Home Business Ideas: Moving, Publishing and Tintype Businesses

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Learn how to earn some extra cash with home business ideas from MOTHER's readers.

This collection of letters from readers describes their successful home business ideas inspired by articles they read in MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

Richard and Angela Dailey from Caldwell, Idaho:

My husband, Richard, is a horseshoer by trade, but we haven’t lived in our present location long enough to establish a full-time shoeing operation … so inspired by William Overton’s story The Backroads Newspaper Dealership we’ve taken on a newspaper delivery route to see us through until we are able to live entirely on Richard’s shoeing income.

Not that we were extremely enthusiastic, at first, about going into the paper distribution biz. We weren’t! You see, back in Montana (where we lived prior to moving here), I’d driven a rural newspaper route on several occasions to fill in for a friend … and it was horrible!

On my former route, I had to drive 17 miles to my pickup spot at 2:00 a.m. (often in temperatures of forty below), then drive 100 miles on ice-and snow-covered roads … roads that were so thick with deer that you’d have to slam on the brakes at least five times during the night to avoid (sometimes narrowly) hitting one of the big animals. (Then too, it wasn’t unusual for me to have to push the little Datsun through three-foot snowdrifts, or drive with my head out the window after the wipers had become too heavily buried under blowing snow.) As I said before, it was horrible.

After reading William Overton’s write-up, though, we reconsidered. “Maybe all newspaper routes aren’t that bad,” we mused. “Just the ones in Montana!”

Finally, Richard went down to the local newspaper office to inquire. At that time, there were only a couple of small routes available, so the man at the office sent Richard home with the assurance that he’d call as soon as a bigger, more lucrative route came up.

Sure enough, a couple of weeks ago the guy called to offer us a route that pays $540 per month (before gas), with working hours of 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., six days a week … and we grabbed it!

Like Overton, Richard started with a well-worn (120,000 miles) Rambler, which he soon had to trade for something more reliable. Now we own a ’75 Ford Courier pickup, which does the route much faster and uses a reasonable $60 per month in gasoline.

What can I say? The job’s hours and wages are good, there’s been no investment (other than for transportation) on our part, and Richard has all morning to shoe horses. As a side-benefit, we’re able to help our friends who’re looking for a place to live in the country, since Richard — by covering a huge amount of territory daily — often finds empty houses before they’re listed.

Thank you, William Overton … and thank you, MOTHER!

Suzanne Harmon from Springboro, Ohio:

We did it! We read Catherine Lesley’s article, Underground Moving, and equipped with a new Chevy van and a fistful of 3-by-5 cards — we went into the moving business. And it worked!

During our year-long stint as freelance movers, we earned anywhere from $12 to $1,000 per week … and we think most anyone else can, too. Of course, a good part of our success could be attributed to our location: We lived in a large (900,000 population) East Coast city, within 15 minutes of four major colleges and many smaller schools. (I doubt if this business would work well at all in a rural setting.)

Our clientele consisted mostly of young urban dwellers and college students … folks who usually have few belongings, can’t afford to hire a “professional” mover, and/or can’t (because of age or financial restrictions) rent their own moving van.

As you might expect, we learned a lot in our 12 months as movers. Here, then, is some advice for would-be emulators:

  • Buy an inexpensive vehicle. We bought our van new and — in order to make the huge monthly payments — were forced to take on some jobs that we later regretted.
  • Be on time. 
  • Treat your customer’s belongings as if they were your own, and make sure your hired help does the same.
  • Stay loose … but don’t be too loose when it comes time to collect your fee. Make sure your customer understands your rates before you begin. 
  • Try to get your client to help with the move. If he does, he or she is less likely to complain about the speed at which you work … plus, he or she’s saving money.
  • Keep your advertising system simple. Bulletin boards — on campus, at supermarkets, in Laundromats — are excellent. Whether your notices are mimeographed, photocopied, or hand-drawn, be sure they’re eye-catching … and be sure to allow a certain amount of time each week for re-posting ads that have been taken down.

Just for the record, college newspaper ads were our best source of customers. (Radio spots, on the other hand, barely pulled enough business to pay for the “air time.”)

I might mention that, in addition to moving, we contracted to do delivery work for a small local newspaper (which was a great help to us during our slack periods). Also, we arranged to haul leftover back issues of the newspaper from the editorial offices … straight to the scrap and paper dealer. (With the price of newsprint what it is, this would be — by itself — a good way to earn extra money.)

We’re out of the moving business now. (We just got tired of “totin’ that barge and liftin’ that bale,” especially after weeks of 12-and 16-hour workdays.) But we’d do it again … and probably do better the second time around.

Suzanne R. Scott from McAllen, Tex:

The idea of writing for MOTHER is — to say the least — one that I approach with no small amount of trepidation. Let me tell you why.

Some time ago, I wrote a Dear Mother letter in which I discussed a few of the problems faced by handicapped people and asked if there were other MOTHER readers with similar difficulties. As a result of this query, I received a number of replies from around the country and eventually developed a steady correspondence with three individuals. Well, one thing led to another until (to make a long tale short) one of those correspondents and I — a couple of months ago — celebrated our first wedding anniversary.

Now, as if that weren’t enough to make me cautious about MOTHER’s power over other folks’ lives, my husband — upon reading Steve Brown’s article, You Can Start Your Own Publishing Business, — was instantly fired with enthusiasm and decided right away to get back into publishing. (Until three years ago — when a disability forced its sale — my mate owned his own publishing firm.)

Because my hubby’s training, experience, and first love (after me, of course) was in the production end of publishing rather than the writing end, he approached the business from that angle. What he did, simply, was to wait until I went out of the house … then grab the phone and order a computer typesetting system! Not some kitchen-table-sized apparatus, mind you, but a bedroom full of whirring, clattering machinery complete with blinking lights!

You think that’s bad? Hah!

After the initial shock wore off, I learned that although my husband (because of his disability) would not — himself — be able to operate the equipment, he could — thanks to his vast knowledge and experience — teach me all about it so that I could run it. What my lover didn’t tell me was that he’d already contracted to do the typesetting for a monthly regional magazine! (How does the saying go? “Three years ago, I couldn’t even spell `typesetter.’ Now I are one!”)

OK. I’ll admit — now that I can run the monster and I have a couple of magazines behind me — the whole thing has actually become rather enjoyable. Living with a computer is not all bliss … but the machine is a lot more predictable than my husband. (At least IT does what I tell it to!)

Trouble is, now that my husband’s time is no longer taken up with teaching me how to run the typesetting equipment, he has enough free time to look for a jillion “odd jobs” for me to do when the computer is idle. (I get more of these every month, as I become more proficient.)

Simply stated, I’m in the typesetting business … in a big way!

All right, MOTHER. Fun is fun, but just how much further do you plan to go in running my life? If this continues, I’ll have to hide the next issue when it arrives, so my husband can’t get his hands on it. (I’d cancel our subscription altogether, except that I’m anxious to see how our typesetting ad comes out!)

Doug DeDecker from Elizabeth, Ill:

About two years ago, Lorna and I were casting about for some kind of self-employment venture we could get into … when we happened to see Dan Ogden’s story on the tintype business.

After reading Dan’s article, we began to think that maybe — just maybe — here was the moneymaking enterprise we’d been looking for. After all, the required capital investment seemed low enough … and (more important) it appeared that a person could earn a respectable income selling portraits made by means of this obsolete photographic process. Thus, we wrote to Elbinger & Sun (the supplier mentioned in Dan’s article) for more information … and — after giving it careful thought — decided to enter the tintype business ourselves.

We had a grand time gathering up serviceable antique cameras, old-timey clothing for our customers to wear, theater backdrops, and all the other odds and ends that went into the creation of our “19th century” photographic studio. Altogether, we spent close to $3,000 on costumes and props … but considering we earned three or four times that much in our first year — and considering that our studio (which abounds with honest-for-real antiques) will undoubtedly go up in value over the years — we figure the money was well spent. (Even so, we did sink a good deal more capital into this project than we really needed to. Based on our experience, I’d say a person could assemble an attractive tintype studio for less than $1,000.)

We made one horrible mistake in the beginning … and that was when we decided to travel the antique show circuit in a mobile studio. We bought a pig of a truck for this purpose and — as a result — saw our gasoline bills (the behemoth got eleven miles to the gallon in a tail wind) and other travel-related expenses eat away at our profits till there was practically nothing left. (The profits — I might add — were woefully small to begin with, since the admission prices charged at the antique shows kept the crowds relatively thin.)

After riding out the tour circuit, we opened a studio last spring in the little town of Galena, Illinois … and finally hit pay dirt.

Now we live on a 500-acre farm outside of town, and our lives are blessed with low rent, a large garden, beautiful views of the surrounding countryside, and remoteness from the turmoil of urban life … all because of the business we started after reading Dan Ogden’s article.

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