Small Steps Toward Self-Employment
Getting to do what I love every day is a gift, a privilege, and something I try hard to never take for granted. It would be too easy to grow complacent and wind up back in a cube, something I’m even less suited for after five years of working from home than I was before. And honestly, I never fit in that well in the cube world to start with. It certainly helps that I have friends in more traditional careers, who remind me of what life on that side is like. Many of them are happy with their pursuits and jobs, and more power to them for that. We all find our own paths that are right for us. Some of my friends, on the other hand, lean toward the creative side and would like a work situation similar to mine.
It’s with that type of person in mind that I write this week’s blog. Having been where those folks are, stuck with a job and a passion that don’t overlap, I know how impossible it can seem to make the transition over to living off your art. We’ve focused before on when to consider going full-time, but today I wanted to put some attention on the logistics of how that process can actually happen.
You (Probably) Won’t See It Coming
A perk of this job is that I’ve gotten to know other writers, some in passing at cons, others more in depth like the Authors & Dragons crew. In that time, I’ve found that virtually all of us started the project that would eventually take us to full-time employment with no idea that’s what we were doing. It’s strange; I see friends and aspiring artists in various fields talking about the “small” project they’re working on, as though they’ll only be stepping stones to bigger, more lucrative ideas (which is problematic for reasons already covered).
Here’s the thing though: all of our job-changing ideas started out as small projects. Super Powereds was my second web-serial, and based on the first I thought it would be nothing more than a niche story in one corner of the internet. Authors & Dragons was just this thing we threw together, until it kept growing and growing and becoming a brand of its own. Conversely, I’ve also been on podcasts with lower listener numbers, and written books that just did okay. You don’t know what will hit, none of us do, which is part of why it is so important to make things you love, and see them through. Since any project might or might not get your career going, the best way to ensure the time feels well spent is to make things you care about. And seeing them through is important because not everything hits right away. The Fred series, for example, didn’t really get considerable steam going until Book #2.
My point here is that every project could be your breakout one, so don’t sell them short because you aren’t working on the scale you want to yet. Nobody sees their big one coming in advance, so put your best into every effort, and keep plugging along.
It’s About More Than Money
When authors talk about going full-time, money is often the first and only point in the discussion. Save a half-year’s income, or a year’s, or three year’s; you’ll hear many different numbers being bandied about. The truth on that front is simply that there is no universal amount because every home, and its costs, are different. You have to sit down, take a hard look at a budget, and be honest about your needs versus sales.
But, as the title of this section gave away, that’s only one part of making the transition toward full-time. To paraphrase some points from a recent panel I was on, you’ll also need to make preparations as if you were starting a small business, because you will be. Does your current job offer health insurance? Better figure out an alternative if you’re using that, because (state-depending) the open market can often be shit. What about retirement funds? You may not have to match exactly what your company had, but you should adjust the way you’re planning for that future. Essentially, you need to replicate everything your existing job provides, and account for the associated costs, before you can even begin to consider the money aspect, since those factors all go in to creating an honest budget.
It goes past replicating your old support; you’ll also need to pick up new skills for your role as… well, everything. Better learn some basics on accounting, because you’re either going to have to handle taxes or pay someone to do it for you. Same with promotion, distribution, scheduling, booking, and, of course, management. Management is one a lot of people overlook, but you do have at least one employee to manage: you. While that might sound crazy, we’ve talked before about the need for structure in this kind of gig. Proper management means finding out how you work best then creating those conditions, just as one would for an employee. A self-example is that I’ve learned over time that I write the most and the best in the mornings. Thus, I structured my daily schedule so that mornings are blocked off, dedicated exclusively to writing with nothing else weighing on my mind. All non-writing tasks go after lunch, when my creative side needs a rest and I can do things like formatting or number crunching.
We all have our own schedules that fit us best, so finding that is important. Equally important, however, is tracking the amount you want to produce versus how much you’re putting out. If those numbers aren’t lining up, you either have to find a way to get more creativity out of your employee or rework the timetables to a more achievable schedule. Which, by the way, is exactly the kind of choice managers have to make daily. See, I told you that skillset would come in handy.
Honestly, we’ve barely scratched the surfaced here, there’s so much more to tackle I’m not even sure what angle to approach from. If you’ve got a specific logistical question about going to full self-employment, leave it in the comments below and I might work it in to future entries. For all you out there still dreaming of making the jump, I wish you best of the luck, and hopefully whatever “small” project you’re working on now will be the one that gets you where you want to be.