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50 Low-Priced Businesses You Can Be Your Own Boss For Less Than $12,000!

By Guen Sublette

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you think it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars incapital, a sizeable bank loan, and decades of experience to launchyour own business, think again. In this month's cover story, wefeature 50 businesses that require minimal start-up investment-inmost cases, less than $12,000. There is a catch, however: As mostof the entrepreneurs we've profiled can attest, starting abusiness takes a significant personal investment. That is, you needcommitment, persistence, high quality standards and strongnetworking skills. With these skills under your belt, you stand abetter chance of surviving those often formidable-and at timesthrilling-first few months of start-up. And with furtherperseverance and careful investment in your growing venture, youstand a good chance of turning that little, low-investmententerprise into a booming, revenue-generating business. Goodluck!

Listings 1-10

Mobile DJ
It takes more than an ear for music to keep a mobile disc jockeybusiness groovin'. Take it from Dan Nichols, who operates amobile DJ service in Royal Oak, Michigan. "While congenialityand knowing your music are important, you've got to havepersonality," explains the 28-year-old. Indeed, Nichols feelso strongly about this point, the motto printed on his businesscard reads: "A DJ must appeal to the party inpeople."

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

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

"It's a good business to be in, because you work shorthours 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" everyyear since he started the business in 1990. That's music tothis 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 . . . abroken odometer . . . these are just some of the telltale signs ofa used car gone bad. Help your clients avoid getting suckered intobuying a lemon with your basic automotive expertise. Using adiagnostic kit can also help set the wheels turning on your ownused-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 inthe painting industry; just put on your painter's pants andbrush up your entrepreneurial skills.

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

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

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

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

Home Decorating
Home in on attractive earnings as a decorator. Get started bymaking your own home showcase perfect, then establish relationshipswith local furniture stores, paint shops and carpet and draperyoutlets. With some word-of-mouth, clients will come calling forhelp 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'scomputerized these days. That's why entrepreneurs with a littletechnical savvy can tally big profits by giving the lesscomputer-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 thesurrounding area with training in DOS-based programs, ranging fromWindows and Lotus to WordPerfect. Business clients seeking toimprove their employees' computer skills aren't the onlyones who benefit from Williams' Candlelight Computer Services,however. Many of her clients are individuals seeking to bettertheir chances at landing a job, the entrepreneur explains. "Alot of people are frustrated, because even to get a job at atemporary placement firm, they're required to take a test on acomputer," Williams says.

Williams booted up her business from a homebased office with littlemore than a 286 computer in January 1994. Though it didn'trequire much of a capital investment-approximately $500 for atelephone line, business cards and advertising-her business didrequire a professional approach, she claims. "I made sure Ihad a separate business phone line and a beeper, and that I dressedprofessionally," she says. To land her first clients, Williamscontacted former business associates, advertised in local freenewspapers, networked and "worked at reduced rates just to getmy name out there."

Williams' professional persistence has paid off: Today, theentrepreneur runs her business from an office building with thehelp of a couple of interns and 10 computers, and boasts clientsranging from the local Fire Department to an international tankingcompany. Not bad for a business you can start with one computer-andperhaps a little candlelight.

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

Lawn-Care Service

Wanna work in the glorious outdoors? With little more than a lawnmower 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 andexpert edging, and watch your business grow.

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

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

"It's a lot easier than getting on the Internet; youdon't get lost so easily," Murphy explains. Modem-equippedcallers simply dial the BBS directly to share opinions, askquestions, swap files or send messages, all within the comfortableconfines of a familiar locale.

For many sysops, running a BBS provides a direct line to profits byrequiring membership fees. Others, such as Murphy, see BBSs as avenue to indirect profits. "I don't make moneydirectly," 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 his10-year-old Westminster, California-based BBS, Murphy has been ableto turn the part-time software development firm he started shortlyafter launching the BBS into a full-time venture.

Murphy relies on the Macintosh version of Hermes, one of severalwidely available software programs, to manage his homebasedservice, and he's expanded The Desktop to include two dedicatedphone lines. The entire system takes up two square feet, says theformer computer hardware repair shop employee. "Running a BBSis like running a local store," he concludes."There's still a different flavor to it than you'llfind 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 theperfect dance-or life-partner. Matchmakers who have a knack forbringing two like minds together are thus in great demand by thelovelorn seeking amorous bliss. But beware: The competition forCupid's arrow is great, say industry insiders. "You needto like working with people, and be interested in psychology to besuccessful in this business," says Noel McLane, who foundedMatchmaker in the Market in a downtown Seattle office 10 years ago.A former real estate broker who spent years matching people withtheir dream homes, McLane today relies on the same "goodpeople skills" she honed in that industry to keep herpeople-matching business thriving.

From day one, McLane has provided clients with carefully developedquestionnaires, videos and lots of one-on-one attention, to ensureshe finds the best match possible. And she's been careful tonurture her higher-than-standard initial investment of $30,000(including video equipment, a computer and a rented office) as herbusiness has grown by reinvesting in items such as acustom-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 shewon't disclose sales figures, the seasoned matchmakingentrepreneur says business is going "very well"; at leasthalf her educated, professional clientele is based on referralsfrom 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." Forentrepreneurs in the home health-care field, the adage isespecially significant, since providing service to house-boundpatients is where the business is.

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

While having a clinical background such as his isn't absolutelyessential, Amico says, "It does help to know medicalterminology and how equipment is used." As his company, PrimeCare Medical Supplies, has grown, Amico has come to rely on hishospital administration background, as well.

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

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

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

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

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