Knitted Ornaments, Self Publishing, and Other Business Startups

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
It took them a few years, but a husband and wife team in Sheboygan Fails, WI found their niche selling knitted ornaments.

The following are business startups that readers established after reading articles in MOTHER EARTH NEWS.


Knitted Ornaments Business

On a hot, sultry August night in 1968 I came to the
realization that I needed a new challenge. “We’ve got to
get a hobby,” I said to my wife. “And, considering the way
prices are rising, it’d be nice if we could find one that’d
bring in some cash!” Well, Kathy (a home economics
instructor) was interested in both sewing and knitting, and
I (a draftsman) liked to draw and work with my hands. So we
figured we ought to be able to come up with an activity
that could involve us both.

Our first project was creating Barbie Doll dresses and
Barbie-sized racks and wardrobes. With only $10 in seed
money we bought yarn, thread, Barbie patterns (two, at 50¢
apiece), fabric scraps, and craft magazines. Soon
Kathy was selling our handiwork.

Unfortunately, we learned the hard way that a good craft
business doesn’t grow overnight. We collected a total of
only $100 during the first two years of our hobby. That sum
went back into the business, of course, and we added
knitted items, refrigerator magnets, and Christmas tree
ornaments to our line of products. And, while we were
diversifying, we started reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS articles like “How to Make $1,000 a Week Making
Candles,” for instance, gave us
hope that our part-time recreational activity might someday
earn us enough money to let us spend more time at it. So we
kept right on working, and enjoying our somewhat profitable
pastime. In years three through six of our enterprise
we earned about $500 annually.

But then we really started using our heads. We
dropped 95% of all our craft production except for our felt
and calico Christmas tree ornaments, which we
increased by 100%. We had found our specialty, and we
proceeded to get better at it pretty quickly. We also
picked up some tips from “How to Start and Run a Profitable Craft Business,” and our
husband-and-wife enterprise began to get up steam. We first
placed holiday ornaments in local craft shops on a
consignment system. Then–as the stores ordered more
and more items–we began to work strictly on a “cash
on delivery” basis … and now we have to turn orders
away. Our annual investment is up to $800, but last year
(our twelfth in the craft business) we grossed over
$5,000!

The most important piece of advice Kathy and I can offer
aspiring craftspersons is this: Stress quality, not
quantity: Excellence is what real craft lovers are after!
It’s our belief that our emphasis on making the best
products we can has helped our bootstrap business
grow.

Lee & Kathy Mathwig
Sheboygan Fails, WI

Self Publishing Business

Years ago, while traveling with my
serviceman son, I made friends with a goodly number of his
buddies’ children. The youngsters came to refer to me as
“Grandma,” and we often grew so close that I’d write to
them after their families were transferred.

Later I moved to a farm that’s situated 30 miles from the
nearest town, where I soon had a fine family of farm
animals including an assortment of cats and dogs, a goat
named Pandora, and a beautiful white rabbit that goes by
the name of Elephant. But I was still Grandma to a
lot of those youngsters I’d started corresponding
with.

Well, I was looking for a way to supplement my income at
home when I happened across Steve Brown’s article, “You Can Start Your Own Publishing Business.” After I read that piece, I thought about how much
fun it would be to publish something I had written
myself … and I thought about the ever-present pile of
to-be-answered letters from adopted grandchildren on my
desk … and I thought about all my wonderful, funny animal
friends … and then all those notions kind of added up in
my brain. The result was Notes FromRaggedy’sMailbox, a monthly newsletter
for children from “Grandma,” about
life on the homestead. Just $70 got it going: $15 for
advertising, $40 for printing, and another $15 for
postage.

Now I’m grossing about $60 a month (and the amount is
steadily increasing), “Raggedy’s” circulation is growing,
and the population of animals that make up the newsletter’s
cast of characters is thriving. If your child would like to
get to know a goat that “rides” a motorcycle, a pig that
rubs against your leg like a cat, a herd of goats that come
running like dogs when they’re called, and a nice farm
woman named “Grandma” who feeds and waters them all,
send $10 for a year’s subscription–or $1.00 for a
sample copy–to:

Phyllis Bowen
Raggedy Ranch
Woodbine, KS

Home Drafting Business

Working 50 hours and more a
week–with no overtime pay and no chance of
advancement–gradually became too grim a situation for
me to be satisfied with. I was chief draftsman for a steel
fabrication shop, and I liked my work … but not my job.
Then, in November of 1978, I read “Mother Types at Home” by
Marsha K. Strong. Although
I’m no good at typing and certainly not a mother, this
article gave me the inspiration I needed to start an “at
home” business

I’m now running my own drafting service, working chiefly
for engineering firms and fabricators (including my former
employer) Most of my jobs to date have come from the
phosphate, citrus, and tourist industries of central
Florida. I’ve also made drawings for the new Orlando
International Airport and for Walt Disney World, and
traveled as far away as Escanaba, MI, where
I mapped out a dust collection system for a transportation
company.

My most productive advertising is by word of mouth. On
almost every job, I meet someone else with a “little
project” requiring drawings. So it seems that I’ve
finally been able to combine the work I love with a “job” I
enjoy.

Since I’d been drafting for a number of years before I
started my own enterprise, I already had most of the
reference books and some of the tools that I needed. But I
didn’t have the kind of equipment that a company
usually provides, such as a blueprint machine and office
furniture. I purchased such items, used, from business
people in my area (most of those folks really seemed to
want the newcomer to succeed!), and I’ll continue buying
equipment as the need arises, of course … but my initial
investment came to less than $1,000.

After four months of running my company, I find that I put
in fewer hours than I used to, and –though I’m not
yet earning more money than in my former job–I’m
working for myself, I enjoy my labor a whole lot
more, and I still gross $8.75 an hour, plus expenses!

Earl F. Coell
Mount Dora, FL 

Ice Cream Truck Business

Since I enjoy a job that gives me a chance to meet a lot of
people–especially youngsters–it seemed natural
for me to start a summer bootstrap business operating a
bell-ringing ice cream truck. And “How to Go to Work for
Yourself” in MOTHER EARTH NEWS gave me just the push
I needed to get that wagon rolling.

Before I went to work, however, I had to purchase a vehicle
to haul my frozen delicacies around in. I bought a 1963
Chevy van for $200, and spent $200 more to paint my truck,
put a window into its curb side to sell from, and install a
set of burglar alarm bells to provide my “come and get it”
ring (which turned out to be the only advertisement the
traveling ice cream store ever needed). Then I got
clearance from the local board of health, purchased a
seller’s license for about $50, and headed for the ice
cream supplier. He lent me a good freezer
and–for less than $50–furnished me with a
selection of his 12 most popular frozen desserts. (Decide
on the quantity according to how much you think you can
sell and how much you can afford to buy. If you’re starting
out with minimal funds, you can always go back to
the supplier after you’ve sold enough of the tasty treats
to build up your stock of cash.)

Then I headed out and started working up my route (it’s
important to establish a regular itinerary as quickly as
possible). I went to factories, service stations, and
business places–trying to hit each at the most
strategic time of day and, after school hours, to
residential areas. It doesn’t take long to learn which
locations are worth returning to and which should be
dropped. And you’d better believe that one of the best ways
to draw a crowd is to keep those truck bells constantly
ringing!

Being an ice cream man isn’t an easy job: The hours are
long, and the work requires a goodly portion of
self-discipline (after all, there’s a constant temptation
to “eat into” your profits). But it has netted me as much
as $100 a day … and given me many a dose of sunshine
from happy children’s faces!

Tom Deverin
Floyd, VA