Starting a low-cost business on the weekend is one of the easiest and most risk-free ways to dip your toe into the waters of entrepreneurship. It only takes your free time, a small investment in marketing materials and business supplies, and some hard work.
Michelle Anton and Jennifer Basye Sander interviewed more than 100 people living their dreams through weekend businesses when they wrote Weekend Entrepreneur: 101 Great Ways to Earn Extra Cash (Entrepreneur Press). Here, we excerpt four great ideas for people who love to work around the house. If you're already spending your evenings and weekends cleaning, organizing and improving your home, why not put those skills to work in a part-time business?
Holistic Housecleaning With Allergy-Free Products
Did you know that approximately 50 percent of Americans suffer from some kind of chemical sensitivity? Or that nationwide, every single day, 32 million pounds of household cleaning products are poured down the drain? Kind of makes you stop and think, doesn't it?
For some enterprising folks, it makes them stop and think about developing a different type of housecleaning service, a high-end specialty service that caters to clients who want to have someone in to clean their houses once a week, but are allergic, sensitive or just plain opposed to the idea of all those yucky chemicals. So why not develop a housecleaning service that vows to use only biodegradable, nontoxic products?
For sources, check out your local natural foods store, grocery stores such as Whole Foods Market, or online sources like Seventh Generation. Understand that the products you'll be using will probably cost more than the kinds of cleaning supplies you can buy at your local warehouse club, so you'll have to take that into account when setting your rates. Your clients should understand though, and be willing to pay a bit more to have someone who understands their needs and interests.
Some natural housekeepers prefer to make their own cleaning products--using a mixture of vinegar and water for surface cleaning and then a baking soda paste for scrubbing sink stains.
A great source of information on nontoxic housecleaning methods is Why David Hated Tuesdays by Amilya Antonetti. She founded the Soapworks company as a result of her son's extreme chemical sensitivity, and her products are available nationwide and online at www.soapworks.com.
Is there a need for a service like this in your area? If no one else is operating one, you should be able to get good newspaper coverage as it's a unique idea that ties into a hot topic--pollution and chemical sensitivity. Getting the word out via the media is a great move, and once you have established yourself with two or three clients, word of mouth should begin to spread.
Christmas Light Installer
This is a great seasonal business that specializes in providing the labor for holiday decorations. Once a year an opportunity to make excellent extra money arrives--installing and then later removing decorative outdoor Christmas lights for people who just don't have the time or the energy to do it for themselves. Jennifer recently went to a spring dinner party at the home of a distinguished couple in their late 70s. Although it was May, the house was still hung with colored Christmas lights outside. These folks and others like them, busy or not quite in physical shape to remove their own lights, are your target audience.
There are fancy decorating firms who will (at great cost) come in and design a complete holiday fantasy for high-end homes. These companies supply the lights and other decorations that they use. The startup costs and design talent involved with that type of business are extreme, but a market remains for offering your services to the lower end of the holiday spectrum.
Start looking for customers in mid-November, perhaps even placing fliers on the windshields of cars in the parking lots of stores advertising Thanksgiving Day special prices! Do ask for permission from the store or mall managers, lest you get started off on the wrong foot with an important ally. It's best to strike while the holidays are fresh in your potential customers' minds. Targeting high-end neighborhoods is another way to go, as many of these homeowners feel the pressure to put up their decorations early to match their neighbors, yet don't have the extra time to get out there and get it done.
In addition to offering a service putting up holiday lights, you could also provide removal service for the lights you installed. For an extra charge you could haul away the Christmas trees and take them to a mulcher!
How much should you charge for this once-a-year service? A California college student charges $40 for a simple, one-story house job that takes a little over an hour, and up to $75 for larger houses. For these prices, you are using the lights that the homeowner already owns, not supplying the decorations yourself like the fancy design firms. Make sure your clients understand that before you agree to a job.
Have you ever been inside a house for sale, and although you liked the house itself, the furnishing and decorating gave you the willies? Some real estate agents insist that empty houses sell better; it allows a prospective buyer to "see" themselves living in the space when it isn't all cluttered with the current owner's things. "Less is more" when it comes to staging a house for sale, and an objective eye can help cut through the clutter that the longtime owner can't see anymore.
But a few tasteful pieces of furniture do set the tone and for that a house stager gets called in. Terry L. Cardon formed her business TLC Home Staging to work with real estate agents to rescue hopelessly decorated houses by "staging" them so they look livable. Sometimes houses are staged while the owners are still living there, but more often the houses are empty.
For several years, Terry had been staging houses informally, helping out when friends and family were selling a house. She seemed to have a real knack for it. With the encouragement of local real estate agents, she finally took the step and began to do it professionally.
What does it take to be a house stager? You will need at least a good sense of design, but formal interior design experience is best. Caroline Benard decided to start her house staging service after years of interior decorating for high-end clients. She wanted a business that allowed her to spend more time with her children.
You'll need to own the pieces that you use to stage. Buying an extra set of high-end furniture that can be moved from house to house to house is a big startup expense. Another way of handling the furniture would be to strike a deal with a local furniture company so you use their furniture on a casual loan basis and credit them with large signage throughout the house.
Where do your clients come from? Stop in whenever you see a "for sale by owner" sign and offer your services. Network with local real estate agencies and let them know what you can do for them.
What can you expect to make as a house stager? Like realtors, some house stagers set their price according to the sale price of the home--1.5 percent. Others bid out each job according to how much work needs to be done. By asking realtors you should get a better feel for what the market can bear in your area, but charging $1,000 to come in and stage a home is not out of the question.
Teach Handyman Skills
If you have handy talents and skills around the house, chances are you've thought of selling your handyman services to other people. But perhaps in addition to charging folks to fix their problems, you can also charge folks to teach them a few skills.
Organizing classes on how to do common household repairs are always popular, and there is a large surge now in the numbers of women who want to learn how to fix things around the home. Tailoring your class for seniors, women or teens could help you narrow your focus and market more effectively.
In the space of an afternoon you could bring your students up to speed on how to:
- Handle a power drill
- Fix a leaky faucet
- Stop a running toilet
- Unclog a toilet
- Replacing switches and plugs
- Basic sprinkler system upkeep
Target eight or ten basic household skills and build your lessons around them instead of trying to cram too much information into the space of just a few short hours.
An offshoot of this is to put together a weekend seminar on how to clean your house faster, better and cheaper. Remember, people like to save time and money on unpleasant tasks! Teach homeowners how to clean their houses from top to bottom in 45 minutes and you will have customers lined up! With either handyman or cleaning skills, you might find that your students decide to hire you to handle these things for them after all!
Market your classes by putting up small signs in local hardware stores and grocery stores (always check first with the manager) and writing a catchy press release for your local newspaper.
For 97 more ideas, visit our bookstore to purchaseWeekend Entrepreneur: 101 Ways to Earn Extra Cash.