Starting A Home Business
Reprinted from Countryside Magazine
WALTER BRADISH - HOMESTEADER & BUSINESSMAN
But that’s a mixed blessing. With so many opportunities, how do we make a decision? What criteria should we use, and how do we evaluate our choice to make sure it’s the best one? Here are some factors to consider as you set out to find the ideal home business.
This will help narrow your search. If you want to work without leaving home, you won’t be a house painter: you’d only have one customer. If you want retail sales but you live on a dead-end dirt road miles from anywhere, you’ll do better in a location with more traffic.
How much money do I want or need? Someone supplementing a spouse’s paycheck or social security will need less than a person who is a family’s sole provider. A person in debt will have different needs than one who has savings. Someone who already has a job and starts a home business on the side is in another situation. And $10,000 a year might be a lot for some people, but a pittance to others.
This analysis will automatically eliminate many possibilities. You won’t support a family with a seasonal business selling something with a low markup. But this might be ideal for the one who just wants a little extra income without getting into the rat race. How much time, effort and money am I able or willing to invest in my business? Could I, or would I, go into debt to get started? What is the state of my physical, mental, and psychological health? What effect will a business have on my life? On my family? My homestead? And the key questions: What skills or experience do I have, and what do I enjoy doing? The answers will help you focus your search.
Your product or service
This is a common hang-up for people who are engrossed with homestead-type activities. They love goats, and they’d love to sell goat milk. But can they sell it, at a profit? Can someone make money selling tomatoes, sweet corn or pumpkins, when other people are giving them away? Sometimes. But not very often. And seldom without a special twist that sets them apart from the crowd. The same holds true for most other homestead products, crafts, and many other goods and services. Do what you love, but make sure somebody is willing to pay you!
There’s another angle to this. Are there no Jerusalem artichokes in local grocery stores or farm markets because consumers don’t buy them, or don’t they buy them because they’re not available? In many cases like this customers simply don’t know about a product. But can you afford to educate them? Probably not. This requires careful research and planning. If you’re not able or willing to do that, you’ll be better off working for somebody else.
Using skills and talents to make money
There are many hairdressers in rural areas, working from their homes. But they didn’t just decide to open a shop because some people who want to look nice would come to them rather than driving to town. They went to school to learn their trade, and most of them worked in salons in town before starting their own businesses. The demand for their services is quite commonplace: their training, experience and skills are not. There are many similar businesses: small engine repair, auto body repair, stonemasonry and pet grooming, to name a few.
Almost everyone is good at something. But not all skills are equally marketable in all locations. A person who is a wonderful classical oboist would have a hard time getting gigs in a sparsely populated rural area that favors country music. Even an excellent midwife won’t get much business in a geriatric community. And being an expert at growing tomatoes isn’t very profitable if half the people in the county have home gardens with tomatoes rotting on the vines.
Determine what skills you have that are in demand in your area or that could be sold by mail or on the web. The greater your skills, and the greater the demand for them, the better your chance for success. If you come up empty-handed, why not learn a trade? If you like to tinker, maybe you’d enjoy repairing appliances. Go to a trade school, take a correspondence course, or apprentice yourself to someone and learn how to do something people in your area will be happy to pay for.
Using money to make money
One example is earthmoving equipment. One of my clients bought a bulldozer for his own use. Pretty soon neighbors were asking him to do grading and excavating for them. Another fellow had the same experience with his backhoe. And the guy who owns a portable lumber mill is almost legendary in many rural areas. Not everyone can operate these machines. Even fewer can afford them. If enough people want what they can do, this is a ripe business opportunity. In farming country, this could extend to custom plowing, planting, haymaking or combining. The seasonality of these jobs is both a plus and a minus. Many farmers, especially smaller ones, don’t want to tie up capital in equipment that is used only a few days a year, and find it more economical to farm out such work. Or their own equipment is so busy they need extra help. The downside is that the custom operator faces the same consideration of having an investment in machinery that stands idle for most of the year. But if you already have the equipment, this could be a natural.
Using time to make money
Using your imagination to make money
If all else fails . . .
Location is all-important here. Most tasks like this are more marketable in cities than in the countryside, where most people tend to be pretty self-reliant and frugal. But who knows? You could find yourself in an area where people are looking for somebody to take certain jobs off their hands. In a farming community this might mean trimming cows’ feet or whitewashing. Elderly people (or those with hectic city jobs who live in the country or have second homes there) might want help with gardening, yard work or home maintenance. You’ll never know until you check it out in your own neighborhood.
The business plan
What not to do
If a “business opportunity” depends less on selling products than on signing up other suckers, watch out. If it involves some “amazing new secret,” be skeptical. One of the worst things about scams of any kind is that they usually bilk people who can least afford it. Be skeptical. If something seems suspicious, thoroughly investigate it. (And beware of “testimonials” from people who make outrageous claims.) Better yet, cover your ears and run! It’s common for beginners to copy others who have become successful. This can be very tricky. A few years ago there was a great deal of interest, and profit, in growing ginseng. But so many people started growing the root that the bottom fell out of the market. Even long-established growers went out of business. Ostrich raising and Boer goats are other examples. It doesn’t take much imagination to follow the crowd, but it does take a lot of research and planning.
Which brings me to the best advice I can offer a beginner: Don’t go into business; grow into it! Some of the most successful small businesses I’ve worked with grew out of the owners’ hobbies or interests. In many cases the ideal situation is to start a part-time business while you’re still employed. Grow, and learn, until the home business is running smoothly enough to allow you to quit the other job. And the most important advice of all? Get started now!
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