Tired of waiting for jobs?

God only knows what happened to America's once vaunted job-creating economy, but if you're tired of being among the estimated five people competing for every job opening, maybe it's time you took the entrepreneurial plunge.

Since self-employment tends to fall as the economy grows, it's only natural to assume that it expands as laid-off workers start small businesses after failing to find work in sluggish times. The June 2010 "U-6" employment measure, which factors the total percentage of unemployed Americans, including those who have become only marginally attached to the workforce, stood at 16.5%. I can't help but think that somewhere in that 16.5% is the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Laurie Benson or Toni Sikes.

In this business climate, the services of groups like the nonprofit Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), which is sponsored by the federal Small Business Administration, has never been more valuable. SCORE has provided small business mentoring to millions of people, and there is a Chapter right here in Madison.

SCORE Chapter 145 serves Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Grant, Green, Iowa, Lafayette, Richland, and Sauk Counties.

It has a platoon of 50 business people that are ready to assess your business idea, develop your business plan, explore how you're going to get your products or services to market, and promote your new venture, among other tasks on the entrepreneurial "to-do" list.

The local counselors come from multiple walks of business life, including services like law, accounting, banking, consulting, and information technology, and their approach is a collegial one. In fact, some counselors join the Madison Chapter when they are unemployed, and they find purpose in helping others take the plunge.

"It's counseling based on knowledge of people who have been there and done that," said Bill Arthur, president of SCORE Madison Chapter 145. "We can call on a variety of people as they go through the process."

SCORE uses business seminars and check-up workshops, podcasts, and other means to get the message across.

Unless your idea is way out there, they are not the type to go stomping on a dream. SCORE counselor John Russell, himself a business advisor with The Business Source, is typical of the people who volunteer their time. When it comes to business fundamentals, he's a no-nonsense, nuts-and- bolts kind of guy, but he'll help you focus on what's really important.

"The business plan is so critical to new businesses," Russell said. "It's real eye opener when you do it."

Many eyes have been opened by purported high — 70% or more — small business failure rates, but in SCORE's view, the survival rates of small businesses aren't as daunting as they are in other calculations. The organization reports that seven out of 10 new employer firms survive at least two years, and about half survive after five years. (The findings do not differ greatly across industry sectors.)

That's actually pretty encouraging, based on what I'd been led to believe, and other statistics indicate tremendous room for growth within small businesses. The Make Mine A Million program, for example, notes that almost 50% of American businesses are owned by women, but only 2.6% of those have $1 million or more in annual sales. Just think of the economic growth potential of getting that number up to 5% or 10%.

So if you've got a talent or an idea that's needed in the B-2-B or B-2-C markets, if you've been unemployed for far too long, and you're tired of waiting for the economy to turn a corner, make a little economic noise yourself. Set up an appointment with a SCORE counselor; you're bound to meet a kindred business spirit like John Russell.

"It's very uplifting," he noted, "to see professional people who've been knocked down suddenly get up out of their chair."