Ready for your next road trip?
‘I love to travel,’ says regular QUEST contributor, Steve Bulleyment, director of Lincolnshire-based specialist auto locksmith company Car Key Man, ‘They say you can be addicted to it. If so, that’s me and it’s why I loved flying so much in the RAF. Visiting so many amazing places with a great crew was so rewarding. And travel is very much like starting a business …’
When you’re setting off on a trip in a car there are some basics you need. Good music and bags of sweets to entertain you along the way. A map of the route and, of course, your destination. Lastly, and most important, you need to know you have enough fuel.
If you’re nipping out locally, most of these aren’t necessary. Let’s face it, you probably know the address and the route and if you’re low on fuel you’ll know where the petrol stations are. More than that, if disaster did strike and you ran out, you’re close to home and can sort the problem out easily.
If you’re thinking about starting a business, you have a fantastic opportunity. You could spend your days doing what you love instead of being told what to do (let’s face it, you’ve had plenty of that already). If this is your plan you’ll be reading lots about business plans, marketing yourself on social media, and networking. These things matter, but to me they are the sweets and the radio and the phone. They’re things to entertain you and distract you.
Do you have enough fuel?
I’ve banged on about this for so long now it may get repetitive. However, if this is your first day, or week, as a would-be business owner, then I hope you’ll read this and think about it hard before spending money on courses, business cards or websites.
My perfect road trip
I love the idea of a proper road trip. One day I’ll go to America with my wife Caron, and we’ll drive from Connecticut to Maine to see New England in the autumn. It’s something we’ve talked about for years. Obviously, this will take a lot of planning, but it will work as long as we have money to fill up the petrol tank every day. This is the life of the small business owner. To me, it’s the deciding factor as to whether you should start up or not. Can you afford it?
How much cash do I need?
I’m no expert at business, but I have specialised in being completely skint and beyond, so this small area I know very well. I’m passionate about stopping just one other person making the same mistake. So, let’s start at the beginning …
When you start resettlement, you’ll hear about survival budgets, calculating living costs and working out how much you can you live on. I totally agree with all this but, to be honest, you already know how much you need. What do you bring into the house at the moment? Do you have a partner that earns money or could do? Are you leaving with a pension? What’s your total monthly income?
Do you, month on month, have any money left? Or are you like many of us, left with too much month for the money? Be honest with yourself. Come up with a number, a monthly wage that you need to pay yourself to survive and live. Great. Then add on the emergency money and funds for the holiday you think you can do without (you need it, honest), the rent rise or interest rate rise soon to come from the Bank of England, and finally the dentist, car repairs, vet bills, etc. Now you’re closer to the real amount.
Let’s say for easy numbers, you need £30,000. Let’s hope, you need less, not more.
This should be your staring point for everything in your resettlement. The job you try to get, the business you try to build, or maybe your retirement plan (if you’ve been really clever) is all based on this number.
So, if you’re living on £30K at the moment, and this is where you need to be in the near future, then it’s unlikely you’ll step into, or stay in, that perfect £30K job immediately. If you manage to, amazing, respect, you’ve done it right! Put this down and go and play golf.
For the rest of us, there will be some distance between where we are and where we want to be. We’ll call this ‘the dip’.
Car Key Man YouTube Channel
What is the dip?
I remember my last pay packet when I left the RAF, around £2,200 in the bank. The following month I could only afford to pay myself £500 (my business didn’t even make that!). Then the next month only £200. Some months it might be £1500. However, my wages dipped below where they needed to be, and the difference between my target wage and what I could afford should have set the alarm bells ringing immediately. The trouble is, I was heads down, trying to make it work, learning so much and distracted by all those other things we take on our journey. I didn’t pay myself £2200 a month for the first five years – in fact, closer to ten years. To understand this better, here’s how I think of it:
As soon as you leave the Forces, you’ll probably see a drop in your wages. This is normal. If you’re starting a business, it should be expected. Now, if you get a job, there may be opportunity for overtime. Or maybe your partner can earn more. Whatever your situation, as soon as you go below your target wage – in this case £30,000 – you start to rack up debt. This is bad.
How long can you afford to rack up debt? This is the answer to how much cash you need to start a business, or even just leave the Forces at all.
You can see every month, or year, the graph is either red or black. Red is bad. Every month you’re in the red, you’re going backwards.
The road trip from hell
Back to our road trip. If we need £500 for the fuel to drive to Maine, New England, and I only allow for £300, I’m going to get stuck. I’ll be halfway through the trip and will fairly soon realise that upgrading the compact automatic to the Ford Mustang means I’ll need more money for fuel. Instead of looking at the golden leaves, the beautiful buildings and miles of forest, I’ll be watching the fuel gauge, counting the fuel money and worrying about whether we’ll have enough to make it. That’s no way to enjoy a trip. In fact, I’ll be lying awake every night, wondering if we’re going to make it at all. Getting stuck in the middle of New England without any money to fill the tank will leave us in big trouble.
On top of this, do you know if there is another fuel stop nearby? Will the garage take credit cards or can you get your hands on any more cash? This is what starting up feels like. Can you get yourself any more cash?
Cash = Fuel = Survival time in business
My finances after leaving the Forces were much more important than a road trip, but I got it all wrong. I underestimated what I needed for equipment to start up. My guess was £15K. I spent nearer £25K. More importantly, once I’d started up and left the Forces, I was burning much more fuel than I could ever have imagined. My fag packet guess was so far off I’m embarrassed to admit it.
I didn’t earn my target wage of £2200, for nearly ten years. However, I paid us that money and borrowed to make up the difference. I didn’t deliberately plan to borrow more, but I did whatever I had to, just to keep us moving. The credit card bills got bigger, and there were more of them. The overdraft got bigger and any equipment I bought went on HP. More debt.
It wasn’t a fun trip. I didn’t enjoy the view. If I’d sat down and done this exercise, I wouldn’t have set off at all.
So, should you set off on the road trip of your life, starting a business?
There’s good reason to. For me, 14 years on, every day is new. I’m doing what I love, building a fantastic business, meeting kind, supportive customers and so many interesting characters. In my YouTube life, I regularly help subscribers all around the world and, by the time this goes to print, we’ll have passed two million views. It’s going to lead somewhere new and exciting I’m sure.
Read Steve’s regularly updated blog at:
This is something I could never have foreseen and I really do bounce out of bed every day. But, please, before you start your own business, before you spend a single penny, sit down and work out how you’re going to get through the dip. I made it simply because I had to. I was so far in debt that I had no choice. I burnt nearly £10,000 a year, for ten years … £100,000 cash gone. I couldn’t afford to. I shouldn’t have. We sold our house and downsized. It was very tough and I put my wife through so much worry.
Can you make it through the dip?
Good luck with whatever you decide to do. Self-employment is amazing if you have enough fuel in your tank. Enjoy the next 18 months of resettlement. It will go so fast and, whatever you decide to do, it will be quite a trip.
Steve’s business, the Car Key Man, is a specialist auto locksmith company covering Lincolnshire. Launching in 2004, Steve spotted an opportunity to solve the problem of replacing lost and stolen car keys. The company now offers workshop facilities as well as a mobile service. Recognising the needs of concerned vehicle owners, it offers free consultations to find an affordable solution to the growing number of car key problems.
Get in touch
Tel: 07832 147601 or 01522 514141
Case Studies See all
Having served in the Royal Engineers for five years, specialising as an Engineering Surveyor, LCpl Neil Duddy, left the Army in 2008 with a host of qualifications under his belt, including: HNC in...Read more »
ELC Q&A with former Royal Engineer Daniel PartridgeRead more »