Going From Unemployed to Entrepreneur
At the beginning of her career, Wendi Brick did not expect to spend nearly 20 years working as a public servant.
“I started as a student intern with the County of San Diego," she said. "And, I was not one of these people who aspired to be a government employee when I grew up. But, I went to work and I did that internship and I had no idea how many people came to work every day just to make our community better. And I was very moved by that and decided I was never going to leave.”
By January 2009, Brick had left the county and was in her third year of directing the city of San Diego’s Department of Customer Service. That month, a round of city layoffs did away with the department. Some of the 20 people she worked with were moved into other vacant city positions and the rest, like Brick, were laid off.
"I made looking for a job my full-time job. I sent in hundreds of resumes -- same story that you’ve heard over and over again -- and I just wasn’t getting any traction," she said. "Being a very career oriented person, I didn’t realize how much I defined myself by my career.
Brick, who lives in Escondido with her husband, said she wasn’t prepared for the emotional toll losing her job would take. But her reaction is a common one.
“Frequently, when people first become unemployed they feel a real powerful rejection because often, their workplace can be a second family. It can be part of their identity. So when they become newly unemployed they feel unwanted, they feel un-valued,” said David Peteres, a marriage and family therapist.
Since 2003 Brick had done consulting for government agencies and other organizations in her free time. She helped them create and implement plans for improving their customer interactions. But she never considered turning it into a full-time endeavor until a friend mentioned the idea in passing.
“I felt exiled to Siberia, like I didn’t know what I was supposed to do or who I was. And then when that person said to me, 'but you already are this thing,' I printed up business cards, I felt a lot better,” she said
It took more than some business cards to get her company, Customer Service Advantage, off the ground though.
"I had no idea what it meant to run a business. So one of the first things I did actually, was I visited SCORE San Diego. I asked for a mentor, I took a lot of classes, I read a lot of books," she said.
The middle of the country’s longest recession in 60 years may not seem like the best time to get a business started. But the nonprofit small business counseling organization, SCORE San Diego, has had a steady number of people seeking out their services over the last few years, according to Paul Hollenbach, a counselor and former president of the organization.
"It’s a hard economy and they have to do more work and come up with more programs in their written business plan to show that they understand the market, they understand the economy, they understand their target market and they understand what their competitive edge or niche is. Once they can do that and have forecasted financials that make sense to a bank – they can get money," Hollenbach said.
Because Brick employs only herself and can work from home or clients’ offices, she didn’t need a loan to get started. But, she says her skills are all the more vital in a slowly recovering economy.
"A key driver to any business’ recovery would be focusing on the customer experience. And the businesses that get that are going to come out of this and maybe even thrive in this situation," she said.
She’s planning to make her own business one of those that will thrive. It looks like she may already be on her way to doing just that. She said 2010 was her highest earning year yet.
"My vision is to grow this into a larger company and have 10 to 15 employees in three or four years," Brick said. "After having gone through what I went through emotionally, with losing my sense of self through losing my job. I really want to give that to other people. I want to employ people because I didn’t realize how important that was before."
Local economists have said it could take up to five years to regain the jobs San Diego lost during the recession. Brick’s 10 to 15 employees could be one tiny piece of that puzzle.