Nebraska VR’s Self-Employment Program is intended for Nebraska VR clients who have self-employment as a vocational goal. Services are also available to client’s with existing business who want to expand. A Self-Employment Program Specialist, who is well versed in small business start-ups, works with clients across the state to provide resource information and expertise.
Clients interested in exploring self-employment work with the Nebraska VR Self-Employment Specialist first to determine if self-employment is an appropriate vocational goal. The next step includes a feasibility study to provide an in depth look at the business idea. If the study concludes the business has a good chance of being successful, a business plan will be developed. The plan includes the specifics of the business and the needs and resources required. Nebraska VR continues to work with the self-employment clients until the targeted net monthly income goal is reached.
Nebraska VR Self-Employment Program Specialist Julie Shively sat down with 2018 State Rehabilitation Council’s Disability Employment and Inclusion Entrepreneur Award Winner Toby Mickelson of Old West Radon to learn more about Toby’s self-employment journey. Toby’s Nebraska VR Employment Specialist Marcia Haynes from the Kearney Service Office was also included in the conversation.
Julie: What surprised you about being self-employed or what things had you not considered about being self-employed?
Toby: I was surprised by the inconsistency of business when I first started out and felt stressed as I had a family to support. I learned to hang in there during the slower months and made a point of going to look at jobs and meet the customers in person versus asking them to send photos and bid jobs that way. The face to face meetings with customers has paid off with several word of mouth referrals.
Julie: What would you say are the priorities for someone considering self-employment as a job goal?
Toby: You have to realize being self-employed is a 24/7 commitment. You are not on an 8-5 job anymore. Stick with your goal and keep working on it through the stressful times.
Julie: What characteristics do you have that made your business successful?
Toby: Not being afraid of work and having that hard driving force inside of you to work. I grew up on a farm and it was expected we work from a young age. I also enjoy teaching customers about radon and the environment.
Julie: What did you think of your experience with Nebraska VR self-employment services?
Toby: It was very, very helpful. Without the Nebraska VR [self-employment services] I never would have started the business. The support and encouragement from Nebraska VR staff “checking in” kept me on track and encouraged.
Julie: Marcia, what were the challenges faced while providing self-employment services to Toby?
Marcia: The challenge was trying to stay ahead of Toby and his enthusiasm to initiate the business once he had a viable plan in place. I am convinced of his genuine care for the customer and dedication to continued growth of the Old West Radon Business. In every way his business is a suitable match of Toby’s strengths, transferable skills, interests, and abilities.
Toby experienced an injury to his lower back while working for Buffalo County Highway Department. Once he recovered he was unable to return to operating heavy equipment. He researched vocational options and found a friend in the radon business. Another real estate agent friend also suggested Toby start his own business in radon management and mitigation. Previously being in the construction business, Toby knew radon mitigation was a health danger in central Nebraska and knew there was a need for licensed mitigation. Toby had transferable skills and knowledge as well as relationships with builders and real estate agents from which to build a customer base. Before working with Nebraska VR, Toby invested in his own business concept by completing the Radon Mitigation and Management coursework and worksite training through Kansas State University. He was able to job shadow and assist with mitigation projects for an acquaintance from Kansas in the radon business. He successfully completed the tests and received certification and licensing in the State of Nebraska as both a Radon Measurement Specialist and Radon Mitigation Specialist.
Toby’s Business Mission statement is “Old West Radon seeks to be the best radon mitigation specialist in Nebraska through honest, friendly service completed in a timely manner.” Toby’s business goals included installation of one mitigation system weekly in 2018. He attends conferences to share and learn about business concepts and the latest in radon equipment. Toby purchased a cutting-edge radon monitor which enables him to provide a customer with an immediate radon level reading via a phone app while at their residence. Marketing plans include development of a business Facebook page.
Toby truly believes in what he does for the environment, hopes to educate the public about the dangers of radon, and wants to make a difference globally.
The Pathway to Employment Video Series is designed to de-mystify the many services provided to clients and businesses while highlighting the innovation that is the culture of Nebraska VR. While certainly each story is either one of progress towards an employment goal or a client's employment goal success, they are also stories about the important role played by staff members, businesses, ATP, Easter Seals, Project SEARCH, and others. Go to: vr.nebraska.gov/videos/