Bootstrap Business Ideas

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ILLUSTRATION: FOTOLIA/GULIEN DIAVEL
Not only is home where the heart is, it's where you're likely to launch a bootstrap business.

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!

W.R.E.
Florida

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!

P.S.
Ohio