Q: Through a series of fortunate circumstances, I have access to the following types of free advertising: Transit Television Network--televisions mounted within the mass transit system here in Orlando; rack-distributed newspapers; and a stand-alone direct-mail publication distributed to 80,000 residences per week. With this type of free advertising, what product, service or franchise would be best represented? Initially I would like to take advantage of my flexible work schedule to create a self-employment opportunity.

A: Let's begin by examining the common characteristic of the advertising vehicles you've been given: Transit Television is potentially powerful because people pay more attention to commercials when there is nothing else to do. The unfortunate characteristic of these particular people is that most of them are poor--that's why they're riding the bus. Rack-distributed newspapers, those free sheets available to whoever wants to grab one, likewise tend to reach below-average income individuals. And I'm betting your unsolicited direct-mail publication (a.k.a. junk mail) is going to be read mostly by people of the same economic strata. So we'll begin with the assumption that most of the people you'll be reaching are looking for ways to save money.

The fact that you need to ease into this new career part time until it begins generating enough cash for you to leave your current employment situation gives us a second limiting factor. The third variable--your personal skill set--is unknown to me, so I'll have to swing wild. I'm also assuming that you don't have an office and will need a business that can be conducted from your home. Here are a few business ideas to consider:

"Sell your unwanted items on eBay." An eBay listing service is an idea whose time has come. Many people own items they would love to sell, but they lack the digital camera, the computer and the Internet skills required to create and post a listing. All this assumes, of course, that you have the requisite camera, computer and Internet skills required to provide the service. The keys to this business would be:

  • To ascertain by phone whether a customer was offering an item that would be worth your time.
  • To take possession of the item at the time of photography so that you would be able to guarantee shipment on a timely basis.
  • To pay the selling party their percentage rather than trusting them to pay you your sales commission.
  • To collect from the buyer a small handling fee as part of shipping and handling. To stay out of trouble with eBay, be sure to list exactly the fees the buyer will be charged.

"We haul away junk cars for free." Many of the people riding buses own cars that don't run, and the city, the landlord or some other authority figure is demanding that they remove this vehicle from the premises immediately. You can't imagine how many people will give you their cars along with the title, free and clear, when they have finally become sick and tired of repairing them. Strangely, most people give up on a car just about the time the last thing that was going to break has broken. Consequently, most of the cars you'll be picking up will have a lot of new parts on them. If you have basic mechanical skills, many of these automobiles can be made to run and then offered for sale through ads in your rack-distributed newspapers. Your third vehicle of advertising, the direct-mail publication, can be used either for acquiring more vehicles or disposing of them with an ad that lists available cars and prices. And because you will have so little money invested, you can even afford to "tote the note." Cars that cannot be made to run can always be sold to the steel recycler for $40 or $50.

"Computer literacy classes" and "We buy and sell used computers." People riding the buses know that computer skills can help them land a better job, so find a storefront location near a major bus hub and offer basic classes at a variety of convenient times. Likewise, few things in life are as worthless as an older-model computer. Unless, of course, you don't own a computer at all. The main reason you'll want to offer the classes is so you'll have a built-in customer base for all the older-model computers you picked up for $20 to $100 each. I believe you'll find these computers easy to sell at prices three to four times what you paid. In addition, you'll be providing a lot of people a valuable service.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.