A former lawyer who left a steady 6-figure job explains what it's like to take the leap
In 2005, Jennifer Berson was earning six figures as a civil litigation attorney in Los Angeles.
"I was making really good money," she says. "I had this great house, but I wasn't ever there. I felt like, 'What is this all for?' I felt like I was on this track that wasn't going to be my definition of success for the long run."
So she picked up an unpaid passion project in her limited free time: publicity and marketing for a fragrance company. "I had this clear vision of where the company should be, and how to get it in the media, and what it might do for the brand," she remembers.
When her now-husband, who was working as an investment banker and getting his MBA on the side, mentioned that he was taking a marketing class and felt like she might have a natural affinity for the field, she realized she might be able to turn her passion project into a new career. "I didn't even know that was a service brands paid for!" Berson says.
"I've always wanted to work for myself," she explains. "I didn't feel like the partnership track in a law firm is right for me. I would look around and think there were really no women here who have the kind of career I want and the family life I hope to have. I knew I wanted a family, and I knew I wanted to spend time with that family."
In 2005, when she walked away from her job in a strong economy, she remembers it didn't seem like a huge risk. "I could always go back to law," she says. "No one will take away my bar admission."
However, it was a difficult choice to present to her parents, who covered the cost of law school and were upset about her career change. "My father was furious," Berson remembers. "He said, 'Why did I pay for law school?' He said it seemed flaky and unprofessional, and I had financial responsibilities, and made it clear I didn't have a way out with them — but I never expected to. I had a moral obligation to my family and I didn't take that decision lightly."
A habitual saver, she had about a year's worth of living expenses set aside, and knew that to start her own business, she would have to keep her overhead costs low. She forewent an office, bought a secondhand printer on eBay, and started taking on work for free and at reduced rates. When she could, she traded her services for things she needed, like building a brand identity and printing materials. She put off building a full website until she had the cash — and the experience — to make it a good one. "I did it all as inexpensively as possible," she says.
Today, ten years later, Jeneration PR employs six other people, all of whom work remotely. Although its revenue fluctuates, it earns up to $30,000 a month, and Berson has now surpassed the salary she was earning at her law job. She and her husband, who was recently able to strike out on his own as a business broker, have two young sons.
That's not to say the transition has been without challenges: For instance, as a self-employed household, they pay a lot for health insurance and out of pocket costs, especially since their 5-year-old son has experienced some developmental delays and needs additional support.
Aside from the opportunity her job affords her to spend time with her kids — she's a room mom in their classrooms — "I love being able to work with any client that I think is interesting, and to be able to find a way to work with clients on a wide range of budgets," she says.
Berson advises people considering leaving a secure job to start planning well before they take the leap. "You're gonna have to do a lot of nights and weekends and long hours, especially if you're looking to do something entrepreneurial," she says. "Definitely don't violate any kind of employment contract, but your best time to prepare is when you have the security of a job. Try to do some work in that field on the side so you can decide if you like it, and ask around as much as you can: how people in that field charge for their services, what resources are available, how they find clients and work."
She also recommends getting a clear idea of how much you need to earn to cover your expenses, and to leave your employer on good terms. "Your reputation is everything," she says. "I've never burned a bridge." Even her parents got on board with her choice to leave the law, toasting her smart choice at her 2007 wedding.
"It's a great realization that I can be with my kids and be the kind of mom I want to be and start a business I'm proud of," Berson says, "and set a great example for them of dedication, working hard, being your own boss, and growing something for yourself."
Have you walked away from a steady, high-paying job to create your own path? Email yourmoney[at]businessinsider[dot]com.
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