Home Business Entrepreneurs: Selling Firewood, Rototill Gardens and Preparing Taxes

The Bootstrap Businesses column showcases home business entrepreneurs: selling firewood, creating dough babies, rototilling gardens, building wooden toys, dying fabric and preparing taxes.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
July/August 1978
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Home business entrepreneurs can earn money by chopping and selling firewood.
Photo by Fotolia/pioneer


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Home business entrepreneurs enter into new businesses, including selling firewood, rototilling gardens, building wooden toys, and preparing taxes.

Home Business Entrepreneurs

If you now operate — or have ever operated — a successful home business that was inspired by an article you read in MOTHER, tell us (in 500 words or less) when and where — and with how much "seed money" you started your venture. Because if your story can be fitted into an upcoming installment of Bootstrap Businesses, you'll receive [1] the warm satisfaction of knowing that you helped someone else find the happiness you enjoy and [2] a free two-year new or renewal subscription to The MOTHER EARTH NEWS.


After moving to the country and watching our life savings melt away as we waited for a job that never materialized (my husband is a computer programmer), we turned to MOTHER's back issues for something that would provide us with an income.

"How to Set Up and Run a Firewood Business" (pages 64-65) in issue No. 41 was just the thing. West Virginia had just survived one of its worst winters, fuel prices were at their highest, and we had a lot of trees on our 100 acres . . . so why not start a business selling firewood?

We already had all the necessary equipment — except for the powered log splitter — that Glen Smith had mentioned in his article. And since we had no extra money to invest in a business, we were quite willing to split the logs by hand with a sledge, wedge, and axe.

A few months before we started selling firewood we had bought a used dump truck for $500 to do light hauling in the area. So — naturally enough — we started using the truck for delivering a cord or more of wood . . . saving time and gas. After a little time (and a little advertising) we had our sales established and our problem behind us, at least for the winter!

We sell our wood for $50 a cord (delivered) . . . and in a good week can gross $200. After meeting all expenses — gas for the saw and truck, and advertising — we still net $190.

It'll take us quite a while to cover the cost of the dump truck in its "regular" work (we only net $10 a load hauling coal, rock, etc.), but thanks to MOTHER — we found the courage and inspiration to try and make it in the country without a job in the city.

— Lorraine MacNeil
Jane Law, W. Virginia


When I opened my copy of MOTHER NO. 48 several months back, the first piece to catch my eye was Jane and Steve Fry's "We Call 'Em 'Dough Babies'" (page 33). Though "dough babies" were nothing new to me (I'd been creating them for our family's Christmas tree since 1971), the article inspired a totally different view of the tradition. After all, I'd been accumulating compliments on my homemade trimmings for all these years . . . so why not collect some profits on them as well?

With a total initial investment of under $3.00-40¢ — for a bag of white flour (purchased with a cents-off coupon), 23¢ for a box of salt, and $2.00 for a can of varnish — my ornamental babies began popping to life by the dozens. At the start I was so excited — and so eager to please (and to make a profit) — that I wound up producing more than 300 tree ornaments . . . no two alike! And when customers saw both [1] the uniqueness and [2] the quality of my work (a rare combination these days), the business began to boom.

My sales center was a simple table at our thriving local flea market. This approach gave me the chance to sell my babies to good homes where I could be sure they'd be a part of Christmas celebrations for years to come. And it made a bit of swapping possible too. Recently, for instance, five of my very best ornaments "bought" my daughter a warm coat for the winter.

One tip I'd like to add to the Frys' guidelines, though: Paint your babies with vivid, glow-in-the-dark colors and — at Christmas time — shine a fluorescent black light on your tree. The method is a great deal safer — and saves more electricity than traditional lighting . . . and it makes your Christmas tree really come alive with animation.

I've got the "bug" now and just can't stop pan producing dough babies of all kinds for all occasions. My experiments with less seasonal forms of the art (got any suggestions, folks?) must soon end, however. Otherwise I won't have time to replenish my stock of Christmas ornaments before next December rolls around!

— Joellen Crouch
629 Meadowsweet Drive
Corte Madera, California 94925


I had just purchased a Troy-Biit rototiller in the fall of '77, so I was quite interested when I came across Daniel Ellison's article, "Have Rototiller, Will Travel", in MOTHER NO. 32 (pages 90-92). Daniel had started quite an impressive little business with his machine . . . and after reading his write-up I was spurred to do the same.

So — with my initial $610 investment already behind me — I began a custom rototilling enterprise last fall. I started by handing out 40 one page ads in my neighborhood . . . and this canvassing brought a speedy reply. I quickly logged in nine hours' work for a return of almost $200. Not bad for my first try!

Now that it's spring, I've placed an ad (which I plan to run for 12 weeks at a cost of $4.00 per week) in the local newspaper. It reads:

Have Rototiller, Will Travel.
Troy-Silt rototilling for gardens, new lawns, flowerbeds. Experienced, reasonable. 835-1770.

So far I've already secured 30 customers for the season. And at a 2¢ to 3¢ per-square foot charge, I figure that — on the average — I'll net about $20 an hour. I plan to work approximately 20 hours per week for a period of eight weeks . . . and, by the end of 1978, I expect that my rototiller will have paid for itself at least fourfold! Pretty good for a 15-year-old, huh?

— Don Moore
Rye, N.Y.


I'm a gal with a host of varied interests and a love of independence, who enjoys being self-sufficient and on her own . . . but without MOTHER's help, I might never have had this option. All it took was a pair of unrelated books from MOTHER's Bookshelf to set me up in two separate self taught moneymaking businesses at the same time. I can't even remember the correct titles (both publications were loans from a friend) . . . but the subject matter is with me to stay as the solid basis of my present two-part livelihood: [1] making toys out of wood scraps, and [2] dyeing things naturally with bark, berries, and flowers.

My toymaking business required only a few simple tools (which I already had on hand), some small scraps of lumber (which woodworking shops have been glad to give me), and a little make-do ingenuity (sawdust, for example, is mixed with Elmer's glue to affix wooden appendages to my handicrafts). As a result, my single initial expense was an inexpensive supply of wooden dowels.

So with modest — but fast-growing — resources/skills/sales outlets, I started producing doll beds, Tom-Tinker toys, tot wagons, windowsill cat perches, and cat beds (plywood boxes with 3-inch legs). On-the-job experience has taught me to secure all nuts and bolts with strong glue and to spruce up my finished products with brightly colored, lead-free enamels. My plain and simple toy designs can be mailed knocked down (I include brief instructions for easy assembly upon arrival) which dramatically expands any potential I market. And — wherever possible — I incorporate my own highly marketable "special touches" into the items I make: cat decals and cushions fabricated from cat-print fabric for the cat beds and perches, dainty fabric frills for the doll beds, etc.

I stumbled into my second enterprise — fabric dyeing — as a result of trying to restore my own faded, ready-for-the-ragbag apparel. After carefully following the tips outlined in one of those borrowed how-to books and discovering that friends and acquaintances were admiring the unusual colors and the "homespun look" that natural dyes produced, I decided to try selling this work. And, before I knew what was happening, I ended up in the dyeing business.

This lucrative moneymaker was even easier to get into than toymaking. I've been able to gather all the raw materials for free in the Great Outdoors . . . so that even my relatively small fee — $2.00 per garment — yields an adequate profit (especially since I can work on several orders at once on my trusty basement stove). Right from the start, canvas- and floursack-type fabrics became my most in-demand craft materials, and I quickly developed a preference for bark dyes (since they're easy to obtain and create a variety of beautiful colors). My reward — above and beyond the extra cash — can't be beat: the pleased and excited reactions of my customers at the sight of their finished products!

Over time I've found that local stores and personal acquaintances provide ready outlets for both of the craft goods I produce . . . and I often leave samples of my work in selected shops, offering a 20% commission to the owners for orders taken from the displays. My expenses are small and my profits quite satisfactory, so that — in the end — I net approximately $300 per month from my toys and $100 per month from my dyeing operation (not bad at all, considering I work at home and set my own hours). And I know for sure that the income possibilities are limitless!

So who better to thank than you, MOTHER, for providing me with the initial idea and the basic know-how!

— Bernice C. Foster
Baltimore, Maryland


I'm an accountant by profession and, for that reason, I found Bud Hopkins' article on the home preparation of income tax returns (MOTHER NO. 50, pages 80-83) to be right up my alley.

Since I already had a full-time job, though, and had always thought that moonlighting would be more trouble than it was worth, I was hesitant to give the idea a try. Still, Bud had laid out such a neat plan of action in his write-up that I soon decided to give a home-based tax service a whirl . . . at least on a part time basis.

With [1] a calculator (already in my possession) and [2] access to a tax library (through my primary occupation), I was ready to go with no initial cost whatsoever. All that remained to be done, then, was to "let out the word" that I was available for after-hours tax preparation . . . and in no time flat, I was showered with more than enough clients to keep me full-time busy in my part-time hours.

And — as always — one good idea from MOTHER soon led to another. My home business has opened the door to many bartering possibilities as well. I now — for instance — have a swapping arrangement with a fellow accountant who also prepares tax forms at home. I check the math on his work, and he reviews the figures on mine.

Thanks, MOTHER, for giving me that extra push I needed toward an enjoyable and flourishing bootstrap business.

— James A. Lee
Anchorage, Alaska


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