Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Is It Ever a Good Time to Make a Change?

I've been thinking a lot about timing lately. I'm considering making some expensive changes in my life involving where I live and the quality of my health insurance. These are changes I always thought I'd make someday, when I felt like I was earning enough to be comfortable. Everyone I talked to about it said to wait until I felt like the time was right--I didn't want to strain my budget, especially as I'm a freelancer.

So I waited. I built my business. But the perfect time never came--no matter what gains I made, I never felt like I was quite secure enough to make the jump. It's occurred to me that with nearly every big change I've made in my life--moving to New York, moving to Philadelphia, starting my business--I've waited for ideal times until I couldn't stand to wait anymore--and then I took action anyway. Funny enough, things have always worked out.

Here are a few things we tell ourselves to prove we're not prepared--reasons that might be holding us back.

The economy is bad. I started re-reading Peter Bowerman's Well Fed Writer recently. This is an old favorite I revisit a lot--I often find that, a year or so after my last reading, there are tips in its chapters that I wasn't ready to use before--so I didn't notice them. But as I grew in experience, I was able to take in and make use of more. Some of the best how-to books are like that. But re-reading the book this time, I noticed one thing in the first few chapters: when Peter started his commercial writing business, he was in the midst of a "creative recession" in his hometown--something he wasn't aware of until after he had become successful. If he had known, this may or may not have had an impact on his decision to go freelance--but chances are those who were aware of it would have advised him to wait. Still, it was better he didn't--even if the economic conditions weren't ideal.

We can't get away from bad news about the economy right now. But your business is what you make it, regardless of economic conditions. No matter how bad the nationwide numbers are, individual businesses still need to market--and they still need your services.

I don't have enough money. When I started my freelancing business, I was getting negative advice from all directions. Parents and concerned friends told me to wait until I had six months' worth of savings in the bank. They told me to wait until I had a long list of industry contacts. Until I'd landed a few lucrative clients. I saved for a year, and never got to the six-month mark--and I couldn't stand to wait any longer. I jumped in with both feet, and everything worked out--so far. Of course, my overhead was low and I landed some regulars right off the bat that kept me in business, but the point is that if you don't wait until your personal economy is in just the right place, you might just be okay anyway.

I don't have enough experience. If you write well, have some natural creativity and put in the time to read books and articles on copywriting, you can do well enough for most freelance writing projects with small to mid-sized businesses. You can jumpstart your skills by taking an AWAI course. But no matter how much you prepare beforehand, you will never learn as much through reading as you do in the trenches. Now is as good a time to start that journey as any.

My website/portfolio/business cards aren't perfect. Nothing holds us back like perfectionism. Even if you think your portfolio is subpar, it's still probably better than what a small business owner with no writing talent can crank out on his own--so get your name out there. You don't have a perfect logo, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't hand out business cards--my first business cards were all black and white text, with no graphics at all. And there's a lot to be said for a snazzy site, but if all you have is a simple online portfolio, that's all you need. Don't wait til your marketing materials are perfect--functional will do just fine.

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day who had just discovered she was pregnant. She told me she and her husband had been waiting for a long time to feel financially secure enough to have kids, and they felt a long way from that goal now--but the baby was coming, and they'd have to make it work. That's exactly the attitude that's worked for me in the past. So maybe I'll take these next steps anyway, with the hope that everything will work out in the end.

When you started your business--were you prepared? Or did going freelance require a leap of faith?


Laura Cross said...

I had been freelancing (on the side) for many years before 'officially' launching my business, which happened more by chance than planning. I had actually been considering and planning to go out on my own exclusively, but like you, never found the "perfect time" where I had enough funds in reserve, clients in pocket and marketing lined up.

I was laid off from a lucrative corporate position and when I couldn't find another job that fit I took the plunge and went full-time into freelancing. It was the best thing I ever did. And I wish I had done it sooner.

Yes, there have been struggles and down times, but overall it has been a resounding success. I believe that NOT having a corporate job to fall back on or 6 months worth of savings in the bank, is what pushed me to succeed. It can be scary, but if you have the skills, discipline, and commitment to do the hard work that's necessary, you will make it!

Jennifer Williamson said...

Laura, I moonlighted as a freelancer for about a year before going full time. I've heard several stories like yours, where the freelancing career started after a layoff--some writers told me getting laid off was the best thing that ever happened to them. I've come to believe the "perfect time" is a myth.

Kimberly Ben said...

It was definitely a leap of faith for me. The first rumblings of the recession resulted in my husband's business (our sole source of income) shutting down. I was already freelancing part-time for a couple of magazines when I discovered the opportunities available for web writers.

I didn't feel ready at the time, and to be honest I don't think the "right time" would have ever come. It was the push I needed to be able to do what I've always wanted to do.

jacquelynemwilliams said...

This article describes me perfectly. I just walked away from a freelance job because I was afraid that I didn't have enough experience for that particular job. I regret it now.

Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

I've always believe the "right time" is NOW. After all, we are, none of us, guaranteed our tomorrow. As Laura mentioned, not having anything to fall back on is fantastic motivation for making it work and working it hard from day one.

I've heard a number of stories from those who did it the other way around. They had their cushion, a year, two, four, worth of savings and had everything ready before they took the plunge. Then, business just idled on, coasted, until that cushion was thin enough to spur them into taking REAL action.

It seems like, the more you have at risk the greater the motivation and a strong motivation is the biggest secret to success.