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Jobless couple gives up search in order to start a business
Edie-Jane Clarke, owner of Everything Pretty, opens up her shop, the result of unsuccessfully looking for a new job for 18 months. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

After years of working in the same field, changing your career and starting from scratch could be quite a jolt.

But in today’s economy, some people find themselves doing just that.

Take Edie-Jane Clarke. She worked as a paralegal in downtown Atlanta for more than 25 years, specializing in corporate law. She lost her job nearly two years ago and, after months of sending out resumes, hadn’t even had one interview.

During this time, her husband, Chuck, was forced into early retirement after working for the same company for 40 years.

So, Clarke decided it was time for her to make her own move into a new career.

"I had explored options of things to do at home, was taking in some transcription type work at home, legal transcription stuff," she said. "It was just kind of a struggle because you get laid off and you collect unemployment, then it just got to the point where (I would ask myself), ‘Do I take a menial position?’ And I don’t think that would have been rewarding enough for me."

Clarke even pondered selling cupcakes, scrapbooking supplies and even trailer hitches.

Then she finally found her calling while visiting a few consignment stores.

"I always loved decorating and entertaining and always had a passion for decorating and fixing up things," she said. "I never really felt like I had enough self confidence for anybody else other than myself."

Chuck and Edie-Jane opened their business, Everything Pretty, on Friendship Road near the Gwinnett County line on April 27. So far, it’s been a success.

"This truly was a leap of faith and totally out of my comfort zone, but it’s become extremely comfortable and we’re doing well," Clarke said. "We negotiated a very favorable lease and we’ve had nothing but good, positive feedback."

Ron Simmons, of the Small Business Development Center run by the University of Georgia, calls these people entrepreneurs by necessity.

"They need to be aware of what they don’t know and they need find a few people whose business judgement they trust to ask," said Simmons about folks contemplating opening a business. "That might be family and friends, it might be us, it might be noncompeting businesses that they share clientele with.

Clarke started by talking with other consignment store owners and got tips from other business owners on opening a business for the first time.

"If you are in the position that we were and you want to do something different, do your due diligence," she said. "Make sure you have a business plan and make sure there is a need in what you are doing."

Susan Rettig, who owns Rettig Inc., spent years working at different jobs before finding her dream career in the trucking industry.

"Have a lot of faith," she advised people embarking on a new career path. "But the biggest advice I give anybody is one thing — it’s not your money until you pay your vendors and your employees.

"Just because you are the owner or the president, it’s not your money."

Just because the business owner has received a check from a customer or a supplier, she said, doesn’t mean the business is making money and is successful.

"More people I think have issues when they get that first big check from a customer and they want to go out and buy something," Rettig said. "Another piece of advice that I learned the hard way is save money, because what comes up does come down."

For the past 10 years, since Rettig opened her business, she has been visiting the Small Business Development Center and getting advice from consultants there like Simmons.

"If nothing else, he was the emotional support and cheerleader," she said.

To help these fledgling small businesses along, the SBDC offers courses covering different aspects of starting and running a business, along with advice and encouragement.

For Clarke, though, opening Everything Pretty has been an experience in faith and hard work to be able to call herself a business owner.

"Absolutely reinvent yourself," she said. "You can do everything you can to put yourself out there for whatever your field is — just like for me. I have been used to working all of my life and I’ve never had a problem with not having a job. I got to the point where I couldn’t rely on anybody to get me work and I just had to take it upon myself."

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