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Seven Businesses You Can Start Tomorrow

January 20, 2011 , Posted by byu at 8:37 PM

When her husband lost his job in 2002, Christine DeLuca rented out two of the beds in their Woodstock, Vt., home. She ran the makeshift bed and breakfast (and ate into their savings) for a few years before upgrading to a larger house on a farm in nearby Quechee. Open on weekends since August, the Inn at Clearwater Pond, with four rooms and an adjoining cottage, has pulled in roughly $8,000 a month in revenue.
 
 "I didn't know a thing about running a bed and breakfast," says DeLuca. "But [it] came very naturally to me because I love to entertain and have people in my home." DeLuca aims to triple those revenues by operating at full capacity (the Inn is at 50% now) and having guests during the week.
 
 You don't need a fancy pedigree or specialized set of skills to launch a business. Some start-ups require more capital than others, of course, and all companies demand care and feeding. But if you can muster the courage, do a bit of research and secure a tax identification number (so Uncle Sam can take his cut), you can be your own boss.
 
 Low-tech ventures that work best tend to target a devoted customer base and offer an easy-to-grasp product or service. Take dog walking (as in, walking dogs).
 
 A former Unisys call center representative who went back to college in his late 30s, Kevin Meadows started walking dogs part-time while attending St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas. A friend told him about a stockbroker in San Francisco who quit his job to start a dog-walking service. Rumor had it the guy made six figures carting dogs on a flat-bed truck to a park so they could run around for a few hours a day.

 Now 41, Meadows hasn't bought a flat-bed, but he's making money. Austin Dog Walkers handles 20 to 30 pooches a day; Meadows piles six in his sport utility vehicle and the rest go with two other walkers, each of whom cover a specific part of the city. Daily revenues: about $450. Out of that, Meadows pays his two contractors 80% of the revenue they generate. Gas eats up $700 to $800 a month, but advertising costs are minimal--though Meadows did take a course in animal first aid. "Anything you can do to give people confidence that you're trustworthy is important," he says. Estimated pretax income this year: about $60,000.
 
 Keri Cooper, a corporate-event manager in Seattle, went after another fanatical group of customers: anxious brides and grooms (and the parents who write the checks). "I was doing some soul searching, so I just started coordinating a few weddings on the side," she says.
 
 The demand for these services is breathtaking. Wedding consultants charge $1,000 to $20,000 per event, depending on location and breadth of services. The best clear $100,000 a year.
 
 To drum up business, Cooper mails clients a formal, mock wedding invitation when she schedules an introductory meeting. She now coordinates 20 weddings per year. "More than that and I can’t give enough time to my clients," she says. Cooper charges between $1,600 and $10,000 per event. Three-year-old company Bliss Events now nets between $40,000 and $70,000 a year.
 
 While a business may look quick and easy to start, profits might be a long time coming. Just ask Kimberly Raymond, who decided a year ago to quit her soul-sapping sales job to start her own personal concierge service in Washington, D.C.
 
 "I got started in day--I'm not kidding," she says. "I decided on a bike ride that [this] was the right idea. Instead of heading home, I turned around and went over to my friend's house. She became my first client."
 
 To her credit, Raymond chose a growing industry. "Everybody is trying to squeeze 36 hours into a 24 hour day," says Katherine Giovanni, founder of International Concierge and Errand Association, which has 600 members in 20 countries, up from 20 members a decade ago.
 
 But Raymond's hair-pin turn brought pain. While start-up costs were minimal--Web site design (a few hundred bucks), accountant ($400), fliers and business cards ($200), her new business is still under water. After 13 months, Raymond's 12 clients have only yielded $25,000 in revenues--far short of her $33,000 in living expenses. She fills the gap, in part, with $5,000 in credit card debt, now at a low 10% interest rate.
 
 "It's been a really challenging year, financially," she says. "I'm thinking of spinning off into event management."
 


1. Personal Concierge

       A personal concierge handles "anything in the Yellow Pages as long as it's legal, moral and ethical," says Katharine Giovanni, founder of the International Concierge and Errand Association, now with 600 dues-paying members in 20 countries. Some established concierges act as general contractors who hire and manage a host of services, from cleaning to shopping.
   Start-up costs: Minimal--other than basic liability insurance, perhaps a few hundred dollars per year.
   Income: Dollars vary drastically depending on the client base, though six-figure incomes are not unheard of, says Giovanni.
   Tip: Build a network of dependable vendors before you tackle bigger, more demanding clients.
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2. Dog Walking
       Yes, you can make a living cavorting with canines--it just takes a little scale, transportation and only a mild distaste for waste.
  Start-up costs: A few leashes, some chew toys and maybe a vehicle, and you're ready to go. You'll also want a Web site and some insurance. One problem: Gas over $3 a gallon will sting walkers who round up their customers in sprawling suburbs.
  Income: Depends on pricing and the number of dogs you can handle. Kevin Meadows, owner of Austin Dog Walkers, handles between 20 and 30 dogs a day. Annual pretax profits: about $60,000.
   Tip: Take an animal first-aid course or volunteer at a shelter--if only to convince clients that they should trust you with their prized pets.
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3. Wedding Consultant
      You won't find a more fanatical customer base than anxious brides, grooms and the parents writing the checks. Some consultants coordinate everything from scratch, while other parachute in on the big day to make sure things run smoothly.
  Start-up and ongoing costs: All you need to get going is a phone, an Internet connection (for researching vendors) and a lot of patience. Consider advertising on wedding Web sites like TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com. Bridal trade shows cost as much as $5,000 per booth.
  Income: Consultants charge $1,000 to $20,000 per event, depending on location and breadth of services. The best clear $100,000 a year.
  Tip: Focus on the visual. Kerri Cooper, owner of Seattle-based Bliss Events, mails clients a formal, mock-wedding invitation when scheduling an introductory meeting.
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4. Vending Machine Operator
      Install the machines and let the masses snack to their hearts' discontent.
  Start-up costs: Between $2,000 and $3,000 apiece for new machines. Check out www.vending.org
  Income: A typical "45 Select" machine carrying 45 snacks (10 to 20 of each) generates $5,200 to $7,800 in annual sales; operators might keep 25% of that. In general, schools and hotels are the best locations. And don't forget maintenance. "Half the battle with these machines is keeping them in working order," says Lori Endres, owner of S & L Vending, an operator in Phoenix.
  Tip: The more machines you own, the better pricing you'll get from vendors. Note: Beware "blue sky" operators leasing machines at usurious rates.
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5. Innkeeper
      This one demands a bit of up-front capital, but not much more. Buy an existing business or rent out extra rooms in your house. In either case, you'll be handling the cleaning and cooking (breakfast, mostly). You'll also want to know something about the surrounding area to guide guests from out of town.
  Start-up and ongoing costs: After liability insurance, you'll need duplicate sets of linens, towels, dishes and silverware for all rooms. Ongoing expenses include gas, water, heating, food and cleaning (if you don't feel like doing that yourself).
 Income: Inns charge anywhere from $100 to $400 per room per day, depending on the location, amenities and season.
  Tip: Run the largest inn you can afford--there is operating scale here.
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6. Laundromat
      Unlike a dry-cleaner, you don't need to understand the art of stain removal to run a coin-operated laundromat. Nor do you have to spend all day at the office.
  Start-up costs: Existing laundromats sell for up to several hundred thousand dollars, depending on location. Heavy-duty washers that can handle 50 to 75 pounds of clothes (four to eight typical home loads) cost up to $5,000 apiece; dryers, maybe $3,000. Maytag, Whirlpool and Speed Queen each have local distributors.
  Income: Depends on the number of machines and how often they run. A 50-pound capacity washer will bring in up to around $7.50 per cycle (15 cents per pound of clothes); a 25-pounder, about $3. A busy laundromat can keep its machines running 30% of the time. Typical operating margins: 20% to 30%.
  Tip: Downtime is a killer, so have competent maintenance people at the ready.
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8. Nightclub Promoter
      Socialites on steroids might like this gig, which involves rounding up partiers to drink and dance at local hotspots. And with all those viral social networking sites, you don't even need a big Rolodex to start.
  Start-up costs: Mainly your time. Work everybody--the doorman, wait staff and possibly the club owner--to land your first gig, says Noah Tepperberg, the owner of Marquee nightclub in New York City.
  Income: Promoters get paid a flat rate or on a commission basis, depending on the number of people they bring in. Snag a high-roller and you might even get a percentage of what he or she spends. The best promoters in New York City pull in a few thousand dollars in one night.
  Tip: It's easy to get ripped off in this business. Work only with club owners you trust.
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Wrote by Maureen Farrell

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