Nicole Baran was on a mission last summer. Because she was just 15, the Wheat Ridge, Colorado, teen knew it wouldn't be easy to find a summer job. But she wanted to find a way to make enough money to buy herself a car when she turned 16. So she decided to create her own job. That kind of "thinking outside the box" helped Nicole, now 16, start her own car detailing business, Interior Car Detailing While You Work.
If at First You Don't Succeed...
Nicole's first business idea didn't pan out. "I planned to tutor struggling kids so they could catch up over the summer, but I was too late," Nicole says. "I didn't get the word out before school let out for the summer."
Undaunted, she moved on to her next idea: carpet cleaning. To her dismay, this wasn't a go, either. "I found that renting the machine was much too costly and that I couldn't make a profit," she says.
At that point, Nicole could have just shrugged her shoulders and spent another summer having fun in the sun. Instead, she began racking her brain for a business idea that would work.
Together, Nicole and her father came up with a winning idea: car detailing-but with a twist. "My dad is a real estate agent and he, along with his fellow agents, use their cars to show clients houses," she says. "Obviously, the cars need to be clean in order to make a good impression."
Nicole decided she would not only detail her customers' cars, but for extra convenience, she'd do it in the parking lot at their place of work. "The fact that people didn't have to go out of their way to have their car cleaned solidified the demand for the business," she says. "Your product or service either has to be cheaper or better than your competition-it's that simple."
Andrew Levine, 15, also recognized a good idea when he saw one. "The idea came to me when I needed to get a quick and thoughtful birthday gift for a good friend," the Chappaqua, New York, teen recalls. "I registered a domain name and bought some hosting for him, and it turned out to be a big hit. I realized that that might be something other people would enjoy, too."
That's when Andrew decided to start Birthday Domains, a company that's a perfect complement to his computer skills. "Before starting my business in the summer of 2002, I'd been working with Web sites and programming languages for two or three years," he explains.
Like Nicole, Andrew realized he needed to find a new twist on an old idea. "I knew I couldn't compete with huge hosting companies already in place," he says. "So I tried to find a niche. Giving a package with a domain name and hosting together, marketed as a gift, isn't something I'd seen before."
Nicole's business answers the call of busy people who need their cars cleaned. It's an excellent idea, but like most businesses, it's not without its challenges.
One of her biggest obstacles was locating the right equipment. "One of the most frustrating parts was [trying to] find a good vacuum. Because I work in the parking lot, I'm not close to any electrical outlets," Nicole explains. "I needed to find a vacuum powerful enough to vacuum a car, but also battery operated or one that could plug into the cigarette lighter."
She's still hasn't found quite what she was searching for, but that didn't stop her from starting the business. "I had to settle for a vacuum that's less powerful than I'd like it to be," she says, "and so I've often had to resort to alternative methods of picking up dirt, like using duct tape."
Spreading the Word
Nicole doesn't consider herself a natural salesperson. "I'm not one who likes to be in people's faces, trying to get them to pay me to clean their car," she says. That's why she needed to come up with an alternative way to promote her business; While she works, Nicole hangs a sign advertising her business in the window of the car she's cleaning.
Her ingenuity has paid off. "People see me working, read the sign and are intrigued," she says. "I found that my sign has attracted other people from the building."
Like Nicole, Jaren Kelly knows that to survive, a business needs a steady stream of customers. So when he's not cutting grass, the 15-year-old owner of Virginia Beach, Virginia's Green by Nature is busy promoting his lawn-care service.
"Networking is very important," Jaren says. "I try to attend seminars and conferences so I can distribute my business cards."
He also understands that the best form of advertising is a job well done. "If you do a great job, your customers will tell someone and they'll tell someone and before you know it, everyone is talking about your business," he says.
Nicole agrees. "It's important that I'm trustworthy if I expect someone to hand me the keys to his or her car," she says. "You must also work hard and be dedicated to your work. If you aren't, it will show."
In the end, it's a combination of entrepreneurial skills that lead to success. "I tried both tutoring and carpet cleaning before I found that the car detailing business was profitable," Nicole says. "I had to learn from my mistakes and eventually, I found a business I could make money at."
Can't find a summer job? Start your own business and be your own boss! For "7-Day Start-Up" information and a checklist, visit the Y&E magazine Web site.