As a freelance web content writer, finding the ideal moment to quit your day job for full-time self-employment can be a tricky process.  Although you might be dying to put in your two-week’s notice, flip your boss the bird and ride off into the sunset of your new freelance career, most of the “so-called experts” out there recommend that you have at least a six-month emergency fund and a full roster of clients on hand before you even start inching towards the door.

But this is the real world!  You and I both know that things don’t always go the way the financial experts tell us that they should – and I’ve found that, for many freelance writers, this results in a tremendous amount of confusion as to when the appropriate time is to actually make the leap to self-employment.

So today, I want to share with you one of my experiences leaving a day job (I’ve actually made the leap three times, though under similar circumstances in each case).  I’m not saying that this is the right or wrong way to make the move to self-employment for everybody – I just want you to be aware that there are other options out there besides waiting until every single one of your ducks is in the proverbial row.

Self-employment, take #1

If you choose to follow the recommendations of most business and financial professionals out there, you’ll need to have all of the following in place before you even consider leaving the comfort of a steady job:

  • Six months of emergency savings (but preferably at least 12 – you know how the economy is…)
  • A partner with a steady job that offers benefits
  • A full load of freelance clients to ease the transition into self-employment
  • No outstanding consumer debt
  • A five-year business plan, complete with income projections and estimated expenses

When I left my day job to pursue full-time freelancing for the second time in February 2012, I had exactly one of these things.

I did not have six months of emergency savings – in fact, I barely had enough in the bank to cover one month of expenses if my freelance career failed miserably.  I did not have a partner with a steady job.  My husband actually quit his job the same weekend that I did, making for two sets of extremely nervous parents.  And while I had made some strides towards paying down our bills, we still carried more debt than I would have otherwise liked into those first few months of self-employment (thanks, failed engine timing belt!).

I didn’t then – and still don’t now – have a business plan (which I really, really should do one of these days…).

What I did have was a full load of clients.  When I made the decision to start working towards self-employment in July 2011, I immediately started looking for good clients who paid decent rates and needed regular work.  By the time I was ready to leave my job the next February, I was earning as much from these clients as I was from my day job.  Because of this, I knew that we’d be financially okay in the short run – even if things went sour later on down the road.

Why I made the leap early

My original plan was to leave my day job in July 2012, which certainly would have put us on more stable financial ground.  But by February, I was done.  A number of different elements at my day job had deteriorated, and the reality of balancing a full-time job with a full load of freelance clients had done a number on my health (no joke – I was sick for four months straight with a series of miserable colds).

The situation I was in was unsustainable, and I knew I had to make a change.

At that point, I had a choice – I could scale back on the number of writing clients I had taken on or I could make the leap early, before we were financially “ready.”  And while the thought of leaving my day job earlier than expected was admittedly scary, the momentum I was seeing in my freelance career was undeniable.  Who was I to start turning down clients when my whole goal was to go full-time as a writer?

So I quit, and I decided to trust in myself and my skills that I’d be able to make things work.  In fact, I have to admit that I counted on this fear to a certain extent.  Knowing that we didn’t have a safety net to fall back on made me work that much harder to seek out better paying clients and to keep the customers I was working with happy.  Truly, it was a “sink or swim” situation for us, and I had no choice but to keep swimming.

Ultimately, it wound up being the right choice.  My husband and I were better off financially than we’d ever been, and the benefits we received in terms of having more flexibility and freedom in our lives more than made up for possible monetary losses.

Your results may vary

Now, there’s one little caveat I need to throw in here…

At the time, our particular situation was made easier by the fact that we didn’t have kids and that we lived in an area where the cost of living is relatively low.  In addition, my husband and I had gone through a year’s worth of detailed records of all our bill payments and discretionary spending to determine exactly how much income we’d need in self-employment and where expenses could be cut during lean times.  We even had contingency plans for when I’d go back and find another day job – or, which set of parents we’d move in with – if things got really bad.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to enact any of these backup plans, but I can’t deny that we had a number of different resources and positive factors that made self-employment a viable option much earlier than it would have been in other cases.

If you’ve got a family to support, a large house to maintain or sizable student loan debts, that six month emergency fund we talked about earlier might be less of a “good thing to have” and more of an “absolute necessity.”  For this reason, it’s extremely important that you give your own financial situation – as well as the amount of risk-taking you’re personally comfortable with – a thorough examination in order to determine how and when freelancing full-time can fit into your life.

That said, what I want you to take from this article is the idea that it’s okay to go against the experts’ recommendations and do what’s best for your personal and financial situation.  Is it good to have that laundry list of pre-freelancing “must haves” in place?  Absolutely!  Is it necessary in every situation?  Absolutely not.

With a bit of planning and a lot of hustle, it’s possible to make the leap to self-employment on your own terms – not when some arbitrary financial guru tells you it’s okay to do so.