About a year into my work in the podcast space, I started Googling things like, “how to freelance full-time,” “how to leave your day job for your side hustle,” and “turning your hobby into your job.” I felt stifled in my 9-to-5, and I could tell that the amount of time and emotional energy it took out of me was coming at the risk of what I considered my real work: podcasting and podcast criticism.
Just about every site said the same thing: you’ll know you’re ready when you have the ability to leave your day job. That didn’t mean anything at all to me until I found myself in that situation. Halfway through October, my manager at my day job announced she was leaving the workplace. My husband had been telling me to quit for months. My therapist had been telling me to quit for months. But this was the final straw. My husband met me for dinner at 5 p.m., and I tried not to cry in the Cornish Pasty as I asked him over and over what to do. In reality, we already knew what I had to do, of course. The next day, I put my notice in.
Before diving into what you should do before going full-time, I want to make it clear what a privileged situation I’m in here. My spouse makes enough to cover rent and much of our core bills and expenditures each month. I have little to no debt, and we don’t intend on ever having children. I had already been working in the space for several years, and I had networked and made contacts in many different spheres. The advice I give you will apply if you ever plan on going full-time — but in many cases, you might not be able to, or even want to. And that’s okay.
Going full-time is a serious commitment with plenty of risks, and it’s not for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with keeping podcasts as a hobby, or a “side hustle,” or just not making the thing you love into work. Before reading my advice and deciding you can do it, think too about if it’s what you want.
When to make the switch to full-time
So first, let’s talk about that concept that you can leave your day job when you can leave your day job. What does that even mean? For me, it meant a new freelance job that — if my pitches were taken up — paid about as much as my day job. It’d hurt to not have that new income plus my very reliable, very solid income from my day job — but my husband and I (and, let’s be real, my wonderful therapist) all agreed that it wasn’t worth my sanity.
But freelancing, podcasting, and all other work that has some risk of returns requires a backup in case things go sour. My husband and I had about two months’ rent and expenses in our savings, and I agreed that if we didn’t see consistent income that we could live on, I’d go find a new job — even if just something part-time.
Before my new freelance gig paid out, they’d already approved enough of my pitches to get us through a month or two of income. I knew that would be solid, but after that, everything’s been a gamble. Even if you’re confident in your abilities and your hustle, media — especially new media — is ever-changing.
I would not ever recommend leaving a day job for a passion if you don’t have evidence that it can pay you out consistently. Make sure you have a plan for if things go sour. Make sure you have some funds stockpiled in case of an emergency. And make sure you have work under your belt that can show a trend for more work in the future.
What to work out before the jump
Figure out your health insurance. Research your health insurance. Think about health insurance. What will you do if you have to go to the doctor? Please consider your health insurance. I lucked out by having a spouse whose employer health insurance plan was only marginally worse than my 9-to-5’s health insurance plan, but you might not be as lucky. Take a good, close look at your options before you make this jump.
Additionally: taxes. Think about doing your taxes. Being your own boss means it looks like you get paid much more than you would have at your day job at first, but don’t think of that money as all usable. Put away for your taxes, and research what you should expect to pay at the end of the fiscal year.
And, of course, make sure that you’re emotionally prepared for the jump. Working for yourself at home can be isolating, so make sure you make plans to get out and about. Schedule hangouts with friends in person before you start working at home. Turning your passion into your job means that even if you love it, it will feel like work. Be prepared to get burnt out on the things that you love, even if you still love them.
And take a note from my therapist, too: try to detangle your brain from the expectation of a 40-hour workweek. Working for myself so far, I usually average 25-30 hours a week on work. One of the biggest struggles hasn’t been motivating myself to work; it’s been motivating myself to stop working when I finish my duties for the day.
Because we — Americans, at least — are so trained that the 40-hour workweek is how much we should be working, we don’t often question it, even if we spend hours at our day job bored. Set times for yourself when you start working and stop working, and try to move past the guilt of not working “enough” if you’re getting everything done.
Take that jump and live those dreams!
If you find yourself reading this and thinking you’re way ahead of me, it would seem like the only thing holding you back from living that dream is you. It’s a leap of faith. It’s a step that takes a lot of courage and self-confidence. And it’s one of the most freeing choices you could ever make for yourself.
So reader, consider that maybe it’s time you took the jump and lived those dreams. It’s scary. It’s a risk. And it might not work out. But it’s worth trying if you feel like you’re ready, and know that the Podcast Movement fam will be here to have your back and cheer you on the whole time.
Wil Williams is a podcast reviewer, consultant, and former audio editor. The author of Wil Williams Reviews (formerly Podcast Problems) and a weekly podcast newsletter, their work also appears on Polygon and the AV Club. Williams was instrumental in developing Podcast Movement's first-ever Audio Drama Track.