When I posted recently about my new life in Portland, a few of you asked for tips about leaving the corporate world to pursue a creative life. I’m not an expert by any means, but I can tell you my experience.
Back when I was in grad school at Berkeley, I took an internship at a Big Global Tech Company. It was my first time working in a large corporation and I learned a lot, though perhaps not the things I expected to learn. Towards the end of my allotted time there, the company announced that there would be a reorganization of some departments. Jobs were cut, people shuffled around, the department I was in would have a new boss, the usual reorg chaos.
This didn’t affect my internship; but it was at this point I realized that, despite the fact that a steady paycheck makes you feel secure, working for a big company is pretty risky. You can be laid off at any moment. You are basically a cog in a very large machine, and can be sacrificed at any time. You don’t have much control.
I continued working at large companies and continued to learn and grow. I met some of the smartest people I’ve ever known, had interesting projects, and worked on things that literally millions of people interacted with every day. On the other hand, a big part of me knew that I needed a bit more. I’m an independent person by nature and knew I’d eventually want to run things my way. I think a lot of smart, creative people come to this realization at some point.
Then about a year ago, Kenn was laid off from the start-up he was working for (lesson 2: small companies are no more stable than large ones). This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as he could now move into full time freelance work. When he got into the swing of this, I saw how much happier he was working for himself, setting his own schedule, and working on the things he wanted to do.
So I decided that I’d take the plunge too and give up the paycheck for a shot at the life I really wanted.
There were a lot of factors that made this possible, and many of them are not things that can be done overnight, but I’ll do my best to lay them out:
First, and I think the most important for me: I’m pretty frugal. I’m not saying that I’m some kind of ascetic by any means, but I have a DIY streak a mile wide and really hate unnecessary spending. This can be difficult in places like San Francisco and New York and (especially) Silicon Valley, where people spend money like it’s going out of style. I enjoy the occasional high-end indulgence when I’m feeling flush, but by and large I identify much more with the things I make vs. the things I buy.
Basically, I feel that the more attached I am to spending money and having things, the less self-sufficient I am and that is just not me. So I look for ways to be self-reliant and save my pennies every month. The result is a nice cushion of savings and some good habits.
Somewhat related to this, I have no debt. This is partly because I’m not comfortable with debt, and partly because I’m fortunate enough not to have necessary debt, and partly because of where I am in my life. I don’t buy anything I can’t afford to pay for outright, I paid my student loans as quickly as possible, and I don’t own a house (yet).
I also have a partner to rely on if need be, which is tremendously helpful.
As for Colette Patterns, it’s been well over a year in the making. I started with research and a concise but fairly thorough business plan. This helped me to really think through my ideas and what sort of a business I wanted to create. If you’re considering starting a business, I do think a business plan is essential, even if it’s fairly short and scribbled.
I think the most important thing I did for the long term was to write down my overall goals. Basically, I listed out the criteria that I thought would let me know that I was successful. Many of these were about having a more fully integrated life, spending my time in more meaningful ways (what could be LESS meaningful than commuting?), and using my skills/creativity/strengths wisely.
I did all the prep work for starting Colette Patterns while working a demanding job and at times, it was like having two full time jobs. So it was really helpful for me to have those goals to keep me going.
Last, I don’t think it’s ever wise to put all your eggs in one basket, so I made sure I had other opportunities. My career in technology taught me many skills, most of which I’m actually transferring to running my own business. I definitely don’t consider it over and plan to do many other tech/web projects in the coming years. It’s good to have options. It gives you new opportunities and keeps things interesting.
Here are a few books I particularly liked on the subject of starting a business:
The Boss of You: Everything A Woman Needs to Know to Start, Run, and Maintain Her Own Business by Lauren Bacon and Emira Mears
I’m not quite sure why the advice in this book isn’t just as pertinent to men, but there you go. I loved this book. It’s incredibly practical, smart, and approachable.
Craft, Inc.: Turn Your Creative Hobby into a Business by Meg Mateo Ilasco
Another great, practical guide, this one a little more focused on the world of modern craft.
Growing a Business by Paul Hawken
This is a great business book about developing a business in your own organic, meaningful way. This book helped me embrace the idea of letting my own values guide me in creating the business and life I want. Highly recommended.