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When to go it alone: Starting your own business

Updated on February 8, 2007

Do you hate your day job? Do you despise your commute to and from work? Do you wish you could just give your two weeks' notice and go work for the only boss you ever wanted, yourself?

I'm here to tell you that you can do it. And I am telling you because I did it.

You don't necessarily need a crazy scheme or a large amount of cash, either.

For most of my adult life, I have worked in the car business. I got my degree in marketing from Hofstra in 1985, then went straight to work for my dad's VW dealership as parts manager. I did this up until moving to Cleveland in 1992, where I then landed a job at a large auto conglomerate as wholesale parts rep, gradually working my way up the corporate ladder and eventually starting up my own division, where I oversaw a crew of fifteen. But while I always liked the people I worked with and for, I never really loved the work I was doing. I found myself looking forward to putting time into my real passion--music.

I have been in bands most of my adult life as well, starting when I was only 14 and continuing right up until I moved from Cleveland to Nashville in 2003 at the ripe young age of 39. And any time I worked on something involving music, there was a spark inside me, like a sign from above that this was my calling. Not that being a struggling musician didn't have its drawbacks, or that I knew I needed one job to support the other, but I just knew this was the business I longed to be in.

In 2002, I had a revelation. My band was extremely successful regionally, releasing four independent albums between 1996 and 2002, and winning awards such as Best Rock Band and Best Singer/Songwriter in the Cleveland Free Times Music Awards.

I found myself on TV, on the radio, and in the newspapers. I opened for the Pretenders and got to hang out with Chrissie Hynde and her band. Everyone was asking me, "How did you do that?" And after explaining countless times how I honed my songwriting craft, took voice lessons and networked like a madman, I decided to try charging money to some of these bands that were inquiring and promote them to the media. Hence, I started the Michael J. Media Group as a side venture, working on nights and weekends to earn extra cash.

Before doing so, I researched PR companies to see what they charged and how they did it. I asked several colleagues in the music industry if they thought I could succeed at such a business venture. I remember two in particular saying "You won't succeed because musicians can't pay you, and the ones who can aren't talented." And it was those magic words "You won't" that convinced me to prove to everyone that in fact I could.

I started with a band called Lacy Underal, promoting their CD release show in April of 2002. When word got out about my new venture, the phone started to ring. I soon had five or six clients and was making some nice money on the side. Not enough to live on, but enough to be extremely happy with and to fund some recording projects of my own. Eventually, my wife and I decided to move to Nashville to pursue songwriting opportunities and to be in a music industry hub. Doing so forced me to quit the car dealership in 2003, and I still didn't know if I would be able to do the PR thing full-time in Nashville. With about ten clients by the time we moved, I made barely enough to scrape by, and my wife got a job as a waitress so we could make ends meet.

A little more than three years later, we have a thriving PR business, representing signed and unsigned artists from all over the country. My wife joined the company in 2005 and so we both work from our home office every day. More importantly, I'm making more money now than I did before quitting my corporate gig in 2003. I love what I do and look forward to doing it every day, and feel blessed to be able to do that along with my wife. We have no commute, we are rarely apart, and the work we do does not feel like work.

If you have heard enough of this feel-good story, and think you want to do this yourself but that it's not practical, think again. Most people I talk to who have started their own business venture in a field they are passionate about, have done so by just cutting the cord to their day job and forging ahead. I don't have to read stories like this anymore and say "Why not me?" because I did it. And you can too.

Just consider a few things before making the move.....

1. Health insurance. When my wife came on board, we had to get our own health insurance plan, which can be mighty pricey for the self-employed. But we found a good plan that was reasonable and so can you. It just takes a lot of research

2. Have some money saved. Ultimately, you'll have peace of mind if you have money socked away, at least enough to live on for 3-6 months. This will give you the freedom to pursue your dreams and passion without the nagging insecurity of having to make enough money.

3. If you don't have money saved, starting your venture on the side is always the best idea. So you give up a few evenings and weekends....eventually all of your time will feel like free time.

Most of all, you can do this. And you can do anything you want if you put your mind to it. I did, and hopefully this story will inspire you to do the same.


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