Tiny Home Hustle: Building a Business with Less Inputs

Tiny homes may cut down on overall inputs to allow a growing business to thrive.

By Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell


October 2016

tiny homes

Annelise and Jake Hagedorn are running the Brevard Tiny House Company from their 192 square-foot home.

Photo by Fotolia/Jamie Hooper

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In Living Large in a Tiny House, Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell had been subconsciously trying to live up to this American Dream when circumstances forced her and her husband into a 480-square foot house in the woods. What was supposed to be a writing cabin and guest house became their full-time abode and they quickly discovered that they had serendipitously discovered a better way of life.

Tiny house dwellers are typically an adventurous lot, which also makes them good risk-takers when it comes to entrepreneurism. Many not only yearn for the freedom of having a tiny home, but also desire to control their professional lives. Annelise and Jake Hagedorn are twenty-somethings living their dream in a 192-squarefoot tiny home, which has living space and a loft bedroom. They also both recently finished graduate school at Penn State University and are starting their PhDs. Annelise is studying rural sociology and Jake is studying hydrogeology. They support themselves through their company, Brevard Tiny House Company, based in North Carolina, which designs and builds tiny homes for others seeking the same lifestyle. The Hagedorns’ tiny home stays parked in the backyard of a home in Pennsylvania, where they pay the landowner rent, but the couple commutes to North Carolina to work on their business when they’re not in school.

“We found out about tiny homes when we were in college, and Jake had to do a presentation in environmental design,” says Annelise. The couple then went to Sri Lanka to teach English. “When we returned from overseas, we decided we wanted to build one to live in while in grad school.”

Annelise says they have fielded calls from all age groups interested in building tiny homes. “People in their 50s seem interested, but it is usually people in their 30s who actually buy,” she says. Brevard Tiny Homes average about $45,000, some are higher and some lower, based on the square footage and items added.

Annelise and Jake both work from their tiny home, whether it’s schoolwork or creating a tiny home for a client. Annelise works from the loft, while Jake works at the dining room table, which is a portable folding table. “When we first moved in, I thought it would be a problem if the light was on downstairs because I’m a morning person and Jake’s a night person,” says Annelise. “But the table is under the loft, which blocks out most of the light, so it’s worked out.”

One thing Annelise has found challenging is climbing into the loft with a laptop, books, and cell phone in hand. “It’s really a juggling act,” she says. Fortunately, there haven’t yet been any disasters involving electronics dropped from the loft.

Overall, the tiny lifestyle works smoothly for the young couple. Annelise says that living abroad taught them how to live in a small space together. “We get along really well, which helps. When we lived abroad, we got food poisoning quite a bit, and when someone is sick, you see things you can’t unsee,” she says, laughing. “We really just like to hang out with each other.”

How They Make a Living

Many tiny house dwellers have found niches in writing about their experiences on blogs. Hari Berzins and Tammy Strobel both have successful blogs where they each write about their tiny house lives. Tammy also teaches classes in various writing modalities, such as journaling, as well as photography. Hari and Karl Berzins teach an online course in debt-free living, in addition to consulting and helping design and build tiny homes for others. Diane Selkirk is a successful writer and photographer who writes travel and other articles about her family’s life on the sea.

Other tiny home dwellers make a living or supplement their income by living off of the land. Mary Dunning has a goat-milk-soap business, and Ariel McGlothin uses food from her garden to cook healthy meals that she barters for rent and other services. Some tiny house dwellers supplement their income by becoming landlords. Vicki Salmon says that after moving to their slightly larger dream log cabin, they are renting out their first tiny cabin, which is an option for anyone who wants to build more than one tiny home on their property. “We are currently renting it out for $650 per month,” says Vicki. “We could get more, but we’re only renting it out to friends and family, so we don’t want to charge them market rate.”

Others, such as Aaron and Alyson Courain, hope to build and operate a tiny house hotel.

Ramona and Carlo DeAngelus still own their former larger homes, but they plan on selling his and paying hers off and renting it out, which will generate income.

LIVING LARGE TIPS: Establishing a Home-Based Business

• Do what you know or have a passion for. Living Large is all about living our passions, whether at work or play. If you’re good at designing websites, helping companies with their social-media marketing, or writing proposals for a corporation, maybe you could do it from your home.

• Research your endeavor. Talk to others who are in business; find out what you should avoid; learn what’s hot in your field.

• Even if you don’t plan on taking out a business loan, speak with a small-business incubator (sometimes located on local college campuses) and get help writing a business plan. This helps give you a map of where you are going before you start.

• Build up some savings before quitting your day job. It can take months to turn a profit in a new business.

Read more from Living Large in Our Little House: Building Codes in the Tiny Housing Boom


Reprinted with permission from Living Large in Our Little House by Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell, and published by Reader’s Digest, 2016