Originally created 04/27/97

The downsized strike out on their own



WANTED: Flexible, tenacious over-achiever who likes solving problems and taking risks. If you're cheap, this job's for you. Optimism and naivete are pluses. Long hours, high responsibility level. Benefits negotiable.

If this job sounds like a nightmare, don't ever work for yourself. But if it sounds like your cup of tea, you might be happier starting your own business than answering to a boss.

In an age of corporate anorexia, the entrepreneurial bug is biting more people, driving them to start small businesses rather than risk cutbacks at corporations. Small-business classes are more popular than ever. Laid-off workers see it as financial salvation.

Of course, 80 percent of small businesses will go belly-up within three years, experts say. Many people don't have the skills or the training to run their own businesses.

"There are two types of people: the entrepreneurial type and the employee type," said California businessman Ken Chane, who recently co-wrote a book on the subject. "And what happens when one type tries to move into the other world isn't always pretty."

The book, Entrepreneur or Employee: Should You Get Out or Stay in Your Current Job?, was designed to help workers evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses and lay out their options: staying with a company, searching for a different job in the corporate world or striking out on their own.

The authors, both victims of downsizing from corporate jobs, envisioned a guide for workers who want to take control of their careers or for laid-off workers too traumatized to make rational decisions.

If you know your strengths, you won't put time and money into a job you're not suited for, said Mr. Chane, who developed a new retail business for one of the largest food companies in the United States before he was let go.

Successful entrepreneurs, say Mr. Chane and his co-author, Glenn Poy - who worked in the finance department of a major Canadian automotive manufacturer before he was let go - enjoy taking risks, are flexible and optimistic and have endless persistence, even in the face of failure. Above all, they enjoy independence and autonomy. They feel stifled and frustrated in a rigid corporate environment.

These are the people who are successful at running their own businesses, the authors say.

Employee types, on the other hand, enjoy the security of a steady paycheck and good benefits and like camaraderie and collaboration. They feel better in a stable, structured work environment and get anxious outside the corporate "womb."

These are the people who should stay in the corporate culture and look for a job at another company if they're not happy now.

Neither type is better than the other, Mr. Chane said. But he urged workers to know their type before making career decisions - even if they've been laid off and are looking for a new job. Many employee types see starting their own business as a quick fix for financial troubles, which could get them into more trouble, he said.

"The premise of the book is to be prepared, but if you're not, if it's a sudden termination, you can make an irrational decision," Mr. Chane said. "First of all, get another job and put together a plan for yourself. Otherwise, you make mistakes out of pressure, need and fear."

He suggested trying an idea as a hobby or part-time job before cutting the economic umbilical cord and setting off on your own.

Beryl Garrett never read the book, but she instinctively started small: running her florist shop out of her home, working with silk flowers before moving on to fresh blossoms. In 1995, she was laid off from her secretarial job at Savannah River Site. She took her severance package and invested it in Beryl's Flowers & Gifts.

"It started as a hobby, and then I started getting more orders and more orders, and I said, `Wow, I could make money with this,"' the North Augusta businesswoman said.

"I'd been doing flowers in the evenings for about 10 years, and when (the layoffs) happened, I just saw the opportunity to go full time. The door was open, and my husband always says, `If it's not meant to be, it won't happen."'

Mrs. Garrett worked with the Augusta Minority Business Development Center to get capital from an area bank, but she didn't know that one of her advisers would soon follow in her footsteps.

Kelley McKie Cornish, director at the center, saw the writing on the wall, knew the organization would lose some of its government funding and started drawing up her own business plan.

Last July, Mrs. Cornish resigned as director of the center, and in September she opened Avery & Associates, a marketing and media-relations consulting firm named for her 5-year-old son. In March, the center lost its federal funding and has closed, she said.

"I decided to go ahead and voluntarily step out, into my own business," she said. "And it was very interesting to be on the other side. It was totally different when I was the one going out on my own. But I just played my cards right that time."

Mrs. Cornish instinctively followed another of Mr. Chane's and Mr. Poy's suggestions: Be prepared. Draw up a plan. And don't ever think you're safe.

"If you think downsizing is coming up in your area, you can take advantage of it before it happens," Mrs. Cornish said. "A lot more people are going that route (of starting their own business) - and not always by choice."

Entrepreneur or Employee: Should You Get Out or Stay in Your Current Job?, $23.95, by Ken Chane and Glenn Poy, is available from The Vanalden Press of Chatsworth, Calif., at (800) 552-0899.