After working for seven years as a data support engineer for WorldCom, Janie Foydl was laid off in May. Now she scoops up dog poop for a living.
Instead of returning to the once safe and secure path of corporate America, Foydl has decided to start her own business — Doodie Duty, a service where she scoops up and disposes of dog doo for clients in the Sacramento area.
James Phillips has not been so lucky. Let go from his job at AT&T last January, Phillips has since been unable to find full-time work.
So now he's trying to sell advertising space — on his forehead. Phillips has been unsuccessfully posting auctions on eBay offering to tattoo a message or logo on his forehead to the highest bidder. One potential buyer put in a bid for $75,000, but later reneged. Undaunted, Phillips is still looking for a buyer.
"I'm still willing to do it for the right price," he says.
With so many people losing their jobs amid a slumping economy and few companies hiring, some intrepid souls have resorted to unique ways to try to make a living — or simply just to pay off the bills.
"Most of us would leave one job and go to a more traditional job, but other people look at it as an opportunity to do something different," says Bill Coleman, senior vice president of compensation for salary research Web site salary.com.
Tough Times Tempt Entrepreneurs
Small business experts say as the economy slumps, more people typically decide to strike out on their own as opportunities among existing companies that are scaling back are simply limited.
Through the first six months of this year, 11.4 percent of jobless managers and executives started their own businesses, a 44 percent increase from the same period last year, according to Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. That also represents the highest percentage since 1996.
By contrast, at the time of the most recent economic boom, the number of small business starts dropped to 4 million in 1999 from 4.5 million in 1995 as would-be entrepreneurs got sidetracked by the robust job market, according to William Dennis, senior research fellow of the Washington, D.C.-based National Federation of Independent Business, a small business advocacy group.
"Now that things have gotten tougher, it should start rising again," Dennis predicts.
But it's not just new businesses that are popping up — some people down on their luck have employed unusual strategies to get themselves out of the financial hole. Besides Phillips, a number of other people are auctioning off their body parts on eBay to bidders willing to pay for the tattoo of their choice. Like Phillips, many have been unsuccessful.
"Anecdotally, we have certainly seen an increase in our users coming to eBay for the express purpose of supplementing their income," says eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove. One user, for example, has been buying used restaurant and equipment, fixing it up and reselling it around the country, he says.
"Most of them have been fairly legitimate efforts to expand their income beyond a one shot opportunity," he notes.
$10,000 and Counting
One of the more successful money-making stunts comes from Karyn Bosnak, a woman in her late 20s who moved to New York City from Chicago two years ago, only to find herself mesmerized by the temple of consumption that is the streets of New York.
After a steady diet of pricey Prada pumps, $400 hair appointments and personal trainer visits at $100 a pop, Bosnak found herself with more than $20,000 in debt. When she lost her job in television production last November and took another project that paid only half her previous salary, Bosnak realized that paying off her credit card debt was going to be a tough prospect, indeed.
So she set up a Web site called savekaryn.com asking readers to each pitch in $1 to help her pay off her debt.
"If you have an extra buck or two, please send it my way!" her site reads. "All I need is $1 from 20,000 people, or $2 from 10,000 people, or $5 from 4,000 people … Together, we can banish credit card debt from my life!"
Now in its 13th week, Bosnak's site — which includes a chipper weekly update from its creator, as well as links to eBay auctions selling off some of the designer indulgences that got her into her debt spiral — has raised more than $10,000 so far.
"I've learned that people are really kind," she says.
Others are finding themselves doing something they never thought they'd do. Jim Orebaugh, who decided to take advantage of an early retirement offer from his former employer Unisys, has found himself in a radically different field from computers. He now helps business get rid of pesky birds by installing sonic bird expellers and cleaning up after the birds when they're gone.
While at Unisys, Orebaugh already had a Web site where he sold telephone headsets when another company, Chicago-based Bird-X, approached him to sell their bird repelling products on his site. When someone from the Oklahoma City council asked him to recommend a product to help the city get rid of birds, Orebaugh referred them to Bird-X. But the company told him since he was on the site to go ahead and bid for the job himself.
That gave Orebaugh the idea to start up a service installing Bird-X products while also providing the additional clean-up service. Since starting the business with a partner in January, his new company has picked up 41 clients.
At an average price of $850 to $1,000 for an initial cleaning and a monthly $200 to $250 maintenance fee for his services, Orebaugh hopes to more than make up for his former corporate salary.
"I would say within 18 months, we could probably double what we were making in the high-tech industry," he predicts.
Foydl, who is now making a mere 10 percent of what she made at WorldCom is also optimistic. She says she's seen examples of people making six-figure incomes with dog poop scooping services across the country, and she expects to eventually earn her previous salary. She charges $34 a month for a "single doodie" (cleaning up after one dog) and $10 more for each additional dog (double and triple doodies.)
But Foydl says her business also gives her something more valuable than money — a sense of stability and control that's comforting after working at a company brought down by corporate scandal.
"In the corporate world you walk in every day and you're not sure what you're going to face," she says. "I know exactly what I'm going to face when I come into work now."