How to Really Leave Your 9 to 5 for a Freelance Side Hustle
Create your escape plan to go full-time with your freelance business and discover how to handle your exit professionally.
Congratulations! You’re one of the growing number of U.S. side hustlers that are wondering whether it’s worth staying in your day job. Over the past eight years as a freelancer, I’ve watched hundreds of students and clients go through this process of deciding to go full-time with their business. In this article, you’ll learn more about what to know before you make the leap and how to create a plan that will get you there.
Decide your client or revenue numbers
It’s hard to walk away from a regular paycheck, even if you’re not passionate about your job or you feel that it’s unstable. Without some specific reason to leave, like your boss blowing up at you for the umpteenth time, you’re likely to stay in your job without a clear plan.
For me, I wanted to make as much freelancing for 12 months consistently as I did at my day job before I felt confident to leave. Even once I hit that, I was still nervous to quit. I had my two weeks notice letter in my purse for several days when the company I worked for fired me. In hindsight, I was grateful to be fired, because it gave me the courage to pursue my freelance business full-time without any guilt. (And no awkward two weeks on the job with my coworkers glaring at me or asking questions I didn’t feel I owed an answer to.)
But if I could go back in time, I would have held myself accountable to those numbers and exited on my own terms. Whether it’s wanting to have three regular clients or generate a certain amount of revenue each month, decide when you’re going to judge your business as a “success” enough to leave.
Be professional, if you can
Unfortunately, parting ways with an employer doesn’t always go as planned (see my example above of getting fired before I was confident enough to quit.) Usually, it’s not worth trying to burn bridges, so avoid that if at all possible.
Be professional. Tell your boss that you’re leaving to pursue other opportunities, follow the procedures or customs for giving them that notice, and offer to help with anything that needs to be tied up before you leave, like training a coworker or closing out projects. This shows that there’s no bad blood.
If you’ve had a turbulent relationship with anyone at work, it’s very tempting to leave things on bad terms. You might be hoping it gives you the closure you need to move on, but it’s rarely worth it.
Even if your team doesn’t take the news of your departure well, remain calm and focus on your exit. If you need to get through an awkward two weeks or month on the job before you’ll be leaving, take it one day at a time.
Since you’re now stepping into the role of business owner full time, keep your cool. From my experience coaching dozens of freelancers through this process, it’s never as fulfilling as you think it’s going to be when you make a big exit like flipping off your boss or cursing at everyone. Don’t give them the power to show that you’re even that upset. Thank them for the opportunity to work there and leave it at that.
Let your clients know
You might have clients on your roster who want to do more work with you and they haven’t been able to book it due to your limited schedule. Give any of them first dibs on your new availability when you share the dates of your departure with them.
Even when you know it’s the right call to leave your day job, it’s still nerve-wracking to put that plan into action, so booking some additional business or even hearing the positive words of a client congratulating you on this decision can help bolster you.
Moving into freelance work full time can be very exciting, but it can also be scary because now you’re truly the CEO responsible for generating your own paycheck. Consider joining an online or local community of freelancers to help you stay motivated and accountable while you make this transition.
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