A Small Nest Egg Can Create Big Opportunities
Maybe you’ve been faithfully working your 9-to-5 job, and you’ve got some money in the bank. Maybe you just got an inheritance from a departed relative. Or maybe one of your lottery tickets actually hit. In any case, you’ve got between $10,000 and $25,000 burning a hole in your pocket. What should you do with it?
How about starting a business? Many entrepreneurs, possibly most, start with little to no capital when they launch their businesses. So, if you have some money to invest, you’re ahead of the game. Instead of delving into one of the very cheapest ideas—businesses you can start for $2000 or less you can go for something that requires a bit more money up front.
So, if you have from $10,000 to $25,000 or so to start a business, here are some ideas:
Food Truck or Food Cart
If you haven’t noticed, food trucks and food carts are more than just hot dog and burger stands now. Many are on the cutting edge of excellent cuisine in the cities in which they operate. If you can cook and drive and you don’t mind putting in some long hours, you can have a successful business in the portable-restaurant space.
If you can afford it, go for running a food truck. Be aware, though, that a truck that can accommodate a mobile restaurant could put a serious dent into your budget. But you can consider buying a used one or financing or leasing a new one. You’ll also need local licenses for food service as well as money for fuel and advertising, so tread carefully.
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If you can’t afford a full truck, consider a cart. You can still move it around, but you might need to offer pre-prepared food instead of freshly cooked food. Still, placed in the right neighborhood for a day or an afternoon, a cart could do some good business.
In order to get customers, you’ll need to go where people are. Check the schedule for local fairs, festivals and cultural and sporting events, particularly anything happening outdoors. Do what you have to in order to gain entry to those events. That’s how you’ll get yourself in front of the public. Alternatively consider setting up a route to local office parks.
From there, it’s just a matter of making great food and offering great service. When word about your mobile restaurant gets around, you’ll be able to park in front of offices for a day or target busy neighborhoods. Become a fixture on the local scene, and you won’t even have to move around much anymore—people will come to you.
Coffee Bar/Tea Salon
You don’t have to go crazy here. We’re not talking about a full-blown restaurant, which is likely to be beyond the budget for this article. You can open a little place that has a nice selection of coffees and teas, and maybe some pastries and snacks. You could keep it open from early in the morning until just after lunch and catch the commuter and office crowds.
Of course, the location of your business will be incredibly important. It doesn’t have to take up a huge space. In fact, it could be as small as a cart if you can find a way to efficiently store your product and your equipment. Or you could rent part of a space in an existing building or store. Consider the crowd you want to go after. Foot traffic will likely be critical for your business. Try to locate yourself in or near an office park, or in a part of a city with lots of pedestrians.
You’ll definitely have some competition, of course, from big corporations such as Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks to other small independents. You’ll have to try to find a location that will give you some distance from them—easier said than done, but this is where getting into an actual office building rather than just near it could give you an advantage. You’ll also have to compete on product and service. Rotate your coffee and tea flavors, and consider hand-made pastries and snacks. Also, turn on the charm. Make yourself friendly and likable, and you’ll have repeat customers coming by to say hello and buy a cup and a pastry. Play up the local angle!
Despite the saturation of Dunkin’ Donuts in the Boston area, for instance, there are still local, independent coffee places that thrive. Most simply offer superior products and friendlier service than the average chain. People will still go to Dunkin’s, but as long as you can siphon off some of the customers from bigger competitors, you’ll keep growing.
To get customers on this business I would go nuts finding a high traffic location and building strong “curb appeal” including a terrific sign. I would be cautious about spending money on advertising for this business. You need to get people within walking distance. Maybe you could put flyers with coupons for a free cup of coffee under the doors of neighborhood houses, businesses and on car windshields. Heck, I’d personally stand out front and pass out free samples.
There will be some invest some equipment you’ll need to run your business, an espresso machine, coffee makers, a refrigerator and a dishwasher even if you’re not serving any food. Remember, too, that food service has strict regulations, so be sure you’re following the rules.
Do you love the outdoors? That’s great. Are you ready to be responsible for leading a group of people on an outdoor expedition? If so, you might be ready to start a business offering outdoor adventures.
Just loving the outdoors is a requirement, but it’s not enough. You need to be able to organize trips and activities, deal with groups and be willing to both be flexible and take risks. Since you’ll be working outdoors, you’ll be beholden to the whims of weather, fires and other factors that can ruin your plans at the last minute. Having contingencies and building them into your budget is critical, as is having a very clear policy on refunds and rescheduling.
You’ll need to find a place to have your adventures, so contact owners of local farms and ranches to get started. If they can’t offer you their own land, they’ll likely know somebody who can. Once you have a venue, decide what your specialty is going to be. Offering one type of adventure and sticking with it is definitely the way to go, at least at the outset of your business.
Another consideration will be insurance. It will expensive given the nature of what you’ll be offering. You may decide to forgo insurance and take on the risk personally. Even if you have participants sign releases you can still be sued for negligence for instance. So especially if you decide to skip insurance, consider forming an LLC or Corporation to add some protection to your personal assets. Realize however that if your company is sued you will most likely be named personally in the suit. However, you decrease (but don’t eliminate) the chance a court may find you personally responsible for whatever legal claims you might face.
Licensing could be an issue as well depending on where you’ll be holding your adventures and what you’ll be offering, so pay attention there. You’ll almost assuredly need to hire people to help you run your adventures, so spend some money to do that before you start accepting adventurers.
As for advertising, spend some money to create an excellent Website. Reach out to schools, local businesses, houses of worship, sports leagues and other organizations that are good candidates for planning outdoor adventures. Get involved with local fairs and festivals as well, and consider buying a booth at a local fishing or hunting show. Once you’re up and running, word of mouth will be your strongest force in marketing.
Real Estate Appraiser
After getting hit hard in the 2008 recession, real estate has bounced back big time in many parts of the country. Appraisers can do quite well in areas that are booming again after the bust.
If you have no experience as an appraiser, you have a long way to go before you can start your own business, but your dedication could eventually pay off handsomely. In most states, you’ll need a license to become an appraiser, and the process for getting one is neither brief nor simple. A licensed real estate appraiser needs up to a couple of years of classes and training, including 75 hours of classwork to reach the most basic level of appraising and 150 to reach the higher level you’ll likely need if you want to start your own business.
Once you’re all set with your requirements, start getting referrals from real estate agents, and consider pay per click ads on search engines. Build a website—it doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to look professional and be optimized for SEO. One you’ve recruited a few clients, word will get out that you’re licensed and available, and do good work.
You might hear about competition from websites that do online appraisals, but most of those appraisals are non-binding and just a rough guess of valuation. Remember, people who need real estate appraisals include more than just people buying or selling houses. Anybody going through a divorce or bankruptcy, for instance, will need an appraisal as part of the process, so don’t hesitate to network with local lawyers.
Rare Book Dealer/Search Service
This business is very easy to get into, but somewhat harder to turn into a full-time gig. Just start buying rare books and then trying to sell them, and you’re a dealer of rare books. The challenge might be selling enough rare books often enough to sustain a full-time business, but for those who are up for it, the rare book game can be a lot of fun. When I was in the book business, one of my best employees left to pursue his passion with a career in this field-yes did end up loving it.
Most of the overhead here will obviously involve acquiring the books and setting up the website to sell them. You’ll very likely be able to work from home. Sourcing books will be important, particularly if you’re incorporating a search service into your offering. You can do that online, or you can visit local stores that sell used books or even drop by book sales that libraries occasionally have.
Of course, a working knowledge of what’s valuable in the world of rare books is extremely important here, as is having some idea of how to price what you sell. But your clients will often request the books they want, so you won’t necessarily need a large inventory at any given time.
You can sell your books on eBay and offer your search service through your website. The vast majority of your business will take place online, so don’t scrimp on your web presence. You’ll be able to work globally, so don’t be afraid to advertise in antique periodicals and other publications that reach your audience. If you can get your business running full time, you can have a pleasurable and profitable vocation. But this kind of business I would suggest you slowly ease into unless you already have full time job experience in it.
Home-Based Food Business
Can you cook for an army? You might have your chance if you start a home-based food business. Unlike a restaurant or even a food truck, with this business, you can prepare everything in your own home and then deliver it to a client—or even have the client come and pick it up.
This business might work best if you can make something that’s hard to find where you live, such as homemade tamales in Massachusetts or lobster rolls in Oklahoma. You might need to make a serious investment in your kitchen; depending on what you want to make and how many people you intend to serve at a time, a new oven or refrigerator, or both, might be in order. You will often be able to get equipment financing from the seller. Think safety first and have a licensed electrician upgrade your wiring to keep up with your needs. You’ll also need a vehicle to make deliveries.
Make sure you comply with local laws regarding food licensing, which can get a little tricky in some places. Once you’re all set with that, get cooking! Offer free samples of your food to local clubs, schools and houses of worship. Hook up with function halls in the area to see what kinds of catering opportunities might exist. Investigate selling your goodies where people congregate—at fairs or at local sporting events.
Word of mouth, no pun intended, will be incredibly important in this business. You can advertise your business locally, but your product will be your best advertisement. Once word gets around, you’ll be able to start enjoying some hearty profits
People love their pets and regret not having the time they’d like to take care of them. You can help assuage their guilt and keep their precious furry friends clean and clipped with a pet grooming business.
Pet grooming doesn’t require a degree or a license, so it’s an approachable business idea. The real challenge is that while you could set up a grooming studio in your home or an office space, your best bet is probably to be mobile. Mobile pet groomers have taken off in an age of convenience. You’ll need a vehicle in order to get from client to client—although it doesn’t have to be large, as you won’t likely be transporting pets in it, just your grooming supplies.
Obviously, a love for pets is a requirement here, as is a lot of patience and a good insurance policy. If you really don’t know anything about grooming pets but still want to do it, you can take classes from the National Dog Groomers Association of America and even earn a certification.
In this business, word of mouth is critical. Start by advertising in local pet shops and pet-supply stores. Be aggressive. Hand out flyers at the dog park. Use direct mail to reach potential clients who have pets or pet supplies in their yards. Offer to groom a few pets for free, and then use them as examples of your work on your website. Pet groomers can make a very handsome living if they provide excellent service, know how to promote themselves and send their furry clients home happy.
Commercial Real Estate Broker
There’s no reason to sugar-coat it: this is a tough business. But if you can network and sell enough to make it in commercial real estate, your business venture could be staggeringly successful.
This isn’t something you can just jump into. All states require real estate brokers to be licensed, and acquiring a license could require up to 90 hours of course work. Then there is the business itself. It’s hectic and cutthroat, and it can require long hours. Finding customers at the beginning can be tough because big real estate companies and the agents who work for them control so much of the market. You’ll have to out-network, out-charm and outsell them.
If you’re already a real estate agent for a large firm, you should have the contacts, skills and license to go out on your own. But if you’re not and you’re new to the industry, start by networking like crazy. Find as many local trade associations as you can and join them. Join the local chamber of commerce. Go online and see where, if at all, people are discussing local commercial real estate, and jump into the discussion.
And advertise! Local papers could be a useful target, but since you’re in the commercial space, consider business publications in your area and even local or national trade magazines. Many American cities have a Crain publication, for instance. Since your customers will be business leaders looking to buy or sell office, restaurant, gym or other space for their businesses, save some budget to advertise in vertical trade publications as well.
Most commercial real estate agents who work for big firms make 3 percent personal commission on the properties they sell, but the agency will take up to 40 percent of that fee. Try undercutting the agencies by taking a smaller commission when you get started. Commercial real estate isn’t for the faint hearted, but if you can make it work, it can turn out to be a real gold mine.
This is one of those business ideas that sounds easy but really isn’t. Don’t let that stop you from getting started, though. Just remember that photos don’t lie, even with effects and retouching. People either love them or hate them, and getting kids and even some adults to sit for shoots is often a difficult task.
Still, if you’re willing to invest in some equipment—lighting, studio space of some sort and, obviously, cameras—you can make a go of making other people look good on film. You’ll need serious people skills and kid skills, and you might want to consider taking some photography classes even if you think your skills are already good. Portrait photography is an unforgiving business. On the other hand, if you’re good at it, you can make a name for yourself pretty quickly.
Do some free work to start and build a website to showcase your photos. Once you get your first few clients, start going to schools, houses of worship, local sports teams and other organizations that often seek photographers. You can also work with local models, trading their modeling time for your photos in order to enhance both of your portfolios.
Of course, the main expense here will be equipment. You’ll need to do some research into your competition in order to determine pricing. Remember, even Target does portrait photos now, so competition is out there. But if you can do exceptional work for a reasonable price, you can build a very successful business.
Along the lines of a construction service, which might require a broader set of skills or even more tools, building decks and creating outdoor furniture is a great way to capitalize on your neighbors’ desire to do some home improvement in the warmer months.
Building a deck isn’t actually all that hard to do if you’re handy. It requires fewer specialized skills than, say, putting a new addition on a house or building a garage. It’s even a project that a lot of people have taken on as a do-it-yourself operation. But for those who don’t want to do it themselves, you can step in.
Invest in some tools and a vehicle to get them around, and then start spreading the word—maybe in early spring, when weather starts to warm—about your service. See a house with a dilapidated deck or a great space for a deck that’s currently blank? Hit that address with a direct mail piece. Also, take to the local newspaper with ads, and see if you can post a flyer in a local hardware or pool-supply store.
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Enhance your offering by also building, repairing or refinishing outdoor furniture. You could become the one-stop shop for your neighbors’ outdoor-living needs.
Home Inspection Business
Home inspectors do an incredibly important job. Most people who buy a house have no idea what the condition of that house really is. Inspectors reveal all the flaws and strengths of the structure.
Good house inspectors are hard to find. They tend to be expensive and difficult to book, and some are more meticulous than others. There’s an opening in just about every city and region for reliable home inspectors available at reasonable prices.
The process of starting a business as a home inspector starts with knowing whether or not your state requires a license. Most do, but some don’t. Before you jump into this game, you need to make sure you have some serious construction knowledge. Inspectors can take five or six hours looking at a single house, evaluating every last detail of how it’s put together. You need skills. You also need to be able to deal with people and deliver the bad news that a dream house might not be up to standard.
If you have what it takes, you can build a business by getting referrals from realtors and by listing yourself on Craigslist and Angie’s List. Be prompt, accessible and thorough (and willing to work evenings when necessary), and you’ll have a solid foundation for building a business.
Opportunities for graphic designers abound in the era of the Internet, when everybody has a website and a presence on social media. It takes some skills to be a graphic designer and some investment in technology—and there’s already a lot of competition in the field. But the demand for design services is still huge.
You don’t need a license to become a graphic designer, but you do need a way to showcase your work. The best way to do that is with a spectacular Website—and it really has to stand out because you’ll be going up against some serious competition for clients.
If you want people to see your work, just start doing designs! They can be anything—riffs on current logos or creations all your own. Just get something online for people go see. One way to start getting paid for graphic design is to target an industry such as technology or retail. (Try breaking in with local youth sports teams for free or at discounted rated for designs that will get a lot of attention.)
Getting to know people in your area who own businesses and might need design work is a good idea, but graphic design in the digital age doesn’t have to be regional. You can work for anyone, anywhere. Build a reputation in one area, and other clients in that space will come looking for you.
Related: Make Your Website Unforgettable
One of the challenges of graphic design is that clients can be extremely demanding and expect you to work on tight deadlines. You need to be extremely organized in order to keep all of your projects straight. If you can provide excellent client service and show patience with your customers (it won’t be easy), you’ll be ahead of the game.
Senior Care Business
There’s no question that the population is aging. Senior care homes are expensive, sometimes prohibitively, and many seniors prefer to stay in their own homes. With some investment of time and money, you can start a lucrative business taking care of senior citizens in their homes.
Unless you’re a doctor, this will be a non-medical senior care business, focusing on feeding and caring for seniors rather than treating them for medical problems. This field will only grow as the massive baby boomer generation ages and as people live longer.
You’ll need more than just a caring demeanor to start a senior care business, though. Although your overhead will be low, requiring a vehicle and some basic toiletries and first-aid supplies, you’ll need a license in most states, which will likely require some training. You’ll also need to apply to accept payments from Medicare and Medicaid. Knowing CPR and other first-aid techniques is also a must, so take a refresher course in those techniques if you don’t feel up to speed.
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Insurance is another major consideration and will likely consume a chunk of your budget. Still, once you have your skills in place, you can start networking at senior centers, veterans’ clubs and other places where older folks gather. Word spreads very quickly among older people, so you should be able to grow your client base rapidly once you have your first couple of clients.
Home Staging Business
If you’ve watched television at all in the last 15 years or so, you know that selling a house has become a challenging process. Potential buyers expect a fancy presentation when they come to tour a house. If you’ve got some design skills, you can build a business for yourself getting houses ready for sale.
You’ll need some proficiency in a variety of areas, including interior design, landscaping, cleaning and perhaps a bit of do-it-yourself home improvement. Your job is to make the house look inviting for purchase, which can require a fair bit of intrusion into the current homeowner’s personal life, so you’ll need people skills as well. You might need to invest in some simple tools and lawn equipment.
Work with realtors to get customer referrals, and make sure you take plenty of pictures of your work. Build a website with your successful projects showcased and make sure to keep in touch with your clients even after they’ve sold the house. They might sell again at some point.
You don’t think about them until you need one, but locksmiths are incredibly important when they’re needed. There will always be a market for someone who can help people get back into their cars and houses.
If you don’t have any experience as a locksmith, you’re going to need it. You can train to be a locksmith in as little time as three months, but if you want to get into more complex projects, you might need up to four years of training. You can find training at community colleges or with locksmith organizations. Chances are that to get started with a business, you’ll only need a few months of classes, but the process of learning should be continual as you seek to build your skills.
Before you start your own business, though, you might want to apprentice for a local locksmith and get some experience. Some states even require locksmiths to be licensed, so check up on regulations where you live. The Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA) also offers professional certifications you can earn to greatly increase your credibility with potential customers. Of course, you’ll also need to acquire the appropriate tools.
Once you’ve got your skills squared away, you can join a professional organization such as the ALOA and get started advertising your business. The local newspaper and the white pages online are great places to start. Consider building a website and focusing on SEO so that people will quickly find your website when they realize they’ve locked themselves out of their houses. You could end up filling a vital role in your community and making money at the same time.
Human Resources Service
Most small companies don’t have the budget to hire a full-time HR person, but they still need help with fundamental activities such as hiring, managing employee benefits and running payroll. If you have HR skills, you can create a nice business by providing services to other small businesses.
A background in HR would obviously be very helpful here, but if you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need more than just people skills. You’ll need to understand how benefits packages work, for instance, and make contacts with insurance brokers and other people who can offer you the information you’ll need to give to your clients.
You’ll probably also need to master payroll software so that you can run payroll for your clients. And you will, of course, need to have the patience and tenacity to deal with whomever your client puts in front of you.
Get started by networking in any business circle you can find. Specializing in a particular industry may help grow your business more quickly in a large urban market, but most businesses here do not specialize by industry. Consider taking out ads on local business websites, trade publications in your chosen field, and join your local chamber of commerce and any business networking group you can find.
Home Entertainment System Service
OK, so, home entertainment systems have gotten smaller over the years but they haven’t become any less complicated. If anything, setting them up is more difficult than ever before. There are Wi-Fi connections to manage, multiple devices to connect and, as always, tons of cords and cables to plug into the right places.
Yes, big electronics retailers offer crews who come to customers’ houses to put these beasts together, but those crews can be unreliable and, after the initial installation, expensive. Can you get all the right cables into the right slots? A lot of people can’t, so you might have a great business opportunity setting up and fixing home entertainment systems.
You don’t have to be an electrician to set up or fix home entertainment systems. In most cases, the fixes will likely be fairly simple. A lot of people are just overwhelmed by electronics. You can beat the big retailers by showing up in a narrow time window rather than making people wait at home for six hours for a repair person to arrive. Be on time, be courteous and know what you’re doing—you’ll go a long way.
Try advertising your services at senior citizen’s center and other places where people who might be a little electronically challenged congregate. Your best advertisement will be the service you provide.
Executive Search Firm
A friend who was a reporter for a technology trade magazine figured she had made enough connections with high-level people in the tech industry that she could start an executive search firm—so she did! And it’s booming.
The key to starting a search firm is simple: contacts. You have to know people other people want to hire. If you’ve had any sort of job experience at all, you do know those people. You just have to know how to put the employer and employee together. Start in your own industry, whatever it might be, and stick with it. Alternatively, you could start a pan-industry regional firm. It’s nearly impossible to compete with big national firms, but you don’t have to. You can own your industry in your area.
Network like mad. Join every association you can find that will let you in. Get in touch with people you know who own businesses and people who are high-level players in other businesses. Remember that your revenue will come from the businesses seeking talent; people being recruited should be able to sign up with you for free.
Most of all, learn to be discrete. Remember that people are putting their careers on the line here looking at other opportunities. You have to know how to keep secrets and learn what you can say when. Also, sharpen your people skills—know what your job candidates can do and where they’d be a good cultural fit. In an executive search firm, you’re dealing with people at high levels in your customer organizations. You need to make sure the candidates you propose are exactly right.
Once you’ve mastered those skills, consider advertising in relevant trade or regional business magazines or on similar websites. And keep networking. The more contacts you have, the better.
You know those coffee mugs, t-shirts and Frisbees companies are constantly giving out at events? Somebody has to make and sell those things. With every startup or small business that wants to get its name in front of customers, there is an enormous opportunity to enter the business of selling promotional materials.
You’ll need to find somebody to produce the materials you’ll sell. These will be custom items created on demand based on client orders, so you’ll need a provider with some flexibility. There are lots of suppliers of promotional items, so do your homework. Many suppliers are based outside the US. Their products might be cheaper than those of domestic suppliers, but you need to take into account the time difference and possible cultural differences you’ll encounter if you choose an overseas partner.
In any case, once you’ve locked in a supplier, you can start to prospect for customers. Make sure you have a great website that accurately depicts the items you’ll offer—make some up for potential or even fictional clients if you have to, just to show how the items will look. Then get to networking.
Think of who will need promotional material and who would be willing to buy it from a small, independent source such as your business. Local startups, sports teams, doctor’s offices, banks and even houses of worship are great candidates. You might even have some luck with local municipal services such as police and fire department. Check out the local chamber of commerce, and make sure to connect with people whenever and wherever you can.
One word of caution for when you do get your business up and running: Get paid up front when possible. Plenty of small businesses get a little too ambitious when ordering promotional items and end up not being able to pay. If they are running behind in paying bills, you will likely not be the first vendor to get paid.
Security guards have an unfortunate reputation in many circles as being incompetent and somewhat brutish. Think you can do better? You probably can. With the right licenses and training, you can start a security company.
There’s a lot of work to be done up front. You’ll need to check local, state and federal (yes, federal) regulations for licensing and other requirements. You will absolutely need a private patrol license from the US Department of Consumer Affairs before you can start your business, and that license requires a minimum of 12 months of experience as a guard. You’ll also need to register with your local police department.
You’ll also need to be in shape, as you’re likely to do physically taxing work from time to time. A two-year degree in criminal justice from an online or community college also isn’t a bad idea. Another major factor to consider is insurance. You’ll need a liability policy at the very least. If you do hire other guards, make sure they at least meet minimum requirements-you will be responsible for their activities.
From there, find clients at local shops, services, schools, and clubs. You’ll need to demonstrate your own trustworthiness, but once you have, you’ll be able to market yourself based on your reputation. This is a business that will always be in demand, so the considerable up-front investment in time and money could very well be worthwhile.
Tax Preparation Service
Just to clarify: This doesn’t involve becoming an accountant or doing accounting work. The fact is that many people, probably most, hate doing their taxes and will happily pay to have somebody else do them. With the wealth of tax software available today, there’s no reason for most taxpayers, be they individuals or businesses, to hire an accountant to do their taxes. You can use tax software to do it for them and make money while charging much less than an accountant would.
The startup costs for a tax preparation business are actually fairly low, perhaps not even $10,000. But investing in a powerful computer, a scanner and a printer is a good idea and will use up some cash up front. You will, of course, also need the latest tax accounting software. You might also consider a course in tax preparation—again, not accounting. Those courses are available online or from community colleges and take only a few hours to complete. You might also investigate building legal language into your agreement that absolves you from any responsibility should one of your clients be audited. That could be worth a brief consultation with a lawyer.
Remember that before you start your business, you’ll have to register as a tax preparer with the IRS. After that, once your skills are up to speed, start gathering business through family and friends. Get a few clients under your belt, and word will spread about your service. Remember that tax season runs roughly from January-April, so consider advertising in December or just after New Year’s. Target both individuals and local small businesses. But don’t hesitate to turn down a client that seems complex for your current skill level, there are plenty of other potential clients out there. Also, keep in mind that tax preparation is a seasonal business, so you’ll have time at other parts of the year to pursue another business idea.
If you’re not a lumberjack, you’re still OK to start a business running a firewood service. A blaze in the fireplace is wonderful on a cold winter night, but getting and storing firewood can be a real pain for a lot of people. You can make their lives easier by delivering wood to them.
If you don’t happen to have a forest in your backyard, you can source firewood locally from all over the country. (It’s surprising how easily wood products move around the US. Many of the Christmas trees in heavily forested New England actually come from Michigan.) Start with local farms that sell firewood. What you can do is be the middleman, delivering firewood to clients in small or large batches on demand. Who would want that sort of service? Somebody, for instance, who lives in an apartment or small home with limited storage space but a nice wood stove or fireplace.
Start advertising locally in the fall, when the air turns crisp and people start donning jackets and sweatshirts. Consider direct mail for neighborhoods with houses that have chimneys. You’ll need a good vehicle, probably a pickup, and some ruggedness to move firewood around and carry it into people’s homes. But the nice thing about this business is that the opportunity to establish repeat customers is very good, and you might make enough money in the winter to take a nice summer vacation—or start another business for the warmer months.
Everybody has junk. People moving into or out of houses, people cleaning out houses and people who need to get rid of natural debris such as tree limbs and piles of large weeds could all use someone with a truck to take that stuff away. In heavily wooded areas, trees fall all the time or homeowners have to take them down, and there’s no way to get rid of them once they’re on the ground. You could solve that problem.
Of course, you’ll need a truck, one big enough to haul large items. But a used old beater will work fine for the purpose of starting this business. And you’ll need someplace to bring everything you’ll be hauling, which means developing relationships with people who run dumps, junkyards, recycling center and scrap-metal yards. But once you’ve done your legwork with them, they’re likely to recommend your service to potential clients. Just make sure your state doesn’t require a special driver’s license for the type of hauling you’ll be doing—and get the license if it is required.
As far as customers go, remember that you can target both homes and businesses. You won’t replace the town garbage hauler, but most town collectors won’t take certain items, particularly larger objects. You can fill that gap. Head to areas with light industry, where companies will likely be looking to get rid of cumbersome waste. Don’t hesitate to hit homes with direct mail at the end of winter when people start thinking of doing some spring cleaning.
Of course, you can always advertise in the local newspaper and post your service on Craigslist and in local online resources. Word of your service will spread quickly if you show up on time and get rid of everything your customers need taken away.
Hardwood floors might not be the rage in homes now, but plenty of places still need carpet installed. Offices, for instance, almost always have carpeted floors, as do hotels, many apartments and some restaurants. Wherever there is commercial real estate, there is a need for carpet installation.
Chances are, if you’re interested in a starting a business in this area, you’ve probably done some installation already, maybe in your own house. Use your work as your brochure! Start a website and post pictures of your own floors. Then, consider what you’ll need—basic tools for installation, possibly a small truck, enough of a transportation budget to get from job to job, and some funds for marketing and advertising.
There are plenty of ways to get started as a carpet installer if you’re not yet part of the industry. You can scout for customers by talking to managers of flooring stores. Some might offer their own installation, but others might contract it out, creating an opportunity for you.
There are lots of trade magazines (more here and here even) and professional organizations for flooring installers. Check them out for tips of the trade and to get a feel for some of your competition. Advertise on Craigslist, in your local newspaper and even on local radio to get word out about your services. Once you get a client or two, don’t be shy about asking them to serve as references.
Corporate Insurance Broker
Insurance brokers and insurance agents aren’t the same thing . Brokers tend to be licensed while agents often aren’t, and brokers can usually work with a wider range of insurance companies than agents can. Brokers generally can take on a higher level of risk, also, with the authority to analyze and make decisions about a potential client’s worthiness for insurance.
Going the broker route will give you more freedom to offer a variety of insurance products for various types of businesses. You’ll need that license though, so save some time and money to earn it. Once you’re licensed, you can take your services to local businesses with a considerable amount of credibility.
The key to finding prospects will be to network heavily. The local chamber of commerce, local business and trade associations of almost any kind, even online business meetups or local events such as fairs and school sporting events—they’re all opportunities to get your name out in the community.
You might also have to do some cold calling or visiting local business to prospect for business. It won’t be easy, and you might experience more initial success if you already have a lot of friends in the community where you live. But the reward could be very much worth it. This is a business that is hard to get started in, but once you get going you can build terrific momentum and profits as you build your clientele.
Have you seen something while traveling abroad that you’ve loved and you thought maybe people back home would buy? Bring it home and sell it with an import/export business. (Or, take something you love here and send it abroad for the “export” part.)
In the Internet era setting up an import/export business is relatively simple. Pick what it is you want to import or export—one product, or at least one category of product—and stick with it. Get going with a website and a blog about the product you’re trying to sell. Learn everything you can about that product.
It gets a little trickier from here. You’ll need to determine where you want to sell your product, whether you’re importing one to sell here or exporting one to sell elsewhere. If you’re importing, you’ll need to find a supplier for the product. After you have a supplier, you’ll need a company that can ship your product back and forth, including a company that can clear customs for you. Once you have a sense of your costs, you can determine a price for whatever it is you’re selling.
I would first recommend that you try to wholesale your product to retailers online or offline and focus your business model on importing and sourcing. But you might want to try your hand at selling directly online too. In either case I would create an awesome looking website, with a lot of thought given to search engine optimization.
This is a business idea that will take some time to plan and execute. If you can get it up and running successfully, it can be a pathway not only to profits but also to excitement and getting to know fascinating people around the world. One of my friends started a business while still in college, importing goods from local artisans in Latin America into the US market. He grew the business to the point where he was using the entire available cargo capacity on some airline flights.
Bridal Show Promotions
People spend money on weddings—big money, nearly $30,000 on average in the US. And the places where they figure out how they’re going to spend that money are bridal shows and expos. There are hundreds of bridal shows around the US every year, and you can build a business around helping local merchants look their best at them.
For many florists, caterers and dress shops, weddings are critical to business, particularly in the spring. That’s why those business owners need their businesses to look their best when they exhibit at shows where prospective brides will decide who will make their day magical. Your opportunity is to help them stand out in the crowd.
If you can follow some basic principles about how to sparkle at a bridal show and pass them on to your clients, you can provide a valuable service. Learn how to set up a trade-show booth that will be both useful and unforgettable, with a dazzling presentation combined with professional advice and tons of helpful information. Many of the basics of setting up trade show booths also apply for wedding shows. Plenty of would-be exhibitors don’t know how to set up a booth themselves, so you can step in and offer your expertise.
And remember that the work doesn’t go on just for the duration of the show. There are pre-show preparations, including getting props and samples together and printing marketing collateral. And post-show, you can further add value by offering to track and deliver—and possibly even follow up with—sales leads for your clients.
A lot of costs here will be related to travel and customer acquisition. You can work local and regional shows, but you’ll still need to get from place to place and probably visit clients as well. You’ll also need to have a way to get props and other elements of the show booth to the show itself. And you’ll need an elegant website and possibly some very nice printed marketing materials. Plus, you might need to make or purchase props for your clients’ booths—although you should be able to build that expense into your fees.
Get started by visiting your local chamber of commerce and looking at prospective sales targets—floral shops, dress shops, caterers, bakeries, restaurants, reception facilities, and even spas and beauty parlors. Dig into trade magazines (both local and national) for tips on the business and potential clients and partners. Consider spending some money to advertise in one. And definitely check the schedule of bridal shows in your area, their dates and registration fees. Then get going making bridal magic!
Of course, eventually you will want to consider organizing your own bridal shows, selling booth space as well as custom services for individual exhibitors.
As spring approaches in many states, construction projects start to bloom. And they’re not just houses and commercial buildings, either. Garages, sheds and playhouses are also in the works. With the right skills and tools, you can create a successful business doing local residential construction projects.
You’ll need a complete set of tools, which will certainly cut into your budget a bit. Basics like ladders, saws and hammers are a given, as well as a good collection of power tools. The faster you can complete projects, the more projects you can do and the more money you can make. You’ll also need a reliable vehicle for getting from job to job.
Since a lot of people think of doing construction projects in the spring or summer, time the advertising of your business carefully. Start buying local newspaper ads in February in March so that you’ll be on people’s minds when they plan their projects. Put up flyers around town and see if you can advertise in local restaurants or grocery stores, perhaps in exchange for completing a small project or two. Drive by houses in your area and target with direct mail the ones that look as though they could use a refresh. Then, pour some sweat equity into your business and build on your first few customer references. Good construction work is hard to find—if you provide a quality service at a reasonable price, your business will grow quickly.
People will do a lot of do-it-yourself work around the house, but they’ll usually call a professional when it’s time to do electrical work. Working with electricity is complicated and dangerous, and becoming an electrician isn’t easy. If you have some experience, particularly if you already have a license, you can make a nice living as an independent electrician. If not, the journey can be long but worth it in the long run.
You’ll need a license to work legally as an electrician. That means you’ll need to come into the role with some expertise. If you don’t have any experience as an electrician, don’t expect to start a business anytime soon. The process of becoming an electrician
and requires formal training and education. (This will be where you’ll spend a good portion of your budget.) The good news is that on-the-job training is part of the process, so you can start making connections before you set off on your own.)
No matter what your initial level of experience is, once you’re licensed as an electrician, you’ll need to make connections in order to get your business up and running. Network as much as you can with local business owners and particularly builders and architects. Use your local chamber of commerce or any other relevant business organization you can find. Mention examples of your work, since you will have to have done some projects in order to get your license. Make sure you have a reliable vehicle and whatever equipment you need.
Related: Networking: a Shortcut to Success
Once you have a job or two under your belt, your customer references will be gold. Of course, you can advertise your business in a local paper or on Craigslist or Angie’s List—a particularly good place to get your name out to people looking for help doing very specific jobs.
Gift Show Organizer
There are two different types of gift shows that you could operate. The first option is a gift show aimed at the general public. A typical setting for a general public gift fair may be space that you rent at a local school or hotel. I would recommend that you don’t charge for admission and instead make all your money selling booths to exhibitors—most likely local artisans.
Don’t worry if you don’t make money on your first few shows. If your exhibitors are happy they will return to future shows, be willing to pay more for their booths and word will spread to other potential exhibitors. If you are willing to do some one-to-one selling to line up exhibitors, and can put together a good promotional program, you have what it takes to succeed in this business. Furthermore, you don’t need a huge number of exhibitors to make your first show a success, 20 interesting vendors could be enough to create a good feeling about your show.
You’ll spend a lot of your money on finding a venue preferably a convention center or small arena in a mid-size city or a local hotel. (If you live in a huge city, consider going out of town a bit to organize your show.) Then, it’s a matter of getting wholesalers to buy booth space. You’ll need to convince them that there are retailers in the area who will show up for the event—any commitment you can get from retailers up front, even by word of mouth, will be helpful there. All of this will require an advertising budget and some ads in trade and regional publications and websites.
You’ll also likely need to bring in a food vendor and perhaps some minor celebrities—think designers or local media figures—who can give speeches and sign autographs. But you can do a lot of that after the money from wholesale exhibitors has started to roll in. Once you have a date set for the show, hit retailers hard with ads. Offer “discounts” on tickets—or let them come for free if you can. Remember, the wholesalers are the ones who are really going to drive your revenue.
This is an ambitious business to start, but it will give you the opportunity to create one or several yearly events. Unlike a general public gift show however, a “trade only” gift show needs many vendors to “feel” like a success and get retailers and exhibitors to return. I would suggest you initially aim for 100 vendors or a bare minimum of 50. Once your shows become established as can’t-miss events, you’ll be able to do more with a smaller advertising budget.
Old furniture can look like new with the right treatment. A re-upholstery job can extend the life of a sofa or chair by years. And furniture is expensive, so consumers are looking for ways to make their furnishings last. That’s where you can come in, with a business that offers fabric coverings for furniture or just about anything else fabric can cover.
Your start-up costs here will mostly revolve around having a vehicle that can transport large spools of fabric or pick up and drop off pieces of furniture. You’ll also need to spend some money on industrial-strength equipment for cutting, sewing and applying fabric. The old sewing machine by itself might not work for this business.
Obviously, you’ll need some real skills here, not only in terms of sewing and attaching fabric but also in helping select what might look best on a customer’s recliner or settee. You’ll also need to find a way to reach potential customers. Take out an ad in a local paper and make your service known on Craigslist.
Consider doing a couple of jobs for free just to get them in your portfolio and get some word-of-mouth publicity started about your business. Also, spend some money to develop a top-notch website to really feature your work.
This is the type of business that isn’t likely to have a huge number of competitors, so you’ll need to tell potential clients that they need your service. They might never have considered restoring an old chair instead of throwing it away. Think about some content marketing with a blog on your website or frequent posts on social media.
Vacuum Cleaner Repair
Vacuums are supposed to suck–and it’s a problem when they don’t. Vacuum cleaner repair businesses are becoming increasingly rare, but vacuums still break, meaning there’s a huge opportunity for you to start a repair business yourself.
If you’ve never repaired a vacuum cleaner, you’ll obviously have to learn how to do it. You’ll also need to learn how to repair different brands and makes of vacuums. Although I know that some people have built a successful business focusing on just repairing one popular brand. There are lots of resources for learning vacuum repair, including YouTube videos and how-to books. You could conceivably even learn to repair each vacuum that comes in as you receive them until you get the hang of fixing each one.
Competition here will come less from other repair shops and more from people just going out and buying a new vacuum when their old one breaks. Consider direct mail for getting the word out about your service-an inexpensive postcard should suffice. Also, emphasize that it’s cheaper to have a vacuum fixed than it is to buy a new one—and make sure that’s the case.
Consider also going mobile rather than having people bring their vacuums into a shop. The convenience of having someone come to repair a vacuum in-house could be a great counterweight to the customer’s inclination to just go out and buy a new vacuum. Great customer service, fast turnaround and quality work will be the keys to making this in-demand business a success.
Don’t start this business if you want to be popular! The truth is, though, that all kinds of people get into debts they can’t pay off, and somebody has to keep them honest. You’re not going to be breaking legs or fitting people for concrete shoes here. There are, in most states, strict laws governing legal methods of debt collection.
The stereotype collection agent is the guy who calls you on the phone harassing you for money. Well first there are strict laws about when you can call people, what you can say and whether or not you can call people at all…especially if they ask not to be called again. And furthermore, you don’t have to be mean to collect money. In fact, that would be a good reason to go into this business–to run a collection agency in a highly ethical and positive manner. If you do contact people by phone, you are going to have much more of a chance of getting them on the phone again if you treat them with respect.
The key to collections is being polite but firm and explaining to people why paying off their debts will benefit them in the long run. Threats are no longer the standard way of collecting debts. Think of yourself more as a counselor than a collections agent—but one who has to get results at the end of every call—at least the promise of a next step.
Yes, you’ll run into some abusive contacts, but friends who do this for a living say that most people they talk to are polite, and many simply forgot to make a payment one month or got behind and didn’t know how to catch up. You can provide enormous value to your client by bringing in money the company would otherwise have to write off.
Related: How to Become a Debt Consolidator
You could even run this business without ever making a collection phone call at all! One highly successful collection agency I knew, simply sent out a series of increasingly demanding letters.
Big banks usually have their own collections operations, so get started by talking with a local community bank or credit union about opportunities. Mortgage companies, especially smaller ones based in your local area, are also a good target. If you’ve owed money in the past, think about who has called you and go back to those places looking for customers