Identifying The Opportunity to Work for Myself

So far in my life the only work experiences I’ve had have been working a full time or part time job for somebody else. That changed recently when I voluntarily quit my job to travel for 6 months. Now I’m starting my own web and app development company because I want to work for myself. Here is the story of how I identified that I had this opportunity, took the leap, and how things are going.

Identifying the opportunity.

It’s true that we may not all have the opportunity to go off and work for ourselves, especially in our 20’s or earlier on in our careers. But I think there are a lot of people with the opportunity that don’t realize it. To me, this is what that opportunity looked like:

  1. A marketable skill that I am good at, that I could sell.
  2. One to two years of runway.
  3. A backup plan.
  4. Belief that I can do it.

1. A skill that I could sell.

If you've gotten this far, you may have more skills that you realize.
I took an assessment of what I was good at and identified a couple skills I had that I could potentially make money from, ordered by most realistic and likely to make money. This is what I came up with: Software Engineering, Piano, Swimming, Surfing, Photography.

  • I knew that software engineers were in high demand and I had met some freelancers throughout my travels and at networking events I had attended before. That gave me confidence knowing I could make money off that skill, because if they could do it why couldn’t I?
  • I have been playing piano consistently since I was 8 years old and I’m comfortable enough to teach up to advanced players. I also knew of at least 4 people who lived comfortably as private piano teachers.
  • Swimming/Surfing. Both are popular activity in Southern California and both are skills I was good enough at to teach.
  • I became confident in my Photography skills after my trip and felt comfortable enough to do gigs, especially in niche areas that would combine two of my skills like surfing photography.

These are all fairly common freelancing skills however I have met people that have surprised me in the ways they make money working for themselves. One example is a girl I met who does Balloon Design. Yep, she designs, creates and provides balloon arrangements for events, and she says that business is booming.

2. One to two years of runway.

Does not have to be as pretty as this road in southern New Zealand.
I live well within my means and my habits are healthy to a boring degree. I don’t have any vices or expenses outside of groceries, a gym membership and rent, and after those expenses I always threw the rest of my paycheck into a savings account and forgot about it. After working about 4 years at my corporate job out of college, I realized I was still way too far from buying a house, but I had a decent chunk of savings that could buy me opportunity.

3. A backup plan.

Life rarely goes exactly as planned so it's important to make sure you don't end up like this excavator I saw in the middle of a lake in India.
Because I had a few different skills I could pursue and try to make money from, it made me feel better because I wasn’t putting all my eggs in one basket. Also the job market for software engineers is still great and I was confident I could jump back into the corporate world if I failed to take off within a year or two.

4. Belief that I could do it.

Whatever works for you to convince yourself you can do it, whether it takes a heap of bravery or a dash of arrogance.
Even once I had everything else figured out, the hardest step was believing that I could do it, and that I wasn’t making a colossal mistake by quitting my job. I held onto the thought that if other people could do it, why couldn’t I? and jumped into the deep end. This one is an ongoing fight though, I have to constantly remind and encourage myself every day that I can do it.

Where am I now:

  • Started my web and mobile development company.
  • Streamlined my finances and cut expenses to the essentials in order to extend my savings and runway.
  • Working on building out my business network so I can get to a point where I can have more consistent leads and bigger clients.
  • During my downtime when I have no clients I am leveling up my software engineering skills by building out various personal app ideas.

I’m taking things one step at a time and trying to be realistic about this. My initial goal is to be cash flow neutral and make just enough to cover my basic essentials of rent and groceries. Once I accomplish that I’ll feel a lot more secure and confident; I won’t get rich but I won’t go broke. Then I can shoot for growth.

The good (so far):

  • I’m still really confident I can make this happen and my motivation and drive is as strong as it’s ever been.
  • I have received more interest in the services I offer (web development) than I had initially expected.
  • I’m extremely productive everyday and I’m able to pivot between being an engineer at home and a sales/marketing person when I’m out at networking events better than I thought.
  • My skills as an engineer has been improving exponentially because I spend all my downtime coding and learning about the latest web development tech for fun.

The bad (so far):

  • Things are moving slower than I had hoped.
  • Flaky clients
  • I have a lot of interest, but that has not translated into closed deals with new clients yet.
  • I’m worried I’m spreading myself too thin by juggling so many different roles: engineer, designer, business person, sales person. Even though I enjoy it.

I plan to report back monthly with status updates on how this new adventure into working for myself is going. Wish me luck! The banner image is from a hostel I stayed at in Kathmandu, Nepal during one of the country’s biggest holidays of the year: Tihar (also know as Diwali)