Entrepreneurship and Small Biz Funding and Small Business

Recession forces small-business owners to take second jobs

May 25, 2009

Optometrist Jeremy Ciano mortgaged his house and invested his life savings to establish Revolution Eyes, a vision studio in Carmel's Clay Terrace. Although the recession has taken a heavy toll on his small business, Ciano promised his eight employees their jobs are secure.

That's why he's moonlighting.

"This year the goal is pretty modest, unfortunately. It's keeping the lights on and making sure no paychecks bounce," he said. "Whatever I have to do to do that, I will."

Entrepreneurship by definition means long hours. But these days, small-business owners aren't spending them all working for themselves. With sales slowed to a crawl, some must take second jobs working for others to make ends meet.

As of last month, 7.75 million Americans reported more than one job, or 5.5 percent of the entire work force. That compares with 7.5 million, or 5.1 percent of the work force, in December 2007.

Ciano would prefer to concentrate all his time on his own business. He spent six years as a hired hand working for chain optometrists before opening Revolution Eyes in November 2007. The father of two small children, Ciano and his wife see the business as the foundation of their future.

To keep that dream alive, Ciano now splits his weeks. On Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, he's at Revolution Eyes as usual. But on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and most weekends, he commutes around central Indiana, picking up spot optometry jobs. Some days, he's in Indianapolis. Others, he's in Lafayette or Crawfordsville. That means Ciano's often out the door before his kids wake up, and home after they've gone to bed. Moonlighting's extra revenue isn't for pocket money. Ciano pumps it all directly into his business. He considers it an investment. Most of the proceeds go to pay a pediatric optometrist Ciano hired to help differentiate Revolution Eyes from its competition.

"It's a necessary evil. You do what you've got to do to survive," Ciano said. "It's not like you have a choice. When you've signed away your house and your life six or eight times over, you're in survival mode. You do what you've got to do."

National Federation of Independent Business Indiana State Director Barbara Quandt said the recession is forcing hard choices for many small-business owners. Some are reducing their own salaries, or eliminating them entirely, to help their companies weather the economic downturn.

It's not a new practice. Quandt remembers doing it herself during the first Gulf War. At that time, she owned a travel agency, but demand dried up when everyone stayed home to watch the news on television. So Quandt quietly picked up some public relations work on the side.

"Small-business owners, we're always a resourceful lot," she said. "After we get through going, 'Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?,'  you sit down and figure out a plan for what you're going to do. Maybe it's pulling money out of savings, if that's what you can do, or working outside your business."

But moonlighting isn't something most small-business owners are willing to talk about. Indiana University Professor Donald F. Kuratko, executive director of the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, said they fear giving customers, suppliers and investors the impression of insolvency.

"When it happens, I think they keep it quiet. They don't want to do anything harmful to their business," he said. "I don't think you want the image out there that your business is failing."

It's a tough tradeoff. Every hour spent away from your small business has a price. In the short term, a second job may pay the bills. But in the long run, it undermines growth, and maybe even viability.

When moonlighting takes over

Bruce Lewallen knows all about moonlighting's opportunity cost. After working in kitchens for 25 years, he formed his own company two years ago: Kitchen Doctor LLC. Its purpose is kitchen cleaning and restaurant supply management. Lewallen eventually expanded its focus beyond kitchens. He now also tidies homes and offices under the moniker B Clean Services.

But demand for his services slowed dramatically in the recession. So Lewallen went back to work as an executive chef in the Stratford at West Clay retirement home. With a team of 15 employees, he prepares three meals daily for its residents.

Lewallen appreciates the paycheck. But when the economy picks up, he hopes to return to entrepreneurship full time.

"There's nothing like working for yourself, making the decisions. Anything you do, your business is affected," he said. "There's nothing like it."

Nights and weekends, Lewallen is still trying to keep his cleaning company going. But he's made some changes in response to the recession. For example, he asks potential new customers to allow him to begin cleaning jobs immediately after he shares price estimates. This saves money for gasoline. More important, it saves time, since he never wastes a trip. Lewallen is also cutting his charges to generate business. After every job, he leaves a comment card and a coupon for $25 off in exchange for referrals.

Short-term solution


Most of the time, moonlighting is a temporary fix for small-business owners. Interior designer James Kuster's company Kuster Design has been in business seven years. He concentrates on dentists' offices, although he does other types of jobs, too. With degrees in both engineering and business, Kuster helps dentists create layouts where patients can relax by carefully planning lighting, ergonomics and equipment layout.

But the recession forced his dentist clients to push back their remodeling plans. So in late 2008, Kuster took a second job in retail selling men's clothing.

"Once the market took a nose dive in October, everybody was going, 'Aaaaaaah!'" Kuster said. "It was just kind of touch and go there in the fourth quarter, waiting to see if anybody was going to make decisions or what would happen."

The job helped carry Kuster through a few tight months until demand for his interior-design services picked up. In the spring, he went back to Kuster Design full time. He's mainly working on projects that can't be put off, such as a bathroom remodeling spurred when the homeowners' frozen pipes burst.

The main thing Kuster sacrificed while he worked his second retail job was lead generation. Its hours left little time for cold calls, or handshakes over wine and cheese.

"It's hard to measure if you were out at a networking event, would you have met somebody who was going to do something ... but you were off doing something else?" Kuster said.

In response, Kuster ratcheted up his online efforts. And he kept building contacts as best he could. That's how his boss at the men's clothing store became a client.

The biggest thing most entrepreneurs sacrifice by moonlighting is their personal lives, said Kuratko, the entrepreneurship professor. Long stretches of 16- or 18-hour days eventually take a toll on physical and emotional health. He emphasizes that small-business owners must find time for themselves, even if they're working two jobs.

"We all know, as we get a little refreshed, we come back stronger," Kuratko said. "There's always the feeling, 'If I lose an hour, I'll lose everything.' But they could lose everything internally if they don't take time for themselves and their family."

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