When you’ve made the decision to leave your job, it can be hard to stay focused. Yes, it may take you 12-36 months before you have enough money saved (do you know how much you need to save? Use this cheat sheet if not) – but the excitement is hard to contain. I totally get it.
But if you plan on being a business owner, you need to think like one. What can you do now to make the transition easier, and to grow your business now, instead of waiting until you have “more time” as you could just be setting yourself up for failure.
Here are some ways to take advantage of your current situation to set yourself up for success later as an entrepreneur.
Side note: I put together a Free Email Course to dive deeper on this topic. You’ll get action steps for each of these, personal challenges, and even more ideas on how to take advantage of your day job while freelancing on the side. If you’re interested, sign up here to get the course for free.
1. Take Advantage of Learning Opportunities
I cannot tell you how many learning opportunities you have at your day job right now. Let’s start with the most “practical” one.
Many larger companies (and even some startups!) offer some sort of reimbursement for any classes you take at a University or College. I used to take classes at the local community college – allowing me to dabble in multiple topics, but also because they were cheaper and I could take more but still be under the $5,500 threshold of reimbursement for the year.
Yes, I was that person who would get off of work and drive out to my night class to learn about computer programming at the local community college.
I also took some online Graduate classes at the University of Florida for graphic design and online communications. And guess what? They were FREE.
Sure, I had to pay up front and make sure to get at least a “B” grade, but that was easy enough. Free education is alright by me.
Am I the best graphic designer? Heck no. But I learned so much and can functionally use Photoshop now. This makes creating graphics for Facebook ads and blog images slightly easier (although it’s still tough to make something that looks decent!).
The point is you can take practically any course (as long as it relates somewhat to your current position) and get BETTER at your craft on someone else’s dime.
When I worked at AAA there were lots of online courses – and while not all of them were of stellar quality, they were informative. It’s always great to expand your horizons past what you’re currently doing, because as an entrepreneur, you wear ALL of the hats.
Trust me, you’ll want to know at least the basics before you start the path to entrepreneurship – it will make your life that much easier when the time comes.
While I was there, one of my coworkers brought up this seminar training membership to our boss. It was held by Fred Pryor and you could go to as many classes as you wanted for one annual price.
Remember, this was not my boss bringing up this idea, it was a coworker. But our boss totally went for it because the seminars were related to our daily jobs.
So we got to go to these seminars (within reason of course) and learn about all kinds of things – emotional intelligence, Excel training, how to work with difficult people, communication for women, etc.
Granted, I wouldn’t say these were all quality seminars, but some of them were, and you gained some skills for sure.
If you have some kind of membership or seminar you’re looking to take part in, ask your boss! If it’s related to your current job, there’s a good chance that as long as you sell it properly, they’ll go for it.
On the same topic of asking your boss for permission to go to certain in-person events, I highly recommend finding conferences you’d like to go to. The work I did was focused on SEO (search engine optimization), Google AdWords, and content marketing, so I was able to go to SMX East and Inbound for free. My work paid for the conference, hotels, etc.
Now, I didn’t know I was leaving when I went to both, but I learned A LOT and met some people I am still in contact with today.
I also got to meet two people I respect 100% in business and marketing:
Gary Vaynerchuk – this man is almost single-handedly responsible for making me believe I could do this.
Seth Godin at Digital Summit in Philadelphia – the marketing genius himself
Be realistic and make sure there is some tie between the conference and your current job/industry. Also, don’t ask to go to too many things: I went to one conference a year.
Be respectful of your company, but use the resources and options available to you.
2. Learn From Upper Management & Meetings
If you’re anything like me, scheduled hour long meetings drove me insane – especially when they could have been solved with an email.
About six months before I was going to quit my job, I had an epiphany – I was going to have run to my own meetings – much more than I did at the time anyway.
I already had meetings that I led, but as an entrepreneur, you have to run all of the meetings (at least until you hire managers).
And so, these now became learning opportunities in my eyes.
The style in which they were led, the content they decided was important enough to cover, and even some of the words they used. I was taking note of it all.
When that one person (there’s always one!) went on and on and on, I’d watch the manager to see how they handled the situation. Sometimes it was with patience, and others it was (more my style) of “okay we’re getting off topic here.”
In addition to general meetings, watch how they handle one-on-one meetings. Every employee has different needs, from how they learn to what they need in the workplace, to the level of socialization they enjoy. It’s definitely a balancing act to be a great leader and I have tons of respect for those that do it well.
Different Styles of Leadership
Some leaders are hands on, others are more hands off when it comes to their employees.
Some leaders are more “chatty” while others are great at just letting you get your work done. Really good leaders know how their people work best and how they need to act around each person.
If you manage an introvert who doesn’t like water cooler talk, don’t stand at their desk for 40 minutes talking about nothing. The same goes for the other way around. If you manage someone who thrives on that, have a ten minute morning chat with them to debrief anything that’s happened recently.
Outside Vendor Presentations
The GOLDEN learning opportunities in my eyes, were when we’d be presented to by our other marketing vendors who handled billboards, other digital media, and print marketing. Or even when 3 or 4 companies essentially “battled” against one another to work with our company.
After all, that’s what kind of work I do, so it made sense to get ideas from how they presented and what they’d cover in those presentations.
I was even lucky enough to get to hear the internal reaction to these things the marketing vendor thought was important vs what the company employees were looking for in the vendor they’d choose. Trust me, it wasn’t always logical.
Organizational Skills as a Manager
Another great thing you can learn from leaders is how they stay organized. After all, when you’re managing multiple people and tens of projects, you have to keep a pulse on everything happening.
As an entrepreneur, this couldn’t be more true of you as well. You’re going to have so many projects it will almost seem impossible to manage, but you’ll find a way. If you’ve watched your current bosses and learned from them, you could be a few steps ahead of someone who hasn’t.
3. The 401k Retirement Account Match
As a former personal finance blogger, I couldn’t NOT include this one. Some companies offer up a 6% match of your 401k contributions. This is literally free money.
If you’re not taking advantage of this, you’re really hurting yourself in the long run. If you’re not sure if you’re taking advantage of this match, log into your 401k plan or contact your HR department, TODAY.
Our company gave a match and a “defined contribution” at the end of the year, which essentially meant you got a percentage of how the total money you contributed as “bonus” to even further incentivize you to take advantage of the 401k they offered.
Trust me, when you’re starting out as an entrepreneur, no one is giving you 6% of your salary just for investing your money.
Take it while you can get it.
If you’re looking for a way to see if you’re investing responsibly, check out Blooom for a free 401k analysis – pretty cool stuff.
4. Grow Your Business While You’re Working Full-Time
When you have a full-time job, you have limited time to work on outside projects, but you also have money coming in that doesn’t have to come from this side hustle.
The beauty of that is you can bootstrap your own company with any leftover income you might have from your day job. This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s a HUGE deal.
When you quit your job, you’re probably going to be starting your business with quite a bit less
I can’t tell you how important it is to make time to work on your side hustle. Even though it’s extremely difficult to do you when you have so many other life priorities, if you’re committed to taking your side hustle full-time, this needs to become a priority as well.
If you work hard and make time for your business, you’ll be so much farther ahead when it comes time to quit your job. You’ll have more money saved, hopefully more income coming in each month, and just a better general sense of how much work you’re going to need to put in even after you quit your job.
5. Take Advantage of Public Speaking Opportunities
This is one thing I didn’t do as well as I should have. Looking back I know there were opportunities I missed out on.
When you’re working within an organization, you’re likely going to have opportunities to hold a presentation, teach a skill you know, or even just lead a meeting.
Of course, these may not all present themselves to you, but if you work hard and talk to your bosses about it, I’d say there’s a decent chance they’ll let you do one of those things.
The great thing about doing this before you’re out on your own is if you screw up badly, it’s not as if you lost a sale or hurt your chances of gaining new prospects.
I know for all of you introverts out there (I’m right there with ya!) this can sound terrifying. But it’s hard to find a business that you won’t need some kind of sales or training skills at some point.
Business is about selling. If you can practice getting in front of people and talking, you’ll feel much more comfortable when it comes time to do it for your own income.
Practice makes perfect.
Enjoying this? I’m launching a free email course on January 31st to dive deeper into this topic. If you’re interested,sign up here to get the course for free when it goes live.
6. Talk About Your Business
This one can get a little tricky – but if done right, you can really help improve the chances of success for your company.
Make sure your boss at least knows that you have a side hustle before you start spreading the word. Once they do, talk about what you’re doing outside of work to other people.
Tell you work friends about what you’re creating, clients you might have or just general networking stuff you’re doing.
This was pretty easy for me because I was always “the one who woke up super early” so it would come up in conversation and I’d just elaborate on what in the world I was actually doing at 3:30am 🙂
Talking to other people at work about your side hustle can do a few things for you:
It can help improve your sales pitch and/or your elevator pitch – If you’re talking to enough people about what you do, they’ll ask questions and you’ll start learning what else you need to include in your sales pitch. Also, elevators are a thing in larger companies, you’re going to have that moment when you have 30 seconds to tell someone what you do.
It can bring in referrals for you – “oh you run Facebook ads for people? My cousin Johnny is opening a restaurant, I’ll connect you two!”
It can get the word out to other people – I would find that even if I didn’t talk to certain people directly about what I did, they would find out through the awesome world of corporate gossip.
You’ll find little nooks and crannies of time you didn’t even think were long enough to be productive before.
5 minutes here, 5 minutes there. It adds up, especially when you’re filling your schedule with two jobs.
Do you know what only takes 5 minutes to do?
Sending out an email about your new blog post
Scheduling some social media
Drafting up a few emails to potential customers
Checking your Facebook ads stats
Getting small pieces of work done
Responding to a few emails
LOTS of things
For some reason, I have this tendency to make things seem like they are going to take longer than they actually do. This leads me to not doing anything productive in that short span of time.
One of the biggest struggles I have this with is exercising. Do you know how long it takes to run a mile? For me it’s around 10 minutes.
Yet, I always put off exercising because it seems like too big of a task. 10 minutes and I could at least have some kind of workout done.
The Art of Balancing Time
A lot of people think that when they quit their day job their going to have all of this free time to do what they want.
This couldn’t be more wrong.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: You’re going to be working as much as you were when you were trying to balance your day job AND your side hustle – the only difference is your time will be focused on your business, not the day job as well.
If you learn to work 60-70 hours a week now, you’ll be much better prepared when it comes time to leave your job.
Now of course, you can work ANY hours you want, and this schedule won’t last forever – but at least in the beginning, you’re likely going to hustle as much as you were before to make things work.
I promise it’s more enjoyable too – even if i just made it sound like a nightmare. 🙂
Learn to use your time wisely, while you have that 8 hours you have to be somewhere else, and you’ll set yourself up better than just going into it blind.
8. Networking and Building Connections
I mentioned talking to your coworkers about your side hustle, but make sure to actually keep in touch with people after you leave. They are your pathway into the company if you ever needed a referral or anything else. In addition, they know how you work, so if they come across a friend who needs your help – they’re going to connect you.
But I also want to mention that you need to be networking outside of the office too – and maybe even more importantly.
This was something I did a pretty good job at before leaving. I was always going to Meetup events and conferences.
The pros to this are:
You meet new people
You find people who are doing similar things to you
You’re finding in-person entrepreneurial friends who you can talk to when no one else understands what you’re going through. ← trust me, this is important!
I met some of the more important people for my business at these networking events and conferences AND 99% of my clients and/or referrals have come from me putting myself out there.
Yes, networking as an introvert can be tough, but in my opinion it’s 100% necessary to success out on your own. It’s one of those things you just have to go do, and it does get easier with time.
Start doing this by utilizing Meetup.com and Eventbrite to find local events near you. This might be more challenging if you’re in a small town far away from the nearest city. If this is the case, then try building a network online and utilizing Skype to make it more personal.
Leverage Your Current Company
This is one of the most impactful things to bring you credibility when networking:
Mention the company you work for
Yes, that’s it.
I run Facebook and Google ads for clients, but if I walked up to someone and said “I help small business owners get customers through Google and Facebook ads” — that’s cool, but it doesn’t add that extra credibility.
But, when I say “I run Google ads for AAA” people are way more interested. “Wow, the automobile company? I love AAA!”
And because they’re a bigger company, people immediately know they run A LOT of Google ads. That helps too.
This thought in their mind immediately turns into: she must know what she’s doing.
Even though it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m great at it, I at least know what I’m doing enough for a larger company to hire me AND not kick me to the curb. 🙂
I have a friend who worked at Google like 6 years ago, and he still calls himself the Google guy.
It just works – it adds credibility ESPECIALLY when you’re running Google ads. Nice work, Mac 🙂
People still come up to me and introduce me as the person who ran Google ads for AAA. I’ll take it. 🙂
9. Build Your Brand
When you go out on your own, no one is going to know who you are (except the people you’ve networked with, of course!), so you need to start building a presence online.
Yes, I’m talking about:
Building a website
Getting active on social media (and I’m not talking about just scheduling posts). I’m talking about direct messaging, replying to others tweets and being a HUMAN on social.
Commenting on other people’s websites
Finding people in your niche doing similar things and become friends. STOP looking at everyone else as your competition.
Updating your LinkedIn Profile to be more like a sales page, not a resume. I know this sounds boring, but I’ve gotten RANDOM sales calls from people who found me on LinkedIn. This is also exactly how I got my first client.
The more you do of this now, the better time you’ll have finding clients and customers when you leave. It’ll also help keep you sane during moments of entrepreneurial despair.
10. Figure Out How Much Income You Need [& How You’re Going to Get It]
When you’re working a day job, you likely have a set income – you know how much is coming in and when. When you’re an entrepreneur, it’s not so black and white.
This is a great time to figure out exactly how much money you’ll need to survive once you quit. You can’t just go into this blindly thinking you’ll figure it out later. You need to know that minimum income number that you need to survive.
While most of the other things on this list are about taking advantage of your job, this one is about being smart before you quit. This is a GREAT time to test out the income number you’ve set for yourself and see if it covers all of your bills.
If you decided that, while you make $3,500 a month now, you only need $2,000 of it. Put yourself to the test.
Set aside $1,500 each month and see if you are struggling to get by and find yourself using money from savings. If so, adjust your number. If not, can you go lower or is this a good place to be at?
Once you know that minimum income number, now you need to figure out where that money is going to come from. Do you have recurring projects with clients? Is everything you do a one-time project and you’ll have to keep finding new clients?
Set up a plan for where the income will come from, and do your BEST to start bringing that much in before you leave your job. Plenty of people who have successfully quit their day jobs, say having even a majority percentage, like 75% of your income, coming in before you leave is fine.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shoot for 100% if you have the time. 🙂
11. Cut Your Expenses
Now that you know how much money you need, let’s try and cut your expenses even more. The more money you cut out of your budget, the less money you’ll need to save in an emergency fund, AND the faster you’ll be able to quit (because you have less to save).
Some of the most common ways to cut your expenses are:
Getting rid of cable (opting for Hulu, Netflix, or Sling TV)
This is one that seems to get overlooked pretty often. Our company had some great benefits that not many people took advantage of.
There was a gym in our building and we could use it for $10 a month, which is not only cheap, but super convenient because you could work out on your lunch break.
Some companies also offer “wellness” benefits, such as nutritional training, competitions and prizes for getting the most steps, or increasing your exercise by X%.
These seem small but they are pretty cool, and you should definitely take advantage of them as they come.
13. Use Your Health Insurance
Ah, one of the commonly talked about topics nowadays. Whether or not you’ll be legally obligated to buy health insurance or not, you likely won’t be able to afford the level of coverage you have now. Make sure you are taking those precautions and getting everything you can out of the way now:
Go to the dentist and stock up on free toothbrushes. Also, get those x-rays before you leave
Get your annual physical
Get bloodwork done now
Get all of your routine checkups done
Stock up on any medications and prescriptions you might have
Get your eyes checked
I think you get the idea. Just get everything you can out of the way so you’ll be set for a while if you aren’t able to visit the doctor as often as you used to.
You might have health insurance, but unless you’re bringing in loads of money, it’s going to be a heck of a lot more expensive when you’re paying for the entire plan out of your own pocket.
While any employee should be taking advantage of these benefits, entrepreneurs especially need to heed this advice. The more practice you get at networking, public speaking, and selling people on what you do, the more success you’re likely to have when it comes time to being your own boss.
FREE Email Course
I’m launching a free email course on January 31st to dive deeper on this topic. You’ll get action steps for each of these, personal challenges, and even more ideas on how to take advantage of your day job while freelancing on the side.