Preparing to Quit Your Job and Become Self-Employed

For most of us, graphic design starts out as a hobby, but as our skills progress over time we can’t help but be intrigued by the prospect of using it in commerce. Creative/digital media, graphic design services in particular, are a highly valuable and sought after skill that’s always in demand, and it can be a great way to earn a part-time income, or even an entirely new career path to pursue.

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The latter was particularly a goal of mine, seeing as how I hated my job at the time and always wanted to be self-employed. This is a phase I’ve been through, and I’d like to share some insights from my own experience.

Clocking out, for good.

Once you find yourself in a position where you’re earning so much money with your design work that being at your job is actually costing you money and opportunities, it’s probably time to start considering resigning from your job, if this is in fact something you wish to pursue.

I’ll never forget when I realized I was doing well enough to take this on as a full time career. It was a weekend back in October of 2012. I made more money that weekend doing design work than I did at my job for the entire week. That’s when I realized my job was holding me back, and that I would actually be losing money by continuing to work there.

Pulling the trigger

Despite all the times I had dreamed about being in a position to quit that job and how glorious it would be, when the time came, it was anything but glorious. It was actually very freightening.

I knew that I was doing well enough with my freelance work to make a comfortable living, and I was confident enough in my own abilities to do so, but walking away from a traditional job that provided me with income stability so I could pursue the erratic (and often chaotic) world of self-employment felt like jumping off of a cliff and hoping I could fly.

That’s what self-employment is. Your next paycheck isn’t guaranteed, you have to manually earn it. You won’t have a boss telling you to stop watching Youtube and get back to work, you’ll have to be your own boss and make yourself close out of the tab. You won’t have a schedule telling you when to begin and end the work day, you’ll have to determine that on your own.

Positioning yourself to fly

A successful transition from employed to self-employed depends on how well you prepare yourself for it. Obviously, you want to make sure that over the past few months you’ve been able to consistently find projects, complete them and get paid, and the trajectory of your earnings should be trending upwards.

Another factor to consider is how much savings you may have. It would be a wise idea to have a few months worth of income put aside in savings, so you have those emergency funds in case you fail to fly or something catastrophic happens.

Another thing to factor into the equation is taxes. When you work for someone else, taxes are withheld from your paycheck before you ever get a chance to touch them. When you work for yourself though, you need to put aside a percentage of your earnings and pay them manually, and it could be as much as 40% of your earnings, depending on where you live. This is very important to keep in mind when you’re deciding whether or not it’s time to quit your job. If you aren’t left with a comfortable wage after taking out a percentage for taxes, you aren’t in a position to sustain yourself.

In addition, it’s always a good idea to leave your job on good terms. As often as I daydreamed about going out in a blaze of glory, I knew I could possibly find myself needing to work there again, so I made sure to leave that bridge intact in case things didn’t work out.

Having eggs in multiple baskets

If I could give you one piece of advice about being a freelancer, it would be to not keep all of your eggs in one basket. This means having several sources of income; not just one.

When I first started out in 2011 I was getting all of my work from Elance and Elance alone. Late in 2013, Elance announced that it had merged with oDesk (a similar service) and would be shutting down both sites in order to create a new, unified platform. That’s when I immediately started building up a reputation on other freelancing sites, as well as building a website of my own to start promoting (which eventually became logosbynick.com). This is something I wish I would’ve been doing from day one.

Although the merger went very smoothly, and the transition from Elance to Upwork (the new platform) has been nothing but pleasant, this event was a wake-up call.

When the entirety of your income depends on just one single source, you could find yourself in a world of trouble really fast. Things happen. These sites often have downtime. Sometimes clients make complaints about you to the site administrators (even if you aren’t in the wrong,) and you’ll find yourself banned from the site for weeks. That never happened to me personally, but I’ve seen it happen to others, and there was once a time when if it did happen to me I would be out of an income. That’s not a good position to be in.

This is why diversifying income is so important. As of today I’m currently active on 3 different freelancing sites in addition to a website of my own that’s bringing me the majority of my new work, not to mention a Youtube channel and this blog, both of which are monetized with ads.

These days, it would be really difficult (nearly impossible) to find myself in a position where I would have no income. I’ve built a diverse system of multiple income streams, and I’m still building and climbing. That’s what anyone should be working towards as well if they truly want long-term success in being self-employed.

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Nick Saporito

Nick Saporito is a Philadelphia-based graphic designer who specializes in branding-specific design.

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