Translating job skills into your own firm

Succeeding in small business

October 28, 1991|By Jane Applegate | Jane Applegate,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

In prior economic slumps, laid-off corporate workers usually moved into new jobs at another corporation. Not any more.

A recent poll by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found that 34 percent of the 352 corporate officers polled had permanently cut staff due to the recession and nearly 20 percent plan additional cuts soon.

But if you or someone you know is facing a job loss, don't despair.

Many people can translate what they did for someone else into a business of their own. Corporate cast-outs are using their severance money to buy franchises, buy an equity position in a small business, buy an existing business or start something from scratch.

The key is to parlay the expertise and management skills you acquired elsewhere into something profitable for yourself. The transition is not easy, but with research, energy and some financial support, it can be done.

Once the shock of being laid off subsides, you have to chart a course of action. Gilbert Zoghlin, author of a new book "From Executive to Entrepreneur," suggests asking yourself these questions:

* What is a realistic business for me in terms of my resources, ability and money?

* What type of business makes my pulse race?

* What would be the ideal location?

* What is my goal for my business? Millions of dollars versus an income equal to that earned as an executive? An industry leadership position versus moderate profitability?

Zoghlin, president of the benefits consulting firm of Engler, Zoghlin, Mann Ltd. in Wilmette, Ill., advises clients to begin a new venture as soon as possible so they do not lose their momentum and dwell on the invariable "what if" questions that come up. Rehashing what happened in the past won't help. Accept that you are on your own and move on.

While many former executives immediately decide to become lTC consultants, it's not the right path for everyone. If you were a terrific marketing director or sales manager, stick to what you know best and consider a retail or distribution business.

Buying a franchise may sound appealing because you don't have to start from scratch, but Zoghlin suggests making sure the franchise you choose fits your personal skills. Be sure too that the franchiser's corporate culture is one you feel comfortable in. Remember, if you have just left a corporate environment, you may chafe under any restraints placed on you by a franchiser.

Lynne Cohen and Patsy Sultan are examples of two women who have made a successful transition from a big institution to a small business.

Although Cohen and Sultan weren't working for a major corporation, they were working for a major institution, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Close friends and fellow art lovers, they had worked as volunteers in the museum's art rental gallery.

"The most valuable asset we took from the museum was learning about contemporary art," said Sultan, who was out in the corporate world working as an art consultant on behalf of the museum's rental gallery.

Realizing that she and Cohen could translate what they had learned from their museum experience into a business of their own, they opened Santa Monica-based Art Dimensions in April, 1990.

Using their own funds and a borrowed computer, they drafted forms and contracts based on the ones they used at the museum. Then they began contacting artists whose work they wanted to represent.

Art Dimensions currently leases work by Georges Braque, Helen Frankenthaler, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Christo, Ed Moses, Andy Warhol, Susan Rothenberg and Robert Mapplethorpe.

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