It’s never a good time to start a business per se – there are always challenges and obstacles. Recessions certainly don’t seem like the best of environments but I think they can be greenfields of opportunities. I started my business (Affect Strategies) six months after 9-11, in New York. I remember when I told my boss that I was leaving my job to start my own company, he looked at me like I was insane and added a fatherly, ‘Are you sure you really want to do this?’ It was the best decision I ever made. I had been contemplating starting my own business for years and I never had the guts or had enough cash to make it happen. In April 2002, I still didn’t have either but I made a leap of faith and I’ve never looked back.
At the time, I was in technology marketing and PR, companies were cutting budget and heads were rolling left and right. The economy was still feeling the effects of the burst of the tech bubble and NY had the extra weight of 9-11 to factor in. But, I saw it as an opportunity. Companies were letting go of permanent employees but looking for on-demand resources for marketing and public relations services that they desperately needed. My former boss became my first client. Soon, I started getting business from colleagues and former associates. At first, it was on a project-by-project basis, later, on small retainers. Clients were cautious to make long-term commitments but their workload had only increased as headcount and budgets were cut and they needed more hands on deck. Within weeks, I was hiring friends to help offset my own workload and within a few months, I began hiring full-time employees myself.
I will also add that three months after I left my job to start my own business, my husband was let go of his job in the finance industry. We thought the timing could not have been worse. However, it gave him an opportunity to reassess his own career and he wound up establishing his own Internet start-up a few months later. (Warning – if you and your spouse are going to start two new businesses at the same time, you may want to hire a full-time marriage counselor. It can be done, but whoa, not easy.)
So, for the job-challenged or about to be jobless right now, I have a few suggestions:
1. Start cooking up an idea, and fast. There are many ways to make a living and earn money. Think about what you are passionate about, what makes you happy and what is going to earn you a living in the near future. If you are working, use your off-time to lay the foundation for you new business. If you are not working, there is nothing to prevent you from starting a new business and still seeking a full-time job at the same time.
2. Hang out your own shingle. Can you be a consultant or freelancer in your industry? Start taking on project work. Contact everyone you’ve ever worked with (in a relevant position) and network your tush off. If you are smart, ambitious and talented at your job, you can find opportunities to build a foundation for a new business or tide you over until find a full-time gig.
3. Combine forces. Friends and colleagues in the same position as you? Work together and you can have an instant company. Add their network to yours, and you have double the reach and double the workforce than you did before. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs came in pairs: Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak (Apple), Bill Gates & Paul Allen (Microsoft), Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield (Ben & Jerry’s).
4. Be frugal, not cheap. Although some start-ups require heavy investments of cash, many businesses can be started for almost nothing. Use technology and free or practically free services to establish yourself. Legal services are available online to incorporate for less than $100. These days you can have a website in 30 minutes for less than $50. You can work from a virtual office and pay employees by the hour on an as-needed basis until you have enough work to go around. Use social networks and email to promote your business. Spend on the things that are critical for your business but find inexpensive alternatives whenever possible.
5. Work your ass off. Starting your own business is not easy. It can be the hardest job you’ll ever do, but also, the most rewarding. At least you are toiling away for yourself rather than someone else. In the end, you reap the rewards of your own hard labor.