Taking the Leap to Self-Employment

By Sarah Dodds of Love Life Lettering

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It was never my dream to be a small business owner, but after some trial and error that’s where I ended up. Like a lot of creative people, I’m not really one for doing things in the conventional way…  

The beginning of my career

Having set my sights on working in the Media industry as a teenager, I studied Film and Television production at University and left my native Northern England (not exactly a hotbed of TV jobs back then…) as soon as I graduated for the bright lights of London.  

I was fortunate enough to land a full-time position with a video production crewing company within a few weeks, which I was very happy about as I thought I would probably end up doing months of ad hoc assisting and making tea for cameramen. Just as well I got the job, because I make a terrible cup of tea apparently – very un-British of me, I know.  

I loved the work I was doing but, being used to the quiet life, I wasn’t really cut out for living in London so I asked if I could transfer to Manchester (where the company also had a client base). Thankfully they agreed, so I started working remotely for them in 2014. That turned out to be the best thing I ever did in terms of productivity, and it also made me realise I didn’t want to commute again. Especially not on the sweat fest that is the London underground.   

The end of my career (as an employee)  

I can’t deny that working remotely was a sweet deal; I was earning a great salary, my colleagues were like a little family to me (even taking the distance into account), my bosses were super supportive and I got to work from home and stay in my PJs all day if I wanted to. Not that I ever did, of course…but I could have done.  

I also owned my own house in a picturesque little village, got engaged, and had fantastic family and friends. But, even though I knew I was super lucky in every sense, I just couldn’t force myself to be satisfied and deep down I felt I needed a change. I didn’t know what that change was meant to be though, so I did quite a bit of job searching in different areas. I just couldn’t find anything that I could see myself doing, or was a better deal than I already had, so I decided that I needed to completely throw myself out of overly comfortable employment.  

Towards the end of 2016 I decided that I would wrap things up with the company I was working for in early 2017, and figure things out along the way. But I wasn’t completely naïve; I knew I needed some kind of plan and a way to make money. I had already started making a bit of passive income through designs I was selling on the side on places like Redbubble. Although that wasn’t enough to live off, it was enough to pay some of my bills.  

I also started saving in advance as soon as I had made the decision to leave and, because I got quarterly bonuses, I timed my notice so that I would get an extra month of pay at the end of working. Plus, I signed up to some ad hoc jobs that I knew I would be able to do when I finished if I needed extra money.   

So, what next?  

My job for the previous 5 years had been all about booking freelancers with clients, I knew about their great daily rates and the job flexibility they had, so I decided I was going to be a freelancer. “A freelance what?” everyone asked me when I told them I was quitting my job. Well, I hadn’t quite figured that part out yet. But I told myself I still had a few months before I left to try out a few new things and learn some extra skills.    

I love learning about design and had already been developing those skills for my ‘side hustle’, so I considered becoming a graphic designer and started developing a more advanced understanding of Photoshop. The more I looked at available jobs and the skills that people were looking for, though, I realised that it all seemed to be very tech-focused. I’d already done a bit of coding before and had enjoyed it, so I added a web design course into the mix too. 

Making the most of evenings and weekends while I was still working, I improved my coding skills and learnt more about responsive design and the basics of JavaScript. The course was challenging but fantastic, and I definitely picked up some worthwhile skills which are going to come in handy down the road.  

But there was a hitch – I’d become unemployed by the time I was finished, and didn’t feel ready to freelance as a web designer just yet, and I still couldn’t find any jobs that I actually wanted to do. While I was still racking my brains for what to do next, I no longer had any job security to fall back on.  

Starting my own small business – Love Life Lettering 

Just as I finished up at my job, and around the same time I was learning web development, I somehow discovered the world of hand lettering and modern calligraphy. I started it as a hobby and instantly fell in love with its therapeutic quality. Plus, the lettering community on Instagram seemed so lovely and welcoming. 

It was also a bonus that I was in the middle of planning my wedding and still needed to design invites, party favours etc. I realised I could incorporate these new skills into that to save a bit of money and, the more I did it, the more I realised that this was something I could see myself spending a lot more time doing. 

My new venture, Love Life Lettering, is still in the early stages and I have no doubt that it will continue to transform. It may even change direction completely, but I finally feel like I’ve ended up where I was supposed to be and that I’m doing something I actually want to be doing. 

I have never dealt well with other people telling me what to do, and one of the things that motivates me the most is overseeing my own schedule and having freedom. I’m not sure why I didn’t think about opening a small business years ago! It may have taken a little time to get here but I’m glad I took the leap to leave my job, try out some new things and figure out exactly where I should be.  

There are so many people out there who don’t have a clue what they want to do, or are stuck in a job they hate. A lot of guides recommend that you have everything planned out before leaving a job or starting something new up, but I’m living proof that you don’t necessarily need to have everything meticulously planned out. In fact, the urgency of trying things out until something sticks can actually be a really good motivator.  

Of course, not everyone has the freedom to do things the way I did. But, if you know that you’re not where you’re meant to be, there’s never a bad time to take the leap and find yourself somewhere new. Where you end up might just surprise you! 

Sarah is the owner of Love Life Lettering, a company that sells fun and inspirational hand lettered designs. She has also recently started a blog on her site about staying positive and motivated while being completely new in the small business world. 

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