After years working in technical support and as a software trainer (which was my favorite of all my W2 jobs), I accidentally ended up in software sales (a story for another time). I had a $4 million annual sales quota and a tremendous amount of pressure on my shoulders.
I spent a year planning my gleeful exit from that soul-sucking job. Most people thought I was crazy to walk away from the golden handcuffs, but I didn’t care. I’d been miserable at work for years, and went to bed every Sunday night with a knot in my stomach. It was stressful and demanding and not at all in alignment with any of my personal goals or values.
After a year of business planning, I opened a 2,800 square foot bookstore in Sacramento, California. I thought I was going to sit in the back office and write novels. Ha! Now I can laugh about how naïve that was, although at the time it seemed like a reasonable plan. There were several problems I hadn’t anticipated. First, it turned out that running a bookstore wasn’t nearly as romantic as it sounds. About six weeks after the Open sign was flipped on, I looked around and thought, “Holy cow, what have I done?” (Well, that’s the “G” rated version of what was going through my head.)
To make matters worse, I was a terrible fiction writer. I lacked imagination and struggled mightily to chase my childhood dream. When you grow up wanting to be a writer, the obvious path is to craft the Great American Novel. It’s terrifying to realize your life-long dream isn’t going to work out as planned.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the obstacles I faced were really just forks in the road.
After failing miserably at writing fiction, I discovered a hidden passion for nonfiction, which aligned perfectly with my personal mission of helping others. And the bookstore served as a fantastic training ground for all-things-business. I learned hands-on about marketing, hiring and firing staff, managing finances, and growing a business.
I sold the store three years later and launched a Authority Publishing, a hybrid publishing company specializing in nonfiction books. That was followed by starting the Nonfiction Writers Conference in 2010, and then the Nonfiction Authors Association in 2013. I’ve since authored ten books, both traditionally published and self-published.
I don’t know about you, but most of the plans I once had for my life in general ended up changing along the way. I could have run from that store and returned to corporate America, but I would have had tremendous regrets. I’m so glad I followed the path that ultimately found me. I didn’t know what I was looking for until I started down the road.
If you’re thinking about changing your career or building a business, it can be one of the most rewarding adventures of your life. But it will also be filled with unpredictable twists and turns, and you’ll need to adapt. I think this is one of the reasons so many businesses fail. They don’t adapt to the unexpected challenges. They don’t look for the fork in the road.
Following are steps to help you launch and build the business of your dreams, and get prepared for whatever forks may land in your path.
Step 1: Identify Your Revenue Streams
Before you even think about quitting your job, you’ve got to have a plan for making money. According to this CNBC article, 64% of millionaires have at least three revenue streams. For authors, multiple revenue streams might include book sales, speaking, consulting, digital product sales, training courses, and other similar options.
Whatever you choose, please do yourself a favor and write it down. Make a plan that includes steps to accomplishing each task and forecasts potential earnings so you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Step 2: Interview and Study Others
Before I opened the bookstore, I reached out to several bookstore owners around the country and asked if they’d answer some questions for me. A few scheduled calls and were incredibly generous with their time. Others answered questions I sent by email. The advice I received was extremely valuable.
To get others to talk to you, make sure they don’t view you as competition, and also make it worth their time. You may need to invest in an hour or more of their time with a consulting agreement, which is a worthwhile investment for real-world experience.
I’m also a big believer in emulating the success of others. Find people who are doing what you want to do and watch how they operate. How do their websites look? What kind of social media presence do they have? What marketing strategies do they use to generate business? What do they charge for their products and services?
To be clear, I’m absolutely not suggesting that you copy anyone’s business. However, you can gain a tremendous amount of inspiration and insight into what lies ahead for your own business.
Step 3: Prepare Your Finances
Begin by estimating what your startup costs will be, and then double that figure. Nearly every entrepreneur I know would tell you the same thing. You have to prepare for the unexpected, and there will undoubtedly be unexpected expenses.
Next, figure out how much money you can begin saving NOW. The more money you can put aside as a cushion, the better you will set yourself up for success. One way to help your financial situation is to evaluate your current monthly expenses and look for areas where you can cut back. Do you really need cable? Can you downsize to a smaller house? Can you sell off those jet skis you only use twice a year? If you really want to reach your goals, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices.
Also, keep in mind that once you start a business, you will no longer be able to show steady income. This matters for credit purposes. If you plan to apply for any kind of loan or credit, it’s best to do it before you leave your job.
Step 4: Plan Your Business
People have often asked if I was scared when I quit my job. Maybe I should have been, but I wasn’t. I had carefully planned what I thought the course ahead would look like, and I had squirreled away funds for over a year. This was empowering.
Every entrepreneur needs a business plan, which includes marketing and financial plans. I promise you, putting these in writing will help remove a lot of the fear because you’ll feel prepared for the what’s ahead.
Step 5: Take Care of Insurance and Legal Issues
Before you begin, you’ll need to make sure you replace any insurance your employer currently offers (health, vision, dental, life, etc.). One important note is long-term disability insurance, which helps cover your full salary if you’re ever incapacitated. I strongly recommend applying for this before you quit your job. It will be based on your previous year’s earnings and adds some excellent protection for the unexpected. You may also want to invest in general business insurance.
You should also consider the legal structure of your business. By default, a business begins as sole proprietorship. However, sole proprietorship can be risky since it means your personal assets can be at risk if anyone ever pursues legal action against you. A Limited Liability Corporation or other form of corporation may make more sense for you. Talk to a qualified attorney or accountant for help in making this decision and filing the appropriate paperwork.
You’ll also need to file for a business license, which is usually issued by the county where you live. Contact your local agency to find out what’s involved. And you’ll need to start a bookkeeping system, or hire this out, and open a business bank account. It’s important to separate your personal and business finances. You may also need acquire merchant services so you can process credit cards. There will be lots of little details, which will become more apparent as you build your business plan.
Step 5: Start Slowly (if possible)
If there is any way you can keep your current job on a part-time basis while you start your business, this can be ideal. For example, you might ask if you can work three 10-hour days per week. Or, could you work an early shift, which would leave you time to work in the afternoons?
This isn’t feasible for everyone, but it can certainly help. If you can’t phase out of your job, you’ll need to wait until you feel that you have everything in order. You’ll need cash in the bank for a cushion. I recommend enough to survive for six to twelve months, since it may take longer than expected to get your revenues cranked up. You’ll also need your business, financial, and marketing plans in good order.
If you feel terrified to quit your job, then you probably aren’t ready yet. Get your plans in order and have a solid grasp on the details listed here so you can minimize the fear factor and begin with confidence.
Step 6: Invest in Marketing
No business can survive without marketing. You may want to bootstrap your business and do as much as you can yourself, but sometimes this can slow your progress. I strongly recommend creating a budget for marketing and advertising. You might invest in Facebook ads or assistance with social media or print ads in a trade publication. During your planning process, identify the most effective marketing strategies for your unique business and plan to invest in your success. If you feel completely lost, you may also want to hire a consultant to help you form your plans.
Step 7: Always Be Learning
Sixteen years into my entrepreneurial journey and I’m still challenging myself to learn something new as often as possible. Make a plan for staying current on trends in your industry. Invest in books and classes and conferences that will help to further your career. Learning new strategies can be part of the fun of owning a business because you’ll know that you’re always moving forward and fine-tuning your efforts.
Step 8: Prepare for Reality
Owning your own business can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life, and it will also come with some of the biggest challenges. It’s important to understand that just like any other job, it won’t all be easy. There will be good days and bad days. There will be tasks you enjoy and tasks you dread. There will be times when you work extra long weeks, and hopefully, times when you enjoy the flexibility and freedom that can come with putting processes and systems in place and building a successful business.
You can greatly increase your chances of success with proper planning and preparation!
For additional help with planning your author business, download our free report: