Reconstructing your business

Being your own boss is a great thing if it suits your temperament, but there’s a risk. If you or a loved one get sick, there’s no fallback position. Your business takes the hit and at some point you have to pick up and start over.

That’s the position Carol Lynne Johnson finds herself in. A licensed mortgage consultant for 25 years who moved to Woodstock from New York City, she confessed that she “never took time off.”

“The business changes so quickly, and it’s so important to keep your networking active,” she said, “that there just never seemed to be the opportunity.”

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Her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago. They were told he was unlikely to survive for long. So she put her business on hold. Two years later, he’s surprised everyone and is doing well. “It’s time for me to grow my business again,” Johnson said.

Lucy Scala has owned Woodstock Haircutz on Mill Hill Road for 20 years. A hair stylist is on her feet all day, cutting, coloring, chatting. But when a car accidentally went through the plate glass window at her gym, pinning her in an exercise machine, everything stopped. “The machine probably saved my life,” she said, “but it’s been about two years of surgery, physical therapy and slowly working my way back.”

Her salon never closed, but other stylists took her place and Scala’s absence was felt. “My clients all tried to stick with me at first, but life goes on. Hair grows. And a lot of them eventually drifted away.”

She’s back now “about 75 percent,” and determined to rebuild her client list.

According to citydata.com, about 10 percent of the people living in Ulster County own their own business. They don’t have statistics on how many people are independent contractors — freelancers — but with the writers, artists, graphic designers and musicians who make up a substantial segment of the population, that number is probably substantially higher.

Johnson’s and Scala’s situations aren’t unique. But they’re two examples of reality in the new economy — where many of us work independently, pay for our own health insurance (or doing without), and where disaster is just one expected medical problem away.

After the crisis is past, how do you rebuild?

“I’m building a new team,” Johnson said. “Two years is a lifetime in this business, and the Dodd-Frank bill has meant a lot of new restrictions on mortgage lending, making it harder to navigate through the industry. I’m contacting all my old clients, my contacts who are CPA’s and financial planners, and letting them know I’m back. I’m offering customer service beyond what a lot of banks can offer. I’m training the people who work with me to create an elite, boutique mortgage lender.”

Scala is also focused on customer service as she rebuilds. But she’s also decided there’s a niche for a salon that offers good value. “We’re offering special affordable hair care pricing. And I’m keeping the staff small – just me, Cassandra Lucas and Frey Johnson. It’s easier to keep an eye on things if you keep it tight.”

She’s planning to redecorate and the salon is open six days a week from 11-5.

“I have been through ups and downs,” she said, “but I never saw it get this bad. It was a little frightening. I had some times where I wondered. ‘Do we go on?’ But we’re staying and we’re already seeing people coming back. And we’re seeing new faces. I love that about this town — there are always new faces.”

She and her team have been working on slogans. One might be the winner — it speaks to every hair emergency she’s ever treated. “We don’t care what you did — just come on in and we’ll fix it.”

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