My name is Allen Chiang. My wife Kea and I are the team behind Retro Radio Farm which was featured on Starter Story where we talk about we came up with our business concept. Retro Radio Farm sells, repairs, restores antique radios and upgrades old radios with Bluetooth MP3 or smart speaker technology.
Our side hustle is a constant struggle between rewards and sacrifices that go beyond just monetary considerations. We wanted to write this piece to focus on these challenges in our side hustle venture.
Quitting my day job to focus 100% on our side hustle comes up occasionally but we have decided it’s not quite time yet. My side hustle would need to be an order of magnitude more profitable to supplant my career income. It is our goal for Retro Radio Farm to grow and exceed our expectations so I can quit my day job.
On another note, we reported in our first article approximately $50K per year but that was based on 2017 numbers. This year, we have already exceeded that. With the busiest 3 months ahead of us, we project $75K this year, a 50% year over year growth.
I wake up at 6:00AM Monday through Friday to go to work. I commute about an hour each way by car. When I get to the office, it’s usually pretty busy. I do not spend time at the office on Retro Radio Farm. I get off work about 5PM every day. I’m still thinking about work on my drive home. Sometimes, I take calls, have meetings, after normal work hours.
My wife has her hands full all day with two young children.
I’m usually up by 6:00AM and I’m down in the workshop before everyone wakes up. This is my radio time. I work on radios until about 5PM. More on this later.
We have a daughter who is 9 years old and a son who is 8. I volunteer as a Cub Scout Den leader which requires one weekend afternoon about 2 times a month plus committee meetings and scout projects, 1-2 per month. Plus, there are kids playdates and birthday parties, other family events.
As another hobby, I’ve been restoring old cars for longer than old radios. I have two classics that I’m actively working on.
We live on a heavily wooded site with a house and property needing regular maintenance and repairs. We hire out major repairs but we perform small maintenance jobs ourselves. We have a rental property about an hour away that requires occasional attention.
Other than that, I have nothing else to do on weekends except radios!
How to balance full time and the side hustle
When I first started doing radios, there was no set schedule or objectives. I would work on them once in a while, and sell whenever I got tired of one, or when I bought a new one.
Making time for family
Weekends back then centered primarily around family outings. I worked on car and house projects around the house. We went out for meals, a movie, trail, or community or friend event if the whim struck us.
Back then, I was chastised by my wife if I spent more than 3-4 hours straight working on radios. My children would come by my workbench and ask me to play with them. My reply was always “yes.”
Squeezing in some time at night
Since a large part of our online business was the online part, I spent an hour or so after dinner on weekdays posting radios on my site, responding to inquiries, fulfilling orders, and maintaining my website and monitoring SEO advertising.
I did all this on the living room couch while my family was watching TV. This more administrative or operational part of my business did not need to be done at my work bench or in the home office. I could be, at least physically, present with my family.
Finding time as the business grew
As the business grew, weekends became more and more constrained.
I would spend all day on Saturdays repairing radios. SEO marketing responsibilities became unmanageable for me. My wife started taking on more of an active role in order fulfillment, photography, posting, and crucially, SEO marketing.
I generally reserve Sundays for family time, although cars, house and auto maintenance, now recently treehouse construction, sometimes cannibalize.
As our business has grown, I am being forced to dedicate more time on production only, that is, producing restored radios for new inventory. Customer repairs, when someone sends me their radio for repair, and Bluetooth MP3 upgrades with new purchase orders, PR like this article, is now relegated to weeknights.
Filming for my special on CNN
My wife is now performing almost all the operational responsibilities during her day. Her role is now growing even more with the upcoming revamping of our website. Radio production all day Saturday is now a given, and encroaching on Sunday.
My children now know that on Saturday Daddy will not be available to play with them. Maybe Sunday, if there is not a critical house or car chore that supersedes. As a family, we have learned to plan in advance and make the time count when I’m free.
My wife and I are constantly weighing the value of my time spent on the radio business versus family. The children weigh in too. When we see real disappointment on my children’s faces, radios are postponed.
My wife, who initially saw radios as my hobby only, and a waste of time, has come around to be a supporter and partner. The increased income has allowed us to prioritize differently around higher quality and more luxurious experiences than otherwise.
Any side hustle takes sacrifices to become successful. Any sacrifices you make should be rewarded. If the rewards outweigh the sacrifices then it was worth it. We try to keep a broad view of what is being sacrificed as well as the real reward.
My available free time allocated for the side hustle venture has not increased over the years.
Weekends are still only 48 hours and weeknights 1-2 hours tops. To achieve as much as I’m producing now would have been unthinkable when I first started. I have become more efficient with my production while my quality of output has improved.
For example, I will need to step up production even further for the upcoming holiday season if we are to meet our revenue goals.
This means I will need to buy smarter, work more efficiently, stop wrestling with hard radios that have taken too much of my time so that I can move on to the easier radios. I am adding production steps to ensure better quality which ultimately increases the bottom line. I have set a quota for myself in terms of quantity of product and value of work spent for my weekend efforts. I reason to myself, that once I reach my quota, I can spend the rest of the day with my family.
What I Have Learned
Optimize for profitable output
Knowing what to buy translates into more profitable output. Some radios are great condition but too expensive. Inexpensive but restorable radios can be much more profitable.
Knowing what radio models appeal to the market at what price helps transform initial investment into immediate profitability. You need to have a passion for the product in order to maintain the edge in sourcing.
Constantly adapt and rebalance
You need to constantly adapt and rebalance to meet the opportunity at hand whether it’s family, side-hustle, or other is always a challenge. Sometimes I get burned on radios week after week. I revert back to cars or house or family, then I go back to radios feeling refreshed. My side hustle needs to be relaxing to me.
My professional career is still the number one priority
I cannot risk letting the side hustle impact my bread and butter at this point.
Always have inventory
Question of scale. Drives how much time I commit to radios. For example, if I want to sell a 1 radio per day, I need at least 60 on the site. Need to maintain critical mass of stock to attain sales objectives.
Having all my tools and parts at my fingertips
I have to make sure all my raw materials needed for production are constantly replenished. Not having the right parts or tools within reach really wastes time.
Becoming an expert on resourcing parts and equipping yourself the right tools inexpensively.
Become an expert on your business data
Especially your website and social platform statistics.
Mine the numbers; SEO campaigns, email marketing blasts, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube Instagram followers, likes, click through, cost per click, marketing cost per unit sold, average days holding inventory.
The price of your time spent on your side hustle per hour. What am I earning on my side hustle per minute per hour?
Getting the support from spouse and kids
I couldn’t stand to be downstairs if my wife and kids are upset with me upstairs. My wife’s support and help with operations has enabled me to focus on production.
Her work on SEO, fulfillment, administrative, and website has helped grow our business 50% this year. My wife keeping the kids busy on Saturdays helps alleviate conflicting priorities.
Time is precious
This may be obvious but I’ll say it anyway. Time is precious.
In order to grow my side hustle, I need to work quicker, more efficiently, towards more valuable outputs with the time I have outside work.
Having great creative and a good story
Good photos are key. Constantly trying to improve. Good enough is never good enough.
Same with writing. Bad grammar, misspellings, poor quality writing means lost sales. Be explicit. I don’t assume customer knows anything about my product and service unless I state it explicitly.
And lastly, keeping Sunday free as much as possible!
My advice for others
It took a random visit to a flea market many years ago for me to discover old radios as a hobby now my side hustle.
I was not an antiquer or retro guy before that. I had to remove myself from my accustomed environment, people, activities, frame of mind, to try something new to get exposed to a new opportunity.
If I had done what I’d always done, gone to where I’ve always gone, been with same people, I may not have ever discovered my side hustle.
Our side hustle is a commitment with sacrifices but it has paid off monetarily and made us both feel self-empowered, better skilled, and has enriched everything else in our lives!
Thanks for reading!
- Allen Chiang, Founder of Retro Radio Farm
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