My Transition from 9-5 to Full-time Entrepreneurship

Each person’s journey to entrepreneurship is a completely unique story and set of circumstances. Since it was a year ago that I took the leap from secure 9-to-5 office job to full-time small business ownership, I figured it would be a good opportunity to share my story with you! If you're considering making the transition, I hope you find this encouraging!

 
 

 

MY 9-5 JOB

To give you a bit of background, I took my lifelong love of creating to university where I earned my Bachelors in Graphic Design. I loved the blend of strategy and creativity it offered and the variety of paths I would be able to take with it.

After graduation, my first big kid job was working at a local publishing company. Even though I fell in love with branding in college, I had wanted to work at a magazine since I was in middle school. To say I was excited would be a big understatment! 

Sample of the magazine I designed. Pretty cool for a biz magazine, right?

Sample of the magazine I designed. Pretty cool for a biz magazine, right?

I started out designing ads, in-house materials, and other odds and ends. Eventually I got bumped up to editorial designer, so I was designing a 90 page magazine every month while still keeping the responsibilities of ad design, marketing materials, branding events, etc. When you work for a small company, you wear a lot of hats! 

Over the three years I was at the company, I learned a TON. Really, more than I ever imagined I’d be able to learn in that time. I honed my design and marketing skills; I learned how to build excellent rapport with clients, how to juggle multiple projects at once, and how to handle the pressure of strict deadlines. All of those lessons and skills have been so valuable to me now as a small business owner, and I’m grateful for them! But there was one more lesson I learned at my first job: it wasn’t what I wanted to do in the long run. 

Don’t get me wrong, I loved seeing the behind-the-scenes work of photo shoots, writing stories, and the hours of design work put into creating a magazine that you could hold in your hands and see in stands around the city. It’s gratifying work, but there came a point when it wasn’t fulfilling anymore. I enjoyed the challenge of the design work, but it didn't quite fit my personal aesthetic. Monotony started to creep in, and the adrenaline rush of the fast and furious production schedule started to wear off. 

So, I got to thinking about what I really wanted to do. What did I want to give my time to building? What would bring me joy? 

 

STARTING A NEW CHAPTER

One of my favorite parts of my work at the magazine was meeting with local small business owners to talk about their business goals and their brand, and then finding a way to convey those things in a clever, well-designed ad. I knew partnering with entrepreneurs was a passion of mine, as was branding and holistic design. Add those things together, and I realized I had figured out the answer to what would bring me joy.

I wanted to give my time to serving creative small business owners! I could do that by helping them bring their brand to life through beautiful and functional design (and put my hand-crafted spin on it—gotta put that studio art minor to use somehow!).

With my direction starting to take shape, my desire ignited, and  encouragement from loved ones and professionals I admired, I started to research the steps of starting a business and reach out to some people in my community who needed freelance work done. 

I got my branding designed, a rough version of my website up, registered my LLC, ordered business cards, and rolled up my sleeves for the hard work ahead.

I’ll be honest with you and say that once I decided I eventually wanted to run my own business full-time, it was really hard staying at my office job. Like, reaaalllly hard. It was frustrating to be working all day (sometimes 8:30am - 5pm ended up being 8:30am - 8:30pm) and then have to muster up the energy to make dinner and work on building my business (and not let my personal relationships suffer). 

Starting a business while you’re working at a rigorous full-time job is no small feat, so to all you side-hustlers out there, kudos to you. I know how hard it is!

I knew that giving enough attention to be able to significantly grow my business alongside my full-time job wouldn’t be sustainable for much longer. It was exhausting, and I was chomping at the bit to give my business my full focus. There were a lot of other factors, like needing to take more time off than my two weeks' paid vacation would cover, that made my decision happen a bit more quickly than I originally anticipated!

When the summer of 2015 approached, I decided that I was ready to close the chapter on my first job at the magazine. I handed in my two weeks’ notice at the beginning of July, designed my last issue as a full-time employee, and set off on my new adventure. Did I feel prepared? Heck no! I’m not even sure if it’s possible to feel totally prepared!

 

THE TRANSITION FROM 9-5 TO SMALL BUSINESS OWNER

Even though I had officially quit my job, the transition from full-time office job to full-time solopreneur wasn’t a clean or quick break.

After I packed up my desk, I packed up all my belongings and moved them into a new apartment. I guess you could say I wanted a totally clean slate: new job, new environment. Right after I finished moving, I drove from Missouri to Texas to help with my sister’s wedding preparations and to celebrate in her big day. Sandwiched in-between that was my 25th birthday! All were exciting changes and events, but they also consumed all my time, leaving little room for daily business operations. As a result, my business got put on hold for a little bit, and then for a little bit more once I got back home from the wedding festivities. 

Even though I was no longer an employee at my old job, I returned to the office (as a freelancer this time!) to ensure I wasn't leaving them in a lurch with my absence. I designed one more issue of a magazine since the woman filling my position wasn’t able to start right away. Once the magazine went to press and the new designer was ready to start, I then spent a week training her on the ins and outs of the job and all the nitty gritty details of designing a magazine.

After all that was taken care of, I was traveling to see family and acting as a consultant on the new designer’s first issue. So, even though I had bid my full-time job farewell in July 2015, I was essentially still working with them until September. I hadn’t expected that when I turned in my notice, but sometimes you just have to go with the flow and trust that everything will work out just fine.

My transition wasn’t exactly smooth or ideal. My leap into full-time entrepreneurship was kind of an awkward, flailing leap, but I still took it. It’s all too easy to shy away from things because they don’t seem like an ideal set of circumstances. Did I feel crazy for quitting even though I wasn’t fully prepared and didn’t have the security of being booked out months in advance? You bet. Did I feel absolutely terrified when I had to put my business on the back burner while I was in the midst of change, transition, and special life moments? Without a doubt. 

I wouldn’t change a thing about it, though!


This past year has been one of learning to embrace change as gracefully as possible (and sometimes failing at that), facing each new chapter with faith and courage, and being thankful for each and every moment of learning, growth, and opportunity that has come my way.

For anyone prepping for the transition over into running your business full-time, don’t worry if your journey there looks different from someone else’s. Don't worry if the transition is awkward and didn't happen quite like you expected it to. The only thing that matters is that you’re brave enough to take the leap of faith and put in the hard work to make it work.

So, what's your story? Or what's holding you back from taking the leap? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below, or send me an email at hello@gilliantracey.com!