I Quit My Job and Tripled My Income in One Year Without Selling My Soul
- Posted: May 14, 2022 - Credits to: olga Pope | 232 views
Gather round and let me teach you how to manifest millions in the bank, super-yachts, and a diamond-encrusted banana hanger.
Just kidding: this isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme or some woo-woo-workshop. Instead, here’s a list of 12 things that have directly or kinda-directly helped me go from living paycheck-to-paycheck, to hiring my first ever financial advisor (because I now have something called savings and investments.)
Note that I said ‘12 things’, not ‘12 steps I followed to get here’ — that would imply that I had a plan to follow. 2020 and 2021 ate our plans for breakfast, with a side of predictions and a tall glass of tentative hope. I just had to figure it all out as I went, and took note of everything that worked — so now you can pick and choose the stuff that makes sense to you and your situation.
Disclaimer no.1: I’m a copywriter and branding consultant, but this should work for most other creative service providers.
Disclaimer no.2: This wouldn’t have worked if I was just starting out. This is my 7th year in the industry, so I’d had time to build my skills, work with some big-name clients, and meet a few cool people before I quit.
Now, here’s that list, in sort-of-chronological order.
I quit my corporate job.
Cliché, anyone? After 5 years at one of the world’s biggest and best advertising agencies, I resigned to co-found a new business. Two weeks before the pandemic. With less than 2 months’ savings to my name. I know, I know — can’t expect everyone to be that lucky.
Thing is, I’d figured out that working for an agency was a dead end for me. I’d been doing everything ‘right’ but enjoying it less and less, and my salary was ridiculous by both London and industry standards. I could have gone to a less legendary agency for more pay, but money wasn’t my main beef. If you’re miserable at the best company in your sector, perhaps it’s not the company that’s the problem.
Simply changing jobs would have been as effective as changing your hairstyle in the hopes of fixing a subzero self-esteem (exciting for a day, before you go straight to Hello Darkness My Old Friend).
I went from a partnership to full autonomy.
I co-founded a company, then stepped down after one year to go solo. I’d realised that co-owning a branding studio wasn’t working for me, so in the long run it would have been terrible for my co-founder as well. Becoming autonomous after 7 years of working in partnerships turned out to be one of the best things I’d ever done.
I studied ALL. THE. DAMN. TIME.
I’ve learned more in one year than in the previous 5. But most importantly, I’ve learned a way broader spectrum of disciplines. You have to, when you’re running your own business. For me, that meant going from copywriter to copywriter/brand strategist/company director/producer/social media manager/admin/designer/web developer/salesperson.
I either hated or was less-than-great at most of those things, but turned out to be surprisingly decent at a couple others. Granted, it did help that I was already ok with tech and had a degree in graphic design. But even with the least Olga-compatible of those areas, I’ve learned enough to know more than most people — which ended up making my skillset way more valuable. A copywriter is competing with hundreds of thousands of others. A copywriter who gets brand strategy, understands and appreciates graphics and can advise you on pricing and web design, on the other hand… They’re in short supply.
The secret is to develop skills that are either adjacent to your primary superpower (in my case, that’s words) — or skills that, despite being unrelated at first glance, create something truly valuable when combined with your main area of expertise.
I learned to understand my value.
When you work for a company, it’s easy to think that your value is measured by your salary. Once you’re out (or maybe even sooner), you realise you’ve kinda been had. Let’s say you spend months creating an ad campaign for a new product by Fat Cat Co. They make millions. Your company makes hundreds of thousands and retains them as a client. What do you get? Er, well, you get the same old salary, or at best a pay rise, if the stars are aligned and there’s no salary freeze or some other excuse.
When you work for yourself, you’re much closer to the end result and to your client. You learn to understand their business problems and your direct effect on them. You begin to see your input in a completely new way, which translates into your growing confidence, skills and value, which in turn translate into better work and well-deserved higher pay — especially if you start to act as an expert instead of just being a vendor.
I had some words with my lifelong dread of poverty.
It didn’t happen overnight, but I’ve revised the most messed up of my beliefs around money. Especially the part where I’d been telling myself that wealth is dirty and rich people are horrible, that I’m genetically predisposed to never making much dough and will likely spend my final years eating dust on toast.
The fashionable term to describe what I’ve done is ‘changed my money mindset’. A more precise term would be ‘called out my own BS.’ When I figured out that I wouldn’t really end up on the street even if things didn’t go my way straight away, and also realised I knew quite a few People With Money who happened to be terrific human beings of high moral standards, I stopped making decisions out of existential fear of poverty or misguided disdain for money.
I learned to say ‘no’.
Possibly the most important freedom when you work for yourself is the freedom to choose your clients. If you fancy the idea of doing work that doesn’t feel like work while keeping your integrity, learn to say ‘thanks but no thanks’ to projects that don’t excite you, won’t let you do a kickass job, or don’t sit well with your morals. People may not agree with your opinion, but they will respect you for having one. Curiously, some of my NOs ended up recommending me to others who became a big YES.
I didn’t hog my skills and knowledge.
When I get on a call with a potential new client, I don’t hold back any advice — even if I don’t think we’ll end up working together. If someone needs a mentor or just some guidance, I’ll skip the daily dose of Netflix to help them out. Not everyone agrees with giving away valuable info, and you definitely shouldn’t work for free on the regular — but if everyone asked you for an advance payment before sharing a tip, the Earth would be a pretty sad planet to live on. From what I’ve seen so far (being both on the giving and receiving end), people are more likely to choose someone who starts being useful right from the beginning and without expecting anything back.
I also took on a few pro-bono projects from a couple of startup mentorship programs, just because I wanted to help — and half of those soon became paying clients as their businesses grew. It hadn’t been my intention, but generosity works in surprising ways.
I teamed up with great people.
When I say I went solo, I don’t mean I never collaborate. But instead of the agency model where you just throw whatever humans you have at each task, now I can build a perfect, hyper-specialised nano-team for each project — or join somebody else’s.
You end up with this brilliant virtuous circle where you keep bringing each other cool clients and projects. If you plan to quit your job and go independent, make sure your connections know that you’re now a hireable free agent: some of my best clients and collaborations came to me this way.
I took a crash course in finance.
When you don’t have much money, reading about money is profoundly depressing. Net worth, what net worth? Stocks, bonds, index funds, ISAs and SISAs are exotic terms you’ll never need in your vocab. Professional indemnity insurance? Compound interest? Investment portfolio diversification? Wash your mouth out: I’m a creator, and the only portfolios I deal with are design ones.
But once you realise that being poor isn’t synonymous with being a decent human being, you need to educate yourself about money, take a long hard look at yours, and start acting on what you’ve learned. The first three steps I’d recommend are:
- Get a good accountant. Mine saved me around £4,000 in the first year.
- Open a separate pot or bank account for taxes and add money to it every time you get paid. Corporate tax is 20% in the UK, so I take 1/5 from every payment I receive and put it in the pot straight away. I don’t even account for tax-deductible expenses: I’d rather have bonus moolah left over at the end of the year, once my accountants have worked their magic, than have a nasty surprise in the form of more tax than I’d saved up for.
- Pick at least 3–5 books about money (there’s plenty to choose from) and get clued up. A few times I cried. Other times I got angry. But mostly I just wished I had learned it all sooner.
I resisted the sleaze.
There’s a tonne of shameless, cringeworthy, sometimes borderline scammy self-promotion and marketing out there. Some of it seems to work — so on darker days, when you’ve got zero things going on, you may start wondering if you, too, should start dancing while pointing at words on TikTok. Or doing webinars where you ask people to sign up for your limited-edition, time-sensitive transformational programme. Or running ads promising ‘7-figure launches on autopilot’.
My only advice here is to trust your gut. I’m still working on my relationship with sales, but my new rule is: if it feels sleazy, that’s because it is. I don’t care if it works wonders for literally everyone else: if the thought of doing it myself makes my skin crawl, I trust that feeling and stick with what feels right.
I raised my rates — several times.
First and most importantly, I stopped looking at average rates for my industry. Then I started bumping up my prices after each 3 clients — to reflect my growing expertise and value. Then the weirdest thing happened: after I told a regular client that my hourly rate was going up by 20%, they replied saying ‘actually, we were thinking it should be 50% — shall we do that instead?”
I didn’t argue. And none of my new clients even flinched when I quoted the new, higher rate.
Two curious things happen when you raise your rates:
- Unless you’re a charlatan, you actually start doing even better work — because you feel that you have to justify the higher price.
- People listen to you more.
I didn’t start spending more as I started to earn more.
Your wealth is what you don’t spend.
Tripling your income means nothing if you triple your spending at the same time — which is what a shocking number of us do.
Perhaps it was my frugal Soviet upbringing that saved me. I still share a flat with a friend, for now. I spend the exact same amount on food (and working lunches are tax-deductible, woohoo!). I haven’t switched to designer clothes or bags (never been my jam). If anything, I now buy fewer takeaway coffees, because I’ve calculated how much more cash I could invest by feeding my caffeine addiction the home-brewed way. The only big thing I’ve spent on was orthodontics: my teeth have been ruining my confidence for 25 years, so I consider it an indirect business investment.
That’s it — no voodoo, no animal sacrifices and no cosmic ordering, just a dozen things that I wish I’d known sooner. If you’d like to read more about any of these, leave a comment and I’ll make sure to cover it in one of my next articles.