How I quit my job and started a design agency {Sew Heidi}

How I Quit My Full Time Job and Started a Fashion Design Agency

April 06, 2017

Quitting your job is really, really scary. You lose a steady paycheck. You forfeit benefits and paid vacation. Life gets expensive and your bank account runs uncomfortably low. You’re not sure if you’ll make rent next month. And you feel stressed out…all the time.

But being in a horrible job can be just as bad. The numbers on your paycheck don’t reflect all the hours you actually put in. You miss out on important family events because you got stuck at the office. Your boss can be a total…well, you know the word. And you feel stressed out…all the time.

I’ve been in both of these situations.

I’ve felt a lot of these things.

And I can feel the pressure in my chest increase from just typing the words.

But I turned things around. I got through all of these challenging moments. I came out the other side a better, stronger and smarter person.

I’m more capable.

I’m more confident.

And perhaps most importantly, I’m much less stressed.

So, what’d I do? How did I magically clear out all of the bad and set myself up with a better life? How did I come out of it all as a more improved version of me?

How did I quit my day job and start a design agency?

Well, I’ll tell you first off that it wasn’t magic. It wasn’t easy. And it did take a lot of work.

To thoroughly understand how it all went down, you may want to read the beginning of my story first.

Or…I’ll just give you the quick rundown right here since I know we’re all short on time:

I was an overachiever with an expensive college degree…and landed a job as a receptionist…

I was bored, uninspired and pretty unimpressed with myself…so I made a conscious decision to change…

So I worked hard to figure out my own path and took some pretty scary leaps of faith…

I quit my desk job to pursue launching my own label…Best. Decision. Ever…

And then, I landed my dream job as a full time fashion designer.

Life was great. There I was, working as a fashion designer – and everything was truly amazing for a while. I saw the inner workings of a real fashion brand that was mass produced and globally distributed. This was light years above and beyond what I was doing with my own label.

I learned an insane amount about design, development, sourcing, manufacturing and production. But I was still working for someone else, and this was not the life I wanted.

I was not meant to be an employee.

It wasn’t in my heart.

I wasn’t happy.

And I knew I had so much more potential than what I could accomplish at a 9-5 job.

In hindsight, the timing of everything worked out fairly well and I’ll admit that some lucky stars did align. But there is one common theme threaded throughout this story that contributed to my success. In fact, this common theme has contributed to a lot of my successes.

I’ve talked a lot about this before and you’ll hear me say it again.

I took risks.

I got out of my comfort zone…and I took risks.

I did things that scared me, things I didn’t think I could do.

I did things before I felt like I was ready to do them.

And I came out the other side a better, stronger, smarter person.

So…how did it all go down?

Late 2008 something kinda big happened…maybe you heard about it? It was this thing called a recession, and it hit a lot of us pretty hard. The company I worked for was no exception. We went from 200 employees to about 30 in a matter of months.

I was, luckily, one of the last 30 people standing. A lot of things happened internally in regards to the structure of the company from that time on…things I don’t really want to go into nor feel like I should discuss in detail. So let’s just leave it at this: things got crazy and intense and really stressful.

Some days I cried. I was so overwhelmed that the tears just flowed. Some days I held myself together. But one thing was constant – and that was my anxiety. All. The. Time. The amount of responsibility I had and how much I was expected to get done in a day was more than one person could handle. I had absorbed the workload of more than 10 people. And I was putting in an unhealthy amount of hours each week.

The to do list was never ending:

  • Design collections
  • Create tech packs
  • Source and manage production
  • Coordinate photo shoots
  • Design and layout catalogs
  • Manage and update the website (I even had to pull my husband in at night to help me with this one)

The weight on my shoulders, the pressure in my chest, the anxiety that filled my body all comes flooding back to me as I type this. It was all too intense.

And then, just like that, there was relief. And it was glorious.

I QUIT.

Well, more accurately, “we” quit.

Wait, what happened? Who is we?!?

We is my former boss / current business partner and me. We joined forces and together, we decided we’d had enough. She was with me as one of the last few standing through the recession layoffs. And she felt everything I felt. The weight, the pressure, the anxiety. She was an amazing boss and to this day is still an amazing business partner and mentor.

Our work ethic and skill sets are extremely complimentary. During our time together at that company, she taught me a lot. My background was in graphics and I was strong in Illustrator, but I had a lot to learn about design, fit, fabrics, construction, sourcing, and so much more. She taught me anything I was curious about, which was pretty much everything.

By the time we quit, my skills had come a long way from when I started. My speed in Illustrator was unbeatable and I could quickly design marketable collections, create repeating patterns, develop custom trims and findings, layout line sheets and catalogs. She had technical, fit, construction and sourcing skills to compliment all of that. And combined, we’d successfully coordinated and managed over 20 photo shoots.

Together, we made an insanely good team.

So together, we quit.

We decided we would venture out as our a “two person freelance team”.

Together, we knew we could do so much more than one person alone.

But then things got real and the first year was tough.

The economy was still a mess and we were trying to get in our groove. We answered any Craig’s List ad that seemed somewhat relevant. We applied for typical job postings with the unique angle of approaching it as a “two person freelance team”…because two heads are better than one, right?! We reached out to everyone in our network to see if they had any opportunities or contacts for us.

We landed some really random gigs. We worked with some emerging designers and we worked with some established companies. We learned an insane amount about what worked and what didn’t. What brought us success, and what bogged us down. How much a project was worth, should we even take it on, and how to control it when it started to creep above and beyond what we had bid. We learned that it is okay to fire your clients and how to do it tastefully when that time comes.

We worked out a lot of kinks, and we got smarter about how we worked. We set ourselves up as an agency instead of a “2 person freelance team”. Things started to fall into place, we landed bigger projects and contracts with established brands and our paychecks became steady. We hired some support staff.

But the best part was that we finally got to a place where we could work on our own terms.

To this day, we are still working on our own terms…and it’s an amazing place to be. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

We don’t have to show up to an office at 9 and stay until 7. We can take the afternoon off for yoga, start the day late to have coffee with a friend, or skip out on Friday to go skiing with our family…whenever we want. We’re home for dinner with our families…Every. Single. Night. And we don’t miss important moments with those we love because we got stuck at the office.

We can take as many vacations as we want. And yes, sometimes that means working from the beach. But better to be working 2 hours a day on the beach for a week than not being able to go to the beach at all.

And I have the time to create these resources for you. The video tutorials, the blog posts, the courses.

As long as I get the work done and meet deadlines, the rest of my life is on my own terms.

The freedom is priceless.

The money is great.

I finally feel stable and in control of my own life.

Above and beyond all this…the freedom, the money, the stability and the control, there is another great advantage.

I am rewarded for being really good (and fast) at what I do.

This is not something you truly experience as an employee. Sure, you may get a bonus here and there or permission to show up late sometimes. But as an employee, you work a set amount of hours (or more) and however much you get done is what you get done. If you are really good and fast? You get a lot done in a shorter amount of time and help the company grow. But most of the time, you personally don’t reap any of those benefits…and your paycheck doesn’t grow as your output grows. Unless you’re in a commission based position, there is no direct reward that compensates you proportionally for being really good and fast at what you do.

But when you set your own terms, when you bid a project for a set price, it’s in your control how fast you can get that done. If you’re really good and fast at what you do, then you can get it done faster and your “hourly rate” goes up. As in way up. And you proportionally reap the rewards.

The math is quite simple. Take a look at these two scenarios:

You are an employee:

  • You earn a set hourly or salary rate.
  • When you first begin, you can output 1 flat sketch per hour.
  • Over time, you get faster, and can get 3 sketches done in the same amount of time.
  • Your output has tripled.
  • Has your paycheck? No. Chances are it’s still the same amount.

You are a freelancer:

  • You charge by the piece or project.
  • When you first begin, you can output 1 flat sketch per hour.
  • Over time, you get faster, and can get 3 sketches done in the same amount of time.
  • Your output has tripled.
  • Has your paycheck? Yes. You are now making 3 times as much as when you started.

I’ve said before that I’ve been able to triple my income while working half the hours of any full time job. And this is simplest explanation of how I was able to do it.

It doesn’t happen overnight. The road to get there is winding with steep cliffs on both sides. But there is life beyond the 9-5 job. There is a better life out there, and it’s yours for the taking.

There’s a wonderful quote by Elizabeth Gilbert that I’ll leave you with:

The women whom I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong, and they handled it. They handled it in a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes.

You have to want it. You have to work hard for it. Shit will go wrong and it will be scary. But you can handle it and you will get there.

I got there, and I know you can too.

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