Monday, November 25, 2002

Web firm beats recession trend


Founder takes chance at being self-employed

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Robert K. Dorger, founder and president of NetRevenues, bucked a national trend this spring and took the plunge into the world of entrepreneurship.

It was a direction that fewer people took this year than in years past, according to a report from placement firm Lee Hecht Harrison, particularly when compared with the recession of the early 1990s.

"I think most people have always thought of working for themselves or at least trying it," Mr. Dorger says.

"Not everybody does it. I saw the Internet as a chance to leverage my skills and knowledge to create a consulting firm within a very important niche for most companies."

NetRevenues, based in Hyde Park, was launched in April and specializes in search engine optimization - that is, it guarantees premium placement for companies within search engine results.

Mr. Dorger, a former marketing director for Swapalease.com, a local car leasing company with a national reach, decided to head out on his own because the Web represented such a vibrant opportunity.

The creation of the company, which has clients such as Champion Window Manufacturing & Supply, Sologig.com, and Gunning and Associates Marketing, came during a recession that has otherwise walloped business creation, according to the new survey by Lee Hecht Harrison.

Unlike the last recession, this economic slowdown has not led to a flurry of new business creation and a new entrepreneurial direction for those who have been laid off, according to Lee Hecht Harrison.

The report from the Woodcliff Lake, N.J.,-based outplacement firm, which has an office in Kenwood, shows that the percentage of working Americans who identify themselves as self-employed has been holding steady at 9 percent for the past 18 months.

"We've seen minor fluctuations in those reporting self-employment, but overall, it's been remarkably stable," said Lee Hoffheimer, senior vice president-client services at the Greater Cincinnati office.

"People see a lot of risk. The way one of my colleagues characterized entrepreneurship is this: It's last one last standing. It's a huge commitment of time, energy and money, and people are asking themselves: Do I have the fortitude to do this in this kind of environment?"

A decade ago, many employees who lost positions decided to create companies and become self-employed. They did it, in part, because they were pessimistic about their chances of finding a position at a stable company.

Limited opportunities drove laid-off workers to create their own income.

That is no longer the case, Ms. Hoffheimer said, because today there has been a shift in attitudes about self-employment. Many crave the security of working for an established corporation.

There are more worries today, too. Rising health insurance premiums frighten many.

"It seems that everyone knows someone who has tried working on their own and found it isn't all that it is cracked up to be," she said.

Mr. Dorger agreed that going it alone has been a big challenge.

"You can't just hang a shingle these days," he says. "This recession, too, is different than others. There was 9-11. The dot-com bubble burst. The market is in the tank. Everybody is a lot more apprehensive about doing their own thing. In the 1990s, everything was flying high and you could do anything.

"But I think that if you believe in your product and your service, you can withstand some tough times."

E-mail jeckberg@enquirer.com.



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