Magnetic Personal Projects: What’s Yours? Part 3 — Let’s Talk Money

UOP3 Written by Jenny Blake

Now you know how to deflect boring cocktail party banter. You’ve tested your side business hypothesis and got your eyes on a personal project prize, maybe even one that can generate additional income. Now the question is, how can you turn it into a full-fledged business if and when you’re ready?

Roll up your sleeves and get ready for today’s post: we’re going to talk money, honey.

The Fundamentals

First, it’s important to know how much you need to live on a monthly basis.

When working with coaching clients, I start with three basic gauges for monthly income:

  • Minimum needed to pay basic expenses
  • Nice-to-have (to meet current or desired lifestyle)
  • Jump out of bed with glee (smashing audacious success!)
  • If you need help calculating your monthly expenses, try this 4-Step Budget Template (I also suggest for tracking on an ongoing basis).

Next, we work backwards from the nice-to-have number:

  • How many clients (or widgets do you need to sell) at what rate?
  • Or is it one client or company that you’re focused on, and you need to increase the scope of work?
  • Sketch out a few scenarios with this financial modeling spreadsheet.

Avocados versus Tomatoes

My friend Jenn shared an analogy that she learned from business coach Monica Shaw, on avocados versus tomatoes. Jenn describes it as follows:

Avocados are long-term projects and bigger bets that are worth the wait. Avocados don’t grow as plentifully, but when they do they are creamy and delicious. Avocados take longer to harvest, are more expensive to grow, and they aren’t always in season—they are therefore harder to come by.

Tomatoes, in business, are more readily available, easy ways to make money. In nature, tomatoes are a dime a dozen, their crops are bountiful, and they grow in all kinds of different terrain and weather. Therefore tomatoes are not as valuable, because there are so many of them, accessible to us at all times.

The analogy in business is that avocados are the long-term projects that bear very bountiful fruit but go through barren periods, whereas tomatoes are what tide us over in-between because of their short incubation period from planting to harvesting. The idea is to have a mix between avocados and tomatoes.

First, find your tomatoes: what activities create baseline income? Baseline income tends to be consistent, sustainable income that might be service-oriented programs or exchanging time-for-money, but are structured in a way that covers baseline expenses no matter what. Then with these “tomatoes” in place, you can move in to mid-and top-tier projects that are bigger bets but that won’t always consistently bear fruit. You have your basic expenses covered while still able to cultivate the time and energy it takes to grow more avocados (and not just be a tomato farmer).

Is it Quitting Time?

Even though leaving my full-time job in 2011 was the right decision for me, I actually don’t think it is always the best next move for everyone.

There’s a financial term, “unrealized gains,” that refers to money you’re leaving on the table by leaving too soon. If you’re in a great job at a great company, there is a chance this could be the case.

I suggest you pivot before you leap: before you plan your exit, consider whether there is some totallynew or sideways team in the company where you could practice some of the skills that you would need for your side business or for running your own business.

For me, I pivoted internally from the AdWords training team to the coaching and Career Development team. When I left Google to work for myself, I was doing virtually the same job activities.

If you have done everything in your power to stay and you’re still ready to go, it is critical to have a clear understanding of the following:

  • Savings Runway: how much money have you saved that can fund your transition?
  • Monthly Burn Rate: how much money do you typically spend each month to live? How many months will your savings last you?
  • Lines in the sand: by when do you want to make the final decision about leaving? When is your final “make or break” deadline, where if you’re not earning enough money you will look for another job?
  • Bridge Income: how can you earn income to buoy yourself between career changes, in addition to your savings runway?

Additional Reading

These questions alone could fill a book . . . one that I’m writing, in fact! Here are a few others to keep you busy in the meantime:

I’d love to hear from you in the comments:

What next step/s could you take to pivot before you leap? 

Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.

About Jenny

Jenny Blake Headshot - Author, Speaker, Career Strategist

Jenny Blake is the author of Life After College and the forthcoming book The Pivot Method. She isa career and business strategist and an international speaker who helps smart people organize their brain, move beyond burnout, and build sustainable, dynamic careers they love. Jenny combines her love of technology with her superpower of simplifying complexity to help clients through big transitions — often to pivot in their career or launch a book, blog or business. Today you can find her here on this blog (in its seventh year!) and at, where she explores the intersection of mind, body and business. Follow her on Twitter @jenny_blake.