Think outside the box: Find success by starting your own business

Looking for a job might not be the best way to find employment for some ex-offenders. Those who have tremendous drive, creativity and an ability to solve problems may want to consider starting their own business.

Although many believe that people in re-entry do best in a structured environment, many who end up incarcerated got there because they were entrepreneurs. They were running a business – it just happened to be an illegal one.

But that same entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to hustle, to come up with moneymaking ideas and to implement them could prove the key to success. For some, it might be easier than finding a job working for someone else. And they won’t be alone.

The latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in April 2012, there were 8.5 million unincorporated self-employed workers out of a U.S. labor force of 141.9 million. That equals about 6 percent of the total workforce.

Although internet-related businesses may get the most hype, the majority of these workers run old-fashioned service business. As people’s lives get busier and more complicated, they’re turning to others to provide many of the things they used to do themselves, whether it’s yard work, pet care or preparing meals. Whatever your skill level, opportunities exist to launch a small business with one or maybe two workers. You just have to find a need and fill it.

Maybe you have a special interest, like painting, cooking, gardening, dog walking or even collecting recyclables. Explore ideas on the web and get to know someone in another town who is doing the business you’re interested in. Be honest and tell them you’d like to start a business like theirs, but since you’re in another area, you won’t be competition.

There are a wide variety of business opportunities, many of which don’t need high skill levels or even much education. These include handyman or janitorial service, firewood supplier, yard work, house painting, tree trimming, graffiti removal, recycling, errand runner and housekeeping.

Once you have an idea for a business, there are people and organizations in the community that can help you put it together. They provide great resources that are often low-cost or no-cost, so there’s no reason not to take advantage of them.

The Small Business Administration, which maintains offices in every major U.S. city, is one of them. Its offices put on various workshops, most of which are free, dealing with everything from accounting issues and how to use the Internet for marketing to getting organized and increasing sales.

SCORE, a nonprofit organization with 13,000 members in 364 chapters nationwide, matches successful former business owners with entrepreneurs who are just starting out. SCORE offers free and confidential business advice through online and face-to-face mentoring.

There are many nonprofit organizations throughout the U.S. that help people launch small businesses. Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, provides classes, low-cost, one-on-one consulting services and a business incubator with low-priced office and cubicle space.

Wesst, headquartered in Albuquerque, operates six Enterprise Centers across the state that offer workshops, webinars and private consulting, as well as small business loans.

The New Hampshire Small Business Development Center, located on the University of New Hampshire campus in Durham, N.H., provides one-on-one advice to new and existing businesses in New Hampshire.

Creating a small business takes a lot of work, but opportunities are abundant for those with initiative. We’d love to hear some success stories from ex-offenders or those who work with them. Please send them our way.

For more information on the organizations included in this article, visit their websites at:

Small Business Administration


Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center


New Hampshire’ Small Business Development Center



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