Workzone: Must running your own shop remain a dream?

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The U.S. Economic Census in 2007, the most recent available, determined that there were 121 million workers in the United States working at the 14 million businesses that employ more than one person.

Based on that, we're thinking there are probably 100 million people -- give or take a few million -- daydreaming about quitting their jobs and working for themselves.

Sarah Mayer, the CEO of Infiniti Solutions, has two words of advice for them: "Work hard."

Mrs. Mayer started Infiniti Events, which recently changed its name to Infiniti Solutions, while working as the marketing manager for an eldercare company based in Seattle.

She was working from home in Hampton while employed at the Seattle company. The time difference gave her three hours every weekday morning to network for her own business. Then she would work her "day" job from noon until 8 p.m.

She ran her event planning business for six years before she quit working full time in December. Now she is working with a business partner to provide marketing in addition to event planning.

What has she found since quitting that other job? She is still working about 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Vedas Bey is still working nearly full time as a loan specialist in a bank call-center Downtown but, since the calls come in at all hours, she is able to follow her passion of running bulldozers and heavy equipment as the CEO of Steele City Contracting in Highland Park. She rents the equipment, though she is considering buying some, and hires people to work with her on large jobs.

Ms. Bey said she had spent nights and lunch hours researching how to start a business. And now she is working her job around her business.

Most entrepreneurs start out as employees of someone else's company, said Rebecca Harris, the executive director of the Center for Women Entrepreneurship at Chatham University.

No statistics are kept on the number of employees running their own businesses on the side, but a recent study of those taking classes on starting their own businesses found that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women in the classes were still in their day jobs.

"Many people are sitting on their jobs and taking classes," Ms. Harris said. "We offer night classes for that very reason."

She said quitting the job and starting the business was doing things in the wrong order. Instead, you should have the new business all set up, if not running, by the time you quit your job. The job allows you to build up some savings to carry you through those tough early years.

"If they're giving up a job with insurance and all those benefits, they have to be very serious about it," she said.

In the past there weren't many resources for people starting businesses. Workers who were becoming owners had to fly by the seat of their pants as they spoke to lenders (both banks and their families) and tried to get their companies off the ground.

Now courses such as those offered by the Center for Women Entrepreneurship and at other colleges and universities help people develop their ideas and refine their business plans. Ms. Harris said some participants walk out of her center's 10-week course realizing their idea won't work, but then take the class again later when they have a new germ of a business.

The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, released last week by the Kauffman Foundation, showed that more new businesses started in 2010 than in any of the previous 15 years.

Still, the surge may not solve the nation's problem of 8.9 percent unemployment.

The foundation reported that most of those startups were run by sole proprietors who didn't employ anyone else.


Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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