12 Hot Business Ideas

So you know you want to start a business, but you're not sure what kind of business to start? We've made your decision easier by spotlighting 12 of today's hottest business ideas.
15+ min read

This story appears in the February 2007 issue of Entrepreneurs StartUps Magazine. Subscribe »

Children's Education & Tutoring
Teach the children well, and you could do pretty well, too.

Colleges keep getting more competitive, and parents want to give their children every possible edge--even in preschool. Add to that the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires schools to provide tutoring services if their programs don't meet performance standards for two consecutive years, and you have a solid market for education and tutoring. According to data from Eduventures LLC, an educational market research and consulting firm in Boston, the total market for products and services, including tutoring, test-preparation services and supplemental content, for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade grew 6 percent in the 2004-2005 school year to $21.9 billion.

Online tutoring, a $115 million market, is one of the hottest areas, especially with high school and middle school students, notes Tim Wiley, a senior analyst for K-12 solutions at Eduventures. Selling tutoring services to schools is also sizzling, though Wiley says entrepreneurs pursuing businesses in this arena should be prepared to meet all the local, regional and state school requirements. For grades three through eight, reading and math tutoring are always in high demand, but look to science tutoring as a growth area in the next few years. Preschool education, too, is expected to grow rapidly, says Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute of Early Education Research at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey--especially as more states mandate preschool for all children.

Carving out a niche in this market is Marc Stelzer, 41, co-founder of the Learning Breakthrough Program in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. His developmental and learning training program helps children ages 6 and up with academic, cognitive and even motor skills. Marketing the product online at www.learningbreakthrough.comand through therapists and professional associations, Stelzer saw sales of $400,000 in 2006, his first year of business.

Thinking of jumping into a kids' education and tutoring business? Here are some tips for starting up.

Buy materials sparingly at first. You may be excited about starting a tutoring business, but don't clean out the teacher supply store on your first visit, says Kim McLapp of CleverApple.com, an information resource for tutoring businesses. You likely already have much of what you need-a computer with internet access and a decent printer. Plus, a variety of teaching materials and lesson plans can be found cheaply online or at your local library. Wait until you book your first clients to purchase the grade- and subject-specific materials you might need.

Organize your policies. Determine your pricing and makeup policies upfront, advises McLapp. Make sure they're written out and clear to the parents and students. She suggests getting payment in advance for the week, and implementing a "no-show" policy with makeup sessions available, for example, on only one Saturday of the month, "so you don't have people canceling on you all the time."

Market where the parents are. Network with your local school districts, either to sell your tutoring services to them directly or to have them refer parents to your company. Advertisements in local parent publications or a flier in the local library can also help get the word out about your company, says McLapp.

Start locally. Find out your community's requirements and regulations regarding tutoring services, notes Wiley. When providing tutoring services directly to school districts, there are a lot of variables to consider--especially as local values and politics determine the direction of this market.

Be careful with your money. Schools often pay on a 90-day delay, so make sure you have enough working capital to survive that cash-flow crunch.

Children's Education:

Dessert-Only Restaurants

Today's sweet businesses are on a serious sugar high.

The verdict is in: Americans are in the mood for dessert-only restaurants and chocolate cafes. According to Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at the National Restaurant Association in Washington, DC, nearly 1 out of 3 fine-dining operators reported that consumers bought more desserts in 2005 than they did in 2003. Meanwhile, trend-watching firm Datamonitor named chocolate "the new coffee" in a list of the top 10 trends to watch. The bottom line? Opportunities abound for entrepreneurs who wish to feed off this nation's sweet spot.

In January 2006, Ste-phane Lemagnen and Laurent Lanneau, 31 and 34, respectively, catered to the craving by opening Room 4 Dessert, one of New York City's first dessert-only establishments. The restaurant offers a variety of dessert-tasting menus to be paired with wines and teas, and culinary masterpieces are created before customers' very eyes. No wonder curious pastry chefs come from the West Coast, visitors consider the dessert bar a must-hit spot in New York City and 2007 sales are expected to reach $600,000.

If a chocolate cafe is more your style, jump on the bandwagon with the likes of chocolate giant Mars and European-trained chocolatier Max Brenner, who are making it big with their sweet cafes. But make sure to cater to America's current taste buds and desires by going dark. Recent studies demonstrate the health benefits of flavonoids, which are often contained in dark chocolate, and sales are soaring as a result. Dark chocolate sales were up 40 percent in 2006, according to Mintel International. Other hot varieties, according to Joan Steuer, founder and president of Chocolate Marketing LLC, a Los Angeles consulting firm that specializes in strategic forecasting and tracking trends in the chocolate industry, are artisanal, organic, socially responsible and nutraceutically enhanced chocolate. Incorporate these items into your dessert menu, and neither your customers nor you will be disappointed.

Tempted to strike out on your own? Here are some tips for starting your own chocolate cafe or dessert-only restaurant.

Ask yourself three key questions. "Where am I now, where do I want to be and how do I get there?" advises Steuer. When answering, refrain from comparing yourself to competitors. Instead, focus on your strengths and your distinguishing qualities.

Pool your resources. Have enough money in the bank to last at least six months, recommends Steuer, and build a board of advisors who can offer unbiased advice and suggestions. When forming your board, don't limit yourself to experts within the chocolate industry--people from outside the industry can offer great insight, too.

Create an unforgettable experience. At Room 4 Dessert, des-serts are assembled in front of customers, high attention is paid to presentation, and menus are seasonal, changing every three months. Advises Lemagnen, "Make it exciting and fun because when people go out, they want to have fun [and] relax."

Keep your customers in the loop. Lemagnen and Lanneau make it a point to collect their customers' e-mail addresses. This way, they can keep customers updated with the newest menus and information--and keep them coming back for more.

Dessert-Only Restaurants:

Wine Businesses
Vintage opportunities are ripening on the vine.

As long as grapes bud from vines, the wine business will be bursting with flavorful opportunity. According to John Gillespie, president of the Wine Market Council, a St. Helena, Califor-nia, nonprofit wine trade association, the wine industry has enjoyed significant growth for the past 12 years, with today's big wine drinkers being baby boomers as well as some in the Millennial generation (those ages 21 to 29). Estimated at $26 billion, with a 115 percent increase since 1995, the wine industry isn't likely to sober up anytime soon.

Wine has such an appeal that a variety of businesses can be seen cropping up--from wine bars and stores to educational in-home tastings and ancillary products that enhance the overall wine-drinking experience. And now that new laws legalizing online wine sales have un-corked the industry, entrepreneurs are finding a worldwide market to conquer.

Attracting the masses means keeping your wines inexpensive and drinker-friendly. "In a lot of retail environments and on some wine lists, there has been a movement toward categorizing wines by their flavor profile rather than strictly by their grape variety or by their country or region of origin," says Gillespie. Also growing in popularity are wines packaged in single-serving bottles and wines topped with a screw cap.

No matter how you twist it, package it or label it, if you specialize in wine, consumers will gladly toast your efforts. Even NASCAR drivers are producing their own vintages-a surefire indication that it's all systems go. If you're dreaming of opening your very own wine business, consider the following startup tips.

Establish strong relationships. Jeff Playter, 35, co-founder of RadCru.com, an online market-place that features one select wine offer each day direct from the winery, stresses the importance of personally meeting with winemakers and winery owners. The extra effort will help you establish better partnerships, giving you greater access to unique and hard-to-find wines. Your customers will reward you accordingly.

Use online tools. Word about RadCru.com is spreading fastest through the blogosphere. Bloggers are eager to cover the innovative company, which just launched last July, and Playter and his team are using the free coverage to their advantage. They expect 2007 sales to exceed $1 million.

Differentiate yourself. "You have to find an angle," says Playter. "There are tons of wine shops out there that have great wines. You have to find something that stands above the crowd."

Read up on the law. New laws allowing online wine sales may have entrepreneurs giddy with excitement, but before you get carried away, Playter advises you to hire a good law-yer who knows about wine, and do extensive research to see how the new laws are affecting things. "The laws have changed much [more quickly] than the infrastructure to allow those sales to happen," he says. "There are costs involved from a legal perspective; there's licensing issues. You have these new markets, but it might not be worth it for some of these wineries to actually start selling in this market."

Know your stuff. Launching a wine business requires a solid knowledge of wines, so you better brush up on your vintages before attempting to become a key player in the marketplace.


Niche Gyms

Pump some iron and pump up profits with a specialized gym.

When Jane Silber decided to get help for her 9-year-old daughter's weight problem, she found that lots of gyms didn't allow children to come in and work out--and the ones that did welcome children didn't have the right size equipment for them. Mindful of Centers for Disease Control findings that the percentage of overweight children has tripled since 1980, Silber, 41, recognized a hot business opportunity. In August, she opened Generation Now Fitness for tweens and teens in Chatsworth, California, equipping it with kid-size, fun-to-operate exercise equipment, a smoothie bar, a study room and other amenities. "I wish something like this was around when I was a kid," says Silber, a former restaurateur who projects $1 million in first-year sales for her gym.

The kid gym concept is a hot one right now--in Entrepreneur's "Biz 101" column, we've been covering the exciting buildup to Karen Jashinsky's Los Angeles-based O2 MAX Fitness club for teens, featuring workouts as well as an internet cafe and tutoring--but other niche gyms are sizzling, too. "[The] business model focuses not on the general consumer, but on one demographic, and then builds the club and all its services around that profile," says Kathleen Rollauer, senior manager of research for the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association in Boston. "The prime example is Curves, which came on the scene because [it] recognized the barriers to women in a typical health club." Nifty After Fifty in Whittier, California, is based on another niche, offering people over age 50 physical and mental exercise routines, a driving-skills program, physical therapy and social activities.

If you're thinking about starting a niche gym, get ready to break a sweat--and incorporate these startup tips into your routine.

Know your niche. Patrick Ferrell, 50, who started Overtime Fitness for teens in Mountain View, California, is the father of three teenagers, so he already knows their issues well. But if you're thinking of starting a gym for kids and don't have any of your own-- you want some extra insight--you might volunteer as a sports coach, as Ferrell does.

Do your research. "You really can't do enough of it," says Ferrell, who expects sales to reach $750,000 in 2007. "You have to home in on the key characteristics of your target demographic." His best sources of information have been the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, as well as fitness equipment vendors and fitness attorneys.

Offer amenities. In addition to fitness equipment, many niche gyms offer a number of amenities and ancillary services specially targeted to their dem-ographic. For instance, Overtime Fitness offers its teens classes on stress management, job interviewing, test taking and SAT prep, and it even has a hot sound and video system to make teens' favorite tunes reverberate from rock wall to rock wall.

Fnd the right location. Silber hopes to expand her gym for tweens and teens to more locations and recommends doing lots of dem-ographic research for your location. For instance, she's focusing on areas that have a high concentration of kids as well as high levels of childhood obesity.

Tink of special promotions and partnerships geared toward your niche. Silber offers a Saturday "date night" to parents, encouraging them to drop off their kids for a few hours and go out to dinner, and has partnered with area restaurants to offer discounts to parents.


Children's Cooking
With little feet coming in, the kitchen is getting crowded.

Americans' interest in cooking has finally trickled down to the nation's kids. From cooking classes and kits to full-fledged cooking parties for youngsters, this still-hot category is even seeing kids' cookbooks as part of the recipe for success. "The awareness has risen," confirms Julia V. Jordan, president and founder of Spoons Across America, a New York City nonprofit organization that provides food and cooking education programs to schools and community organizations across the country. "There's much more interest [in] having children learn the skill of cooking."

And entrepreneurs like Barbara Beery, founder of Batter Up Kids Culinary Center, are stepping up to teach them. Batter Up Kids started out offer-ing cooking classes, but today the Austin, Texas, business also does birthday parties and year-round camps, and it retails both cooking kits and cookbooks authored by Beery--cooking up annual sales of about $465,000. The interest has been so strong, in fact, that Beery, 52, started franchising her concept last year. According to Beery, "[Cooking] is a life skill, and if we didn't present it in a fun format, kids wouldn't want to keep coming back."

Whether a kids' cooking business takes a recrea-tional or a more serious bent, like teaching children about health and food preparation, the key to success, say experts, is keeping it fun and age-appropriate. Even kids as young as 2 can participate with simple foods, and as they get older, you can introduce more extensive fare. Tweens are a great entry point into the market, as is starting with simple cooking parties. Jordan suggests looking to regional food trends for what's hot among the kids in your area.

Before you whip up your own kids' cooking business, consider the following ingredients for success.

Play it safe. Be 1,000 percent sure of your safety procedures. Ensure all cooking classes cater to the students' ages--for instance, keep 5-year-olds away from flames and knives. And as children get older, you should incorporate kitchen safety training, says Beery. Also, make sure your kitchen is compliant with all local and state sanitation requirements before you get started. Insurance is another consideration: Beery met with her insurance agent to discuss her needs as well as the kinds of cooking tasks the kids would be involved in at every age. The number of children in the classes was also a factor in the type and amount of insurance needed. Says Beery, "Typically, our type of business needs [the kind of] insurance which is used for private, academic and vocational schools."

Add peripherals. Selling related products can add to your bottom line. Beery, for example, writes children's cookbooks and sells take-home cooking kits.

Check out the competition. The children's cooking market is definitely a hot one, so see what your local competitors are offering. "You might find out that you're in a little more crowded place than you thought," says Jordan. Determine how you can differentiate your company's services.

Offer more than just cooking. Many parents love a full-service party for their kids--where the vendor provides not only the cooking materi-als, but also the location and cleanup services. Market themed cooking parties with all the trimmings to stressed-out parents who, like Beery's clients, are relieved to hand over those duties and willing to pay a premium for peace of mind.

Test the recipe. Check out local community organizations, suggests Jordan; they might give you an opportunity to organize a trial class. "It's a win-win for that group," she says, "and you're doing it for some test marketing." Just think, a local Boys & Girls Club, Girl Scout troop or other after-school program might be looking for a fun new activity for its young charges.

Children's Cooking:

Burger Restaurants

Where's the beef? You'll find it in burger joints with a twist.

It seems that even with today's high gas and energy prices, Americans always have a buck for a burger. In fact, so much attention is on this American staple that it's one of the smartest startup ideas around. The secret is making yours a burger joint with a clever twist.

Husband-and-wife team Tim and Liza Goodell, 41 and 36, respectively, just added 25 Degrees, a Hollywood burger and wine bar, to their impressive list of restaurants. Offering deluxe toppings such as caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes and a variety of high-end cheeses, this isn't your typical burger joint. And neither is the sophisticated setting of crystal chandeliers, leather booths and velvet wallpaper. The 1,700-square-foot restaurant opened last February and is already on track to bring in $1.5 million in 2007. "Hamburgers are the most commonly eaten food in the United States," says Tim, who plans to open several more locations in the West. "Any restaurant has got to have a burger these days."

Ivan Brown, brand manager of ground beef at Cargill Meat Solutions, a Wichita, Kansas-based ground beef producer, couldn't agree more. According to Brown, 8.5 billion burgers were served in commercial restaurants during the 12 months ending March 2006. Appealing to all age groups and income levels, entrepreneurs can beef things up with upgrades, customization and flavor. Give consumers high-end toppings, the freedom to create, and spicy, ethnic and untraditional flavor options, and this is one item certain to keep the grill red-hot.

Ready to cook up your own burger restaurant? Here's how you can get started.

Immerse yourself in the industry. Opening a hamburger restaurant may sound simple, but get some sound experience at a restaurant before jumping in headfirst. Says Tim, "[You've] got to know the numbers and the percentages well in order to succeed."

Set yourself up for success. The restaurant industry is a competitive marketplace, says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at the National Restaurant Association in Washington, DC. "Anyone considering launching a new restaurant concept has to be extremely diligent in doing a rigorous business plan and identifying not only the market area, but the demographics within that market area and [whether] they are aligned with the product offerings."

Know who you're serving. Study your target market, and take the time to get to know what they want and expect. According to Brown, customers today are willing to show you the money as long as they get plenty of options, flavor and quality in their burgers: "They're willing to pay a little bit more, but they want their money's worth."

Keep an eye on the economy. Overall, the restaurant industry is exploding. In fact, according to Riehle, 47.5 percent of all food spending is allocated to the restaurant industry, and that percentage is expected to surpass 50 percent in the next decade. However, as fast as the industry is speeding forward, be aware of factors that might affect different industry segments. For example, recent studies have indicated that the high energy and gas prices have hurt the casual dining segment while leaving fast food and high-end restaurants practically untouched. Tracking the economy will help you determine what your customers are willing to spend their disposable money on.

Let your imagination run wild. Differentiate yourself from the competition by using your creative thinking. Says Riehle, "[Hamburgers] will always remain an American favorite, but there are a lot of enhancements and tweaking of the basic menu item that can [be done] and are being done."

Burger Rstaurants:

Nonmedical Home Care
The boomers are aging, and this market is booming.

Tomorrow's forecast? Gray. According to the Census Bureau, 13 percent of the popu-lation will be over the age of 65 by 2010. By 2030, the figure will jump to 19.6 percent. Many older people want to remain in their family homes as long as they can, so savvy entrepreneurs are rushing in to provide a range of nonmedical home care services that help them age in place. "We call this 'pre-assisted living,'" says Val Halamandaris, president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice in Washington, DC. "You help people perform the simple functions of daily living and don't let them get so run down that they wind up in assisted living or the emergency room."

However, the biggest obstacles to breaking into nonmedical home care are often the seniors themselves, who are reluctant to acknowledge their needs. "Almost every call I get is from people who tell me their parents don't want any help," says Andrea Cohen, 49, co-founder and CEO of HouseWorks in Newton, Massachusetts. "You have to have a staff that's trained to work with seniors and help them become comfortable with the choices you offer." With 2007 sales projected at $11.9 million, HouseWorks provides personal care assistance, companionship, home modification, cleaning and relocation services.

Before you start a nonmedical health care business, consider the following.

Start strong. "You're dealing with human lives in this business--if you screw up, people won't refer you again," says Cohen. Be sure you make the proper investments in your staff and infrastructure before you take on any clients.

Make connections. According to Cohen, most of your clients will be referred by health-care providers such as assisted living facilities and hospital systems. "The discharge planners need to get patients out of the hospital or rehab quickly," she says. "If your response is quick and professional, it helps them get their job done, and they become your champions." Cohen says she's built relationships with discharge planners by saying yes whenever they call--even on Friday afternoons, by filling last-minute requests, and by always having a live person on the line to talk to them.

Choose the right location. You should balance two important factors when deciding on a location for your corporate offices, Cohen says. You want to be in an affluent enough area so that there will be a large number of people who can pay for your services out-of-pocket, but the offices also need to be accessible to the home health-care workers who will be your field staff. Look for a location that is well-served by public transportation.

Focus your marketing on adult children. Most seniors are unwilling or unable to acknowledge their need for nonmedical home care, so don't focus your marketing efforts on them. Instead, develop thoughtful marketing strategies aimed at adult children that educate them and help them navigate the maze of long-term care considerations. Your website should be succinct and easy to understand, using fonts and colors that are kind to the older eyes of both seniors and their middle-aged children.

Have a solid sales team. Cohen says that many people going into this kind of business fail because they don't understand the value of a vigorous sales staff. She explains, "When the phone rings, there has to be someone there who is comfortable selling the service."

Hire the right people. "The most important part of home care is the person you put in the home," Cohen says. "You want someone who is hardworking, naturally enthusiastic and solution-oriented."

Nonmedical Home Care for Seniors:

Kids' Sports Education

If you can teach children to be good sports, you can score big.

Kids' sports--from baseball and soccer to basketball and volleyball--are hot, and entrepreneurs jumping into the sports education field are scoring major points. With so many parents wanting to help their kids excel in their sport of choice, there's an ample market willing to shell out good money to train young superstars-to-be. Just ask Ivan and Sherri Shulman, 44 and 46, respectively, who founded The Sports House in Houston. The comprehensive sports training company boasts two facilities with camps, clinics and everyday sports classes--it even provides parties for excited youngsters, offering everything from batting cages to pitching clinics. Though their core market is kids ages 5 to 17, their Soccer Tots program targets wee ones from about 18 months to 5 years old.

At The Sports House, kids get not only physical exercise, but also personalized training, which parents love. "[There's] something about sports I learned a long time ago," says Sherri. "A plumber is going to spend the same amount of money as a cosmetic surgeon to make his kid better." Parents are spending so much, in fact, that 2007 sales for The Sports House are projected to surpass $1 million.

Getting into the market takes skill, notes Sally S. Johnson, executive director of the National Council of Youth Sports in Stuart, Florida. She's noticed an increase in sports interest across the board--especially in organized youth sports--and suggests that startup youth sports trainers first get training. NCYS offers administrative courses for youth sports professionals, while the American Sport Education Program offers specialized coaching training as well as many online tools for coaches.

Ready to jump into kids' sports education with your own business? Consider the following before getting started.

Get the requisite training. If you want to start educating youngsters about sports, you have to be a master yourself. You should be well-versed in your sport of choice, and if you lack coaching experience, be ready to bring someone in who has some. Also consider sports management training and sports administrative courses, says Johnson: "That type of education is imperative."

Assemble a great team. If you plan to open an entire training facility like the Shulmans did, make sure your entire staff is top-notch. Conduct criminal background checks on your employees since they'll be working with children, suggests Johnson.

Pick a welcoming location. If you want parents to drop off their kids at your facility, you need to make it as inviting as possible. Choose a safe neighborhood and make sure every floor, window, wall and piece of equipment is squeaky clean, says Ivan. Those little touches of comfort and community make parents eager to return for year-round activities.

Put safety first. Sports and physical education are fraught with risks, so you need to bone up on your safety and first aid training. "[You] don't need to know how to handle dislocations so much as [you] need to know the emergency first aid response," says Johnson. And don't forget insurance. After researching the type of insurance he would need, Ivan found a broker who specialized in youth and batting cage businesses.

Treat every kid like the next superstar. Keep it positive as you encourage kids in their particu-lar sports. "Every parent thinks their kid is the absolute best in the world," says Sherri. Your treatment of both the children and their parents should be enthusiastic and encouraging, making every client feel special. Why? Because it's all about building self-confidence--not just in sports, but in life.

Kids' Sports Education:

Coffee drinkers don't just want joe--they want a place to go.

Whether it's a drip, latte or cappuccino, Americans are hopelessly addicted to their coffee. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, specialty coffee was an $11 billion industry in 2005, up from $9.6 billion in 2004. But some historians theorize that what Americans are really looking for in their cup of joe is a sense of belonging. "We spent so much of the post-[World War II] period in this country retreating inside suburban houses [with] fenced-in backyards," says Bryant Simon, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia who has spent more than a year studying Starbucks. "The coffeehouses play to that desire of being out, even if you don't talk to anyone." While Starbucks has established itself as providing that "third place" environment, the door is certainly not closed to other entrepreneurs.

For Jeff Furton, 29, Beth Livedoti, 29, and Stephanie Lemmo, 28, entering the brewing industry in 2004 meant opening a window--or two. At The Daily Rise Expresso, a double-sided coffee and smoothie drive-thru in Ogden, Utah, customers come for more than just a caffeine fix. "[Some customers] come in two to three times a day just to talk," says Livedoti. "We are their little piece of sanity." A second location opened last year, 2007 sales are projected at more than $400,000, and franchising is in the coffeehouse's future.

If a traditional coffeehouse doesn't get your heart racing, think organic like Java Juice, a liquid extract straight from the bean. Other niches include aftermarket products like Coca-Cola Blak, a carbonated soda with coffee essence, and those that incorporate coffee for its health benefits--caffeine has been linked to a decreased risk of diabetes, liver cirrhosis, Parkinson's disease and even gallstones.

To brew up success in your own coffeehouse:

Use your size to your advantage. Being small has its benefits--especially when it means you can accomplish what the big players aim to do but sometimes fall short of doing. Study the coffeehouses in your community and examine what they fail at, advises Simon. By doing so, you'll have a better chance of finding your niche.

Aim for excellence. "People clearly want the milieu of a coffeehouse," says Simon. "They want the intellectualism, the music, the art. So do it. Really play music that you haven't heard a million times before; really put up local art on the walls; really emphasize your relationship with the community. If you really want to have a coffeehouse, go out and educate people. People want to know about coffee. It's like wine. Educate your baristas."

Establish a presence in the community. Furton, Livedoti and Lemmo make it a point to stay involved in the community--whether by providing refreshments at the local farmer's market, concerts and the Fourth of July celebration or donating to local schools and fundraisers. Says Livedoti, "People start to see us around town, and I think that sets us apart because we support them, so in turn, they come back to support us."

Don't underestimate your customers. Make sure you do your homework and find quality products to truly satisfy your customers. The founders of The Daily Rise Expresso considered 25 to 30 different roasters before making the final selection. "People really know their coffee," says Livedoti. "So it's very important that you're starting out with a good-quality bean."

Listen up. "It's about attention to detail and figuring out what that person wants, what that person is really going to enjoy and what's going to get that person coming back time after time," says Lemmo. "People appreciate that you make an effort to figure out what's going to be best for them."


Kids' & Teens' Parties

Big parties are all the rage, and you're invited to join the fun.

Kids' party planning has been hot for several years. Now teen party planning is sizzling as well. Blame MTV's My Super Sweet 16 for showing teens nationwide the extremes the superwealthy go to for a child's coming-of-age soiree. American teens, who number more than 70 million, want what's hot at all their parties--from bar and bat mitzvahs to quinceañeras, sweet 16 parties and other coming-of-age rites. From starting a new specialty business to adding kids' and teens' parties to your existing event-planning business, or specializing in teen party peripheries like security or entertainment, there's an angle for everyone.

Party planning expert Marley Majcher, 37, who founded Pasadena, California-based The Party Goddess! Inc. in 2000, suggests walking that fine line between making your young clients happy and making their purse-string-holding parents even happier. "You have to be a really good listener and see yourself as a liaison," she says. It's true of younger kids' parties as well--parents will likely want to include them in the planning, even if it's just asking what theme they want. Your job is to listen to the child's interests and select the perfect theme--dinosaurs, princesses, Finding Nemo--that makes their eyes light up.

To succeed, you'd better follow the trends. Majcher, whose company expects to bring in $2.5 million this year, notes that lounge party setups are in vogue for teens. And since music and entertainment are paramount to any successful teen shindig, hooking up with hot DJs in your area can help you break into the market. For younger kids, the trend factor is less important, but for parents, the "keeping up with the Joneses" factor is alive and well. The theme is whatever the child loves--but the execution should be exceptional.

Ready to start the fun with your own kids' or teens' party planning business? In addition to marketing in areas with high disposable income, follow these tips.

Learn negotiating skills. It's important to keep the parents happy because they're footing the bill, but you should still be looked up to as an expert by the teenage or preteen guest of honor. Hone your communication skills so you can steer your clients to great parties within their parents' requirements, all while avoiding family conflict.

Know your marketplace. Determine how you should price your services--a flat fee or a percentage of the final party cost? Local customs can help you decide. Also, check out the International Special Events Society (www.ises.com) for information on how to become a Certified Special Events Professional, and consider attending a convention of local event planners.

Cross-promote. See if you can forge alliances with local record stores, DJs and other vendors within your target demographic. Check out country clubs, too, suggests Majcher, as many affluent parents might be connected to such groups and are likely to hold functions in those locations. You might even volunteer to decorate or help organize a school's prom in exchange for branding opportunities, just to get your name out there with the teen set.

For younger kids, put up fliers, postcards or business cards where kids and parents will see them, such as in pediatricians' offices, toy stores and places that hold kids' classes like dance or karate. Network with kids' party vendors like clowns, face painters and balloon artists for referrals.

Do the math. Majcher notes that because kids' parties generally have lower cost margins than huge shindigs like bar mitzvahs and weddings, your revenue will generally be smaller. To make money doing this, plan to increase the number of parties you design, or add kids' parties as a supplemental offering to your general event-planning business. If you're thinking smaller, this can also be a great part-time gig.

Kids' & Teens' Party Planning:

Specialty Apparel
Like fashion? See if a clothing boutique looks good on you.

Everyone wants to feel special. That's why women will shell out serious money for a fantastic pair of shoes, even when there's a practically identical pair in the discount store down the road.

Women are increasingly looking to specialty retailers to satisfy their appetite for hip, hard-to-find clothing. Even men are jumping onboard, with apparel stores like Road--which got its start in 2005 when brothers Raj and Akhil Shah, 52 and 50, respectively, debuted a flagship store in downtown Seattle, offering specialty apparel for 30- to 60-year-old men. Sales for 2006 grew 700 percent over sales for 2005.

Among women, hot growth areas include specialty athletic apparel, maternitywear, footwear, clothing for over 40s, and petite and plus sizes. When it comes to these categories, think high-end. Market research firm The NPD Group notes that loyal customers of upscale retailers purchase more than 25 percent of their apparel at high-end stores and spend an average of $95 per shopping trip, even on staples like pants and dresses.

That's where brands like Trigelle come into play. Liza Boquiren, 30, co-founded the Brea, California, women's golfwear company with sister and sole designer Lulu Faddis, 35, and friends Jocylyn Corpuz and Karen Lee Santos, both 29. "We want to be the golf line that people go to," says Boquiren, who debuted Trigelle's line of cute golf apparel at a trade show in 2004 with just 17 pieces. "We want to be a household name." Now available in more than 250 golf resorts, pro shops and high-end retailers worldwide, Trigelle projects $1.3 million in sales for 2007--helped in part by the three professional women golfers they sponsor.

Ready to get started with your own specialty apparel business? Don't bypass these tips.

Define your market, whether it's over 40 women or petite athletes. Doing so will help you determine where to focus your research and development. For Boquiren, that means enlisting the help of professional women golfers who not only wear Trigelle clothing, but also have great advice about how to design golf apparel. "Their insight is very important to us," she says.

Consider building your business with e-commerce. If word spreads about your specialty apparel, people will come looking for it. And if they can't find it in a store, they'll want to find it online. Says Boquiren, "We get calls every day from people asking how they can get a certain piece of clothing."

Hone your selling skills. No matter where you sell your clothing, the bottom line is that there's going to be selling involved--either to consumers directly or to retailers. "Ask yourself, 'How do I provide something different [than what my customers have]?'" advises Boquiren. And if you're a retailer, "keep in mind [your] clientele," she adds. "If it's not the right fit for [a customer], back off."

Have a realistic outlook on startup costs. How much will you spend? How can you save money? Boquiren and her team spent about $100,000 of their own money to start and sought private investment capital later. They also worked out of their homes. Saving money in this way has allowed the company to expand into office space in Brea as well as a warehouse in nearby Santa Fe Springs.

Solve a problem. Trigelle solved a problem by creating cute golf apparel for women. Doing so has resulted in a loyal, growing customer base. And you can do the same. What problem can you solve?

Specialty Apparel:

Home Party Sales

With a direct sales business, no storefront is necessary.

It's a party at your home--or better yet, at someone else's. You make money, and customers socialize with their friends. Need more convincing?

Home parties now account for roughly 29 percent of the nearly $30 billion in U.S. direct sales, and 13.6 million Americans bought or sold goods from home in 2004. Not limited to Tupperware, direct sellers are hawking everything from organic gardening supplies to wine, apparel and power tools. Some are even hosting virtual parties online. And the numbers are growing, according to Amy Robinson of the Direct Selling Association in Washington, DC. "The majority of companies coming into DSA membership are party plan companies," she says. "In a lot of cases, they are smaller, newer companies."

Andrew Shure is one of them. Nationwide, he has 1,400 consultants selling Shure Pets pet products, and he predicts that number will double by the end of 2007. For Shure, the numbers are a prime example of people doing what they love. "The only requirement at Shure Pets is a passion for pets," says Shure, 43, who launched the Chicago-based business in 2003 and saw sales of $1 million in 2006. Another example is Newburyport, Massachusetts- based Anna William, which lets customers design their own handbags. Kristen Lee, 29, launched the million-dollar company in 2003 with Keek Bielby, 57; Rani Chase, 36; and Erin Hornyak, 33--and they already have 125 consultants nationwide.

Thoroughly research any company you're considering, and make sure you love the products. As Robinson says, "It's no fun to sell something you're not interested in." And here are a few other steps you can take to get the party started.

Scrutinize the initial fee. If you're buying into a home party business, ask what's included in the startup kit. Look for plenty of samples, training materials and other tools that will help you host a successful party.

Ask whether there's a buyback policy. Companies that are members of the DSA must agree to buy back inventory from consultants within 12 months of the date of purchase at a minimum of 90 percent of the original net cost. That way, "if you decide it's not for you, you can recoup most of that money," says Robinson.

Make sure there's a real product being sold. If you suspect it's a pyramid scheme--where your time and money are devoted to recruiting and earning money off a downline, and there's no product being sold or the product is worthless--keep looking.

Don't feel pressured. Shady operators might try to convince you to "get in on the ground floor with this new opportunity," says Robinson. "But a good opportunity will be there tomorrow. You need to take your time and think about it--make sure you're completely comfortable with it."

Remember, the party is never really over. Hosting a home party isn't just about the party. You need to be willing not only to make the initial sale, but also to follow up, develop relationships, be the kind of salesperson who could sell chocolate ice cream to a woman in white gloves--and call her a few weeks later to see if she'd like some more. "This is a relationship business," says Robinson. "It's about service after the sale."

Home Party Sales:

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