The recession pushed many people out of their old jobs. Some used the opportunity to make


September 05, 1993|By Holly Selby

One Baltimore woman was laid off from her job with a building contractor. Two days later, she started her own business helping developers obtain building permits.

A Silver Spring woman recognized a chance of a lifetime when the phone company she worked for offered an early-retirement plan. She accepted the pension package and went into business for herself as an interior designer.

When one Baltimore couple's income dwindled, putting their mortgage payments in jeopardy, the two took a chance. They quit their jobs in car sales and went into the restaurant business.

And frugality paid off for another Baltimorean: When his job in banking was eliminated, he was able to use his savings to start his own gardening business.

As employers merge, downsize and cut back, thousands of workers have been bought out, laid off and relocated. Through it all, some people have managed to see beyond the immediate -- and very real -- stresses and strains of the recession to a different future. Hard-working and ambitious, these people now took risks they'd only dreamed of taking before; when their jobs or career security disappeared, they discovered opportunities.

Keeping the Momentum

No one ever will accuse Shelley Welsh of not moving quickly enough -- or not being willing to go the distance.

Ms. Welsh, who teaches aerobics, runs marathons and still finds time for night classes in engineering, turned getting laid off into a grand opportunity.

And all within four days.

In the fall of 1989, she was earning an "upper-middle-class income" as a building project manager. Then, she was laid off one Friday morning.

L That night and the next, she lay awake wondering what to do.

"You're upset. You're feeling insecure. All you're thinking of is getting a job," she says. "And you think, 'Do you want to work for someone and run the risk of getting laid off again?' "

Then it came to her. Having worked as an urban planner and in the development business, Ms. Welsh knew well the frustrations builders face in obtaining the forms and signatures necessary for permits.

"Why not offer to deal with those hassles?" she thought. "Why not operate a building permit business?"

There were already one or two such businesses in the area.

Ms. Welsh decided to give it a try.

And by the end of Monday, after she called every business contact she had, five people had said they had work for her.

"So in about 48 hours, I set up a business," she says.

Since then, her one-woman company has grown from a fledgling business to a 24-client operation.

But it wasn't easy. Dealing with getting laid off and starting a business is hard emotionally, she says. It's hard financially. And even when things go well, it's long, hard hours.

During the tough times, the Baltimore native's family, including a younger sister and brother, acted as her cheerleaders. Her father, a retired salesman who lives in Reisterstown, encouraged her, too.

At first she worked 12 to 14 hours a day and came home at night to make phone calls and do her own accounting. Vacations -- except a few days taken off in spring and fall to run in the New York and Boston marathons -- were unheard of, she says. Eating out and fun weekend trips went the way of her former job.

"The first year was pure survival. I ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches for dinner," she says. And some days, "I'd think, 'Why am I doing this?' "

Things are looking up for Ms. Welsh, who is now 32 -- she went on a vacation this past spring and she has cut back the hours she works each week.

As a marathoner and triathlete, Ms. Welsh begins each day at 5:30 with a run, then teaches an aerobics class from 6:15 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. That leaves her 45 minutes to prepare for work.

From 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., she sits in her car and makes her first round of phone calls.

"I try never to lose momentum," she says.

Armed with her pager, she's then on the road. She has clients in five counties; driving 200 miles per day has become routine.

Despite what many people think, she says, being your own boss doesn't necessarily eliminate pressure or stress. In the permit business, "you're dealing with millions and millions of dollars because the developers can't build until they get the permit and each day means money," she says. "I have a lot of crises per day."

But after two years, she has learned to leave work worries at the office -- even if that office is in her home.

"I used to work on weekends and at night," she says. "Now, at 5 or so, it's all turned off. When you have a small business, it's in your life and in your house and you have to learn to close the door and shut it all off."

Moonlighting, No More

Harriett Stanley is the kind of person who can whip up a whole outfit on her sewing machine in one evening. The kind who uses vacation days to attend training seminars. The kind who is willing to work 14-hour days -- eight hours at her job as a Bell Atlantic product manager and six more moonlighting as an interior designer.

Harriett Stanley is also a very patient person.

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