I had an email today from my friend Heather, wife and business partner of motorsport artist and designer, Nicolas Hunziker, reminding me that the duo are celebrating ten years in business this month. The mail was well timed, as I am also celebrating a work anniversary today: my seventh year as a full-time freelance, working in and around the classic Porsche hobby.
I still remember parking my company car in the office car park for the last time, returning my work laptop and security pass and catching the train from Weybridge back to Banbury – I think I even kept the ticket stub. Mrs G picked me up in our old Landcruiser and we drove home through the leafy lanes, on a beautifully bright, sunny day. Still got the house, the Landcruiser, the Mrs and the sunshine (today, at least), but I no longer work for a company owned by a hedge fund and run by a revolving door of MDs, each of whom loved to send us on wild-goose research missions to find the secrets of future profit growth, but did nothing in response when we brought home the data.
It’s now seven years since I was a wage slave and I don’t miss a bit of it. What a joy it is to wake up in the morning, walk downstairs, put the kettle on and instantly be at work. I am truly grateful for what the last seven years have taught me and oh, to have learned it all so much earlier! I look forward to reaching my tenth anniversary and considering my own answers to the questions I just asked Nicolas. Here’s what my artist friend says after a decade of working for himself.
JG: How long did it take until you felt the new venture was going to work?
NH: I was fortunate as I was able to quit my job in advertising (I was writing and directing TV commercials) and take up painting full time, one year into my painting career. In the early days, I would deliver a painting without knowing when or where the next sale would materialise. The mortgage was late more than once, but Heather never discouraged me from pursuing my passion. She always stood by me and put her entrepreneurial spirit to work. And if it hadn’t been for the support of a few early patrons – support which continues to this day – I might not be where I am now.
JG: Can you share a high point from the last ten years?
NH: I can think of several. Obviously getting the official nod from Porsche and McLaren, Gulf, Le Mans etc. to gild my paintings with their logos was huge. A couple of corporate commissions that stand out came from the Porsche Museum and PCNA. But one thing that has surprised me more than anything else is all the doors that my art has opened for me: My own racing activities, meeting people who I have long admired and now I’m lucky to call many of them friends.
JG: Has being in business changed your attitude to/experience of the classic Porsche world?
NH: Yes and no. On the one hand, I’ve had a peek behind the curtain through our apparel company where we were a Porsche OE apparel supplier. On the customer side, it’s been very rewarding to see how our creations have been accepted by the Porsche scene. We started our apparel line in 2011 but we still get a kick out of seeing someone wear one of our shirts walking around Goodwood, Le Mans Classic, Monterey or the local Cars & Coffee event.
JG: Have you learned any surprise lessons about people through your work?
NH: I don’t know if there were surprises, but I’ve learned the following:
1. Develop your own style.
2. Passion is the best inspiration.
3. Art opens doors.
5. Defy convention.
4. Art has value.
I love Nic’s approach to creativity: he is always thinking ahead. Hunziker Corp has some interesting projects in progress, all being documented online. Check out the Hunziker Art Car project (a 996 GT3 built through parts donations in exchange for artwork) and, of course, the famous Hunziker Driving Shoes, as worn by half the car guys in America, going by Heather’s Facebook shares.
Thinking about the questions I asked Nic to answer, my own answers would probably be that I knew it would work before I got started, as I had been data researching and writing full-time for ten years, working as a part-time Porsche freelancer since 2005 and already had an independent Porsche client base. There have been a few upsets in my seven years of freelance (mainly debtors going bust and causing a few headaches – not all financial), but I now recognise these as excellent learning experiences. The most recent upset was easier than the first, having learned how to spot, react and mitigate the effects of such occurrences and acting on my instincts early.
A better business radar is one good thing that has come straight from freelance, but it has not arrived at the expense of being harder with money. I started my freelance career working with people who charged for every single thing they did and I followed their example in the early days. I don’t do that so much nowadays: my attitude to earning has mellowed substantially. Going easier with this aspect has brought in many fun experiences and also taught me to say ‘no thanks’ more, and earlier. Time is the most valuable commodity for any creative, so better to draw a line under things as soon as warning flags are raised and move in a better direction.
Have I met inspirational people? Most definitely: valuable lessons have been learned from good friends all over the world. Have I inspired other people? One or two would say yes. Do I still feel the same passion? Yes, I maintain a deep love for the cars and people of this excellent hobby, but no doubt the movement is different today compared to seven years ago. A new generation has taken the world of classic Porsche in many different directions and we oldies accept that this is how all things go eventually. Some of the hot new trends are nothing new at all, but no point losing sleep over it. Things that don’t excite us so much are the best things ever for other folks, and that is OK.
As layers pile on top of layers, the core just gets buried slightly deeper, so we must dig harder to find it. The passion, support and encouragement I get from my hardcore Porsche friends (i.e. most of the people I work with) deliver all the energy one needs to press on. These people have shaped my last seven years and continue to exert a huge influence. I guarantee that if you are thinking of starting something new, it is your similarly passionate friends who will help get you through it. That said, all final decisions on what to do next are yours alone to make.
Freelance Advice (if you need it)
For anyone considering leaving their job and trying something new and different, I urge you to go for it, especially if you have a unique skill that is sought after. Do your research well and include contingency plans for all realistic worst case scenarios (not zombie attacks or nuclear holocausts) before walking away from the wage packet. With due diligence done and dusted, stop worrying and think and talk positive.
Walk away from anyone negative. They will kill what you are about to embark on. Avoid all negativity: negative people have nothing to offer the entrepreneur. They are not realists, they are buzzkill and you have already done your homework. Put your headphones on and walk away. Do not let buzzkillers inside your energy fence (I just made that up: please use it unwisely).
Add a few marketing skills to package the products/skills you intend to sell and then work your butt off doing something you love. It is so easy to work doing something that just flows in and around you. It is also incredible fun, most of the time. When it’s not fun, know you are learning something important. Also, never forget that the lesson may be to quit and do something different: I have changed tack many times in the last seven years.
Verify the market you are aiming to work in, nail the skills required (night school, online, private tuition or whatever) and as soon as you are ready to start, go for it. Worst case scenario: you get another job when the money runs out. Best case: there is no limit. You are the limit. I know so many of you have wonderful talents: let them shine brightly, follow the light and see where it leads!
ps: I have a few people to thank for their unflinching support over the last seven years (even over the last twelve years) but none of them would want to be mentioned in public: that’s just not how we do things. I am sure they know who they are – I talk to most of them daily! One or two people not so often nowadays, but the feeling is still the same. Thank you.