After working as a full-time accountant for an oil and gas company for 11 years, Carrie Smith was ready to make a change. She was ready to be her own boss.
In May 2013, Carrie Smith quit her job as a full-time accountant for an oil and gas company to become an entrepreneur. It’s a path many millennials can relate to – feeling dissatisfied in your career and realizing a deep desire to try something new. Of course, Carrie’s journey to entrepreneurship is much more complicated than it first appears, but her unique story includes many lessons for those looking to breakout on their own.
Carrie – who is now a 30-year-old resident of Dallas, Texas – didn’t go to a traditional college. Instead, she went to business school in the evenings and became certified as a tax professional, specializing in small business.
At age 25, Carrie went through a divorce. She started doing freelance work on the side of her full-time gig, including working for H&R Block during tax season. “I needed some more income to help get myself out of debt, and to [pay rent at] a new apartment,” she says in an interview with The Reply.
She had the opportunity to attend conferences for H&R Block, where she met other marketing professionals. Eventually these relationships led to freelance writing assignments, and she began writing about tax-related issues online.
In January 2013, I had an epiphany.
Starting to feel serious about her freelance work, Carrie eventually hired a side hustle coach to help her manage her work and mentor her in her career. As her relationship with her mentor grew, Carrie began to feel more motivated and excited to be her own boss.
“In January 2013, I had an epiphany,” she says. She decided to have a conversation with her boss at the oil and gas company where she worked, to pitch the idea of coming into the office two days a week instead of five and create a more flexible working arrangement. “I’d been working there over a decade. I thought I had the ability to suggest things like that.”
The conversation didn’t go as well as she had hoped it would, and her boss ended up giving her an ultimatum. “He said, ‘you need to focus on this job or you need to quit.’ So that kind of forced me, before I was ready, to make the decision to move on.”
[S]ometimes you have to leap before you’re ready, and you just make it work as you go.
She had planned to leave her job in the summer, which would give her six to eight months to save up a financial cushion. But life threw another curve ball. By this time, her divorce was behind her and she had gotten engaged to a personal chef. Sadly, her fiancé’s mother was diagnosed with leukemia, meaning she and her fiancé would be moving to Denver, Colorado to an apartment close to the hospital where her mother-in-law was being treated.
Carrie ended up quitting in May. “I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to save my money. My goal was 10,000 dollars in a savings account and I only had about 6,000 dollars by the time I quit,” she says.
Fortunately, she had paid off all her debt the year before. But it did mean sacrificing some of her other financial goals.
“I wish I had more savings built up but I also learned that sometimes you have to leap before you’re ready, and you just make it work as you go,” Carrie says. “If I’d done it when I was completely prepared, I wouldn’t have learned all the lessons that I did and I wouldn’t have come to the creative solutions that I have now.”
I was tired of being a workaholic and answering to my work schedule.
These creative solutions included finding ways to diversify her income. This meant mapping out business strategies for signing on clients with recurring revenue, as well as building out her services to reach readers of her personal finance blog, Careful Cents.
Looking back, she has no regrets about the timing of it all. “It had to be done. Life needs to take priority,” she says. “I was tired of being a workaholic and answering to my work schedule. So I was happy to quit my job earlier and be able to move and take care of my mother-in-law.”
When they were living in Denver, she and her fiancé had minimal expenses. “We were just going to the hospital everyday,” she says, “not socializing, not eating out.”
In December of 2013, they returned back home to Dallas, and that’s when life starting picking up again. Her fiancé had taken time away from work to care for his mother, and Carrie had become the sole provider
One day you’re so rich you can’t believe it, and in the same day you’re so broke…
The Entrepreneur Experience
Last year was Carrie’s first full year being self-employed. She’s learned a lot in the process, having gone through some really great months, and also slower, more challenging months. When I ask her what has been the most difficult part of being self-employed, she says it’s the inconsistent income stream. “One day you’re so rich you can’t believe it, and in the same day you’re so broke,” she says. “You get paid and you get like 3-K in the bank and then you’re like, ‘just paid my rent and grocery bill, now I’m broke.’”
Now Carrie mentors other people who are reassessing their career paths and questioning whether to make a change. “This is what I love doing,” she says. “It’s tough to get over those road blocks alone, and that’s why I try and help other people – because I needed that too.”
You don’t have to have a career these days where you just sell your soul to someone else for 40 years and then retire.
She notes that she is always encouraging others to follow their gut – whether or not that includes quitting their job. Look at what your goals are, what you want your life to look like, and create a career or business around that, she explains. Your work should evolve alongside your life, instead of you having to revolve around your career.
“Focus on what makes you happy, but also what makes you money. You don’t have to have a career these days where you just sell your soul to someone else for 40 years and then retire.”
Listening to Carrie’s story, it’s easy to get enthusiastic about making a big change in your life and career. That’s why the last piece of advice she offers might be the most important: remember to be realistic and be patient. “It takes time to grow a business, it takes time to become successful, it takes time to understand what you like and don’t like, what works and doesn’t work,” she says. “So don’t be afraid to experiment, and give yourself the space to do that.”
Are you thinking of making the move to self-employment? Let us know about your career aspirations in the comments below.