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50 Low-Priced Businesses

You Can Be Your Own Boss For Less Than $12,000!

This story appears in the April 1996 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine.

If you think it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital, a sizeable bank loan, and decades of experience to launch your own business, think again. In this month's cover story, we feature 50 businesses that require minimal start-up investment-in most cases, less than $12,000. There is a catch, however: As most of the entrepreneurs we've profiled can attest, starting a business takes a significant personal investment. That is, you need commitment, persistence, high quality standards and strong networking skills. With these skills under your belt, you stand a better chance of surviving those often formidable-and at times thrilling-first few months of start-up. And with further perseverance and careful investment in your growing venture, you stand a good chance of turning that little, low-investment enterprise into a booming, revenue-generating business. Good luck!

Listings 1-10

Mobile DJ

It takes more than an ear for music to keep a mobile disc jockey business groovin'. Take it from Dan Nichols, who operates a mobile DJ service in Royal Oak, Michigan. "While congeniality and knowing your music are important, you've got to have personality," explains the 28-year-old. Indeed, Nichols feel so strongly about this point, the motto printed on his business card reads: "A DJ must appeal to the party in people."

Mobile DJs need relatively little equipment to get started. Nichols, for example, started out from home with a couple compact disc players, an amplifier, a mixer and a van to transport them in. "It's a low investment for the hardware," explains Nichols. He says a good mix of music on CDs can be compiled for around $400.

Like most successful DJs, Nichols got his start in the business by playing music at a friend's party. "One thing led to another, and soon I was playing banquet halls," explains Nichols, who relies on networking, in addition to personally contacting banquet coordinators to drum up business.

"It's a good business to be in, because you work short hours and get paid good money for the time you spend in it," says Nichols. Also known to clients as "Dan the DJ," Nichols says his enterprise has grown "twofold" every year since he started the business in 1990. That's music to this entrepreneur's ears.

D.J. Times, 25 Willowdale Ave., Port Washington, NY 11050, (516) 767-2500.

Used Car Inspection

Strangely-colored exhaust . . . paint dust inside the door . . . a broken odometer . . . these are just some of the telltale signs of a used car gone bad. Help your clients avoid getting suckered into buying a lemon with your basic automotive expertise. Using a diagnostic kit can also help set the wheels turning on your own used-car inspection business.

Used Car Dealer, 2521 Brown Blvd., Arlington, TX 76006-5203, (817) 640-3838.

Painting Service

It doesn't take a lot of know-how to build a colorful career in the painting industry; just put on your painter's pants and brush up your entrepreneurial skills.

Take Jeff Lamont and Bereket Selassie, for example. When the duo started painting houses as a "little summertime business" to help pay for college in 1991, Lamont admits, "We knew how to hold a brush, and that was about all." They started with less than $1,000. With a used truck, two ladders, persistent door-to-door residential sales visits and conscientious work, however, the pair have built Lisle, Illinois-based Drumtight Painting & Staining Inc. into a high-profit business; last summer's sales approached $250,000.

"It's a good business to be in because, if you do a good job, it's easy to get referrals, regardless of how small your business is," explains Lamont, who today employs a summertime staff of about 25.

Though painting service entrepreneurs needn't be limited to summertime work, Lamont, 23, and Selassie, 24, have found this season works best for them, even now that they've graduated from college. The pair hire college students, whom they've found to be "high-quality workers," to do the painting, while they focus on managing the business from their office in Lamont's basement. During the off-season, the new business owners keep busy drumming up ideas for other ventures. With one success under their belts, nothing's stopping them from painting the town red.

Painting and Decorating Contractors of America, 3913 Old Lee Hwy., #33B, Fairfax, VA 22030, (703) 359-0826.

Home Decorating

Home in on attractive earnings as a decorator. Get started by making your own home showcase perfect, then establish relationships with local furniture stores, paint shops and carpet and drapery outlets. With some word-of-mouth, clients will come calling for help with their domestic decor.

American Society of Interior Designers, 608 Massachusetts Ave., N.E., Washington, DC 20002, (202) 546-3480.

Computer Training Service

There's no doubt about it: Just about everything's computerized these days. That's why entrepreneurs with a little technical savvy can tally big profits by giving the less computer-minded a lesson in computerese.

Former corporate MIS manager Barbara Williams is doing just that. The 39-year-old provides clients in east Houston and the surrounding area with training in DOS-based programs, ranging from Windows and Lotus to WordPerfect. Business clients seeking to improve their employees' computer skills aren't the only ones who benefit from Williams' Candlelight Computer Services, however. Many of her clients are individuals seeking to better their chances at landing a job, the entrepreneur explains. "A lot of people are frustrated, because even to get a job at a temporary placement firm, they're required to take a test on a computer," Williams says.

Williams booted up her business from a homebased office with little more than a 286 computer in January 1994. Though it didn't require much of a capital investment-approximately $500 for a telephone line, business cards and advertising-her business did require a professional approach, she claims. "I made sure I had a separate business phone line and a beeper, and that I dressed professionally," she says. To land her first clients, Williams contacted former business associates, advertised in local free newspapers, networked and "worked at reduced rates just to get my name out there."

Williams' professional persistence has paid off: Today, the entrepreneur runs her business from an office building with the help of a couple of interns and 10 computers, and boasts clients ranging from the local Fire Department to an international tanking company. Not bad for a business you can start with one computer-and perhaps a little candlelight.

Independent Computer Consultants Association, 11131 S. Towne Sq., #F, St. Louis, MO 63123, (800) 774-4222.

Lawn-Care Service

Wanna work in the glorious outdoors? With little more than a lawn mower and some pushing power, you could be seeing green (literally), maintaining lawns for businesses and homeowners. Sprinkle in additional services such as garden pest control and expert edging, and watch your business grow.

Professional Lawn Care Association of America, 1000 Johnson Ferry Rd. N.E., #C-135, Marietta, GA 30068, (770) 977-5222.

Bulletin Board Service (BBS)

Though the Internet and its web of dependent commercial online services seems to have slipped into the daily lives of computer users 'round the globe, that doesn't mean there isn't room for the "small guys" in the market, namely independent bulletin-board services (BBSs). With little more than a dedicated phone line, a fast modem and a high-powered computer, system operators (a.k.a. sysops) cater to callers seeking a more specialized, personal venue. Entrepreneur Mark Murphy likens his BBS Macintosh-user group, The Desktop, to a local pub.

"It's a lot easier than getting on the Internet; you don't get lost so easily," Murphy explains. Modem-equipped callers simply dial the BBS directly to share opinions, ask questions, swap files or send messages, all within the comfortable confines of a familiar locale.

For many sysops, running a BBS provides a direct line to profits by requiring membership fees. Others, such as Murphy, see BBSs as a venue to indirect profits. "I don't make money directly," explains the 31-year-old. "I do use the BBS, however, as a server for my other company." Thanks in part to "virtual" friends and contacts he's made via his 10-year-old Westminster, California-based BBS, Murphy has been able to turn the part-time software development firm he started shortly after launching the BBS into a full-time venture.

Murphy relies on the Macintosh version of Hermes, one of several widely available software programs, to manage his homebased service, and he's expanded The Desktop to include two dedicated phone lines. The entire system takes up two square feet, says the former computer hardware repair shop employee. "Running a BBS is like running a local store," he concludes. "There's still a different flavor to it than you'll find in the major chains."

Association of Online Professionals, 7578 B, Telegraph Rd., #635, Alexandria, VA 22315, (703) 924-9692.

Dating Service

It may take two to tango, but it often takes three just to find the perfect dance-or life-partner. Matchmakers who have a knack for bringing two like minds together are thus in great demand by the lovelorn seeking amorous bliss. But beware: The competition for Cupid's arrow is great, say industry insiders. "You need to like working with people, and be interested in psychology to be successful in this business," says Noel McLane, who founded Matchmaker in the Market in a downtown Seattle office 10 years ago. A former real estate broker who spent years matching people with their dream homes, McLane today relies on the same "good people skills" she honed in that industry to keep her people-matching business thriving.

From day one, McLane has provided clients with carefully developed questionnaires, videos and lots of one-on-one attention, to ensure she finds the best match possible. And she's been careful to nurture her higher-than-standard initial investment of $30,000 (including video equipment, a computer and a rented office) as her business has grown by reinvesting in items such as a custom-designed business management software program.

"The key is finding a niche, then doing a superb job," advises McLane, who is apparently doing just that. Though she won't disclose sales figures, the seasoned matchmaking entrepreneur says business is going "very well"; at least half her educated, professional clientele is based on referrals from satisfied, not-so-single-anymore customers.

International Society of Introduction Services, P.O. Box 4876, West Hills, CA 91308, (818) 222-1367.

Home Health Care

As the old adage goes, "Health is wealth." For entrepreneurs in the home health-care field, the adage is especially significant, since providing service to house-bound patients is where the business is.

Peter Amico, a 47-year-old entrepreneur, got his start in the business in 1982 for less than $10,000 by contacting physicians he had worked with in hospitals and placing an ad in the Yellow Pages. The registered respiratory therapist stored an inventory of equipment in his Flushing, New York, garage and had his office in his basement. Amico delivered oxygen equipment and provided setup assistance to patients himself until, after a year in business, he was able to hire some part-time drivers and eventually move the business out of his home.

While having a clinical background such as his isn't absolutely essential, Amico says, "It does help to know medical terminology and how equipment is used." As his company, Prime Care Medical Supplies, has grown, Amico has come to rely on his hospital administration background, as well.

"Since you need to manage people, it helps to have a management background," advises the entrepreneur, who currently employs a staff of 35. With healthy annual revenues of about $5 million, this is one entrepreneur who's certainly feeling wealthy and wise.

National Association for Home Care, 519 C St., N.E., Stanton Park, Washington, DC 20002-5809, (202) 547-7424.

In-Store Demos

"Try it, you'll like it," is the credo of the in-store demonstration entrepreneur. As independent agents, these promoters find the bulk of their business in grocery stores where, backed by manufacturers and/or store owners, they make tasty profits offering sample foods to shoppers.

Field Marketing Services Association, 790 Farmington Ave., Bldg. 3, Farmington, CT 06032, (800) 338-NADC.

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