From the 1st of March 2011 to the 28th of April 2017 I was “employee 1” in a fledgling backup monitoring and management company called Probax (originally we were Corporate Backup) The opportunities to earn and learn were endless, I got to travel for work, meet great people, and work in an environment with (almost) no office politics. By all accounts, it was basically a dream job – definitely someone’s dream job, but not mine. People always ask me if I was just “sick of it all” and the answer is ‘absolutely not’. I worked with awesome people. Everyone had a sense of humour. We were small enough to be agile and responsive, but big enough to see the impact we were having in the marketplace. It was, by all accounts, a great experience.
During these 6 years I was developing my skills as a specialist bicycle mechanic after office hours. My workshop was comparable to a surgical theatre. I had tools and knowledge that some long-standing bicycle shops don’t have. An obsessive interest in bicycle suspension led me to learn and develop servicing and tuning methods that no other mechanic in Perth can emulate. I completed factory training with Shimano, SRAM, and a host of other industry heavyweights to elevate myself above the ‘regular’ wrench-turners around Perth.
People must have noticed, becuase I had an ever-growing client base of cyclists who came to me after office hours for specialist bicycle servicing – clients who wanted to keep using my services after I left the bike shop jobs I had as a teenager to pursue my ‘real job’ in the IT world. I was getting home around 5pm, having dinner and playing with my young kids, walking the dog, then spending upwards of 3 hours a night fixing bikes in the garage.
It was still just a hobby, but the lines between hobby and enterprise were getting increasingly blurred. It reached a point in 2015 where it was all I thought about. All I cared about, but I was well and truly wearing golden handcuffs by this point. I knew there was money to be made as a mobile bicycle mechanic, but just not enough money. Or so I thought. Long story short, my wife and I made big lifestyle changes. Changed our address. Took the kids off private school waiting lists and enrolled them in the public system…..and I worked my last ever day in an office on the 28th of April, 2017.
The 28th of April this year was a Friday, and my first day of work as The Local Spokesman was Monday the 1st May. At around 1030am that morning, my Grandfather over in Sydney passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Not the glorious first day of work I’d imagined, but a sad reminder that life doesn’t wait around for you to take action, nor does it grant any special privilege just because you’ve finally decided to do something bold. (On that note, I’m so glad you liked my business name, Pa. Maybe you can tell your crossword pals all about it up there?)
The bookings came thick and fast – I had more work than I could handle in the first fortnight. I couldn’t believe I’d waited so long to take the plunge. I felt this really bizarre kind of guilt whilst I was working. I was getting paid…to do something I freaking love….during the day….wherever I felt like working! It was like skipping school and heading to the beach. This incredible sense of being granted my freedom back – and being paid to enjoy it. I’ve since realised this is the self-employment equivalent of the honeymoon phase.
As the weeks rolled by the bookings slowed slightly, but the complexity of the jobs spiralled ever higher, bringing unique challenges each time that really, really squashed the ROI on the time I’d spend doing the work. A string of jobs came through in the same fortnight where about 10 hours labour went into each bike. Massive jobs. Logistical challenges with suppliers, some irrational calendar management and family commitments all conspired to suck the fun out of it. But here’s the thing….when you are doing something you truly love, and I mean really, deeply love in the very core of your being….none of it matters. You just charge on through it because the pursuit of a dream provides energy and drive that no ‘job’ can. Problems just get steamrolled either by being smart, being persistent, or by the good grace of patient customers (you guys know who you are – thank you!)
If you check out my facebook page or my website, you’ll see that I spend a lot of time working up and down the coastline of the northern suburbs, and WHAT a time of year to be outside. Most days, I feel so completely happy and content to be out working in the sun, chatting to passing cyclists about what I do. I spent 6 years selling a service using ‘interruption marketing’ – I vowed never to do that with my own business. My volkswagen van, my logos and marketing is all geared towards ‘invitation marketing’. I don’t attend networking functions. I don’t hand out cards unless people ask, and yet the work keeps pouring in.
I was driven by money once upon a time, and that pursuit led me astray. No such money-motivation exists in me anymore, my goals are rather simpler now.
- First, I just wanted the business to exist. I did that. Existing is the easy part.
- Next, I wanted to transition from ‘existing’ to ‘surviving’. Well, I’m doing that just fine too.
- After I’ve ‘survived’, I want to learn how to thrive. This is where I can choose to be a sole trader forever, or grow the business and watch my dream take on new challenges.
I’m choosing the latter, and aim to have a highly skilled and experienced mechanic working with me by December this year. The customer growth certainly indicates that this will be necessary inside that time frame.
For the short term, that’s it. I’m paying my bills. My customers are happy, and I have finally learned what it means to follow your dream. There’s a reason why there are so many articles, videos and other online content written about it. It lives up to the hype.
So….I guess this is just a very long-winded way of saying if someone of my incredibly average calibre can develop, start and run a business grounded in my own interests and passion…..you sure as hell can do it too.