Informational interviews can prove effective in job search

Informational interviewsLooking for a job and want to learn more about a specific field and the people who work in it? There are few better ways to do this than by conducting informational interviews.

In an informational interview, instead of an employer interviewing you, you will interview them. And it gives you a chance to talk to potential hiring managers – or even regular workers.

It’s surprising how few people use informational interviewing, but they should, because it works. Randall S. Hansen, former Stetson University marketing professor and founder of the Quintessential Careers website, says that while only one in 200 resumes results in a job offer, one in 12 informational interviews results in an offer.

Many people are happy to participate in informational interviews, because they like to share information about what they do. A face-to-face meeting is the best kind of informational interview, but if people say they don’t have time, see if you can ask them a few questions on the phone.

How to conduct informational interviews

To set up an informational interview, you need to do the same sort of research you would do if you were trying to find potential employers. Choose a few companies to target, and find out the names of the hiring managers of the departments you’re interested in.

Call them up, tell them you want to do an informational interview and schedule a time. These may take place at the person’s office, or better yet, invite them out for coffee. the $4 or $5 it would cost is an excellent investment, and they often pick up the tab anyway.

You can also use friends to create contacts for informational interviews. If you know someone who does the kind of work you want to do, ask them who in their company might be a good person to talk to. When you call that person, you can say, “So-and-so suggested I call, and I’d like to get together for an informational interview to learn a little more about the type of work you do.”

Online forums can be another tool to help you in your job search. Indeed.com, for example, is not just a great job aggregating website, but it also has great tools. You can use it to identify trends and salaries and to get advice on its online forums, where people go to share knowledge. These forums appear to be very effective. If you ask a question on the forum, people tend to be very helpful in supplying information about working in a particular company or field.

Be aware that an informational interview is not a means of asking for a job. Rather it is a chance to pick someone’s brain and learn what it’s really like to work at a particular type of job. You may also seek advice on how to conduct a better job search or improve your resume.

It’s an opportunity to network and practice talking to people without the pressure of an official interview.

Some examples of questions to ask

Make sure you do some research on the person’s company and the field, if you don’t already know a lot about it. Also prepare a list of questions and take notes during the interview.

Here are a few examples of questions to get you started:

  • Why did you choose this particular field?
  • How did you get your first job in this field?
  • What excites you the most about this type of work?
  • What are the biggest challenges?
  • What is a typical day in your work like?
  • Why did you choose this company, and what do you like about working here?
  • What are the most important skills one would need to work in this field?
  • What is the best way to get experience for this type of job if one doesn’t already have it?
  • What kind of advice can you give to someone who is seeking employment in this field?
  • Is there anyone else you can recommend for me to talk to?

When you go for an informational interview, dress professionally (as you would for a job interview), and don’t forget to send a thank you note afterwards. Although an email thank you would be OK, you will make a much better impression if you send a hand written thank you card.

 

Call center work offers growing number of opportunities

woman_with_phone_headset_197963Call center work is something that can be a good choice for those in re-entry, since many companies tend to be open to hiring formerly incarcerated individuals for this type of job and many people have already had experience in call centers in a prison or jail setting.

The field also provides a growing number of opportunities, as more and more companies relocate their call centers to the U.S. After years of complaints from unhappy customers who were unable to understand the English of the service reps in call centers located in India and elsewhere, many corporations have decided to invest their resources in creating opportunities here at home.

And many of these companies are offering work-at-home opportunities to some or all of their call center reps. The Work at Home Resource Guide offers an extensive directory of companies that hire employees for call center jobs. It includes the type of rates each one pays, which states they operate in, what type of training they provide, and if there’s a charge for anything.

Another even more extensive list that includes only work-at-home call center jobs but with fewer details, can be found on the Work at Home Moms section of about.com.

Call center jobs vary

Whether on-site or work at home, call center jobs vary in terms of the type of work required. They can be reservation agents for airlines and hotels, order takers, customer service reps, survey conductors, those doing tech support or sales associates selling products or services.

Among necessary skills that call center employees must have are to be detail-oriented, proficient in basic math and writing, sound professional on the telephone, and be able to type and have a basic knowledge of word processing.

Beware of scams

Work-at-home call center employment is ripe for scandal, so be wary. The companies included in the directory mentioned above are legitimate, but do your homework. Any company that requires a registration fee or asks for money for training may be a scam. Some ask applicants to pay for background checks, but only after they have a job offer.

Things to consider

If you’re considering this type of work, there are a few things to consider:

  • Pay varies widely and can be by the hour, minute or call made and in some cases may include a commission or incentive.
  • Bilingual call center agents tend to be paid more. Spanish speakers are especially in high demand, but those who speak languages like French and Chinese are also sought after.
  • There should be no charge for registration or training, but you may not get paid – or paid less than when you begin working – during that period.
  • If you work at home, you’ll need, at the very least, a computer, phone and internet connection.
  • You may be a full-time employee with some or full benefits, or a contractor who works for an outside agency or is self-employed.
  • Some call centers will only hire work-at-home representatives in certain states – or within a certain number of miles from their hiring location.

Like all jobs, call center work requires professionalism, a positive attitude and an ability to get along with people, especially on the phone. It’s just one possibility, but one that those with a record might want to seriously consider. A good telephone presence and telephone selling skills are very desirable to many employers and can lead to other job opportunities in the future.

 

Consider an eBay business as an alternative to a regular job

leather-691609_1280Selling things on eBay  can be a good job including for those in reentry. You don’t have to go through an interview, there are no background checks, and no endless searching job sites and sending in resumes. You just need an entrepreneurial spirit, a lot of patience and a determination to work hard.

Although many people sell anything and everything on eBay, it can help to have a specialty. That way you can become an expert in certain types of products, know where to find the good deals and become known among the eBay community. Some people specialize in clothes or shoes, others in cameras and still others in collectables. There are even people who mainly sell baseball gloves, including antique gloves that can bring in pretty prices.

Those who have made a career from selling on eBay each have their own techniques, but for the most part they visit discount stores like Ross or Loehmann’s, thrift shops and estate and garage sales, all in the pursuit of bargains they can sell for higher prices than they bought them for.

Just ask Jennie Smith, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and turned to eBay when she lost a job in the insurance industry three years ago.

She began to visit thrift shops in search of the shoes and clothes she buys, and started an eBay store. But for those who might think this is easy, she reminds them that it’s not.

“It’s a lot of work. You have to go and buy the item. You have to inspect it to see that there are no holes or it’s not faded,” she says. “You have to take measurements and pictures of everything and write a description. You have to store it somewhere nice and safe and find it when you’re ready to ship it.” You also have to research similar items on eBay to see how they’re priced in order to be competitive.

If you want to sell on eBay, you’ll have to start out small, gradually working your way up to more items. And you need a place to store the things you handle.

“I started out with just one room and a couple of shelves but have ventured into the hallway closet and the garage. Now I have 1,100 items in my store,” Smith says. “I just picked up 52 pairs of shoes at the Goodwill outlet. Ralph Lauren boots, Aerosoles. Some of the shoes still have tags on them, and I could sell some of them for as much as $80.” She never buys anything that she can’t sell for at least four times what she paid for it.

Although Smith still works part time in insurance, she spends about 40 hours each week on her eBay business, including the time she’s shopping for goods. She also packs between eight and 20 items each day to ship out to her customers, another part of the business that consumes time.

Selling on eBay is not just about picking something up and selling it. You have to ask yourself, would you buy this? Is it good enough to sell, she says.

Although it takes a certain mindset, those who are successful can make a pretty good living. Smith pulls in between $4,000 and $5,000 per month before eBay’s fees, which average 17 percent.

To learn the business, she recommends a website called scavengerlife.com. The site’s podcasts are full of tips and information to help you make a living through eBay, and she still watches them on a regular basis.

Another good resource for learning about selling on eBay is YouTube videos. For example, search on YouTube for eBay selling tips and start with the videos that have the most views. Also, check to see what books about creating an eBay business are available at your public library. Many have books on the subject from the Dummies and the Complete Idiot’s series.

A good way to begin an eBay business is to check out things that you, your family and friends own but may no longer need or want. That can be your initial inventory while you develop your business.

In order to sell on eBay you must set up a PayPal account. To obtain a PayPal account, you need to have a checking account, so if you don’t have one already, you’ll have to first open one.  Then you can start taking payments from people who will want to buy the things you sell.

We would greatly appreciate it if any formerly incarcerated people who are successfully selling on eBay would be willing to share some tips and advice with our readers. Please add your comments below.

 

Career Coaches take job search help to all corners of Tennessee

One of three Career Coaches operated by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

One of three Career Coaches operated by the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development.

What is it about Tennessee and job search buses, and why don’t more places follow its lead?

When writing about Memphis Public Library’s JobLINC: Mobile Bus for Job Seekers and Employers recently, we also discovered that the entire state is covered by mobile One-Stop-type units that reach remote rural corners of Tennessee, as well as jails, prisons and homeless shelters.

The program is known as Career Coach – as in bus but also as in career counselor. And the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development operates three buses that cover the entire state.

The story of the Career Coach goes way back to the 1970s with a mobile unit that only lasted for a short time. But the information about it remained in the department’s files so no one would forget. And they didn’t. In 2011, the department applied for – and was granted – funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to buy three buses and outfit them to reach as many job seekers as possible.

The buses are like RVs, and each one has 10 laptops, a network printer, fax machine and copier, a 42” flat-screen TV with SmartBoard overlay, and a DVD/CD player, as well as high-speed satellite Internet. The Career Coaches also have career specialists who can help people with resumes and other things they need to do to get ready for job interviews.

Each bus is stationed in a different part of the state – one in Knoxville, another in Nashville and the third in Huntington in West Tennessee.

“We have made it an extension of our brick-and-mortar American Job Center,” said Nicholas Bishop, director grants and special projects of the Tennessee Dept. of Labor & Workforce Development, which oversees the Career Coach program. “We take the buses to prisons and jails. Even though they may be in a metro area that has access to a career center, the inmates may have restraints going to those centers,” he said.

Last month the three units combined provided service to 1,031 people at 73 events in 40 different Tennessee counties. Thanks to the use of backpacks with computers, mobile printers and Wi-Fi, the department can have two events going on at the same time.

Inside a Career Coach.

Inside one of the career coaches operated by the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development.

“We’re kind of like the job squad,” said Bishop.

Chambers of commerce, churches, county jails and organizations can request a visit by a Career Coach online. Events are publicized by the organizations, as well as through Facebook, Twitter and email blasts to everyone in the area who is registered in the database. They’ve had anywhere from 10 to 200 people at an event.

The Career Coaches also go to jails and prisons five to 10 times per month and work with probation and parole offices. And last July, the department got all three units certified as testing sites for the HiSET (High School Equivalency Test).

“The problem we have in Tennessee is a lot of people who lack the high school credential don’t have convenient access to a testing site,” said Bishop. Inmates might take classes in jail but would have to be bussed two hours to take the test. “The mobile units are testing sites, and our team can go into a county jail facility and convert it into a testing site for the day.”

In April, the department administered the high school exam to 80 people, and 55 of those were incarcerated. “We hope that we can help rehabilitate inmates while they’re incarcerated and keep them from going back to jail,” Bishop said.

On some occasions the Career Coach career specialists offer workshops on resume writing, interviewing and basic computer skills. “We do them if an organization requests it but also provide one-on-one services for people who need help with resumes and other things,” he said.

In addition, company recruiters occasionally come on board. “They’ll interview people and do the drug screening right on the bus, and several people have been offered a job right on the spot,” Bishop said.

Not too long ago, the Career Coach went to Dickson near Nashville to begin recruiting employees for Dal-Tile’s newest manufacturing plant. The company not only concentrated on interviewing prospective employees but provided an info session for the community to get ready for the plant’s opening early next year. And it proved that the Career Coach can be used in many ways.

Other states are you listening?

 

Jails to Jobs book out on Amazon

PrintAt long last our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, is out and available on Amazon.

Since 2008, Jails to Jobs’ workshops and job search and restorative materials have reached more than 3,000 inmates. In our workshops, we help soon-to-be-released inmates explore meaning and purpose in their lives while they learn about job search strategies. This book is a direct result of our workshops, the materials we disseminate and the feedback we have received from inmates and other experts in the field.

If you are a regular reader of our blog or visitor to our website, you will find even more tips and information that will help you or the formerly incarcerated individuals you work with achieve job search success.

From adjusting attitudes and finding a free tattoo-removal program to creating a job search team and using a JIST card instead of a resume, the 176-page book suggests unconventional strategies that you may not have considered before. It even includes ways to highlight the skills you or your clients developed in prison rehabilitation and reentry.

Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed offers insight into how to deal with your “record,” recommending an approach that can be very effective if handled sincerely and honestly.

In addition, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed shows applicants how to convince employers that hiring them makes financial sense – based on tax credits and a government bonding program. It also includes job-training resources for those who need an extra boost and information on self-employment for those who prefer a different path.

One reviewer on Amazon wrote, “There are so many specific suggestions in this book, if you do any 10 of them you’ll improve your chances of finding a job. If you seriously follow through the seven steps, you can be confident your growing job search skills will present your best self to the right potential employers. And – here’s a secret – you don’t have to be in reentry from detention to benefit from the sound advice in these pages.”

Yes, the book could work for anyone, and we’d be happy if people in the wider population find it useful. But it is those with criminal records who may need extra support, and for them this book has been written.

Although only recently released online, it is already being used to create a job training program in at least one state prison, and several others are interested in using it as well.

Whether you’re a formerly incarcerated job seeker, a job developer, a prison official or volunteer, or anyone who has a connection with those who have been released from prison and are looking for a job, we hope you’ll find this book useful.

To order a copy, please visit Amazon.com.

 

Is a college degree necessary to get a good job?

MP900314164Many college grads are deep in debt with college loans these days. You’ve heard the news. They can’t find a job. Living at home. Some have given up and don’t know what to do.

Which brings up the question: Is a college education really necessary? Can you get a good job without it?

Although there are a lot of conflicting opinions, the answer is basically yes, you can get a good job without a college education. In fact for those in reentry, it might be better to look toward an apprenticeship, certificate program or other specialized training that will lead to a specific job.

High dropout rates, excessive debt

Going the college route, in fact, can be a gamble, with the chances of graduation not guaranteed. According to the Institute of Education Sciences of the National Center for Education Statistics, (part of the U.S. Department of Education), only 59% of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began their college education in 2006 had graduated by 2012.

And on top of that, 71% of those who did graduate from four-year colleges in 2012 carried student debt, according to the Project on Student Debt of the Oakland, Calif.-based Institute for College Access & Success. The average debt level for graduates was $29,400, a 25% increase over the amount of debt graduates carried in 2008.

To make matters worse, according to a 2014 Accenture college graduate employment survey, 41% of recent college graduates are earning $25,000 or less.

Although even with a degree many recent college grads can’t find work, the unemployment situation may ease a bit, if job creation forecasts are any indication.

Job creation forecasts show hope

In “Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020,” a study released by the Center on Education and the Workforce of Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute, the U.S. economy will grow to 165 million jobs by 2020. This is a nearly 18% increase over the number in 2012.

During this time period there will be 55 million job openings as a result of baby boomers retiring and the creation of new positions.

Of the upcoming job openings:

36% will not require any education beyond high school

35% will require at least a bachelor’s degree

30% will require an associate’s degree or some college

If the total number of jobs are broken down by occupation, these are the ones in which workers are least likely to need a college degree. The numbers are the percentages of the total number of jobs that only will require a high school diploma or less.

  • Health care support: 42%
  • Transportation and utilities services: 45%
  • Manufacturing 47%
  • Leisure and hospitality: 50%
  • Food and personal services: 57%
  • Construction: 63%
  • Natural resources: 66%
  • Blue collar trades: 66%

No college degree required for these good jobs

Among some of the specific jobs that only require a high school diploma – according to analysis by Careerbuilder.com that was included in an August Forbes.com website article – are:

  • Transportation, storage and distributions managers. Median hourly pay: $39.27
  • Gaming managers. Median hourly pay: $31.99
  • Real estate broker. Median hourly pay: $29.48
  • Construction and extraction worker supervisor. Median hourly pay: $29.20
  • Legal support workers. Median hourly pay: $26.97
  • Postal service mail carriers. Median hourly pay: $26.75

Although these jobs don’t formally require more than a high school diploma, some jobs do require on-the-job training or participation in an apprenticeship program. The advantage is that the training is a part of paid employment, unlike a college or even a community college education. And the effort will often result in steady, well paying jobs that, for the most part, are expected to remain in demand.

Visit your nearest American Job Center to find out more about the training and apprenticeship programs your area.

 

Make researching options first step in job search with these sites

MP900202133Many people in reentry haven’t worked for a long time, may have never liked the jobs they had before going into prison or jail or maybe were never really employed in the first place. If you are one of those people, you may want to start from the beginning and research a new career or type of work.

This can be a major undertaking, but if you do your homework, you might discover a job that will keep you engaged for months – or years – to come. And there are a couple of excellent websites that can help you begin that journey.

The first of these, My Skills My Future, is a CareerOneStop website sponsored by the Employment and Training Administration of the U. S. Dept. of Labor. On the site you can match your current or previous occupation to occupations that use similar skills. If you’ve never worked before, you can use it to explore new opportunities.

Here’s how it works: Go to www.myskillsmyfuture.org. On the home page type in a job you currently have or have had in the past. This will bring up a chart listing jobs requiring similar skills. When you click on one of these jobs, you will see exactly what those skills are. The chart also includes the level of education required for each job and the typical pay scale for those who do it.

In addition, a database lets you search job openings in a particular field nationally or by zip code to zero in on what’s available in your local area. A link will take you to a page with more information about a specific job and its requirements, as well as a link to the company’s site so you can apply for it directly. There’s also a list of job training programs, especially for people interested in blue-collar work, that you can consider.

My Skills My Future has another database you can search in the same way for businesses that employ people with specific sets of skills. The businesses can be searched not only by location but also by number of employees, in case you want to weed out those that are just sole proprietorships. Each business listing includes the address, contact info, name of the top executive and a link to the company’s website, if there is one.

A second website dedicated to helping people learn more about career options, My Next Move, is also sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, but developed and managed by the National Center for O’Net Development. You can explore opportunities by using a keyword search, by browsing various industries or though the O’Net Interest Profiler, which offers personalized career suggestions based on your interests and work experience.

Begin using this site by going to www.mynextmove.org and searching careers by typing in a few keywords that describe your dream career. Taking “build houses” as an example, it then brings up a list of careers that involve building houses. Click on one of them, say “construction carpenters,” and you will see a broad overview of the career of construction carpenter; what you would do on a day-to-day basis if you were actually performing this job; and the knowledge, skills, abilities and education necessary to become one.

In addition, the website lets you know the type of personality traits that someone good at this job would have and the technology they would be likely to use when doing it. It describes the salary range and the job outlook, including a color-coded map of the U.S. showing the level of opportunities for this job state-by-state. In addition, there are links to job search websites and a chance to explore other jobs that are similar to that of construction carpenter.

Using one or both of these websites should be very useful in helping you create a path to employment. Good luck, and let us know how they work for you.

 

The Pentorship Program encourages entrepreneurship among inmates

Georgia Tech MBA student Kristen Daniel is the founder of The Pentorship Program.

Kristen Daniel, an MBA student at Georgia Tech, has created a unique organization to inspire inmates to think about becoming entrepreneurs upon their release.

The Pentorship Program, a startup nonprofit, aims to pair inmates with entrepreneurs, who communicate by email and physical mail through the organization’s staff.

So-called pentees must have a GED or high school diploma or be enrolled in the GED program at their facility. They must have an interest in a specific business idea or invention and have no internal prison/jail gang affiliation. Pentors must be an entrepreneur, with an organization or business of any size that has been in existence for at least 18 months. They must have no prior convictions for illegal business activity and be committed to responding to their inmate pentee in a timely manner.

Daniel first became interested in prisons and prisoners her senior year in college when she wrote a paper about privatizing the prison industry. After two years of work following college, she took off on a long journey teaching English in Chile and Korea. During her travels she saw endless examples of entrepreneurship among families who had little access to education and were economically disadvantaged but had the drive to start businesses, no matter how small.

Upon her return a friend was arrested on drug charges. Daniel told him about her plans to start an organization to encourage inmates to think about entrepreneurship, and he told his cellmates what she was doing. They began asking questions about the types of business they wanted to start after their release, and The Pentorship Program was born.

The going has been a bit slow during the organization’s first year-plus, but Daniel is laying the foundation to expand the program’s operations. The Georgia Department of Corrections is interested but was going through organizational changes. “Now that they have more job placement programs in place, they want me to come and do a rollout of the program,” she says.

She also is looking for an entrepreneurship organization to partner with, possibly SCORE, which has been doing email mentoring for a long time and has started a program for veterans. She also hopes to expand it nationally and that The Pentorship Program will serve as a model that others can adopt for their own areas.

In the meantime, her work progresses in Georgia, where one out of 13 citizens is incarcerated, on parole or on probation. And because it’s so difficult for ex-offenders to gain employment, she believes that entrepreneurship is something that those who have an interest should consider.

As she says on her website, “Entrepreneurship is the great equalizer that, if pursued correctly, allows individuals the opportunity to pursue the American dream regardless of race, gender, socio-economic background and past criminal history.”

It’s a path that many, with encouragement from programs like hers, may choose to follow. For more information on The Pentorship Program, visit www.thepentorship.org.

 

 

How to find the funds to be able to start a small business

Creating your own business can involve some startup costs, so keep that in mind.

You may need to invest in equipment, tools, supplies, advertising and office space. Some jobs might require a truck to haul things around. Make a list of all the items you think will be necessary for operating the business and find out how much each of them would cost by searching Craigslist or other online sources or visiting stores.

But starting a business requires more than just stuff. You need to create the foundation on which it will operate, and one of the best ways to do this is to put together a business plan. This written plan will explain who you are; what you are going to do; and how, why and where you will do it.

Although you can turn to a nonprofit organization like those listed in last week’s blog post to help you with this, a great place to start is on the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website. There you can complete an online business plan template, which takes you step by step through the process. Check it out at http://web.sba.gov/busplantemplate/BizPlanStart.cfm

Completing a business plan will show that you are serious about your business and having one will be necessary if you intend to seek startup funding. If you don’t have enough money to start your business, you might want to look into getting funding from a micro-lender.

These organizations traditionally have given small oans to people in developing nations – Peruvian farmers, African craftswomen or street vendors in India, for example. These days, however, they’re also busy funding entrepreneurs in the U.S. who want to start or expand a business but can’t afford to do so and give loans of $500 to $100,000.

Accion USA, with headquarters in New York and offices around the country, is one of these micro-lenders, as is kiva.org. Both of these give loans to people nationwide. Micro-lenders who work on a more localized basis include Justine Peterson in St. Louis, Project Enterprise in New York City, Opportunity Fund in San Jose, Calif., the Utah Microenterprise Loan Fund and ACE Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs in Cleveland, Ga.

With a little bit of confidence, a lot of preparation and thought and some help from a micro-lender, you should have what you need to get a business together.

For more information on the  micro-lenders mentioned in this article, visit their   websites:

Accion USA   www.accionusa.org

Kiva.org   www.kiva.org

Justine Petersen   www.justinepetersen.org

Project Enterprise   www.projectenterprise.org

Opportunity Fund   www.opportunityfund.org

Utah Microenterprise Loan Fund   www.umllf.com

ACE Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs   http://www.aceloans.org

 

Think outside the box: Find success by starting your own business

Looking for a job might not be the best way to find employment for some ex-offenders. Those who have tremendous drive, creativity and an ability to solve problems may want to consider starting their own business.

Although many believe that people in re-entry do best in a structured environment, many who end up incarcerated got there because they were entrepreneurs. They were running a business – it just happened to be an illegal one.

But that same entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to hustle, to come up with moneymaking ideas and to implement them could prove the key to success. For some, it might be easier than finding a job working for someone else. And they won’t be alone.

The latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in April 2012, there were 8.5 million unincorporated self-employed workers out of a U.S. labor force of 141.9 million. That equals about 6 percent of the total workforce.

Although internet-related businesses may get the most hype, the majority of these workers run old-fashioned service business. As people’s lives get busier and more complicated, they’re turning to others to provide many of the things they used to do themselves, whether it’s yard work, pet care or preparing meals. Whatever your skill level, opportunities exist to launch a small business with one or maybe two workers. You just have to find a need and fill it.

Maybe you have a special interest, like painting, cooking, gardening, dog walking or even collecting recyclables. Explore ideas on the web and get to know someone in another town who is doing the business you’re interested in. Be honest and tell them you’d like to start a business like theirs, but since you’re in another area, you won’t be competition.

There are a wide variety of business opportunities, many of which don’t need high skill levels or even much education. These include handyman or janitorial service, firewood supplier, yard work, house painting, tree trimming, graffiti removal, recycling, errand runner and housekeeping.

Once you have an idea for a business, there are people and organizations in the community that can help you put it together. They provide great resources that are often low-cost or no-cost, so there’s no reason not to take advantage of them.

The Small Business Administration, which maintains offices in every major U.S. city, is one of them. Its offices put on various workshops, most of which are free, dealing with everything from accounting issues and how to use the Internet for marketing to getting organized and increasing sales.

SCORE, a nonprofit organization with 13,000 members in 364 chapters nationwide, matches successful former business owners with entrepreneurs who are just starting out. SCORE offers free and confidential business advice through online and face-to-face mentoring.

There are many nonprofit organizations throughout the U.S. that help people launch small businesses. Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, provides classes, low-cost, one-on-one consulting services and a business incubator with low-priced office and cubicle space.

Wesst, headquartered in Albuquerque, operates six Enterprise Centers across the state that offer workshops, webinars and private consulting, as well as small business loans.

The New Hampshire Small Business Development Center, located on the University of New Hampshire campus in Durham, N.H., provides one-on-one advice to new and existing businesses in New Hampshire.

Creating a small business takes a lot of work, but opportunities are abundant for those with initiative. We’d love to hear some success stories from ex-offenders or those who work with them. Please send them our way.

For more information on the organizations included in this article, visit their websites at:

Small Business Administration   www.sba.org

SCORE   www.score.org

Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center   www.rencenter.org

Wesst   www.wesst.org

New Hampshire’ Small Business Development Center   www.nhsbdc.org