Susan Portwood was laid off a few months ago and when she couldn't find a job, she created her own.
Last month Portwood started Comforter Concierge, a business in which she offers to do grocery shopping, gift shopping, event planning or run other errands for people who are busy and just don't have the time. She's had a couple jobs so far: stocking a condo for a group of golfers and pet sitting.
Portwood said she spends most of her time trying to drum up business. She posts fliers wherever she can, hands out business cards to people she meets and gets the word out to friends who might know someone who needs some extra help.
"When the economy went to dirt I was stuck with no job and tons and tons of bills coming in and I had to find a way to get by," she said.
Portwood is not alone. With the economy still shaky and unemployment high, residents are exploring their options and trying to find ways to make money, experts said. Some unemployed workers start their own businesses where they can call the shots and don't risk being laid off again. Others are still working but need some extra money.
The jobless rate in Horry County was 10.6 percent in October, up 0.3 percent from September, according to the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce. The Georgetown County unemployment rate dropped to 10.7 percent from 10.9 percent.
Robert Salvino, a research economist at Coastal Carolina University, said he doesn't have specific numbers on how many unemployed workers started their own business but that in a rocky economy like this it is typical that individuals would try.
"In general as individuals try to shore up their position they try to start up different things," he said. "In this economy certainly it would be expected that individuals would look for ways to supplement income, and home-based businesses would be a way to do that."
Seeking help to get started
There has been an influx of unemployed workers reaching out to local advisers to find out more about starting their own business.
"At workshops a pretty fair chunk of them have come in because they haven't been able to find a job and they're out of work and this is their last resort," said Bill Cole, the chapter chairman of Grand Strand SCORE, an organization that provides counseling and seminars for small business owners.
Most of the potential business owners who seek advice don't end up starting a business, he said, but of those who do about 80 percent will start the business from their home.
For many businesses, not having a store is not a drawback because they provide a service that is mostly done onsite for a customer, so they can cut costs by working at home.
The business owners who do it out of desperation but lack passion or a realistic view of how a business will run are less likely to succeed, Cole said, adding that the organization tries to advise them.
The Coastal Area Small Business Development Center has also seen more people who are out of work thinking about a new business as a next step, said Janet Graham, the area manager of the center.
Graham said more people in their 40s and 50s who have held jobs for years but have been recently laid off are now thinking of going into business on their own.
"They're looking at this as an opportunity to do something for themselves," she said.
Graham said that she counsels potential business owners to start from home because it's cheaper.
"What we try to do is get people to start small, start really small, and grow as you go," she said.
Making a job
Unemployed residents have to evaluate their job prospects, but starting a new business could be the best way to get back to work.
Joe Davis was laid off about three years ago from a job selling time shares for Bluegreen, and with bleak job prospects he started his own pest control business.
"At the time when we started it, there was no job opportunity," he said. "There was no job that could pay our rent, so we had to make one."
He took some money he had saved and invested it in the materials he needed and on advertising his new business, AAA Pest Control, which works on residential and commercial properties and specializes in organic pest control.
He opened a pest control business because it would be a business that had a future even in a struggling economy, Davis said.
"Luckily with our business it doesn't require a storefront," he said. "If we had to do a storefront it might not have been as realistic because of all the capital required."
Less than three years later, Davis and his wife have hired another full-time employee and the business is steadily growing, Davis said.
"We find it so rewarding that we can have our own business and grow our own future," he said.
One of the biggest challenges has been advertising so that he can expand the business, Davis said.
"No one really knows how great you are until they know who you are," he said.
Cole said that marketing and finance are the two areas where small business owners typically need the most help. SCORE works with business owners, including Davis, on how to best use their resources and grow, he said.
Portwood said getting her name out there is her biggest challenge but that she's confident that she'll be able to make her concierge business work.
As a single mom for years, Portwood said she knows that there are a lot of people who don't have time to run errands. Right now she is working on getting the word out to some of the snowbirds and trying to reach out to seniors who might need help. She's also gearing up for the spring to get work during the golf season.
"People really need the service," Portwood said. "The thing is just getting people to know that it's here."
A cookie-cutter approach
Some workers searching for an extra income or a new job look to direct selling businesses, like Mary Kay cosmetics, Premier Designs Jewelry or the Pampered Chef, where set business plans guide the way.
"Direct selling does typically see an increase in poor economic times," said Amy Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Direct Selling Association. "People are looking for additional income or something to tide them over."
In 2009, the latest year for which data is available, 16.1 million people in the U.S. worked as direct sellers, up from 15.1 million in 2008, she said.
"You typically have people during a recession that are little more actively involved in selling," Robinson said.
Direct selling companies are always trying to recruit new salespeople but are definitely spreading the message now with more people looking for ways to make extra money, she said.
Graham said that direct selling businesses are an easy way for the new entrepreneur to get started.
"You just have to follow the plan. It's cookie-cutter," she said.
Cara Dempsey started selling Mary Kay cosmetics about a month ago and said that so far it's been pretty easy and the support from the company helps.
"It's definitely hard building up your clientele, but you just have to be patient with it," she said. "It's not like they just throw you in there. They want you to succeed."
Dempsey also has another job but thought Mary Kay would be a good opportunity for the future, and having the extra money has helped.
Ashley Hughes has been selling Premier Designs Jewelry for about six months.
"I thought that would be really fun to do and make some extra money on the side," she said.
While the economy wasn't the main force driving her to take up the jewelry sales, it has affected her business because customers are hesitant to buy.
The good news for business owners starting out, Salvino said, is that it's unlikely the economy will get worse, so if a business can make it now, it stands a good chance of succeeding in the long term.
"When the economy is at its bottom and you're starting a new business your expectations have to be low," he said. "So as the economy improves you can only get better from there."
Contact ADVA SALDINGER at 626-0317.