Last weekend I had the neat experience of being interviewed, so to speak, by a curious reader via gchat. She wanted to know about my choice to quit teaching and work for myself. What follows are her paraphrased questions and more flushed out answers from me on the subject.
Q: I am lucky to have a 9 to 5 job right out of college, but at the same time it's not the job or life I imagined for myself. What made you decide to start your own business?
A: I started Iviebaby just after Everett was born because I wanted to do what I wanted to do, and having someone say, "Nope you can't breastfeed your kid, you have to come back to work after 6 weeks of unpaid leave," wasn't what I wanted for our family. I had to make those transitions anyway, because we needed the money so badly at the time, but I'm always keeping the future in mind, and I knew that I would face the same thing with future children if I didn't figure something else out.
Q: When did you decide that you were ready/stable enough to quit teaching and work for yourself?
A: I ran my store and worked my teaching job, both at full blast, for one solid school year. The year before that I would have called my business a side hobby, but that second year was balls to the wall, and I did it because I knew what it was going to be. By the end of that second year, I was making my entire yearly teaching salary in one month of Iviebaby. Nobody could argue with that. So I quit teaching because I literally had to have those 9 hours back.
Expect whatever it is you choose to do to grow slowly, but always have "that number" in the back of your mind. If it's equal to your current salary, that's good. If it's double your current salary, that's better.
If you're adept at saving, and you look to support your family on your own like I did, a good rule of thumb is to have a year's worth of bills saved before you quit a traditional job. By that I mean if on average your bills run you $3000 a month, be willing to save $36k before you let go of that security. That might sound like an impossibility, but checking yourself and realizing, "I will need to work both of these jobs for three years to save that much money" is not going to hurt you.
Just put one foot in front of the other and work one day at a time until you get there.
Q: I've worked for a lot of small businesses and sold at craft shows before, and I know how hard it can be to break even. Why do you think your store was so successful?
A: I saw a hole in the market (gender neutral, modern prints), and I filled it. Another reason it did well in the beginning was that I was willing to DO ANYTHING. I worked too hard and I took too many custom orders and lost a lot of sleep and money letting people walk over me. Wish I hadn't, but it helped me grow.
If you're worried about breaking even, then custom orders would be a good starting place. As I said, that's how I started. I made one of each thing, threw a picture up, and said that it would take me 2-3 weeks to ship it out, which was enough time to order the materials and make it.
Q: Where did you find the time/energy? Every day when I come home from work, I'm just so tired that I can't even imagine having the energy to start my own business.
A: I know that feeling well. In the beginning, there were some days I would set a timer for ten minutes and do ten minutes of business before I'd quit it for the day. Either it would just "add up" or I would become engrossed in the project and stay up past my bedtime.
Once you grow, it will turn into a "do or die" situation. You'll have orders to fill and customers to answer to, and you can't say no to that, or if you do choose to, it will ruin your business. I've seen that happen before--a business grows, can't keep up, and has to bow (sometimes ungracefully) out. For me, that's when I cut a lot of luxuries out (blogging was one, quality time with my friends and family was another), which eventually led to burn out, and then lots of changes so I could sustain the business long term. Growth spurts can be really exiting and really dangerous.
I enjoyed answering these questions and would love to hear them if you have more for me. You can leave them in the comments below or email me longer versions using the contact form.