Tonight at 10pm EST/9pm CST on the Oxygen network, another new business docu-series premieres with hopes of catching the wave of audience popularity enjoyed by reality-show predecessors such as my faves, Shark Tank (on ABC) and The Profit (CNBC). Titled Quit Your Day Job, the series is aimed at capturing the drama, risks, challenges and rewards of a quintessential 21st century interpretation of the American Dream: Leaving a career with limited potential for fulfillment and financial reward for the opportunity to pursue unlimited wealth and satisfaction as an entrepreneur. (One of the stars of the show, serial entrepreneur and early-stage venture firm co-founder Lauren Maillian, is set to host the Elevator Pitch Contest at the upcoming Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit, May 4-7 in Miami).
As attractive and exciting as the jump from employee to business owner is, it’s far from easy and absolutely not for the faint of heart. (And I’m speaking as someone who is mid-leap in that transition, balancing my roles as a senior executive at Black Enterprise and a co-principal of my company, A2Z Personal Growth Enterprises.)
Among the biggest and most intimidating aspects of the transition is the shock to your personal finances. It’s not a matter of if it will happen (it is all but unavoidable), but how well you prepare for it. With this in mind, here are some steps you should take as soon as you even think you want to quit your day job:
Start saving to fund your business as soon as you get that entrepreneurial itch. I would go as far as to say that, as soon as you get full-time employment out of high school or college, start a savings account earmarked specifically to put money aside to launch your start-up (separate and apart from your emergency savings account and accounts you might have for other financial goals), even if you’re not sure when you’ll do it or even exactly what kind of business you want to start. And if you already have a business idea or even an active side-hustle, it’s even more important for you to put aside income to feed and nurture the launch and operation of the business, until it is generating enough revenue to get past break-even and support itself. Getting a business grant, bank loan, angel investment or other outside funding are good goals, but when it comes to financing your business, you are likely to be the only funding source you can count on, especially until your company gets traction (actual sales).
Keep your day job for as long as you can. First, the savings you need to fund your business (see previous point) will be drawn from your current income. Second, especially if your business is in the same industry where you’ve pursued your career, excelling in the latter can result in key networking contacts, support and maybe even your first customers. (At the same time, be careful to avoid conflicts of interest and other issues that can cause your employer to question your focus, performance and commitment to your job.) Third, and perhaps most important: If you have health insurance and other benefits from your job, you want to keep them as long as you can, especially if it will be a minute before your new business generates enough profit to both replace your salary and to fund your health insurance, retirement savings and other needs currently being fulfilled (and far more cheaply) through your employer.
Dump your debt. You need to pay down your credit cards as quickly as possible, as well as car loans and other sources of high interest debt. Call your credit providers and try to get your interest rates lowered. Get rid of your car note altogether by selling your brand new car and buying a reliable, less expensive used one. Start making extra payments toward your home mortgage. Your goal is to free up money that can be used to support your business, while improving your credit scores, which will help you if you need to pursue credit or loans for your business down the road.
Totally blow up and recreate your household budget. Take into account the new expenses (as well as those that might go away, such as commuting costs if your business is home-based) and possible lost income that will result from the launch of your business and your eventual transition out of your job. Approach this just as you should if you were about to bring a newborn baby into the family, because that is exactly what you’re doing when you launch a business that will need to be constantly fed and nurtured in order to survive, stay healthy and grow. Just as your entire lifestyle would change as a new parent, it will absolutely require adjustments and sacrifices to accommodate your business. Which brings me to perhaps my most important piece of advice:
Cut your living expenses. Then cut them again. Then once more for good measure. The transition from steady paycheck to the fluctuating cash flow of entrepreneurship is all but impossible if you cannot control spending and keep your debt under control. Often, people tell me they can’t find the money to fund their business. I tell them exactly where it is: In their closets. In their garage. On the walls of their living rooms, kitchens, dens and practically every bedroom. (How many flat-screens do we really need?) The money to fund and operate your business has to come from somewhere, so you will likely have to stop adding to your collections of designer shoes, give up the gym membership and exercise at home, hold off on trading up to a new car until the wheels of your old one fall off, and/or forgo (or at least seriously cut back on) dining out, mani-pedis and other nice-to-haves-but-not-need-to-haves.
Foregoing instant gratification in favor of long-term gains is not only a cardinal rule of successful entrepreneurship, but of all wealth-building endeavors. There’s no way around this: To fund your business, you must stop funding many (if not all) of your other habits, at least until you’re successful enough as an entrepreneur to finance both your company’s needs as well as the lifestyle you desire.
Black Enterprise Executive Editor-At-Large Alfred Edmond Jr. is an award-winning business and financial journalist, media executive, entrepreneurship expert, personal growth/relationships coach, and co-founder of Grown Zone, a multimedia initiative focused on personal growth and healthy decision-making. This blog is dedicated to his thoughts about money, entrepreneurship, leadership and mentorship. Follow him on Twitter at @AlfredEdmondJr.