It's Monday morning, six a.m. and your alarm is buzzing. You're thinking: "Goodbye sleep and hello harsh reality." Another workweek has begun. You hit the snooze button at least two or three times, rush through your morning dress ritual, and then tear out of the door to a job you can't stand. As always, you briefly toy with the idea of becoming your own boss. Is it possible? You assess your situation and remind yourself that while you dream rich, you live cash poor. A steady paycheck is what gets you out of bed every morning, and the fear of not having one is what keeps you locked into the daily grind.
But here's the thing—lacking startup capital shouldn't keep you from striking out on your own. Not when there are a number of businesses that require little or no upfront, out-of-pocket expenses.
Turning a favorite hobby into a day job
Many of these startups are created by people who turn their favorite hobbies into jobs. "Karen Holly" Jewelry, for example, was started by two network television employees who loved making jewelry in their spare time. The women made necklaces and bracelets in their home and sold them to co-workers. Now their creations are sold to upscale clients in Atlanta area salons and boutiques.
Do you like shopping and running errands? You might want to consider starting a personal assistant business. You can use your spare time to run errands, set up schedules and do other "favors" for busy professionals. When you want to expand, simply dedicate a bit more time to your enterprise or recruit others to become employees.
From Hollywood Elite to the busy executives in your neighborhood, personal assistants can make a pretty penny playing "gopher". Commanding any where from $15 to $30 an hour, it can be a pretty lucrative business. And it tops the list as one of the easiest ways to earn money without having to put out a dime. Other than the small amount of money it would take to incorporate or form an LLC, there is only one big expense—gas for your vehicle.
Are you a gym nut? If so, you may be missing out on a fast and easy way to make money. Personal trainers are raking in big bucks these days. Take for example P. Diddy's personal trainer, Mark Jenkins, who was paid six figures to get Puffy in tip top shape for the New York marathon. But you don't need to have high-rolling clients like Puff to make good money. Many busy, image-conscious professionals need a little help in the fitness department. Less glamorous personal trainers make anywhere from $60 to $600 an hour, depending on the client.
Attention Shoppers. Your shopping addiction could actually increase your bank account rather than deplete it. Just transfer your addition to shopping onto others. It takes little money to become a personal shopper as your clients will pay for both your time and the merchandise you buy for them. But take note—this job does actually require a modicum of talent. You'll also need to occasionally adapt your taste to that of your client, so even if you wouldn't be caught dead buying a Lladro figurine, you may just have to expand your horizons long enough to satisfy your patron. This is also an ideal job to begin doing part-time on the weekends until you build sufficient cash flow and confidence to quit your day job and become a full-time entrepreneur.
A closely related cousin of the personal shopper is the professional closet organizer. Idea for Type A personalities, closet organizers come into your home not to create closet shelves, but to edit your wardrobe down to the basics. In addition to throwing out worn items and eliminating wardrobe redundancies, talented closet organizers also identify needed essentials and seasonal "must-haves." It's more or less a spring cleaning service for your wardrobe. The only required element of this job is patience and organizational skills.
Generally speaking, all of us have at least one skill or interest that, if properly adapted, could result in a lucrative career. It comes down to this—if the thing you love doing the most could be of value to others, you've found your business. And in most cases, the most you'll need is a business plan, some time and a little seed money. Many people finance as they go, keeping their "day job" and paying for business necessities out of pocket. Others accumulate a few months' worth of savings or acquire a small loan and take the leap, knowing that their new idea will fly. It all depends on your current life situation, financial picture and confidence level.
Are you right for franchising?
Born entrepreneurs aside, to most of us the idea of starting a business completely from scratch is a scary thought. In this case, you may be a perfect candidate for opening a franchise. With good credit or the ability to raise money, you could own the next Subway or Mail Boxes Etc. outlet in your neighborhood. Not only will you be starting with a proven business model, you'll also enjoy the high-level marketing, national name recognition, and free business training typically made available to you as a new franchisee.
Two great examples are "Pressed4Time," a dry cleaning pick-up and delivery service and "Money Mailer, a direct mail and internet advertising business." Both require investments of less than $70,000. Neither requires any inventory or supplies beyond what is included in the initial franchise set up. But take note—even if the franchise license and setup are low cost, you'll still need to budget for operating costs and living expenses. You can find advice on franchising and search for franchise opportunities through the International Franchise Association s(http://www.franchise.org).
Whether you open a franchise or start your own business from scratch, the first thing you'll have to decide is how much startup cash you need. If you can't "pay as you go," there are a number of places to go for small business loans and grants. Your bank or credit union may offer loans or lines of credit if you qualify. This route is often quicker than going through government agencies, but can also be costly. Interest rates on these loans are often higher and getting approval can be difficult if your credit history is less than spectacular.
Show me the money!
The federal government also has programs for small business owners. For example, there is a grant program that provides funding to those willing to start "high-need" businesses in certain communities or conversely, programs for businesses that provide high-need services to the government. There are also a number of grants available for women and minority entrepreneurs.
Many state economic development offices and treasury departments have similar programs for their residents. Your best bet would be to call the treasurer's office in the state in which you reside. Even the IRS has a small business section that offers advice on setting up your business and explains the tax laws that could apply to your enterprise. It's worth it to do the research in the early stages of your business to prevent serious problems down the road.
The Small Business Association is by far the most well known agency for entrepreneurs. The SBA has grants, low interest loans and support services for business owners at every stage. A counselor from the group can help you set up a business plan, find funding, and teach you how to network and advertise your new business. There are SBA offices in just about every city that provide in-person counseling. For more information or to find an office near you, visit www.sba.org.
It could be the first step to making your dream come true.