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The key difference

The key difference


09 Mar, 2018

‘When I bump in to friends still in the Forces, or talk to customers still serving,’ says regular Quest contributor, Steve Bulleyment, director of Lincolnshire-based specialist auto locksmith company Car Key Man, ‘I’m often asked how self-employment compares with being in the Forces.’ In this, the first of a new series that aims to offer a flavour of what can happen when you’re self-employed, you might find a few answers to that question …

It’s an interesting question because the two environments seem poles apart: the Forces provide a framework so that rules and procedures can be followed, to achieve a common goal. From the outside, self-employment gives the impression there are few rules, no constraints and you can be a free spirit. The truth is that we’re lucky that we’ve learned to follow the rules, do what we say we’ll do and be accountable, because these are core skills in starting a business and surviving the first year.

Self-employment gives us the opportunity to make a difference. I regularly write about the pressure of money, the poor survival rates and the stress I’ve been through. However, every day something happens that makes it all worthwhile. The following is one of my favourite self-employment experiences …

It was October half term in 2016. I’d had a long, hard week. Normally there are two of us to share the work, however my colleague Simon was away, so I’d doubled up all week and was looking to stop at a reasonable time on Saturday. I’d put the van to bed and was about to switch on the answer service when the phone rang. Do I answer it? It was already late, I’d had a good money week and I was expected home.

‘Hello, Car Key Man, Steve speaking.’

‘Hello mate, please mate, I really need your help. I’ve lost my keys.’

‘I’m really sorry but the soonest we can help is Monday.’


‘Look mate, I’m really in it and if I don’t have my car running in the morning my life is over … please.’

He pleaded with me and, although I didn’t want to, I loaded the van and headed out more than 45 minutes away. It was dark. I was tired. And I’d really had enough, to be honest. I cursed myself for answering the phone, but when I arrived I was so glad I had.

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He hugged me as I got out of the van. This isn’t normal. Now, he was in the pub car park, but was stone sober. By all accounts, he’d been celebrating the news the night before that, for the first time in two years, he’d got access to have his two young kids for a week during half term. It had taken him so much effort to arrange time with them. Unbelievably, the day before, on his big night of celebration, he’d lost his car keys.

‘I’ve been an idiot in the past, never took any interest in the ex, or my girls, but I’ve sorted myself out mate and this was my chance to show I can take care of my two princesses.’

He’d been frantically searching all day in the pub and its surroundings, but to no avail. ‘You’re my last hope mate. If I don’t have my car, and I don’t show up tomorrow, I’ll lose access to the girls all over again.’

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.

No pressure then. It wasn’t an easy job – especially in the dark! I would never be making keys in this situation normally, but this called for different judgement, and different rules. An hour later, drawing on every ounce of knowledge, experience and determination, I finally had a key that started his car. When it fired up, he started to dance, ran into the pub and his mates came out. He was obviously a regular and they all came over, dragged me out of the car and they hugged me, shook my hand and paid me drunken compliments.

My customer cried. It doesn’t happen much, but this sober gent, who had searched all day, could finally take his girls away. He paid me, hugged me, tipped me, hugged me, and then his mates cheered him off as he drove away to pack his bags. The car park was still, the celebrations had moved back inside the pub and I was exhausted.

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Self-employed people are in a very privileged position. We deal with vulnerable people, and this story is one of my favourite memories, about how people rely on us to make a difference. It called on all my skills learned in the Forces to make a big difference outside in civvy street.


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