Readers of MOTHER EARTH NEWS share their experiences with starting their own business and getting out from under “the man’s” thumb.
Express Creativity With a Auto Painting Business
My husband Ralph and I decided we wanted to be more
self-sufficient than was possible while working 9-to-5 jobs in a California city. So — a year ago — we packed
up our baby boy and headed for rural Idaho. We’d been
reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS for several years, and
the article “How to Go to Work for Yourself” made self-employment seem a tantalizing (and feasible)
Ralph had nine years of experience with custom-painting motorcycles, cars
and boats. Plus, he has a natural artistic
talent, so we scouted the area in which we hoped to
settle and found that (though there were many paint and
body shops), no one was offering airbrush, pinstriping,
lettering and gold leaf work. We decided that a custom
paint business would be just the thing for us.
With an airbrush and some tools in our possession already,
we sold our motorcycle and invested the $1,000 that the
sale brought us in business cards and flyers. Then we
purchased the air compressor, spray guns and paint that we
needed to start our venture.
The first six (winter) months were lean. But, determined as
we were not to be forced back into the old rut, we got
together $300 and relocated our business from our garage to
a building near the center of town. There we officially
opened the doors of our shop.
Our endeavor’s new home happened to be right next door to
an established paint business with a spray booth. So, it seemed helpful to both concerns to swap our specialized
work for the use of our business neighbor’s booth. This,
and other trades with paint and body shops in the area,
allowed us to expand our capabilities and take jobs that we
couldn’t otherwise have tackled.
Though our business is seasonal and even varies from week
to week (from as little as $50 to well over $1,000), the
venture is now definitely off the ground.
Ralph loves incorporating his artwork into his livelihood,
and the paperwork I do for the shop doesn’t force me to
labor full time, which means I can spend my spare hours playing with
my child, gardening and engaging in the hobbies I love but
have never had time for. And we’re almost ready to
buy some beautiful land!
Thank you, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, for giving us the inspiration we needed to
get where we are today.
— Ralph & Debbie Finley, Eagle, Idaho
Become a Hobby Expert
In the four years since my husband Terry and I first
borrowed three issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS from a friend, we’ve
developed from city-dependent, bored, frustrated people
into increasingly self-sufficient country folks — and the
success of my bootstrap business has had a lot to do with
I had seen articles on home typing businesses in MOTHER EARTH NEWS now
and again, and they helped to get me going. But, my
typing service is something a little different from most
and was actually the offshoot of an earlier home business.
Back in 1979 — when we needed extra
cash — I started to teach crocheting in our home. The
venture was a success, too, but it got cut short when Terry
and I moved to the Ozarks In the summer of 1980. No one
would drive up our mountainous road just to attend a
crochet class, so I decided to try a business that would
combine my teaching ability and typing skill, and that I
could conduct by mail.
I began by sending a note to the (free) readers’ letters
department of a crochet magazine, offering to break
difficult patterns down into step-by-step instructions. The
letter was published last April, and in the first month I
cleared $140 (over and above the $4.00 I spent for typing
paper and the $17.50 that went to repair my tired
typewriter). By mid-June I’d earned $60 more, so I placed
an ad in another crochet magazine (it cost me $18.60) to
generate increased business.
Today, besides the fact that the demand for my written
crochet instructions is still growing, I’ve started writing
crocheted doll clothes patterns to be sold commercially.
I’ve also been asked to design crocheted garments for dolls — and one of the crafts magazines has approached me about
proofing its patterns before they go to press.
Business is so good, in fact, that I want to share the
opportunity: I believe that the field has room for more
people who can handle instructional language and a
typewriter, as well as a crochet needle. (There also seems
to be a real need for knitting experts who can perform a
— Rita Neve, The Crochet Cabin
Start a Freelance Cleaning Service
Last January I found myself unemployed — along with a
lot of other folks in Spokane. Before long,
pounding the pavement had me pretty discouraged. That’s
when I turned to MOTHER EARTH NEWS for ideas
and “You Can ‘Clean Up’ as a Freelance Housecleaner” gave me the perfect answer to my problems. You
see, not only did I actually have experience working as a
maid, but the article was even set right In my own town, which gave my morale a little extra boost.
I hesitated at first, though, simply because (being new to
the area) I didn’t have local references. However, a few
quick calls to friends in California took care of that
problem. I found that prospective customers were
happy to phone out of state to get my references.
My initial outlay totaled just $15 for a one-week ad
in the local newspaper. Though my first few accounts came
in immediately, the competition was quite heavy. So,
for a while I supplemented my income by working through a
home health care service for the elderly. When my
housemates noticed how much our own home brightened up, I
was able to swap an afternoon’s cleaning each week for a
reduced share of the living expenses.
My new enterprise allowed me to be my own boss in a
profession I enjoyed. I set my own hours, wore the clothes
I was comfortable in and enjoyed the opportunity of
visiting people in all walks of life from doctors and
accountants in expensive homes to older folks in downtown
apartments. Bus fare turned out to be my only continuing
expense and many of my clients even reimbursed me for
that small travel cost. Working only 20 hours a week, I
netted an average of $75.
— Crissy Carey, Spokane, Washington
Make Crafts From “Junk”
I’ve always been partial to crafts that utilize free or
nearly free materials. And, living in a suburban area (I’m
not on a homestead yet), I’ve often marveled at what my
friends and neighbors consider to be garbage. For example,
hardly anyone here saves cornhusks, but I find them very
I first foamed to make traditional cornhusk dolls from a
book I checked out at the public library. It wasn’t
long before I filled the house to overflowing with charming
little ladies, gents and youngsters. The dolls all assume
different poses and have a variety of props. They’re
constructed entirely of cornhusks and cotton string. The
tools that I make for them are crafted from wood
scraps, fabric, wire and more husks ($10 to $15 will
cover any and all materials I use for 30 to 40 dolls).
At any rate, when I picked up a few back issues of MOTHER
at a used book sale, I was on my way! “Get Your Crafts Into Stores” gave me just the advice I
needed and soon I was in the happy position of having
more orders for my little people than I could fill. I
charge $3.50 to $5.50 for each doll, and — since I can
complete three to five of them in an evening — I’m able
to bring in as much as $135 a week.
However, l now have another business as well: I teach my
craft to scout troops, garden clubs, church youth groups and classes at recreation centers. Every student goes away
from the classes with a cornhusk doll he or she has made
and a new skill all for less than the cost of one of my
creations. On the other hand, I earn $25 for each hour
spent teaching, and sharing my methods has not
reduced the demand for the dolls that I make. In fact, it
has served to advertise my product and increase my
— Linda Palter, Islip, N.Y.