From the September 1996 issue of Startups

After working for a bank as a repossessor, Russell Kreiss was ready for a new business experience. "I wanted to be my own boss and run a small business in a relaxed and friendly environment," says Kreiss, who had another big requirement: a low-investment business he could start in less than 30 days.

When Kreiss visited downtown Sacramento, California, five years ago, he discovered the perfect opportunity. Three blocks from the state capitol, Kreiss opened Taking Care of Business, a 1,000-square-foot postal, shipping and business service center. Here, downtown workers can drop off their clothes for dry cleaning or laundry; buy legal forms, office supplies or small gifts; copy, fax or shred documents; or buy a coffee and a sweet roll.

To set up his store, Kreiss purchased a computer, cash register, printer and other equipment from a shipping business that was closing its doors. He developed marketing flyers and advertised in the Yellow Pages and local newspapers. His best results came from mailing discount coupons to neighboring businesses.

"It was an easy business to start," explains Kreiss, whose initial investment was under $25,000. "I considered all the services working people need. I started with the most obvious ones, and added others as I went along." Today, Taking Care of Business grosses close to $100,000 a year.

You, too, can start a business in less than 30 days and without a major investment. There are plenty of opportunities in the postal, shipping and business services industry. Or, you might like to select one of the seven other businesses profiled here:

1. Coffee Espresso Carts

Americans consume one-third of all the coffee grown in the world. That translates into 400 million cups of coffee served in the United States each day. And that means terrific opportunities for those who own espresso bars and carts. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), some 10,000 cafes, espresso bars and carts will be operating nationwide by 1999, perking up retail sales of $1.5 billion. Annual per-unit sales for espresso carts are predicted to average $75,000.

What to do first: Choose the right location. Do you want your espresso cart in a regional shopping mall, a busy downtown business district or an upscale suburban shopping center? According to SCAA, expect to spend between $15,000 and $30,000 for your investment, which will typically include a coffee cart, an espresso machine, a grinder and a regular commercial coffee brewer. Many distributors offer customers training in running a cart and making various coffee drinks. For a list of distributors, call SCAA at (310) 983-8090, or write to One World Trade Center, #800, Long Beach, CA 90831.

2. Translation Service

If you're well organized, enjoy languages and can work effectively with independent contractors, start your own translation service. The field is wide open. You can work with multinational corporations, small exporters, universities, attorneys and government agencies.

Surprisingly, proficiency in a foreign language isn't required: You can hire certified freelance translators. They can be found by placing ads in the newspapers and on the Internet, or by contacting the American Translators Association at (703) 683-6100.

What to do first: Select a target market. Decide if you want to work with attorneys, insurance companies, small businesses, the medical community or government agencies. Start-up costs average between $8,000 to $12,000, and include the purchase of a computer, modem, fax machine, printer and translation software.

3. Jewelry and Fashion Accessories

Have a knack for creating unusual designs? Then there may be a place for you in the jewelry and fashion accessories industry. Jenai Lane found her niche by designing unisex jewelry in pewter. After two short years in business, she and partner Jane Barry expect their San Francisco-based firm, Respect Inc., to gross $2 million this year. You can break into the industry by marketing your jewelry at local craft fairs, farmers' markets, house parties and boutiques.

What to do first: "Find a market that's not heavily saturated with competition," says Lane. "Then pick everyone's brain in the industry and find mentors in other fields who can serve as role models." Start-up costs are relatively minimal; Lane invested $3,000 in materials to start her jewelry business.

4. Computer Consulting and Training

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, computer training and consulting is a $66 billion-a-year industry. It's expected to continue growing, as more businesses and individuals remain uncertain about what new technology to purchase, or buy computer equipment they don't know how to use.

You can be hired to diagnose a simple computer malfunction, train people to use new software, or consult on the design and purchase of computer systems. Your potential client list can include law and doctor's offices, CPAs, financial analysts, retail outlets, department stores, hospitals, hotels and homebased businesses.

What to do first: Computer training and consulting is rapidly becoming a competitive field. Carve out a niche by focusing on one or two target markets and expand from there. Minimum start-up costs are $5,000 to $7,000, including a computer, printer, modem and other necessary equipment. You'll need a strong background in computers to understand how various systems operate.

5. Personal Chef

Working parents and busy professionals with little time to plan, shop for and prepare home-cooked meals have created a new industry of personal chefs. To be successful in this field, you should enjoy cooking and be able to make detailed plans. Most personal chefs cook in bulk, package the meals and write reheating directions for their clients. Some prefer to specialize in a particular cuisine, such as macrobiotic foods.

What to do first: Develop a list of commercially tested recipes for your clientele. These should include three- or four-course meals for a family of four and offer suggestions for low-fat meals or other special dietary needs. Start-up costs vary. If working in your client's kitchen, you'll spend about $1,000 for your own cooking utensils and equipment. If leasing space in a professional kitchen, you could also spend $10,000 to $15,000 for an oven, refrigerator and sinks. In both cases, you'll need liability insurance. For information on instruction, training materials and marketing tips, contact the United States Personal Chef Association Inc. at 4769 Corrales Rd., Corrales, NM 87048, call (800) 995-2138, or check out their Web site at http://www.uspca.com.

6. Building and Home Inspection

Those buying residential or commercial property want to know as much as they can about a building's condition before purchasing it. Does the roof need to be replaced? Does the fireplace work? Is there evidence of asbestos? Purchasers rely on a skilled home inspector to examine a building's physical condition and issue a report on the findings, including recommendations for correcting problem areas.

What to do first: You'll need to be bonded and carry liability insurance as well as errors and omission coverage. This business is highly technical and requires that you have a working knowledge of construction, landscaping and architecture, and are cognizant of changes in state law and local building codes. Except for Texas, North Carolina and South Carolina, states do not require special testing and licensing. Start-up costs generally range from $7,000 to $10,000 for a computer, printer, copier, and fax machine.

7. In-Home Senior Care

The American population is aging. The number of people age 65 and older is expected to increase to 35 million by the turn of the century. This trend has created a growing demand for qualified individuals to provide non-medical, in-home care to the elderly who prefer to live at home. In-home care includes physical assistance, light housework, meal preparation and companionship. You can start a placement agency to provide temporary, full-time or live-in non-medical services for the elderly.

What to do first: Recruit and interview qualified care providers by placing newspaper ads and contacting community colleges and technical schools that provide health-care training. This business requires a computer, printer, phone, answering machine or voice mail service, fax machine and other standard office equipment. Start-up costs run between $10,000 and $15,000, including licensing and liability insurance.

8. Business Service Center

Busy professionals and office workers who must mail a package overnight, need their shoes shined or have forgotten to buy a birthday card are prime customers for a postal, shipping and business services center. Like Kreiss, you can offer a variety of services, depending on your customers' specific needs.

What to do first: "Choose the right location," advises Kreiss. "This kind of business works well in a downtown business area, and maybe not so well in a suburb." Start-up costs range from $20,000 to $25,000 to purchase a computer, cash register, printer, UPS mailing software, and counters (plus tables and chairs if you plan to serve drinks and snacks). Whatever range of services you offer, the best way to attract customers is by providing great service. As Kreiss says, "Smile, make people feel at home, and they'll keep coming back."

Contact Source

Respect Inc., 300 Brannan St., #603, San Francisco, CA 94107, (415) 512-8995.