With over three million mortgage foreclosures last year,* and a national unemployment rate that is actually closer to 21% than the published 9.2%,** a lot of Americans are experiencing problems critical to their well-being and to their futures.
Most of us grew up with a vision of getting an education and scoring The Job that would ensure our future financial health. More and more, The Job is becoming mythical and elusive. And when there are fewer of these positions available and more people competing for them, the overall effect is financially catastrophic and deeply demoralizing, leading to a new raft of problems like major depression, family problems. drug and alcohol use, and untreated illness. There is a lot to be troubled about. The banks are merciless and use unfair practices to foreclose.*** Entire communities of homes are empty because well intended people couldn’t pay their mortgages.
Ironically, in many ways, Mexico’s workforce is finding this recession annoying rather than life-threatening. Perhaps this is because more Mexicans than Americans have learned to adapt to an environment where there have never been enough regular jobs, and have had to rely on their ingenuity to support their families. The unofficial plumbers, electricians, mechanics, painters, and so on are legion in Mexico. Mexicans who own homes, however modest, often own them outright. No mortgage payments.
The economic climate affects off-the-grid workers, like the ones in Mexico, a lot less dramatically than it does people who like(d) the calm security of a regular job.
What can Americans learn from their neighbors to the south?
Not to trivialize the deadly seriousness of the unemployment problem in the United States, but looking at new ways of supporting ourselves surely can’t hurt. These alternative paths may not save our mortgage, probably won’t afford health insurance, and they may not, at least at first, bring in as much money as regular jobs, but they are helpful and have the potential to bring great satisfaction to the displaced worker.
If you are accustomed to getting up at the same time every day, grabbing a cup of coffee, and rushing off to your office or factory, you haven’t had to hustle very much or do any creative thinking about how to find work. You receive a regular paycheck, you always know it’s coming, and you can budget bill payments, purchases, entertainment, and medical expenses accordingly. But when this paycheck suddenly stops, it is harrowing. Workers are shocked, fearful, and often depressed – with good cause.
We aren’t saying here that the income from a job can be fully replaced by self employment, at least not at first. But it can help our sense of worth if we find ways to bring in some income, rather than no income. You can realize your potential in ways you couldn’t in your regular employment, be your own boss, and schedule events as you wish. And who knows? You could be wildly successful and discover creative parts of yourself you never suspected were hiding inside of you.
How can we do this?
We can offer our goods and services to the people in our communities who are still employed. People with disposable income.
Look at your hobbies and at things you do well. Look at the things you actually enjoy doing and things you are innately good at. Can any of these things make money? Do people ask you to help them with certain things? You’ve always been happy to assist, but if you lose your job, it’s time to advertise and sell your services instead of giving them away. You might find this path a lot more rewarding than day-to-day office routines.
Here are some possibilities. They are all things you can do from home, without laying out any investment. If you want, you can try several at the same time. You can do whatever you want. You no longer work for The Man.
Do you make anything? Do you sew clothing? Are you a cook, perhaps known for a particluar dish? Sell your jam or bread at the local farmers’ market. Or baby clothes. Or organic dog biscuits. Or flags, hats, wooden toys, whatever.
Are you an artist? Find street fairs and other venues to sell your paintings, sculptures, drawings, or irresistable objects. Make gorgeous greeting cards with your photos or drawings. Offer your services as a picture framer. Make artistic tile entryways for homes. Paint cartoon murals in kids’ rooms. If you play an instrument well, give lessons. My friend JR put a “piano lessons” sign in her window and voila – she has students.
Do you have computer skills? It may be a surprise to you, but the vast majority of people are lousy with computers and if they can buy help that is reasonable, they will. Can you make or maintain websites? Fix their networks. Defrag their hard drives. Set up their blogs. Advise them on web hosting. It is endless.
How are your interpersonal skills? Can you teach a skill you have? Can you show people how to use email or start a blog? Can you “handhold” people through changing their sparkplugs of learning computer basics? Can you have a cooking class in your kitchen to teach people how to make dim sum or chocolate truffles?
Are you a fix-it person? Have you always known how to fix cars, or repair a leaky toilet? You have always thought of these things incidentally, but if you lose your job, you can make these skills work for you. Are you a Saturday electrician, carpenter, plumber or mechanic? Most people aren’t, and they need you.
Do you know how much people are willing to pay for walking their dogs or boarding them? It’s astonishing. If you walk three dogs twice a day during the work week, you can make $600 per week. People in your neighborhood (who are employed) will pay $40 per day per dog. Figure it out. And you can charge $40 per night for overnights.
Are you a capable detail-oriented person with legal or administrative background? You can help people with small claims court, securing insurance benefits, or dealing with traffic tickets. You can help them make their way through complex administrative systems, like social security, Medicare, the public school system, etc. Medicare is a particular area you might look into. It is incredibly complex and people have a wide range of far-reaching decisions to make. All the necessary information is online and it is mind boggling. Figure it out.
Are you a good party or event planner? It this something you’ve done? There are probably people in your community who are trying to orchestrate family reunions, huge birthday parties, or even weddings. These people need you! These events need planning and organization and your potential clients don’t have the time or skills to do it. Send out invitations, secure a venue, hire the band and the caterer. Or cater small gatherings yourself. Who knows? You might gradually edge into large catering jobs.
Employed people, especially two-income households, are incredibly busy. Be someone’s major domo. Run their household. Maintain schedules, organize and supervise household help, plan menus, ferry children and dogs, administer household budgets. You may already have most of these skills.
Think. What do you do well, and have better experience with than most people? And what would be fun to do? You can think of a hundred other off-the-grid jobs – they are there if you look. Read this article.
Approaching Self Employment
Get your family involved. Make sure they buy off on what you’re doing. Involve them. Get them to help you. Make it fun. Share your profit and loss information with them. Pay them.
With any of these goods or services, start with your neighbors. Put up a sign. Let them know you’re available. Charge less than licensed workers (sorry union members, but these are troubled times). A neighbor of mine decided to start a home-based furniture repair service, so he and his wife invited the neighborhood over for coffee and a demo. it worked!
Ask for a deposit in advance. it’s easy to get stiffed. And if you have to lay out money for any kind of materials, you shouldn’t do it with your own money.
Keep careful records. Write detailed work orders and have the client sign them.
Tell clients in advance what you think the cost will be. Do an estimate. You may wish to provide a guarantee.
Account for everything. Show your clients exactly what they paid for – how many hours, what materials, etc. Produce invoices and receipts. This is how you keep clients and get them to spread the word about how terrific you are.
Tell everyone what you are doing. Make a modest business card. Hand it out freely.
When you feel confident, advertise. Use free channels at first. A bulletin board at your local market, coffee shop or laundromat, Craig’s List, small local publications.
Get out there and try. Why not? Modest success will allow you to make an occasional mortgage payment, enough to flummox the bank and prevent them from taking your house. Buy chocolate. Go to the movies with your partner. Fill your tank up all the way.
How successful you are at any of these areas of self employment depends on your energy, your optimism, and your personal skills. Be yourself. Present yourself as a professional. Always be honest. Be 100% dependable. Don’t falsely represent yourself. Talk to an income tax expert. Organize yourself as you would at a regular job. Get a desk. Set up your computer. Make money.
Please contribute to this article with your comments.
*Center for Responsible Lending
** Greg Hunter‘s USA Watchdog
*** personal experience, narrowly averted