business

Life After a Layoff

Ken Proskie of Evanston, Illinois, an environmental and occupational health and safety consultant, was laid off at age 52. Instead of looking for another corporate job, he struck out on his own.

As told to Lauren Muthler

Anna Knott ©2011

How did you lose your job? In April 2004, the company I worked for cut 1,400 jobs. I never thought that would happen to me because I was pretty successful.

What did you do? I thought I would find another job right away, but that didn’t happen, so I went to outplacement services. I took a seminar on how to start a business. Two weeks after that, my plan had completely changed. I had always considered being an independent consultant and decided I owed it to myself to try.

Was it a big financial risk? My previous company had a generous severance package and my wife had a good insurance plan, so the risk was not immediate.

What did you need to start over? I already had the qualifications, but I had to learn how to set up and run a business. I took a self-study course with modules on marketing, buying insurance and setting up accounting services. I read books on the subject. Then I called people on my contact list to see if they would hire me as a consultant. I went from doing nothing to being insanely busy in two to three years.

Do you plan to expand? I won’t hire employees because I am nearing retirement.

Are you better off now? I pay myself roughly the same as I made before, but I’m able to put a lot more into my 401(k). At my old company, I could contribute up to $22,000 a year. Now, as both employer and employee, I can contribute up to $55,500 a year. I also set my own hours.

What was your toughest problem? Because of $10,000 in start-up costs and lack of initial business, I had no salary for a year and a half.

What advice would you give others? Keep a network. Talk to people who know how to run a business; they will help if you ask. Don’t assume people know that you need help. If you think you know what you are doing and you have the passion for it, do it. I wish I had gone out on my own sooner so that I could have made my company into a bigger and more successful enterprise. I would never go back to a corporation.

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