From Communications to Solopreneurship

“Things started to feel right again: like 'going home.”

Image of Julienne DesJardins

From Communications to Solopreneurship

When Julienne DesJardins' job changed, she felt like she no longer had a purpose. She started a side hustle which surprisingly ticked all her boxes, and which grew from hobby to full-time pursuit. Here's how she took charge of her lifestyle, sidestepped the naysayers and moved into work she loves.

What work were you doing previously?

I was in nonprofit work, focusing on communications, such as social media and web management.

What are you doing now?

I'm a virtual assistant, offering a range of digital marketing services to help solopreneurs grow their businesses.

Why did you change?

I transitioned to a new position at a different nonprofit and the communications work I loved became a lesser part of my job.

This made me feel a bit lost. I liked the work I was doing, but over time the sensation of there being something missing continued to grow and I felt confused about my purpose.

I started virtual assistant work on nights and weekends as a hobby – simply because I missed doing things like newsletter creation and Facebook Page management. My business grew from there.

When I started freelancing, it was invigorating. Things started to fall into place and feel right again: it felt like 'going home'.

The pull to self-employment was a long time coming. I'd actually worked from home in a previous position, so I got to experience the benefits of time and location flexibility. And when I didn't have that anymore, I really missed it.

For instance, while working from home my aunt became ill with cancer and needed around-the-clock care. I was able to adjust my work schedule and become her primary caregiver. I wouldn't have traded that time with her for anything.

Now, my husband and I are actually expecting our first child, Luke, in a few weeks. I'll get to have that time with him that I envisioned – and still provide value to my clients. It's an awesome thing.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

Although at first it was the perks of working at home that drew me in, the pull became stronger when I started to get more and more clients who really needed what I offered. And I realised I could make a living doing work I loved and have the flexibility I craved.

I hit a tipping point where there was more demand for my services than I could fill on a part-time basis.

I was struggling to balance my growing business and my day job – and to find enough time to sleep!

Are you happy with the change?

Y-E-S! The benefits definitely outweigh the challenges.

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

Sometimes I miss being able to turn to another team member for support during challenging situations, such as filing a tax return or handling a difficult client.

That said, there is a lot that I honestly don't miss. I don't have to get dressed up for work. I don't have to compromise on the temperature in the office(I control the air conditioning!). And I don't have to be at work at a particular time. (I'm actually pregnant at the moment, so a flexible schedule has been super helpful for days when I'm not feeling my best.)

How did you go about making the shift?

The immediate preparations came just before I gave notice to my employer.

I found a business coach who helped me with my 'message' and creating my initial opt-in to build my email list – something I wasn't doing before. I set up my business infrastructure, including an invoicing system and online scheduler. And I built up my website to include information on my services.

When I decided to make the shift to working for myself full time, I gave a generous two-month resignation notice to my company. This meant I was able to focus on transitioning the position to ensure all loose ends were tied up. That felt nice.

Then, on my first day home as a full-time solopreneur, I already had a system in place to get new clients on board and a ton of work to get started on with my current ones.

What didn't go well? What 'wrong turns' did you take?

There was one thing that really surprised me: it was more difficult than I thought to explain to some friends, family and coworkers what I was doing.

No matter how many times and ways I explained why I was leaving to run my own business, some people just couldn't understand. It seemed that some folks just struggled to comprehend the draw of self-employment. And, of course, not everyone I shared my plan with was supportive. I can definitely understand the conundrum on their part; it was just quite unexpected for me.

When I had those conversations, I was usually struck with some self-doubt. But I was able to combat those feelings by immersing myself in my 'community'. Chatting with other like-minded folks, or with my husband who is totally on board, usually reminds me that I'm on the right path!

(And I always try to remember that the doubters aren't trying to be mean – they just truly don't understand me.)

How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?

First, there were the long-term preparations.

These mostly focused on finances. I talked with my husband often about becoming self-employed, but didn't think we could afford to do so. So, we decided to commit to getting out of debt (from our car and student loans). We worked really hard and paid off a huge amount over three years to become completely debt free.

Next, we saved enough to cover three months' expenses: our 'rainy day fund'. That was all before I launched full time. Now that means that when my self-employed finances fluctuate (inevitably!), our household doesn't head into a downward spiral.

That preparation has been such a gift to us now. In self-employed life, it's easy to run into difficulties, from things such as the late payment of an invoice, or a client needing to pause their retainer for a month; those hiccups are just annoyances now, rather than huge, stressful emergencies.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

I became the sole decision-maker for a host of brand new things I'd never encountered before.

And, in my experience, most of those things were related to the government, so it was sometimes really intimidating! There were things like registering my business name, dealing with tax matters. I have to be completely on top of my game as a business owner: if I don't diligently research all aspects of my business, I could be looking at fines or legal issues. It's manageable, now I've surrounded myself with knowledgeable people, but it's definitely overwhelming in the beginning.

What help did you get?

I have an accountant who helps me file my quarterly taxes and my tax return every April.

My business coach was a big help in terms of my branding in the beginning. I gained a lot of clarity through working with her.

I also consume tons of content every day – podcasts, blogs and info from government websites. Organisations and individuals often willingly share their knowledge and I learn a lot about growing a business that way.

What have you learnt in the process?

So much!

I've learned a lot about myself by gaining clarity on my brand, my ideal client and the services I want to offer.

And there's a huge sense of accomplishment and achievement when you persevere through the difficulties of self-employment. It’s actually incredibly rewarding.

What do you wish you'd done differently?

Nothing.

Obviously there are things that I look back on less than favourably. But they shaped my business and me as a business owner. They've informed me and prepared me to serve better, so I have to be at least a little bit thankful for them!

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

Truthfully, when you're working solo, it's easy to engage in negative self-talk and get down on yourself when things don't go well.

Some friends of mine at One Woman Shop taught me a trick for this, though. They call it their 'Rainy Day File'. You save testimonials or nice notes from clients and business-building friends to a special folder. And when you're having a tough day, open it up and read through them. It's such a breath of fresh air in those tough moments!

What resources would you recommend to others?

For a sense of community as a female solopreneur, visit One Woman Shop.

For info on business building and creating evergreen products, take a look at Pat Flynn's Smart Passive Income blog.

For those just starting out, check out the Freelance to Freedom Project or Freelancers Union.

For more information on Julienne's business, visit www.jdesjardins.com

What lessons could you take from Julienne's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at hello@careershifters.org.