The Hard Knocks of Launching My Own Business (Part 1)
I thought I knew what it was like to worry about money while my wife and I attended graduate school at the same time. We shopped at the discount grocery store and only ate out at the bad Chinese restaurant when we had a coupon.
Launching my own business two years ago as a freelance writer proved the most worrying challenge, surpassing my graduate school worries in ways that I never could have anticipated. I know that makes me sound naïve, but I pride myself at being able to both anticipate and worry about worst case scenarios.
This time I met my match.
After watching my ideas die at a day job where disillusionment marked a good day, my wife provided the perfect opportunity to quit when she switched from a career in special education to her dream of pursuing a PhD in English Literature. We took the plunge in the summer of 2009.
The first rule of setting out on your own is to never quit your day job until you have a secure stream of income. I had to quit my day job to move, but I also had a small but relatively stable income when I launched my business thanks to several clients.
Since my wife's University is located in a rural area without too many job openings, we planned accordingly. I set modest goals for my business that met our budget, and we downsized our expenses: selling one of our two cars, unloading half of our possessions, and moving into a tiny one bedroom apartment.
Even our rabbits had to make due with a smaller play pen area when locked up for the night.
Dinner out was replaced by a monthly ice cream outing. Organic foods were a rare luxury in the winter. Disposable income went the way of the dodo.
While I looked for part time work, I relied on two key clients for my fledgling business. I also planned to pursue several markets that I hadn't tapped previously—hoping they would provide an irregular but sufficient income stream.
By the time we moved, I was excited about the possibility of determining my own schedule and using all of my ideas for my own career. I had no boss to dread and no dead end projects sucking the life out of me. An anxiety-filled commute was no longer part of my week.
The week after my last day of work, we left for a family vacation. On the second day of vacation, I received an e-mail with the worst possible news from my highest paying client. He needed me to work on projects that I couldn't do, and therefore he moved on, taking a huge chunk of our security with him.
A few weeks later, my other top client closed shop unexpectedly.
Setting up my lap top in a sun-drenched cafe in August 2009, I didn't have thousands of dollars I was counting on. While I felt great about working full time on my own business, my morale and our checking account soon hit a low point.
Each day I pursued new leads, consumed copious amounts of bad news, and stretched my daily tea at the local cafe as far as the little tea bag could go. I was elated by each small success, but month after month I only hit half of my income goals.
Nearly every stream of income was either dried up or trickling in at an unsustainable pace.
By the summer of 2010, I could see that I needed to radically rethink my business plan. Every expense became painful, and I felt responsible for the stress in our home. More than that, I felt like a failure.
I revamped my daily work schedule dramatically in one last attempt to keep it going. However, I had plenty of insecurities and past failures to doubt myself. Could I make my business work?
To be continued next Tuesday, June 28.