Well, Christmas 2011 is here, and Dec 23 will mark the one year anniversary since I left my “real job” to pursue my automotive fueled dreams. While The MuscleCar Place was launched in May of 2009, it wasn’t until Dec 23, 2010 that it became my full time profession. On that date I left a good job as a software engineer with a nice paycheck and benefits to go out on my own, knowing that I had a wife, a 4 year old, a 2 year old, and a 3 month old to provide for. A million things had to line up for to all be possible, but the biggest were that National Parts Depot and COMP Cams decided to take a chance on me and sponsor my weekly podcast show, The MuscleCar Place, which is something I am still grateful for (and now I know why race car drivers always thank their sponsors over and over!). I was also given an opportunity – completely out of the blue – to do Business Development for a local startup company developing automotive components. A few other things lined up as well, and when it all added up it gave me the opportunity to go for it.
My wife and I had prepared for years for the transition by eliminating all of our debts (over $100,000 worth) and padding our savings, but when the big day came it was still a huge step. Just thinking about it now still conjures up butterflies in my stomach. My goal for the first year was merely to survive, and I’m proud to say that we did. I’m happier to say that as a result of the move a lot of great unexpected things happened as well, none of which would have ever been possible without taking the risk of leaving my old gray cubicle.
It took a lot of time to find my niche in the online automotive world, and what started out originally as simply a classifieds website for muscle cars ended up becoming a sponsored internet radio show, and the hub for others that wanted to chase their automotive passions as well. Who knew? (By the way, we still have our Dealer Classifieds, and they’re awesome. Go purchase a cool car now as a Christmas present to yourself.)
This past year has been an absolute whirlwind of activity, both with The MuscleCar Place, and also in my work in doing Business Development for the startup company. It took activities at both companies to keep food on the table for my family, and I’ll be the first to admit that going out on my own was far harder than I ever thought it would be. A 60 hour week became a “light” one. I drastically underestimated how much time it would take to be the worker, accountant, social media expert, salesperson, networker, benefits manager, business growth manager, website traffic improvement expert, etc. Some days I spent the entire time answering e-mails and putting out fires instead of making sales calls, creating podcasts, and writing articles (which put food on the table), and the work was always made up at night after the kids had gone to bed. There were weeks where I’d only see my wife on the way to church on Sunday, and not see her again until the next Sunday. To be totally honest, I thought that a business that was based completely online would be “easy.” Wrongo! With all of that said though, at this point it’d be really hard for me to ever go back to a real job. Here’s why:
1) Miracles Happen
On January 16, 2011 – just three weeks after I had left my day job – I received an e-mail from a man named Jeff Allison. He shared with me that he’d listened to every single episode of The MuscleCar Place Podcast show over the years and felt as if we knew each other. He specifically mentioned that in the show I shared my excitement with taking my dream full time, and that I’d encouraged others to chase their dreams as well. He also mentioned that I’d shared my desire to (someday) become a professional race car driver and that I wanted to start by restoring and racing my ’64 Chevelle, though it was a long shot at best due to it’s need for a complete body-off restoration first.
Long story short, he wrote to inform me of two things; he was opening his own restoration business, Allison Customs, and he wanted his first build to be my Chevelle….and he’d provide the labor for free. I’d just need to provide the car and the parts.
After I came down from my euphoric high I contacted Jeff to learn a little more, and also to make sure that he’d completely thought everything through since jumping into a high overhead business like a restoration shop would be a tough go. I also wanted to make sure that he wasn’t like one of those e-mails you get from a long-lost king overseas that needs help cashing a $5 Million check. It turned out to be completely legitimate as I learned that he already had the shop, the tools, etc., and that he was already an incredibly experienced car builder. I also learned that he was an airline pilot and that that profession allowed him to time and financial flexibility to give something like this a go without any real risk!
As much as I wanted to take him up on his offer, I really choked on it. I knew that he was offering me 6-figures worth of free work, and it was just something I could not accept. Still…..at this point in my life, I also knew that I didn’t have the time or money to even approach chasing my dream of rebuilding the Chevelle, so I was fairly torn as how to move forward. I shared this with Jeff, and he’d have none of it. As far as he was concerned it was a gift with no strings attached, and if I’d mention him in the podcast show a few times he’d be happy enough. I agreed to accept the gift on one condition; that he’d let me help promote his business as much as possible, and that would mean moving far beyond the podcast (think magazine coverage, TV coverage, SEMA show booths, etc.). We struck a handshake deal, I loaded the Chevelle on a trailer, and dropped it off at his shop in March! Today the Chevelle is in a bazillion pieces in his shop and is already looking like a real car again.
I’ll put a few links in here so you can learn the rest of the story, but the story led to the participation by National Parts Depot to provide all of the sheetmetal (and believe me, we needed a lot), and Detroit Speed and Engineering, Wilwood Engineering, and Keisler Engineering have all contributed their fantastic projects to the build as well. We still have a long way to go, but at this point it looks like the Chevelle will be a corner carving LS Powered Pro-Touring monster by summer of 2012 with the ability to haul my kids during the week, and haul a** on the weekends at pro-touring race events all over the country!
I know for certain that this would not have been possible had I not taken the business full time.
2) If God Opens The Door, Walk Through It (and Hard Work Opens Doors That You Never Could)
I really do believe that if you have a God given passion for something that you have a responsibility to act on it, and that He’ll open the right doors for you – but you have to do the knocking. I have met, cold called, and accidentally been introduced to more people in this industry over the past 12 months than I could ever have imagined and speaking to them has always been a fairly easy thing to do. I absolutely love muscle cars (specifically driving them stupidly fast), engines, and everything that goes with them. That passion spills over into our conversations almost naturally. They know that I’m not a fake, or just a guy trying to make a quick buck. I don’t think that any of this is an accident.
By meeting all of these people, reading a ton of books, listening to a bazillion business podcasts, and praying every other hour, slowly but surely progress has started to roll in a forward direction. These activities have all swelled together into action, and over the past year I’ve pursued more “big ideas” and new products than I could have ever dreamed of, mainly because of the people I met through all of my car related activities (podcast interviews, car shows, autocross events, etc.). While not all of them panned out, some of them did, and sometimes they became gateways to opportunities that were bigger. 2012 looks as promising as ever as a result.
3) I interviewed Richard Petty
4) I Became a Published Automotive Writer
Like many car guys, one of my dream car jobs (other than race car driver) was to work in an automotive magazine. This past year I got the chance to do that with PowerTV Media, which is a completely online based magazine company that (I believe) is kind of a 21st Century equivalent of Source Interlink.
PowerTV has several online magazine titles that gearheads love and utilizes a real editorial and writing staff to create online what most people used to pick up at the newsstand. The benefits of this model are numerous, most specifically that of speed and delivery. Articles can be published in a few hours or days instead of a few months.
I am a contributing freelance writer at PowerTV mostly for the StreetLegalTV and Chevy Hardcore brands. My main editor there is Kevin Shaw, and he has taught me more about becoming a polished writer in the past 12 months than I’d learned in the first 35 years of my life. He’s also a diehard ’69 Charger lover and owner, which in my book gives anyone bonus points.
As an aside, through this activity I’ve learned a considerable amount about how print and TV automotive work as well. Both industries are tough to survive in in this day and age, unfortunately, but I’m still holding out hope of having my own TV show one day.
5) My Time Is My Own
One of the most fantastic parts of being my own boss is that each and every moment of the day is mine to choose how I spend it. That means that if I choose to head to a car show for 4 days, go on vacation, or simply goof around for a day or two during the middle of the week, I can. The flip side of that is that I’m fully aware that when I’m not working, money is not being made, and in turn my family will eat less that month as a result (at least that’s what’s always rolling around in my head). Thus, I rarely take time off, and even when I do I generally work a little each day regardless. Since I’ve chosen a business that is something I’m passionate about, it’s hard to tell where muscle car fever stops and Robert stops. We’re kind of one and the same, so there is almost never a time when I’m not working somehow, some way.
Without a doubt, this single thing was the hardest aspect of transferring out of a “real” job into self employment, at least for me.
6) I’m One Step Closer to Becoming a Race Car Driver
At the age of 36 it may seem like a tad stretch that a white guy from Iowa with thinning hair and no real racing experience of any kind could become a professional race car driver…..but I still have that dream. Running my restored and race ready ’64 Chevelle in American Street Car Series and Good Guys shows next year is the first step towards that. Who knows where it will lead, but at the very minimum I’ll use the racing as a means to promote my business…meaning I’ll expense it! Yes! I’ve found a way to do “Tax Deductible” racing! I also get the added benefit of having an activity that I can take my family to as well, meaning I don’t need to leave them at home when I go out to have fun. It’s win-win.
Hopefully you’ll see me in a few years running in the Daytona 500 or out on a rally track somewhere (I also love going sideways), or even driving stunt cars in TV and movies. That being said, it would not surprise me at all if after a year or two I settle into something less than that of a professional race car driver. If the demands of that put me in a position to pull me away from my family, there’s no question that I’d drop it. I have a whole lot more desire to see my kids lose their first teeth, read, write, and throw tantrums than I do to miss all of that so that I can drive really fast.
7) I Made a Fortune, and Some of It Was In Cash!
If you’ve made it this far in the article you’re likely wondering how much money I made this year. I’ve debated about sharing the actual dollar amounts here, but I think I’ll keep it generic for now. Overall, the highest total dollar amount (cash money) that I brought in was that of by business development work. That amount alone provided just over half of what my old income was from my previous job. The remainder was made up through The MuscleCar Place podcast sponsorship dollars, our Dealer Classifieds Service, website advertising, and freelance writing. When it was all totaled up, I made just a little more this year on my own than I had in my old job. While I’m incredibly happy (and relieved) with that result from the first year, it’s certainly not a fortune. Did I really just work a bazillion more hours on my own than I would have working for a regular company, just to make the same money? Actually, when I added up everything else, that’s where the fortune came in.
The Chevelle was the key to how I actually did make my “fortune” this year. Right now I have received from Allison Customs nearly $60,000 worth of free labor, and if you’re paying attention to that, that would be $60,000 after tax dollars that I’d have had to come up with. I also received either free or discounted parts from National Parts Depot, Keisler Engineering, Detroit Speed and Engineering, and Wilwood Engineering. While I personally have about $15,000 dollars into the build as well, when I totaled everything up, the value I’ve literally been given towards the Chevelle build was nearly the same as what I’ve had made in a single year at my old job. It’s crazy.
So, in the end, when I added up the “real” dollars and the “in kind” dollars, I doubled my income this year. Is that a fortune? Well, to me it is, and it never would have happened had I not chased the dream that I felt God was laying down on me. I honestly had no idea what was going to happen this year, and while the risk was scary, it was worth it.
Wrapping It All Up
I’m not sharing this information to brag, by the way, but only to be open about the entire process. The simple matter is that while 2012 looks promising, it could tank just the same, and that’s always the risk of going out on your own. All I can really say is that for me, it was worth it. Also, if at some point in the future this really all has tanked and the person reading this is someone I’m interviewing with, please know that I’m a hard worker with excellent “people skills.”
Merry Christmas, and thanks so much for being a reader and listener here at The MuscleCar Place. If it weren’t for you I wouldn’t even have a product to sell. I owe you most of all.