Small Business Ideas

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House painting is just one business started by an inspired MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader.

<h2>A Business Selling Sandwiches</h2>
<p>I’m enrolled at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and–like most students–my Number One problem is money. Part time jobs here in Isla Vista (a student community adjoining campus) are scarce, low-paying, and quickly filled. Last year, however–with the help of Jack McQuarrie’s <a title=”article on how to start a home bakery” href=””>article on how to start a home bakery</a>, I set up and ran my own spare-time business . . . right out of my apartment.</p>
<p>I’d noticed the proliferation of small, independent restaurants that catered to Isla Vista’s student population… and I knew that-among students-sandwiches are a popular lunchtime “main dish”. So I decided why not go into the <em>sandwich-catering</em>
<p>First off, I invested about $10 in a stock of whole wheat bread, alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, lettuce, natural mayonnaise, avocados, real peanut butter, and several kinds of cheeses. Then I [1] made a batch of sample sandwiches, [2] wrapped ’em in cellophane, [3] gave them names like Avocado Supreme, Peanut Butter Crunch, etc., and [4] visited some of the local coffeehouses and restaurants. After three or four days of showing and giving away my wares, I landed contracts with four businesses. . . each calling for five sandwiches per day to be delivered. (That was a total–in other words–of 20 sandwiches per day, which was about my practical upper limit while attending school.)</p>
<p>Before long, I’d developed a routine: Each morning I awoke at about 8:30, turned my kitchen into a sandwich factory for an hour and a half, then delivered my products to my accounts (all of which happened to be within walking distance). In the afternoons I attended classes . . . and bought whatever ingredients I needed for the following day (such as fresh produce).</p>
<p>The profit picture looked something like this: Depending on the particular variety I made, the sandwiches cost between 35¢ and 55¢ to make. (I was able to cut costs by growing my own sprouts and buying ingredients in bulk from the local food co-op.) Each sandwich had a “markup” for me of 25¢ . . . which meant–since I fixed some 100 sandwiches per five-day workweek–that I cleared about $25 a week for my efforts.</p>
<p>No, I didn’t grow rich . . . but I did manage to [1] supply a healthful product to the community, [2] keep the business at home, [3] have evenings and weekends off, and [4] earn a modest income throughout the school year . . . without interfering with my studies. And that’s just what I set out to do.</p>
<p>I hope this “success story” helps other students beat the high cost of college, and I hope it inspires someone in the same way that Jack McQuarrie’s story in MOTHER NO. 37 inspired me.</p>
<p>Dan Wesolowski<br />

Isla Vista, Calif.</p>
<h2>An Upholstery Business</h2>
<p>Like most other “dropout” types, I too–once faced the drudgery of a standard 7:30 to 5:00 job. All the while that I worked as an upholsterer for one of Indiana’s largest shops, I longed for the day when I’d save up enough capital to break away and start my own business.</p>
<p>But it wasn’t until two years ago when I read the article <a title=”” our=”” family=”” upholstery=”” business”=”” “=”” href=””>”Our Family Upholstery Business” </a>on page 24 of MOTHER NO. 30 (which, I might add, I picked up secondhand) that I suddenly realized: Here I was–an experienced worker–afraid to try a new venture while all the time two determined people (who learned the trade from scratch) were happily–and successfully–“making it”. So I decided then and there I just <em>had</em> to give the idea a try.</p>
<p>Once the ball started rolling, of course, the roughest part was rounding up equipment. I searched all over to find a used industrial sewing machine but the effort was wasted. So I walked into my local bank, and–though we’d just had our first child and possessed no savings whatsoever–borrowed $625 for a Rex sewing machine and $75 for a Handy Junior buttoner. And since I had my own hand tools already (close to a $30 investment), I was all set as far as basic equipment went.</p>
<p>Next I started contacting various wholesalers in my area for supplies and catalogs. . . and found that I really didn’t need to keep a large stock of materials on hand after all. Most companies will sell one yard of fabric–or even one box of tacks–if you really want them. (Anyone in my area should get in touch with Thomas Cook & Sons in Evansville . . . the folks with the lowest prices and most helpful advice in this area.)</p>
<p>At that point I purchased a Retail Sales License for $4.00, quit my regular job, and set up shop. Before I knew it my original 8 X 10 shed was too small and I had to relocate my business to a new shop downtown. And next year I plan to save rent by moving the enterprise to the little homestead we recently purchased a few miles away.</p>
<p>Believe me, I’m now making better money than I ever did at my old job. What’s more, I sometimes find occasion to swap off work in exchange for other goods and services. For instance my used air staple gun was given to me by a’ client when I recovered his cycle seat (a great deal for me because the device has saved me time, energy, and money over the hand stapler that I used to use). And I’ve even had my car painted in trade for other work . . . no money, no tax.</p>
<p>So thank you, MOTHER, for giving me the incentive to set out on my own. I hope that other readers considering the move will be encouraged to try it!</p>
<p>Tim Hamblen<br />

Brownstown, Ind.</p>
<h2>Raising Rabbits for Profit</h2>
<p>Making a living on our new 40-acre homestead in northcentral Washington isn’t going to be easy, but–thanks to MOTHER–at least we’re off to a good start. .It all began when we read E.P. Bell’s <a title=”” it’s=”” a=”” hare-raising=”” business”=”” “=”” href=””>”It’s a Hare-Raising Business” </a>and Bob Bode’s “Rabbits, Records, and Other Matters” in Issue No. 32.</p>
<p>Those articles–and the “Feedback” letters on them which appeared in MOTHER NO. 34–convinced us that raising rabbits could help pay some bills, add meat to our table, and supply fur for quilts and other crafts. So we began investigating the market for bunnies in our area.</p>
<p>We soon found a processor in Spokane who was willing to pay us 47¢ a pound live weight for white (New Zealand, California, etc.) breeds, and 42¢ a pound for colored (Checker Giant, Palomino, Chinchilla, and Satin) breeds. And a few quick cost-versus-profit calculations later, we felt reasonably encouraged . . . but decided that we should talk to an experienced rabbit raiser before jumping into the bunny business feet first.</p>
<p>We located a rabbitry near our home and–after calling the owner to get permission–went over to talk to her and ask some questions. (We figured that any lady who keeps seventy-five does–as she does–must know what she’s doing . . . and we were right.) In the course of our conversation, the lady mentioned that she’d been looking for a young steer to raise. . . and as it happened, we had one. So–in the best tradition of MOTHER’s “Successful Swaps” contributors–we arranged a trade: We gave her our five-month-old steer . . . and, in exchange, she gave us five does, a buck, cages,feeders, water bowls, nest boxes, and a roll of caging wire. We were in business!</p>
<p>In the two months since the trade, our herd’s population has grown to eighteen producing does and two bucks. We have fourteen 6-week-old fryers, sixteen three-weekers, and another eight does will have delivered by the time you read this. Folks are already coming to us with orders for the meatwhich goes for $1.28 a pound-and we may sell a few animals (Chinchillas or Golden Checker Giants) as pets for $4.00 apiece. And–because rabbit manure makes an ideal medium for growing night crawlers–we were recently asked to raise worms . . . a local filling station says it’ll sell all the wrigglers we can produce!</p>
<p>There’s more, too! We’ve discovered that bunnies make prime trading material! On one occasion we swapped a portion of our “inventory” (two does) for a dependable milk supply (a 3-month-old goat). And on other occasions we’ve increased our own herd by exchanging produce (asparagus roots for one doe, and iris and gladiolus bulbs for another). We even traded four hours of labor to a nearby rancher for two sets of wooden hutches!</p>
<p>In other words: Thanks, MOTHER, for turning us on to our “hare-raising business” (and for encouraging the barter system). Maybe this letter will inspire others to follow in our footsteps!</p>
<p>Chuck & Cathy Tate<br />

Keller, Wash.</p>
<h2>Starting a Business Painting Houses</h2>
<p>Two years of working as a restaurant manager was more than enough to convince me that I wasn’t made for high pressure and long hours. The idea of becoming my own boss–somehow, someway–seemed a whole lot more appealing. And one day–while thumbing through MOTHER NO. 28–I came across just the inspiration I needed to make the break: Joel Ellis’ <a title=”article on house painting” href=””>article on house painting</a>. Joel’s enthusiasm for his business was downright infectious . . . and I decided right then and there to give it a try on a part-time basis.</p>
<p>My first task, of course, was to gather together the tools of the trade: a stepladder, brushes, dropcloths, and a 24-foot ladder. (Some folks prefer to rent that last item, but I’ve found that most jobs require just such a ladder, and–in the long run–it’s more economical to buy your own. A forty-footer, on the other hand, is rarely called for . . . and when one is, I rent it.) All in all, I spent just $90 for the equipment I needed to get started. I think it’s a good idea for anyone to begin with the basic necessities, and then purchase more and better tools as your business develops.</p>
<p>Unfortunately, even the best-equipped house painter won’t make much money without customers. . . so my next project was to drum up some clients. Word-of-mouth advertising is invaluable once you’ve had an opportunity to build a reputation, but I needed a way to make my availability known fast. So I had some promotional flyers printed up–with my business name and phone number clearly displayed–and distributed them from house to house in neighborhoods where I thought I’d like to work. Then, while I waited (and prayed) for a response, I painted friends’ and relatives houses at lowprofit rates, in order to gain firsthand experience.</p>
<p>Before I knew it, calls were coming in . . . and every job I did seemed to lead to two or three more. Marietta, Georgia–where I live–is a fairly large city near Atlanta and has more than its share of house painters . . . so competition is appreciate a job well done. If your work is of the highest quality, your clients will gladly pay you accordingly, and refer you to their friends and neighbors. So regardless of competition, you’ll always be busy. (Another good way to encourage new business is to place a sign–with your name and phone number on it–in front of the house you’re painting. And when you’re done with a job, send your customer a card thanking him for his patronage . . . he’ll remember you for it.)</p>
<p>Needless to say, I’m a full-time brushwielding businessman now, and a true believer in house painting as a lucrative, set-your-own-limits career. I enjoy my work, make a good income, and get lots of fresh air. And just think: If it weren’t for MOTHER and Joel Ellis, I might <em>still</em> be slaving away in that restaurant!</p>
<p>Mike Chambers<br />

Marietta, Ga.</p>