The Bootstrap Businesses column showcases home business entrepreneurs: Learn how to build willow chairs, create a lemonade stand and paint houses for profit.
Learn how to create a home business building willow chairs.
Photo by Fotolia/Grecaud Paul
Home business entrepreneurs enter into new businesses, including learning how to build willow chairs, make a lemonade business and paint houses for a living.
If you now operate, or have ever operated, a successful home business that was inspired by an article you read in MOTHER, tell us about it in around 500 words (write to THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS Hendersonville, North Carolina): Be sure to mention when and where you started your venture and with how much "seed money"; what you make (net), and anything else that might be of assistance to other entrepreneurs. If your story is used in this column, you'll receive  the satisfaction of knowing that you may help someone else start a business and  a free two-year new or renewal subscription to THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS.
Here in Oregon there just aren't many jobs for a woman who lives 16 miles from the nearest industry . . . with no car . . . and with a frightful aversion to the minimum wage. I'd been looking for work every available day for about four months and was running out of hope when I read Ernie Lewis's article in MOTHER NO. 43 ("I Build Willow Chairs for Pleasure and Profit").
I had no idea of what willow even looked like (visions of poison oak chairs danced in my head) and had never really thought seriously about taking on a business venture. However, the suggested tools — a bow saw and loppers — were handy, as I had borrowed them to prune my fruit tress . . . so I decided to give it a try.
After scraping my pockets I managed to purchase an assortment of nails from the general store, borrowed a friend's pickup (and the friend, to show me what willows looked like), and headed for the river.
My first chair — though far from terrific — was encouraging enough to make me try it again. I was hardly finished with this second attempt when a friend bought the chair right out of the back of the truck. Soon I was swamped with orders from friends of friends of friends. Antique stores looked for me. I even tried my hand at craft fairs . . . and always sold out.
It's only fair, too, to mention a very important turning point in my willow madness that had a lot to do with my terrific sales record and my pride in my craft. After things started looking good I wrote to Ernie Lewis to say thanks and to let him know that someone had benefitted from his article.
I'd hoped that he might answer my letter . . . but I was certainly dumbfounded when he drove into my driveway! Ernie was on his way through Oregon and had left California a day early to find me. He "coached" me on the fine touches acquired only through experience, things you could never condense into an article. A fine man, that Ernie Lewis.
I carve my initials and the year into every chair I make now, because in fifty or a hundred years someone may want to know just how old that sturdy willow sculpture is. Ernie — and MOTHER — sure set me up with a profitable and satisfying home business.
— Jackie Robertson
Days Creek, Oregon
My friend, Marilyn, and I began a lemonade business back in April 1972. I had read about the idea ("The Lemon Tree") in MOTHER NO. 15 and it seemed like a good way to earn some extra cash.
We started our enterprise by buying a case of lemons, 25 pounds of sugar, a supply of cups, and ice. Then we converted a small bridge table into a stand, painted a sheet to make a sign, turned our last ten dollars into small change . . . and we were ready.
That Saturday found us at the local fireman's carnival. We set up our stand and organized everything so that we could both turn out a finished 12-ounce serving . . . and we immediately began selling fresh lemonade. Despite the fact that we were located outside the actual carnival grounds, we netted $20 each that first night. We were a success!
After several more practice runs we decided we were ready to take our stand "on the road" . . . and we picked the annual fiddle competition in Galax, Virginia for our first "real" effort. We packed my van with three cases of lemons, 25 pounds of sugar, cups, camping gear, emergency cash, and our stand. We even took along a large umbrella and a new sign.
The drive was long and by the time we reached Galax we weren't as certain of the sanity of our venture as we had been. Lemonade stands, after all, are a child's domain and no place for a 20-year-old woman.
Despite our doubts, we set up camp and the stand a day before the beginning of the three-day long event. People were constantly driving in and already the crowd was several times the size of those at our previous ventures. We perked up.
At ten the next morning we bought ice, hauled water, and were back in business. The stand was swamped immediately. Word spread quickly (our umbrella made us highly visible) and lemonade was the star attraction. As fast as Marilyn and I could make each serving, it was gone.
We worked steadily for eight hours. It was hard, sticky work . . . but the people were so kind, so interesting, and so much fun that the time flew by. Everyone — especially children and grandparents — seemed knocked out by the idea of fresh, homemade lemonade.
That evening, while the fiddlers were really getting down to some good music, we counted our money. After counting three times to make sure . . . we found we had grossed $250!
Because of our popularity, we had to buy more supplies for the remaining days. We sold watermelon as well, but lemonade was still the main attraction. The entire festival proved to be a success. (We were even photographed for the local paper.) And we made so many new friends and had so many good experiences that-even without such financial success-the venture would still have been worthwhile.
Thanks, MOTHER, for the idea — and for the rewards — of operating a lemonade business.
— Nicki Turner
My husband and I have a business that's a commercial modification of the idea described in "You Can 'Clean Up' as a Freelance Housecleaner" In MOTHER NO. 47. We clean rental units (vacant only) for large apartment complexes as well as smaller holdings managed by realtors, property managers, and individual homeowners.
There's a lot of demand for this type of cleaning. We do mostly newer buildings and they require top-notch craftsmanship to keep the units nice. If you live near a large city you may get by very handsomely working for property managers, many of whom won't be quite as demanding as the owners of newer complexes and who pay even better. Just phone around to various real estate offices and property management companies (in the Yellow Pages) till you find some that need your services. And if you have painting or other related "fix-it" skills, so much the better. Many companies use full-time maintenance crews who do it all . . . fix, clean, paint, shampoo, etc.
We use "professional" cleaning supplies which are inexpensive and far more efficient than the retail supplies available at your local market. (These professional cleaners can be used — on a small scale — at home as well.) The two most important basics we buy from our local janitorial supply outlet are:
 Chrome and tile cleaner. A thick, pink liquid (phosphoric acid bass) used for tubs, chrome, and plastic. It's applied with a rag or — as I do — with a "Scotch-Brite" pad. And always wear gloves!
 Degreaser. A thinner (than above) blue liquid that's a super overall cleaner for cupboards, woodwork, floors, etc., wherever grease is a problem. (it's also used by carpet cleaners with great results when sprayed on as a spot remover before shampooing.) We mix the degreaser with equal amounts of ammonia — lemon scented ammonia smells best — and equal amounts of water . . . and dispense it from a spray bottle.
Both of these —  and  — cost $3.$4 a gallon and we dilute them. Our other supplies include: ammonia (used with water and a Squeegee for windows), detergent (general cleaning and for refrigerators), "Comet" cleanser (for sinks), "E-Z Off" (for ovens), plus lots of rags and cotton toweling.
Once you get yourself in the routine- — it takes a few months! — this work can be quite profitable . . . $5-$6 per hour each. For a one-bedroom apartment — cleaning and windows only — we charge $30-$40. This might not sound like much but it only takes us (a couple) two and a half to four hours to do the work. And consider that it requires no special skills or fancy equipment and can be done out of the trunk of your car.
Another nice thing about this work is that it usually doesn't matter if you have long hair . . . as long as you're reliable and good. Dependable people are hard to find. And no one is hanging over your shoulder. You are — in effect — a private contractor and pay your own taxes. You won't make a fortune . . . but you're in demand and you're your own boss.
— Don & Melanie Haddad
A couple of years ago my wife and I — tired of the graduate school merry-go-round — packed up and moved back to the West Coast. We had enough money saved to live for about three months . . . time enough to start building a small cabin on an 80-acre mining claim that I'd acquired from my grandfather several years before.
By the time December rolled around, though, our wallet was gathering cobwebs and I was forced to take a job at a local lumberyard. After five months of long hours and low pay and with my wife pulling her hair out trying to finish the cabin by herself, I left the job. Summer was coming and we were a few dollars ahead . . . so we went back to the mountains till we felt the ole money pinch once more.
Determined not to go through such an experience again, I pulled out our collection of MOTHER's back issues and began looking for some way to earn a bit of money in a small town. Whatever form of employment we came up with, though, It had to leave me time to enjoy our cabin, the forest, and my wife's company. Then I came across the house painting articles by Joel Ellis and Don Geary in MOTHER NO. 28 . . . and the "Feedback on House Painting" by Ray Miller in Issue No. 31.
I'd done a bit of painting before — enough to know I wouldn't like it to become a full-time job anyway — but I collected the few brushes I had and bought about $10 worth of equipment (thinner, Spackle, scrapers, wire brushes, and an edger). Then I bartered some of my future help to a neighbor in exchange for the loan of a small stepladder and a 20-foot extension ladder and headed into town to attempt a little advertising.
A friend, however, suggested that I take advantage of the free advertising that was available on the local radio station's buy, sell, and swap program . . . rather than go the conventional route through the local, twice weekly newspaper. Initially I had planned to call the radio station three times a week, but my very first call yielded two jobs . . . enough to keep me pretty busy for over a week and net my operation close to $600.
For the remainder of the summer and into the fall I kept fairly busy, only working — at the most — two weeks per month . . . while still earning more than I had the previous spring. My hours are very flexible and when I finish with one job I just start on the next. If I want time off I take it . . . then use the tried-and-true radio advertising to get started again.
Wintertime is a bit slow, but a few interior jobs keep us going until spring. Living near the coast helps too, as Mother Nature makes regular painting a necessity.
Old customers are coming back and recommend me to their friends and — after a year of this work — I'm doing pretty well. Thanks, MOTHER, for being so helpful.
— Sam & Cathi Strait
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