MY MONEY

I quit my full-time job to write and podcast - then a recession hit

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"Do you have any regrets about leaving your career?" a friend asked over dinner last weekend.

Not at all.

This isn't the first time I've been asked this question, although usually former colleagues say with a tinge of envy (or disbelief?), "Wow, you're doing so well! You're going from strength to strength."

serina bird i quit my job then a recession hit
Serina Bird. Photo: Erna Glasford/simplycheecky.

Yet the positive social media posts the see don't tell the full story.

My last day at my foreign affairs career was on Halloween last year. I said goodbye to what many would consider a glamorous, stable and well-paid career for a you-only-live-once (YOLO) decision to write, podcast and explore some entrepreneurial ideas I had floating around in my head.

I had thought about leaving at some stage, but in the end the allure of having my own voice came sooner than expected. Simply put: it was time.

I'd put some infrastructure in place as far as side hustles before the jump.

I published a book, established freelance writing relationships and started a podcast with a friend. I also ran two Airbnbs, including one from home. Soon after leaving I was offered several public speaking engagements (including an ongoing paid one). I also registered with a recruitment agency for part-time policy roles.

Then disasters hit - one after another.

First it was the bushfires, which threatened my in-law's property and covered Canberra in thick smoke. My Airbnbs suffered as Canberra resembled a ghost town. With traumatised kids stuck inside, unable to go out to play, it was also difficult to find time to write.

The podcasting relationship broke down due to different levels of commitment.

The rain came and the Airbnb bookings improved, then we went into #shutdown and within a week I had 14 accommodation cancellations. Speaking engagements were cancelled, and most of the paid freelance work dried up. As to the recruitment agency? I haven't heard from them in months and, due to the recession, I don't expect to.

If this sounds like a tale of doom and gloom, let me say right now it's not. I recognised early that I needed to pivot if I wanted to create a business model that created long term passive income, and that's exactly what I did.

Yes, I got stressed during COVID and self-doubt is my almost constant. But I know that there is a silver lining to almost anything if you know where to look.

I launched a solo podcast, which has been a runaway success. I started offering financial coaching and I developed and launched a course; the pilot sold out a week before launch. My stand-alone Airbnb secured a long-term tenant during lockdown and previous guests are returning. And more recently, I started a sister venture to support women in business - The Joyful Business Club.

"You used to come home stressed nearly every day when you were working full-time," my youngest said to me last night. "These days you're much happier." And that about sums up how I feel. I now have agency over my creativity. I'm so proud to have a voice helping people save money and create abundance during this recession. I feel I am now doing what I was called to do.

When I look at my kids, I know I've made the right choice. I've been calm and able to provide support during (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime challenging times. I don't believe I could have done this in my previous job; most of my previous colleagues are stressed and unhappy, and one told me this week she is on leave due to burn-out.

This is not a tale of a woman who surrendered her corporate ambition to be a wife and mother. Instead, I've chosen to make my dreams a reality and be a better parent. How can I teach my kids to believe in themselves and follow their dreams if I'm not doing it myself?

I'm not alone in choosing this YOLO path. We are seeing a boom in women choosing to leave traditional employment to go into business for themselves. Already more than 30% of businesses are owned by women, and I believe this will grow. More women than men have lost jobs in the recession, and after undergoing the #stayathome juggling act, many women are looking for greater flexibility.

My new venture, The Joyful Business Club was born out of recognising this trend. It encourages, connects and provide practical support to women - and male champions. It's a supportive community - no question is ever too stupid to ask. I'm focused on providing useful resources including training. But my big picture goal is to create a lending platform to support female-led start-ups. Women choosing to go into business often have a strong 'why', and a desire to help others in their community; at least, that's been the case for me. And there is something truly magical about women supporting women

Lessons learned

  • Building a profitable business - big or small - takes time. Instant success is rare. Save up before you go into business so you have an emergency fund to tide you over.
  • Success is not just about earning money but also about values and impact.
  • We are living in a time of great disruption, and an opportunities-focused mindset and agility is more important than ever.
  • Network, network, network. I've met some awesome people who have helped and encouraged me on my journey. Collaborate to succeed.
  • Invest in expert advice: it's worth it. My local business chamber has low cost - and sometimes free - courses and one on one sessions.

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Serina Bird is a proud frugalista who has amassed a million dollars through frugal living. Serina's first book, The Joyful Frugalista, is out now. She blogs at The Joyful Frugalista, and her podcast is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Serina is the founder of the The Joyful Business Club.
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