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VOL. 35 | NO. 39 | Friday, September 30, 2011

Who needs bosses?

Tired of layoffs, cutbacks and mergers, Nashville entrepreneurs take the leap

By Virginia Roberson

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It’s no secret Nashvillians are having a tough time finding work. With Tennessee’s unemployment rate still hovering just below 10 percent, those lucky enough to find jobs are often “underemployed” or struggling with part-time gigs that offer no benefits.

Even qualified applicants are getting the cold shoulder from employers and human resources departments overwhelmed with too many resumes for too few positions.

Not surprisingly, many Middle Tennesseans have decided to create their own career opportunities. Rather than pursuing “traditional” jobs in a tight market, they’re taking control of their own destiny.

Nashville business owner Daren Holaday decided to go the entrepreneurial route after he was recently “downsized” from his position as a pharmaceutical sales team leader.

“I was part of a layoff where 1,700 people were let go from the company,” he explains. “I had been sitting on an idea for a new business for years and decided now’s the time to do it.”

Holaday’s new venture, Patient’s Pagers, was launched earlier this year. The service offers reprieve from hours spent in over-crowded, anxiety-filled patient waiting rooms.

“The pager acts as a miniature billboard for medical practitioners to deliver information into the hands of their patients,” Holaday says. “I had to spend hours at our pediatrician’s waiting room when our daughter was born a month early. Every time I went to the doctor, I thought, ‘Why isn’t this being done?’”

Patient’s Pagers work much like a restaurant pager. It vibrates when the doctor is ready to see the patient, so it isn’t necessary to remain in the waiting room and risk exposure to other illnesses.

But the device is more high-tech than a restaurant pager. It has a range of two miles and is coated with an “antimicrobial” compound that prevents bacteria from clinging to it.

It also includes a business card-size screen for text, where doctors can include vaccine information, patient care instructions and the latest research on medical conditions.

When Holaday first meets with a physician-client, he asks, “What are you running out of time to talk about with your patients?”

“It’s a chance for doctors to own that education piece in the waiting area,” he says. “And it eliminates cross-contamination in the waiting room environment because patients don’t have to be in such close proximity with each other while waiting to see the doctor.”

Holaday says losing his job pushed him into an environment where he could control his own future.

“There’s no place that has job security anymore,” he adds. “You have to control your own destiny.”

Doug Kidd saw an opportunity to be his own boss when was laid off after 10 years in the pharmaceutical industry.

“They let go a sizeable chunk of our sales force in August last year,” Kidd says. “I could have found another job with a competitor pharmaceutical, but my wife Cheryl and I saw this as a chance to start our own business.”

Patient’s Pagers allow patients to escape the waiting room until they can be seen by a doctor. The product was developed by Daren Holaday, who lost his job in the pharmaceutical industry.

Because Kidd had significant experience working with doctors and hospitals, he felt comfortable operating in the health care industry. However, even with his extensive management background, he had never owned his own business and was uncomfortable handling the legal, HR and marketing challenges.

So he became a franchise owner. In June, Kidd launched Always Best Care in Nashville, after signing a 10-year contract with the non-medical, in-home senior care company based in Sacramento, Calif.

“Imagine trying to cover all your human resources and legal bases while starting a new business,” Kidd says. “Always Best Care has already been doing it for 16 years. They know how to attract new clients and make good referrals. The expertise is already in place and the marketing tools are already there.”

Kidd says he has a passion for working with seniors and helping their families adapt to the new responsibilities of caring for aging parents.

“Both my wife and I experienced similar situations where our grandparents had to move in with us when we were children,” he says. “It is not fun and it is a tough job. And with 10,000 seniors turning 65 everyday, there is now a huge demand to help folks who want stay at home.”

But owning a franchise is not something to be taken lightly, Kidd says. He and his wife spent almost 10 months researching their decision, before signing a contract.

“It’s a lot of work!” he says. “I’m just working all the time. But it’s definitely worth it. I will be a business owner for the rest of my life – until I retire.”

Bill Kirby, owner of Russell Montgomery & Associates and director of the Nashville Career Transition Network, says a growing number of Nashvillians are like Kidd and Holaday, forgoing the search for “traditional” work roles.

“There are jobs out there in Nashville, especially in technology and health care,” he says. “But many traditional full-time jobs are hard to find, and many more people are becoming contractors or entrepreneurs.”

Sarah, who can’t divulge her real name, is now looking at freelance opportunities because she’s fearful her job in publishing will soon be downsized. She’s been interviewing for more than a year, and is frustrated with the lack of available full-time positions in Middle Tennessee.

“I’ve been working full-time for more than 20 years,” she says. “When I had to find a job in 2000, it took me two months to find a new position. Now I’ve been interviewing for a year and I haven’t even received a response from those companies. I finally had to ask myself, ‘Do I really want to work for a company that treats people that way?’”

Sarah is now looking at multiple freelance opportunities, rather than relying on one source for revenue. She wants to help people develop and improve their websites from a content perspective, as well as offer writing and editing services.

“I finally came to the realization that having multiple sources of income is a whole lot more stable than hitching my wagon to one employer,” she says. “It’s less scary than getting a job with an employer who may just downsize me.”

For people with the right skill sets, self-employment may be a preferable option for creating revenue, according to Camara Randolph, owner of Career Reconnections. She suggests doing an honest self-assessment and using that information to generate income.

“I had one client who transitioned from health care to fashion,” she says. “She started a fashion blog. Because she was passionate about fashion, she’s now turned it into a career. You can learn how to make money for yourself and use your unique skill sets to fit the consumer’s needs.”

‘Everyone’s struggling’

Nashville native Celeste Shepherd gained her entrepreneurial know-how by working for a small family business in Austin, Texas, for 13 years. She says working for an entrepreneur is like attending “How to Start a Business 101.” Her previous employer was a restaurateur, entrepreneur and developer.

“I learned about the good and the bad of running a business,” she says. “My skill sets I’ve gained working for an entrepreneur are better than what you’d learn at any business school.”

Now Shepherd uses her diverse administrative and graphic talents to streamline business operations for her clients. From graphic design and marketing to file organizing and running errands, Kidd refers to herself as a “jack of all trades.”

“I do anything you could possibly consider administrative,” she says. “Many of my clients are entrepreneurs themselves. I work for people who can’t afford to have a staff on their own.”

Shepherd considered full-time work when she first moved back to Nashville, but she was concerned about the lack of jobs available, especially those with flexible hours for a working mother.

“When I moved, the economy was spinning out of control,” she adds. “Now everyone’s struggling to find a job. And it’s even harder when you’re a mom.”

Food truck owner Dallas Shaw realized he had three career choices when he left his B2B sales job: unemployment, working in the fast food industry, or starting his own business.

“I wasn’t unhappy at AT&T,” he says. “But it’s much easier to sell a $6 burger than a $600 T1 package. I’ve always known I’d own my own business. My father owned his own business, my grandfather owned his own business, and his father owned his own business.”

So after walking away from a full-time job, Shaw launched Hoss’ Loaded Burgers in August. Now instead of schmoozing corporate honchos, he’s selling cheese-filled gourmet burgers.

When asked by friends why he would leave a lucrative career in this tough economy, he tells them he enjoys the “instant gratification” of his new venture.

“At the end of the day I know how much I sold, and how much I need to sell tomorrow,” he says. “Spreadsheets seem more valuable to me now than in my last sales job. Now I use them to plan for the next day. They seem more valuable to my business than they were to my job.”

Shaw says he also gets a lot of support from other area food truck owners, who often gather in small groups at local events. Rather than view each other as competitors, the food truck entrepreneurs view their growing numbers as validation.

“We can all work together for a common goal,” he adds. “The more trucks we have in Nashville, the more people will take us seriously as a place to eat.”

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