You get laid off. Your job search goes nowhere. Your savings dry up. Now what? The answer for many is as old as capitalism: start a business.
This isn't the new Google, here. This is Bob's Landscaping and Junk Hauling or Alicia's Cake Baking and Daycare — whatever it takes to bring in a serious income.
It may be a hobby or side business that morphed into a lifeline, but the key for most people is starting with relatively little capital — a lawn mower, computer repair tools, a sewing machine, all of which they may already own.
Jodi Saldana of Wichita has strung together several part-time businesses to generate income.
She has a commercial janitorial business called Five Star Janitorial — it's really just her, with some help from her daughter. She takes care of a boy at his home during the day and cleans after hours. She figures she cleans about 25 hours a week.
As a one-person business with little publicity, she said, it is crucial to reassure potential clients. That's why she is licensed and insured, she said.
To build a client list, she has gone door to door.
"It doesn't do any good to call them," she said. "You need to be right there. They need to see the person you're selling. You're selling yourself."
It's hard to know how many Wichitans have become entrepreneurs-by-necessity. They often fly below the radar with little advertising and little presence in the regular commercial economy. Their best friends are the free online classified, the poster on the telephone pole and word of mouth.
If they are sole proprietors, they don't incorporate or pay unemployment taxes. And if they are service businesses, the state typically doesn't even require them to pay sales tax, according to the Kansas Department of Revenue.
But there are indications that the number of forced entrepreneurs is up.
The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity from the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Mo., shows the number of startups is up significantly from 2008, but the number of startup businesses with more than one person is down.
According to the report, Kansas was near the U.S. average in starting new businesses, at 3.5 new businesses per 1,000 people per month.
High school dropouts had the highest growing rate of new business formation among educational categories. And among ethnic groups, the fastest growing rate was among Hispanics.
This surge in businesses increases competition for established companies already reeling from the recession.
Fred Brooks, co-owner of Top Dog Lawn Service, said the pros in the lawn-care industry call these competitors "no names."
"They don't set up an LLC, they don't have insurance, they don't have a corporate structure, they don't even have a name on their truck," Brooks said. "In the summer, we'll see 50 trucks with trailers on the back, and no name."
There's no doubt it has hurt his business, Brooks said, forcing him to eat some fuel-cost increases. It's also pushed him to add services such as grass fertilizing.
"I don't hold this against these guys who are trying to feed their family," Brooks said. "If that was me, I'd be doing it, too. But there is a certain impact to it."
Amanda Thompson, a student at Wichita State University, started Amanda Thompson Photography in January.
She shoots weddings, baby portraits and the like. It's a part-time business she runs as she works on her degree in graphic arts.
Her weekends are now booked with jobs as she has learned how to build clientele on little money, she said.
She started the business because her family — which includes her husband and 15-month-old son — could use the extra income.
The experience, she said, has been positive. She's having fun, learning to run a business and interacting with customers — many of whom are as cash-strapped as she is.
"It's about putting yourself in the same place they are," she said.