23 months + 14 clients = $100k (working part-time)
How I earned my first $100k working part-time
I’m pretty curious, and one of my favorite things to learn about is people’s work–especially successful people. I’m particularly interested in how successful people started out, since that’s typically the most difficult part of the journey.
After all, when you start a business, you don’t have a clue how to run a business, you’re trying to snag new clients, trying to pay the bills, balance your work & personal life, etc. It’s a crazy-hectic time. So, knowing how others have done it can guide us on our own journeys.
Here’ the story of how I earned my first $100k working part-time. If you want, you can see my actual income numbers.
How did I do it?
Well, things started a few years before I actually formed my s-corporation. I was frustrated with my job, felt underpaid and undervalued, saw that the fun corporate culture had been eroded, and that things were only getting worse.
So I started reading books on entrepreneurship, business, real estate, whatever. Basically, I was re-engineering how I thought. Instead of thinking about getting a better job, or thinking that a job was the way out of my frustrations, I began to see that jobs aren’t all that secure, and that they come with a lot of strings attached (some people refer to them as “golden handcuffs”).
That was the first big thing I did: I changed my way of thinking.
But it wasn’t enough.
I was still fairly comfortable in my job, and was scared of failing in business. I had doubts about whether I could succeed, and felt like I needed to be an expert before I started anything. That’s a fallacy, by the way, and it also held me back & delayed me from starting a business.
In any case, I found another job–before leaving my corporate day job–and delayed the start of my new job until after 1/1/2007 (the day I would be vested in my pension). Until 1/1/2007, I did contract work at my new job, and decided I’d start an s-corp in January 2007 and start consulting part-time. I did some research about what I’d need to start my corporation and be legit. I wrote down a bunch of to-do’s for what I’d need to start my consulting business.
It still seemed like working on something fictitious, but I did it anyway, and gradually, it seemed like it became more real.
Then, in January 2007, I:
- quit my corporate day-job,
- went to work full-time at my other day job (the new job was at a non-profit),
- filed my incorporation paperwork,
- created a website for my consulting business, and
- created business cards and brochures (neither of which have I ever needed…).
But I still had doubts about whether I could succeed with my business. So, I put off doing any real marketing, like calling my former clients and letting them know that I was available for consulting projects. I talked with a couple of former colleagues who were already doing consulting work, and let them know I was available to subcontract.
The work starts trickling in
Like I’ve said before, I hate cold-calling. I’ve never had a traditional sales job, and I don’t relish the thought of rejection. So, I didn’t make many calls to my former clients.
However, I did get a call from a former colleague who needed my help on a project. I was happy to help, and did the work–it was easy, since it was basically the same stuff I’d been doing at my former day job for years.
Then I got paid.
I still remember standing at the mailbox, looking at the check, and thinking, “They paid me this much for doing something so easy?!” The work I did wasn’t something terribly difficult for me–after all, it was stuff that I’d been doing for years at my day job.
But now, I was getting paid several times my salaried rate. It felt unreal.
I was hooked.
(Side note: I didn’t get that first check until about 4 months after I’d actually incorporated, mainly because I was scared and lame about marketing myself. But I count those first 4 months in my 23-month total, since it’s a bit more realistic in terms of how long it may take to get your first clients.)
After I got my first check, I started making more marketing calls to clients, and meeting with other colleagues to see if I could get more work from them. At first, things were pretty slow. But over the next month or 2, I got a couple more clients–one of whom turned into a reliable and significant stream of work for the next few years.
Since the work varied from month to month, so did my consulting income. Some months I’d make under $1k, while other months, I’d make a few thousand dollars. The extra cash was fantastic, since I was also working my day job at the non-profit.
Each month that I earned more convinced me that I could raise the bar and earn even more. The first month I earned $6k really broke my earlier preconception of how much I could earn.
Breaking through those mental barriers was essential.
I started setting mental goals for how much I wanted to earn.
The work gets steadier
After about 7-9 months, I had several clients, some of whom needed significant work every month. Adding more clients to the mix increased my revenue, and made my revenue less variable. By then, I was making roughly $5k – $6k per month IN ADDITION to my day job salary.
During this time, I kept up with my marketing calls, which, by now, weren’t actually cold calls, but were more like lukewarm calls, since my prospects at least knew me or knew the kind of work I did.
I started getting more clients and more work. Things were starting to snowball.
I started thinking that maybe I could do consulting full-time. Having more clients and having run my business for about a year boosted my confidence, and made me realize that I could really succeed at running a business.
My day job gets in the way
By early 2008, I realized that the time I spent at my day job was getting in the way of how much I could earn consulting. While I liked my day job and the people there, I knew that I’d be much more financially secure and would be able to achieve more for my family if I made more money.
So, I cut down the day job to half-time for about 3 months during the summer of 2008, while building up my consulting workload, and then completely quit my day job to consult full-time by the end of summer 2008.
I was really fortunate to be working at a place where I was able to go part-time for a bit before quitting completely. But if working part-time hadn’t been an option, I still could have made the transition from day job to full-time self-employment–it would have just meant working more in the evenings and weekends to do the consulting work while doing the marketing and phone calls in the morning (before my day job) or during my lunch hour.
The point is, if you really want something, you’ll figure out how to make it happen.
By September 2008, 21 months after I formed my s-corp, I was fully self-employed. If I had gotten my butt in gear earlier and done some serious marketing sooner, it wouldn’t have taken me as long. Maybe if I didn’t have the crutch of a day job, I would have progressed sooner.
In any case, I was free from having to work at a corporate day job.
Like most big life transitions, it wasn’t an overnight success. A steady series of consistent actions got me where I am. I did the work, kept marketing, and kept collecting new clients, while continuing to get work from my older clients. Like a snowball, I built it up from occasional side jobs to a full-time business.
Nowadays, the hourly consulting is still my bread-and-butter, but I’m working on other projects to leverage my time while increasing revenue.
How has my life changed?
- I used to complain a lot about my corporate job and my old boss.
- I used to feel stuck.
- I felt like I wasn’t earning what I was worth.
- I felt like there were few opportunities to advance.
- I felt stress when I took time off work for one of my kids’ or for doctor or other personal appointments, and felt guilty when I couldn’t always be there for my kids because of work.
- I felt frustrated that I didn’t have a more flexible schedule.
- I feel empowered and in control of my life.
- I feel like I’m being compensated appropriately for my skills & experience.
- I have more control over my income.
- I constantly see new opportunities to both expand my current business and explore other opportunities.
- I have a much more flexible schedule. Both my wife and I can volunteer in our kids’ school, and my wife no longer has to work at a day job.
The journey to self-employment has truly been life-changing. I have a completely different, more positive worldview. Though it’s been difficult at times, I’ve found self-employment just as challenging as a day job; the difference is that your efforts are more directly rewarded when you work for yourself.