So, I made a change: I moved from New York to Atlanta in 2019. After the move, I had more time to fill, and I wanted to focus on interests that would make me happy. Like many other millennials, I started a side hustle.
I opened an interior design studio in summer 2019, and in one year, I was making enough money to make it my full-time job. After getting my finances in order, I handed in my notice at the law firm.
As soon as I quit, friends and acquaintances unexpectedly flocked to me, asking how I did it. They said they had their own aspirations of entrepreneurship and wanted to know if I could help them.
While working on my interior design business, I decided to start another business: coaching future entrepreneurs. By the end of 2020, this had become so demanding that I didn’t even have time to do interior design anymore. So, I closed that business to focus on helping people trade their unfulfilling jobs for a life they loved—like I did.
A business of building businesses
I’m in the business of helping others, but I started my business with myself in mind. When I practiced law, I felt bad. And when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and we saw racial and wealth gaps widen, I felt even worse about the work I did. I even felt bad with my interior design business. But with my new venture, it felt much more impactful to help unhappy people create a pathway to happiness.
Now, I own a successful coaching enterprise called SideBiz SMART, and I’m so much happier because of it. My team and I enable high-earning professionals to start and stabilize a side business that can eventually become their full-time job. It’s a 12-month program that can take clients from an idea to entrepreneurship—and we focus on mindset growth as much as the practical skills of building a business. Our goal is to help our clients feel more satisfied in their careers—without sacrificing their lifestyle.
Getting my money right first
Before I left the law firm for the be-my-own-boss life, I knew I had to be financially secure. And that was a big stretch for me: I was basically living paycheck to paycheck, just with large paychecks.
I started by tracking my spending. I needed to get a sense of where my money was going. Once I did that, I determined my baseline expenses. Like, if I got fired today, what are the bills that have to get paid? And I set that money aside.
Then, with the surplus amount (my take-home pay minus all the money to cover bills and necessary purchases), I set up automatic deposits to my savings account. I had to “pay myself first” if I wanted to accomplish my goals. Then, all the money left over was what I could spend on fun things, like going out to dinner or buying some shoes I “had” to have.
I set a savings goal high enough for me to feel comfortable saying, “I quit,” and gave myself 36 months to reach it—but it ended up taking just eight months due to my aggressive saving and because I didn’t include the income from my interior design business in my initial plan.
My mindset for success
Building a business from scratch is tough—and you certainly learn some lessons from the experience. If you’re looking to start your own business or side hustle, here are some of my favorite lessons learned:
- Commit to saving. Your business will have up and down months—but having savings in place will help you be prepared for any lows.
- Invest in your business. When you’re starting out, your business will grow faster when you put more funds into it. We actually tell people to invest as much as they can in the first year, because if your business runs at a loss your first year, that reduces your taxable income.
- Surround yourself with support. Join likeminded friends for accountability, or purchase membership to an online entrepreneurs’ group to share resources. There are so many ways to find support—and know that it’s OK to ask for help when you need it.
- Embrace your fears. The best version of your life looks like moving toward fear. Because usually, the things that you actually want—like freedom, autonomy, and joy—are on the other side.
When I think of old Janelle, it’s “law firm Janelle” who thought that money, status, and achievement were going to make her happiest. And now that I actually am happy, I understand the other parts of life that make it so much fuller. It’s not that money isn’t important—it’s just one part of success. Now, I define success as having ownership over my life.