Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bad Economies Offer Good Opportunities to Try Self-Employment

Running a small business is a lot of work. Imagine taking any business based on a skill set or talent you excel at, and adding marketing, customer service, accounting (everything from inventory to taxes), and supervisory skills to it -- and you have small business. As the daughter of an apple farmer and a small business owner, I concur with those who would caution that running a small business is not for everyone; in fact, it’s not for a lot of people.

But there are also a lot of people out there who are not entrepreneurs simply because they haven’t had an opportunity.

If you have a family depending on your income to meet the mortgage, you may not have the opportunity to quit your job and try your hand at self-employment. But if you’ve been laid off, and especially if you have a severance package and unemployment benefits, you may just discover that life has handed you a rare opportunity to take a chance you never expected.

With hundreds of thousands of layoffs announced each month, imagine if just 20% of those people went into business, and became successful enough to grow their enterprises enough to employ two additional people. Over half the people laid off would have new jobs.

In most states, applying for a business license is relatively inexpensive. It’s affordable even on unemployment. In Washington State, where I’m licensed, I paid less than $35 to apply for my license and doing-business-as (DBA) names. When I started out, I used the computer I already owned, along with a desk from a garage sale and a lamp I bought on clearance. My blog was free and my Web site cost less than $200 a year for the domain name and hosting.

Like many people who originally go into business, I had personal reasons. I wanted to live near my family in the small town in Central Washington where I grew up. City life would have been more conducive to finding a job that paid what I made in Los Angeles, but I opted for quality of life over quantity of pay. Oddly enough, the cost ratio of metropolitan living means I actually have more discretionary income here than I did there.

People go into business for all kinds of reasons -- some of them personal -- some of them not. Some people opt for self-employment to be home with kids, or aging parents, or to have the flexibility to work around a spouse’s schedule. Some want to bring in a little “extra money” for the family to offset the expenses of inflation or tennis lessons for the kids. Some prefer to answer to themselves. Some want the challenge and adventure that goes with forging their own way in the world.

But for those with the gifts and the skills to make it in business -- because the truth is that you will work harder for yourself than you’ll ever work for anyone else -- a down economy can offer the perfect scenario to give that incredible dream a shot. The reality is that many small businesses will fail. But if half of the new businesses inspired by laid off workers looking to try something new were to fail, that still means half will succeed. Half will bring additional revenue and additional jobs into the economy. Half will need vendors and suppliers. Half will spend advertising dollars. Half will energize and revitalize communities from California to Maine.

If you’re thinking about starting your own business, and you have the time and the severance or unemployment benefits to fall back on, could there be a better time to launch a dream?

Credit is tight right now, but there are a lot of small business opportunities that can be launched with the tools, equipment and skills you already have. My mother’s favorite cliché when I was growing up used to be, “Poverty is the mother of invention.” Imagine growing your business from a seed, an idea, an oven, a computer, a lawnmower -- or whatever else you have that you can use to get started. Add some dirt, some work, some water, some time, and a few tips from the Small Business Administration. You might be pleasantly surprised what grows.

Debra Yergen is a U.S.-based author and journalist with experience in technology, financial software, health care and travel. She has held senior writing positions in the financial industry at firms including SunGard and Washington Mutual Bank. Debra is the author of Real Life 101, Creating Job Security: The 2009 All-In-One Workbook, published by The Graduate Group in West Hartford, Conn, and Creating Job Security Resource Guide, available for $8.95 at independent book stores and

SPECIAL NOTE: I was honored to be quoted in a warm, comforting and safe blog designed to support women who have suffered miscarriages. I was asked what sage advice I would give my 20-year-old self if I could go back and talk to her. My advice included: Enjoy Everyday, Success Is Based On Who You Are In Your Own Skin, Don’t Try To Be Older, Be Kind To Yourself, Love Your Mom, and Listen, posted on Feb 8. You can read this post and others at

1 comment:

Gwen Ann Wilson said...

Hi there!

I really agree with you. In these times, we should not rely on government alone, we should strive for ourselves also. Yes it is right that a good job is difficult to find nowadays but if we look closely and discover our inner talents, there are lot of things that we can do.
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Thanks for posting.