Bootstrap Business Ideas

The following are bootstrap business ventures that were inspired by articles in MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

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Not only is home where the heart is, it's where you're likely to launch a bootstrap business.


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A bootstrap business can flourish in any number of market niches. These readers established theirs in micro publishing, knitting, trash hauling, welding, and tree selling. 

I was doing my best to support six children (on a very meager salary) when I read "You Can Start Your Own Publishing Business" in MOTHER EARTH NEWS. I've always been an avid cook, and I've noticed that many mail order advertisers charge outrageous prices for no more than a handful of recipes. So I decided to put together a sizable (and, I hoped, salable) culinary collection of my own. 

My first step was to spend $50 on paper, printing, and postage . . . and before long I'd come up with a monthly newsletter called Honeysuckle, which contained not only recipes, but also household hints, energy-saving information, tips about livestock, monthly planting guides, a kitchen metric system, tables of weights and measures, caloric guides, crafts instructions, book recommendations (frequently selections from Mother's Bookshelf), and sometimes even poetry. On occasion, I also include recipes for feeding groups of 100 or more . . . as well as short profiles of some of the interesting people that I've met. 

A one-year's subscription to Honeysuckle is $15 . . . and I've made a pledge that, once 1 reach my goal of 10,000 subscribers, each of my "charter members" will receive an extra year of the newsletter free! I've made every effort to keep the price reasonable, too, so that my income will be just enough to make ends meet (before inflation moves the ends) . . . and my first year in business has already brought in an average monthly profit of $450!

Many of Honeysuckle's readers have written to tell me that they save every issue of the publication in order to pass them all down-along with their collections of MOTHER EARTH NEWS to future generations. That's about the best encouragement I could hope for from my subscribers.

Thanks, MOM, for helping to make it happen!

A. Rosan
Ridgecrest, N.C. 

I've been involved in the handicrafts scene for about as long as I can remember, but I wasn't aware of the moneymaking potential of my hobby until recently . . . when I was enlightened by two letters in MOTHER EARTH NEWS' Bootstrap Businesses column: Janet Ryan's piece describing her macrame business and Susan Dworkin's write-up about making and selling wall hangings.

My particular specialties are hand-spinning and knitting . . . so I let the shopkeepers in my neighborhood know that I was interested in making knitted items to sell on consignment. Several stores promptly took me up on my offer, and I began creating woolen goods in quantity ... some hand-spun and others made from the supply of store-bought yarn that I already had.

I knitted all through the long, cold winter evenings of my first few months in business ... creating easy yet intricate-looking patterns that would allow me to earn at least $2.00 to $3.00 an hour. (I found that—although I can make more money per hour from handspun items than from the knitwear products I make with commercial yarns—the latter products usually sell more quickly than do their more expensive counterparts.) As my business grew, I learned to watch for yarn sales and to stock up on supplies when I came across bargains. Before long, my enterprise had become a substantial source of supplemental income.

I doubt that I'll ever make a fortune in the knitting trade, but my home business is helping me earn a living without subjecting me to the competitive nine-to-five rat race . . . and that alone is worth a lot!

Sally Young
Boundary, Ark.

Three years ago my two partners and I started Obviously Enterprises Ltd. with little more than our imaginations and the inspiration we'd acquired from an excellent article—"The Fine Art of Trash Mongering"—that ran in MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

About 75 people live in our little valley year round, and a large summer population migrates to the area, from Vancouver, during the warm season. Consequently—when we read MOM's junk-collecting idea—we figured we could do a pretty good business in our locale. The seed money that we invested in the enterprise totaled only $30: $5.00 for a two week newspaper ad, $10 for licenses, and $15 for a tankful of gasoline for our truck. In just a few weeks' time, the inexpensive ad had attracted 15 customers . . . and we promptly established the fees for our weekly trash pickups: $6.00 per month for businesses, $5.00 for families, and $2.00 for senior citizens.

Our first garbage run proved quite profitable . . . as we took advantage of the opportunity to collect a variety of recyclable materials in addition to our regular fees. We accumulated enough returnable bottles during that trip, for example, to buy our second tank of fuel . . . and not long thereafter my partners and I had a yardful of scrounged items, including enough furnishings to completely redecorate our home!

Much of our booty was acquired from supplementary junk hauls (we carry off individual truckloads of "throwaways" for $10 each). The spoils from one of those jobs, for instance, included a hand water pump, two shovel heads, and several column gas lights . . . each of which brought in a tidy sum at the local flea market. Car towing was also added to our list of services . . . and junked vehicles began to pile up on our back five acres. At the end of a year we'd accumulated 20 such automobiles, which we stripped for both parts and scrap metal.

This past year our garbage pickup service included 37 customers, and—at an average of $4.33 per client—the business grossed about $160 per month. In addition, my partners and I earned several hundred dollars per week from scrounged goods that we sold at flea markets, to secondhand stores, and to parts and scrap metal dealers . . . as well as from the fees for our "extracurricular" hauling jobs. Moreover, we've found that it's rarely necessary to pay cash for items that we need or want, because they often turn up—free—in our truckloads.

Obviously Enterprises Ltd. has developed into quite a successful business ... and we haven't received a single complaint yet. After all, our prices are fair, the service is good, and our company's pledge is always proudly displayed on the tailgate of our truck: "Satisfaction guaranteed . . . or double your garbage back!"

Tom Mesi
Ouesnel, B.C., Canada

I'm a welder by trade, so when I picked up a copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS and came across "Homestead Welding" and "How to Make Money With a Welding Route," my professional interest was naturally aroused.

I already had some of the paraphernalia that would be necessary in order for me to go to work for myself, and I either traded for the rest of the equipment or purchased it with cash I'd accumulated by selling tools I didn't need. I acquired torches, rods, a welding machine, and a variety of other supplies . . . stocked my truck with the equipment to establish a mobile welding unit ... and started to travel, trading my skills for food, shelter, tools, materials, and sometimes even cash.

During one of my stopovers I met a physically disabled fellow. It seemed the gentleman owned a store that he couldn't run .. . and we agreed to work together for a while on a cooperative basis. My family and I moved in behind the building (in a travel trailer paid for with the earnings from my mobile enterprise) . . . and I set up shop with my welding unit, my stock of metal, and $300 in cash.

For the first few weeks, customers were few and far between. But—as word of our establishment spread—business began to pick up. Our clients soon learned that we were willing to do all sorts of odd welding jobs . . . such as repairing five-foot-tall bird cages or rebuilding bulldozer buckets. In addition, I accepted both swaps and cash for my work. Before long, I'd accumulated enough capital to move on in search of new and different opportunities.

At present I'm hiring out both my mobile unit and my skills to a construction company . . . for a whopping $350 a week! And I'm investing a large part of the money I earn in a larger welding unit for my mobile shop . . . in preparation for the time when I take my business and my family on their next cross-country tour.

I owe MOTHER EARTH NEWS a debt of gratitude for giving me my start as a traveling welder. Perhaps my letter will help give someone else that first big boost toward a self-reliant lifestyle!


William Ruttencutter's home business idea, as described in "Dig and Sell Native Trees," really is a moneymaker. I'd noticed a number of nicely shaped arboreal specimens growing on some unused business acreage in my community, so—when I discovered Mr. Ruttencutter's article in MOTHER EARTH NEWS—I became convinced that I could make a go of a tree-selling enterprise. Since I already owned a pickup truck, as well as some digging and pruning tools, my first step was to obtain permission to remove the saplings I'd spotted.

I decided from the beginning to dig only those trees (such as maple, oak, and ash) that I could readily identify in the bud stage . . . and I made it a practice to select specimens with trunks measuring 2 1/2" in diameter or less. My rates were set at $10 to $15 for each 1 " to 2" tree and $20 to $30 per 2 1/2" tree . . . less than half the amount charged by the majority of local nurseries. Then, to boost my sales further, I invested a few dollars in an ad in a local magazine and circulated a number of handwritten promotional leaflets.

I planted several trees on an unused portion of my five-acre farm so that customers would be able to come and make their own selections ... and before long my part-time tree-selling venture had turned into a lucrative enterprise. Last year, for example—though I was teaching full time—the business brought in a whopping $600 during my spring vacation alone! Moreover, I discovered that trees make wonderful barter merchandise: I've swapped ash and red oak for galvanized roofing for my barn addition, and on one occasion I even gave an ash tree to a local attorney in exchange for his drawing up a family will for me!

I can't deny that digging and selling trees is exhausting and exacting work . . . but the exercise, income, and feeling of self-sufficiency that I've gained as a result of my labor simply can't be beat!