26
Nov

$1.7 Million a Month: How Meridith Baer Built a Crazy Successful Home-Staging Business

$1.7 Million a Month: How Meridith Baer Built a Crazy Successful Home-Staging Business

$1.7 Million a Month: How Meridith Baer Built a Crazy Successful Home-Staging Business

Image credit: Hasanjali/Wikimedia Commons

Meridith Baer spent 18 years working as a screenwriter, but never could have scripted the course of her career.

Becoming a home stager – a.k.a. someone who dresses up homes on the market so that they sell quickly — happened by accident. Baer needed to suddenly vacate her home and asked a friend if she could move all of her furniture (and 250 potted plants!) into an empty home he was selling. When the home sold for more than the asking price, brokers began pursuing Baer for her home-staging skills.

Today, the 67-year-old stages homes everywhere from Los Angeles to the Hamptons, is the inspiration for HGTV’s staging show Staged to Perfection and boasts a client list that includes Rihanna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt. Baer says her company, Meridith Baer Home, now brings in over $1 million dollars in revenue a month.

Entrepreneur.com was able to ask Meridith a few questions about how she was able to build her brand and her business. Check out how this former-screenwriter was able to make a multimillion-dollar career switch.

Entrepreneur: How did you get into the home staging business? 

By accident! The house I was renting was sold out from under me and I needed a place to store my 250 huge potted plants and furniture… so I suggested to a friend who was selling an empty home that he let me “decorate” the home with my things to show how to live in the space. The house sold in a few days for a half million over asking. Suddenly other brokers were beating down my door to do the same for them…

Entrepreneur: What was it like switching careers at that point in your life? 

It was a blessing. I had been a screenwriter for 18 years and I was tired of sitting alone in front of my computer all day. Suddenly I found myself moving around non-stop, interacting with people and endlessly shopping!

Entrepreneur: How did your earlier work in film and television impact your career in home staging? 

Everything I had experienced in the entertainment business was enormously useful in my new business. Like film and television, staging is all about telling a story, creating a mood.  Every detail counts, whether it is in the props, the lighting, or the colors.

Entrepreneur: What are the most important lessons you’ve learned about home staging? 

When selecting furniture, pay attention to not just the SIZE of a room, but the VOLUME of the room. If the room has volume, then the furniture needs height too. Also, ambient lighting is the key to making a home feel warm and inviting. We have learned to put table and floor lamps in almost every room. Don’t forget to add humor… if you can make the buyer giggle, they will feel at home.

Entrepreneur: How were you able to attract customers – especially such high-profile clients? 

We grew by word of mouth. As luck would have it we started the business with high end homes in high end neighborhoods. And glamorous clients like Elon Musk (founder and CEO of Tesla), Joe Roth (founder of Revolution Studios), and Leslie Moonves (president and CEO of CBS) started knocking.

Entrepreneur: What has been your biggest challenge in the home staging industry? 

Keeping ahead of the curve, continuing to change with the times. Growing our business from one home at a time to 350 at a time and pacing the growth. Expanding our business outside of LA and operating warehouses in Florida and New York simultaneously. Growing from a $10,000 per month business to average monthly revenue of $1.7 million a month.

Entrepreneur: How has having a television show changed your business?  

Staged to Perfection on HGTV really raised public awareness about the process of staging and our company workflow. It was one thing to tell our clients how big our warehouse is, how much inventory we have… but another thing to SEE it. Now wherever we go, clients know who we are. We have been contacted by homeowners from all over the globe.

Entrepreneur: What’s next for your business? 

This spring, we installed our first home in the Hamptons and it sold in five days to an all cash offer. Now we are exploring growing to other cities, including San Diego, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., the larger cities in Texas and resort areas, such as Cabo, Aspen and Sun Valley. Recently we were in China and were told there is a huge need for us there!

We’re developing our own line of home furnishings and working on a coffee table book that we hope will become the quintessential home staging bible.

26
Nov

Building a Home Decor Business on Recycled Bicycle Parts

Building a Home Decor Business on Recycled Bicycle Parts

A Texas designer uses her passion for sustainable living to strike out on her own.
Green machine: Remain Eco Design's Krystal O'Mara.

Green machine: Remain Eco Design’s Krystal O’Mara.
Photos© Shane Kislack

Entrepreneur: Krystal O’Mara, founder of ReMain Eco Design and Consulting. O’Mara began transforming bikes into living room décor in February 2010.

“Aha” moment: O’Mara created a table out of bicycle rims early last year to raise money for the silent auction at 24 Hours in the Canyon, an annual bike race in Amarillo, Texas, that benefits cancer research. That first table lit the spark; O’Mara continued designing and building furniture from spare bike parts and other recycled materials, including reclaimed wood. The self-proclaimed handywoman even taught herself how to weld. “I grew up in a family where we never hired anyone to do anything,” she says. “I knew how to do a lot of home maintenance and painting, and I’ve always enjoyed upcycling old family furnishings.”

Biker chic: O’Mara incorporates assorted bicycle parts into each work. One of her tables had a top made entirely of cut-up tires. Recently, she made a chandelier from wheels and rims for a restaurant in Portsmouth, N.H.

Green machine: Remain Eco Design's Krystal O'Mara.What possessed her: O’Mara wanted more fulfillment and more time to spend with her 4-year-old son, Tommy, than she had as director of sales for a hotel. So in August 2010 she and Tommy moved from Amarillo to her family farm in Robertson, where she builds her creations in the spacious barn. She initially invested about $2,500 of her own cash in the business. “I’ve been forced to adjust to a minimalist lifestyle, which in a way has been great, because it’s really what I’m trying to encourage others to do,” she says.

Customers: The cycling markets and green-savvy college crowd are into her designs, O’Mara says, and her Etsy site has been the main source of her buyers, who are mostly from metro areas such as San Francisco and Portland, Ore. So far, she’s sold more than 65 designs, and lighting is her bestseller.

Marketing: With a Facebook page, blog and company website in place, O’Mara is homing in on the Etsy market, both stateside and internationally.

Cost: Lighting ranges from $30 to $150; tables are around $150 to $250. Custom pieces are priced upward from there (her custom-made chandelier sold for $1,500). O’Mara projects $35,000 in revenue for this year.

Why? O’Mara’s aim is to educate people about environmental stewardship. “I feel like I’m doing something that is going to benefit the earth,” she says, “but it’s also benefiting our economy.”

26
Nov

7 Home Decor Startup Trends to Watch

7 Home Decor Startup Trends to Watch

 

Home decor is quickly becoming an “it” industry in 2015. Once dominated by big-box retailers and independent interior designers, the home decor industry is undergoing a sea change and a few innovative startups are leading the charge.

Home furnishings shoppers used to start with the likes of Ikea, graduate to, say, West Elm and eventually dabble in Williams-Sonoma or Restoration Hardware. Now with tools like Pinterest and design blogs providing endless inspiration and access, there are a lot more choices, variety and experimentation.

And creating a coherent, polished yet personalized aesthetic no longer requires an expert eye, bundles of free time or a hefty disposable income.

Entrepreneurs have entered the decor game and things are heating up.

Home furnishings is a $79 billion industry, according to IBIS World as of December, and that space is attracting innovators and investors alike.

Last month housing starts reached their highest level since 2008, according to the Department of Commerce, demonstrating growing consumer confidence and a renewed interest in home investment.

Regardless of whether a startup targets the hands-off shopper looking for convenience, the indecisive decorator looking for professional guidance or the consumer trying to save a few dollars, the home decor industry is changing quickly. As the category flourishes, several trends are emerging. Here are the themes and startups turning this industry on its head:

7 Home Decor Startup Trends to Watch

For his Los Angeles home, Homepolish interior designer Matthew Merrell aimed for a rustic yet sophisticated look.
Image credit:  Tessa Neustadt/Homepolish

1. Affordable outsourcing.

Historically, professional interior design was an expensive luxury. Luckily for consumers, though, hiring a designer just became affordable with new online business models, standardization and price transparency.

A new bespoke decor service that claims to be “changing the design industry one interior at a time,” Homepolish matches clients with local interior designer talent (based on zip code), available for hire by the hour, at a reasonable price. A one-hour consult in the customer’s home is available at a cost as low as $50.

Founded in New York City in 2012, the online company standardizes the process of working with interior designers, wholly disrupting a traditionally word-of-mouth industry. The business-savvy leadership team claims to have a hefty roster of celebrity clients to kick its visibility into high gear from the start.

Catering to tech-aware clientele, Homepolish leverages tools like Pinterest and invites customers to follow its Instagram account for inspiration.

2. Online crowdsourcing.

In home décor, crowdsourcing is just catching on.

Laurel & Wolf takes the practice of contractors’ bidding on a project to the next level. A customer submits photos of a space online and receives design ideas and style boards from multiple designers around the country. Once the consumer chooses a favorite design, he or she receives a personalized floor plan and shopping list along with instructions on how to DIY the space from the before to the after.

Founded in Los Angeles in 2013, Laurel & Wolf  has attracted $1.1 million in seed funding, according to Crunchbase.

3. Style profiling.

One challenge in home decor is making decisions. There are millions of products to choose from, so consumers rely on heuristics to help them commit. Customers like style profiling to help them articulate preferences and narrow down the scope of choices.

Tastemaker, of San Francisco, provides an “e-decorate” service by using a questionnaire that helps customers define their taste. More than just a gimmick, the ecommerce site’s genius then recommends products and interior designers the customer would like, and, I’ve been told, the results are spot-on. The service quickly became popular so it’s currently not accepting new client projects.

I believe there’s still plenty of opportunity for an e-decorate service that helps consumers define their style and merchandises products based on the result, either through an affiliate model or straight ecommerce sales.

4. Cutting out the middle person.

Slicing out the middleman is in vogue these days and the home decor industry is no exception. As is the case with many industries, home decor has a long supply chain. Several new startups are remodeling this supply chain and bringing down the price tags.

Two new companies work directly with makers and manufacturers to provide quality designer furniture, resulting in more affordable prices for the shopper.

Interior Define is one such online furniture retailer that works directly with makers and manufacturers, providing designer furniture without a retailer markup. Based in Chicago and founded by a former Bonobos ecommerce veteran, Interior Define has attracted $3.2 million in funding since its start in 2013, according to Crunchbase. Bonobos founder Andy Dunn is one of the company’s advisors.

Interior Define’s tagline? “Designer-quality furniture at prices (actually) within reach.”

Bryght is another player, with headquarters in Vancouver. Founded in 2011, the company claims to have prices as much as 70 percent lower than typical retail ones.

5. Resale sites.

For the shopper who likes a treasure hunt, several new resale sites are cropping up, all with a similar offer: well-curated, high-quality, affordable pieces that are “gently used.” It takes time to comb through the inventory, but the end result is home decor with a unique story behind it.

Chairish, founded in 2013 in San Francisco, and Viyet, launched in New York City in 2012, are vying for the lead position. I liken it to the Uber-Lyft scenario.

AptDeco is a smaller player in New York City, but just expanded its service to Washington, D.C., Boston and Philadelphia.

6. Lifestyle marketing.

Many entrepreneurs today know product marketing can involve more than selling a product: It can sell a benefit. In the case of home decor, the benefit is the lifestyle that comes with the chair. Many decor companies are changing their merchandising strategy and organizing products by theme rather than category.

Dot & Bo launched in San Francisco in 2013 as an online furniture seller. The company is positioning its site to become a lifestyle brand as well as a source for content, having recently hired media and entertainment veteran Nancy Tellem. Its collections are centered around creative themes, making it easy for someone to create a coordinated look to match a lifestyle.

7. Out-of-the box solutions.

For the hands-off shopper looking for convenience, companies can provide entire rooms for sale that look professional and polished.

MACK is one such company, taking the staged-room concept a step further by offering fully designed rooms for sale at the click of a button. Launched in San Francisco in 2013, MACK aims to replace the need for an interior designer altogether and solve one of the biggest challenges consumers face when decorating — being able to envision the complete, finished look of their home.

I was so excited about MACK’s approach to design that my company, UGallery, has partnered with it to offer original art in rooms.

26
Nov

The 15 Most Profitable Small-Business Industries

The 15 Most Profitable Small-Business Industries

This article originally published March 4, 2016. 

Being talented with numbers can really pay off if you’re looking to start a profitable business.

Accounting and tax services takes the top spot on the list of the most profitable type of small business with a generous 18.4 percent net profit margin followed by real-estate services (15.2 percent), law firms (14.5 percent) and doctor’s offices (13 percent) reports Sageworks, a financial data service that analyzed the net profit margin of more than 16,000 small businesses (that earned less than $10 million) between September 2014 and August 2015.

(The average net profit across all industries for this report’s time period was 7.2 percent.)

What makes these industries profitable? For one, they’re driven by human capital.

“Service industries,” says Sageworks analyst Jenna Weaver, “are very common to find on the most profitable small-business list. This is generally due to lower overhead and startup costs. A lot of these industries you can start from your house.”

While profit isn’t the only matter for an entrepreneur to consider — other factors to consider are whether the business matches his or her skills, what sort of licensing or training is required and how the business would fare during a recession — it’s an important place to start.

Here’s the list of the 15 most profitable types of small businesses and their net profit margins.

1. Accounting, Tax Preparation, Bookkeeping and Payroll Services: 18.4%

Image credit: Shutterstock

“The accounting industry is consistently a top performer on our list,” says Sageworks’ Weaver.

No matter how the economy is doing, everyone needs accountants. Also, this industry tends to have low overhead and repeat clients.

2. Management of Companies and Enterprises: 15.5%

Image credit: Shutterstock

This industry is made up of small, privately-owned offices of bank holding companies and other types of holding companies.

Some well-known examples of holding companies (that do not fall into the small-business category) are Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and Carl Icahn’s ICahn Enterprises.

3. Offices of Real Estate Agents and Brokers: 15.19%

Image credit: Shutterstock

While the real-estate market is largely dependent on the health of the economy, real-estate brokers and agents have low operating costs and all you need to get started is an agent or brokerage license.

4. Automotive Equipment Rental and Leasing: 14.55%

Image credit: Shutterstock

With the on-demand economy on the rise, Sageworks analyst Libby Bierman says that people may be leasing and renting more cars using on-demand services such as Zipcar — along with more traditional rental services such as Hertz.

5. Legal Services: 14.48%

Image credit: Shutterstock

Anyone who has ever hired a lawyer knows it’s not cheap. Law, like accounting, generally has low operating costs as well as repeat clients. However, this business category includes not only lawyers, but notaries, settlement officers (who deal in the transaction of securities) and title search agents in real estate.

6. Offices of Dentists: 14.41%

Image credit: Shutterstock

Dentists, like physicians, benefit from recurring patients, and while startup costs can be expensive — dental equipment is quite costly — the profession has the advantage of handling several patients at a time, plus many pay out of pocket.

7. Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution: 14.02%

Image credit: Shutterstock

This category of small, privately-held electric power companies includes not just your traditional, fossil fuel electric powers but also hydroelectric, nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal and more.

8. Lessors of Real Estate: 14.01%

Image credit: Shutterstock

Lessors, also known as landlords, show that renting both residential and nonresidential properties is a profitable gig once you recover the initial costs of purchase.

9. Offices of Other Health Practitioners: 13.30%

Image credit: Shutterstock

How is this category different from physicians? It’s not, really. There is a census delineation between chiropractors, optometrists, mental-health practitioners and podiatrists — who fall under this category of “other health practitioners” — and all other types of physicians.

10. Offices of Physicians: 13.01%

Image credit: Shutterstock

Being a doctor requires years of training, certification and likely, medical school debt. However, doctors also benefit from regular clients and relatively low overhead costs.

11. Commercial and Industrial Machinery and Equipment Rental and Leasing: 12.58%

Image credit: Shutterstock

It pays to rent or lease. These businesses typically rent or lease commercial machinery and equipment across industries.

12. Religious Organizations: 12.41%

Image credit: Shutterstock

Religious organizations are having a profitable year. Really. Remember, being not-for-profit doesn’t mean your goal shouldn’t be to make a profit. It’s just how you distribute those gains. Instead of giving profits to shareholders, all of yours go to your organization’s mission, which is the furthering of your church’s aims. It has been a good year not only for churches, synagogues, monasteries, mosques and temples, but also for schools, colleges and universities that are operated by religious organizations.

13. Management, Scientific and Technical Consulting Services: 12.05%

Image credit: Shutterstock

Some types of businesses that fall under this category are businesses that provide either management or consulting on a range of expertise, including human resources, marketing and environmental issues.

14. Specialized Design Services: 11.4%

Small businesses that specialize in interior, industrial and graphic design are flourishing, as the value of a product or business’s function has become inextricably linked to appearance and design.

15. Office Administrative Services: 11.3%

Image credit: Shutterstock

These administrative businesses are the backbone of business operations across a variety of industries — from food services to physicians offices — and provide the day-to-day administrative services, such as record keeping, financial planning and billing.

26
Nov

How to Protect Your Business Idea Without a Patent

How to Protect Your Business Idea Without a Patent

How to Protect Your Business Idea Without a Patent

Image credit: App Shopper

It’s natural to fear that your idea might be stolen. But you can’t turn your vision into reality without the help of others. Sooner or later, you’re going to want to ask an industry expert to evaluate your product or service. You’re going to need to collaborate with a manufacturer or distributor. But patents cost thousands of dollars and take years to be issued. You can’t afford to wait that long to start bringing your product to market.

Thankfully, there are creative ways to actively protect your idea without applying for a patent. Here are four affordable strategies that will protect your business idea from being stolen:

Do your research. Before you begin working with anyone new, be it an individual or organization, do some research online. Do they have a good track record? Can you find any complaints about their business practices? Try to get a sense of what they’re all about. If you find cause for concern, consider asking about it. As we all know, not everything you find online is true. But if their business practices seem sketchy before you’ve even begun to work with them, that’s not a good sign.

Use these three legal tools — with the help and oversight of an attorney:

  • Non-disclosure agreement (NDA): Have anyone you work with sign a non-disclosure agreement that commits them to confidentiality. An NDA can be a mutual agreement between two parties not to share information with third parties, or it can go one-way (since you’re sharing information about your idea with them). If the agreement doesn’t have an expiration date, that’s powerful.
  • Non-compete agreement: If you hire someone to help you, have him or her sign a non-compete agreement. A non-compete agreement prevents an individual or entity from starting a business that would compete or threaten yours within an established radius.
  • Work-for-hire agreement: If you hire someone to help fine-tune your product, make sure to establish that you own any and all improvements made to the idea. Anything they come up with, you own. You will still need to list the person who came up with improvements as a co-inventor in your patent, but they will have no rights to your invention.

Turn to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for help. Fortunately, patents aren’t the only tools available to protect our ideas. First, file a provisional patent application. You can do this yourself online or use a template such as Invent + Patent System or Patent Wizard to help you. The USPTO also has call centers available with staff members on hand to answer questions and offer guidance.

Filing a PPA costs a little over $100, while patents can easily cost thousands of dollars in legal fees, depending on the complexity of your idea. A provisional patent application protects your idea for up to one year and allows you to label your idea as “patent pending.” You can then use the year to gain valuable insight into your idea.

Also, consider applying for a trademark, which you can also easily do online. This costs several hundred dollars and will help you establish ownership. Because names become synonymous with products, having a registered trademark cements the impression that the idea you’re selling is closely associated with your product.

Build relationships with your competitors. This may sound counterintuitive, but establishing mutually beneficial relationships with your greatest competitors is one of the best ways to protect your idea. When I launched my own novelty guitar pick business, I hired the largest producer in the industry to manufacture our picks. They had little motivation to rip me off because they were already profiting from the success of my business. By giving them business, we were not seen as a threat (even though, in reality, we shared the same market space). We respected one another.

These tips will make it harder for others to steal your idea. With any legal document, be sure to consult an attorney to guarantee accuracy and protection of your idea.

26
Nov

63 Businesses to Start for Under $10,000

63 Businesses to Start for Under $10,000

You know you want to start something for yourself. You just need to funnel your ambition and time into an idea that’ll earn extra cash, make you proud, and possibly lead to a full-time venture—and that amazing moment you get to say “I quit!” to your boss. But what great idea should you say “I start!” to?

From childcare, fix-it services, and party planning to business consulting, artisan manufacturing, and resume writing, there is a business for every skill level, interest and budget in our list of ideas you can start for less than $10,000. Some ideas listed here can even be started for less than $2,000!

Image credit: Shutterstock

These businesses can be started on a full- or part-time basis. Your location may be just an online presence, your clients’ homes or businesses, a work van or truck, or even a small storefront. You’ll advertise locally with fliers and coupons, cold-call potential clients, or set up shop with a website and online advertising campaign—finding customers will depend on the business idea you choose.

Each idea includes an overview of the business, a skill level recommendation needed to provide the service or create the product, ideas for marketing your business, and current average rates others are charging in this field. We’ve also included a list of resources for each business idea, including business associations, websites and books, which will help you continue your research should an idea spark your passion. Featuring a resource in this list of ideas is by no means an endorsement of the company or publication; it is the responsibility of every entrepreneur to make sure he or she is doing business with reputable organizations. Rather, these are the just first resources for your journey from idea to business ownership.

Business ideas under $2,000
Business ideas under $10,000

Under $2,000

1. Resume Service

Finding the perfect words to describe why people’s experiences, special skills, and interests make them the right candidate for a job is difficult work. That’s why resume services continue to flourish despite the fact that most people have the tools (a computer and word processing program) to write their own. If you are a wordsmith with a human resources, management, or administration background, this idea may be the perfect opportunity for you.

One of the best aspects about the idea of starting a resume service is that you can start small, part-time, and keep costs low by working at home with your current computer. It’s the perfect opportunity for people looking to earn an extra few hundred dollars a month. In addition to resumes, other ideas include writing cover letters and thank-you notes, assisting with LinkedIn profiles, and helping clients build portfolios if their industry requires them. As a way to separate your resume service idea from competitors’, considering offering consulting on how to dress for interviews, how to handle themselves in a stressful interview situation, how to make follow-up telephone calls, how to prepare for interviews, and how to network for that dream job. Advertise locally, online, and through career expos. Once established, word-of-mouth advertising and customer testimonials will go a long way to keeping you busy with this business idea.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $15+

Skill Level: 1–2

Resources:

  • The National Resume Writers’ Association
  • Professional Association of Resume Writers & Career Coaches
  • Knock ’em Dead Resume Templates by Martin Yate (Adams Media, 2014)
  • Resumes That Stand Out! by L. Xavier Cano (Chester Publishing, 2014)

Image credit: Shutterstock

2. Personal Shopper

If you love to shop, this is the business idea for you. Earn great money and have fun by starting a personal shopping service assisting people who are too busy to shop, who don’t like to shop, or who can’t get out to do their own shopping. Lots of busy and well-heeled people love the idea of hiring personal shoppers to select gifts for any number of special occasions, including birthdays, births, weddings, holidays, and anniversaries. And it’s not just new products they’re after: Personal shoppers are also hired by interior designers and collectors to rummage through flea markets, consignment shops, antique dealers, and garage sales for collectibles, art, books, antiques, and funky home and office decor.

Corporations hire personal shoppers to purchase gifts for customers, prospects, business partners, investors, employees, and executives, as well as to purchase products for gift bag giveaways at special events, ceremonies and seminars. Seniors and other people who may find it difficult to get around hire personal shoppers to purchase groceries, clothing and other home and personal products. Best of all, no experience is required to get started. If you love to shop, have good taste, are creative, and don’t mind networking with business owners, corporate executives and people from all walks of life, you’re qualified to turn the personal-shopper business idea into a reality.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 1 Resources:

  • International Association of Professional Personal Shoppers
  • Personal Shoppers Association
  • FabJob Guide to Become a Personal Shopper by Peter J. Gallanis, Tag Goulet and Laura Harrison McBride (FabJob Guides, 2005)
  • Start Your Own Personal Concierge Service by Entrepreneur Press and Ciree Linsenman (Entrepreneur Press, 2011)

3. Homebased Alteration Service

Calling all people with sewing skills and a sewing machine! It’s time to capitalize on your talent and ideas by providing garment and fabric alteration services right from the convenience of a home workspace, and earn a bundle of money in the process.

Dry cleaners, fashion retailers, uniform retailers, bridal boutiques, costume shops, drapery studios, and consignment clothing shops—all are potential customers for your service. In fact, any businesses that retail or rent clothing of any sort are potential customers, and for that matter so is any person who is in need of alteration services.

Try this idea as a quick-start marketing method: put on a comfortable pair of shoes and start calling on businesses most likely to require alteration services. Offer free pick-up and delivery, fast turnaround times, great service, and quality workmanship, all at fair prices. Your business clients benefit because they can offer alteration services to customers for free, ensuring repeat business. Or, they can make it in to a profit center by marking up what you charge. Along with your sewing skills, you will need the tools of the sewing trade and reliable transportation to bring this business idea to fruition.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $15+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • Association of Sewing and Design Professionals
  • Custom Tailors and Designers Association
  • Sewing.org

4. Valet Parking Service

A driver’s license, the ability to obtain third-party liability insurance, and an outgoing friendly personality are the three essentials for the business idea of a special-events valet parking service. The business can be started with minimal cash, is a great part-time idea, and the profit potential is excellent, as rates for valet parking services are in the range of $50 to $70 per hour for a two-to-three person crew. And it goes almost without saying that tips can really add up!

There are many great ideas to market  your valet parking services directly to consumers hosting parties and events, corporations hosting conventions and other event and wedding planners, trade show organizers, and charity groups and organizations. Uniforms worn by all staff and emblazoned with your business name and slogan, along with incredible customer service and a smile, will make a great impression on customers that is sure to secure lots of repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $15+

Skill Level: 1

Resources:

  • ValetPark.net

5. Children’s Party Service

A love of children and party planning are the two most important prerequisites for starting and operating a children’s party service. And this is a hot business idea: Parents are spending much more on their kids’ parties than they did a generation ago. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions reports that the average revenue for hosting a kid’s birthday shindig is $370. There are two ways to run a children’s party service. First, you can operate on a mobile basis and throw the party at your clients’ locations. Second, you can host the parties from a rented space or reserved park, requiring partygoers to come to you. Regardless of whether you operate mobile or from a fixed location, duties remain the same—plan the party, decorate, provide entertainment, food, and beverages, stage games and contests, and make the event one heck of a lot of fun for kids and their parents. Rates will vary depending on the menu, entertainment, games, and frills, but start at about $20 per guest and go as high as $100 per guest for highly specialized and themed party ideas.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $15+

Skill Level: 1

Resources:

  • Event Planners Association
  • Start Your Own Kid-Focused Business by Entrepreneur Press and Krista Thoren Turner (Entrepreneur Press, 2008)
  • Start Your Own Event Planning Business by The Staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. and Cheryl Kimball (Entrepreneur Press, 2015)

6. Cake and Cupcake Bakery

Making, decorating, and selling one-of-a-kind cakes and cupcakes for occasions ranging from birthdays to weddings to anniversaries is a great business idea for the hobby baker to pursue, and one that is potentially very profitable. You can get started on a shoestring budget by baking and decorating right in your own kitchen. Contact wedding planners, photographers, bridal shops, event coordinators, restaurants, kids party planners, and catering companies to let them know about the specialty cakes you bake and sell. An effective marketing idea is to send samples of your cakes to make sure they send business your way.

Create a website with photos of your creations, and post those photos on social media sites. On a large scale, you can rent commercial kitchen space so you have enough room to mass-produce cakes that can be sold wholesale to restaurants and grocery stores. Baking and decorating specialty cakes can be very profitable, as ingredient costs are only about 15 to 20 percent of the retail selling price.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $15+

Skill Level: 1–3

Resources:

  • Cake Appreciation Society
  • International Cake Decoration Societé
  • National Association of Wedding Professionals

7. Personal Chef

Take your pots and pans, cooking skills, and love of food, and hit the road as a personal chef for hire. Prepare gourmet meals for people hosting house parties, special occasion events such as birthdays or anniversaries, and corporate luncheons—basically anywhere there is a kitchen on-site that you can use to create your mouth-watering gourmet masterpieces.

Personal chef services are quickly becoming a popular alternative for people who do not have the budget for a full-scale catered event and for others hosting small gatherings not requiring complete catering services. The advantages for this start-up idea in comparison to a full-service catering business are apparent: low overhead and initial investment, full-time or part-time operating hours and easy management from home. That idea may appeal to people who want to slow down, but at the same time want to earn an excellent income doing something they love.

Promote your personal chef service idea by joining business associations and community social clubs to network and spread the word about your business and menu. The service can easily be supported by word-of-mouth advertising and repeat business once established, providing the food is great and the service is second-to-none. Additionally, building alliances with party planners and event coordinators is a marketing idea sure to land work. Rates vary according to factors such as the supply of food and the type of menu requested. However, average earnings are $35 to $50 per hour.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2–3

Resources:

  • American Personal & Private Chef Association
  • United Stated Personal Chef Association
  • The Professional Personal Chef by Candy Wallace and Greg Forte (Wiley, 2007)

8. Artisanal Food Manufacturing

Do you have a secret recipe that makes friends salivate? A particular obsession for a certain ingredient like local honey or vanilla extract? Many entrepreneurs just like you are making small-batch foods in their kitchens to sell at upscale food shops, local restaurants, and farmers’ markets. Ideas include infused oils, flavored salt, candies and truffles, salsas and hot sauces, jerky, pickled vegetables, and fruit jellies and butters. Quality is key as consumers will expect the best local ingredients if they are paying a premium for your homemade goods. A good back story and excellent salesmanship helps, too!

First, educate yourself on local and federal laws regarding your idea of what you will be making in your kitchen and food labeling regulations. You may need to entertain the idea of renting space at a community commercial kitchen that caters to businesses just like yours. Second, make sure you are creating your food safely, especially if you are canning foods. Then, start cooking! Have friends and family act as tasters until you perfect your creations. Then hit the local farmers and craft markets and street fairs to sell your goodies.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: Varies

Skill Level: 2

Resources

  • Food Craft Institute
  • Small Food Business
  • Start & Run a Home-Based Food Business by Mimi Shotland Fix (Self-Counsel Press, 2013)
  • Starting a Part-Time Food Business by Jennifer Lewis (Rabbit Ranch Publishing, 2011)
  • Start Your Own Specialty Food Business by The Staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. and Cheryl Kimball (Entrepreneur Press, 2016)

9. Music Lessons

If you know how to sing, play guitar, piano, drums, or a wind or string instrument well enough to teach others, then what are you waiting for? Capitalize on your talents and earn a great full- or part-time income by teaching clients how to play your instrument of choice. Classes can be conducted one-on-one or in a group format, at your home, the student’s home, a rented commercial space, or at a community facility, in conjunction with community programs, continuing education, or an established music store. Expanding the business idea requires nothing more than hiring other experienced musicians to teach students. Fees are split—basically, you find the students, your instructors teach the classes, and everyone profits. Lesson rates will vary depending on class size, skill level and instrument, but on average, group lessons cost students $10 to $20 per hour and one-on-one lessons are in the range of $40 per hour, plus the costs of instrument rentals or purchases, course materials, and sheet music. Alternately, if you prefer the idea of teaching music without the added work of operating a business, then subcontract your musical teaching talents to an existing music school and earn in the range of $15 to $25 per hour.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • Music Teachers National Association
  • National Association for Music Education
  • National Association of Teachers of Singing
  • National Guild of Piano Teachers

10. Arts and Crafts Instructor

Knitting, painting, printmaking, and many other arts and crafts have gained popularity in recent years. People are more than willing to shell out their hard earned money to learn. If you have mastered an art or craft, why not train others and earn substantial profits for your efforts? Day, evening, or weekend classes can be taught from a homebased studio, rented commercial space, in partnership with a crafts retailer, community center, or school.

Another idea is to offer lessons at art nights at bars and breweries. Promote your classes through local retailers, in community magazines and online event listings by posting fliers on community bulletin boards, and by exhibiting at arts and crafts shows. Creative entrepreneurs may even choose to film the training classes for online broadcast or sell instructions or patterns on craft marketplaces like Etsy. You can also create special classes for children on the weekends. The options are nearly limitless when you have a talent that other people want to learn. Rates vary depending on how many people are in each class and material and equipment requirements, but on average, arts and crafts instructors can expect to earn in the range of $25 to $50 per hour.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • Craft and Hobby Association
  • Etsy

Image credit: Shutterstock

11. Pet Sitting

Many people have pets that cannot be boarded or left with friends or family when the need arises—pets with chronic health conditions or exotic pets that are difficult to take care of, for example. Likewise, many people prefer the idea that their dogs, cats and other pets are in the safety and familiar surroundings of home as opposed to an unfamiliar boarding environment. When these pet owners want or need to be away from home there is only one solution available: Hire a pet-sitting service to come to their homes and take care of their beloved pets while they are away.

If your idea is to work on a small scale, you can be the pet sitter. But if your intention is to operate full-time with an eye on growth, you will need to hire or contract additional pet sitters. Good ideas for job candidates include pet-loving retirees and students. Market your pet-sitting services through pet-related businesses in your community such as veterinarians, pet food retailers, dog trainers, dog walkers, and pet-grooming services. Remember, many people also hire pet sitters for short periods of time—a weekend away, a night out, or time off for family events. Therefore, you will need to develop fee schedules for long- and short-term pet-sitting jobs.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $15+

Skill Level: 1

Resources:

  • National Association of Professional Pet Sitters
  • Pet Sitters International
  • Start Your Own Pet Business by Entrepreneur Press and Eileen Figure Sandlin (Entrepreneur Press, 2009)

12. Gardening Consultant

If you enjoy working in the great outdoors and playing in the dirt, and know a whole lot about flowers, trees, shrubs, and vegetable gardens, chances are you are the perfect candidate for the idea of starting a gardening consulting business. You will teach other would-be green thumbs everything they need to know so they can design, plant, and maintain a decorative or productive vegetable and herb garden. During the first consultation with clients, you ask questions to determine their idea for the type of garden and landscape features they want, their budgets and time frames, and whether they want to do the work to install the garden or hire others. From this point, based on your knowledge about plants, plant placement, soil, rocks, and fertilizers, you create a garden plan in step-by-step detail suited to each client’s needs and garden criteria.

This is a terrific business idea for green-thumb entrepreneurs to stay active and fit because gardening work can be somewhat physically demanding, but at the same time earn an income in the range of $25 to $50 an hour. This is a business that will thrive on repeat customers and referrals once established. To get the ball rolling, advertise your services locally using newspaper advertisements and online. Then build a network of alliances at garden product retailers so they refer your services to their clients. You may even offer free seminars at local garden centers, churches and community center to spread the word.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2–3

Resources:

  • National Gardening Association
  • Urban Farming

13. Backyard Nursery

People with green thumbs, a backyard, and some time, take note. Growing and selling trees and shrubs right from home is a fantastic way to earn an extra few thousand dollars every year or even every month, depending on your space and ambition. Surprisingly, not much yard space is required to generate excellent profits. Consider that you can purchase Japanese maple seedlings for about 75 cents each wholesale, plant them in pots or in burlap in the ground, wait a season or two while they grow, and resell them for $50 or more. A 20-foot square garden area is large enough to support 300 seedlings, which in turn can produce approximately 150 saleable trees annually when planting is alternated. That is as much as $7,500 every year from just a small patch of ground in your backyard. Imagine what you can earn by planting a 50-, 60-, or 100-square foot seedling tree garden. In addition to selling directly to consumers from home and through garden shows, you can also sell the trees and shrubs to garden centers and landscape contractors in volume at wholesale pricing.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: Varies

Skill Level: 1

Resources:

  • ArborDay.org
  • Mike’s Backyard Growing System
  • Mother Earth News: Starting a Backyard Nursery

14. Business Plan Service

Did you know that a recent survey of new business owners revealed that only 33 percent surveyed had a formal business plan? With 28 million small businesses in the United States, that points to fantastic market potential for a business plan service. To start such a service, you should have experience with business planning and be able to conduct the research and run the numbers a business plan requires. Market your service by attending business networking meetings and be able to explain why a business needs a business plan. Also attempt to obtain a list of all new and renewal business registration licenses through your local business service center. In addition to new businesses, you can also aim marketing efforts at existing businesses and professionals who are expanding or need to update or create a new business plan. This service costs little to start and can be operated part-time or full-time, depending on your needs. Billing rates vary depending on the size and scope of the business plan being developed.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $50+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • Association of Management Consulting Firms
  • Bplans.com
  • Institute of Management Consultants USA
  • Start Your Own Consulting Business by Entrepreneur Press and Eileen Figure Sandlin (Entrepreneur Press, 2014)

15. Online Researcher

If you like digging for information or miss spending hours in the library working on academic papers, and are looking to supplement your income, consider starting an internet research service. It’s a great way to get paid for the time you spend reading and surfing on the internet! This business was once referred to as information brokering, but the name changed as the means of obtaining information changed. The business remains the same, however, as the information that was once researched and compiled from newspapers, trade magazines, and business and industry journals can now be found online. You’ll be delving into government and business reports and perhaps even interviewing people to find the information your clients need. An internet research service operates in two fashions. First, collect data and facts relevant to a specific topic or topics, and then sell the compiled data to individuals and businesses that require the kind of information you have compiled. Second, business owners and marketers often enlist the services of an internet researcher to find specific data and facts relevant to their particular business, industry, or market. In both cases, clients pay for information they are seeking. Billing rates for the services vary, depending on how much research time is required to compile the data and related costs, but expect to charge in the area of $25 to $35 per hour.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 1–2

Resources:

  • Association of Internet Researchers
  • Start & Run an Internet Research Business by Gergard W. Kautz (Self-Counsel Press, 2008)

16. Copywriting

If you have a talent for writing in a clear and concise manner that can build excitement and interest and motivate readers, listeners, and viewers to take the desired action, then starting a copywriting service might be just the right moneymaking opportunity for you. Copywriters prepare copy or text for websites, advertising, online and print marketing materials, press releases, TV and radio commercials, catalogs, and packaging labels. The demand for copywriting services is excellent, as most business owners, managers, and marketers do not have the time, skills, or inclination to prepare highly effective copy. Establishing alliances with graphic designers, publishers, editors, advertising agencies, and public relations firms is a good way to get your foot in the door, the telephone ringing, and the email pinging. You’ll also want a well-written and designed online portfolio of your work. Copywriting fees vary greatly depending on what is being prepared and the size of the assignment, but average in the range of $50 per hour. If you have the required skills, additional income can also be earned by providing a full-complement of editing services, including proofreading, indexing, and production.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2–3

Resources:

  • Editorial Freelancers Association
  • Elance
  • Professional Writers Association
  • Kick-Ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps by Susan Gunelius (Entrepreneur Press, 2008)

17. Online Marketing and Social Media Consultant

When you’re running a business, you rarely have time to hop onto Twitter or Facebook to interact with customers or offer special sales. And how many business owners know how to optimize their listing on Yelp, keep up with changing algorithms on Facebook, or figure out if they need to be on the newest social media channel? This is where your expertise as a social media guru comes into play. First, ensure your own online presence and social media sites are topnotch. To get experience, offer your services to local nonprofits or friends’ businesses. Once you have the results in hand, market your services—including information on how you’ve increased the social media and online presence of other businesses—to local retailers, restaurants, personal service businesses and others. Network at local business associations, and visit business owners to sell your services. The demand for social media and online marketing will only continue to grow, so your clients will be grateful you can keep them up-to-date with the changing online landscape and in front of consumers’ eyes.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • Internet Marketing Association
  • Social Media Association
  • Social Media Examiner
  • Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association
  • Start Your Own Consulting Business by Entrepreneur Press and Eileen Figure Sandlin (Entrepreneur Press, 2014)

18. Search Engine Optimization & Digital Advertising Consultant

In the old days, it was enough to take out an ad in the Yellow Pages to ensure potential customers would find your business. These days, you need a website, but you also need that website to rank high on search engines. How does the average business owner keep up? An online marketing and advertising consultant is similar to a marketing consultant in their goal—getting their clients new business—but online consultants specialize in search engine optimization (SEO) and advertising on Google, Facebook, and other websites. Your expertise in this arena can help local businesses rise to the top of search results and ensure the advertising money they spend is well worth it. A background in digital marketing is required for this business, as well as the type of personality that thrives on change and new advances in their industry.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2-3

Resources:

  • Interactive Advertising Bureau
  • National Search Engine Optimization Association
  • SEMPO: Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization

19. Floral Designer

If you love flowers and need to earn money to supplement your retirement income, then this just might be the right opportunity for you. If you have an eye for design, you are qualified to start your own floral design business. However, formal training is an asset, and there are a number of schools and community continuing education programs that offer floral design classes. Floral designers select flowers, greenery, and decorations to create appealing floral arrangements, such as bouquets, wreaths, and table centerpieces for any number of occasions—weddings, funerals, social events, restaurants, and business functions. Designers also use a variety of tools and materials to produce the desired cut and shape, as well as foam, wire, tape, and all kinds of containers to hold and showcase their designs. Market your services by establishing alliances with event planners, wedding planners, catering companies, and funeral homes.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $15+

Skill Level: 1–3

Resources:

  • American Institute of Floral Designers
  • International Floral Design Association
  • Society of American Florists
  • How to Open & Operate a Financially Successful Florist and Floral Business Online and Off by Stephanie Beener (Atlantic Publishing Group, 2012)
  • Increase Profit from Your Florist Shop by Brendan Power (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015)

Image credit: Shutterstock

20. Fashion Accessories Designer

If you have a flair for design, then why not try your hand at designing fashion accessories? Get started by picking a fashion accessory to design, produce, and sell. It could be just about anything, including bridal veils, handbags, shoes, belts, belt buckles, scarves, costume jewelry, wraps, or wallets. Don’t worry if your sewing or tooling skills are not up to par, because there are numerous fashion accessory manufacturers that will manufacture your designs under your name. The options for selling fashion accessories are also numerous. You can sell your wares online on Etsy and eBay, at craft fairs and consumer shows, or host in-home fashion accessory sales parties. If you are ambitious, you can also sell your products wholesale to fashion accessory retailers.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $15+

Skill Level: 1–3

Resources:

  • Accessory Web
  • Fashion Jewelry and Accessories Trade Association
  • Fashion Design Course: Accessories by Jane Schaffer (Barron’s Educational Series, 2012)
  • Start Your Own Fashion Accessories Business by Entrepreneur Press and Eileen Figure Sandlin (Entrepreneur Press, 2009)

21. Toy Maker

Building and selling children’s toys is a great way to create cherished memories for children and to supplement your income at the same time. Just think of all of the toys that you can make—wooden toys, dollhouses, stuffed animals, dolls, antique toy replicas, and puzzles, to name just a few. In fact, handcrafted toys often become treasured family heirlooms passed down to each new generation to enjoy. Fortunately, you do not need much in the way of special skills or equipment to start making and selling handmade toys, just a workshop space outfitted with basic hand and power tools or a sewing machine, the ability and patience to learn new crafting skills, and the creativity to create unique designs. With the rising interest in handmade crafts, you’ll find a demand for handcrafted toys online, at local craft fairs and toy shows, and through consignment and wholesale at local boutiques.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $15+

Skill Level: 1–2

Resources:

  • Etsy
  • The Handmade Toy Alliance
  • Toy Industry Association
  • Making Heirloom Toys by Jim Makowicki (Taunton Press, 1996)

22. Essential Oils and Soaps Making

Manufacturing and selling essential oils and soaps from home is a unique business opportunity that will appeal to eco-friendly entrepreneurs who love handcrafted goods. By definition, essential oils are the volatile essences extracted from aromatic plants. They are up to one hundred times more concentrated than the oils found in dried herbs and can be used as scents in a wide variety of health and beauty products, including cosmetics, body lotions, soaps, candles, aromatherapy burners, perfume, and aromatic potpourri products, or they can be applied directly to skin as a perfume. Soap is, of course, soap, but you can be incredibly creative making and selling soap products, using unique colors and scents, focusing on aromatherapy or organic ingredients, molding novelty soaps in fun shapes or with toys embedded inside, or extending your line into bath products like bath bombs and salts. You can get started making soaps and oils in your kitchen. A good setup for soap costs less than $500, but you may want to purchase a commercially manufactured distiller to create oils for about $1,000. Soaps and essential oils can be sold directly to consumers online, in local stores, or at craft fairs and farmers markets. Essential oils can also be sold in bulk to companies manufacturing and selling health and beauty products.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $15+

Skill Level: 1

Resources:

  • The Handcrafted Soap Makers Guild
  • National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy
  • Craft and Hobby Association
  • Bubbles to Bucks: How to Make Money Selling Soap by Elin Criswell (The Country Soaper, 2013)
  • Pure Soapmaking: How to Create Nourishing Natural Ski Care Soaps by Anne-Marie Faiola (Storey Publishing, 2016)
  • The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils by Julia Lawless (Conari Press, 2013)

23. Vintage Clothing Dealer

How do you strike it rich in the vintage clothing business? You start by spending weekends at flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, and auctions looking for vintage clothing and fashion accessories, such as hats, shoes, handbags, and scarves. While most clothing will net you a nice markup, you can also hit the jackpot if you uncover decades-old fashion from Channel, Pucci or another high-end designer. Vintage clothing dealers need to be knowledgeable about the value of vintage clothing and accessories to know what to buy, how much to pay, and what the resale price should be. Skill with removing stains and making small repairs (or knowing someone who can) is also a plus. The items you purchase can be resold for a profit directly to collectors and vintage clothing retailers, at antique markets held on weekends, in an antique mall booth, or through vintage clothing online marketplaces and eBay. You may even choose to open your own retail store.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $2K

Rate: $15+

Skill Level: 1

Resources:

  • NARTS: The Association of Resale Professionals
  • Vintage Fashion Guild
  • Vintage Textile
  • Start Your Own Clothing Store and More by Entrepreneur Press and Charlene Davis (Entrepreneur, 2010)

Under $10,000

24. Image Consultant

Image consulting is an exciting business: You can get paid big bucks to help other people look and feel great. Working as an image consultant, you can help people land a new job, spruce up for an important occasion, make a great impression on others, or just feel good about the way they look and the image they project. Image consultants help people on many fronts, including:

  • Wardrobe consulting and updating
  • Current image analysis, and the development of a new image program
  • Etiquette training that can be used in business and social situations
  • Assistance in developing better communication skills through vocabulary enhancement and voice projection
  • Assistance in developing skills such as the perfect handshake and perfect posture

Potential clients include corporate executives, people on the job market, politicians, people recovering from major illnesses and injuries, television and radio personalities, public speakers, sales professionals, and singles in or reentering the dating scene. Market your services by building a strong network of alliances that can refer their clients and contacts to your business. Be sure to include corporations, hair and makeup professionals, fitness trainers, and public relations consultants.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $50+

Skill Level: 2-3

Resources:

  • Association of Image Consultants International
  • Gloria Starr Success Strategies: Image and Etiquette Consultant Training

25. Nonmedical Home Care

One of the reasons that nonmedical home care is an exploding industry is our aging population. In the United States, people 65+ accounted for 12.9% of the population in 2009. That number will grow to 19% by 2030. So the need for extra care for our aging population isn’t waning anytime soon. Generally, as people age they tend to need more personal attention. Nonmedical home-care services provide clients with a wide range of services specific to each individual’s needs. These services can include companionship, meal preparation, medication reminders, light housekeeping duties, laundry, running errands, trips to appointments, and shopping for groceries and other personal needs. In addition to seniors, nonmedical home-care workers can also provide similar services for new moms, people with disabilities, and people recovering from injury or illness. People who are reliable and compassionate thrive in this field. This is an easy service to start, with minimal skill and experience requirements, although all nonmedical home-care service workers are required to carry insurance and be bonded. You can provide the care yourself or grow to become an agency with contractors or employees.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • Family Caregiver Alliance
  • Home Care Association of America
  • Start Your Own Senior Services Business by Entrepreneur Press and Charlene Davis (Entrepreneur Press, 2014)

26. Makeup Artist

There are numerous occasions when professional makeup artistry is needed, such as weddings, film or TV shoots, professional photo shoots, important job interviews, public speaking engagements, and special occasions such as parties, reunions, and weddings. Some people may just want a makeover and lessons to feel more confident. What makes makeup artistry such a great opportunity is the flexibility it offers. You can work on a mobile basis, full- or part-time, and travel to your client’s location. You can establish an independent shop or join forces with an established hair salon, day spa, or nail studio. Or you can freelance for cosmetic companies and work from retail cosmetic counters. You will want to build working relationships with wedding planners, event planners, and people in the fashion industry. Additionally, cosmetology training is recommended. Contact the associations listed below to inquire about class availability in your area.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • International Make-Up Association
  • Professional Beauty Association

27. Personal Fitness Trainer

Calling all fitness gurus! The time has never been better than now to start your own personal fitness business teaching people from 5 to 95 how to live a more healthy life through exercise and nutritional programs. Although there are currently no universal certification requirements for personal trainers, anyone serious about operating this service should become certified. Contact the associations listed below for more information about certification programs offered in your area. Your target audience will include anyone who wants professional guidance. You can work one-on-one. You can specialize and train busy executives, kids, disabled people, moms-to-be, or seniors. Train at people’s offices or homes. Open your own fitness studio, and offer one-on-one and group training programs. In addition to developing exercise programs to match each client’s individual needs, personal trainers also conduct fitness assessments and provide nutritional coaching. Training in fitness clubs, community centers, retirement homes, hospitals, cruise ships, corporations, hotels, spas, resorts, camps, and schools are also other moneymaking options open to certified personal trainers.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2-3

Resources:

  • Aerobics and Fitness Association of America
  • IDEA Health and Fitness Association
  • International Fitness Association
  • National Federation of Professional Trainers
  • Start Your Own Personal Training Business by Entrepreneur Press and Ciree Linsenman (Entrepreneur Press, 2012)

28. Furniture Repairs and Refinishing

If you’re handy with wood and upholstery, you can earn money repairing office and residential furniture, and refinishing antique furniture. The furniture-repair side of the business can be operated on a mobile basis working right from a fully equipped van, repairing furniture at your customer’s location. Potential customers that commonly require furniture repair services include home and office movers, business owners, property managers, restaurants, hotels, and retailers of new and used furniture. The furniture-refinishing side of the business, namely antiques refinishing, can be conveniently operated from a well-equipped home workshop. Advertise this feature of the business by building alliances with antique dealers and interior designers who can refer their clients to your service. You can earn additional money by attending auction sales and buying furniture and antiques in need of repair and refinishing. Once they have been repaired and refinished, you can sell them for a profit via Craigslist, eBay, collector’s shows and consignment shops.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • Professional Refinishers Group
  • Restoration Industry Association
  • The Furniture Bible by Chrisophe Pourny (Artisan, 2014)

Image credit: Shutterstock

29. Decorating Service

A myriad of popular TV shows on networks like HGTV and DIY network have fired up people’s imaginations about how they can dramatically change the look of their homes on a relatively small budget. But there is a hook: Anyone involved with the decorating makeover must have a creative flair for decorating and design, and the skills and tools necessary to pull it all together. Not all homeowners have these skills and talents, but if you do, operating a decorating service might be right up your alley. For budget-minded clients, you can spend time at garage and estate sales, scrounge through flea markets, and scan local print and online classified ads for wacky decorative items, recycled building materials, and unique home furnishings. A flair for sewing, painting and wood furniture repair can also help you rehab unique items. All can be purchased and resold to clients at a profit as you redecorate rooms or their entire house. For well-heeled clients, stick with designer and brand-name products to transform their homes and offices into designer masterpieces. Market your service through home-and-garden shows, online by positioning yourself as a local decorating expert on social media, and by creating colorful before-and-after brochures that showcase your decorating talents.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2-3

Resources:

  • American Society of Interior Designers
  • Certified Interior Decorators International
  • Interior Design Society
  • International Interior Design Association

30. Handyperson

Cash in on the multibillion-dollar home repair industry by starting your own handyperson service. Handyperson services require little explanation about the business opportunity. The main requirement for starting such a service is, of course, that you are handy with tools, have the required tools and equipment, and have a good working knowledge of many trades–painting, carpentry, flooring, and plumbing. Basically, you should be a jack- or jill-of-all-trades. Currently, handyperson billing rates are in the range of $25 to $40 per hour, plus materials and a markup to cover the costs associated with handling and delivery. The service can be promoted and marketed to both residential and commercial clients through the Yellow Pages, online classifieds like Angie’s List or Craigslist, fliers and door hangers, site and vehicle signage, door knocking, and home-and-garden shows. Repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals will become your main source of new business once you are established, providing you offer clients good value and excellent service.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • Association of Certified Handyman Professionals
  • United Handyman Association

31. Commercial Cleaning

Commercial cleaning is a booming industry, generating billions in sales annually. Commercial cleaners basically perform the same services as residential cleaners–dusting, vacuuming, and polishing, but on a larger scale and with the addition of services like replenishing paper products and soaps, washing windows, stripping floors, and emptying trash and recycling receptacles. The only real downside to commercial cleaning is that in most cases the cleaning must be performed nights and/or on weekends after the business or office closes, which is actually a positive for people who want to keep their day jobs but still be able to earn extra money working nights and weekends. Rates generally tend to be higher for commercial cleaning than residential cleaning, in the range of $20 to $30 per hour, plus paper and other special supplies. Rates are typically higher because equipment costs are more, work such as floor stripping and waxing is more specialized, and once again, the nighttime aspect of the work enables you to charge a premium. Landing contracts will require you to get out and knock on doors. Visit businesses in your community to learn if they need cleaning services or when their cleaning services contracts come up for renewal. You can also buy commercial cleaning contracts, which is a common practice in this industry but expect to pay about three to five times the monthly value. For instance, if you want to earn $1,500 per month, this will cost you in the range of $4,500 to $7,500.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $15+

Skill Level: 1-2

Resources:

  • International Janitorial Cleaning Services Association
  • ISSA (Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association)
  • Start Your Own Cleaning Service by Entrepreneur Press and Jacquelyn Lynn (Entrepreneur Press, 2014)

32. Rubbish Removal

A secondhand truck or trailer, shovels, rakes, and a few garbage cans are all you need to start a rubbish removal service. Rubbish removal can be charged by the hour, by the truckload, or by quote before removing the junk. If you can offer home and business owners fast and convenient rubbish removal services at competitive prices, word-of-mouth advertising will generate more work than you can handle. Be sure to build alliances with people who can refer your business to their customers and clients; these referral brokers include real estate agents, residential and commercial cleaners, professional organizers, and home service companies such as carpet cleaners, contractors, and property managers. If you’re looking for a low-cost business start-up that requires little in the way of skills or experience, a rubbish removal service is one of the better choices. After expenses and dumping fees, you should have no problem earning in the range of $25 to $40 per hour. A smart side business is foreclosure cleanup: Some of these homes have furniture and other items left behind that you could resell.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 1

Resources:

  • Junk Trash Removal Startup Advice Blog

33. Chimney Sweep

Some experience is needed to clean chimneys, which makes a franchise chimney cleaning business a good choice for entrepreneurs without experience because training and the necessary equipment is provided when you purchase the franchise. The Chimney Safety Institute of America and the National Chimney Sweep Guild also provide chimney sweep training. If you elect to work independently, you will need to purchase cleaning equipment such as ladders, roof jacks, and flue brushes, but these items are readily available at large centers and online, and are relatively inexpensive. In addition to experience and tools, another prerequisite is that you have no fear of heights, as much of your time working will be spent on rooftops and ladders. The average chimney will take one to two hours to clean and rates are in the $75 to $150 range per chimney cleaned, with discounts for houses with multiple chimneys. If you also have experience in masonry repairs, you can offer services such as repointing, brick sealing, installation of new liners, chimney rebuilding, and new pots and crowns to boost revenues and profits.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2-3

Resources:

  • The Chimney Safety Institute of America
  • The Chimney Sweep News
  • National Chimney Sweep Guild

34. Blind Cleaning

Window blinds are a wildly popular window-covering choice for home and office owners across North America. With millions of window blinds hanging out there, all needing to be cleaned regularly, it makes a lot of sense to cash in by starting a blind-cleaning service. The most efficient way to clean window blinds is ultrasonic cleaning equipment, which is basically a tank filled with cleaning solution that gently cleans blinds ultrasonically, with no risk of damaging the blinds’ materials or operational parts. This equipment can be mounted on a van or trailer so you can offer blind-cleaning services on site. Or, you can set up the cleaning equipment at home or in a warehouse space and offer clients free pickup, delivery, and reinstallation. In addition to homeowners, be sure to aim your marketing efforts at winning blind-cleaning contracts from schools, hospitals, hotels, institutions, corporations, and others with large numbers of window blinds.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 1

Resources:

  • International Window Cleaning Association
  • Start Your Own Cleaning Service by Entrepreneur Press and Jacquelyn Lynn (Entrepreneur Press, 2014)

35. Dent Removal

Using specialized equipment, visit clients’ homes or businesses and remove small dings and dents in their vehicles, all without the need for new paint. Potential clients include private automobile owners, automobile fleet owners, new and used car dealers, and insurance companies. Operating on a mobile basis enables you to get started with limited funds and keep your overhead low. More importantly, it gives you the ability to go to where the business is available, with no geographical limitations. Many distributors and manufacturers of dent-removal tools and equipment also provide training, which is reasonably priced and requires only a few weeks to complete. Hence, even if you have no previous auto-body repair experience, you can still start and operate this business. Extra money may be earned by offering clients paint touchup services, automobile detailing services, window chip repair, and window tinting.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2-3

Resources:

  • Automobile Service Association
  • Ding King Training School
  • Fender Bender Magazine
  • National Paintless Dent Removal Association

36. Bicycle Repair Service

A Mechanically inclined entrepreneur with an interest in cycling can earn a great income repairing bicycles right from the comfort of a homebased workshop. In addition to big profit potential, there are many other advantages to operating a bicycle repair service, including low overhead, huge demand for the service in an ever-growing sport, and flexible full- or part-time hours. Even if you are not experienced in bicycle repairs, there are a number of schools offering bicycle mechanic courses that take only a few weeks to complete, such as those offered by United Bicycle Institute in Oregon. The key to marketing your services is to join bicycling clubs and organizations in your community, largely because members can become customers and refer other bicycling enthusiasts to your business. You can also work on a contract basis for bicycle retailers to handle their overflow work during the busy season. Likewise, advertising online in cycling forums or in your community newspaper and distributing fliers detailing the services you provide can attract new business.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2-3

Resources:

  • United Bicycle Institute
  • USA Cycling: Mechanics Program
  • The Total Bike Maintenance Book: DIY Repairs Made Easy by Mel Allwood (Da Capo Press, 2007)

37. Event and Party Planner

If you love to plan and host parties and special events, then starting an event and party planning service will be right up your alley. Event and party planners are responsible for organizing and hosting special events such as wedding anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, and award ceremonies for their clients. Duties can include creating and sending out invitations, selecting event locations, decorations, arranging for entertainers and speakers, selecting caterers and menus, and just about everything else that is required to put on a special event without a hitch, including arranging clean-up after all the guests have left. To go into this industry you must be detail-oriented, well-organized, good communicators, and very creative. Networking, networking, and more networking will be your main marketing tool for attracting and keeping new business, peppered liberally with a good online presence, advertising in the Yellow Pages, and direct-mail fliers. Get to know catering companies, event venue managers, and party entertainers. You will also need to build a reliable team of contractors–the businesses and individuals who you can rely on to supply products and services for your events promptly and on budget. They can also refer clients to you. The more reliable your team is, the more successful and profitable your event and party planning service will be.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • Event Planners Association
  • International Special Events Society
  • National Association of Event Planners
  • Start Your Own Event Planning Business by The Staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. and Cheryl Kimball (Entrepreneur Press, 2015)

Image credit: Shutterstock

38. Wedding Planner

Long gone are the days when a great shindig of a wedding could be put on for a couple thousand dollars. Now the cost of a typical wedding can easily exceed $10,000, $20,000, and even $30,000. It’s easy to see why many couples now realize that spending $1,000 to hire a professional wedding consultant is not only money wisely spent, but also a very cheap insurance policy on their substantial wedding investment. It is the duty of the wedding consultant to plan the wedding, hire caterers, screen musicians or disc jockey services, book a reception hall, find a florist and help to create table centers and bouquets, make a lot of suggestions, and fix a myriad of last-minute crises. In other words, the consultant does everything required to plan and carry out an unforgettable, perfect wedding. If you like to plan a party, are well organized, can calmly deal with stressed people, and thrive in a chaotic atmosphere, providing wedding-planning services would be right up your alley. There are more than 8,000 professional wedding planners in the United States, and needless to say, the industry is competitive. At the same time, however, more than 2.5 million people get hitched each year, so the opportunity to succeed and profit is available to those willing to get out there and make things happen.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • Association of Certified Wedding Consultants
  • American Association of Certified Wedding Planners
  • Association of Bridal Consultants
  • The National Association of Wedding Professionals
  • Start Your Own Wedding Consulting Business by Entrepreneur Press and Eileen Figure Sandlin (Entrepreneur Press, 2011)

39. Bounce House Rentals

Bounce houses are inflatable amusement games that children and adults absolutely love to bounce around in (and on) and they are available in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and themes. Some higher-end models feature slides, mazes, obstacle courses and water areas. Renting bouncy houses is easy, and you can make incredible profits, up to $250 per day, just for delivering, setting up, and returning at the end of the day for pick-up. This is perhaps one of the best part-time business opportunities available. New inflatable amusement games cost in the range of $2,000 for small basic models, and up to $15,000 for large, fully featured models. Used ones are available for about half the cost of new. In addition to renting these inflatables for children’s birthday parties, they can also be rented to charities, sports and social clubs, and for corporate and community events. Setup is fast, taking one person approximately 30 minutes and about the same amount of time for dismantling and removal. You will need a vehicle to transport the inflatables, and space to store them.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 1

Resources:

  • InflatableStartup.com

40. Childcare Center

 

The escalating cost of living has made child daycare a booming industry simply because many families require two full-time incomes to make ends meet. To start for the lowest startup costs, open a homebased daycare facility. Your growth will be limited by how many children you may legally care for in your home, but so will your investment budget. If you choose to expand later, you can open a storefront or office location or in conjunction with an established business or office complex. In the United States and Canada, daycare facilities as well as childcare staff must obtain proper licensing and certification to meet minimum operating requirements. Because every state and province has its own individual licensing requirements, you will need to contact your regional municipal offices to make inquires or contact childcare associations to inquire about certification and licensing requirements in your area. Once your center is open, you will find that the problem is not finding kids to fill your facility, but having to turn down parents daily because you are at your limit. Word-of-mouth advertising is generally all the marketing that is required in this industry.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 4

Resources:

  • National Association for Family Childcare
  • National Childcare Association
  • Start Your Own Child-Care Service by The Staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. and Jacquelyn Lynn (Entrepreneur Press, 2015)

41. Pet Photography

If you are an animal lover and a great photographer, what are you waiting for? Start a pet photography service! Owners of dogs, cats, reptiles, horses, champion livestock, birds, and even fish can all be potential customers. Full-time or part-time, you can operate the service on a mobile basis, from a homebased studio, from pet shops, or combine all to cover all the bases. Making the experience fun for pets and their owners will also go a long way toward securing repeat business and a ton of referrals, so liven things up with pet costumes, themed backdrops, and by offering pet video recording services, complete with music, titles, and special effects. Likewise, to boost profit potential, also offer a wide assortment of products that customers can have their pets’ photographic images transferred onto–key tags, greeting cards, calendars, mugs, hats, T-shirts, sports bags, and bumper stickers.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2-3

Resources:

  • Pet Photographers of America Alliance
  • Professional Photographers of America
  • Pet Photography by Alan Hess (Peachpit Press, 2014)

42. Urban Farm Consulting

Consumers today are highly educated about the environmental and health impacts of the food they consume, including issues like water use, pesticides, transportation, and GMOs. To combat these problems, many are turning to urban farming to grow their own food. For people without a farming background who want to turn their yard, rooftop or even patio into an urban farm, this is where you can help. If you’ve got a green thumb for growing food, offer your services as an urban farm consultant. You can advise your clients on what plants will work well in their space and how to lay out the farm, how to set up irrigation, ways to protect plants from cold and heat, and when to harvest. You can also charge more to set up and maintain the farm, and go bigger by creating and managing rooftop gardens for restaurants. Get the word out by joining local food and environmental groups, giving free seminars at libraries and community centers, partnering with garden supply stores, and placing signs in the gardens you create that are visible to passers-by. Word-of-mouth–and delicious results–will be key to this business.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: Varies

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • International Network for Urban Agriculture
  • Mother Earth News
  • UrbanFarming.org
  • My Urban Farm Business by Nourah Mumeen (Nourah Mumeen, 2015)

43. Cloth Diaper Service

Babies use 2,500 to 3,000 diapers each year–a large expense for parents and the environment. Green-minded parents may want to use environmentally friendly cloth diapers, which are softer on babies’ skin, but may feel overwhelmed by the idea of cleaning all those dirty diapers. That’s where a cloth diaper delivery service comes in. Depending on how much money you have to invest, there are a couple of options for starting a cloth diaper service. First, if money is plentiful, you can offer a complete service, including diaper supply, delivery, pickup, and cleaning. Second, if funds are tight, you can simply supply delivery and pickup services and have an established commercial laundry wash the diapers at a reduced or bulk rate. Over the long term, option one will probably put more profits in your pockets than option two, as well as enable you to have more control over your business. Word-of-mouth marketing will be your main promotional tool, so be sure to get out and start the promotion train rolling by talking with as many new parents as you can. Drop off business cards with baby-product boutiques, natural food stores, moms’ groups, lactation consultants, and midwives, and make sure you’re findable online when someone searches for diaper services in your local area.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 1

Resources:

  • Born to Love
  • Diaper Pin
  • Real Diaper Association

44. Green Business Consultant

Need a green idea? For business owners, going green is a lot more complicated than for homeowners. While there are some simple steps small businesses can take to reduce energy use and paper and other consumption, larger businesses may be facing more complex issues like regulatory compliance, alternative energy use, green building practices, telework and commuter programs, green sources for product manufacturing materials, and obtaining governmental and other eco-labeling certifications. This field requires some training. You can become certified through college programs, with LEED certification, or companies like Go Eco Certified. Some niches of the green consulting industry like regulatory compliance and green building may require additional expertise. Find business by joining local business organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, marketing yourself as a green business expert in local newspapers and trade publications, and calling on local businesses and explaining how your services can save them money on energy expenditures in the long run.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2-4

Resources:

  • SBA Green Business Guide
  • SBA: Green Certification and Eco-Labeling
  • U.S. Green Building Council
  • Start Your Own Green Business by Entrepreneur Press and Rich Mintzer (Entrepreneur Press, 2009)

45. Drought-Tolerant Landscaping Consultant

If you have a green thumb, an eye for landscape design, and the strength (or contractors or employees) to remove lawns, this could be the business for you. In some areas of the United States, drought conditions are causing homeowners and businesses to rethink their green lawns. Drought-tolerant landscaping services (also called native landscaping) are in vogue as people try to reduce their water usage. You’ll consult with clients, looking at their current space and using your knowledge of native shrubs, herbs, flowers, succulents and bushes, as well as rocks and mulch, to redesign their outdoor space to be attractive and friendly to the environment. You may choose to partner with a local landscaping firm who will do the actual physical labor or work on the grounds yourself. These services cost about $3 per square foot, so depending on the size of the lawn, $2,000 to $10,000. Market your services with truck and lawn signage, flyers at local gardening centers, an online presence, and partnering with landscape companies that might not offer the design services.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2-3

Resources:

  • Lawn and Landscape Magazine
  • National Association of Landscape Professionals
  • Start Your Own Lawn Care or Landscaping Business by Entrepreneur Press and Ciree Linsenman

46. Expense Reduction Consultant

Calling all seasoned business managers, controllers, CFOs, operations managers, accountants, and administrators! You can greatly profit from your business experience and budgeting skills by starting an expense reduction consulting service aimed at all businesses, from small and local to multinational corporations. Expense reduction consultants provide clients with a multitude of services:

  • developing short- and long-term budgets,
  • analyzing fixed and variable overhead,
  • increasing employee productivity,
  • analyzing product and service costs,
  • and developing expense reduction strategies to meet each client’s specific needs.

The objective of the expense reduction exercise is to uncover costs associated with doing business that can be reduced or eliminated entirely while maintaining or increasing the overall efficiency, productivity, and profitability of the business. Many expense reduction consultants specialize in their field of expertise–manufacturing, food services, retail, or small business, for example. Expense reduction consultants generally save clients anywhere from two to 50 times their consulting fees.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $50+

Skill Level: 3

Resources:

  • Association of Management Consulting Firms
  • Institute of Management Consultants USA
  • Start Your Own Consulting Business by Entrepreneur Press and Eileen Figure Sandlin (Entrepreneur Press, 2014)

Image credit: Shutterstock

47. Medical Claims Billing

With the advent of the Affordable Health Care Act, more people than ever are insured. And that means the medical billing market is on the rise. It’s an extremely competitive industry, but for the determined entrepreneur, there is a good opportunity to earn $40,000 or more per year operating either a franchise or independent medical claims billing service. Doctors must bill insurance companies and Medicaid for all services performed, and the bills must be prepared to exacting standards with the proper codes for each item. While doctors can be great at treating patients, they may not be patient with submitting such paperwork electronically. You should obtain certification, which is available at a variety of colleges–try to find a community college for the best pricing. You will learn the diagnostic and procedure coding system used by doctors and health-care professionals on medical claim forms to indicate the type of service being billed, and the software used to bill. Medical billing services can charge clients a percent of the collections or $2 to $6 per claim processed. The overall profit potential for the service is good, providing you can process medical claims on a volume basis. There is a fairly steep learning curve for operating this service, and careful research and planning will be needed to ensure initial and continued success.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $15+

Skill Level: 2-3

Resources:

  • American Medical Billing Association
  • American Health Information Management Association
  • Start Your Own Medical Claims Billing Service by Entrepreneur Press and Charlene Davis (Entrepreneur Press, 2012)

48. Import/Export Specialist

Considering the many red-tape barriers and all the issues surrounding importing products into or exporting products out of the United States, it’s no wonder that so many businesses do not know how to get started and give up out of frustration. Of course, smart business owners who do not want to miss a single opportunity to grow their businesses and revenues don’t give up. Instead, they hire an import/export specialist to guide them through the complex issues of the import/export business–legal, transportation, warehousing, distribution, marketing, employment, environmental, political, and financial. Starting an import/export consulting business will require experience in the industry or the willingness to learn about the industry. One simple way to market your services is to develop and host a free informational seminar on importing and exporting, and use the event to sign up businesses and individuals who want to get started in import and export.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $50+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • American Association of Exporters and Importers
  • American Import Shippers Association
  • Federation of International Trade Associations
  • Small Business Exporters Association
  • The Training Registry
  • Start Your Own Import/Export Business by Entrepreneur Press and Krista Turner (Entrepreneur Press, 2014)

49. Customer Service Training

At some point we’ve all received bad service from a store, restaurant, office, or online business–and it’s probably happened a lot more than once. The end result of such an encounter is usually a vow never to return to the business, to tell friends your tale, and to even post a negative review online. Rude or poorly trained employees cost companies millions of dollars each year in lost business and referral sales. But companies that take proactive steps to ensure that all employees receive professional customer service and appreciation training have a leg up on the competition. You can earn a nice living by starting a consulting service that offers customer service and appreciation training programs specifically designed to meet your clients’ individual needs. The starting point is to choose a specialty, such as retail, food service, receptionists, and so forth. Training can be based on your own expertise, as well as on the input of other customer service professionals who help create the training curriculum and manuals.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $50+

Skill Level: 2-3

Resources:

  • International Customer Service Association
  • National Customer Service Association
  • The Training Registry
  • Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh (Grand Central Publishing, 2010)

50. Sales Trainer

Are you recognized as a top-producing sales professional who knows how to prospect for new business, win negotiations, and close the sale every time? If so, why not share your sales knowledge and experience and make huge profits in the process by training employees, managers, small business owners, and executives to also become top-producing sales professionals? If you don’t want to rock the boat and interrupt your current sales position, you don’t have to. You can train students online, via correspondence, with personal conference calls, and by way of evening and weekend workshops and seminars. This way, you can make the transition to full-time sales training as your business and client list grows. Target customers will include small business owners, salespeople, retail clerks, corporate managers and executives, students enrolled in business and marketing courses, professional service providers, volunteer fundraisers, and real estate professionals.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $50+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • Sales and Marketing Executives International
  • The Sales Management Association
  • Selling Power Magazine

51. Small Business Coach

In the United States, approximately 540,000 businesses are started each month. Combine this with the millions of small- to medium-sized businesses already operating, and the future looks very bright, and potentially profitable, for a small-business coaching service. This hot opportunity will appeal to entrepreneurs who are past or present small-business owners, business managers, or corporate executives, especially those with strong marketing, administration, operations, and financial forecasting skills. Because there is a plethora of small-business training schools and courses offered by nonprofit government agencies and for-profit businesses in both countries, you will be well advised to specialize in a specific industry, such as retail or manufacturing, and to offer clients a more personalized one-on-one training service as opposed to a classroom setting. Small business coaches help new and existing business owners with any number of tasks, including business planning, marketing strategies, financial budgets, logistics issues, technology issues, and expansion challenges

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2-3

Resources:

  • Entrepreneur.com
  • SCORE Association
  • The Training Registry
  • Start Your Own Consulting Business by Entrepreneur Press and Eileen Figure Sandlin (Entrepreneur Press, 2014)

52. Self-Publishing Consultant

Help people fulfill their dreams of becoming published writers by starting a self-publishing consulting business. Offer your clients numerous services by preparing their manuscript for publication. You can assist with both nonfiction and fiction books, including development editing (helping to structure the book), proofreading, editing, design, marketing, and distribution. Potential clients include people who want to write the next Great American Novel, as well as trainers wanting to write training guides; activists (political, environmental, or any other kind) raising awareness of a cause; corporations wanting to produce a book for customers telling the history of their business, products, services, and employees; and people with interesting life stories who have written memoirs. Advertise your services in online writing portals and magazines, join writing associations and groups to network for business, and build alliances with copywriters, book printers, editors, and illustrators to capitalize on word-of-mouth referrals.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • Alliance of Independent Authors
  • Association for Publishers of Special Sales
  • Editorial Freelancers Association
  • Start Your Own Self-Publishing Business by Entrepreneur Press and Cheryl Kimball (Entrepreneur Press, 2012)

53. Freelance Photography

There are three very good reasons why the internet has breathed new life into the freelance photography industry. First, cloud-based services make it very easy to share photos with clients, publishers, editors, copywriters, marketers, and designers all around the globe in a matter of moments. Second, billions of photographic images are needed to fill billions of web pages. Third, in addition to the internet, there are millions of print publications, media companies, retailers, marketers, organizations, government agencies, and others who need new photographs every day to add meaning to newspapers, newsletters, magazines, brochures, catalogs, and presentations. Needless to say, people with fantastic photographic skills have the opportunity to earn a great living taking and selling photographs. You can contract with publishers, post photos on stock image services where you are paid royalties, or specialize in event photography for individuals (weddings, family portraits) or organizations (award dinners, industry galas). You can charge by the hour or day, and arrange for royalties depending on the type of photography you pursue.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2-3

Resources:

  • Bureau of Freelance Photographers
  • National Press Photographers Association
  • Professional Photographers Association
  • Start Your Own Photography Business by Entrepreneur Press and Charlene Davis (Entrepreneur Press, 2012)

54. Video Production Business

In 2011, U.S. adults spent 21 minutes watching video on digital devices. That number is increasing to 76 minutes in 2015. YouTube is the third most popular site on the internet, and online video is officially a cultural phenomenon. Local businesses probably haven’t caught up with this trend. That’s where you and your video skills can come in. With just a few thousand dollars worth of equipment like a high-quality camera, lapel microphone, tripods, and a small camera dolly, you can provide high-end production for businesses looking to create promotional videos or record events like grand openings and conferences or for individuals who want to document a wedding. You can charge for editing as well, or find a partner with great video editing skills who can add video effects like animated titles and appropriate music. Videographers charge $50-100 per hour, depending on whether the setup is single or multiple camera, and $50 per hour for editing.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $50+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • Video University
  • Videomaker
  • Wedding and Event Videographers Association
  • Start Your Own Wedding Consultant Business by Entrepreneur Press and Eileen Figure Sandlin (Entrepreneur Press, 2011)
  • Start Your Own Event Planning Business by The Staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. and Cheryl Kimball (Entrepreneur Press, 2015)

55. Aerial Photography and Videography

Drones have revolutionized the aerial photography trade, which used to (and still does sometimes) depend on equipment like including telescopic aluminum masts that can be extended 100 feet in the air and helium-filled blimps that can reach heights of up to 1,000 feet. Drones can be purchased cheaply, they can be outfitted with still or video cameras and the quality of this technology is constantly improving.. Be aware of local and federal laws, as well as local business policies, before launching your drones. Potential clients include colleges, property developers, corporations, amusement parks, golf courses, outdoor-event organizers, resorts, mining and forestry sites, and sporting-event organizers–basically, any person or business that wants or needs aerial photograph or video of their building, event, or property. It takes a bit of learning to operate the equipment, and if you offer video, you’ll also want to provide editing services. Rates are excellent because this is a highly specialized niche service.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $50+

Skill Level: 2-3

Resources:

  • Professional Aerial Photographers Association
  • Start Your Own Photography Business by Entrepreneur Press and Charlene Davis (Entrepreneur Press, 2013)

Image credit: Shutterstock

56. Vacation Property Rental Agent

If you live in a busy tourist area, there is a good chance that you can start and flourish operating a vacation property rental agency. It is not uncommon for people to purchase vacation homes and condominiums in hopes of renting them for part or all of the year to help offset their costs. Unfortunately, rental income often fails to materialize because the property owners do not understand how much time and work is involved in renting the properties–marketing, booking, cleaning, repairs, and lots more. And most owners are usually hundreds–if not thousands– of miles away. As a result, many vacation properties sit vacant when not being used by the owners. This creates a terrific opportunity to handle rentals for the owners on a revenue-splitting basis. In addition to marketing and renting the properties, you will also be responsible for cleaning and light maintenance to ensure the properties stay in tiptop condition and get top dollar for rentals. Start small, representing one or two vacation property owners, and run the service from home. As the business grows, so too can your time commitment, until you find yourself operating a profitable, full-time, business.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $15+

Skill Level: 1

Resources:

  • American Vacation Rental Owners’ Association
  • Vacation Rental Managers Association
  • The Vacation Rental Owners Association

57. Apartment Preparation Service

By offering a full line of services that includes painting, carpet cleaning, minor repairs, and trash removal, you can help busy landlords and property managers properly prepare an apartment for rental, making sure it’s in great condition so they can rent it for top dollar. Advertise your apartment preparation services in traditional ways by joining landlord associations, contacting property management services, and calling on apartment rental offices. On average, you should be able to charge in the range of $25 to $35 per hour, plus materials and markup. The benefits to landlords are obvious: the better the condition of the apartment, the higher the rent will be, probably attracting a more conscientious renter. And of course, there will be much less work for the landlords. In short, landlords will easily recoup your fees and more through higher rents. You will need to invest in suitable transportation and equipment such as ladders, steam cleaners, and vacuums, but these are all relatively inexpensive and an investment of less than $10,000 will be more than sufficient.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • Association of Certified Handyman Professionals
  • National Apartment Association
  • National Association of Residential Property Managers
  • National Property Management Association
  • Small Property Owners Association

58. Pet Products Manufacturing

American’s spend more than $13 billion every year on products for their cherished pets, and this market is open for clever entrepreneurs who design, manufacture, and sell all sorts of products for pets. What types of pet products can you make? Anything from furniture and clothing to memorials and toys. The granddaddy of them all is healthy pet treats from your own homebased bakery. For the most part, no special skills are needed because with a little practice, all of these products are very easy to make working from a small home workspace with basic tools and equipment. Sell your pet products online via Etsy, eBay and your own website, and in the offline world at pet fairs, craft shows, and farmers’ markets, There is also great potential to build a wholesale arm of the business by contacting pet product boutiques, pet shop retailers, veterinarians, and groomers to carry your products or at least accept consignments to test the waters.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 1-2

Resources:

  • American Pet Association
  • American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
  • Start Your Own Pet Business and More by Entrepreneur Press and Eileen Sandlin (Entrepreneur Press, 2009)

59. Liquidated Inventory Sales

Savvy entrepreneurs can earn a bundle by buying liquidated inventory and government surplus equipment at dirt-cheap prices and reselling it at staggering markups. Retailers, distributors, and manufacturers liquidate inventory for any number of reasons–the products are slow moving, out-of-season, or damaged, or the company is relocating, merging, or going out of business. In fact, billions of dollars worth of inventory becomes available every year at fire sale prices. The best types of liquidated inventory to purchase are power and hand tools, films on Blu-ray, toys, kitchen and bath accessories, fashion accessories, and electronics. Stay clear of products that have limited shelf life or special warehousing and transportation requirements. Products can be resold for a profit through eBay and other online marketplaces, at weekend flea markets, and to dollar store retailers, flea market vendors, and eBay sellers. Purchasing government surplus and seized merchandise for pennies on the dollar of the original value and reselling to consumers at marked-up prices can also make you a great profit. Government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), U.S. Marshals Service, and the U.S. Treasury Department often sell off used and surplus equipment, as well as items seized for nonpayment or for criminal activity, through auction sales and sealed bid tenders. Items that are routinely auctioned by government agencies include computers, real estate, automobiles, machinery and tools, jewelry, furniture, electronics, and boats. Sell the larger items you buy from home using Craigslist and other classified ads and through eBay and the smaller items at weekend flea markets.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: Varies

Skill Level: 1

Resources:

  • Liquidation.com
  • Walmart Liquidations
  • Wholesale Forum

60. Vending Cart Business

Big bucks can be earned full- or part-time buying products such as T-shirts, crafts, art, jewelry, sunglasses, watches, souvenirs, umbrellas, and hats at dirt-cheap wholesale prices, and reselling them for a profit from portable vending carts. If you plan on selling from public lands and buildings, you will need to contact your local city or municipal government to inquire about street vending opportunities. On federally owned lands or buildings, contact the U.S. General Services Administration to inquire about opportunities. In addition to a vendor’s permit, you may also have to obtain liability insurance, a health permit, and fire permit depending on goods sold. Vending permits, however, usually are not required if you operate from a privately owned location such as lumberyard or car wash parking lot. Before you decide what type of product(s) to sell, do the rounds. What are other vendors selling? Who is the busiest? Which days are they busiest? Who are their customers? Duplicating a successful business model is one of the easiest ways to eliminate or substantially reduce financial risk. Vendors can work from portable kiosks and pushcarts or right from a suitcase depending on what they sell. Depending on your budget, you can rent, lease, or purchase new and used pushcarts and kiosks, which come in many styles and price points. Some are motorized or pedal-powered, while others can be towed behind vehicles or placed on a trailer for transportation. Also be sure to invest in wireless payment processing technology so you can accept credit cards and debit cards on site. This gives you a huge competitive advantage over vendors who do not offer these payment options, greatly increases impulse buying, and reduces the risk of theft because you have little cash on hand. Remember, vendors are never wallflowers. You must love what you do and what you sell and be extremely comfortable talking with people.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $25+

Skill Level: 1

Resources:

  • Specialty Retail Report
  • How to Start & Manage a Kiosks and Cart Business by Jerre G. Lewis and Leslie D. Renn (Lewis & Renn Associates, 2007)

61. 3D Printing Service

One of the most exciting new technologies in recent years is 3D printing. A 3D printer takes a 3D design and brings it to life, layer by layer. It allows inexpensive prototyping as well as creating manufactured goods one by one. Everything from jewelry and toys to technology gadgets (like tripods) and machine parts can be created with a 3D printer You can purchase a 3D printer for as low as a few hundred dollars up to thousands of dollars, so your investment will depend on the size of the objects you wish to print and the materials you wish to offer. The market is wide for such a new service. You could print creations for local jewelry and toy designers or focus on business customers, creating unique licensed trinkets. Machine shops could prototype new parts using your service. The sky is the limit. This is a relatively new business model, so be prepared to break new ground get deeply involved in the 3D printing world, learning about different printers, rendering software, materials and more.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: varies

Skill Level: 2-3

Resources:

  • 3DPrinting.com
  • 3ders.org

62. App Developer

Each month, the iTunes App Store adds 25,000 to 40,000 new apps. With 80 percent of U.S. adults owning a smartphone, it’s no wonder that so many app developers can find new ideas to build. You can get in on this booming market regardless of whether you can code. If you have a background in web or software development, you should easily be able to pick up on the nuances of coding an app for Android or Apple iOS devices through books and online learning. If not, you can outsource the work, either online or to local developers in your area. App developers make money either by selling the app for a basic price, as a “freemium” which is free but has additional features a user can purchase, or for free but supported by advertising. What is important is the strength of your app idea and your marketing program. With so many new apps, it may get lost in the crowd. It’s key to have a marketing plan and marketing budget in place once you’ve developed your apps. You want to find a niche, optimize your products for the iTunes and Google Play Stores, and create a social media and public relations campaign to get people talking.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: varies

Skill Level: 1-4

Resources:

  • ACT: The App Association
  • Application Developers Alliance
  • How to Build a Billion Dollar App by George Berkowski (Little Brown Book Company, 2015)
  • The Mobile App Masterplan by Mark Weston (Amazon, 2014)

Image credit: Shutterstock

63. Marketing Consultant

Let’s face it: Without marketing, businesses cannot survive, so it is no surprise that topnotch marketing consultants are in high demand. If you are an experienced marketer, the time has never been better to put that experience to work leading other businesspeople down the path to marketing success. Marketing consultants offer a wide range of services, including developing marketing plans, establishing marketing budgets, hiring and training salespeople, and developing advertising, telemarketing, and direct marketing programs to meet each client’s needs and budget. Marketing consultants also help businesses expand into new markets and even new countries, as well as build new distribution channels and profit centers. In short, marketing consultants are the jacks-of-all-trades in terms of helping clients build their businesses, revenues, and profits. Market your services through networking activities, and by setting appointments with business owners and managers to explain how your services will benefit and ultimately profit their business.

At a Glance

Investment: Under $10K

Rate: $50+

Skill Level: 2

Resources:

  • American Marketing Association
  • The Direct Marketing Association
  • Mobile Marketing Association
  • Start Your Own Consulting Business by Eilieen Figure Sandlin (Entrepreneur Press, 2014)
  • The Marketing Plan Handbook by Robert Bly (Entrepreneur Press, 2015)
26
Nov

How to Start a Lawn Care or Landscaping Business

How to Start a Lawn Care or Landscaping Business

How to Start a Lawn Care or Landscaping Business

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When you think back to the long, lazy summers of your youth, chances are some time was spent trudging along behind a lawn mower, pushing with all your might and sweating profusely, just so you could make a few bucks to buy some baseball cards or a really cool bike. You may have occasionally mowed down a few pansies or zebra-striped a lawn, but you sure were proud when the homeowner came to the door, surveyed your handiwork, and forked over the agreed-upon fee.

Mowing lawns or landscaping residential or commercial properties for a living will give you that same sense of pride-while earning you some pretty serious cash.

The Pros
There are many advantages to running a homebased lawn care or landscaping service. You’re master of your own destiny, and you can devote as much or as little time to the business as you want. You have a short commute to work if you’re based in your own community. You can work at your own pace and at virtually any time during regular daylight hours. You also can enjoy the fresh air, get a good cardiovascular workout, and bulk up your muscles.

The price of all this freedom and body contouring is relatively low-so low, in fact, that many new lawn service owners and landscapers use their personal credit cards or small personal loans to fund their new businesses. Once you invest in the tools and toys you need to manicure lawns or install landscaping professionally, you’re generally set for years. You don’t need much in the way of office equipment, either, and you can set your office up in a corner of the den or a spare bedroom rather than laying out extra cash for a commercial space.

Reality Check
This all sounds pretty appealing, doesn’t it? But of course, every Garden of Eden has a serpent, and lawn care and landscaping businesses have quite a few of their own coiled up and waiting to strike. To begin, you have to be a lot more adept at mowing, trimming and pruning than the average person. That means you’ll have to invest some time in learning gardening basics and techniques. You’ll have to be a disciplined self-starter who can ignore the call of a glorious spring day and diligently service your clients rather than heading for the lake or golf course. You have to be physically fit and able to handle the rigors of the job, which can include lifting heavy equipment off and onto trailers, and wielding bulky handheld implements for hours at a time. You’ll be handling potentially dangerous machinery and hazardous chemicals. And you’ll have to be a very savvy business manager who can administer cash flow, invent advertising and marketing campaigns, and implement a survival plan that will take you through the lean winter months.

Industry Snapshot
According to the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET), an international association serving lawn care professionals, exterior maintenance contractors, installation/design/building professionals, and interiorscapers, there are an estimated 10,000 individual lawn care service providers and approximately 12,000 landscapers in the United States. These run the gamut from independent operations to franchises and divisions of large corporate chains. It’s believed that the number of businesses could actually be significantly higher because there are so many people doing lawn and landscape maintenance informally and on a cash basis. What is known for sure, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-2007 (U.S. Department of Labor), is that almost 1 out of every 4 landscaping, groundskeeping, nursery, greenhouse and lawn service workers is self-employed and provides maintenance services directly to customers on a contract basis. Of these, about 1 out of every 6 works part time.

The market they serve is huge. A 2005 survey by Irrigation and Green Industry magazine concluded that the U.S. green industry, which includes lawn and landscape maintenance, landscape contractors, landscape architects, irrigation contractors, and lawn and landscape product suppliers, generates $67 billion to $69 billion annually. Additionally, PLANET estimates that the landscaping services sector alone generates 704,000 jobs and $35.6 million in value-added services annually.

Who Are the Customers?
Who’s driving this industry? The 77 million aging baby boomers, many of whom are affluent homeowners. They recognize the value of a well-kept lawn and beautifully designed and landscaped yard, but they often don’t have the time or the inclination to do the maintenance themselves.

Of course, baby boomers aren’t the only ones whose fingers do the walking online or through the phone book to find a reputable lawn or landscape professional. Other potential customers include:

Landscaping:

  • Homeowners who don’t have the vision, skill or tools to design their own landscaping
  • New homeowners who wish to update the existing landscaping
  • Homeowners who plan to put their home on the market and want to improve its curb appeal with fresh or updated landscaping
  • Builders of both residential and commercial properties who don’t already have their own landscaper on staff

Lawn maintenance:

  • Homeowners who are frequently out of town on business
  • Retirees who don’t care to do their own maintenance any longer
  • “Snowbirds” with winter homes in warmer climates
  • Golf course managers who may need help with maintenance
  • Rental property or condominium association managers who are personnel-impaired
  • Facilities managers for botanical gardens, historic buildings, municipalities and other government entities, universities, cemeteries and other public places with green spaces

Types of Green Industry Service Businesses
There are numerous ways to get into the lawn and landscaping industry. The basic types of lawn and landscaping businesses include:

  • Lawn mowing/maintenance
  • Sod installation/hydroseeding
  • Weeding or fertilizer and/or pest control application
  • Landscape care/maintenance services
  • Landscape design/contracting services
  • Landscape architecture services

Earnings
Exactly how much can you earn? The sky’s truly the limit. The lawn care and landscaping business owners we interviewed for this book earned anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 in their first year, and as much as $160,000 to $250,000 once they were in business a few years. They offer services ranging from basic mowing and trimming to landscape design, installation and maintenance, and chemical application
Lawn & Landscape magazine’s 2005 State of the Industry Report offers additional insight into how much a lawn and landscaping company owner can earn. In a survey of Lawn & Landscape readers who own companies of all sizes, the average salary of the owner/president whose company revenues were less than $200,000 during 2005 was $31,273. Owners/presidents in companies with revenues above $200,000 earned $68,859 on average.

The Basics of the Lawn-Care Biz

As you know, lawn maintenance is a seasonal business, with downtime during the winter in about two-thirds of the country. Depending on your area and climate, the prime growing months run from about April to early October. You’ll need to market your services aggressively in the spring so you’ll have enough clients to carry you through the summer. Then, in the fall, you should be winterizing lawns, raking leaves and collecting past-due accounts. Still have energy left to spare? Then during the winter, you can offer services like snow plowing. If you decide to take a well-deserved break instead, you’ll have to make sure in advance that you’ve budgeted wisely throughout the year and have sufficient funds to carry you through those income-free months.

The typical startup lawn care business services 20 to 30 residential clients a week and offers up to three types of services: mowing, fertilizing and chemical application. For the purpose of the lawn care part of this book, we’ll focus on mowing and fertilizing, since chemical applications (herbicides, pesticides and fungicides) are a whole industry unto themselves. It’s also a closely regulated industry that requires practitioners to earn certifications that permit them to handle these hazardous compounds.

Most lawn care service owners prefer to start out with basic mowing and add other services as they become more experienced and acquire more equipment.

Grass Attack
Basic lawn maintenance consists of mowing, edging and trimming. Often, bush and hedge trimming is offered as an extra service, but it’s more time-consuming and requires more manual dexterity than mowing. Lawn businesses sometimes send out two people to a job site so one person can do the mowing while the other edges and trims the areas the mower can’t reach. But if you’re a one-man (or one-woman) band, you’ll just have to allot extra time on each site to complete both jobs. Fortunately, not all lawns have to be edged every time you mow. Sometimes only minor touch-ups are necessary, which you can do using a hand edger.

It’s crucial to the survival of your business to keep all your equipment in peak working condition. That means cleaning the mower blades at the end of each day and using a grinding wheel regularly to keep them sharp. You should also use a balancing weight to prolong engine life and to help prevent white finger, a form of Raynaud’s disease caused by exposure to constant vibration from equipment like lawn mowers. Clean oil and air filters regularly to keep engine wear to a minimum and improve performance. The oil should also be changed often-as often as once a week, since the high heat of the mower causes lubricants to break down fast.

It goes without saying that you should take every precaution possible to protect yourself while working. Always wear safety goggles and ear protection, and always remember to let your mower cool down completely before you gas it up. Because the cutting blade can rotate at up to 200 miles per hour, never put your hand into the discharge chute or turn the mower over while the blade is spinning. In addition to the obvious injuries it can inflict, that razor-sharp blade can catapult projectiles like rocks, metal or even compacted grass that can do a body some serious damage.

Guesstimating Your Worth
Another important part of the job is providing estimates to prospective clients. Unfortunately, this is an inexact science, at best. Most of the owners we spoke with “guesstimate” how much time it will take them to mow a homeowner’s property, then multiply that by a price per hour. The problem with this method is that land features like slopes and ornamental landscaping can affect the time. For example, let’s say it will take you 70 minutes to mow a 10,000-square-foot property using a 22-inch mower. But toss in a backyard that’s landscaped with driftwood and rocks and has a raised vegetable garden, and your estimate is no longer quite as accurate.

Experts recommend pricing based on lawn size. It’s less arbitrary to set up a pricing structure this way, plus you’ll seem more professional to your prospects if you have an established, formal price structure. You can compensate for unusual land features by building an extra amount-say, 10 percent-into your price.

Establishing Prices
Before you can make an estimate, you have to know how much to charge per square foot. Since the lawn care industry is so competitive, it’s important not to overprice your services. The professional organizations and publications that serve the lawn care industry may be able to help, because many of them conduct annual member studies. In particular, you may find Lawn & Landscape magazine’s State of the Industry Report, which appears in its October issue, to be particularly enlightening.

But you can also figure out how much the market will bear by calculating the size of your own lot and calling a few of the lawn care companies in the Yellow Pages for an estimate. (Typically, owners of lawn care services calculate their prices based on the total square footage of the lot. They can usually estimate roughly how much of a lot is landscaping.) Then recruit a few family members and friends to call for quotes on their lawns, too, so you can get a feel for prices on lots of different sizes. This will help you determine the acceptable price range in your community, and then it’s easy to figure out where to price your services. This method works especially well if you’re doing business in a community with uniformly platted subdivisions or other similarly sized lots.

Incidentally, while you don’t want to be the most expensive service in town, you don’t have to undercut the competition to get jobs, either. Pricing your services somewhere in the middle or toward the top of the range is a good rule of thumb. Then it’s up to you to demonstrate that your professionalism, quality service and reliability set you apart from the competition and justify a higher price than the cheapest kid on the block.

The owners interviewed for this book charge anywhere from $20 to $85 per cut. Others charge a flat rate like $100 per month or $40 per hour. All of them base their estimates on a visual inspection of the property, and some measured the mowing area as described above.

Weathering the Storm(s)
Then there are weather issues to contend with. Even in the sunniest of climes, you are likely to have days when you can’t mow or plant or prune-like when the winds reach hurricane speed or you notice your neighbor is building an ark. There’s not much you can do when grass and landscaping are wet-except maybe catch up on paperwork, lust over equipment catalogs and read e-mail. That’s why many green industry service providers choose to work a five-day workweek, leaving Saturdays (and Sundays, if necessary) unscheduled just in case the weather wreaks havoc with their work plans. Alternatively, you can work longer hours on a regular maintenance day to catch up-chances are people won’t even blink if you’re out merrily mowing or trimming as the sun is setting because it means they don’t have to.

There’s one more weather phenomenon you may actually welcome, at least in the northern tier of the country. Snow plowing can be a very lucrative mainstay for or sideline to add to your lawn or landscaping business. It doesn’t cost much to launch a snow removal service-basically you need only a snow blade for your mower or truck and some extra advertising efforts. (Food for thought: Michigan landscaper Michael Collins, who runs Celtic Lawn & Landscape with Karen Deighton, reports that he gets 70 percent of his snow plowing business through his website.) Best of all, offering such a service means you’ll have a regular income stream even during the slowest part of the year.

You also could get creative like Albert Towns Jr., a Detroit lawn care service provider who supplements his wintertime income both by putting up Christmas lights and by shoveling sidewalks for a number of elderly people. Then, in the spring, he does in-ground sprinkler system work to get his revenue stream off to a good start.

The Basics of Landscaping

Landscapers come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds, but they all share one thing in common: a genuine love of the outdoors and growing things. It’s what drives them to spend most of every day on the job covered in dirt. It induces them to learn the Latin names of plants, shrubs and trees-on purpose. And it makes them gleefully haul around 45-gallon containers (and the redwoods sprouting from them) like it’s child’s play rather than actual work. Sound like fun? Then you’ve come to the right place.

There are numerous ways you can forge a business in either residential or commercial landscaping-or both. Some of the fields require more than just a love of gardening to succeed-they also require experience and formal education. The major career paths for landscapers include:

Gardener/groundskeeper: This type of green industry professional is usually in charge of keeping up appearances-he or she may care for plants and other greenery, and may perform that work in a garden, greenhouse or work shed. What sets gardeners and groundskeepers apart from other landscape professionals is that they normally don’t do any design work; rather, they tend existing landscapes, although they may render other services like applying pesticides and herbicides, mowing lawns, doing spring and fall cleanups, composting, etc. They need a good working knowledge of horticulture and plant varieties.

Interiorscaper (aka interior landscaper): You can build an entire business caring for plants in office buildings, shopping malls and other public places. Interior landscapers are usually contractors who provide general maintenance and care, as well as give advice about the types of plants and planters that will complement a building’s interior design the best. Interiorscapers often give advice about plant selection, supervise and/or set up or tear down holiday decorations, and offer other services that are loosely related to interior design. While you don’t need a design background to be successful, it helps if you have an eye for color, shape, texture and form and can translate that into green focal points that will complement beautifully arranged interiors.

Landscaper: In the most general sense, this is the type of person who installs and maintains plants, flowers, trees, sod, and other natural materials like rocks and mulch. Lawn care often is part of the landscape maintenance professional’s menu of services, plus he or she may also offer basic design services (a good eye and an equally good design software package make it possible). Finally, landscapers may offer add-on services, such as sprinkler installation or hardscape construction, to stay busy. We’ll discuss the numerous ways you can pump up your business a little later. Most states require landscapers to be licensed. Check with your state’s department of licensing, labor or contracting board to find out the requirements.

Landscape architect/designer: Planning verdant spaces is the job of the landscape architect (aka landscape designer). Landscape architects often work side by side with building architects, surveyors and engineers to design and plan projects like new subdivisions, public parks, college campuses, shopping centers, golf courses and industrial parks, and then produce detailed drawings to pull the projects together. They may specialize in a certain type of project, such as waterfront development, site construction, or environmental remediation (e.g., preserving wetlands). Landscape architects also play an important role in historic landscape preservation and restoration.

Obviously, this is the most technically oriented of the landscape businesses mentioned here, and a bachelor’s or master’s degree in landscape architecture is usually required to enter the field. And as you may expect, licensed landscape architects charge the highest fees, which is why in May 2004 the middle 50 percent of landscape architects earned between $40,930 and $70,400, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-2007 edition. The highest 10 percent earned more than $90,850.

Of course, there are many other plant-related businesses that might be of interest to landscapers, including silviculturist (someone who specializes in the care of trees, especially relating to forests), horticulturist (a person who investigates better ways to grow, harvest and store fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants), and turf specialist (someone who cares for turf and sod). You can find an extensive list of horticulture and landscape design-related businesses on the Vocational Information Guide website at www.khake.com/page21.html.

General Business Operations
While you have many choices when customizing your new landscaping business, there are certain tasks that you’ll need to do no matter which services you choose to offer. They include the following.

Estimating Jobs
Whether you’re providing a simple service like pruning bushes or you’re installing an elaborate three-level deck, people will want to know upfront how much a job will cost. As a result, it’s imperative to develop good estimating skills right from the start. The trouble is, estimating is a science, and it’s easy to make a misstep that could cost you plenty in terms of time and resources.

There are a number of software packages (like CLIP and LandPro) developed specifically for landscapers that you can use to help you make good estimates. We’ve also listed the names of a few books in the Appendix that you might find helpful. In the meantime, here is a general overview of how to go about making an educated guess.

Your mission here is to determine what your costs will be and then add in a profit. Your costs will include everything from materials (plants, mulch, topsoil, etc., which you have marked up from your wholesale or retail price) to labor (both your own employees and subcontractors), equipment (yours and any you rent), and your general business overhead (anything you plan to claim as the cost of doing business, such as home office expenses, gasoline, etc.).

Your estimate should outline the exact services you’re offering, the materials you’ll provide and anything else pertinent to the job. And by the way, your estimate should be provided free of charge, as that’s the standard in the landscaping industry.

Setting Prices
Of course, before you can give an estimate, you have to come up with a price you can use as a baseline. Landscaping professionals recommend coming up with an hourly rate, both for yourself and your employees. But you won’t be sharing that rate with your customers-it’s for your eyes only, so you can figure out how much to charge for a job.

There are many ways to determine your rate. First, you can compare your prices to those of your competition. Enlist the help of friends and family to help you contact companies in your target market area that offer services similar to what you plan to offer. If you’re doing business in an area that has a lot of subdivisions with similar-size homes and lots, the process will be relatively easy.

Another good way to determine your rate is to figure out how much it would cost you to, say, install sod (materials plus labor), and then divide that amount by the number of hours it would take you to complete the job. Add a profit margin, and you’ll have a number you can use.

Finally, you can figure your rate based on how much money you’d like to make in a given year. For example, if your goal is to make $40,000 during your first year in business, you need to earn approximately $3,334 per month ($40,000 divided by 12). If you want to work 35 hours a week, a four-week month would be 140 hours a month. Divide $3,334 by 140 to arrive at a rate of $23.81 per hour. You can mark that cost up (or at least round it up), then add in your profit margin. Naturally, your cost of doing business, which includes materials, tool costs and office administration costs, would be billed to customers in addition to this hourly rate.

Of course, in the end it doesn’t matter how you arrive at your rate as long as you make enough money to meet your monthly obligations. So when you figure out your rate, think about how much you need to pay the business bills and cover your personal expenses (including the mortgage, health insurance and other household bills). When you can pay all the bills and still have some cash left over to funnel back into the business or salt away in a business account, then you’ve priced your services appropriately.

A Day in the Life
While your reason for entering the landscaping field may be to get your hands dirty as you beautify America one home at a time, you’ll have a lot of other duties you also must attend to as the owner of a newly minted small business. Some of the office tasks you’ll handle during a typical workday include:

Office administration: Besides answering the phone and e-mail, you’ll have mail to open and bills to send out and pay. If you decide to accept credit cards, you’ll also have to process those credit cards through your merchant account. (You’ll find information about merchant accounts in a later chapter.) It can take a substantial amount of time to do the books, says Livonia, Michigan, landscape business co-owner Karen Deighton. She spends about three hours a week keeping up with the financial side of the business-and she holds a degree in mathematics. If you’re numerically challenged, you might want to hire an accountant.

Customer service: Tasks include fielding requests for estimates and scheduling appointments, both for estimates and actual jobs.

Purchasing: You’ll need to buy supplies for the business, including office supplies, tools needed for the job, and chemicals like fertilizer.

Personnel management: Once you find you need employees, you’ll have to spend time interviewing candidates, overseeing employees’ work, making up work schedules, and refereeing when conflict arises.

Weather Woes
You know the old expression, “Into every life a little rain must fall.” But when it comes to running a landscaping business, a little rain, a blizzard in April or an El Nino that stirs up a freak tornado can seriously hamper your business operations and put you behind schedule. Naturally, all you can do is wait out inclement weather and catch up on office administration tasks like billing and cold calling. On days when you find yourself gazing out a rain- or snow-spattered window instead of wielding a spade, devise a new schedule so you can catch up on the missed work as soon as possible. Never disappoint a customer-put in longer hours (as long as the light holds out) or work on weekends so you meet the demands of every job and the expectations of every customer in a timely manner. You could also make it a habit to overestimate the amount of time your jobs may take so you always have a little breathing room.

Incidentally, weather can impact your business in one more way. “Sometimes I have to tell customers when it’s time to do certain jobs,” says Collins of Celtic Lawn & Landscape. “For example, last fall I had a lot of customers who wanted their leaves raked. One kept putting off the job, so I encouraged him to do it sooner rather than later, because if I had waited until he wanted me to come out, there would have been 3 inches of snow on the ground.”

Although many landscapers in northern climes choose to confine their business activities to the annual growing season and take a winter break, it is possible to run the business year-round by offering snow removal services. All it takes is a snow blade for your riding mower or truck and you’ll be in business. Be sure to mention your snow removal services in all your promotional materials and on your website. It’s also a good idea to do an extra mailing to your existing customers or to print fliers to remind people that you’re just a phone call away.

Finding qualified help can be a real challenge. While mowing or planting doesn’t necessarily take a great deal of technical skill, it is hard work, and it’s work that’s often done under uncomfortably warm conditions. It also takes a fair amount of physical stamina and the ability to handle power tools deftly without amputating useful body parts. So what on earth would make someone take on such a demanding job when he or she could sell designer shoes at the mall or call out mystery game numbers at the bowling alley?

M-O-N-E-Y, that’s what. Which is why you’ll have to do better than minimum wage if you want to attract qualified workers.

“Don’t fall off your chair, but part of my success in hiring employees has come from paying way past the industry standard,” says Nathan Bowers, owner of Premier Lawn Services in Sykesville, Maryland. “I pay laborers $11 to $14 an hour and my foreman $17 an hour. That may seem like a lot, but I’ve kept my employees [a long time]. That’s pretty much unheard of in this business.”

In case you did fall off your chair, remember that the trade-off for shelling out the big bucks is that, like Bowers, you won’t have to spend a lot of time advertising, interviewing and hiring. But you don’t necessarily have to pay that much to get the same excellent results. The Occupational Outlook Handbook 2006-07 (U.S. Department of Labor) reports that the median hourly wage for landscaping and groundskeeping laborers was $9.82, which you could round up to $10 or down to $9.50. If that’s a little too high for your startup budget, you could instead offer at least $2 above minimum wage since it’s hard to find unskilled jobs that pay that well.

However, according to industry experts and other business owners we spoke to, $10 an hour is about the going hourly rate for employees, which, compared to the current minimum wage, looks pretty darned good. Some owners, like Steve Mager, a lawn care business owner in Minnesota who also does chemical applications, have a sliding wage scale. Steve’s base wage is $10, but he pays more-around $15 an hour-to workers with certain qualifications, such as those with a spotless driving record or a pesticide certification.

When you establish your base wage, keep in mind that in service industries like lawn care, it’s not unusual for workers to change jobs to nab as little as a 25-cent-per-hour pay increase. So it’s a good idea to ask around to see what other service providers are paying in your area and set your base pay rate accordingly.

“The truth is, both the lawn and landscape industries are starved for employees,” says Tom Delaney, director of government affairs with PLANET, a Herndon, Virginia, association serving lawn care professionals, exterior maintenance contractors, installation/design/build professionals, and interiorscapers. “But the good news is, a mowing business needs fewer employees than other green businesses like landscaping. So your chances of finding enough people are not that bad.”

26
Nov

3 Evergreen Business Ideas That Are Trending In 2016

3 Evergreen Business Ideas That Are Trending In 2016

3 Evergreen Business Ideas That Are Trending In 2016

Image credit: Shutterstock

Venturing into an entrepreneurial dream is a part of every individual’s futuristic plan. Becoming your own boss and having an establishment is not an easy task, but one of the finest feeling that no job can bestow.

All one does need is good business acumen, a farsighted approach and an avenue that suits best to the current demand to step into.

Becoming an entrepreneur requires a great amount of zeal and confidence in the business idea and oneself. This year much has been spoken about the innovative industry options that any individual can explore irrespective of educational background.

Presently the textile and wedding industries are one such avenue that has the greatest potential and are waiting to be tapped. The options one can explore are endless.

Three evergreen business ideas that are trending this 2016 are:

Fashion Styling and Textile Designing: 

The world of fashion is brimming with new ideas and concepts to bring to the ramp each season, all a designer really looks out for is taking up the market by a storm when he/she presents designs and patterns like never before.

A person with a creative mind will be ideal to conceptualize printing fabric that can enthrall hearts and even design their own garment to start a fresh brand. It does take the load off when one can create their own styles, print their own patterns and showcase it to the world rather than outsourcing or picking up cloth that is not exclusive.

Wedding Card And Album Designing:

The wedding business is one such business that can never get outdated or fall into recession, especially in a country like India, where weddings are nothing less of a Bollywood movie and embraces numerous opportunity.

The innovative wedding card industry that takes charge of creating masterpieces that spell sheer elegance and are the first steps to a gala wedding season are the newest business avenues one can explore. In addition to cards and greetings, one also has the potential to print wedding albums and showcase their talent through designing.

Like last year, it was all about buying a DSLR camera and turning a hobby into a full-fledged business, designing and coming up with fresher ideas for the entire wedding album sector is a brand new production opening.

Sports Jersey And Memorabilia:

The sports industry is coming up in a big way as well and what was once considered as a rage in foreign countries is making a sensation here in India too. So be it for sports jerseys or cups, from plates to mugs, trophies to medals, the market is all out with worshipping the sport they support and cheer for.

How often do we see fans at a cricket or hockey match sporting a team shirt, well they all need to buy it from a source that is tapping the opportunity. Even with the popularity the entire sector is gaining, there are not many entrepreneurs in the market and a brand can easily take up a monopoly.

26
Nov

3 Steps to Transform Your Business Idea Into a Prototype

3 Steps to Transform Your Business Idea Into a Prototype

3 Steps to Transform Your Business Idea Into a Prototype

Image credit: bloco on flickr

One of the most frequent questions we hear from entrepreneurs is about the design cycle and how long it will take to develop an idea into a real product. Of course that answer totally depends on the complexity of the product, but by breaking the process down, there are solid ways of estimating what will happen and when.

The cycle consists of three big loops — design, engineering and production. The goal is to move gracefully from loop to loop, but you often need to run a loop more than once to get it right. Generally speaking, it’s hard to develop a new product in less than six months. Nine to fifteen months is common, and many products take a lot longer.

Let’s make this concrete by using two hypothetical product examples: a cup holder that clips onto your bike and a pet food monitor that sends information about how much your pet is eating to your smartphone.

1. Design loop
Entrepreneurs most often come to us having already spent a lot of time thinking about their product and what they want it to do. This sometimes lets us bypass the beginning of the design loop, which involves product concept generation or user research to identify product opportunities. Instead, our first task is to build upon the vision to come up with a form, functionality and a way of making the product.

We refine the idea through an iterative process of creative thinking, sketching and building 3D models on a computer. Photorealistic renderings and prototypes help zero-in on the look and feel. Ideally these product directions are tested in focus groups or using user research. If that isn’t feasible, they are tested by the entrepreneur in more informal settings.

If the product has a lot of inner mechanical or electrical components, we also spend time figuring those out. Does it need a screen? Buttons? A motor and gears? A way to weigh the pet food? A Bluetooth connection? Those parts get pulled into the design process so the final forms that are produced can practically fit both the user interface and the guts.

For a cup holder, this process could take two to four weeks. For a smart pet feeder, it could take four to six weeks.

2. Engineering loop
Engineers work with industrial designers throughout the design phase, helping behind the scenes and suggesting solutions for constraints. When the engineering phase starts, they hit the ground running, taking the design direction and turning it into parts that can be manufactured. If there are similar products we can get our hands on, we tear them apart to benchmark them. In our office, you better hold on to your stuff, or you may find it in our lab in a hundred pieces.

Products with electronics, like the smart pet feeder, need additional work in terms of component selection, laying out circuit boards, and tackling the software. Electrical engineers work side-by-side with the mechanical engineers, integrating the two sides of the project as we go, making sure everything will work together. Software components tend to be the biggest wild cards: making them work well is time-consuming, and it is hard to resist adding features.

The engineering loop is about creating something that works, but also about making it the best it can be. We try to make the product light, sustainable, or cost-effective depending on the clients’ priorities. If you don’t anticipate high quantities, you might want to minimize tooling. If you anticipate making a lot, the cost of parts is more important to keep low.

At the end of this loop, we build alpha prototypes that look and work like the product, but are not ready to be mass-produced. We test the alpha, go back and improve things, and then make a refined beta prototype, which is the last one before you move onto production. These prototypes are a chance to further debug the design, function and user acceptance of the product.

For a cup holder, this process could take four to six weeks. For a smart pet feeder, it could take eight to 12 weeks.

3. Production loop
Sit tight. Entrepreneurs are often surprised by the length of this process. Finding vendors, documenting the design, waiting for tools, debugging the parts, and any required regulatory compliance always takes longer than you would like, but it is the final big loop and often what separates a good idea from a great product.

For a cup holder, this process could take six to 12 weeks. For a smart pet feeder, it could take four to six months.

With each phase you are locking things in and investing more time and money. Your vision will evolve either subtly or radically as you go along. Like a rollercoaster, each loop prompts its own thrills (and terrors), but you won’t end up in the same place you started. This is a good thing. Trust the process.

26
Nov

Turn Design-on-Demand Into Profits

Turn Design-on-Demand Into Profits

These startups are proof positive that there’s money in customized products.

Three years ago, twenty-somethings Peter Crawfurd and Michael Yang were would-be web entrepreneurs in search of a business idea.

Their top criteria: something they could start with limited funds, and something with big potential to scale.

Avid consumers of tailored dress shirts, they decided to capitalize on their knowledge of custom-made clothing and offer men a more convenient, affordable, hands-on alternative to visiting their neighborhood tailor. The result was Hong Kong based e-retail company ShirtsMyWay, which launched in February 2009 and boasts more than 7 trillion possible designs for men’s dress shirts.

Meet one of the hottest startup trends–mass customization.

The internet is now host to countless companies selling custom-designed furniture, throw pillows, rugs, eyeglasses, T-shirts, shoes, handbags, computers, skateboards–you name it.

Technology has obviously made reaching customers from the far corners of the globe possible. But how do mass customization companies make selling one-off products profitable?

Balancing Customer Choice With Production Capacity
From a revenue standpoint, offering customers a seemingly infinite number of choices may seem counterintuitive. But those in the mass customization trenches say that in some ways, it’s a more efficient way to run a retail business.

“With traditional, non-personalized goods, you have to produce thousands in the factory and then sell them all,” Crawfurd says. “What we do is on-demand production. We don’t need to go out and buy thousands of meters of fabric. There’s very little waste.”

The trick is finding that sweet spot between offering your customers enough options to keep them satisfied and not overwhelming your production system, says Dan Olszewski, director of the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship at the Wisconsin School of Business.

“From the customer standpoint, you want it to look like you have millions of unique products, even though you may only have a few different degrees of change for each,” Olszewski says.

ShirtsMyWay offers just 25 fabric choices. But factor in sleeve length, collar type, cuff type, pocket shape, stitching options, monograms and the like, and the design possibilities seem infinite.

For decade-old web retailer Smart Furniture, based in Chattanooga, Tenn., mass-producing the individual components of the custom shelves, entertainment centers and other furniture the company sells is key.

“We can adapt to unique customer needs as they change,” says founder and chairman Stephen Culp. “It’s like Legos for adults.”

Still, you don’t want to throw your customer into option overload, says Jennifer Velarde, founder and president of Chicago-based custom handbag retailer 1154 LILL Studio, which also got its start 10 years ago.

“You want to simplify your model, but you want to be unique,” says Velarde, whose company trots out five to ten new handbag templates a year, with fabric and other customization options changing each season.

Selling the ‘Design Your Own’ Experience
Selling one-of-a-kind products is only half the equation. The other half is selling customers a creative experience that lets them fiddle with colors, patterns, textures, shapes and sizes online to see exactly what their masterpiece looks like before clicking the ‘buy’ button.

“Our best customers are there because they love playing with fabrics,” Velarde says. “It’s about finding a concept that people are excited not just to purchase but to talk about with their friends.”

For this reason, having a superhero-strength website with user-friendly navigation is crucial. Ditto for top-notch quality control that ensures the right order ships to each customer.

“We take a lot of complexities on the back end and we make it very simple for the consumer,” says Culp.

Culp likens his business model to a three-legged stool, equally reliant on design, technology and customer service.

He takes answering customer questions so seriously that the half-dozen customer service agents he employs have design backgrounds.

“You’re not going to call us and feel like you’re dealing with incompetence,” he says.

That’s not to say customer service has to be a huge financial hit.

As Olszewski points out, “The customer is investing time in creating the order that you would have otherwise had to do on your end. That’s another cost savings.”

Growing Slowly, Keeping Costs Down
Slow, organic growth has been essential for these three custom retailers.

“We started with one product line with a business model that can be a blockbuster and made sure we understood the ins and outs of it to the nth degree,” Culp says of his Smart Shelves brand, which today accounts for 20 percent of his business.

Rather than follow up his freshman effort with another original product line, seven years into the business Culp began recruiting high-end furniture makers like Herman Miller and Steelcase to sell custom versions of their products on his site. Today Smart Furniture features nine such brands.

Velarde didn’t start her business online, but at a street fair. From there, she moved to a storefront (today she has three) and hired sales reps to take handbags and fabric swatches to private parties in people’s homes (she now has about 60 reps in 40 U.S. cities). It wasn’t until her sixth year in business that she added a robust customization feature to her website, which today accounts for 20 percent of 1154 LILL Studio’s business.

But Velarde wouldn’t have done it any other way.

“The party model has definitely been a huge part of our growth,” she says. And all that customer face time yields a goldmine of product feedback you can’t always get online.

As for Crawfurd and Yang, although their profits have grown exponentially since hanging their shirt-making shingle and they’d like to launch other product lines eventually, they’re not in any immediate rush.

“We want to focus on doing one thing very well,” says Crawfurd.

“It’s so tempting to add a few more variations,” Culp says. “But each time you do, you complicate your business in multiple ways. You’ve got to strike the right balance.”