Many doers struggle with whether or not make their side hustle into a career. They want to pursue their passion full-time, but don’t want to leave the safety net (and health care coverage) of their current role. Is it ever the *right* time to start working for yourself?
Digital marketing wiz Sharon Lee Thony says 100% yes—and that the time is now! This talented multipreneur has reinvented herself many times over the course of her career, including earning her MBA at the prestigious Wharton School of Business and working at major advertising agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi and McCann-Erickson, but recently she made the biggest change of all: taking the leap from 9-5 to full-time freelancer. Read on as this Fiverr Pro and Learn from Fiverr instructor describes her freelance journey in her own words below.
The Drive to Do More
I’ve been a marketer since I graduated from college more than 17 years ago. I’ve focused on brand strategy, advertising, and digital marketing for organizations of all sizes across the lifestyle industry: hospitality, wellness, beauty, entertainment, and nonprofits. I’m fortunate to have partnered with great teams to create incredible campaigns, launch new products and develop new ways of engaging customers.
But I still felt like I needed to do and experience more…
Early in my career, I thought “doing more” meant wanting to lead a team. So I worked hard to earn promotions that enabled me to lead people. One of the most incredible groups of doers I’ve ever encountered was the Girl Scouts of the USA, where we revamped the brand and marketing direction for a century-old, iconic brand. However, I still found myself wanting to do more.
Next, I thought that maybe I wanted to run a business—and the best way to learn to do that was to go back to school. I studied really hard for my admission exams and was accepted to The Wharton School, where I attended the Executive MBA program on weekends while working full-time (and having a baby!). There, I learned from some of the smartest people in the business of business. My classmates and professors tackled the industry’s biggest challenges. I won a few awards, met incredible entrepreneurs, and gained the confidence of knowing that I had the education to back up my professional experience.
After graduating from business school, I continued my job but suddenly felt like I had a lot of free time on my hands. After the intensity of traveling back and forth from Wharton’s campus, balancing student group projects, homework, and exams while holding down a full-time job AND being a new mom, *just* having a 9-5 didn’t feel like it was enough to satisfy me intellectually.
Many people in my new network needed marketing help, so I found ways to consult with startups and entrepreneurs on the side. Whenever someone had a question about a marketing strategy or needed guidance, I volunteered to help, usually for free. I just wanted to keep learning and wanted to keep doing. I gained so much satisfaction from helping others and enjoyed watching the results after they implemented my ideas. Most of all, I loved staying connected to the forefront of new ideas.
One of my Wharton classmates who now taught Product Management approached me and said that General Assembly was looking for a digital marketing instructor— to which I replied, “Oh that’s nice, what does that have to do with me? I’m not a teacher, I’m a marketer.” Nevertheless, she encouraged me to apply. I hated public speaking and I didn’t think I was qualified for the role, but this counted as someone asking me to help, so I did.
During my General Assembly interview, I said I had teaching experience as I had taught Prenatal Yoga for a nonprofit in Harlem for a few years. Downward Dog is quite different from Digital Marketing, so I figured that would be the end of the discussion. I offered to be a teaching assistant instead, but to my surprise, they looked at my resume, saw my many years of marketing experience, and offered me the job as an instructor.
Fast forward to this year. Fiverr found me on LinkedIn and invited me to be one of the first instructors on Learn from Fiverr. Before this, my only exposure to Fiverr was through a female founder network for which I was a founding member, called Dreamers and Doers. A Fiverr artist had created a caricature of me as a Dreamer and Doer superhero. I had always liked that picture, so I use that image on my profile picture for Medium. Here it is:
I decided to explore the Learn from Fiverr opportunity and logged back into my Fiverr Buyer account, which had been untouched for at least two years. On the platform, I saw Pro Sellers who really inspired me with their expertise. I saw gigs for services that I had never dreamt of and a community of people who were passionate doers – not just doing for themselves, but doing for others. And I thought, wow, these people are so much like me… and moreover, wow, I want to create a course for Sellers that is affordable, accessible and globally available.
I spent two months creating content for my Instagram Ads Fundamentals course. I took the best practices that I’ve learned from doing as a marketing practitioner for both large organizations and a consultant for startups, as well as teaching concepts that have worked in the classroom and produced a course with the intention of helping Fiverr Sellers to upskill and enhance their knowledge of how to generate business results on Instagram.
While I was working with Fiverr on this course, I started to become curious about freelancing full-time. I still had my 9-5 as the Head of Marketing for a startup nonprofit organization but was also teaching for General Assembly and consulting for select clients. The Fiverr Staff had shared incredible success stories with me about Sellers who had transformed their lives by becoming full-time freelancers. What inspired me most was the Fiverr Staff’s dedication to supporting the future of work and to developing resources, tools, and pathways for Fiverr Sellers (and Buyer) to be successful.
However, I have two kids (4 and 6 years old), a dog and a husband who is a professional actor and is therefore always a freelancer himself. I was the one with the stable job and didn’t know if I could take on the risk of leaving a 9-5. I reached out to one of my mentors, who has been – as I would call her – a Professional Freelancer. She has built a 40+ year career as a consultant/freelancer, never wanting to work in-house for any company. I was transparent with her about my number one concern: my family’s financial stability.
She gave me the best financial advice ever:
- Stay in your 9-5 role but keep consulting and prospecting for new clients
- Put away as much money as you need to make yourself comfortable, which could be $5 or $50,000. Whatever the magic number is for you, make sure you have it in a bank account.
I’m taking all of the knowledge that I’ve gained from big brands and companies and now I’m partnering with Fiverr to share those insights with startups, entrepreneurs and small business.
Want to know more about how Sharon made the jump from full-time to freelancer? Ask her in the comments below—and then head over to Instagram to take a peek at a day in Sharon’s newfound freelance lifestyle.