Off and on, since September 2012, I have been on unemployment. I have also worked as a substitute teacher, after school teacher, tutor, videographer, journalist, copywriter, workshop leader, graphic designer, photographer, and more. I like doing a variety of work.
I have wanted to get my small biz off the ground, providing coaching for writers and creative content for companies. Yet unemployment stipulates that you mustn’t start a new business, only look for an existing job. Otherwise, it’s fraud, my friends.
So, what to do? I just found out this week that I am accepted into the Self Employment Assistance Program, SEAP, which means I have to take 20 hours of entrepreneurship classes and meet with a mentor a few times. I have to fill in a bunch of progress reports. In return, I can receive full unemployment benefits for another four or five months, and keep my earnings from my biz.
I have had an entrepreneurial streak since I started babysitting at 12. Even before that, at 10, I started a nursery school with April Fisher. We set up a blackboard in my basement. But one morning, before our neighborhood kids arrived, April and I messed around, wrestling, and I broke my hand, and any way, our summer school was cancelled.
My next biz? In high school my dad had a newfangled personal computer as big as a pony, whom we fondly referred to as Norty (for NorthStar). I intended to start a label-making company. I did not get past the company-naming part of a small business. I came up with the name, get this, Ready, Willing, and Label. Clever, no? See, I was always good at snappy prose.
In college my best friend and I started a biz, selling earrings on a corner near Tower Records in the Village. We made and sold earrings from pieces of film we swiped off the editing room floor. We never really got that biz off the ground, but again, you can see, great idea.
So, I’ve always loved freelancing and starting companies.
Now, back to unemployment, the last time I reported to the office on Varick Street, I was among about 40 people — the majority of whom were middle-aged white men. I thought why don’t they just group us by our skills or areas of expertise and we could start our own companies? Or at least schmooze?
I became eligible for unemployment over a year ago, when I took the company buyout, offered to all of the 300 or so employees of the global agency of the United Methodist church. I basically knew that jobs in communications would be shuffled and that my position as staff writer for the mission agency was precarious. (After all, why pay tens of thousands for a salary when you could pay a couple hundred per article?)
My particular buyout offer at GBGM came to about eight months pay and the possibility of unemployment. I took it. And it turns out, I’m glad I did.
Because just this week, my dream came true. I’m a legit small business start up. And this time, I won’t mess things up by wrestling with April Fisher before the day starts and breaking my hand and having to cancel the whole damn biz.