So You Quit Your Day Job To Be A Full-Time Creator… Now What?
You’ve dreamed of this day your entire life and have worked so hard to get to this point. Your 9-5 colleagues have wished you good luck and your boss has promised you an opportunity “if things don’t work out.” You have a small cushion in your bank account to hold you over for a little while, but not long enough to get too comfortable.
You have just quit your day job to work on creating full-time. Now what?
Whether you’re on day one of freedom or have just started fantasizing about what it would be like to spend each waking moment living out your creative dreams, you’re not alone. A study conducted last year by the Freelancer’s Union and Elance found that over 34% of the US workforce are self-employed. Almost half of people working in the US are doing so on their own terms, and more are ditching the cubicle to be their own boss every day.
Curious about what it’s like to quit your day job to focus on creating full-time, I chatted with some creators who have done just that. From musicians to writers to webcomics, artists new to the game to some already funding their dreams on Patreon, I wanted to hear what their experience was like and what advice they had for others who were thinking about doing the same. Here’s a glimpse into a few unique stories from some artists making a living doing what they love.
Be Patient; building your brand takes time
Tracy Butler was working in the game industry for about fifteen years before she quit her job to work on her comic “Lackadaisy” full-time. “I spent nine years developing my comic, sharing it for free online, earning little to nothing in book sales, and gradually building an audience before the time was right and the venue was open for making the transition,” Tracy shares with me. After joining Patreon, Tracy set a goal of earning at least $3,800 before she could focus all of her attention on Lackadaisy. She is now earning almost $6,000 per month from over 1,400 patrons on Patreon. Like most artists, Tracy didn’t find success in her comic overnight. “For years before I quit my day job, I had been working on a comic as a personal project on the side. As the comic found some footing and grew a modest reader base, it became a bigger part of my life and greater source of fulfillment than I had anticipated.”
illustration by Tracy Butler
Eventually, Tracy felt that she had to decide between her full-time job and her comic; She chose the latter. If Tracy had decided to quit her job to work exclusively on her comic sooner, her audience may not have been ready for her. A common misconception a lot of creators tend to make is that their audience is simply hiding behind a door and all they need to do is put themselves out there and that door will open to a room of diehard fans in waiting. Sadly, this is not reality. It takes time to build a brand and a following for your work, so make sure you have spent some time honing your craft and getting it out into the hands of the right people before you go all in.
“It took a long time to work up enough gumption to make the leap,” says Tracy, “but there were a few things edging me along. Certainly my readership and publisher asking ‘When’s the volume 2 book coming out?’ had something to do with it, as did the minor existential crisis that all artists probably experience at one point or another — the sort that generates some urgency to create something of one’s own, something that, with any luck, will have an enduring value.”
Find a community of like-minded people
Three years ago, Adam (Smiley) Poswolsky was working a bureaucratic job in Washington DC when he decided to ditch his desk job and move to San Francisco to become a writer. He didn’t have another job lined up but had talked to a lot of people going through similar life changes and was intrigued by the social entrepreneurship that San Francisco is well known for. “Sometimes, you have to just go for it,” Adam told me confidently. “Put yourself in a place or a community you want to be in, and the rest will fall into place.”
A month after Smiley moved to San Francisco, he connected with a woman who ran a life boot camp for entrepreneurs called The Bold Academy, which Smiley describes as a “community of intention, engagement, passion and love, with the mission of becoming our best selves, living the lives we were meant to live, and creating positive social change.” He began volunteering as a coach with the program and helping others realize their life’s purpose, while running a blog about his own journey with quitting his job to focus on his passion. Smiley soon noticed that a lot of other people were reaching out to him, going through similar life changes. At one point, a friend even suggested he write a book about his journey.
In 2013, Smiley took his friend’s advice and started an Indiegogo campaign to fund his book. In one month, he had raised almost $13,000 from over 500 people in 40 different countries. “If you have an idea, you’ve got to put it out there. People believed in me and so now I have to deliver; it gives you accountability.”
Adam (Smiley) Poswolsky
Smiley’s book, The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, is currently an Amazon bestseller and Smiley is now making a living writing and inspiring other millennials and business leaders through mentorship and speaking engagements like this one at TEDx.
Make Some Damn Money
Alright — it’s called Funemployment because it’s fun, but without a steady paycheck every two weeks, you’re going to need to find some way to make enough money to cover the expense of living.
An article posted on Skillcrush suggests that “a full-time freelancer might have about $15,000 worth of fixed expenses each year” (yikes!), so make sure to factor these in as you consider how much money you might need to be bringing in to sustain your full-time artistic lifestyle.
Some costs to be aware of:
- vacation days/sick days
- home expenses (food, office equipment, heating/air, internet)
- taxes/legal help
- retirement plan/IRA
- health insurance (about $5,000/year plus deductibles)
- website design
For many creators, figuring out a way to make money from their craft can be extremely difficult. As art becomes more readily available on the internet and more and more people assume the role of “artist,” the artists’ worth is sadly diminishing. While Netflix, Youtube, Spotify, and countless other services bring movies, videos, music and every kind of art we can imagine directly to us at a minimal subscription cost (or free,) we’ve begun to devalue much of the art we once paid top dollar for.
“There’s no ‘correct path’ to becoming a real artist,” full-time artist and Patreon creator Amanda Palmer shares in her book The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help. “You might think you’ll gain legitimacy by going to art school, getting published, getting signed to a record label. But it’s all bullshit, and it’s all in your head. You’re an artist when you say you are.”
Amanda Palmer gained a lot of attention when she broke from her record label to independently produce a new album through crowdfunded support from her fans. She set up a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $100,000 and ended up bringing in almost $1.2 million instead, breaking the record for highest earning music campaign on Kickstarter to date.
You might be thinking “Amanda Palmer was on a major record label; there’s no way I can make that much money from my supporters!” Let’s be honest… you’re probably right. If you don’t have at least 25,000 fans out there dying to support your work, then you might have a tough time hitting the same Kickstarter jackpot. But here’s another fact: there’s no way you’ll make a dime if you don’t put yourself out there and put value on what you create. In her book, Palmer suggests it’s “the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of rejection, the fear of looking needy or weak” that stops us from truly asking for what we deserve. Let’s get rid of those fears!
Whether you create documentaries, paintings, short stories, comics, etc., there is someone out there (at least your mom!) who wants to support your work —but you must first value yourself before others can.
Amanda Palmer’s creator page on Patreon
Listen to your intuition
Millions of people all over the world spend their days doing something they are not passionate about because it pays the bills, provides security, looks good on their resume or some other tired excuse. What if you spent your entire life doing something that didn’t serve you, or worse, doing something you don’t really love doing?
The sad truth is many of us are doing just that. We pry our eyes open each day and drag ourselves to our day jobs, checking off mundane tasks until the clock tells us it’s time to go home. Once there, we may have a few hours of relaxation before we need to go back to bed and do it all again. A few years go by… then a decade. Finally, you’ve retired and wondered where all the time went. But what if you decided to listen to the voice inside you that is telling you to go after the dreams you’ve been avoiding your whole life?
Nina Grae was working in a corporate sales role when she had a sudden desire to do something bigger.
“The day Steve Jobs died really did it for me,” Nina shared with me over lunch at Patreon’s office. “It made me realize that I was a replaceable cog in a big wheel I didn’t even want to be in. I saw all of the post-it notes of inspiration on the windows of the Apple store and wanted to be that type of inspiration.”
So Nina left her office job and set out to inspire others through her life-long dream of pursuing music. She went to networking events, posted ads on Craigslist, and sought out others who shared her passion. One night in 2014, Nina went to an open mic night at the Hotel Utah in San Francisco when she met a musician who invited her to jam in his studio in Oakland. There, she met guitarist Steve Knight and the two clicked immediately. They set out to create an EP under the name Knight and Grae, in which they released an anthem for creators, appropriately called “We Are Creators.” “It’s a call to people who have something inside them to create and contribute to the world,” says Nina. “We all have so many yearnings and desires; sharing our stories is so much greater than living the life that we’re told we’re supposed to live.”
“Is there anything you wish someone told you before you made the jump?” I asked Nina.
“It’s really important to become clear on the vision of what you want to create, but relinquish control of how it will happen; a path will be made. Trust your intuition.”