Business

Reinvented entrepreneurs

Before the recession, many people starting a business did so because they were tired of their jobs or wanted to pursue a personal passion, such as building guitars.

Now they do it because they can’t find a good job.

Another change from 10 years ago: More people starting a business fall in the younger and older age groups, said Dave McKenzie, the chairman of Spokane’s SCORE program, which lines up retired business professionals who volunteer to help people start a company.

That change in age profile reflects the nation’s dismal economy, he said.

“We’re seeing people coming out of college who know their degrees won’t land them good jobs,” McKenzie said.

Among the older entrepreneurs are people who have been laid off, or who retired and now feel they need to go back to work because of weakened investments or not having enough set aside for retirement, he said.

There are many resources available locally for people who want to start a business for whatever reason.

Beyond SCORE, which is supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration, another startup resource is the Small Business Development Center, a federal program that has offices in Spokane and North Idaho.

Washington state offers the Self-Employment Assistance Program, or SEAP. Launched by the Legislature in 2008, SEAP identifies unemployed workers who are more likely to be successful small-business owners than they are to regain their careers in the industry that laid them off. Idaho does not have a similar program.

SEAP pays the entrepreneur to take a course devoted to starting a business and also lets the person keep collecting unemployment during the startup period.

Area community colleges, including Spokane Community College and North Idaho College, also offer classes geared to prospective business owners.

Here are four examples of people who are reinventing their work lives by starting a business:

Floyd Countryman

Even in boom times, starting a business is risky. It’s especially hard when you lose a job as a carpenter and start a business as a contractor in one of the worst real estate markets in years, said Floyd Countryman, 50.

In March 2011, Countryman lost his carpenter’s job at Spokane Valley’s Central Premix. A few months later, the state sent him a SEAP note, and Countryman realized starting a business was better than staying on unemployment.

He signed up for a course offered through Spokane-based SNAP. By the end of the year, Countryman had started Alberta Construction, based in Cheney.

He used $90,000 from his 401(k) to get the business started, he said.

He has bid on three or four jobs and won a few with bids he now said were too low. It took about 10 weeks from the time he started the company to his first contracting job, he said.

“The hardest thing is that no one knows about me,” he said. Countryman said he can’t afford to spend money on advertising and instead relies on a simple Web page and the neighborhood free shopper.

Another challenge: “finding good workers who’ll work for what I can pay.”

He can afford to pay $10 to $12 per hour, but good workers want $18 to $20 per hour, he said.

Without the courses from SNAP, Countryman said he’d be lost. “It’s a whole new world for me, owning a business. When I worked for someone else, you had one hat. As a business owner, you have to wear eight or nine hats to keep it all going.”

Tad Brooks

Tad Brooks came to Spokane more than 10 years ago, taking an editor’s job at The Spokesman-Review. He was laid off in 2008 as Cowles Co., which owns the newspaper, was forced to cut costs.

Brooks went to work for Edward Jones as a financial adviser. “I picked the worst time to be a financial adviser,” the 51-year-old said.

A year after that job ended, Washington state employment officials told Brooks he was eligible for the SEAP program. He signed up last year to take a 12-month business-training course through Spokane’s SNAP office. He finished the course – offered in one-on-one sessions – last month.

Married with three kids, Brooks considers farming his job, while his wife continues working as a financial adviser. “She brings home the bacon, and I raise it,” he said.

In 2011, a shortened first year in business, Chanticleer Farms near Chattaroy generated about $4,000 in sales of organically raised chickens and hogs. Brooks also grew a small amount of vegetables.

“I sold everything we had or grew,” Brooks said, adding he plans to double his production this year.

He has found his new occupation coincides nicely with growing interest in organic and locally grown food. While not yet a certified organic grower, Brooks said he hopes to get to that status.

He spent about $17,000 to launch the business, he said.

Brooks doesn’t expect to become profitable until 2013. He will spend roughly $50,000 this year to add a barn, more animal pens and an extra water tank.

He didn’t grow up on a farm but was raised in southern Pennsylvania farm country. Brooks said he feels in control and prefers selling food over financial advice.

His customers so far have been acquaintances and people who heard of Chanticleer by word of mouth. The challenge, he said, is to expand but keep the small-farm feeling of quality and hands-on attention.

“It’s not easy,” he added. “Running a farm is a fairly intense operation.”

Angie Feser

Angie Feser, 43, went through two stints as a professional landscape architect, losing both jobs when work slowed down for her employers.

Some workers who lose a good job in their 30s or 40s consider returning to school. But Feser already had two master’s degrees and a bachelor’s degree in recreation and leisure studies.

She decided to remain in the field she knew by launching her own landscape architecture firm, AF Design. Getting started cost her about $10,000, mostly for computers and home office supplies, including some spendy design software.

It wasn’t a decision she took lightly. “A lot of our identity is tied up in what we do,” Feser said, adding that it was clear she’d take a hit on an annual income around $60,000 when she worked for others.

Still, she had no big debts and no family to support. She felt comfortable she’d be able to line up commercial design work through her local contacts.

Feser’s hope is to earn roughly $50,000 a year. But even less than that will be fine, she said.

“I’m willing to live on less. I will have more flexibility in my life. I can control the projects I take on. I can take total responsibility for my work,” she said.

Anyone preparing to start a business should look closely at work habits and style, she advised. “Know your personality. Are you able to have the discipline to stay with your plan for at least two years?”

Deanna Tiemann

In November 2011, 29-year-old Deanna Tiemann was laid off from her marketing job with a Spokane e-commerce company.

Tiemann, like Feser, got a SEAP eligibility note last year. Like Feser, she signed up to take a 13-week business program organized by John Pederson for the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Losing her job was a lucky break, Tiemann said. She already was feeling guilty working almost full time while leaving her 7-month-old with day care providers.

The SEAP notice gave her time to look at whether she had the skills and dedication to set up her own home-based business. Her husband, Jason Tiemann, has a full-time job, which allows her the option of working 20 to 30 hours a week instead of full time.

Tiemann decided to go to the first Valley Chamber of Commerce course, and it convinced her she was prepared to become an entrepreneur. It also helped her decide which type of business entity to form, how to apply for a business license, where to go for financing and how to write contracts.

The result was Squishy Peanut Marketing, her consulting firm.

Tiemann is facing minimal startup costs, adding up to less than $1,000 – most of which will go for business licenses, state corporation fees and hosting a website.

The business is so new Tiemann hasn’t lined up any work yet, she said.

“I’m just glad I can start a business that lets me stay home and be with my son,” she said. “I’m hoping I can earn enough money to help us live on.”



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