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How To Escape The 9-5: Your Ultimate 10-Step Escape Plan

career Oct 26, 2023

I realized 3 weeks into my first job that corporate life wasn't for me.

It only took me over 11 years to escape the rat race.

I was tired of waking up each day, dreading what I had to do. Whispering to myself, "Only 15 hours until I'm back here" as my feet hit the floor each morning.

I'm going to show you an effective plan that you can start right now to help you escape the rat race too. In WAY less than the 11 years it took me.

Here we go..

How To Escape The 9-5: Your Ultimate 10-Step Escape Plan

Table of Contents: 

 

#1. Make the decision

This should be the easiest step. Of course you want to leave a job draining your tank. Robbing you of your best energy. Preventing you from taking the action needed to create your new path.

But there's always something. Next year's bonus. A project to finish. A team to not disappoint.

There's never a right time. Instead of waiting for the right time – we're going to create it.

We don't have to pick your date yet. We don't have to know what you'll do next (more to come on that). But here's why we'll make the choice now.

Shifts responsibility to YOU.

All the decisions you've made up to now have led you here. You studied hard in school. You went to a good university. You followed everyone else down the corporate path.

Even though you may have disagreed at the time, you listened to those guiding you on that path. You didn't know another way. What you liked wasn't a 'real job'. Your parents said they'd pay for you to go to university.

The decision may not been entirely yours. But deciding to hop off that path and create your own? That decision is yours and yours alone. Taking total responsibility starts now.

Chase your version of success.

You have a vision of how you want your ideal day to look (if you don't, head here to create it). My guess: it's not the ones you're living right now.

Success used to be the big house, fancy cars, luxury vacations. That may still be yours.

It wasn't mine. And I never took the time to define success. For me. So I stayed head down on the default path. We don't want that for you.

Aligns goals with actions.

This lines up perfectly with a James Clear quote from Atomic Habits:

"Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become."

Would a Corporate Escape Artist stay in a job – and life – they knew wasn't meant for them?

No. And neither will you.

So go stand in front of a mirror and say this to yourself right now:

I am creating my own path, giving myself the opportunity to find enjoyable work – and living MY life on MY terms.

Doesn't that feel better?

OK, let's keep going. Time to get tactical.

 

#2. Build your bridge

Money. It's the reason we're doing all this work we hate anyway.

The more of it you have saved, the more comfortable you are taking risks. And going to work for yourself is a giant risk (let's be honest here).

But it seems like we're short on savings, as a country. Over two-thirds of Americans are $1,000 away – so a transmission or refrigerator breakdown – away from financial ruin.

And if you only have $1,000 in the bank, do you think that's enough to cover your expenses in the event your business venture doesn't work out.

Sure.. for about 3 weeks.

So what do I normally recommend for savings? 6 months. At least. The longer the better, of course. Especially if you're risk-averse.. and won't be able to sleep at night.

And I don't even recommend quitting your job when you reach that (I do recommend you start investing after you reach this amount though.

So what is financial runway?

It's the amount of time you can go with NO income and still be able to cover all of your expenses.

So if your living expenses are $3,000 per month, and you have $20,000 in the bank, you can go over 6 months with no income, without making any lifestyle changes.

Here's a 60-second masterclass on calculating your financial runway:

First, we'll need to figure out your Big Four. We can figure out all the rest from these basic pieces. So let's calculate them first. They are:

1/ Savings
2/ Debt
3/ Income
4/ Expenses


1/ Calculate your savings.

Or all your assets, but trying to avoid financial statement terms here. Whatever you call it, it's the sum of all you own:

  • Cash / brokerages
  • Retirement accounts
  • Other assets (real estate, crypto, etc.)


2/ Calculate your debt.

Or your liabilities. It’s the sum of all you owe:

  • Mortgage
  • Any loans
  • Credit cards


3/ Calculate your Monthly Income.

It's the sum of all you earn each month:

  • Salary
  • Interest
  • Rental income


4/ Calculate Monthly Expenses.

It’s the sum of all you spend each month:

  • Rent / mortgage / utilities
  • Food / social life
  • Transportation


OK, so now that we have all the building blocks out of the way, let's make some other calculations:


5/ Calculate your Net Worth.

Using Steps 1 and 2 from above:

Net Worth = Savings – Debt

This is taking all you own and subtracting out all you owe.

Since a mortgage is a pretty big one, you may want to exclude it. Or if you do include it, make sure to include the value of your house too so you don't have a massive, misleading negative net worth.


6/ Calculate your Monthly Savings Rate.

Using steps 3 and 4 from above:

Monthly Saving Rate = Monthly Income – Monthly Expenses

This determines how quickly you can get to your Target Financial Runway, which we'll get to in a few steps.

If you're looking for ways to extend how long you can extend your runway with some simple strategies to lower your expenses, head [HERE].


7/ Calculate how much 'breathing room' you want.

How many months of expenses do you want saved? If you spend $3,000 per month, and you wouldn't feel safe with less than a year of expenses, you'd need $36,000.

I also like to think of this as your risk tolerance.

Does the thought of not having a paycheck with less than 2 years of expenses saved scare the SHIT out of you?

Then you have a lower tolerance for risk and will have a higher Target Financial Runway.

But if you're the type who'd be willing to leave a job with a few months of expenses covered, you have a higher risk tolerance. I still wouldn't recommend leaving a job with anything less than 6 months of expenses.

So – pick your Months of Runway.

For this example, let's use: 12 months.


8/ Calculate your Target Financial Runway.

And let's put some numbers to it:

For simplicity, let's assume a renter – so no home / no mortgage.

Savings: $25,000
Debt: $15,000 (mix of car and student loans)
Monthly Income: $5,000
Monthly Expenses: $2,500

Net Worth: $10,000
Savings Rate: $2,500
Months of Runway: 12

If we want 12 Months of Runway (of expenses saved):

Target Financial Runway = Monthly Expenses X Months of Runway

Target Financial Runway = $2,500 X 12

Target Financial Runway = $30,000


9/ Calculate how much more you need.

Or what we'll call your Runway Gap.

Target Financial Runway – Net Worth = Runway Gap

$30,000 – $10,000 = $20,000


10/ Calculate how many months to reach Target Financial Runway.

In other words – to close the Runway Gap. Here's how long:

Runway Gap / Savings Rate = Months To Reach

$20,000 / $2,500 = 8 months

In 8 months, this person will achieve their Target Financial Runway and have 12 Months of Runway.

To extend this runway, you have two options:

  1. Spend less. Here's how to [sock away an extra few hundred bucks a month].
  2. Earn more.

So let's figure out how to create your new side gig.

 

#3. Build your bridge

Freelancing. It allows you to leverage a work-related skill to earn – but on your terms. A step in the right direction. But it's not the endgoal. Why?

Because you probably don't like the job you're doing now. So why would we spend time building your business around that, and have you end up right back here 6-12 months from now?

And while making it harder for yourself. Because with freelancing, you're responsible for all the things your employer handled before. Think admin. Taxes. Healthcare. Oh, and that big one – finding customers.

Why use freelancing then? To give you a raise. A time raise.

And if you don't need a time raise to build your side piece while in your 9-5, skip to Step 4..

You won't have to sit in someone else's office for 8-9 hours a day. You'll still have to work, but it's much easier to log in 20 hours per week for a freelance client than for an employer.

You can do the work on your own terms. You can do the work you're doing now. Or find another marketable skill you can help others with. Something like:

  • Copywriting
  • Graphic design
  • Lead generation
  • Virtual Assistant
  • Website building

You can use freelancing sites like Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer, or LinkedIn, to put yourself out for hire.

The goal here: build up to a significant portion of your monthly salary.

These sites are crowded. So you'll want to build up a portfolio of social proof to show others you know what you're doing. To have former 'clients' vouch for you to de-risk paying customers hiring you.

So how do you do that?

Work at a discounted rate. Or free. You get experience. And hopefully a testimonial. The client gets free work. Win-win.

In the beginning, we're looking to learn more than we're looking to earn. Especially if it's a skill you haven't mastered yet.

Of course you want to earn. But you don't want to swap one time trade for another. Aim for under 20 hours per week of freelance work..

And keep your eye on the bigger goal:

Pocketing that time raise and spending it on your new venture. The one we'll get to in the next step.

 

#4. Find enjoyable work

This deserves a whole other post itself (which I'll write). Or a book (which perhaps I'll also write!).

But I'll run through a slew of exercises here that'll have you 80% of the way there towards finding enjoyable work. The other 20%? Time.

Why time? Well, because this is data collection of the largest magnitude. We've had thousands of experiences in our lifetime. All filed away in our memory. Not rummaged through for years. Even decades.

But it's damn near impossible for our dream business idea to just pop in our heads. But that's what's expected. If you're thinking that's how it's going to happen – you may be waiting a long time.

So how does it come in our heads?

List out job skills.
Write down ALL your jobs. Go back to high school. And find the ONE skill you took away from each.

Identify your curiosities.
If you had 'f*ck you' money, like $25 million, and went to the bookstore.. what sections would appeal to you?

Review all your experiences.
Maybe you moved abroad, got a visa, and found a job. Went from couch potato to marathon runner. Overcame alcoholism. Quit your job and started your own business.

You've done something others would love to do. And would pay for a mentor to do it.

Revisit enjoyable childhood activities.
I'm talking feelings of things you liked doing. You didn't enjoy putting your toys away. You loved order. You didn't like building the fort. But you enjoyed the sense of accomplishment after watching all the planning and preparation come together.

List what you help others with for free.
You have people in your life right now that ask for your help on something they know you're good at. That you do with ease. Take note of what this thing is.

Call your best friend.
There is something you talk about that changes your physiology. You stand up straighter. You smile. You become instantly charismatic. If you don't know what this thing is – your best friend surely does. Call them and ask.

Take a personality test.
The astrology of career finding – but with more data. I wouldn't base my entire decision alone on this test. But – it may reveal an idea you hadn't thought of. For example, coaching is something people with my same personality type excel at. Go figure. I used 16 Personalities.

Take a sabbatical.
If you have the means – this may be the BEST way to get some ideas. You see, it's hard to think outside the corporate box, when you're trapped IN the corporate box. 1-2 months away lets your mind wander.

Now toss all this in blender. Then sit with it. There is something here that you enjoy doing, are good at, people are already asking you for help with it, and that the market needs.

This should give you A LOT of ideas. But we're going to throw away all but one of them. And go all-in on that one.

Now go find a creator on social media doing what you'd like to do.

Goal: write down your main thing, in a format similar to the following template statement:

I help [target audience] do / get / become [desired outcome] without [pain point / problem].

List out 3 topics that fall under this umbrella. These will become your content buckets, which we'll get into later.

Then, under each topic, write 5-10 subtopics. These will become what you repeatedly post.

The whole content idea game can be summarized in the following way:

Find your 5-10 main ideas, and talk about them in 1,000 different ways.

 

#5. Identify who you help

Take the [target audience] phrase from above – and put a face to it.

A story. A gender (or not). A job. Geography. Interests. Income level. Everything you can think of. Why?

So you can speak to ONE person in your content.

But won't I miss out on a lot of business if I'm only talking to men? Or Millennials? Or overworked dad engineers who live in the midwest and make over $100,000 per year?

No. You're missing out if you try to connect with everyone through dull, generic content.

If you say, "You wanna lose weight" – that message will resonate with NO ONE. It's generic, everyone has that thought occasionally, and it doesn't provide any other context, like WHY they want to lose weight.

Now, if you say, "You're embarrassed at the playground because your kid wants to play tag with you, and you're the only dad who can't play for more than 30 seconds without needing to sit down."

That sounds like you're talking directly to someone. And that person you're talking to WILL hear you. And will say, "Yes, how did he know?"

That's the level of specificity we want in our minds when we sit down to write content.

Once we have that level, we need to identify all the pain points resulting from the problem they're dealing with (overweight).

If we're dealing 'overweight dads too busy to find time to exercise' a few of their pain points may look like this:

No time to work out:

  • My mornings are busy getting the kids ready for school
  • I'm too tired at night

My eating is garbage: 

  • There's always junk food in the house for my kids
  • I'm starving at lunch time so I'm eating takeout / fast food for lunch every day
  • I feel overwhelmed with all the food options out there.

List out 20 (or more, if you can!) of these pain points. As many as you can think of. Ask people who fit your target demographic if you have to. Take note of their exact words as much as possible.

These will become the basis of our content.

And the main job of our content...

 

#6. Build your audience

So how exactly do we do that?

We solve all of our potential client's pain points. For free. With our content.

If we take the examples above, like no time to work out, you'd create a post with how you may have dealt with having no time, what pain it caused for you, and the unique way you solved it for yourself.

Now if you've come up with 20 pain points, and let's say you think of an average of 3 ways to come at each pain – you have 60 pieces of content.

If you post 5 times per week, that's 12 weeks, or 3 MONTHS of content ¬– enough of a library to technically not need any new content.

But, you'll find some pieces resonate with your audience (which you'll see by likes, comments, engagement). And others will be flops.

When you look back and see something has flopped, drop that piece. Redo it.

Find the ones that have done well, double down on those, and repost after 2 months or so. Also create more pieces around this topic / situation / nerve you struck with your audience.

In short: go hard on what works, quit what doesn't.

Audience building doesn't stop at content. If you rely solely on content and social media platforms, you're leaving your lead generation ¬– and your business – at the mercy of the platform algorithms. They constantly change. You can find plenty of horror stories of a creator's reach dropping dramatically.

Or worst case – you get locked out of your account.

You're basically building your house on rented land that can be taken from you at any time.

So how do you combat this?

Build an asset you control in order to reach your audience. Something like an email list, blog, or YouTube channel.

The added benefit of all these assets too? They're evergreen. Your content is searchable for long after you create it – like a blog or YT channel. And you own it, like an email list, which gives you direct access to whoever has opted in for your email list.

So how do we get people on our email list?

The most effective way to convert social media followers to email subscribers is to give them something super valuable in exchange for their email address. We call this a lead magnet.

Here's the basics:

1/ Identify one giant problem your audience has. Sticking with the super busy, overweight dad example, examples of lead magnets could look like this:

  • 25 dumbbell workouts you can do in under 12 minutes – without a gym membership
  • 20 healthy fast food options to cut calories – without eating broccoli and rice cakes
  • 25 protein-packed on-the-go snacks so you never go hungry when away from home
  • My top 7 timeless wellness tips to stay fit over 50. 

These can be distributed in a number of ways: ebook, infographic, checklist, recipe book, video.

The last one could be distributed as a 7-day email sequence where you share one timeless tip each day.

2/ Create a landing page that you'll drive people to from your social media platforms. A software like ConvertKit, Mailchimp or Substack is perfect for this.

You can collect email addresses, and set up automatic email sequences here so that once people subscribe to your list, you can 'nurture' and market to them whenever you'd like. On autopilot (once you write the emails, of course).

You've reserved a seat in their inbox.

 

#7. Build the solution

After you've been posting content directed at the specific person you help, and solving their specific pain points for free, you're getting people reaching out. Asking you questions.

This is how you will build the solution.

If you're offering a service, there are 2 ways to help solve your client's pain points:

  1. You can teach them how to solve the problem.
  2. You can work with them to solve the problem.

One is something you can build once and sell many times over. And as alluring as this sounds by touching on the holy grail of 'passive income' – it's not as easy as it sounds. For 2 reasons:

  1. You're unsure of what you're solving yet
  2. You need a massive audience to build a sustainable income stream from courses

And the other, is something you can offer as one-offs, but will require your time: 1:1 calls.

You'll see these referred to as "Power Hours", "Strategy Sessions" or "AMA calls" (ask me anything). And these are beneficial for several reasons:

  1. You can set your rate
  2. You can set the time you're available
  3. You learn exactly where people need help
  4. You can document how you help them
  5. Then use the information to create a course relevant to your clients – without guessing.

Once you compile all you've learned, and build your course, you have a 'funnel' to drive new leads through. And can help serve them at much different price points:

  • Lead magnet: Free
  • Online course: $50-200
  • 1:1 calls: $200-300

When you're talking about the problems you solve, direct people to a link where they can find one of these solutions. Do this in 75% of your posts.

The lead magnet will have your landing page where you can collect their email address. The online course you eventually build will also have a landing page.

And for the calls, you can set up a calendar link (like Calendly) and allow people to schedule calls directly with you. You can use some simple money exchange app (like Venmo) to start, but once you get more sophisticated, you can set up payment processer software (like Stripe) right on your calendar page (more on Step #10 – turning this into a 'real' business).

 

#8. Continue marketing

This is where people get stuck. Why? Because they stop.

This is a LONG process. It's not something that happens overnight. It may take MONTHS before your project bears fruit.

Keep this in mind. And I tell myself this all the time:

"If I haven't shown up every day for TWO YEARS – I have no right to say it's not working."

Yes. Two years. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. But you're out here planting seeds. One day, a seed will turn into a plant. And another seed. And another.

I've had clients that were following me for more than six months before they bought something from me.

Here's some tips to make sure you stay with it:

1/ Make sure it's something you enjoy.
If you're building yourself another job you hate, you'll end up right where you are now in 6-12 months. If you're unsure you're pursuing the right business, go back and repeat Step #4.

2/ Check the data.
Look at what's working. Getting reactions. Likes. Comments. And go all-in replicating it as best you can. Find what's making it appealing to others and use it other pieces.

3/ Study the platform you're on.
Things change. Quickly. If you're not looking around you, and sticking what worked for you a few months back, and it's no longer working, make sure you're keeping up with innovations, styles, and messaging.

4/ Ask for help.
I used to be so against hiring a coach. Thinking I could figure out any of this stuff on my own. I was usually right, but it took me MONTHS and tons of mistakes to get better. And still not as good as I'd like.

You're gonna pay in 1 of 2 ways: time or money.

If you have no money, you need to spend time. But if you have money, the game the becomes not wasting time.

If working with a coach saves you 12 months of floundering and costly mistakes, isn't saving a year worth a couple thousand dollars?

5/ Outlast.
Lots of people will give up. They won't see results, deviate from their strategy, or toss it out altogether. Get frustrated. And quit. It's not as 'emotionally stable' as a corporate job. But more like a roller coaster as I talk about here, with other lessons I've learned from leaving corporate. 

All you have to do is stay in the game longer. But make sure you have the right strategy first.  

 

#9. Make it a 'real' business

This is usually the stuff everyone worries about first – but have NO effect on your ability to sign – and deliver – for clients.

Do you think clients care about your website? They don't give a sh*t.
Do you think clients care about your fonts and colors? They don't give a sh*t.

But these are often the first things people think about when starting a business.

If you can solve a client's problem, I guarantee they won't care your fonts don't match.

So what do we do first? Focus on the steps above:

  • Identifying your ideal client
  • Speaking to their pain points
  • Solving them with your solution.

Once you do that a few times, and know you have a viable business. Something that others are willing to pay for – then we do the 'ancillary' things to legitimize it. And make it something you are proud to continue building.

Here's how I'd handle a few things – after knowing I have a business:

1/ Website.
Any number of 'all-in-one packages to build and host your website. Unless you're good with coding, I'd avoid something like Wordpress. I had a site on Wordpress initially, but needed a developer's help every time I wanted to change a picture. Not practical. I use Kajabi and can change anything I want at any time. By myself. Without anyone's help.

If I was starting over from scratch, right now – I don't even think I'd have a website. I'd put up a landing page using ConvertKit and call it a day.

2/ Design.
I use Canva for all my design needs. I'm not a designer. But Canva has SO many templates for all sorts of things – websites, social media posts, fonts and colors that pair well. Well worth the $12 a month for the Pro version. I use it for everything. But they also have a free version :)

3/ Payment.
I used Venmo for my first few clients. No need to go set up a bank account and payment processor in the beginning. The more important part is to make sure someone wants to pay you.

And once you get payments set up, let's move to...

4/ Registration.
This varies for everyone, depending on where you're based. In the US where I did mine, you can easily register as a sole proprietor LLC in any state with a quick Google search. The way to make it legit? Pay taxes.

Now you're ready to rock. Only one thing left to do now...

 

#10. Escape your 9-5

There’s a right way. And there certainly is a WRONG way - to quit your job. Not saying the way Rami Malek did it in Need For Speed is wrong though (Google it.. worth the 45 seconds!). 

But if you want to do that - by all means. Be sure to film though as I’m sure thousands on social media would eat up a real-life version of this heroic exit.

But - leaving the ‘comfort’ of a steady paycheck is a risky enough endeavor. For many, the fear of what they’ll do next, or how they’ll earn money will often hold them for years in a job they hate. Maybe even their whole career. So it’s best to minimize the things you fear - like never being able to find something else to do for work.

If it does go down that way - and you need to reach out to someone from your old job - how receptive will they be if you flipped them off as you walked out the door for what you thought was your final time?

But even a more likely scenario: these people you work with may become your future clients. Your ambassadors that share your new business with their friends who may need it. And they may be the safety net you need if your new venture doesn’t work.

Here's how to go out with your head high – with the door OPEN if you need to come back.

1/ DO give two weeks notice

And here's a plug-and-play template email you can copy and paste (be sure to fill in the brackets): 

Dear [HR rep],

I'm writing to inform you that my last day will [DAY], [MONTH] [XX].

Please let me know if there's anything I need to do before leaving.

I've appreciated my time here, and I thank you for the opportunity.

Sincerely,
[NAME]

To continue with the list... 

2/ DO schedule a meeting with your boss to tell them
3/ DO write a formal resignation letter to HR
4/ DON'T tell your work buddies first
5/ DO express gratitude for the opportunity
6/ DO write an email letting your team know
7/ DO make your reason for leaving all about you
8/ DON'T volunteer your reason for leaving
9/ DO offer to transition your replacement
10/ DO gather necessary documents from your computer
11/ DO take an exit HR interview
12/ DON'T seek out an HR interview
13/ DON'T critique, provide feedback, or express any negative feelings

Some Ninja Shit...

That covers the basics. Now let's get some advanced-type sh*t that take a little skill to pull off.

1/ DO attempt to transition work to those more junior
2/ DO let go of any feelings of anger / resentment
3/ DON'T accept any counteroffers

And of course there are different circumstances for everyone. These are meant to be general guidelines. The main point: you never know what the future holds.

If these are too much to remember, here's all you need to know in ten words or less:

Show appreciation, avoid criticizing anything, and facts only.

Boom. 8 words. You can do this. Now, we just have to put the plan in action.

 

Final Thoughts

Leaving the 'comfort' of a 9-5 job can be a daunting task. There's a reason Mr. Wonderful says,

"Salary is a drug they give you to forget your dreams."

And quite possibly, the most addictive drug.

But – it's entirely possible with the right plan. And some guts.

There's nothing quite like the feeling waking up each day knowing you don't have to spend 8-10 hours doing something you dread.

And once you get a taste of it – there's NO going back.

In this post, I've shown you how to prepare financially, build the bridge from your 9-5 job to your own 1-person business, how to come up with your idea, and most importantly – how to make money from it.

Now get out there and become the next.. Corporate Escape Artist.

 


 

Whenever you're ready, there are three ways I can help you:

1. Free blueprint full of tactical tips to build your escape plan here. 

2. The 'DIY', build your escape plan option with over 50 interactive lessons – The Corporate Escape Academy.

3. We'll build your escape plan together through 1:1 coaching – book a call with me to apply.