.
There I was… a 28-year old CPA working as a manager at one of Canada’s largest banks. I had a six-figure salary, a window office, and an accounting career that many would dream of… so why wasn’t I happy?
IN THIS POST:
- My backstory on how I found the motivation to start my first creative business
- The 5 steps I took to quit my corporate 9-5 job and transition my side-hustle to a full-time business
- How long it took to hit six-figure revenues in my design business
Discovering My Why
After I came to the hard realization that I felt unhappy at my job, I wrestled with immense guilt, and feelings of helplessness. I’d already overcome multiple failures get to where I was in my career, and was convinced it was wrong of me to feel like I wanted something different.
The truth was, the corporate world gave me TONS of valuable work experience, and developed my interpersonal skills. I’m grateful for the highs and lows, and everything I’ve learned.
However, I didn’t aspire to be like any of the people who were leading the organization. The thought of waiting another 30-something years until retirement made me feel trapped, and I felt like I had no control over my livelihood — it honestly scared the crap outta me.
I felt like a lost sheep trying to find my way back to the herd. I immersed myself in personal development books and watched hours of TED talks.
I read the success stories of the world’s great entrepreneurs and came across this epic quote from Steve Jobs. It made me teary when I first read it, and convinced me I had to run my own business one day.
One thing that helped me hone in on my passion was the idea of tapping into my childhood. By remembering the things you did for fun as a child, you’ll uncover truths about what you enjoy, and are likely good at doing.
After intensive soul-searching, I realized I’d always been a creative person at heart.
I believed that a business would allow me to create products with a lasting impression on the world, and live on my own terms.
➤➤ Also read: How a Keanu Reeves Movie Helped Me Discover My Passion
An Accidental Business Launch
After getting married a few months earlier, 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.
One of the DIY projects I enjoyed the most was designing my own invitations and stationery, since I’d done graphic design throughout my life as a hobby.
Little did I know, that by sending out our wedding invitations, I’d already sent tons of “samples” of my product out to potential customers. It turns out, I had done early market viability testing!
Our guests were so impressed that I made these invitations with my own hands that I got requests from a cousin and some friends to help them create more for their upcoming weddings.
Just like that, I got my first few “clients”, and my first bona-fide 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.
My Transition Out of the Corporate World
After a year of moonlighting as a graphic designer, it became hard to juggle the demands of my wedding projects along with my accounting job. My energy was spread too thin, and all I wanted to do was focus on my own business because it brought me so much joy.
Here are the steps I took to transition into full-time entrepreneurship:
1 I went part-time 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.
Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do — Yes, I had to take a pay cut, but it was damn worth it.
I gained 2 full days per week to focus on my business guilt-free and felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.
2 I figured out my numbers
My accounting background came in handy at this stage. I knew it was crucial to have my financial picture in check.
I created a spreadsheet to estimate my income and expenses (ie. a business budget), and created a financial projection for the next 2 years — You can grab the EXACT templates I used here!
Fortunately, my husband was working at a corporate job as well, so we still had some steady income coming in. I knew we had to live leaner without my previous income, but as long as we could continue paying our mortgage and afford our basic living expenses, we’d be ok.
3 I saved up and lived lean
I cut back on personal spending like shopping, entertainment and eating out. I started bringing my lunch to work. At first, it felt like I was “sacrificing” my quality of life.
Gradually, I adjusted my mindset to think of “bootstrapping” differently — I began to see it as more than “saving money”, but as a redirection of my spending towards my business like an “investment”, instead of splurging on luxuries that provided no future return.
I set a goal to save 6 month’s worth of estimated business operating expenses so that I could have a comfortable buffer.
Bootstrapping is more than just 'saving money'. It's a redirection of your spending into your business, investing it in things that provide a return, rather than splurging on life's luxuries.Click To Tweet
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 to attract more upscale clients.
I decided to rent a small 200 sf. office space where I could display my work and meet clients in a private, yet comfortable setting.
Signing a lease felt terrifying especially early on in the business. But once I could display 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 was truly an investment that paid off, and took my business to the next level.
5 I quit my job!
6 months after going part-time at my corporate job, and hustling my butt off in my business, I finally got the guts to officially exit the rat race.
The hubby fully supported my life-changing decision. I then had a long heart-to-heart chat with my boss. She wasn’t at all surprised, since I also ended up designing wedding stationery for her as well!
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.
Life 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.
I got skeptical and sometimes condescending comments like, “You can make money designing cards?” and “Oh, that’s cute you decided to follow your dreams”.
They angered me for a while before I started channeling those feelings into motivation. I wanted to prove the skeptics wrong.
I wanted to be the one who could make it.
So, I continued to refine my craft. I starting building a team of graphic designers and production staff, which enabled us to serve even more clients all over the world from Alaska to Hong Kong.
I made friends with fellow wedding vendors that I met through my clients and at trade shows. This brought collaboration opportunities for creative styled photoshoots.
My best work got published in high-profile wedding blogs and magazines that boosted my credentials and generated more business.
I loved every part of the journey. My heart was fueled by the smiles on my clients’ faces when they saw their finished products. I felt honored that our work celebrated people’s milestone life events and held sentimental value.
Two Years to Six Figures
After the second year 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.
Contrary to popular belief, most success stories don’t happen overnight. Aspiring entrepreneurs are often dazzled by glamorized social media posts of someone with their laptop on a beach, or jetsetting to exotic locations.
In reality, entrepreneurship is a journey that often feels lonely — That’s why 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 for 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!
Are you thinking of starting your own business, or transitioning from your side-hustle to a full-time gig?
What has been your biggest struggle?
Let me know in the comments!
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