HOW MY COVID LAYOFF WAS ACTUALLY A BLESSING: IT WAS THE 1ST STEP OF 6 IN ESCAPING THE 9-5
The mission of the Free At 50 blog is to share that escaping the 9-5 can be done and to offer resources on how to do it. This post outlines the first six steps to make it happen and how the blog will continue to support you.
It’s not just about the blessing of being made redundant, but about using that gift to move forward into a better life and to inspire others to do the same!
6 Steps to Escaping the 9-5.
1. Find your why.
2. Shift your mindset.
3. Narrow your options.
4. Research the best fit.
5. Build your toolkit.
6. Take action.
Step 1 in escaping the 9-5: Finding the why.
A layoff during Covid was actually a blessing.
There are a number of ways to cover what ultimately, means: gone from your job. We are exhaustingly descriptive: resigned for personal reasons, left a position for a better offer, was fired, got laid off.
For one thing, specificity of “leaving” defines how we are treated in the aftermath right? Whether or not you’ll be eligible for unemployment benefits, if you’ll get a reference letter, the WHY behind it. The why is something we love to analyze and over-analyze. So while I was laid off due to COVID budget constraints, specifically, the result is the same, I am without employment and free to decide the next step.
That is not to say that you are exempt from deciding your “next step” while employed but let’s face it, as much as I was hating corporate life, I generally liked people I worked with on a day-to-day basis (emphasize GENERALLY), and the paycheck wasn’t something I was ready to ditch.
This layoff was a blessing in disguise, it was my “why” to escaping the 9-5 and quitting corporate life.
To the shock of most people I’ve talked to since, I was actually relieved when I was laid off! For one thing, there was (and I’m guessing still is) a lot of anxiety in that company about the future. I won’t pick on the corporation that owns my old company now because honestly, it’s a commonality across corporations, professions, and even continents during COVID.
However, I’ve met a lot of people since my layoff that suffered corporate downsizing, mergers and acquisitions leading to “restructure” prior to March 2020. It is the corporate way. Escaping 9-5 stress and anxiety is an excellent “why.”
More of the why:
I was 49 when this happened. Turning 50 in 2020, I was ready to stop using my brain and skillset to still have my time and schedule owned by others. #YouGotThis.
Honestly, I always did the “right” thing: went to college, got an internship, went right into the workplace. For me that was Michigan’s State Capitol (a government employee) then into the private sector, over to a small business and, ultimately into a company that was bought by private equity and sold to a large international corporation. Paid taxes for 30 years with no break in employment and no more than 1-2 weeks off at a time (while still being accessible!).
I’d been there. And I’ve now earned the decision to quit the 9-5 life.
Step 2 in escaping the 9-5: Getting the Mindset.
Traditional 9-5 employment is not necessary.
I’m a member of GenX and I wrote about it. The last decade has been crazy for us, right? Who here knows people who have 1) been stuck, unhappily, in a cubicle for years 2) is tired of fighting for raises, paychecks and to get credit for their work 3) has died too young. Tick, tick, tick.
A couple years back, a colleague of mine, solidly 10-15 years younger than me, told me how her aunt collapsed of a heart attack and died right there at her desk, in her cubicle. In the meantime, I was watching our generation (and some people just outside it) crumble around me: Kate Spade, Prince, Anthony Bourdain. An ex-husband of a friend, old friends of mine… all passed away without much explanation in their obits. It’s crystal clear what was happening.
A couple months ago, someone I worked closely with in my 20s, passed away suddenly at 50 of a heart attack. Eddie Van Halen, taken with cancer. OK, I will stop- it is getting depressing, but the point is: I want to live. Not just breathe but ENJOY the breathing. My mindset shift started well before my gift of redundancy.
I say all this to say: life is too short to have others owning our time and to be working more hours than we spend with people we love and doing things we enjoy. Maybe the corporate hustle or whatever is your “9-5” is what you love doing. Cheers! For the rest of y’all that want some freedom, I was with you.
Realizing escaping the 9-5 is ok.
Between May 15th and Memorial Day I talked to a LOT of people. While I prefer staying home to being out, I love one-on-one conversations with all kinds of people who have unique perspectives, their own experiences, stories, and advice. So I dove into my contact list, my friends, and my family: those who knew me, my style, and my skill set.
My now-former colleague and still-friend Diana told me about Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Workweek. #MindBlown. Talk about a #NoGuiltZone!
Tim’s first 84 pages were an affirmation of my thoughts and the whole book and inspiration: it can be done. I could ditch the 9-5. Design a lifestyle owning my time. Having professional freedom.
For me: the definition of Free At 50.
Step 3 in escaping the 9-5: Narrowing your options.
Make lists and discover the opportunities for income.
I learned from the 4 Hour Workweek the way to start designing your lifestyle is write down your skills as well as your passions to find potential income streams.
Use sticky notes, color-coding, a whiteboard, whatever works for you, but do this. Here is my step-by-step:
- I made lists of skills and of passions on a blank sheet of paper. Some examples of skills included public speaking, writing and event planning. Passions included food, books, and travel.
- I circled my favorites on the “skills” list.
- I came up with ways I could take those skills to combine with my passions to earn income.
- Last, I created an Excel spreadsheet of potential income streams based on these discoveries.
Step 4 in escaping the 9-5: Research the best fit for you.
Start digging into it all.
Once you’ve narrowed your options, conduct legit research. What you will unearth: there are almost unlimited resources.
Give yourself the time (and even a deadline) to do ample research. For me, it took about five months of both researching and continuously narrowing down my decision to determine how I will be moving forward.
All my life, I’ve believed in taking the most direct route to what you need; therefore, I’m giving you shortcuts. A goal of the FreeAt50 blog is to make getting the lifestyle you want easier.
My comprehensive list of 7 shortcuts.
Shortcut 1: Pilot projects.
Get out there and dip your toes in the water of everything you are interested in doing for your future income streams. And realize the reality: it is a long process to get to sustainable income, most of this is setting the stage!
- In June, I started writing blog posts. I did not have a blog, but I wanted to see “what came out” on paper. After about 4 “posts,” I was able to formulate a theme for a blog and FreeAt50 was born at the end of August. I was motivated and inspired.
- Since my last employer owned as their intellectual property pretty much everything I created, I knew I needed writing samples if writing would be an option for my future. So I tried Upwork (yes, working for pennies) to get those samples and try new types of writing. Completed: my e-books Greater than a Tourist: Lansing and Eat Like a Local: Lansing. Also completed: a series of restaurant review articles for www.fooddrinkmagazine.com and I can now sell advertising to anyone interested!
- A colleague and friend from my past life in corporate reached out to me over the summer asking if I was open to doing a consulting project. Knowing I needed to explore all avenues of using my skills to earn income as an entrepreneur, I said yes. This project would help me create a template and a plan for future consultation projects and, potentially, organize an online course for passive income.
Executing this process gave me a sense of how many hours I would need to appropriate to determine pricing as well as assist me in formulating the outline and the content. The result: a way for small businesses (under 20 employees) to maximize use of their team for strategic planning. Cheers to the fact it can be used in any industry. I'm so excited!
Shortcut 2: People (those who know you and those who do not).
Be cautious on all of these for many reasons. Some people will be overly kind. They’ll tell you what they think you want to hear.
Then there are the people who have a completely different mindset and philosophy, not one of giving up the traditional 9-5 and exploring new options; they will try (intentionally or not) to steer you in the direction they think is right for you because it is right for them (or so they think).
- Friends: you know which friends you go to for different reasons. Call on them for those reasons as you need to along the journey.
- Family: many of them have watched you go through different phases and can provide the ultimate support system.
- Colleagues: they know your professional skills and abilities and view them through a unique filter.
- People already on the journey. This could be any of the above! I have definitely found myself talking to and spending time learning with and from people I already knew but we may not have had as many things in common in the past.
- People you meet on the journey. Be open to meeting them! Sometimes it could result in a collaboration but if not, that’s ok. They can share what they’ve learned and vice versa. You can be guided to new resources, discuss practices and processes as well as approaches to moving forward.
- A combination of all of the above (some people fit into more than one category after all). Years ago in my government life, our Tax Policy Committee Clerk Paula educated me on the adage: people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. It holds so much truth. People have come back into my life, a season again, with the common purpose of finding our freedom professionally as well as I’ve met new people and however brief our interaction, I’ve gained from the conversation or experience: a reason. Some from my corporate life who were part of my circle are out of my new one completely and others have stayed close, possibly fitting the lifetime category.
Shortcut 3: Facebook groups.
Stay with ones that fit your needs and are active at a level that provides you with value. Whether you are an entrepreneur or a blogger with a niche or are simply exploring your options for the first time, there are plenty to choose from.
The groups should reflect you as the demographic, not necessarily just your audience. For example, I am female so Cafe Mindset: A Female Entrepreneur Establishment for Business Building is a fit for me, but my audience is both male and female so groups like Becoming a Blogger applies to writers whose articles speak to all niches and demographics, the commonality is “blogging.” I recommend investigating these, listed alphabetically:
ASelfGuru – Biz Blog Community: hosted by successful attorney, blogger and entrepreneur Amira, this group is one of the most active on Facebook. With almost 5,000 members, multiple posts each day including up to two daily threads, there is massive opportunity to network and grow your platforms. Amira’s specialty is ensuring we all have what we need to be legal online and she provides advice, courses, and up-to-date information.
Blogging Well with Pinterest: Lisa Mitchell runs this group with heart and soul. She is authentic and has become my go-to on anything Pinterest. She’s an early riser and gets her “Pinterest Pointers” and daily threads up and running without missing a beat, offering opportunities to bring traffic to your site and momentum to your pins.
Connect and Cultivate with Ivory Mix: Ivory Mix has grown this group to over 11,000 members and has a structured platform that is a combination of daily threads that cross-promote all media platforms and have a strong level of participation by members. This group is an extension of their website which offers support for digital marketing including stock photos and courses.
Corporate to Calling: a tight-knit group for women looking to ditch the 9-5 and use their skills to build life outside corporate. Started by my friend Nora Luke, who has done this herself and done it well.
Dominate Google: this group of just under 1000 members, was set up by Joice Carrera who has a deep understanding of Search Enging Optimization (SEO). She shares information to get content writers, freelancers, and bloggers on track.
Entrepreneur Hangout with Chelsea Clarke of Her Paper Route: this group of over 3000 members is run by Chelsea, who offers a plethora of information to help online entrepreneurs succeed. Her courses range in topics from SEO to Affiliate Marketing and of course, launching a blog.
Minimalist SEO: A Results-Based Approach to SEO: Chris’ group resonates with the philosophy I am finding myself drawn to regarding SEO and I’m also a beta-tester of his course now. If you are online at all for business, this group will open your eyes to “learning SEO,” mentioned across the board as a necessity.
The Blog it Better Society: a smaller, highly active group, with a knowledgeable and energetic administrator in Margaret Bourne. This group is truly interactive and with a personalized touch. Another with daily feeds and a founder who offers educational opportunities.
Some factors to consider when selecting groups:
- Group size: the range can be under 100 members to tens of thousands. Try a range of group sizes to both be part of a small, tight-knit community and have access to a vast range of ideas and potential clients/audience members.
- Requirements: Facebook groups have rules, as they should. Some rules require a certain amount of participation. If you cannot commit, the group may not be the best fit.
- Activity: administrators of the groups range from posting multiple times a day to only a few times a week. Find the balance or mix that is right for you.
- Opportunity: different groups fit different needs. Many of the blogging groups I am in offer daily threads which allow you to post something (a link to your blog for comments, a pin you created, your Instagram account etc.) with the requirement that you reciprocate with others who post in the thread. Often, groups will be focused on allowing members post questions on the main feed, others limit that ability. Chances to collaborate with others (for example seek backlinks for a blogger roundup or find guest writers) or promote your business, product, or blog, are an integral part of many.
- Education: entrepreneurs utilize (wisely!) Facebook groups to grow their client base. You’ll often find access to courses and promotion of products geared toward your needs on a group page. For example in Blogging for New Bloggers, the hosts Lucrezia and Marina, have provided links to their courses such as the free Fast Track for New Bloggers course or articles they’ve written under the “Units” section, a commonly used tab. I’ve taken advantage of their courses. Sydney of the Social Salad Society does this as well and, in fact, I’ve purchased a course of hers and recommend you use her program for digital acceleration (use my code: SUCCESS when purchasing!).
An extension of “people,” Facebook groups have been both a surprising and mind-blowing source of information. I used Facebook to stay in touch with my family and old friends as well as to store photos and memories of food and travel. I had NO IDEA about Facebook groups for aspiring entrepreneurs.
I admit, I dropped out of several because they just weren’t for me. Overly focused on sales, not active enough, too active, or just simply: I wasn’t aligned philosophically. That is ok. Quitting corporate and moving into professional freedom gives you the autonomy to say no when you need to. Focus on what moves you forward.
Shortcut 4: Courses.
The amount of courses available is overwhelming. Whether you use a site like Udemy or Linked In Learning, or independently offered courses, I advise utilizing them.
You’ll find recommendations throughout this blog, in posts concentrated on particular topics such as:
My article explaining the need for cornerstone posts and how I am learning about SEO through a minimalist approach.
Embedded into articles by guest authors who offer courses like Marinella Yule so you can gain from their knowledge further after reading their story.
Shortcut 5: Email subscriptions (tips, tricks and templates going directly to your inbox).
While I’ve unsubscribed a few, I’ve kept most of them! Although there is not enough time to set aside to watch everything, and why would you if you want to take action and move forward, I do bookmark those that fit in with my current priorities and batch time to watch trainings or download information that I can integrate into my business planning.
Pro tip: if you watch a free training or take a course from someone and it works for you, make sure to subscribe and get updates from them! In fact, if you find my posts valuable, subscribe to this blog from my home page with your email address!
Shortcut 6: A coach.
No matter how much life experience or professional savvy we have accumulated (and earned!), coaches are valuable. In fact, coaches even have coaches.
My dear friend Nora Luke, founder of Corporate to Calling, said it well: an expert is someone that knows more than someone else on a topic. Ok, I paraphrased of course, but you get the idea: if you are building a business, a new life, an approach to something that is different than anything you’ve ever done, doesn’t bringing an expert into the mix make sense?
Remember all those Facebook groups I mentioned? Many coaches have set them up including Nora. Have the goal of finding someone whose talents and expertise fit your needs, and who you gel with through Facebook. Examples, all very diverse in their personalities and methods:
Hannah Shtein: The Empowered Entrepreneur
Stacie Sadek: Leaving the Corporate World to Build Your Dreams
Faith Klein: Female Entrepreneur Academy 2021 Achievers
Blair Brown: Successful Small Business + Entrepreneur Community
I work with Tegan Marshall, who I met at the beginning of my journey and after two discussions, decided to invest in 1:1 sessions every few months. It is a format we created, that is loose and flexible to meet my needs and ensure I have a roadmap to follow to earning income online. Note: most coaches will offer an initial consultation or “discovery call” to establish a fit for your needs.
Shortcut 7: Technology.
No doubt, you need technology, especially online. Be sure to invest in the technology you need. For me, this investment was in Groove which I go into detail about in Step 5 for purposes of this step-by-step article.
Pro tip: Do not dilly-dally. Make a decision and stick with it. There are so many options out there, you can be caught in analysis paralysis forever. Maybe something better will come along and maybe, over time, you can make changes. But for now, move forward with what you need, before you even need it. A coach can help you determine the roadmap, including the types of technology you need for your specific business strategy.
Step 5 in escaping the 9-5: Build your toolkit.
Determine what you need and make the investments necessary.
Once the decision is made for income stream #1, focus on that and that alone. For me, it’s the blog. 100% all in.
The idea of consulting (as short-term projects) and/or a course for small business owners are currently on my list for #2 and #3. But that is for later and what I learned from multiple sources in the section above, you must focus on one income stream at a time.
Knowing the money I realistically planned to invest was in the $2000+ range, I committed to two things based on the research in Step 4:
1-Personalized coaching/mentorship, specific to monetization of my blog. You just read above my reasoning on this.
2-Technology. I chose to spend $1397 on Groove, a special price for a lifetime platinum membership, while it is in the beta phase.
Here is why, all based on research, one-on-one conversations, and discussions on my valuable Facebook groups:
- I purchased a year of WordPress (the premium .com version) to test out the idea of a blog at the cost of approximately $100. Three months into it, I knew I wanted to move forward, and I couldn’t earn a full-time income with it. I needed to either convert to the .org version and get hosting services or build onto a new platform better suited to monetization opportunities. There would be a cost.
- Building an email list is vital for an online business. And if I wanted to succeed, the “free” versions of programs like Mailchimp wouldn’t be enough long-term. I would have to keep an eye on my progress and annually renew or upgrade with costs involved.
- Having a booking calendar is important to me. I signed up for one year of Calendly’s upgraded version (which still has some limitations) for about $100. It was necessary as I was piloting my consultation project, but I also realized the value for adding a booking option to my blog. I’ve been using it regularly to set up calls and meetings with those I’ve met on Facebook or anywhere really, to discuss blog collaborations, compare learnings on the journey to self-employment and just to discuss escaping the 9-5 with other like-minded souls. There will be an annual renewal fee.
- Landing pages are high value. Whether for affiliate marketing opportunities, opt-ins for freebie offers, or using them for alternatives to drive traffic to your website or blog, landing pages provide easy options to expand your business and your income. Having a platform that allows for unlimited landing pages you can access, edit, and de-activate all in one place: priceless.
- Videos and course creation may be in my future. While this is a maybe, Groove has the capacity to provide me the tools I need to make this happen. Many of the tools above will play a role in selling an online course and the ability to create videos and host webinars, should that play into the final plan, is valuable.
Step 6 in escaping the 9-5: Move forward with a plan. Take action.
Truly, you’ve already taken quite a bit of action when you’ve reached this step!
Through this journey I’ve met incredible people with diverse approaches and a multitude of stories. But we all have the common thread of wanting, and needing, to design a lifestyle involving owning our time and controlling our financial destiny. It can come in many forms, and my friend Tom of Werkman Outfitters spells it out in his video, Can a Guy Still Dream at 51. He is clearly taking action.
Keeping yourself focused, and following a strategy is vital once your decision is made and the toolkit is stocked.
Throughout the FreeAt50 blog you will find resources, step-by-step action guidance and, of course, stories to inspire. Some of the resources will include coaches, strategists, social media managers, graphic designers, virtual assistants, and other people you can hire to assist you in escaping the 9-5.
Know you are not alone. Be authentic and inspired.
After reading one of my posts, another blogger sent me a message of despondency: she was not supported on her decision. I also have a close friend that swam in that same ocean. It can feel like an ocean anyway when you don’t have the support at home to blog or do anything that your passionate about really. The ability to become Free At 50 through my layoff truly was a gift to me.
Use this blog as a place to find others who can support you. Connect with them or with me! Subscribe to the blog.