Their American Dream Is Alive and Well!

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”
-Henry David Thoreau

As part of my business, I have taught hundreds of job search/career planning workshops for displaced workers during the past 20 years. As you might expect, many of those displaced workers had been with their employers for many years (sometimes decades) before being “downsized.” It’s never fun to be downsized, but it can be especially traumatic when you’ve been a loyal employee of an organization for 30 plus years.

I regularly have “older” workers (55+) ask me what their prospects of finding a job that will pay them what they were making before they got laid off are. I try to be positive—but also honest—in my responses. The facts are pretty clear (from the U.S. Government Accountability Office) that workers over 55 find it much harder to find such jobs than younger workers. In fact, it often takes much longer for older workers to even find a “decent” job. These facts can become a real challenge when many people (at least 25% of Americans) have plans to work until age 70—or even later. (For the record, I have no plans to retire. I love my work, and I’m going to teach workshops and deliver speeches until I can no longer deliver my messages with energy and power.)

People in today’s workforce know that the days of 40-year jobs and an engraved, gold watch are gone forever. However, it can still be a challenge—at any point in your career—to deal with the fact that your current or next job may last five years or less (depending on the industry and your position, it could be three years or less!).

Enter the “original” American Dream.

As I stated at the outset, I have been teaching job search/career planning workshops for 20 years. In the early 2000s, I began to have more and more workshop participants who had lost their jobs ask me my opinion on starting a business vs. pursuing another job as an employee. Having created a number of my own businesses, I would regularly share my experiences with, and encourage, these folks to seriously consider becoming an entrepreneur. During many of those discussions, people would say, “Mark, you seem to know a lot about running businesses. You ought to create a workshop on how to start a business for people like us.”

So I did!

For the past 15 years, I have conducted a workshop called “Start Your Own Business” for displaced workers. Before I tell you about some of the wonderful experiences I have had as a result of these workshops, I’d like to share some interesting facts about entrepreneurship in America with you:

-People are quick to tell would-be entrepreneurs that 50% of small businesses fail within the first five years. However, not much is said about the other 50%—those that make it past five years! The latest statistics can be found here:

-Small business growth in the U.S. has increased by 49% since 1982. In fact, more than half of all businesses in the U.S. are now small businesses.

-The number of businesses owned by women has increased by 114% in the past 20 years.

-Currently, 30% of all new entrepreneurs in the U.S. are immigrants (In 1996 the figure was about 13%).

These facts should be encouraging for anyone who is contemplating starting their own business!

Now, I’d like to tell you about my “Start Your Own Business” (SYOB) workshops and share some of the wonderful experiences I’ve had over the years teaching them—and subsequently coaching some of the participants as they started their own businesses!

The content of my SYOB workshop covers a number of topics, including:

-Myths about small businesses
-Reasons small businesses fail
-Do you have what it takes to run a small business?
-Options for starting a small business
-Legal structures for small businesses
-Market research
-Product and service development
-Pricing models and strategies
-Marketing and sales principles
-Understanding financials

One of the most remarkable things about the workshops is the level of positive energy that seems to permeate the room. Even though these people have been displaced from their jobs, you can sense the commitment and hope that they possess. As people share their business ideas with those in the room, including me, I am constantly reminded of the limitless creative capacity of human beings, and how they can apply that creativity to address the needs and wants of society. Each and every workshop I teach raises my level of confidence that we can solve the challenges that face our nation—and our world!

Here is just a sampling of the real businesses I have seen workshop participants create over the years:

-Many participants have purchased franchises—offering everything from pizza to high-tech electronics. One former participant now runs three Papa Murphy’s Pizza stores.

-Speaking of pizza, I’ve had a number of participants open their own restaurants. (My wife and I dined at one of these a few weeks back. It has now been open for 14 years!)

-I’ve had many software engineers come through my workshops. Some have gone on to create consulting companies that manage existing software platforms for large companies. Some have created new, robust applications for Windows, Mac, Linux and Unix. Some have created innovative new apps for various platforms.

-Some of the participants have joined the renaissance of small-scale, niche manufacturing and now offer specialized tools, parts, and machinery to businesses and hobbyists.

-A number of attendees have created their own consulting companies and now consult with the industries they once worked as employees in—some consulting with the companies that laid them off—including a rocket scientist I coached.

-Many participants have pursued artistic interests and created companies that offer drawings and paintings, sculpture, clothing and accessories, furniture, etc.

As I look back, I feel privileged to have played a small part in the creation of so many new businesses. I am also looking forward to helping many more people—young and old—create their piece of the “American Dream.”

Over the years, numerous, former workshop participants—now entrepreneurs—have  told me how empowering it has been to be in charge of their own destinies—as opposed to having some management team in the conference room determine the direction of their careers. I, of course, share those sentiments.

By the way, seniors (65 years of age and older) are the age group most likely to be entrepreneurs. Life expectancy continues to rise and many people in this age group—formally retired or not—have a desire to continue working. I will be one of those people in a few years! “Retirement” is the last thing on my mind—I have much more to contribute to this world before I leave it. I’m going to continue to live my dream—my version of the American Dream!

What you can do, or dream you can, begin it,
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it…”

-John Anster, inspired by Goethe’s “Faust”

-Mark Swain