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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 15, 2004

Ranks of young self-employed grow

By Martha Irvine
Associated Press

CHICAGO — Sarah Levy loved being a restaurant pastry chef — but not the long hours, the relatively low pay, or the constant yelling that goes on in high-stress kitchens.

Before you start:

Things to consider before becoming self-employed:

• Have you ever worked in the business you're considering? If not, get a job in the field — or interview several people who do what you want to do. "You want to learn from the people who are doing well," says Stacey Mayo, a certified career coach and author of "I Can't Believe I Get Paid To Do This."

• How much do you know about running a business? Do you have a business plan? Do you have seed money? Many higher learning institutions offer courses and entire programs on self-employment. Experts also suggest visiting your library or local bookstore to check out the many books written on the topic.

• Don't move too quickly. "Speed kills," says Gene Fairbrother from the National Association for the Self-Employed — especially if you've never run your own business.

So this spring, the 23-year-old Chicagoan moved to a different kitchen — at her parents' home — and launched her own business, Sarah's Pastries & Candies Inc.

"I feel better when I'm working for myself and building a name for myself," says Levy, who started turning a profit last month.

She's one of the lucky ones; she got financial backing from her dad to help start the business.

But she's not alone in her decision to strike out on her own. A number of young people are doing the same, driven by everything from a wish for more flexibility to a chance to test their own ideas.

A few recent college graduates, including 22-year-old Noah Thomas, say the tough job market they encountered last spring also motivated them to create their own options.

Thomas, who lives in Columbia, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in marketing and finance, spent about three months looking for a job with no luck.

"Nothing was happening for me," Thomas says. "I didn't hear back from a lot of people — didn't even know what happened to my resumes."

So with a small amount of savings in his pocket, he started checking out less-expensive franchise options and bought into All About Honeymoons, a travel business that specializes in trips for newlyweds.

As his business is getting off the ground, he's also teaching an SAT prep course to supplement his income.

Nationwide, it's difficult to estimate the number of young small business owners: The federal Small Business Administration does not keep statistics by age.

But there are signs of growth. The Virginia-based Young Entrepreneurs' Organization — a group founded in 1987 that requires $1 million in annual sales before it will admit a business owner — now counts 95 U.S. members younger than 30 in its ranks.

And a first-time survey done this year by the National Association for the Self-Employed found that about 15 percent of its members are in their 20s or early 30s.

Gene Fairbrother, a small business consultant at the Texas-based nonprofit, says the percentage is significant because — even as recently as three years ago — young people rarely called for any sort of small-business advice.

"But not anymore," says Fairbrother, who believes cutbacks in some job sectors have played a role. He also credits the growing number of university programs that focus on entrepreneurship.

That doesn't mean that self-employment is for everyone, says Stacey Mayo, an Atlanta-based certified career coach.

Some people, she says, start researching a business of interest only to realize that they'd rather fine-tune their current career than deal with the headaches of long hours and the tough decisions a boss has to make.

Still, "it's definitely worth exploring," she says.