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© 1996 Frank E. Fogg - All Rights Reserved


  • Introduction
  • Benefits Of Starting Your Own Business
  • Before You Start
  • Forming A Strategy
  • Implementing The Strategy
  • Optimizing The Results
  • Save For A Rainy Day
  • Some Final Thoughts
  • Business Startup Ideas
  • Business Startup Ideas Using A Computer


Every year thousands of Americans start their own business. Some just  desire a part-time second income while others hope to expand their businesses to full time positions. The downsizing and outplacing in recent years has also  forced many long time employees into home businesses and consulting while searching  for another job.

There are many benefits to starting your own business. The major advantage of running your own business is control. The business can be as small as desired or can be allowed to grow. It can be part-time or full-time. The business can be continued, discontinued or sold depending on your needs. Students and homemakers  can arrange their work around busy schedules. Full time wage earners can use  weekends and evenings to earn a second income.

Another benefit is satisfaction. Life experiences can be used to your  advantage in choosing a business and managing the day to day operations. You  make the decisions and reap the full benefit of your work.

Some types of businesses are not practical for the beginner. Many industries require a large amount of money and equipment to start operations. A shop, factory,  office or storefront must be found. Machinery and equipment must be purchased. People must be hired to form the organization.

The purpose of this book is to provide ideas for small companies that  can be formed using things that you may already have at home Most of these businesses  can be started right in the home. All can be started and run by one person. We will start off with some general hints about planning and starting your business  and then look at some specific business ideas that are either unusual or can  be started with very little investment.


There are many benefits to starting and operating your own small business. You can choose to do something that you like. You can set your own working hours  and use your life experiences to get more fulfillment from your day's work.  You may decide to select a business that is currently a hobby for you, changing something that is fun into a profitable enterprise.

There are also tax benefits associated with operating a business. Much of the expense of starting and operating your company can be deducted from your income tax. The cost of operating a car or truck, part of the home rent or mortgage,  and the cost of goods and supplies used by you may all be deductible.

Of course, one main advantage of your own small business is that you get to enjoy all of the profits. A portion of earnings can be set aside using a variety of self-employed retirement plans. Early retirement may also be possible with the additional income received in this way. If your company grows, you  may have the opportunity to sell it later for a substantial profit.


The most important thing to do before starting your own business is  to get as much information as possible. Most information is free, but mistakes can be very costly. There are a number of groups and organizations that will  be happy to give you important advice on starting your own business. A universe of knowledge is available via the World Wide Web including powerful database search engines that help you to pinpoint specific information you need.

There are several methods you can use to organize your information as  it is developed. Use a filing cabinet or box separated by subject area to organize books, magazines and pamphlets for use at a later date. Save magazine and newspaper  ads, summaries of telephone calls and conversations, and other small items on index cards. Carry a day planner or organizer to record important telephone  numbers and addresses and plan appointments.

Local Trade Organizations and Chambers of Commerce are one good source of information about starting your business. Books and pamphlets are available  that give specific advice about business opportunities and regulations in your  area. Tax registration, financing, business organization, and sources of help  are just a few of the topics covered. Membership in some of these groups may  also offer additional benefits including insurance and trade or group discounts with local merchants.

The Internal Revenue Service provides information about small businesses upon request. They offer hundreds of publications free of charge that explain all aspects of the tax code in plain language. The publications that are designed to provide information for small business owners include:

  • Pub.15 Circular E, Employer's Tax Guide
  • Pub.334 Tax Guide For Small Business
  • Pub.533 Self-Employment Tax
  • Pub.534 Depreciation
  • Pub.560 Retirement Plans for the Self-Employed
  • Pub.583 Taxpayers Starting a Business
  • Pub.587 Business Use of Your Home
  • Pub.910 Guide to Free Tax Services

Almost all companies need to obtain financing at some time. The S.B.A. (Small Business Administration) is a government agency formed to promote small business. They assist the owner in obtaining commercial financing to start and  expand a business. In addition to helping entrepreneurs gain financing, they also offer programs that teach small business owners valuable management skills. Special programs to assist minorities and women are also available. Contact your local office to obtain more information.

Your local City Hall is also a good place to start obtaining information about business in your area. They will be familiar with special regulations  and taxation in your area for the type of company you are considering. They  may also provide references to groups or retired executives in your area that can provide valuable advice on starting and managing your company.

Business and management seminars are a valuable tool for developing  management skills. These seminars are offered by experts from the business community  and cover virtually all topics you will need to know to start and manage your company. Some seminars will cover basic management skills while others will  focus on more specific topics such as:

  • Marketing and Advertising
  • Financing Strategies
  • Tax Planning

An additional advantage of attending seminars is meeting other businesspersons and developing contacts. Most of these entrepreneurs will be happy to talk about  their companies with you and long-term business relationships can be developed.

The local library is another valuable source of free information. Books  and magazines are available about any subject. General advice about starting your business is available in books. Some libraries offer cassette tapes or  video recordings on this subject as well. Magazines provide the most current  news about industry advances, trends and changes.

Friends, co-workers and other business owners can also be good sources of information about starting a business. They may have started and operated a business and can relate personal experiences about the benefits and problems  they encountered.


Every new business will need a strategy to succeed. Now that all of  the information has been collected it is time to proceed with planning to make your company successful.

People will choose a particular product or service over another for  a variety of reasons. Understanding why they do this is important to develop a successful business plan.

Advertising is the first reason people will buy your product or service. The customer cannot buy from you if they do not know you are there or what you  offer. Plan advertising so that it clearly shows what you have to sell. Complex  words create confusion so avoid them. Focus on a few major features of your business that are likely to generate customer interest. A successful advertising strategy will create the desire for people to buy your product.

Price is the second reason people will buy your product or service.  "Lowballing," setting an artificially low price, will not always motivate  the customer to buy from you. Most customers will want to feel that they have  received good value. A price at market rates combined with good quality or service  will satisfy this requirement. Prices that are too low can also give the impression of poor quality.

Product features is the third reason customers will be interested in buying from you. They will be interested in looking at the differences between your products or services and those offered by your competition. Making the  product better, easier to use or different than others will increase its value  to the customer.

Distribution is the final area where a competitive advantage is possible.  Making the product or service readily available to customers is important. Several strategies can be used to take advantage of this. Locate your business close to your intended customer base. Provide service or delivery directly to the  buyer's home or business. Provide service during the evenings or on weekends when other businesses are closed. It is important that the customer can buy  from your company easily and when they want.

Decide who your company's intended customers will be. This is called a "Target Market." Depending on the type of business you are planning  to start, your target markets may include:

  • Men
  • Women
  • Children
  • Elderly
  • Teenagers
  • Disabled
  • Students
  • Homeowners
  • Businesses
  • Clubs

Narrowing your target market depends on what you are offering. Some  examples of narrowing your target market include businesses that are minority owned and elderly homeowners.

Now your efforts can be focused on addressing that particular group. Attempt to answer these questions:

  • What special needs does this group have?
  • Who else is addressing these needs?
  • Where will this group most likely see advertising?
  • What is the best method of delivering the product or service?

One way to develop a strategy to satisfy your target market is examine the strategy that other companies are using. Look at each competitor's advertising,  then attempt to answer these questions:

  • What products or services are offered?
  • Why are they different?
  • How much do they charge?
  • How do they motivate the buyer?
  • Where are they located?
  • Where or how do they advertise?

Established companies that are successful have already discovered by trial and error what strategies work for satisfying their customers. The strategy  can be modified to take advantage of opportunities that the competitors have missed.


You've collected enough information to fill a warehouse, made the decision about the product or service you are going to offer, researched your competition  and developed a strategy. It is time to start making money. Now what?

Most of the businesses in this book can be started with little or no investment, however there are several sources to obtain money to get your business started. A loan can be obtained from a bank, savings and loan or credit union.  Personal credit cards are another immediate source of start-up capital. Family  and friends may also lend small amounts to get you started. Many companies offer credit terms to their business customers with payments due within 30 days. Always  ask suppliers to open an account for you since this is a good way to develop  your business credit history.

Make arrangements to be available to your customers. Add call waiting  or a second telephone line so that customers may call. Purchase an answering machine to take calls while you are away. If your business requires you to be  away from the office, consider a paging service or cellular telephone. A fax  machine may also be useful if your customers are other businesses. Keep paper  and a pen by the telephone at all times.

Advertise as soon and as often as possible. If your budget is small, consider referrals by friends, telephone solicitation and press releases to start. Purchase business cards and distribute them at every opportunity. Have  your cards printed with your picture so customers will remember you later.

Place small ads in local newspapers and magazines. A one line listing  in the yellow pages is usually included with business telephone service. Call your local cable television station and check the rates for advertising on the local access channel.

Create a small 8-1/2 x 11 flyer and deliver it door to door. This type of advertising costs only pennies per contact. Local business shows are an ideal way to meet new customers and deliver literature directly to potential buyers.  Consider mailing your flyer if your targets are businesses.

Computers offer another potential advertising media. Place advertising with on-line BBS systems and on Internet whenever possible.

Other companies may be willing to offer your product or service to complement  their product line. Inquire about this opportunity with your vendors and customers.


There are several major strategies to optimize your earnings in a small  sole-proprietorship.

Remember that the customer is always right. Many starting businesses will have just a few customers to start. Always attempt to keep your existing  customer base. Attempt to please them but be firm.

One method to maximize you customers' satisfaction is to remember them at holidays. Mail Christmas and Hanukkah cards thanking them for their support of your company. The expense of this type of customer contact will pay for itself  in cementing the business relationship.

Don't forget to contact your customers on a regular basis. Check for additional needs and wants. Customers are the best source of suggestions to  improve your organization and product line. A simple telephone call or post card is sufficient to accomplish this goal.


It is vital to save some of the profits of your business. Many small businesses will have slow periods or may be seasonal. Money will be needed at year end to satisfy tax requirements. Establish a savings account early and  deposit regularly.

You must also consider saving for retirement if your small company is  your only source of income. Establish an IRA or a qualified retirement plan. In addition to providing income in your retirement, these plans will also allow  you to attract better employees as your organization grows.


Don't expect immediate results from your business. Most companies will require time to grow and prosper. It is easy to become discouraged.

If things do not seem to be going right, review your strategy. Which forms of advertising seemed to attract customers? Did customers seem satisfied  with the product or service? Were there complaints about the price or quality?  Did the customers receive their order in a reasonable time period? Modify your plan to maximize your customer contact and satisfaction.

Make sure your quotes and sales are always in writing. This helps to reduce misunderstandings and may even be required depending on the type and size of the sale. Legal problems will be reduced as well. Standard contract  blanks, invoices, statements and quotes are available from office supply companies  and many department stores.


Here are some ideas for small businesses you can start for little or no cost. The target market, advertising media, equipment required and marketing  strategy are provided in outline form for each idea. Included are some ideas for those who already own a computer.

Automotive Services

Target Market -- Automobile, truck and RV owners

Advertising  -- Circular, newspaper ads

Equipment  Required -- varies

Strategies:  Bring the product to the customer at home or work. Some possibilities include:

  • Radio / CB / alarm installation
  • Car washing / detailing
  • Oil changes and tune-ups
  • Pin stripping
  • Odor removal / interior cleaning
  • Seat covers
  • Glass repair

Band Promotion Service

Target Market -- Taverns, fraternal organizations

Advertising  -- Newspaper, telephone solicitation

Equipment  Required -- none

Strategies:  Line up bands for promotion. Bands supply demonstration tapes and promotional materials. You provide assistance with bookings and referrals. Contract different types of bands for:

  • Dancing
  • Weddings
  • Parties
  • Performance

Attend musician nights and concerts, contact band during breaks. Commissions for bookings should be paid in advance.

Beauty Service

Target Market -- Individuals, elderly

Advertising  -- Circular, newspaper ads

Equipment  Required -- Beauty aids

Strategies:  Provide service in customer home if desired. This is ideal for shut-ins and those who do not like waiting. Provide diverse services based on your expertise including:

  • Hair cutting
  • Perms
  • Manicure and pedicure
  • Makeup
  • Skin care

Consider selling complimentary items during initial contact or visit:

  • Avon, Bonne Belle, etc.
  • Perfumes and Colognes
  • Jewelry
  • Earrings

Billing  Service

Target Market -- Small business owners

Advertising  -- Telephone solicitation, circular, direct mail

Equipment  Required -- Typewriter or computer

Strategies:  Call companies advertising in local newspaper. Contact friends with small businesses. This service will be desired by other small businesses without a regular office staff.

Catering Service

Target Market -- Business owners, individuals, clubs

Advertising  -- Yellow pages, direct mail, circular, newspaper ads

Equipment  Required -- Can be rented

Strategies:  This is for someone that likes to cook. Offer to cater meetings and outings for businesses. Suggest picnics and barbecues. Suggest fund-raisers for clubs  and organizations. Charge per plate. Advertise for weddings, birthdays and children's parties. Always require a deposit that will cover the costs of the food and  equipment. Rent needed equipment as necessary including:

  • Tables and chairs
  • Ovens / Barbecue
  • Coffee pots
  • Accessories

Specialize or diversify to be noticed. Consider offering some combination  of specialty menus:

  • Mexican
  • Chinese
  • Kosher
  • Italian
  • Pizza

Cleaning Service -- Homes

Target Market -- Homeowners, apartment dwellers

Advertising  -- Circulars, newspaper ads

Equipment  Required - Vacuum cleaner, mops, buckets etc.

Strategies:  Rent larger cleaning items as needed such as floor polishers and power washing  equipment. Combine with house-sitting and pet-sitting services to increase your customer base.

Cleaning Service -- Offices

Target Market -- Office building property management

Advertising  -- Direct mail, telephone solicitation, yellow pages

Equipment  Required - Vacuum cleaner, mops, buckets, etc.

Strategies:  Contact property management companies via direct mail or telephone. Follow up your initial contacts with the organizations on a regular basis. Offer additional services or locate sub-contractors for:

  • Landscaping
  • Painting
  • Repairs
  • Snow removal
  • Window cleaning

Cleaning Service -- Specialty

Target Market -- Property Owners

Advertising  -- Circulars, yellow pages, direct mail

Equipment  Required -- Varies

Strategies:  Specialize in a specific area of cleaning:

  • Window cleaning
  • Graffiti removal
  • Building exterior
  • Furniture
  • Carpeting
  • Parking lots
  • Floor cleaning / waxing

Clothing Repairs and Alterations

Target Market -- Individuals

Advertising  -- Circulars, newspaper ads

Equipment  Required -- Sewing machine

Strategies:  Customers can drop off and pick up. Offer pickup and delivery services for local  customers. Be prepared to repair special items and fabric such as curtains or leather and suede. Consider offering washing and ironing as complimentary services.

Collectibles and Hobby Items

Target Market -- General

Advertising  -- Local newspapers

Equipment  Required -- none

Strategies:  Specialize in a specific area:

  • Toys
  • Trains
  • Dolls
  • Miniatures
  • Music boxes
  • Sports cards
  • Stamps and coins
  • Glassware

Try to purchase items at discount by shopping at:

  • Garage and house sales
  • Flea markets
  • Trade shows

Clean, repair and package the collectibles to maximize their value.

Decorating Service

Target Market -- Businesses, clubs, individuals

Advertising  -- Yellow pages, newspaper ads

Equipment  Required -- Ladder

Strategies:  Decorate halls, offices and homes for special events. Concentrate advertising at holidays. Convenience is the selling feature. Some complimentary services  are novelties and event planning.

Delivery Service for Individuals

Target Market -- Elderly and disabled

Advertising  -- Circulars, newspaper ads

Equipment  Required -- Car or truck

Strategies:  Contact local senior organizations for referrals. A wide range of possibilities exists with this type of service. Pick up prescriptions. Transport the party  and assist with shopping. Complimentary services include:

  • Check on person's status at regular intervals
  • Telephone check up
  • Assist with paperwork and forms

Pricing can include a registration fee, hourly charges, mileage, a flat  rate in service area or per week, or a combination of these based upon the services offered.

Event  Planning Service

Target Market -- Individuals, clubs

Advertising  -- Direct mail, circular

Equipment  Required -- None

Strategies:  Develop information to plan exciting events. Organize the information so that the customer's event goes smoothly. Collect information about:

  • Motels and group rates
  • Catering and hall rentals
  • Invitations and printing
  • Bus Travel
  • Special events or discounts

Advertise to assist in planning:

Birthdays, children's parties, carnivals, weddings and receptions, and business outings.

Exchange and Barter -- Swap Service

Target Market -- Small business owners

Advertising  -- Direct mail

Equipment  Required -- none

Strategies:  Contact small business owners directly and organize a barter and swap network.  Members trade services. Maintain a diverse company base so that members have something to trade with each other. Charge a monthly fee to join network. Start a network newsletter with current member listings and sell advertising.

Fruit  and Gift Basket Preparation

Target Market -- Individuals

Advertising  -- Circular, newspaper ad

Equipment  Required -- none

Strategies:  Create a large number of products by variations in the contents of basket. Offer  on-time delivery for events and add personalized greeting cards.

General  Repair Services

Target Market -- Individuals, companies

Advertising  -- Circular, newspaper ad

Equipment  Required -- varies

Strategies:  This is for tinkerers. Some items which can be repaired include:

  • Air conditioners
  • Appliances
  • Bicycles
  • Exercise equipment
  • Fans
  • Microwaves
  • Small gas motors
  • Chainsaws
  • Lawnmowers
  • Snowblowers
  • Stereos
  • Telephones
  • Video equipment

Offer pickup and delivery to the customer's home or business.

Informational  Service

Target Market -- Diversified

Advertising  -- Direct mail, newspaper ads

Equipment  Required -- None

Strategies:  Collect information about a specific subject and condense it into user-friendly lists:

  • College entrance and student aid
  • Computer catalogs
  • Bank loans and financing
  • General economy and trends

Generate summary graphs and charts or rank the information on criteria.

Lawn Maintenance

Target Market -- All property owners

Advertising  -- Circular, telephone

Equipment  Required -- Lawnmower, weeding tools, rakes

Strategies:  Sell seasonal contracts so work can be planned. Provide as many services as possible:

  • Lawn mowing
  • Hedge trimming
  • Plant flowers, bulbs, small trees
  • Lawn ornaments
  • Spring and fall cleanups

Mailbox  Receiving

Target Market -- Individuals, small businesses, frequent travelers, truck drivers

Advertising  -- Yellow pages, newspapers

Equipment  Required -- car or truck

Strategies:  Pick up mail from home or post office boxes. Pay bills for the person who is  away from home. Consider advertising in vacation journals, etc.

Light  Hauling and Disposal

Target Market -- Individuals

Advertising  -- Circular, local newspaper ads

Equipment  Required -- Pickup truck or van

Naturalist Tours

Target Market -- Individuals, clubs and groups

Advertising  -- Newspaper ads, telephone solicitation

Equipment  Required -- none

Strategies:  Become familiar with local flora / fauna by visiting nature centers and reading wildlife guides. Take advantage of local public parks and nature preserves. Select areas that provide good photo opportunities. Offer special rates for clubs and other groups. Start a newsletter to generate repeat business.

Newborn  Care Training and Assistance

Target Market -- New mothers

Advertising  -- Yellow pages, newspapers

Equipment  Required -- none

Strategies:  Train new mothers on proper methods of infant care. Offer help with other household duties:

  • Housework
  • Shopping
  • Baby-sitting

Coordinate with area daycare providers to offer discount coupons and other incentive offers. Generate a mailing list from your customer base to sell to other companies that manufacture items for infants and toddlers.

Pet  Services

Target Market -- Pet owners

Advertising  -- Newspaper ads, circulars

Equipment  required -- none or minimal

Strategies:  Offer a variety of services at the customer's home:

  • Pet Sitting
  • Pet Training
  • Pet Grooming

Offer discount coupons for Veterinarians, pet stores, etc. Consider  combining this service with house-sitting or mailbox receiving.

Property Services

Target Market -- Small commercial property owners

Advertising  -- Newspaper ads, telephone solicitation

Strategies:  Offer services based on your experience and training:

  • Lawn and yard upkeep
  • Maintenance and repair
  • Painting
  • Roof and gutters
  • Heating and plumbing
  • Snow removal
  • Show property for prospective tenants

Hire subcontractors to perform some work. Charge customers on a monthly  basis including commissions for leasing new tenants.

Research Service

Target Market -- Businesses

Advertising  -- Telephone solicitation, direct mail

Equipment  Required -- None

Strategies:  Locate sources of information -- libraries, computer BBS, Internet, etc. Specialize in certain areas. Sell results to all customers or contract to research specific  information.

Self Improvement

Target Market -- Individuals

Advertising  -- Newspaper ads, circulars

Equipment  Required -- none

Strategies:  Offer training in language, music or first aid to individuals, clubs and groups.  Charge hourly or offer group rates. Train at customer's home or club.

Snow Removal Service

Target Market -- Property owners

Advertising  -- Newspaper ads, yellow pages, circulars

Equipment  Required -- Shovel, snowblower

Strategies:  Sell contracts for the year. Limit property sizes and customers based on equipment.

Sports Instruction and Training

Target Market -- Individuals

Advertising  -- Newspaper ads

Equipment  Required -- Depends on sport

Strategies:  Make an arrangement to offer your services at local country club, churches etc.

Types of instruction may include:

  • Aerobics
  • Bowling
  • Self Defense
  • Skating
  • Skiing
  • Yoga

Offer special packages for club fund-raisers that allow a portion of the proceeds to be retained by the organization.

Typing Service

Target Market -- Students, individuals

Advertising  -- Yellow pages, circular, college bulletin boards

Equipment  Required -- Typewriter or Word Processor

Strategies:  Help with composition. Advertise services to include term papers, resumes and proposals. Charge by the page.

Video  Taping Service

Target Market -- Homeowners

Advertising  -- Circular, local news

Equipment  Required -- Camcorder

Strategies:  Videotape personal effects and households for insurance purposes. Retain a copy of the tape offsite from customer's location. Offer services for special events such as:

  • Conferences
  • Religious events
  • Club events
  • Weddings

Complimentary services include tape duplicating and equipment rental or repair

Wake Up Call Service

Target Market -- Individuals

Advertising  -- Yellow pages, newspaper ads

Equipment  Required -- Telephone

Strategies:  Services are paid in advance or charged to credit card. Daily, weekly or monthly  charges. Pay commissions for service referrals by family and friends.


Computer Repairing

Target Market -- Individuals, small businesses

Advertising  -- Newspaper ads, circulars

Strategies:  Service delivered at customer site for convenience. Repair off brands and offer software and hardware upgrades. Sell service contracts for the year that include  periodic cleaning and maintenance.

Computer Security Services

Target Market -- Small businesses

Advertising  -- Newspaper ads, yellow pages, direct mail

Strategies:  Specialize in theft and data loss prevention services and equipment. Fabricate  or resell identification cards and badges. Offer card access and bar coding  equipment. Make data backup tapes and disks for offsite storage. Maintain a  database of serial numbers and equipment for the customers and engrave computer chassis.

Computer Training

Target Market -- Individuals, small businesses

Advertising  -- Newspaper ads, yellow pages

Strategies:  Help with the installation and provide training for computer software. Pick popular packages including:

  • Word Processing
  • Spreadsheet
  • Database
  • Communications

Offer hourly rates for training and extended term packages for support.

Desktop  Publishing

Target Market -- Small businesses, clubs, individuals

Advertising  -- Newspaper ads, telephone solicitation, direct mail

Equipment  Required -- Laser printer / color printer

Strategies:  Specialize in short run publishing. Offer your customers ideas via your advertising:

  • Advertising circulars
  • Announcements
  • Awards and Certificates
  • Brochures
  • Newsletters
  • Posters

FAX  Transmission and Receiving Service

Target market -- Individuals

Advertising  -- Newspaper ads, circulars, word of mouth

Equipment  Required -- Fax modem and software, scanner

Strategies:  Send and receive faxes for individuals and others without fax equipment. Offer  24 hour service. Charge per page. Offer complimentary services including:

  • UPS service
  • RPS service
  • Federal Express Pickups


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