By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day.
Robert Frost

“You lost your job?  You should start your own business!  Be your own boss!”

OK – my response to this suggestion has been one of incredulity.  But that’s because I can’t imagine trying to start a business with no capital, credit or workspace.  Not to mention I don’t know what sort of business I’d start if I had all those things.  But I can see the draw of working for oneself and apparently other out of work people can too, because stories abound about recently unemployed people doing just that.  For some the loss of a job means the freedom and incentive to transform a beloved hobby into a business or pursue the dream of working for themselves. 

Some entrepreneurs have essentially just transferred their old jobs to their own company, like the laid off auto worker who bought machinery from his closing plant and started his own machining company.  Or the chemist who started his own lab when the Pfizer the plant he had worked in closed.   These folks had the skills, clearly had startup capital, and had the business connections they needed to make their own small business successful. 

Other unemployed people have taken even more of a leap – and are doing something completely different from their old jobs; like the executive who had made hand painted t-shirts for fun and after losing her high paid job turned her craft into a business.

For those of you who have the desire and wherewithal to start your own business, here are some online resources –

Not many people who find themselves unemployed can, or even want to take the leap into owning their own business.  Some don’t have the capital, can’t get a loan or there’s not a demand for their services. But that doesn’t mean that the entrepreneurial spirit isn’t alive and well among unemployed Americans.  After all the unemployment check doesn’t quite meet the bills – even the extremely pared down bills we face.  So we search for jobs but also look for ways to make some extra money.  We barter our services – a massage for a haircut – or pick up things for cheap and resell them.  We keep chickens in the backyard and sell the eggs.  We walk dogs or mow yards or lend some muscle when someone’s moving.  We don’t have a business plan and we won’t show up at the next Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting; you might call us casual entrepreneurs. 

There are internet resources for the casual entrepreneur as well.  Craigslist lists all sorts of temporary and part-time jobs and ‘gigs’ – not all of which are scams.  But don’t bother responding to the weight loss study that claims to pay $1500 for your participation – that one is a scam!  If you have a band or can clean houses, fix a crack in a windshield or reupholster a chair I can link you up with someone willing to pay!  And if you get desperate – well, there’s always – the website that advertises a wide range of possible jobs – from doing voiceovers to working on a cruise ship, to selling your blood, sperm, eggs or hair!  Or perhaps you’d consider tattoo advertising?  I wonder if they guarantee tattoo removal if the product you are advertising goes out of business? 

If you lose your job and have or are in danger of losing your home as well, you may have decided it’s a good time to sort through things and shed some clutter while making some cash.  Perhaps you’ve had a yard sale or two, listed things on Craigslist or eBay, or gathered together any gold jewelry you have and were willing to part with and taken it to the shops that buy gold.  I did that.  I had some gold chains and charms I purchased when I was in college and it wasn’t too painful to part with them even knowing they were destined to be melted down – not when it meant food for the family for a week.  But the few family heirlooms – the grandparents’ wedding rings – those I couldn’t part with.

The trouble with selling things for cash is that eventually you run out of things to sell.  And the cash has gone to pay bills or buy food and gas.  Before moving out of our rented house I sold or gave away all our furniture, plus hundreds of books, the Christmas ornaments, tree and décor, pottery and Asian antiques I had collected, wine glasses, toys, bikes, clothing, bedding, household tools and appliances. What was left was either things we needed – camping gear – or held dear or were worth nothing to anyone else.  Those things went into a storage unit.

I was at that storage unit earlier this week and found myself in the midst of an auction.  People who hadn’t kept up with their rent were now losing their possessions.  It was with a macabre curiosity that I trailed along behind the group of about 25 men (yes, I was the only woman present) who were there to bid on the units. Of the six units up for auction, 2 were redeemed at the last minute, leaving 4 on offer.  I hung around the periphery of the crowd as they waited for the auctioneer, listening to them shoot the breeze.  Most seemed to know each other, clearly they regularly made the circuit of storage unit auctions.  They chatted about their triumphs and failures at previous auctions.  One man laughed about the storage unit full of designer shoe boxes that he’d bid up to over $1,000, only to find out after he won that each and every box held one boot- the left foot boot.  He sent them all to a landfill.  Another told of finding a discarded handgun which when turned over to the police, turned out to be a murder weapon.  But the auction at our storage center was more mundane.  One was full of miscellaneous unmarked boxes and a scattering of tools and car parts and strangely several old pots full of dirt; another one held cheap furniture, a stained mattress, a dirt bike and a full-sized older almond colored refrigerator which smelled as if it still held food.  The units, each around 10×5 feet, mostly went for a couple hundred dollars. The only one that garnered more bids, going for over $700, was stacked floor to ceiling, crammed full of boxes and boxes and boxes.  The boxes were neatly labeled toys,children’s clothing, movies, kitchen, bedding, books, photos… They were someone’s life.  They could have been our boxes in our storage unit and I hearkened to the warning – keep current on the rent!

As much as I felt sickened by knowing that someone had lost possessions they valued, I benefit, to some small degree, from such losses.  Having sold all that we had to sell, I’ve had to look around for additional merchandise for my eBay listings.  I attend estate sales, check thrift shops, cruise yard sales on the weekend and am a regular at our warehouse sale (and they buy up storage units, PODS, estates, etc.).  I’ve had mixed success with my attempts to be an entrepreneur. Rarely I stumble on a hidden gem – a first edition autographed book picked up for $1 and sold for $40, for instance. I sometimes invest in things that no one wants, or under estimate the cost of shipping and eBay fees and lose what small profit I might have made.  As a business it’s not much of a success, although some months I bring in an extra $100 or so and that makes all the difference in being able to buy groceries, or pay bills.  But beyond the money it makes, or doesn’t make, my entrepreneurship gives me something to do – a focus, and a feeling that I’m still contributing bread to my family’s table.