Need a Job??? Create Your Own…

This is what 40 attendees of the recent “Start Your Business Workshop” in Chandler AZ are considering. As an aside, all 40 had recently lost their jobs. But rather than sulk or wait for the government to intervene, these 40 budding entrepreneurs were taking matters into their own hands. On a beautiful spring day in Arizona, no less. Bravo, I say!

The workshop was an extension of Laid Off Camp/Phoenix , a program staffed by volunteers intent on helping those who have recently lost their jobs. This special session focused not on getting another job, but on starting your OWN business. It was my privilege to discuss consulting as a small business possibility.

The group (attendees and speakers) ranged in age from the 20’s to 60’s. While I was probably oldest person in the room, my boomer colleagues were well represented. Unfortunately, the new boomer reality is often “Too old to hire — too young to retire.” 

Almost all of the speakers (like me) had been laid off at least once. In addition to offering “nuts and bolts” advice, we also shared our stories — the zigs and zags of starting and building our businesses. The talks were both practical and inspiring.

The session was kicked off by Arizona’s own Pam Slim (Escape From Cubicle Nation.) Her insights are priceless — over the years, she has helped hundreds launch/build successful small businesses of all types. I’ve sung her praises before, and gladly do so again.

The most inspiring talk of the day came from Randy Walters, the founder and owner of Pittsburgh Willy’s Gourmet Hotdogs. Laid off at 53 (boomers take note), Randy had an epiphany while watching a TV commercial. Rather than look for another job, he decided it was time to follow his dream — running a hot dog stand like his father had done in Pittsburgh in the 1930s.

So he plunged in and bought a hot dog cart — but then didn’t sell his first hot dog for six months. He described, with great humor, the Catch-22 bureaucracy along with the bad business advice he chose to ignore (gourmet hotdogs — never work — keep the menu simple–etc.) But Randy stuck with his dream, and five years later, he now has a full restaurant that is a “must visit” here in the Valley of the Sun.

Several people expressed interest in consulting. One was a former HR person, another was a retired teacher interested in tutoring, along with a fellow geek (engineer.) Of course, many of the speakers were consultants, and included a newly minted lawyer, a graphics artist, a former car salesman, a couple of web experts, and an accountant who also runs a women’s exercise studio. What an interesting bunch!

Here were some key points gleaned from the presentations. While several of us emphasized these, it was probably good to hear them repeated.

  • Marketing is key — No, the world won’t beat a path to your door. You’ve got to light the way. Remember, without customers you don’t have a business.
  • Follow your dream — Don’t compromise, and be true to yourself.  Don’t wake up at 60 wishing…
  • Don’t give up — As Pittsburgh Willy said several times, if one way is blocked, just hunt for another way to get there.
  • Don’t be afraid — Probably the most important. A little fear is perfectly normal, but don’t let it overwhelm you.  And don’t be afraid to ask for help.

So, if you are looking for a job, why not consider creating your own?  Many of us have already done so — consultants and others — and we’re having a ball.

P.S.Best wishes to all who attended — yes, you CAN do it!  And while happy to share my perspective, I’m sure I gained more than I gave. Special thanks to organizer Susan Baier (, who does this as a labor of love.

Now, off to Pittsburgh Willy’s for a hot dog…

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