Can I Quit my Day Job Yet?
or Why I Think I'm Ready To Be a Full-Time Indexer
By Laura A. Ewald
I don't think it is any surprise that many of us who take an interest in indexing dream of a day when we can become full-time freelancers. The lure of setting our own hours and being able to work anywhere at any time is, of course, one of the attractions of the profession. Some newbies manage to make it in a matter of months. Others take years. My own journey took almost exactly three years from the time I attended a workshop on book indexing at a library conference in June of 2008 to my last day in higher education, June 30, 2011.
Am I crazy? Probably! But I do have a plan, a checklist of what I believe I need to accomplish before I jump into the deep end of the full-time freelance pool. So far, I am on track; only time will tell whether or not it was a good plan, a successful plan, but unless you happen to be married to a financially successful spouse with a good paycheck and health insurance (which I am not), money is, of course, the number one concern when quitting a day job. Here is my checklist for attempting the successful transition from employee to freelancer:
1. Get out of debt. Not having that regular paycheck will make day-to-day living challenging enough without having to worry about monthly payments of other types, so before even considering giving up the paycheck, pay off those debts: the car, the last student loan, and any other outstanding debt. (My last student loan was paid off three years ago, and I paid off my car last August.)
2. Get in the habit of spending less. Practice paying off any and all credit cards monthly. If you are like me, you won’t want to get rid of them completely, both because you need one to make purchases online, and because the credit card statement is a great way to track your monthly spending, but with the exception of only a couple of months back in early 2008, I have paid off my credit cards monthly since January of 1999, and I never make purchases on credit anymore that I don’t know for certain I can pay off that month.
3. Have everything you need for your business before you lose that regular paycheck. A new computer, the indexing software, the big monitor, laser printer, business phone, business cards, stationary, ergonomic chair, a good desk--all those items you need to do the work safely and comfortably should be bought while you still have that regular paycheck. There will be plenty of on-going purchases to make later, but have what you need to get started and keep working for a time.
3. Practice living frugally. This might sound odd, but we all get used to spending what we have coming in, and I don't believe anyone should count on being able to simply stop spending overnight. I had a target of eleven months when I finally said enough is enough in my day job, and I have been squirreling away one third of my paycheck every two weeks ever since. I am sure I will wish it had been more, but I do have a tidy savings account that I think will last me for at least six months even if I don't earn anything from my indexing business during that time.
4. Have at least one steady client. Part of my reasoning for going full-time is that what little work I have received sometimes has me working seven days a week and taking vacation hours from my day job in order to complete it by the deadline. I would also love to start marketing myself in order to acquire jobs that really interest me, but at this point I would not have time to do the work even if I found it. While my subcontracting work is not paying a whole lot, yet, it has given me the experience and confidence to take that next step—and I need the time to do it.
5. Consider diversifying your services. Indexing can be seasonal, so think about what other services you might be able to offer in your business. I am currently indexing and abstracting. I am also seriously pursuing my fiction-writing career by submitting work to publishers, and I will be looking into other options, such as copy editing, to fill in some of the blank spots on my jobs calendar.
6. Downsize your lifestyle. "Downsizing" seems to be a buzz-word these days, but it is the perfect word for those of us looking to go into freelancing full time. True, I won't be commuting anymore, and my current wardrobe will last for years to come, but I will need to cut out even more spending than I have in the last year. I am moving back to Kentucky, where the cost of living is much lower than my current residence in Illinois, and my only outstanding debt is the mortgage on the house in which I will be living, but I will not be eating out nearly as often as I do now, and I will need to clearly define “want” and “need” before I open my wallet.
So, how will I know my plan worked and when? Well, that will, of course, depend on how successful I am in my marketing. Will I be able to pay my bills without sweating it every month? Will my savings account last until I “make it” as a freelancer? Will I be financially able to attend the next Heartland Chapter meeting? Will I ever be able to attend ASI national again? Will I ever be able to afford to go anywhere again? I have to consider that at least for the foreseeable future, my buying and travel days are behind me and plan on staying home. On the other hand, “home” sounds pretty good at the moment, so the sacrifice should be well worth not having to go to the day job.
I’ll let you know in the fall…
© 2011 by Heartland Chapter of ASI. All rights reserved.