Look Before You Leap

Just before Thanksgiving, the brilliant David Meerman Scott wrote a post titled “Quit your job” that garnered quite a bit of attention (most of it positive). I was taken aback, because David is truly a great thought leader in the PR space, but on his point about quitting your job “Now. Today.” – I respectfully disagree.

There many periods when it’s OK to take the leap into PR consulting without knowing exactly where you’ll land. This is not one of them.

That’s not to say you can’t be outrageously successful as an independent PR consultant right now, or that those who are currently employed can’t go out on your own during this phase. You can! Nothing should ever dissuade you from following your bliss.

It’s just that different times call for different measures. I suggest that employed people find their next opportunity first (and that doesn’t have to be traditional employment, it can be a consulting gig or two), before quitting. The key is to prepare in advance, and like the tortoise know that slow and steady wins the race.

Working at a job you hate can be truly exhausting (believe me, I’ve been there), but don’t forget that the stress of trying to find consulting work when there’s no money coming in can be lousy, too. Having been successfully independent since 1995, I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, and all present unique opportunities. There is consulting work to be had right now, especially at those agencies and companies experiencing a hiring freeze. Find these openings before you quit, and you’ll sleep much better at night.

There’s another (perhaps controversial) point you may want to consider in this climate: if layoffs are occurring at your company, you could wait to see if your position is among those being eliminated. It actually can be a blessing in disguise to get laid off from your current job, since that may allow you to collect benefits, giving you a cushion/runway for launching your business. If you’re worried that  there’s a stigma to being laid off – don’t. During an economic downturn, people understand that layoffs have nothing to do with performance.

Given the focus of this blog, it would probably in my best interest to agree with David. In fact, I had prepared a post very similar to his – espousing the joys of being an independent and encouraging the employed to join our ranks ASAP – and had planned to publish it when this blog launched. But in the few months that Solo PR Pro was in production, the economic situation continued to change, and so my advice has adjusted. Everything I say on this blog is exactly what I would tell a friend (and that’s my promise to you).

What do you think? How would you advise a friend right now?

  • Kellye:

    Thanks for adding to this discussion.

    Sure, quitting your job today may not be for everyone. It is scary. And note that I also said that some people may be best to find another corporate gig (not just go out on their own). So while I do agree that the idea of quitting may not be right for everyone, I do think that some people need the encouragement to make a change for the better.

    Related question: How long should you stay in a bad marriage? Another year? Till your first grader graduates from college? Forever?

    I wrote a comment on my original post that I’ve been thinking about a lot so I’d like to share here. I said that many people think a corporate job is “safe” and “secure” and that the entrepreneurial world is “risky” and “scary”.

    That might seem true if you are in a big company. It might especially seem true in the first year or so that you’re on your own.

    However, I like to think of an entrepreneurial career with multiple income streams much like smart investing. The best investors spread their money around – some real estate, a few stocks, maybe some collectibles. When the stock market melts like the past few months, smart investors take a much smaller hit than someone fully invested in the stock market. Or worse, those who have all their savings in Lehman Brothers stock which is worthless now.

    When you have a corporate job, you are either employed or not. On or off. That’s fine. I did it for more than 15 years myself.

    But an entrepreneur can have multiple income streams – a bunch of clients perhaps or several different businesses. Add in a few royalty streams from, say, writing. You may have some ups and downs, but it isn’t just on or off.

    To me that’s the ultimate in security and safety.

    Take care, David

    David Meerman Scott’s last blog post..Quit your job

  • Kellye Crane

    Hi David: Thanks so much for taking the time to weigh in here. I think we’re in agreement that fear of change is the enemy, and the many benefits of an entrepreneurial career far outweigh the risks. I also agree with your point about multiple income streams, and I’m confident that independent PR consultants can weather the near-term slowdown as well as – and in many cases much better than – their employed counterparts.

    Where I think we disagree is regarding those who currently have a traditional job, and have not yet established themselves as independents — those who do not yet have a variety of income generators lined up. To them I advise look before you leap (but once you’ve done the legwork, don’t be afraid to leap!).

    In your post you stated, “Your skills are in high demand. Quit your job and find a company that values them!” If that was changed to say “…Find a company that values (your skills), and then quit your job!” we’d be in complete agreement.

    Thanks again for your feedback – I’m honored that you stopped by.

  • Sounds good. I think we do agree.

    To your readers thinking of making a change: I know very few people who regret making a change. However I know lots of people who regret staying too long at a job that isn’t satisfying.

    David Meerman Scott’s last blog post..Quit your job

  • Back in the late 90s, I quit a bad job and went solo. It was one of the best experiences of my life. An incredible time filled with amazing creative output and money that seemed to fall out of the sky.

    I know that seems kinda schmalzy, but that’s exactly what happened…

    That said, I know people who have done the exact same thing only to fall flat on their face.

    Today, I’m back in the corporate world but if I were to advise a friend, I’d tell them to leap. Even the friends who fell on their face count the experience among the best.

    Jamie Grove – How Not To Write’s last blog post..Shut The Hell Up And Write: A Whiner’s Guide and NaNoWriMo Profile

  • At this time or at any time, anyone thinking about going out on their own has to truly have their eyes wide open. They need to take the time to talk to those that have been there (and those that gave it up) to find out what the real pros and cons are.

    As a freelancer I remember going on holidays. It had been an ‘o.k.’ month but I couldn’t shake the feeling of ‘when you’re not working you’re not making money’. And come the winter Holiday season that can get really tricky. It’s all really about planning far ahead.

    Speaking of planning, there’s a world of stuff to plan for regarding personal income tax and all that other fun financial stuff. Sigh… if only I had gotten a decent accountant sooner things would’ve been less stressful.

    And then there’s the ‘comprimisation gap’ … at which point do you allow yourself to ‘stray from your brand’ to do that gig that’s a bit of a stretch just because it’ll cover the bills for a month (or whatever).

    Yet to counter all of that, I was rarely happier when I was editing documents while sitting on my boat in the sunshine on a Tuesday afternoon.

    Bottom line… know full well what you are getting into. Establish parameters and never forget the value of ‘quality of life’ as it pertains to work.

  • Kellye Crane

    @Jamie Thanks so much for offering your perspective. I did exactly the same thing in 1995, and I’m so passionate about the joys of being solo that I started this blog! Maybe we can coax you back into our ranks….

    @PRJack Great points, all. I think you just gave me some ideas for several posts!

  • Kellye, I’ve made the leap several times and it can be very scary — but ultimately the absolute best decision for me. I think your advice is sound. It’s always best to have a plan before you leap, even if it’s not fully developed. The precise moment to leap is always a personal one. Everyone’s financial situation is different. Some may have savings to draw on; others not. Some are two-income families and have more of a cushion against unexpected expenses. And some people are just naturally more risk-averse than others.

    Right now I have friends who are in both of the situations you mentioned. One is doing work on the side to build up a minimum client base before flying the corporate coop; the other just got laid off and it looks to be turning out to be the silver lining in his personal storm cloud.

    Connie Reece’s last blog post..Better networking on LinkedIn

  • I can definitely attest to the latter part of your post and being laid off. It came as somewhat of a surprise and eventually understood that it wasn’t me or what I did at the comopany, just their decision. Given that and that I had a heads up that the co. was going through some tough times, I took that short time to reach out to people within my network for support, which helped me realize my next steps for my career…and life.

    It’s a vigorous process that I’ve, so far, been lucky enough to have been able to nail several interviews within a short amount of time. I’ve been able to utilize my free time to focus on my future path and truly do feel that it is a blessing in disguise. But more importantly, a blessing to have a great support system around you in rough times like these.

    Sonny Gill’s last blog post..what makes a great community manager?

  • Kellye I agree with Connie, your advice is sound. It’s always best to do your best to have a backup plan in place before you make any major employment move. Long-term planning is also ideal and something we all should invest more time in, myself included.

    Great post Kellye!

  • Kellye Crane

    Wow, what great input from Connie, Sonny, Mack and Amber – you’ve all been there, and you offer excellent insights that we can all learn from!

  • Amber Naslund

    I come from a place of total bias. So there’s my disclaimer. 🙂

    Last year at this time, I was stuck in “that” job. I had slogged through for several years, trying everything I knew to make a bad situation better. But I finally reached a point where my professional unhappiness was affecting everything – my health, my relationships, my self esteem. It was time to get out.

    And I am the poster child for reckless, absolutely the opposite of what you (sagely) advise. I walked in on Friday and quit. I had three months’ income in the bank. I knew that I needed to do something, but I didn’t have a plan. The idea of finding another corporate gig wasn’t attractive to me. So I decided that I’d take what I knew, ball it up, and put it out there.

    Starting a business is hard work. The hardest. I’m working harder and longer than I ever have. Having an hourglass in the bank account forced me to think lean, think tactically, and motivated me to work my butt off to find clients. It forced me to think HARD about what I’m good at, what I have to offer, and what needs for a business I could fulfill. For me, the fire under my feet was the alternative: going back to “a job”.

    In retrospect, I might have done things differently. I might have been more cautious, planned my exit better, lined up a few things before walking away. But truthfully, the leap itself I will never regret.

    Thanks, Kellye, for bringing up a really valid topic and gently setting down the voice of reason that renegades like me could stand to listen to once in a while. 🙂

    Amber Naslund’s last blog post..ROI Begins At The End

  • Deb

    Great post Kellye! And I love all the food for thought and advice it has generated.

    I think your advice is the best thing possible one could hope for, but, like Amber, I found myself in an impossible situation. I realized pretty early on that the job was filled with problems (the high turn-over rate that wasn’t disclosed during the interview process, for example). I was ultimately put in an unethical situation and chose to resign. The good news was that a lot of people I met in the community while I was in that position were aware of this situation, so they really stepped up to help me find contract work. While I interviewing, I was able to build up enough work to stick with consulting and really loved it. This is the best thing that could have happened to me, so I am very fortunate and I love being my own boss.

    Another angle that I see on this issue, however, is this: so many of my peers say they wish they could go out on their own, or how much fun this must be, or that it must be easier. They all express jealousy at how much freedom I must have and they wish they could do it.

    Like Amber, I feel that I work harder now than I did at most of my previous jobs and for longer hours. Comments about working from home I also find interesting because people automatically assume that you get to stop for bon bons and Oprah in the afternoon (apologies to Oprah!). It’s not true- my work is at home, so I am more likely to put all my time into my work, rather than say, housecleaning, ironing my clothes, grocery shopping- you get the idea.

    I do have flexibility in my schedule that I may not have at a traditional workplace, but that means little if I have to come home and work all evening because I had an appointment during the day.

    So my word of advice here is that folks who are stepping out to be a consultant understand that it is in no way easier than working at a company, nor a guarantee that you will work shorter hours, not deal with difficult people, or escape snafus like missed deadlines by a vendor, etc.

    It is a guarantee that you are in charge and the buck stops with you. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world, so I am willing to endure the challenges of the job. 🙂 That’s my $.02 and I hope it can add to the already thoughtful discussion!

    Deb’s last blog post..Denver’s turns 150 Saturday – celebrate with BUCKFIFTY.ORG (get it?)

  • Kellye Crane

    Thanks for sharing your story and wisdom, Deb — another one from the trenches! It’s also a great reminder that regardless of the economy, there will always be some situations (like an ethical conflict) that necessitate leaving a job ASAP. As Connie noted, “The precise moment to leap is always a personal one.”

  • Deb

    Sure thing! Also, I forgot this. When people ask me for advice I always tell then that tons of folks will give them advice, but no one knows exactly what it feels like to be in their shoes. We have to decide for ourselves what is best, no one can do it for us. It would be really nice for that to happen some times, but it doesn’t… 😉

  • Kellye Crane

    Deb- This is true! Hopefully few will have the negative experience you had as a pre-cursor to their solo career. As my friends know, I’m a firm believer that each of us has our own internal voice that can serve as our guide (and I’ll probably be beating that drum to death on this blog!).

  • Kellye, I really like this post. My husband and I are in a similar situation to what Connie described. He would love to start his own company and now has that opportunity, but I’m the one who is nervous as bills have to be paid and we have a daughter, etc. I don’t think I would be as nervous if the economy was better. I do, however, look forward to this conversation continuing as I agree it is a valid topic that needs to be viewed from all angles.

    Susan’s last blog post..Chests

  • Kellye Crane

    Thanks for the kind words, Susan. As many have said, a layoff is often a door opening rather than a door closing! Wishing you guys all the best, and if you ever have any specific topics you’d like to see discussed here, just let me know (you know where to find me!).

  • Kellye Crane

    Beth- well said! How cool that all of you dropped by to add to the conversation! 🙂

  • Hi Kellye, as always sage advice. How cool that David Meerman Scott dropped by to add to the conversation! 🙂

    I’ll just say that as a marketer (and PR professional), I look at this the same way as any business should…do you have what business will part with their money to get? The “if I build it, they will come” mentality isn’t a realistic one. Or at least, it’s not a plan for the long-haul.

    Beth Harte’s last blog post..Is Social Media scalable?

  • There's no such thing as a secure job today, so if my friend was a strong, aggressive and confident person, I'd say “go for it.” There may be more opportunities now than ever for sole practitioners who can offer high-quality services at more affordable rates than big agencies. With many companies laying people off and cutting budgets, outsourcing PR and some marketing functions may be more cost-effective than carrying high staff costs. It's important to diversify your client base so one client failure does not force you into the ditch.

  • There's no such thing as a secure job today, so if my friend was a strong, aggressive and confident person, I'd say “go for it.” There may be more opportunities now than ever for sole practitioners who can offer high-quality services at more affordable rates than big agencies. With many companies laying people off and cutting budgets, outsourcing PR and some marketing functions may be more cost-effective than carrying high staff costs. It's important to diversify your client base so one client failure does not force you into the ditch.