Readers share their ideas for self-employment, which leaves them more time for the good life.
Reupholster Old Furniture
I have a bootstrap business that I can "pick up" anytime I
need it — by simply picking up a tack hammer and staple
gun that I've already paid for.
My enterprise was born many years ago when my father
asked my sister and me to reupholster a couple of old
sofas. Well, we balked at the idea, but he said, "If you
put your mind to it, you can do anything anyone else can
do, and being female has nothing to do with it!"
To make a
long story short, we did refinish the two couches, and they
both turned out great! That began my upholstering career, and — as I
said — I'm still at it (when I need to be) some 20
years later. And, though Dad inspired me to start the
business, MOTHER EARTH NEWS has kept me going! Such pieces as "It Pays to Be an Old Sew-and-Sew" have really helped to reaffirm my faith in
the power of this particular individual to take care of
herself and provide extras for her family
without having to hold down a "regular" job.
For example, my son recently needed surgery at a hospital
nearly 200 miles from home. So, during my stay in that town, I bought an old sofa for $45,
reupholstered it, and sold it for $500. That certainly
helped us get the budget back in balance!
I can find the sort of work I do almost anytime,
and — since my customers, as a rule, supply both
furniture and fabric — the cost of the tools I
mentioned has been my only investment: one tack hammer, 25¢ (at a flea market) . . . and one electric
stapler, $19.95. Armed with that equipment, my dad's
advice, and MOTHER EARTH NEWS' wisdom, I guess I was bound to
— Jan Worley, N.C.
Create a Garden Catalog
My story really began back in 1979 with the arrival of a
bundle of assorted issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS
sent by an old American friend. My husband Brian and I had
long been interested in growing herbs and "old time"
cottage garden perennials, but "Start a Home Business With Herbs!" gave us enough confidence to
actually set up a similar enterprise of our own. We began
selling both plants and seeds (collected from our older
established herbs) and soon had built a small but steady
income which we used to buy seeds of rarer varieties
of herbs and wildflowers.
At this point, our whole business venture changed
directions, though. Several of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' articles on wild foods
really caught our interest, and — since many of the
plants described in them were unobtainable in our neck of
the woods — we started tracking down seed companies
that sold the North American wildlings.
Soon we had such a demand for the seed-started "new" plants
that we were unable to satisfy all the requests, and
decided to try another approach. We bought a secondhand
photocopier (it set us back $350), paper, and a filing
system ($120) and started producing a small booklet listing
all of our plant sources. We offered the little catalog for
sale to those who inquired about the plants.
Then we began scouting out sources for Australia's
own edible and useful flora. Gradually we became
involved in the business of indexing mail order suppliers
of edible, useful, and exotic herbs, shrubs and trees from
all over the world . . . and publishing that information in
a series of directories for both local and foreign
Although we definitely haven't abandoned the plant
business, we're now also a thriving information service,
answering all kinds of inquiries about Australia itself:
questions about land, jobs, houses, rural and alternative
communities, courses, workshops, magazines, books,
holidays and more. We're earning about $120 per week of
part-time work now, and expect to turn a tidy profit this
year, though we always try to keep our prices low.
— Margaret & Brian Holland, Australia
Start a Daycare Business
Babies are my bootstrap business! Two years ago I came face
to face with the fact that our one-income family was really
taking a beating from double-digit inflation. Every
month — despite our savings plan, vegetable garden and
coupon clipping — we faced a negative cash balance. We
felt that we were in a last-resort situation and that
I'd have to go to work. The idea of leaving my two children
(both less than five years old) with strangers and of
facing a working world I had not been a part of for more than
four years frightened me, but we seemed to have no choice.
Then, when I began to evaluate my marketability, things
looked gloomier still: My education consisted of two meager
years of college and no technical training. I had no
office skills other than a little personal-use typing and my employment history was limited to waitress and
nurse's aide work. Hot oatmeal cookies, a long history of
magically repairing broken dolls, and a soothing way with
banged-up knees were not impressive job credentials. I
found myself labeled "unskilled" in a highly specialized
On top of that, I had to face the frustrating scarcity of
daycare centers and the outrageous fees and long waiting
lists at nursery schools . . . and I hadn't even begun to
figure out the expense of commuting and of buying a
"career" wardrobe. My paycheck would likely be pretty much
swallowed up by the added outlay, even if I could
find an employer who'd take a chance on me!
But wait! I had once read an article, in MOTHER EARTH NEWS, about a
woman who operated a business while caring for her own tots
("Mother Types at Home"). I suddenly
realized that I could provide a salable service from
my house. After all, I'm fairly calm in the face
of child-induced chaos, I love to read stories aloud, and I
wield a mean crayon! Furthermore, I wanted to stay
with my kids . . . and I knew there must be other parents
as discouraged about finding good, reasonably priced
child-care facilities as I'd been.
The rules and regulations for starting such an enterprise
didn't prove to be too imposing, either. I was required to
plug all of my home's electrical outlets, install
childproof latches and obtain a letter from our doctor
certifying the health of the whole family. Then the fire
marshall came to inspect our wood stove and chimney
and I was in business.
A single classified ad soon brought me all the children I
could handle, and quite a sizable waiting list to boot. My
fee is $1.25 an hour per child, which includes lunch and a
snack. (The prices for extras — such as breakfast or
birthday parties — are negotiated separately.)
Operating costs for my home-based business are limited to
food (about $20 a week) and taxes and insurance ($30 a
Now, I'm able to raise my own preschoolers myself
and provide them with a wide variety of new
playmates. Best of all, though, I've found that there's a
real need for what I'm good at and that, by
doing it, I can bring in a paycheck of about $190 a week.
— Marcia Beebe, Conn.