Problems can be opportunities – if you look for them that is. For small business owners, there’s been plenty of soul searching as a result of the great recession. While things have improved, it seems that our ways of living and doing business have reached a ‘new normal’ as belts remained tightened everywhere.

So what opportunities can be found in the fall out? Plenty, say some entrepreneurs. You just need to keep your eyes open and your ears to the ground as they say.

A clear opportunity that has resulted from the downturn is a larger available pool of talent to choose from when hiring. The economy has recovered only about 4.5 million of the 8.7 million jobs lost between the start of the recession in December 2007 and early 2010. As a result, many people are still out there looking for work and willing to work more flexible hours.

That has helped Judi Henderson-Townsend, founder of Mannequin Madness, a company that recycles, rents and sells used mannequins, to hire experts that were difficult to attract before.

“I can’t afford to have someone full time to work in finance, sales and social media for example, but I have been able to hire these experienced professionals as advisors during the downturn,” Townsend says.

And in return these independent contractors, like her social media coordinator for example, have helped her bottom line.

“We’re using social media and our blog as a way to educate people about window displays and visual merchandising. That’s allowed us to become known as the experts in the field, which in turn, brings in more business,” Townsend says.

Watch how Townsend uses social media creatively to grow her business.

Laura Zander, founder of Jimmy Beans Wool, says the downturn has allowed her to hire well-educated people and grow her business in a way that would have been impossible before. “We now have access to college graduates with a passion for knitting.” Her staff includes women with incredibly diverse background including archeology, medicine, landscape architecture and industrial welding.

Zander’s business – located in Reno, Nevada with some of the highest unemployment rates in the country – has grown to 40 employees over the past few years. “They couldn’t find jobs in their fields and thought ‘why not do something I’m passionate about?’

Those passionate employees have helped Jimmy Beans Wool to grow quickly and Zander is now able to offer them career track positions.

Another advantage for small business owners can be found in the structural changes in a given business sector.

For Townsend, some customers in the fashion industry are looking to stretch their money, which means renting or buying used mannequins becomes a more attractive option, and that’s helped her business.

And department stores that usually discard their mannequins are less willing to do so because trashing them in dumpsters is costly. So they call up Townsend from all over the country and she carts them away for free. “They can sometimes save $1,000 per store by calling Mannequin Madness and when everyone is looking at costs, line by line, that means a lot,’” she says.

Zander also found a way to capitalize on some of the casualties of the recession. Since many local yarn shops closed around the country, she could capitalize on this as her products are offered online.

“Knitting is a passion for people. People will save money on groceries so they can buy their knitting supplies,” Zander says.

She is now offering more affordable yarns. And as knitting is a stress reliever, Zander says it’s a great hobby, especially these days.

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