Column: Tory Johnson Explains How She Became Her Own Boss

As you no doubt know, small businesses are the backbone of America and they're often owned and operated by entrepreneurs and their families. Small businesses are the biggest source of new jobs in America, which means that entrepreneurs are not just doing good for themselves, but for our economy and our country, too.

Obviously, the Wal-Marts, Microsofts and Disneys -- all of which were started by pioneering entrepreneurs -- reach more of us today with their products and services than any small-business owner could dream of. But for every corporate giant out there, there are millions of women like myself who are just as passionate about their own businesses and just as anxious to make them prosper and grow.

Not everything or everyone can be found in giant shopping malls, in suburban corporate parks or on Wall Street. Travel this country, as I have in recent years, and you'll find that entrepreneurship is alive and well.

Being a small-business owner is a career path that I heartily endorse, but first, let me tell you how I got started.

In 1993, at 23 years old, I was working in a prominent PR position in a network news division. The future looked bright until one day I was summoned to HR and abruptly fired. I was told that I had an hour to leave the building, but before doing so, I insisted on talking to the newly appointed president of the news division.

When I walked into his office, he leaned back in his chair, put his arms behind his head and smiled smugly. Coldly, he said, "It's a big world out there, Tory, and I suggest you go explore it."

That was some of the best advice I've ever been given.

Determined to move on, I soon landed a healthy six-figure salary as the director of communications at Nickelodeon, which is owned by one of America's biggest corporations, Viacom. At this rate, my husband and I agreed, we would be very comfortable in life.

But I was anything but comfortable in the corporate world. It wasn't exactly painful going to work each day, but it just wasn't fulfilling.

I could make a long list for you about the things that I found unsatisfactory. But it boiled down to this: I was working for the man when I dreamed of being the man -- or in my case, the woman.

So after a lot of thought, I resigned and joined a small startup outfit. Ralph Lauren's son had launched a lifestyle magazine for 20-somethings called Swing, and I was to be the marketing director. It seemed like the perfect introduction to a scrappy, entrepreneurial environment.

Gone were the big expense account lunches and fancy hotels for business trips. Instead of messengering packages throughout Manhattan, we'd deliver them by hand during our lunch hour. Even long distance calls -- at just a few cents a minute -- were kept to a minimum.

None of that bothered me. In fact, I appreciated the challenge of being tight with a buck. I think it forces all of us to learn to be more resourceful and creative.

But as I continued my work at the magazine, two things occurred to me.

First, instead of working for the man, I was now working for the man's son and helping him fulfill his dream, not mine.

And second, I realized that if he could do it, I could too.

I came up with an idea that eventually became a passion in my life, one that I hope illustrates how powerful and freeing the idea of owning your own business can be, especially if you're willing to take a chance, trust your instincts and work your butt off.

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