Joyce Rosenberg, October 13, 2011
NEW YORK — The recovery in the job market just hasn't happened. So, many people who lost their jobs well after the recession ended in June 2009 have decided not to look for work. They've gone into business for themselves.
Starting a company can be daunting. Some entrepreneurs have made the process easier by buying a franchise business. But they still have challenges. There's a steep learning curve – maybe many learning curves – in making the transition from employee to entrepreneur. It's a completely different lifestyle, often requiring longer hours. And many new owners are trying to work out personal difficulties while trying to build a business.
Here are the stories of two people who started companies in the last year.
FROM INFORMATION SERVICES TO BOOKKEEPING
Alison Muzal knew several months ahead of time that she was going to lose her job at in the information technology division of a big corporation. So she began looking into the idea of running her own company. She had an accounting degree and an MBA, and had more than 20 years of experience in bookkeeping and accounting. So it made sense to her to go in a field she was familiar with. She decided to buy a BookKeeping Express Franchise. She opened it last October.
Many entrepreneurs choose to open a franchise because it comes with an established business model. A franchise that has been around for a while already has name recognition. And if the corporation owning the franchise is well-run, it will provide support and assistance to franchisees.
But even with a franchise, Muzal has had the same kind of adjustment period as most people who start a business after working for someone else. "In the corporate world, I have a very specific focus. Now, it's not only am I doing the books, I'm doing the marketing and I'm managing my own business accounting," she said.
Marketing has been especially challenging. Even a franchise owner has to go out and find customers or clients. And Muzal said, "it was new to me and outside my comfort zone."
She has gotten help from other business people. She took advantage of the services offered by SCORE, which gives free advice and runs workshops for small business owners on all aspects of business, including marketing. She has become active in her local chamber of commerce and attended networking events.
There have been other challenges. Muzal learned that owning a business requires "a lot of discipline and a lot of time. If you're used to 40 hours work a week, you should at least double that time."
The weak economy hasn't helped. "I wish I could say everything is wonderful and rosy and I'm making more money than I expected, but I'm not." And Muzal has had a tremendous personal challenge, the recent death of her partner.
But a year into her venture, Muzal says, "I'm enjoying it. I still feel it was the right decision to make."
FROM ADVERTISING TO SENIOR CARE
Chris Blaine was the vice president of branding and advertising at an insurance company in Omaha, Neb., when he was laid off in December 2009. He decided to open his own business, one that would give him more control over his future. So he chose a Home Instead Senior Care franchise.
Unlike Muzal, Blaine opened a business in an industry that was entirely new to him. So the idea of having a ready-made business model was appealing. "Rather than try to do everything from scratch, it made more sense for me to leverage the model," he said.
He chose a health care-related business because it is a growing industry. Blaine noted that 10,000 people are turning 65 each day, which means demand for home health care will keep rising.
Blaine decided to buy an existing franchise in Branson, Mo. That operation was struggling, but Blaine, who took the business over on Nov. 1, 2010, has been turning it around.
He does face challenges. Even though health care is growing, the economy is still a problem for businesses like Blaine's. Health insurance generally doesn't cover home care for seniors, so Blaine's revenue, while up 22 percent from a year ago, isn't what it would be in a stronger economy.
And uprooting his family has meant an adjustment. Blaine and his wife have four children ages two to nine.
But Blaine sees the decision to take on a business as the right one after having worked for corporations for 15 years. He says that by buying the franchise, "I could marry my desire to make a difference in people's lives with my business acumen."