Flying Solo

How to build a profitable enterprise

Do you want to be your own boss? Have you thought about putting your skills and ideas to work for you? If you’ve considered joining the growing ranks of the self-employed, this series will provide you with the vital tips and resources you’ll need to make it happen. The first article in the series explores strategies for making a successful transition from working for others to working for yourself, as well as four great businesses for the self-employed. Later articles will address tax issues, insurance, project-management skills, hiring independent contractors and growing your firm.

Arnold Tompkins, president of Tompkins Consulting Ltd., a $250,000 Columbus, Ohio-based health and human services consulting firm, began mapping out plans for his career change well in advance of establishing his company in 1998.

“I’d always wanted to do private consulting on my own, but was a little intimidated by not having the security a job provided,” says Tompkins, 49, whose wife handles his company’s bookkeeping. He has one employee.

As a senior policy analyst for the Reagan-Bush campaign and the former director of the Ohio Department of Human Services, Tompkins was better prepared than many to fly solo. Yet the attorney-turned-policymaker used two years to strategically position himself in leadership roles in several human service organizations, providing himself with contacts in other states, before he made his move. He also spoke at national conferences to gain name recognition and saved $25,000 to start his business.

Crafty Sisters’ Gift Boutique, a Hempstead, New York-based craft business owned by Jayne Cain, 43, was started eight years ago with just $500. Her partner, Cassaundra Williams-Anderson, 49, makes jewelry. The best friends joined a group of craftspeople who sold their goods at a local market, but the arrangement went sour and the two linked up. They have no employees. The business includes Afrocentric giftware, dolls, ancestral jewelry and black figurines. With the launch of a successful Website (www.bnl .com/aasm/crafty), the business garnered about $40,000 in sales last year.

The U.S. Census Bureau defines the self-employed as those who work full- or part-time for a profit or fees in their own unincorporated business, profession or trade. Their businesses can also be structured as sole proprietorships or partnerships. However, the U.S. Small Business Administration expands the Census Bureau’s definition, reporting that the fastest-growing segment of self-employed businesses are incorporated. U.S. Census Bureau figures show that nearly 75% of all U.S. businesses have no payroll. Among African American businesses, this number grows to 90%.

Individuals become self-employed for a variety of reasons: to increase income, to be their own boss, to establish job security or to develop their own idea. The SBA’s Office of Advocacy reports the number of self-employed blacks grew 28.7% between 1988 and 1998.

“The new millennium will be ripe with opportunities for those with perseverance and fortitude,” says Bennie L. Thayer, president and CEO of the National Association for the Self-Employed in Washington, D.C. “But those who seek to become self-employed need to ask themselves, ‘Am I self-motivated? Do I really have what it

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