Take the Leap from Corporate to Free Agency

Most of us start our careers with aspirations of work that speaks to our souls and often of job titles that start with C. Climbing the corporate ladder seems like the natural path to that end and we spend our time honing our skills, mastering corporate politics and managing our climb to the top.

What if it turns out, that the corporate route leaves you physically stressed, frustrated that you can’t contribute significantly enough and generally unfulfilled? Have you leaned in enough that you are ready to fall over? There is another route to a corner office  your own.

In today’s professional environment, more and more people are walking out of the boardrooms and corporate offices and into free agency. Working for yourself is fabulous. It is also very stressful if you’re not thoughtful about when and how you make the leap and how you manage your business in the first couple of years. I’m going to share with you five key things that I learned over the past couple of years.

1. Time it right and have savings to fall back on

The first months, maybe years, of being independent will be wildly unpredictable. You are building a name for yourself in a new capacity and are largely unknown as a free agent. The ideal thing to do is to line up a project before you leave your permanent job. This will give you immediate income and start building your reputation as an independent.

Whether you just walk out and wing it or even if you start with a project in hand, there will be periods where you have no work (meaning no income). Having 6-12 months of living expenses covered by a savings account will let you sleep at night. My husband and I had made it a priority to have an emergency fund so we were ready for me to leave my corporate job and become a small business owner.

2. Network

You have met hundreds, maybe thousands, of people throughout your career. There’s a great chance that many of those people respect how much you know and how you work. They are also in positions to hire you or help you get work. Make the time to stay connected to the people you know. Set up those lunches to catch up with a former colleague. Call to touch base with your old boss and ask how their kids are doing. Do it for reasons other than just to talk business and you will further develop an already good connection.

There are also plenty of people out there that haven’t met you yet that could benefit from what you do. Put yourself in opportunities to meet new people. Take that speaking engagement at a local industry group event. Go to conferences and meetings where people in your, or related industries are getting together. Get to know account executives from other companies. They have good knowledge of their clients challenges and also connections they could make for you.

Engagements come from all kind of places and by creating a wide network, you put yourself in the best position to capitalize on the highest number of potential opportunities.

3. Don’t be shy about telling people you can help

This one is tough for a lot of people  me included. When I started out I assumed that people who knew me would be clamoring to get me to help them run projects or transform departments. The reality is that people are mostly busy and dealing with their own challenges. They may not realize how you can help until you tell them.

4. You don’t have to spend money to make money

Operating as an independent is remarkably easy and cheap. You can hire someone to develop a fancy website, file in your state for LLC status, get a company bank account  but you don’t have to. As a sole proprietor all you really have to do is make sure you follow the IRS rules for your particular situation which usually means paying your estimated taxes on a quarterly basis.

As your business grows and you take on more clients, and potentially employees or other contractors, you will need to get more involved in the administrative side of things. You will need to manage billing, and time and expense reports and payments.

Be judicious about what spend to manage your business.Remember that every dollar you spend on a bookkeeper or attorney is less you keep. For me, I do all that work myself on Sunday evenings  and spend the majority of my week on billable work.

5. Persistence pays off

This is perhaps the biggest thing that I have learned in my short journey so far. You will find your self in competitive bid situations that you will lose.You will be ready to start on Monday and the client loses funding for the project on Friday. Things change rapidly so don’t get too disappointed when they don’t go your way.

Have confidence in yourself and your ability to generate revenue. You will get the extra project out of a client that loved your work. You’ll meet someone at a conference that just happens to need your services due to employee turnover. As many things will go right as go sideways.

And you will get job offers from thrilled clients.Today’s career paths aren’t straight trajectories upward. Whether it’s working for a fantastic company or providing your expertise to many clients on a project basis, the important thing is to be happy.

About the Author:  Rebecca Karp is a founding partner of Sourcing Synergies. She is a sought-after consultant on organizational transformation, category management best practices and procurement technology. She has over 20 years of experience leading procurement teams for companies of all sizes and across multiple industries.