Bob Burris was worried about his job security, so last December, he left his job as a police officer and, with a loan from his family, plunked down $25,000 for a Yellow Dawg pavement-striping franchise -- a business that paints parking-space lines in lots. "I wanted to spend more time at home, while making a better living," says Burris of Jacksonville, Fla.
Plenty of entrepreneurs have taken a similar route out of a dismal job market: Self-employment in 2010 matched 2009's 15-year high, reports the Kauffman Foundation. Hiring at small firms is up, too. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees added 100,000 jobs in March, the 13th straight month of positive gains, according to an employment survey by payroll firm ADP. And, says the National Federation of Independent Business, small-business optimism hit a three-year high in March, which bodes well for continued gains.
Securing a loan is getting easier, though it's still a tough slog. "It's better than during the depths of the recession," says Scott Shane, a professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve University, "but nowhere close to prerecession times." Forget the home-equity piggy bank of past years -- loans these days are backed by solid business plans. Burris is on track to repay his loan by May 2012 and expects to better his cop salary by 50%. Going out on his own has been "nerve-racking but good, so far," he says.