Not Working Yet? The Scoop On Starting A Business

start your own businessAfter becoming unemployed twice in three years, I had had it. Done! At 40, I no longer wanted the corporate setting, the 9-to-5, or the job-robbing bosses. I wanted something of my own. But what was it? The "it" of freedom to be my own boss.

I live at the beach in New Jersey. I wanted my own ... what? What was "it"?

At the shore there is ice cream available practically on every corner. That was "it." I would own an ice cream stand.

I knew nothing about the ice cream business, but knew the product and knew others loved devouring it. I decided to volunteer at a friend's place miles from where I was going to start my ice cream empire.

It was pre-season, so not so busy, and they were glad to have me. I envisioned nice, easy days and nights of scooping ice cream. Easy? Never. I now know why you see 14- and 15-year-olds scooping. I have arthritis in both my hands, which flares up in the winter months. I never dreamed that scooping ice cream would trigger it. Well, after a few evenings of scooping, I would wake up with claw hands.

The whole experience of ice cream scooping lasted 20 hours tops. My ice cream business was never going happen.

Meanwhile, my family thought I had some kind of breakdown. What is she doing down there, scooping ice cream at 40? I knew what I was doing. Well, maybe not the full picture, but I knew this was the way to new, interesting, full employment. I was on a roll. I was out there trying stuff, volunteering, being in the world. I knew the movement was going to bring the next new idea and direction.

The same summer I stopped by a pal who was in the food business. I told him I was unemployed, again. We were chatting and he told me that he was having a problem with his coleslaw vendor. I loudly heard opportunity knocking. So I said to him, "I can make coleslaw." He said, "OK, let's try it." Well, now my mind was working. Great. I could see it now! I would start with him, then provide coleslaw to every food stand on the coast. The dream began.

At home in my tiny kitchen I mixed the coleslaw, thinking, what will be the company name? Ah! My name is Karen. Mix that with coleslaw. I'll name the company K-Slaw, Inc. I would have a jingle like "K-Slaw-slaw, whatever will be, will be." It was big.

Coleslaw made, I brought a container to my friend to try it. Well, it was a bit salty. But he dragged out two 30-gallon tubs of coleslaw and said, "This is the portion I need every few days." Now it's back to the arthritic hands. I was never going to be able to chop, mix, dice or stir 30 gallons of coleslaw!

This business dream lasted until the time it took to make a portion of coleslaw for four. I did, however, use the name K-Slaw, Inc. My books are published by K-Slaw, Inc. I still sing the jingle, "K-Slaw-slaw, whatever will be, will be." In private, of course.

So there I was, still not working. Out of the vapors of an unemployment fog, a co-worker called and asked me to come and talk at a company that was laying off their employees. She had watched and listened to me at our last employment tell others about the pitfalls and traps of facing our current corporate downsizing. She said that I could do a presentation. I had never spoken in front of an audience at that point. I had no idea what to say. At that time, mind you, there were no home computers; laptops didn't exist. She said, "Just write some things down. We will type it up for you."

I never made that presentation, but I started my first book on my college Smith Corona typewriter with the correctable ribbon. Typed it on different colored paper as I revised it.

I approached an editor who lived in the neighborhood.

He said, "You have something here."

"Who will publish it?" I asked.

"You should," he said.

I asked, "How?"

He said, "I don't know."

So that summer I wrote in the A.M. and learned in the P.M. about the process of publishing. My first book was written and published in 4½ months. If someone was to tell me that today, after close to 17 years of writing, I would say, "You can't do that."

Well, you can. You really can do anything you set your mind on with that first step, that first scoop, that first chop or that first word. Whatever your time is out of a workweek -- months or years -- just start something toward the new.

As the first step toward that next new business venture -- volunteer. This is how you do it: You ask to meet with the owner of a business that you are interested in. Be honest and say, "I have always wanted to (own, operate, work) in your type of business. I would like to volunteer for (an afternoon, a day, or whatever you can do)."

If the first response is no, that's OK. Ask another business owner. This is the best way to know if you want to buy a franchise -- work in one. If an acquaintance sees you wearing a hairnet and a name tag, just wave. If the business is the right fit and you own a few franchises, who is the winner?

Just begin that step toward something. Your path may not be ice cream or coleslaw, but the process of movement toward something new will lead you to new, interesting and full employment. Your objective is to be working. With times the way they are, you may not be able to go back to what you once did. So try everything. Something will fit. And I guarantee it will be a pleasant surprise.

Next: How To Make Working From Home A Whole Lot Better

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