Quitting the day job: Finding the guts to pursue your dreams
Something amazing has happened in the past eighteen months. While I've been learning about personal finance — and sharing my knowledge with you — Get Rich Slowly has grown from a small site with a couple hundred readers into a real-life business. GRS currently has 35,000 subscribers and generates $5,000 in monthly revenue. It also takes most of my time. This is a blessing and a curse.
As my income from this site has grown, I've been able to achieve my financial goals more quickly. In two weeks, I'll be debt-free except for the mortgage. I have an emergency fund. I'm maxing out my Roth IRA every year. Get Rich Slowly has also put me in touch with a lot of great people: readers, colleagues, and media contacts. Most of all, I've learned tons about personal finance. I'm still a novice when it comes to investing and retirement planning, but I'm a novice who knows how to find the information he needs, and who is willing to share it with others.
As wonderful as this site has been to me, it's not without its drawbacks. Chief among these is that it takes time. Kris and I used to do more things together. I used to have spare time to read books and to play games and to hang out with my friends. Though I still do these things whenever possible, more of my time is devoted to providing quality content. Writing Get Rich Slowly is literally like having a second full-time job.
After months of deliberation, I've decided to quit my job at the family business.
Yes, having two sources of income provides a tremendous sense of security, but I cannot continue at this pace. Lately I've struggled to squeeze Get Rich Slowly into the cracks of life: evenings, weekends, down-time at the box factory. As the site has grown, so has the workload. In order to make Get Rich Slowly everything I want it to be, in order to provide the best personal finance information, this site must be my top priority.
Quitting the day job scares me. My web income can support my lifestyle, especially if I'm frugal. But I had developed grand plans of accelerated savings, of paying off my mortgage in just a few years, of traveling around the world. When I quit the day job, I'll be sacrificing:
- The second income.
- An additional retirement plan (about $5,000/year).
- Daily contact with co-workers and colleagues.
I'll be trading these sure things for an uncertain future. What guarantee do I have that Get Rich Slowly can continue to produce enough income to support me? What guarantee do I have that I'll still want to do this three years from now? There are no guarantees.
And so I am making a leap of faith. Or, more precisely, several “hops of faith”. In order to provide myself and the business a smooth transition, I'm going to reduce my hours gradually over the coming year.
- Beginning 01 January 2008, my Tuesdays will be spent working on Get Rich Slowly.
- Beginning April 1st, I'll drop Thursdays at the box factory.
- On July 1st, Mondays will be spent writing.
- Next October, I'll be down to only Wednesdays at the day job.
- Finally, on 01 January 2009, I will be an official real-life full-time blogger.
I've always wanted to be a professional writer. I just thought I'd write science fiction novels. Or the sorts of short stories you find in Harper's and The New Yorker. I never imagined I would one day make my living by writing about personal finance.
Now that I've committed to taking this leap, I'm scared. I've become a master of the worst-case scenario. Yes, Get Rich Slowly has generated enough revenue to support me during the past few months, but what if something goes wrong? What if I run out of things to write? What if Google or FeedBurner cancel their ad programs? What if I lose my thumbs in a blogging accident? What if all these things happen at once?
I've had people ask me how to prepare for a potential job loss, or how to make the transition to self-employment. My answers have always been theoretical. Now that I'm facing this situation myself, however, I can tell you the sorts of preparations I made. I think all of these are important:
- Crunch the numbers. There are many good reasons to track every penny you spend — potential job loss is one of them. Sit down and go over your records. How much do you spend on food every month? What do you spend on utilities? What could you sacrifice if needed? Run the numbers for a variety of “what if?” scenarios. I'm fortunate to have health insurance through Kris' job — if I didn't, the numbers tell me I couldn't make this leap yet.
- Manage your money. You should always be smart with your finances. But when you've lost your job, or are about to make a career change, this becomes even more important. I can't imagine making the move to full-time writer if I wasn't debt-free (except for the mortgage). If I still had spending problems, this transition would be even more frightening.
- Embrace frugality. I've done a great job of developing frugal habits over the past two years. I need to maintain these. I need to make use of the library. I need to walk and bike on my errands instead of driving. I need to follow the tips I share with you.
- Kill the lifestyle inflation. As my debt-free date approaches, I've begun to loosen the grip I've had on my spending. We've been dining out more often. I've been buying toys and gadgets. I had even begun planning to purchase expensive furniture for the living room. All of this needs to stop now.
- Bolster the emergency fund. I'm generally an advocate of smaller emergency funds — $500, $1000, $5000. But as I consider my upcoming transition to full-time blogging, I've realized I want to have more in savings. Much more. Though it seems like an impossible goal, I'm going to strive to save $20,000 by the end of 2008. (My mind boggles just to type that number.)
- Seek professional advice. Consult with an accountant, and maybe even an attorney. There are tax and legal implications that come with starting your own business. Take the time to speak with somebody who knows the rules. Get things right from the start.
- Pursue multiple streams of income. Most people have a single stream of income — their job. The more income streams you have, though, the more secure you are. My current situation is a perfect example. When I leave my job at the box factory, I need to pursue other income sources as well. I might consider a part-time job. I might pursue computer consulting work. More likely, however, I'll start additional web sites (such as Get Fit Slowly, which I hope to have ready for launch by the first of the year). The more sources of income I have, the safer I'll feel.
- Define goals. It's always good to know which direction you're headed. In the face of an uncertain future, this becomes even more important. I've thought a lot about this lately. Where will I be in five years? In ten? In twenty? I need to decide what my objectives are, and be sure that my other choices align with these.
- Focus on what's important. Because I'm placing all of my faith behind this web site, I need to work to make it the best it can be. I need to provide more useful information, offer more tips, help readers find more answers.
The moment I decided to quit my day job, my entire mindset about money changed. It was as if somebody had thrown a switch in my brain. It's more important than ever to practice what I preach. I've entered Ultra-Frugality Mode. I sat down the other day and crafted a new spending plan. I listed exactly what my monthly obligations are, and what my expected income is. The surplus is earmarked to boost my emergency fund as high as it can go.
It feels good to know that I've made some smart money decisions over the past eighteen months. These now serve as a sort of safety net. I don't have a lot of fixed monthly expenses. I've eliminated my debt. I've developed the saving habit. These things will help me as I make the transition to working on my own.
This decision has been difficult. The box factory is a safe, comfortable environment. It's a sure thing. By leaving the business, I'm sacrificing stability.
On the other hand, I have to consider what I'm gaining: time. I'm going to gain time to exercise, time to actually respond to e-mail, time to research more extensive articles, time to begin writing the book I've had in mind for the past year. I'm going to have a chance to live the pastoral lifestyle I've always dreamed of.
I'm finally following some of my own advice: I've gathered the guts to pursue my dream. I'm glad to have you along for the ride.
Edit: In the comments, I answer the question, “How much time does running this blog really take?“