New West Newsleader: Going in business for yourself, and making it work

For years, Burnaby resident Emiko Abe did what her parents expected.

She went to university, and got a good “real job” as a project manager for a computer software company.

Then a few years ago, she decided the time was right to do what she wanted, to pursue her love of music.

But going it alone as a self-employed DJ and music consultant was a bit more difficult than she expected.

Not the business end of it. Abe ( made fast connections and was soon able to leave her old job to undertake her new venture full-time. She now compiles and manages music for places such as spas and upwards of 700 hotels, along with traditional DJ duties at weddings, fashion shows, hockey games and other events.

But the hardest part, she said, is being alone.

“Working in a corporate environment, it was a bit of a shock going from 5,000 people to just me,” said Abe, 35.

“It was a little bit difficult at first to get my mind around the fact that my new co-workers or peers were actually other people out there doing exactly the same thing, that were by themselves, trying to network and trying to actually get contacts for business as well.”

In other words, her peers were now also her direct competition.

It took about seven months for Abe to feel comfortable about being by herself and having to “approach total strangers to actually give them my elevator pitch”–promoting her business in no more time than an elevator ride would take.

And she soon learned the value of networking, making a point of meeting people in other industries.

For instance, she might attend a women entrepreneurs group meeting and talk with jewelry makers “because at some point, they’re going to have a fashion show and they might give me a call.”

Networking key to success

Networking is key to the success of any small business, particularly one-person ventures where people often are working out of their homes, said Tej Kainth, founder of Network Engage Excite Transform (NEXT) New Westminster.

In contrast to their parents’ generation, when people felt they had to work a safe, secure job to put food on the table, young entrepreneurs today see countless opportunities, said Kainth, 30, of the increase in one-person businesses.

“The world’s your oyster almost. You’ve got endless opportunities out there.”

And, Kainth said, more people are choosing to follow their dreams.

“People are following what their passion and ambitions are, more so than just getting a job, they’re actually making it their career. And there’s a lot more pride in what they’re doing. Personally, that’s what I see.”

NEXT New Westminster serves as something of a social group in which members are exposed to what the city has to offer, including other local small businesses, and networking is a byproduct of every event.

Kainth noted that networking and community involvement are really forms of advertising where business people get to promote who they are and what they have to offer.

Another resource designed to support sole-proprietor businesses are office-space rental services such as the Network Hub which opened a couple months ago at River Market at Westminster Quay.

The new facility is the second for co-owner Minna Van and her two partners, after their first location in downtown Vancouver opened in 2006.

The Network Hub offers rentals of offices and desks at monthly and even hourly rates. They can provide a mailbox and reception services for people who don’t want to meet clients at their home offices.

Van, 30, said she’s noticed an increase in one-person businesses and a resulting greater demand for Network Hub’s services since 2008 when the global economic downturn led to many layoffs.

The idea of “one job I’m going to have for 25 years until I retire doesn’t exist anymore,” she said. “A lot of young people want to take control of their destiny.”

In addition to taking charge of their own careers, young parents also want the flexibility to spend more time with their children.

A couple decades ago, starting your own business included the high overhead of having to find an office.

Nowadays, anyone with a cellphone and a laptop computer can go into business for themselves. In fact, go into any coffee shop and anyone using a laptop computer there is likely either a student or a self-employed business person, she said.

Van noted that the challenge of the coffee shop office is the need to keep buying food or drink to stay welcome and the lack of security resulting in the need to pack everything up just to go to the washroom.

Get out of the house

Van and her two business partners started Network Hub when, working as young web developers, they couldn’t find a landlord who would rent to them due to their youth and their lack of a line of credit.

They saw a market for shared office space which could also serve as a networking centre of sorts, noting several times they’ve had people in the high tech business at their Vancouver office decide to team up and start their own ventures together.

In addition to the networking opportunities, shared office space also helps home-based business people get out of the house and focus on the task at hand.

At home, beckoning distractions can include children and chores, not to mention the television and snacks in the fridge.

“When you work at home everything blends into one long workday,” said Van.

Good to separate work and home

Abe agrees and is a regular at the Network Hub where she escapes to do the administrative side of her business when she’s not in her home music studio.

“It’s too easy to get distracted when I’m in my home,” she said with a laugh. “It’s nice to have a place I can go and have a desk without any of my music stuff around me and laundry looking at me when I go around the corner.”

She’s also learned to market herself through social networking, although she noted that it’s somewhat indirect in that people don’t usually start off communicating with her to find out about her business.

“Becoming a personality in the Twitterverse has paid off. People actually do call and say, ‘You know what, I have this friend and they mentioned you, do you do weddings?’”

Abe said the support of family is important, since being self-employed can often mean long hours.

“The problem with being a one-person job is you don’t get to leave at 5 o’clock, it’s still there … Especially with my husband and my son, occasionally they’ll look at me and say, ‘It’s 10 o’clock why are you still working?’”

Her days of self-employment also took some getting used to for her son, now 19.

“At first he hated it. He was like, ‘why can’t you work like all the other moms and be out of the house when I get home from school?’ But once he told his friends, they’re like, ‘That is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.’ He started to warm up to the idea.

“He started to understand how other businesses work because of what I do.”

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