Have You Bootstrapped a Home-Based Business?

| 10/21/2009 9:52:28 AM

Tags: question to reader, home-based business,

You want to go into business, but no one is willing to loan the upfront capitol necessary for your full-scale business plan. What do you do!? In an online excerpt from its upcoming book, The Wall Street Journal Complete Small Business Guide, the Wall Street Journal suggests you start small with your own capitol — an entrepreneurial approach called bootstrapping — and then slowly build the business to a place where investors see the its potential. Another option, once the business has grown in size, is to skip outside investors all together, put the company’s profits back into the company, and retain full control over your business.

Home-based businesses are not just about childcare and craft sales. With the Internet at your fingertips, you can make, market and sell any product or service you can think up, and do it all from your garage, basement or home office. For decades Mother Earth News readers have bootstrapped their home-based businesses, turning dreams into successful business opportunities. Are you one of the folks who has developed a bootstrap home-based business or do you have plans to start one in the near future? If so, tell us your story in the comments section, below.

6/16/2011 9:48:49 PM

My wife and I started a home-based photography business over 20 years ago, and are still going strong. Initially all portrait sales, five years ago we found a niche in architectural photography. Business is very good, and we recently made the cover of an architectural magazine! Keys to our success are REMAINING IN THE HOME---and never paying rent to anyone!! We have seen many good business start-ups come and go locally, good-intentioned people coughing up precious money to landlords every month, struggling to make a go of it, but locked into leases, overhead, utilities, etc. We live in an old 2-story home and use half of the upstairs for a studio. We get tax breaks that really help, and I know we would be broke long ago if we had to pay rent. The house needs work, but clients don't care. They see the product and love it, and promptly pay! That is the key--getting paid! Commercial photography is wonderful---sending out invoices to business clients for thousands instead of squeezing hundreds out of consumers---it is a different world. I have two college degrees I am not using, and my wife has one degree she is not using--but we work together everyday, and really love the challenge and reward of our creative work. If you have an idea, start at home, stay at home if you possibly can, and be willing to start small, and take small steps. Find what you love and pursue it with passion!

lee wilcox
6/13/2011 5:45:42 PM

In 1985 I was recently retired from the Navy and working with the sales arm of a local air conditioning company. I saw an ad in mother for training (3-4 day school) from a chimney sweep company (Black Magic in Stowe Vermont). I pointed out to my boss that this was a form of Heating that was ignored locally. I went to that school and eventually owned a company that did Chimney Sweeps, Heating, and Air Conditioning. My debt was restricted to buying a couple ladders, a large vacuum, and a few brushes. It paid for itself and I continued to do it after I moved on until a broken back stopped me. Sometimes if you are willing to do your apprenticeship with someone else, it becomes easier to wind up with your own company.

nana's garden
6/13/2011 5:36:26 PM

My daughter and I made a decision to leave our Slave Wage Jobs and go into business for ourselves, doing what we love. We have our own sustainable landscape service that specializes in edible landscapes. We have made some great strides since we began. It is hard, but no harder then selling our time for too little money. Now we are helping the community and sustaining our dreams all at once!

stephan willner
6/13/2011 5:27:33 PM

I was tired of long commutes and layoff notices as a woodshop teacher. There was also several schools in the area no longer offered woodshop programs. I know kids still like these programs, since the ones in my neighborhood like to hang out in my shop. So I bought a bus, removed theseats and built a woodshop in it. Now I travel to schoolss, parks, churches, craft fairs, etc.. You can read more about it at www.willieswoodshop.com thanks Stephan Willner

david j.
6/13/2011 2:32:03 PM

My wife and I were so dire that we took $40 bought some food and sold it at a community yard sale. We made about $80. I repaid myself the original 40 to keep the lights on and we bought some yarn. We made almost $500 knitting hats, scarves, and mittens for Christmas. Next we invested about $175 into supplies and printing and created a calendar. We sent a few out to publishers but instead of just waiting around for our ship to come in; we partnered with some community organizations and schools. We share the profits with them and they use it as a tool for fundraising. We are well on our way to our next goal of $1000. It may not be that you just start a "Business" that meets all your needs. Stay busy, work hard, use what you have and build on that.

janice ferrante
6/13/2011 2:26:40 PM

I started a business with a small bit of credit card debt 10 years ago from my home supplying diy natural skin care and soap making oils and ingredients online - www.skincarenaturals.com. I really liked the idea of supporting and educating people to go natural and do it themselves as well as hobbyists and other home natural soapmaking businesses. I've considered going bigger but it really suits me to putter on my own - who knows what the future will bring.

6/13/2011 2:23:59 PM

I am a Dave Ramsey fanatic so nooooooo debt for me. I still work full time but my businesses ( I also sell veggies and hay and keep planting fruit trees so will someday reap their rewards) are growing well and some fine day I will be able to work at the farm full time. Keep long term goals in mind and be patient with your business. The turtle wins the race every time I read that book! I also want to add that worm composting is a great business to be in if you are looking for extra income! Very low maintenance and the way I do it, zero costs for food and minimal costs for "housing".

6/13/2011 2:20:09 PM

Shanna---you need to look into turning your business into an LLC, which is very inexpensive to do but will protect your personal property from idiots. There are many different types of companies and dozens of free books at the library to walk you through all of this. Luci is correct: start small and market well. The marketing seems to be what people are so afraid of. That and they want to do it all NOW and get caught up in the debt spiral. I started a worm business a few years ago. Started selling my personal "extra" worms for indoor composting, which led to way more customers than I could handle...lightbulb...I also found that 90% of my customers were loaded with questions, so I began both teaching classes in how to vermicompost and also giving private lessons. Charged little at first and then more as the class got better and more refined. Branched out into teaching outside my farm and also selling the poop. Turned down business that was more than I could handle, but it showed me how the market is there and willing to pay. Students loved the classes and asked if I would write a book because at 3 hours long, the class was still not enough for what they wanted. So I wrote a book (The Best Place for Garbage), which is now #3 in worm composting books at Amazon and has only been out 3 months....All profits go back in to help me expand smartly........

jan steinman
5/14/2010 1:10:50 PM

I started making biodiesel back when oil was at $147 a barrel. I live on an island, and diesel is quite expensive here. I made a simple "appleseed" reactor out of a hot water heater and harvested waste cooking oil from four local restaurants. I made about 120 litres of biodiesel a week -- about ten times my needs -- and "contributed" the rest to the community. I did not want to invite regulatory scrutiny by "selling" it, so I had a log sheet and cash box and asked people to "voluntarily contribute" something not so far from what they'd have to pay for diesel. Most people put $1.25/litre in the till. Alas, the price of diesel went back down, and I stopped doing this, as the price of methanol did *not* go down. But like all things related to petroleum, diesel will go up again, and I'll be ready. I worked the equivalent of about one full day a week at this, but it was in little bits and pieces, which worked in well with farming.

5/13/2010 11:36:36 AM

I am actually working on doing just that. I've always wanted to work for myself I was just never sure exactly what to do. I had my first child last November. I wanted a baby sling but couldn't afford the ones I liked and didn't like the ones I could afford. I made my own. I have had so many compliments on it and numerous people tell me I should make and sell them. I am right now at this very moment assembling pictures to put on my artfire sellers account. http://voudouregal.artfire.com Livvy Slings, after my daughter Olivia. My only drawback is liability. I fear someone not using their sling properly and their child getting injured and me getting sued. Whats a girl to do?

5/13/2010 7:02:54 AM

We at Cottage Candle Company are a mother/daughter team in business for five years. We have 'bootstrapped' ourselves into the soy-based candles, and two years ago developed a new line of recycled newspaper air fresheners, both of which have been very well received in eastern N.C. We do some craft shows each year, and offer our products in a local consignment shop. We use hypoallergenic fragrance oils, suitable for bath and body products, as the melted soy oil is an excellent skin moisturizer. We have accumulated some debt, but we renovated a building here at our house, so that is ok. We've had two articles in local papers, and are still growing our business. The economy has been slow, but people love our candles and we've been able to pay our bills- and we continue to grow!

5/12/2010 10:00:49 PM

My parents' business philosophy was, 'Always provide what people need most'. I fine tuned that to, 'Find the niche, fill it and do it on a shoestring'. Seven years ago I started a mobile motorcycle detailing business with $50 and a great idea and in my first year, I cleaned over 240 motorcycles. I live in a large metro area and am the only bike detailer here to work at this scale. Ive marketed well and have an incredible reputation and after a two year economy driven slow down, am picking right back up to full speed. During the slow period, I took some time to really think about what I wanted and decided to go three more years detailing and in the meantime launch two more businesses from home. I live on an acre and am developing it into a veggie, herb, fruit/nut farm with intentions of becoming a CSA. I want to use the property to teach organic urban farming, city sustainability, food storage, bee keeping, vermiculture, aquaponics, biodynamic agriculture, seed exchange and so much more. I'll host spa days and dinner parties using what's grown here and introduce massage therapists, herbalists and city chefs to draw diners and natural spa seekers. I'm paying for this as I go and am either getting everything I need at huge discounts, free or bartering. Along with the farm, I am launching a second home based business involving recycled clothing. Pretty much everything done here will provide income on some level. Do what you love, start small and market well.

char scroggins
5/12/2010 1:13:16 PM

I have started two businesses, one my own and the other a medical practice with my husband, a family medicine physician. Mine was easy. It was an extension of my profession in sports television. When I realized that my arthritis was prohibiting my ability to work the sporting events, I expanded into handling the crewing of these events (hiring the personnel to televise the events). All it required -- a computer, some software, internet access, a fax machine and lots of determination. It has become a $1-2 million dollar business over the years and is still going strong after 14 years. When my husband decided he wanted to go into private practice that was a bit more challenging. Ultimately, after lots of research, we decided to do a scaled down practice, with only 2-3 employees including himself. By working with local hospitals and finding a physician closing his practice, we were able to start up with a VERY small outlay of cash, less than $12,000 -- unheard of in the medical field. He did this by handling a smaller number of patients and spending 1/2 hour per patient, seeing 12-14 per day. This accomplishes two things: less paperwork and therefore the need for a large staff, and better patient care. Of course the downside is that the income is lower than most physicians, but satisfaction of patients and himself have made this a wonderful practice. I highly recommend looking for alternative ways from the norm to accomplish your goals.

kay hughes
5/12/2010 11:51:29 AM

I started my Basket Business and little homestead about 7 years ago, subbing at the schools kitchen to build both. Over the years I have had great jumps forward but mostly learning periods. When I started the baskets the handles and rims were made of sourwood, I heard they are too rustic for my home, so I made standard egg baskets and then I heard well not the right color or no color, it has been very fustrating untill about one year ago. I paint and had painted a quilt block 8ftx8ft of a coverlet from the 1600s fabric cut up during the Civil War and made in to a flower garden quilt. I had been a Domestic Interpreter for the Civil War Era for many years, while at the decation for the quilt block I was told they couldn't carry baskets to the re-enactments because there were none of that period around and no one was making them. Almost before I got home I was contacted and asked to repair a basket from the 1840's, they thought the job was so good they sent a second from the 1830's to be repaired. You might say a light bulb lite up, and there I was with the original patterns. So I got with a blacksmith who I had worked with 2,000 miles away, who only makes thing as made in the Civil War Era and we have worked for most of the year working up steamers, jigs and the supplies to make my baskets and he will make Iron items, then a few weeks ago we found another person to do the books and computer work like old labels.

bill roth_1
5/12/2010 11:06:37 AM

I sold two businesses with the intention of fishing my life away. Did't Work, I got bored. I looked around and eight years ago discovered field service work. I do inspections for insurance cos. and financial institutions, (www.bdrmgmt.com) there is hardly any start-up investment. It has worked into full time twice and I had to cut back as I only want part-time. It is easy work, set your own hours. Ideal for retired folks. For a complete manual of how to do this go to www.fieldservicemanual.com.

cara moore_2
5/12/2010 10:15:43 AM

I developed and trademarked a product crystal essence tm that combines herbal and crystal essences for "Holistic Wellbeing for Auric & Physical Body" and I supply an online shop and other shops with this product. I am a crystal healer and herbalist practitioner. I write a weekly blog, have written two books, Crystal Healing & The Chakra System and a Herbal Primer, which are available as ebook downloads and paperbacks. I have also written a ten lesson online training course on Herbalism and Crystal Healing. I have stalls at arts and crafts events, musical festivals, natural living and wedding shows. I have written two lenses on squidoo and brochures on herbal teas, the online courses, crystal healing, party and wedding favours and a pdf catalogue are available on the website www.crystalartsandhealth.org.uk I have converted a room in the house into a workshop and therapy room. I trained with the British School of Yoga in Crystal Healing and Herbalism and Making your own Aromatherapy and Natural Products and did a Business Development and Natural Health Practice Management Course with them and I am currently studying to be a Hatha Yoga teacher.

5/10/2010 11:41:17 PM

I recently lost my job and am looking for a no cost start up business to run from my home, I would prefer something "green"! Please email me at petercockle@yahoo.com with comments/ideas etc.

bob _1
12/17/2009 11:43:31 AM

I am rehabilitating 40 acres of desert land in SE Colorado, turning it into a self-sustaining (we grow what we consume), energy positive (as ever current technology allows), ecologically responsible (no agri-chemicals / closely managed grazing), Natural Foods Farm. Once that is accomplished the plan is to build on the farm a rural community for homeless American Veterans. The idea has been very well received everywhere I go and seems to be building momentum. I'm getting offers from volunteers - so far I've been offered a reasonably comfortable camping trailer which could very well allow me to put off the expense of building a house for a year or two. I've also been promised the use of a tractor (with operator) for digging the post holes when I put up the fence. So far I've used my own money (and granted I'm just starting out - I'm currently investigating water law and erosion abatement and hope to start fencing in Spring) but, as I rehabilitate the land "One Square Foot at a Time" (my company motto) the plan is to offer 'sponsorships' with novelty land deeds for "One Square Foot of Colorado". I don't know that I'll ever be able to offer an investor a suitable ROI or sensible exit strategy as this is not intended to ever be a typical, commercial, agricultural production unit. The goal is simply to live well within a self-sustaining, socially and ecologically responsible lifestyle. See www.DesertFarmer.com Thanks! --Bob

k rhome
12/9/2009 8:06:25 PM

I have my own bootstrapping business in textiles and I have tried very hard to keep it fully out of debt while also maintaining necessary inventory to generate income. My comfort and security is that my inventory is a commodity and I believe if you have something to sell, you're never broke. I have looked into expansion with debt but I'm not convinced yet that it's a good idea at this point in time so I'm considering other avenues utilizing existing inventory to manufacture product.

12/9/2009 7:21:31 PM

Bootstrapping my business includes bartering some of my services for others (hypnosis for marketing, for example), pre-orders (once a prototype is built to show prospective customers), and asking for tools, parts, gift cards to relevant stores, and out-right cash for birthdays and Christmas (Yes, Santa, I have been good this year!)

10/21/2009 3:18:54 PM

I think the primary strategy in bootstrapping is being overlooked. Ideally, you want to spend absolutely nothing on the business until absolutely necessary. This involves getting very creative and possibly even getting some outside help. Without spamming here, I can say that my consulting in Systems Engineering/Small Business Problem Solving does just that. I urge people to look into real, concrete bootstrapping solutions.

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