Jacob Lefton learned the blacksmith's trade in Europe. Restless, he'd left a low-paying job teaching gymnastics in Massachusetts to travel to Ukraine for an annual blacksmith's festival. Then he worked his way across the continent, honing his craft in various shops. In Europe, blacksmiths will take on and train journeymen in exchange for room and board. It's taken more seriously as a profession than it is in the United States, where smithing tends to be seen as an idle pastime of retired engineers, or something confined to re-enactment villages.
The journeyman's life would have suited Lefton, but he had something drawing him back home: student-loan debt. So in 2010, having returned stateside, he started his own blacksmith shop. "If I didn't have loans to pay, I probably wouldn't have started a business," he admits. His federal loans are now in hardship deferment — he has one more year to build up his business before he has to start paying them back.
In short, Lefton became an entrepreneur out of necessity. And he's not alone. With unemployment at 8.1 percent, and nearly half that number jobless for more than six months, the temptation to hire yourself when no one will hire you has rarely been stronger.
Read through advice on starting a small business, and you'll find that the path has been lined with caution tape. Never start a small business just because you have no other options, experts counsel. This wisdom is generally offered with a nod to the number of new businesses that fail: three in 10 within two years, and the majority after five, according to the Small Business Administration. If you already have a steady job, those figures make a compelling argument for starting your business as a side project until you're confident it will actually take off. But for those with no good options, what is there to lose?