Lacy: Unintentional entrepreneurs find balance in owning their own business

CorrespondentAugust 24, 2013 

Eric Ewald and his dog, Nitro.


  • Resources for working on your own

    Briles Johnson, director of the Women’s Business Center of North Carolina, said the trend of job seekers looking at starting their own businesses as an option started in 2008. She attributes that to the downturn in the economy. The good news is that there are lots of resources available to those potential business owners. While the Women’s Business Center is a program of the N.C. Institute of Minority Economic Development, Johnson said the center offers help to everyone – men and women, folks of all ethnicities and races.

    “Anytime you do something different, it can be scary,” she said, but “we are here to help guide you and be your advocate.” The Women’s Business Center offers one-on-one counseling, help with certifications and free seminars. The center can also assist people with filling out their paperwork for banks and lenders.

    For more information about the Women’s Business Center of North Carolina, visit

    To check out free seminars, click on events.

    For those thinking about starting their own business, Johnson suggests, “Is Entrepreneurship Right for You,” and the “Small Business Resource” seminars.

    For more information about Wake Tech’s Small Business Center, visit

Eric Ewald, a laid-off environmental engineer who specialized in petroleum spills, decided to make his own job after a two-year search yielded only two interviews.

The 43-year-old from Cary is now the owner of Eric’s Pet Sitting.

“It was a very organic transition,” Ewald said. The idea came from spending hours at a neighborhood dog park with his dog, Nitro, a labrador retriever and German shepherd mix. He found plenty of pet owners willing to pay for sitting-related services.

Earlier this year, he officially incorporated his business with some guidance from Wake Technical Community College’s Small Business Center. Ewald invested $2,000 – mostly to pay an attorney, an accountant, buy insurance and licenses and a few collars and leashes. He has about 40 clients, which translates to nearly 50 dogs and a dozen cats for whom he routinely provides overnight care, workday visits, veterinarian transports and vacation visits.

Unintentional entrepreneurs are on the rise as the state stays stuck in higher unemployment – the third-highest in the country in July.

The reality is that the 70,000 unemployed North Carolinians already cut off from extended federal unemployment last month won’t all be able to find work at someone’s company. Nor will those who join their ranks in the coming months; a number estimated to be as high as 100,000.

State lawmakers voted earlier this year to reduce the maximum amount of money that unemployed people can get each week from $535 to $350 and the amount of time they can receive those benefits from 26 weeks to 20. That triggered the end of extended federal benefits.

Working for one’s self also has become more attractive as “wages are depressed and cost of health care is rising,” said Fred Gebarowski, the director of the Small Business Center at Wake Technical Community College.

And Steve Dalton, senior associate director of Daytime MBA Student Services at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business Career Management Center, points out that entrepreneurship doesn’t look bad when you compare it to working for an employer who has combined several positions into one.

“Working full time has become more painful as organizations have gotten more efficient at more productivity with fewer workers,” he said.

Skills always in demand

For sure, workers need to be prepared for a tough terrain. Employers are not as loyal as some have been in the past, yet they have the upper hand. There are more job seekers than positions to fill. That drives down the wages workers can command.

“I’m very encouraged by people’s willingness to embrace entrepreneurship; it restores some of the balance,” Dalton said.

Ewald decided to do just that after seeing too many positions where employers not only wanted an engineer but “one that could leap to a tall building in a single bound.”

Employers “want you to be able to do so much … that makes the work/life balance very poor. It was bittersweet when I was laid off because the corporate dysfunction was getting to me. There were so many rules and regulations that fly in the face of productivity.”

Ewald said his workplace had become a hostile environment. But like many former workers he can take his skill set and apply it to his new venture, his way.

“As a pet sitter, I still use many skills carried over from environmental engineering including: interpersonal communications, computer, organization, project management, cost tracking, time management and a work ethic.”

While he’s not making the same income, he is able to pay his bills and has more freedom and flexibility. His previous job meant extensive travel requirements, which became disruptive to a healthy work/life balance.

‘New American dream’

Dalton said for many people, it boils down to preference.

“Do you prefer the stress of drudgery or the stress of risk? There’s no right answer. The answer changes from person to person.”

One of the benefits of working for someone else is infrastructure and training, Dalton said. This may be particularly attractive for young people making their way into the workplace, just testing out their skills.

Some people want to be a part of a community that keeps them grounded. They also want health insurance.

But at the same time, building your own business is much easier than it was a decade ago.

“There are software packages to help you manage your accounting,” Dalton said. “Some of those intimidating tasks can be handled by computers.”

“There’s also a mental health benefit to entrepreneurship,” Dalton said.

“It’s the new American dream. You don’t necessarily control your own destiny but you at least play an active role in it.”

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