Every entrepreneur faces a unique journey, but we all wish we had a clear-cut guide before starting down that path. This is why Lioness exists – it allows women entrepreneurs to help each other, for experienced entrepreneurs to share their secrets and provide inspiration, and provide a place for the future entrepreneur to learn what she needs to know before she steps foot on that fast-moving train. I’m excited to share the steps I took to become my own boss and transition to my startup full-time.
With that being said, buckle up. The entrepreneur journey is not for wimps.
Entrepreneurial ventures show us that we are tougher than we think. It challenges us on many levels. You’re chasing your startup dream because your passion for it consumes you. When doing anything else is a distraction. You have to try, or you will never forgive yourself.
This guide is for those women who seriously want to transition to self-employment in twenty-four months and want some assistance in doing so. I can promise you that trying to become your own boss won’t be easy, but I can also promise you that it will be worth it.
Everyone is different. I wouldn’t suggest leaving your job until you have already started working on your startup, built traction and have emotional and supportive people and resources in place.
How to become your own boss:
- Write down all of your current expenses (even the odds and ends). This means what you have in the bank, your assets and any CDs. Cross off any frivolous expenses. See if there are ways to cut your current bills by 30 – 50 percent. It might mean getting a roommate, buying the store brand at the grocery store and using coupons. I saved money on gas by catching the city bus twice per week. Start living on this pared-down lifestyle before you leave your job. It gives you time to acclimate and save money. For example, if your net monthly income is $2,000, see if you can get your fixed expenses down to $1,200 and put the rest into your savings. In one year, you’d save $9,600. In year two, go even tighter. If you’re successful, you could save more than $20,000.
However, if you’re a person in the same position as I was – already pouring my daily earnings into my startup – this may be a little more difficult. I used the time leading up to my exit to line up as many public relations gigs as I could so that I knew I had some income to wake up to on my first day as my own boss. I also left with the mindset that I was going to do whatever was necessary, including working at Old Navy on weekends, if it meant I could work on my startup full-time.
- Make sure you’re a part of your local or regional entrepreneur scene. Join groups, attend virtual networking events and create a circle of peers. This will come in handy when you’re looking for resources, a shoulder to cry on or advice from someone in your shoes.
- Ask other entrepreneurs who reside in your area questions about their lifestyle. When I was leaving my 9 – 5, I asked a variety of entrepreneurs what they did for health insurance. They were candid and talked about cheaper options that may be available. Other entrepreneurs are just as crafty and also know ways to save cash and where to hunt down some of the best deals in town.
- Find out if your job is willing to pay you for any unused vacation or sick time you may have accrued. This is a big help and a bonus to your savings. I was able to have any unused vacation time added to my final paycheck.
- Talk to those closest to you who may be affected by your unemployment transition. When I knew that I was going to become my boss, I had a talk with my son about how it would affect our household. I also had a long talk with his father about my disposable income being non-existent for a while. Keeping everyone on the same page is vital, especially when they live with you.
- Discover ways to get extra cash for your business as you transition. We hosted a crowdfunding campaign. While it was unsuccessful in reaching our $10,000 goal, we did manage to raise $2,500 that gave the startup a little wiggle room for a few months. Get creative. You could even work a part-time job for those two years and put those entire checks in your savings while still living off your new pared-down budget. Yes, you’ll be tired. But it could net you another $5,000 in savings.
- Go on a word of mouth, social media marketing blitz for your business like never before. This is where you go big or go home. These two years are crucial. You have to work hard. Do everything possible to spread the word and build sales. Get an intern from a local college, if possible. Still try to keep one day or half a day for your mental rejuvenation.
- Build a list of business resources. Visit your local Small Business Association, find out about programs for first-time business owners and attend free clinics. You need to know where to go if you need help. I took advantage of resources in my community, even free local entrepreneur programs hosted by local colleges. I set up meetings to make sure I knew what they offered and to make sure someone in their office knew me. Likewise, I visited groups and associations focused on helping women in business.
- Sign up for free newsletters related to your industry that are packed with information that will benefit you. Getting how-to guides and the latest scoop on industry happenings is paramount. Remember, you want to keep your startup cutting-edge, not following the herd.
- Get a mentor. I cannot say this enough! Find someone that you trust who believes in you and who is willing to give you some guidance. Ask them to mentor you. There is nothing worse than using someone as a mentor without their permission. This may sound silly, but you don’t want the person wondering why you call them for free advice all of the time. I sent an informational email to a woman I was looking to mentor me, and she was more than willing to set aside time for a 30-minute phone call quarterly.
- Print out a calendar of the upcoming two years and mark all the milestones backward. For example, mark your last day of work. Then go to the current date in your calendar and circle it. In between those dates, write in your deadline for items you need to take care of leading up to the final date. Stick to those deadlines. Managing your time takes skill. Get those chops in order now by executing things when they are due.
- Don’t let fear halt your escape. Stepping out on your own is scary business. It’s not for the faint of heart. After you’ve got steps 1 – 11 in motion, the only thing left to do is leap. Go for it!
Editor’s note: Natasha Zena originally wrote “12 Steps to Becoming Your Own Boss” for Lioness in 2016. The piece has been edited for brevity and clarity.