Jumping The Corporate Ship? 3 Self-Employed Survival Tips

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http://www.dreamstime.com/-image23246572There are plenty of the Debbie Downers who look at the exodus of women from the corporate ranks and see bad news. If your priority is getting women in to socially, politically and economically powerful positions, this IS bad news. But what if you just want to have a life? Be happy? Be self-actualized? Discover what work-life balance might mean for YOU? More and more, women – especially in their 30’s – are swelling the self-employed marketplace, and it’s no wonder. Until companies make it easier for all employees – women and men – to juggle their increasingly demanding responsibilities in a WHOLE life, more women will be tempted out on their own. That’s the new work-life “balance” discussion this summer was/is all about.

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As someone who’s done this – jumped the ship – and then come back from time to time and is now back living without a net, I want to give those considering going out on their own some advice. After 10 years of full time self-employment, here are the three big lessons I’ve learned that I’d like to pass on to folks thinking about jumping ship.(BTW, if you believe this might be a possibility “someday” – do it now! The timing of my jump was not voluntary and yours may not be either.)

  1. Build yourself a net. Even if your best friend went out on her own and immediately started making tons of money, stockpile some cash away and get stuff that requires the corporate paycheck (car and house loans, lines of credit, insurance) before you leap. I didn’t do this and to some extent I’m still paying for it. Regardless of the rosy forecasts for my business, there are always lulls in income. Always. It feels weird if you’ve been on a paycheck to save money so you can spend it when you’re not working, but just know this will happen and always have the stockpile, be using it while you’re in biz dev/recovery mode or be rebuilding it when the money comes in.
  2. Think about your jump as an opportunity to set personal boundaries. Successfully working for yourself, even on contract, requires that you distance yourself from the office politics of your employer. You’re not trying to “move up” so the only reason for you to play politics is to maintain/grow your contract. So be selective and remember you can “fire” clients now by finding better ones. This feels weird at first, but you’ll be amazed at how powerful you feel when someone asks you to do something and you say, “Wish I could, but it’s not in my contract to do that.” To me, this was the best part of going out on my own the first time I did it. I had a chance for the first time in my life to say no (kindly) and to set my own boundaries where I wanted them at work. I learned later that you could do this without leaving the office, but getting free of the employee-status was the first step. Don’t wait to jump to start noticing where you could set your boundaries more clearly. This will give you practice for when you jump, but maybe it will be so successful, you decide you don’t have to!
  3. Look at your new business – whatever it is – as an opportunity for deep self-exploration. Going out on your own – even with a net – is frightening for most of us. At first it’s just disorienting and then at some point – maybe in that first lull between contracts or when your employee salaries come due and the clients haven’t paid – you get this core fear like the floor just fell out from under you. Of course there are also times of sheer joy, too. My point is with the ups and downs of your business, many aspects of life become more volatile, too, and you need a really strong sense of self to navigate it well. The best part, which took me a long time to learn, is that working for yourself, you’re not hemmed in by the corporate brand. You have the freedom to really put yourself into your growing brand in new and wonderfully meaningful ways – ways that actually help you learn to be your best self and attract the work you love. It’s an exhilarating way to discover yourself – in the context of your business – and I recommend it highly. (To learn more about my ah-ha in this regard, sign up for next week’s free webinar on personal branding for entrepreneurs).

I don’t write any of this to put you off going out on your own. Having gone back and forth, even at executive positions, I prefer self-employment – mostly because of the last point above. It’s made me a better, happier, person. I know plenty of people in corporate life who are equally good and happy, but this turned out to be my path and I have no regrets, because I keep learning more and more about myself every day. In my next post I’ll share one of my recent lessons in this regard – how I lost my biggest client and was thrilled!

Are you thinking of jumping ship? Why? Do you feel ready? What more do you have to do to be ready? Have you jumped? What’s your experience? Please share!

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20 COMMENTS

  1. This is great information! My jump was a bit of a rough one and I was unsure of exactly what I wanted years ago.  I knew I wanted to be home with the kiddos, but had a struggle in the beginning and ended up going back to work out of the home for a while.  Then a chain of events occurred that kept me from working out of the home everyday so I pushed myself to do what I had to do to be able to earn at home.  

    I am not a big business owner, more a blogger and writer.  It was a big learning experience for me and I have found it to be rewarding in so many ways along the path.

  2. Dawn, your story is pretty familiar. I actually had a rough start too and my goal was NOT to be home with the kids. I ended up really valuing the opportunity to be there for them as they grew into teenagers however, so much of my desire to continue working from home came from that – later. I really think it helped them in so many ways. So many of our journeys are the result of unforeseen “chains of events”. I’m really glad yours has allowed you to find a rewarding path. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Thank you Dana for your words of encouragement. I jumped a long time ago. As a social worker working with non-profit homeless organization, I realized while I was pregnant with my second child that I could not afford daycare. That in reality quality childcare would mean I would only bring home about $48 a month. Even in 2001, this made no sense. I have been contracting since then. I recently opened my own professional corporation and another LLC with a business partner. I am excited to learn what this means in terms of my relationship with other women business owners. I appreciate your wisdom and willingness to share your experience.

  4. Thank you Dana for your words of encouragement. I jumped a long time ago. As a social worker working with non-profit homeless organization, I realized while I was pregnant with my second child that I could not afford daycare. That in reality quality childcare would mean I would only bring home about $48 a month. Even in 2001, this made no sense. I have been contracting since then. I recently opened my own professional corporation and another LLC with a business partner. I am excited to learn what this means in terms of my relationship with other women business owners. I appreciate your wisdom and willingness to share your experience.

  5. Marion – What a great story. I love to hear about women following their intuition into business and finding new excitement there. Thanks for your comment!

  6. Great post.  I rose the corporate ranks and finally decided to say goodbye to launch a tech startup.  The point on self exploration is huge.  You really have to know what you want and more importantly, the courage to go after it.  Also, reflecting back, I am VERY fortunate to have built a network of terrific individuals that are encouraging and guiding me now in my startup.  

  7. I’m in the midst of transition — not sure if I should go back into corporate life (mainly for the financial stability), or really make a “go” of my business. I made the jump about 9 months ago and had immediate success, not the client “well” is getting a bit dry. I want to stay on my own, mainly because of point #3 above. I really value learning more about myself every day since I was lost in the corporate arena for years. I look forward to hearing the stories and experiences of the other women as well as the continuing saga of yours Dana. I’m glad I “stumbled” upon this site and I believe things happen for a reason. I needed this community now. So thanks.  

  8. Amanda – Having done the big company and tech startup thing and now something smaller but still technology-oriented, I feel your adventure;) I didn’t mention the importance of network, but now that you mention it I probably should have. Without it I never would have been able to get this far… it’s why I just now started a new group! Thanks for the idea and I hope you’ll join me! (see below too)

    Keeshia – Oh I feel you, girl! Been there, though I have to say that I’ve never been tempted back. My husband has on my behalf:) thanks to the financial security thing you mention. There are reasons to go back and I never say never, but the journey is just so adventuresome on my own. It’s led me to do things I NEVER would have dreamed of inside a company. So if that self-discovery thing is important to you, follow it. That said, pay attention to your need for moola to keep the boat afloat and work to develop strategies for the dry well phase. The key strategy is TRUST. Trust that you’ll have a wet cycle again and go out and find it. Easier said than done, I know!

    So you guys have lit a fire under me on this support thing. I just opened a new group on Project Eve I’d like to invite you all to – a group to support each other as we explore this inner journey of entrepreneurship. My saga has been one of finding my inner power. I’d love a place to reflect on that and support you too. Join me here!

    Thanks for the great dialog, ladies!

  9. I like your point about self-exploration, Dana. I have learned a lot about myself while freelancing on a small scale. It adds a whole new dynamic (or shall I say dimension) to my personality, and it’s been fun to build on skills I used in the workplace.

  10. Hi Rhonda. Yeah, you’re right. As soon as you look at business as self-exploration – BOOM – perspective happens;) And you’re right also that it’s fun! Thanks for commenting. 

  11. I have always been on my own in business.  I have learned many tricks that people who were in corp don’t often think of.  One word SALES!  Especially around back to school, and graduation time.  Office supplies add up quickly these really help the bottom line.  As well see if you know anyone else working within a small business – join a costco, BJ’s etc type place and share bulk items.  Once you have done all that recycle the supplies you can.  I still have file folders I have used for years! The warehouse stores also offer services that as a small business can be very expensive.

    I wish all the new comers the best of luck, have faith and be honest about your business, all the good, bad and potential.

  12. Patrice – word! I recycle file folders too. About every 5 years I treat myself to a new batch. Lately I’ve splurged and gotten some of the flowered ones from Staples, though even those are going on 2 years:) Frugality is definitely our good friend! Thanks for your comment.

  13. Dana – This is such great (& timely!) advice for me. Thank you!  I have just launched an independent coaching and consulting practice after many years in Silicon Valley high-tech.  For me, it was as though the universe had conspired for this to happen when and how it did.  I made the leap of faith in August 2012, and have yet to look back.  I’m grateful and relieved to have made this decision, even on the days when it feels like the floor has dropped out.  I’m now embracing what I describe as “free fall” – the exhilarating, adrenaline-charged excitement of entrepreneurism.  Your tips (along with the many contributions from this community) help remind me why I’m doing this and that I’m not in this alone!! Thank you, Project Eve!!

  14. Shelli – Welcome to the free fall! The best part is that like baby birds, we never know how far we can fly until we jump. Wheeeeee! :)

  15. Fantastic post Dana- as a recent jumper I am happy to join the ranks of women deciding to work their own way, but in all things the practical, tried and true thoughts and advice comes in handy!

  16. I was happy to read this article as it offered some good feedback that I should have known before jumping ship. However, now that I’ve done so, I will continue to learn on how best to be self-employed through learning lessons from people like you!