Greensilkmuse's Blog


From Unemployment to Self-Employment

Posted in Business by greensilkmuse on July 4, 2010

Tired of the corporate rat race?  Tired of looking for that increasingly elusive job?  Want to be your own boss?  There are numerous free and low-cost resources available in New York to help you if you are thinking of starting your own business.   New business development is critical for economic recovery and growth, so there is great interest in helping new businesses establish themselves in New York, particularly small businesses.  Small businesses account for the majority of new job growth across the country.  According to the U.S. Small Business Administration:

Firms with fewer than 500 employees accounted for 64 percent (or 14.5 million) of the 22.5 million net new jobs (gains minus losses) between 1993 and the third quarter of 2008.
Continuing firms accounted for 68 percent of net new jobs, and the other 32 percent reflect net new jobs from firm births minus those lost in firm closures (1993 to 2007).

Source: U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Business Employment Dynamics. Note that the methodology used for the figures above counts job gains or losses in the actual class size where they occurred.

 For more information on small business trends, including survival rate, financing, etc., visit the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy website.  Here is a link to their FAQ’s:  http://www.sba.gov/advo/stats/sbfaq.pdf.

Today’s New York Times illustrated just what is going on for many of the over 50 crowd who’ve lost jobs during the recession.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/03/your-money/03shortcuts.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=What%20Recovery?&st=Search

Whether underemployed or unemployed, with employers still hesitant to add jobs, it just may be up to you to make your own.

If you are on unemployment assistance in New York and are considering launching a new venture look into the Self Employment Assistance Program: http://www.labor.ny.gov/ui/claimantinfo/specialprovisions.shtm#SP1.   If you have done nothing to start a business yet and have at least 13 weeks of unemployment assistance remaining, this program will allow you to focus all your energies on launching a business rather than looking for employment.  It provides tremendous support towards viable self-employment.

In addition to the State program, New York City has several programs and initiatives to support small business creation and development: http://www.nyc.gov/html/sbs/html/business/business.shtml

The NYPL is also a valuable resource.  The Science, Industry, and Business Library (SIBL) located in the building once known as B. Altman’s, offers information for market research, business plan development, and much more.  SCORE volunteers are available to provide guidance and counsel.  See SIBL’s small business resource center at:  http://legacy.www.nypl.org/research/sibl/smallbiz/sbrc/Pages/

With a simple on-line search, you can find the basic information you’ll need to get started.  One great resource, dedicated to women entrepreneurs, is Ladies That Launch.  You don’t need to be female to benefit from this site. Access to basic tools and templates for launching a business is available to anyone for free: http://www.ladieswholaunch.com/magazine/tools-docs-templates

Know of other great resources?  Please comment to share your recommendations with others.

The Recessionary Entrepreneur

Posted in Business,General Musing by greensilkmuse on June 18, 2010

Small Business Owner, AFLCIO - May 2009

You see them in internet cafes, at networking events, conducting workshops, and writing blogs – they are the new generation of entrepreneurs.  Formerly employed by large corporations, and small firms alike, more seasoned professionals — ages 55+ have joined the ranks of the self-employed. 

While experienced executives who lost jobs as a result of the economic downturn have entered the ranks of the unemployed as “executives in transition”, the protracted job search has caused many of them to take temporary consulting assignments in order to stay professionally active and earn some income. 

For some, contract employment is merely a stepping stone to what they hope will be the next full-time corporate post.  These professionals prefer to be affiliated with a company. They want to take challenging roles where they can have impact.  They prefer to develop and build relationships inside organizations and see the results of their contributions over time. 

For others, job loss has provided the opportunity to be entrepreneurial, though this might not have been something they ever considered while gainfully employed.  They enjoy the autonomy and the flexibility of being on their own.  

What do the stats tell us?

Does it just seem like boomers are hanging out shingles, or is there objective data behind this view?  It may not be all that obvious from the labor statistics. There has been a year-over-year decline in self-employed workers during the recession.   According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 654,000 fewer self-employed workers in non-agricultural industries (these industries have the majority of the self-employed)  in May 2010 than in May 2007. The self employed population (agricultural and non-agricultural combined) aged 45 and over declined by 109,000 over this period.   However, self-employment for 55 -64 year olds rose since 2007 by 97,000.

And, let’s face it, more boomers are out of work.  According to a BLS report (Issues in Labor Statistics, Summary 10-04/March 2010) the unemployment rate for people aged 55 and over increased sharply since the beginning of the recession and this population is not leaving the labor market.

The self-employment alternative

The unemployed over 55 spend more time searcing for work than others — 35.5 weeks on average.  It’s easy to get discouraged about the propsects of finding a reasonable job,  Across all age groups not in the labor force (i.e, those either not working or not actively looking for work), the number of people not currently looking for work due to discouragement over job prospects increased from 2008 to 2009 by 68%.  So what have all those discouraged job seekers been doing? 

 The authors of a report published in 2003 by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor predicted that when unemployment is high, the necessity  total entrepreneurship activity (NTEA) – those pushed into entrepreneurship because they have no better alternatives, will be high.  This is moderated where unemployment assistance is high and/or by how difficult of easy it is to start a new business. Given the limitations of unemployment insurance and the relative ease of setting up shop (particulalry for those who consult), it ssems the conditions are ripe for entrepreneurial boomers.

Building Communities

Posted in Business,Networks by greensilkmuse on May 13, 2010

I do a LOT of networking.  Have to.  I know several people who bemoan the fact that they just don’t do enough of it.  They have too  much “real” work to do and just can’t devote the time.   Since it takes time to build relationships, they are sure to find themselves in a “professional credit crunch.”   You know, spending current social capital and not investing in the future. 

I used to be in that boat too, so I absolutely understand where they are coming from.  Since I’ve been much more engaged in making connections, I’ve come to understand the value and I wish I’d have come to this realization earlier.  It is often exhilarating, at times exhausting, sometimes disappointing, but most often energizing.   There are many avenues for networking like this:

Or, like this:

Once you get past the initial awkwardness and superficial pleasantries, it is great when you connect with someone and can go on to deepen the relationship.  I feel really good when I can help someone out by making them aware of an opportunity or connecting them with someone else.

I’ve been intrigued by social networks for some time, now.   The network analysis that can be done, showing how people connect to accomplish things, is really interesting to me.  So much so that I learned how to identify and analyze these networks so that I could help people understand their own connections and consider how to build and leverage their networks. 

Here’s an example of a simple network diagram.

Jenny, Jack, and John bridge  their networks.  They might be gatekeepers or brokers of information — with the power to decide just what goes in and out of their worlds.  However, they are uniquely positioned to create further connections between the people in  each others network; thereby building a broader community.

I am actively looking to make introductions to people who may not otherwise meet each other and who might benefit from the connection.   I find that I learn so much from talking with people who are not in my day-to-day life.  It’s how I hear of emerging trends, find resources, get referrals, and get exposed to new ideas.   I’d like to create those opportunities for others.  And people always seem to appreciate connecting with interesting people.  This is what makes all this networking so stimulating for me.  It’s like fuel.

On-line social networks have created entirely new avenues for making connections and nurturing relationships. Technology has made it much easier to find people, categorize the nature of your relationship with them, and judge whether you are operating in a close-knit circle or have a diversified relationship portfolio. 

This diagram shows the various connections of a community.  And the idea for many social network sites is to build community.  In fact, there are even off-line communities that seek to leverage on-line tools such as blogs and discussion boards to engage and strengthen their community.

 That sense of community creates a foundation, a sense of belonging.   People within a community share something in common that makes it easier for them to be at ease, to develop trust, and to want to help one another. 

Great networkers, however, don’t just build community, they connect communities.  It’s about bringing together people with disparate backgrounds – filling needs that existing communities cannot and setting the foundation for new communities to develop.  So, as I take stock of my ever growing network, I think about how I can add value to relationships by connecting communities and I wonder how can I help others to do the same.   I’ve started to pull together concepts, tools, and exercises for a workshop on optimizing social capital.  It will be about how to assess your network, enhance it, build trust, and gain influence.  As it starts to take shape, I’ll share key concepts in this space.   Contributions, comments, and suggestions are welcome.  What have been your networking experiences?

5 Tips for Developing Business

Posted in Business by greensilkmuse on May 5, 2010

Are you great at developing business?  Are you looking for ways to do it better?  Since I have my own business, I need to develop business in order to survive.  It is something I’ve had to learn so, in addition to getting advice from and observing those who do it well, I tap into the vast array of articles, books, blogs and webinars devoted to business development.  These include advice and insights on selling, marketing, and networking.  Much of the current advice is targeted towards getting the best use out of on-line social networks.

It’s amazing how many “experts” are out there.  Even more amazing is how they all say exactly the same thing!  Is there any research behind this?  Any proof?  Or are they just recycling each other’s advice?   Several of them say that they have used the techniques themselves and have grown their business this way.  Others point to the success of certain businesses and have suggested that the use of social media is what gave these successful businesses a competitive edge.  What they suggest always seems to make a great deal of sense.  Or perhaps they are just good at telling stories.

Whether developing business in-person or virtually, while the media may be different, the approach is pretty much the same.  If anything, we should all be getting better at face-to-face business development as a result of our on-line experience.  Technology tends to magnify and heighten our experiences.   If something has a lot of steps, doesn’t move logically from one place to the next, is hard to find – technology will but a big spotlight on the warts.  It stands to reason that by showing up in the right forums, adding value to conversations, engaging on a personal level, and capturing word-of-mouth referrals and recommendations, we can use social media to put a positive light on ourselves.  If we want to be engaging, easy to do business with and easy to access, then we need to “show up” this way in all our interactions.  That is, our on-line presence and our off-line presence should be consistent.

The trick is finding the right places.  Where to go to have conversations with potential clients?   Many of the on-line forums are cluttered with the comments from countless others and it is mind-boggling how much of it says absolutely nothing of value.  Does it make sense to add your voice to this already over-crowded space?  If you do, who will hear it? 

I tend to be picky about where I contribute.  I choose the places where I think there is a greater likelihood of turning an on-line connection into an off-line relationship. 

The gurus of digital marketing tout practices for improving the chances of showing up on the first page of a Google Search.   I suppose it is good to be found, but for an independent consultant like me, someone actually needs to know your name or the name of your company if they are going to find you in a Google search.  What does come up in a search for management consultants?  Sponsored links – CSC, Accenture, Deloitte.  McKinsey shows up on the first page, even though theirs is not a sponsored link.  If you search different specialty areas, the large consulting firms doing work in those areas come up.  They have the resources to constantly blog, publish, speak, tweet, etc. so good for them for their search engine optimization!

Of course, the people who have expertise in a particular niche, the ones who cover the newest developments in that space and write constantly develop large followings.  Mashable  is a great example of this.

While you may not achieve first-page status, I think one cannot develop business today without an on-line presence.  It is another forum for expressing your unique voice and for making connections, some of which can develop into more significant business relationships.  Whether on-line or off-line – here is a summary of tips from various sources (webinars, articles, books, etc.) for developing business:

  1.  Be present.  You need to show up in order to make connections and be found.
  2. Listen.  Monitor the conversations.  See what’s on people’s minds so your contributions are relevant.
  3. Contribute.  Ask not what they can do for you, but what you can do for them (to paraphrase a famous presidential quote).
  4. Engage.  Be conversational, authentic, and consistent.  Build personal relationships.
  5. Build community.  Share the wealth.  Connect your connections with each other.  Your contributions will go viral.

Above all – demonstrate what you have to offer.  Let folks taste the wine before they decide to order the bottle.