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How My Layoff Kick-Started My Small Business

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For Women & Co., by Stephanie Taylor Christensen, Wellness on Less

A job layoff can be a financially jarring event when you suddenly find yourself without a steady paycheck, but it doesn't have to mean the end of your professional posterity. As the stories of these four women prove, it can even be the catalyst for reinventing your career and your financial potential -- no matter your age or experience.

Small-Business Owner at Age 60
In the 30 years Su Hartung spent working in corporate America, she occasionally felt the itch to leave it all behind, but as a single mom, she didn't feel she could afford to give up the perceived security of a full-time salary. When she was 60 years old, however, Hartung was laid off after a company buyout. Finding few career options for a seasoned corporate executive, she parlayed her decades of sales and marketing experience and used a portion of her buyout package and part of her 401(k) to come up with the initial $47,500 investment she needed to buy an Our Town America franchise in DeKalb, Illinois. For the mom who once put her own entrepreneurial dreams on hold for the sake of her family, owning the franchise has even deeper meaning: She and her daughter are now business partners.

Making a Major Career Switch
Lori Cheung is a successful pet photographer whose business has been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and on Animal Planet, but back in the 1990s, she was the youngest project manager in a high-stress role at an environmental consulting firm. Told she was a "product of recession," Cheung was laid off - but realized she had been set free to pursue her passion. Using $15,000 of her personal savings, she started The Pet Photographer and The Portrait Photographer, and built up a portfolio by volunteering for animal non-profit groups and local pet shelters where her images facilitated adoptions, and co-marketing with area pet businesses and boutiques. Beyond loving her job, Cheung feels more financially secure now than ever. "The projects I managed at the environmental consulting firm were dependent on the economic growth of residential, commercial, and infrastructure development," she says. "As a small-business owner, I've cultivated fantastic clients, cash flow is better than as an employee, and the tax savings are great for me."

Triumphing from a Health Tragedy
Following a Lyme Disease diagnosis, Cheryl Laughlin was already stressed -- until it worsened when she was laid off from her marketing job. While writing a screenplay, a hobby she used to distract herself from the painful disease and its treatment, Laughlin recalled a ring her mom had given her as a child; its design spelled the words "love." That memory became the foundation for her inspirational jewelry company, Bits of Love. Partnering with her boyfriend of 17 years (who also suffers from the disease), Laughlin dipped into her 401(k), and took advantage of a 15-month zero percent interest rate offer on her Citi Simplicity® Card to get the business moving. Laughlin also got a Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card. "Those cards made it possible to float the startup debt and not get in over our heads, while we were still paying off medical bills," says Laughlin.

Transforming a "To Do" into Business
Balancing work and family is a common parenting challenge, but for MaryBeth Reeves, a mother of quadruplets, being laid off from her director-level position with a major hotel chain when her kids were just two years old presented an ironic business opportunity. With a portion of her severance, Reeves founded Scrapbook Mamma, a digital service that handles the task of creating kids' memory books for busy moms who never seem to find the time to do it. Though Reeves supplements her small-business income with consulting gigs in her former industry, she says the unexpected new path has value far beyond money. "To say I have taken a cut in pay is the understatement of the year - but I am so happy to be putting my efforts to a company that is my passion and gives me so much joy."

Women & Co., a service of Citi, is the go-to personal finance source for women. By providing financial content, commentary and community, Women & Co.'s mission is to get women thinking and talking about personal finance. Founded in 2000, Women & Co. is one of the longest running personal finance websites dedicated to helping women strengthen their financial futures.