Image Credit: tibchris on Flickr
I had the great pleasure of working with Carmen Sognonvi few years ago, when she was still a corporate employee working diligently on her side hustle, which at the time was a speaking and consulting business focused on race and racism. She was amazing at what she did, and impressed me with her intelligence, focus and general “get it done”attitude.
The short story is she did quit her job and start her business full-time. The long story is she ended up shifting her focus and building a new business with her husband, Serge Sognonvi. I asked Carmen to share some things she learned on her journey out of the cubicle and into the world of full-time entrepreneurship. Be sure to check out her bio at the end of the article, where you can learn valuable tips from Carmen about building a local business.
Confessions of a Runaway: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About Escaping From Cubicle Nation
by Carmen Sognonvi
Do you fantasize daily about quitting your job?
Have you devoured every post in Pam’s Side Hustle & Flow Interview Series?
Is your copy of Escape From Cubicle Nation scribbled in, highlighted, and lovingly dog-eared?
As you sit in your cubicle, it may seem as if the hardest part of transitioning from side hustler to full-time business owner is making your escape.
But I’m here to tell you that life after the cubicle isn’t all unicorns and rainbows either.
It’s messy. It’s emotional.
And that’s okay, because you’ll come out of it a stronger person and a better entrepreneur.
Here are a few things you can expect along the way.
1. You will drift apart from old friends
About a year after I left my day job, I met up for dinner with a couple of old co-workers. They still worked at the same job, and at first it was fun for me to catch up on what everyone was up to.
But as the evening progressed, it was clear we weren’t in sync.
All they wanted to talk about was how much they hated their jobs. Though I had been in their shoes not too long ago, I now found it unbearable to listen to them complain about their situation without taking any steps to change it.
And whenever I talked about my business, I could see them stiffen up a bit. I thought they’d be happy for me. But instead they were looking at me like I was a deserter for leaving them behind.
I had always thought of these co-workers as good friends, but that night, it hit me.
Our whole friendship had been based on how much we hated our jobs. And once you took that away, we really didn’t have much in common.
I felt a twinge of pain when I realized that†I was losing my friends.
Now that some time has passed, I have come to understand that my values and priorities were different than they used to be, and not everyone was down with that shift.
Because I changed, my relationships changed too.
The Takeaway: If you find your social circle changing after you leave your day job, don’t resist the shift. As one person leaves, they make room for someone else to come into your life. And that new person will actually support and encourage the new career and life you’re building for yourself.
2. You will second-guess every single decision you make about how you use your time
When our daughter was a few months old, we hired a babysitter a couple days a week so I could start getting back into the work groove.
It sounded good in theory, but what actually happened was that I got nothing done.
Now, feeling down on yourself for being unproductive is bad enough, †but when your lack of productivity is costing you fourteen bucks an hour (the going rate for babysitting), it’s hard to forgive yourself.
On top of that, mommy guilt would set in.
I would think to myself: If I wasn’t going to get any work done, I should have just stayed home with my daughter! Then at least we’d have some quality time together.
I felt like I was falling apart, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the heck had happened to me?
When I was still at my hedge fund day job, I was a multi-tasking machine. You know that cliche “If you want something done, give it to a busy person?” Well, they were talking about me.
I would go from booking meetings for my boss to doing an interview with NPR, from ordering karate uniforms for our martial arts school to writing a blog post for CNN, from pulling investment research reports for my boss to hosting my own webinar — all in a single day.
So why was it now that I had taken so much off my plate, I was getting so much less done and felt more exhausted than ever before?
Well, eventually I realized that I was productive when I had my day job because my time was so limited. Working under severe time constraints actually made it easier to prioritize.
But now that I had complete control over my time, there were so many choices available to me that it became hard to pick one. What should I work on first? The urgent stuff or the important stuff? Or should I be working at all? Maybe I should be spending more time with my baby and less time in front of the computer?
As for why I was tired when I was doing less than before? Well, it was actually my awesome sister Iris who came up with the answer to that puzzle.
One day, she pointed out to me that being a full-time business owner is totally different from doing it as a side hustle. It may not seem like a big difference, but the psychological burden is much heavier because the stakes are so much higher. Now you have to make it work because you no longer have the safety net of a paycheck to fall back on.
It’s now a couple years later and I won’t pretend that I’m a master at juggling it all, but I am a lot more forgiving of myself on days when I’m not as productive as I’d like to be.
I’ve also realized that one of the key skills successful entrepreneurs have to master is how to allocate resources in the most effective way. And there’s no resource that is scarcer or more valuable than time.
The Takeaway: If you find yourself second-guessing decisions you make about how you spend your day, understand that it’s a critical step in your journey as an entrepreneur. If you can figure out how to best leverage your time, you will have a more successful business.
3. You will (sometimes) miss getting a regular paycheck from a job
For me, one of the hardest things about becoming a full-time business owner has been learning how to manage money.
Losing my day job paycheck was, of course, a major transition.
To be perfectly honest, my husband and I had never been super-disciplined about reigning in personal or business expenses. And because I made such a comfortable living at the hedge fund, it felt as if there was always more money coming in the door.
After I gave up that paycheck, we really had to get our financial act together. Suze Orman would probably still give us a lousy grade if we were on her show’s “How Am I Doing?” segment, but I’m proud of the progress we’ve made so far.
Dealing with a reduction in income was challenging, but what I found even harder was getting used to how complicated money in business is.
When you’re a business owner, it’s pretty much up to you how much money you actually take home.
While you may not be able to control the amount of revenue that comes in the door, you can (apart from the occasional unpleasant surprise) manage the costs in the business. And because of that, there are so many decisions you have to make.
Should you take on the expense of an additional staff member in hopes that they can help grow the business? Or is it better to keep things lean and mean?
Should you keep profits low to minimize the amount of taxes you pay? Or would you be shooting yourself in the foot by doing that because if you ever needed to apply for a loan, you’d look like an underperforming business?
How much money should you take home and how much should you reinvest into the business? Out of the money you do take home, how much should be on payroll and how much should be as a distribution? (That’s if you’re an S-Corp like we are.)
Some days it’s enough to make my head spin!
Every once in awhile I get nostalgic for how much simpler it was to manage money back when I had a job. I knew how much my paycheck was, and that’s what I built my budget around. Simple. Done.
But then I think about how much more control we now have over our financial future and I realize that with greater freedom, comes greater responsibility. Figuring this stuff out is just the price of admission.
The Takeaway: If you find yourself confused by all the different ways you could be handling the money in your business, realize that learning how to manage it will ultimately lead to greater financial freedom.
One final thought: You must learn to embrace “the meantime”
If you find yourself in any of these situations…
- You’ve lost your old friends but your new friends — the ones who “get” the new you — haven’t shown up yet
- You spend 8 hours a day doing what seems like work, but you haven’t made a dent in your to-do list and you wonder how you used to be so much more productive
- Your new business is doing okay, but not enough to match what you used to make at your job, and you have no idea if you’re making the right financial moves
…then congratulations! You’re in what Pam calls “the meantime.”
Some days it’ll seem as if you’re drowning, and it may get bad enough that you question if you should have ever left your job in the first place.
When you find yourself feeling that way, keep this in mind:
“Great, meaningful, deeply significant work happens when you really marinate in the meantime.
It is not a distraction from the creative process, it is the creative process.”
Carmen Sognonvi blogs about local business and local marketing at CarmenSognonvi.com. Together with her husband Serge, she owns Urban Martial Arts, a karate school in Brooklyn, NY. Sign up for email updates from Carmen to get free local business tips.