Although there’s currently a battle brewing over whether they should be called pet owners or pet guardians, there’s no quarrel about the fact that we are a nation of animal lovers. More than 31 million households in the U.S. own one or more dogs (the average is 1.7); 27 million homes have at least one cat in residence; birds are caged in 4.6 million homes. Exotic animals make up a smaller percentage of pets owned, but reptiles and amphibians have their devoted fans, too. Of course, this isn’t just an American passion. Canadians and many Europeans are also devoted animal caretakers.

All this creature devotion has spawned a huge market for products and services that help care for (and pamper) Fido and Fluffy. Just a decade ago, Americans spent $17 billion a year on pet products and services. This year pet purchases are expected to rise to $31 billion.

If you adore animals in general (as opposed to your own pets, whom you believe to be full family members), a pet-based profit center could be a lovely fit for you.

Pet-related businesses usually fall into one of two broad categories: products and services for animals or products and services for animal owners. If your intention is to spend as much time as possible with animals, you’ll easily chose the former. If you enjoy sharing your passion for a particular breed or kind of pet with others who are equally enamored, you might find your niche with a product that is more people-oriented.

Pet services. You don’t have to enroll in a veterinary college to have a business that caters to animals. Pet sitting, training, grooming and breeding are old stand-bys that are all relatively easy to start and ensure optimum contact with animals.

In this busy world of ours, there’s a growing need for professional pet watchers to keep animals fed and exercised when their owners are away. When Linda Leamer, a longtime cat lover, began creating profit centers, the idea of caring for cats was a natural. She began by advertising in a local paper and her business has continued to grow ever since. Referrals from veterinarians also have expanded her client base. While she admits there was a bit of trial and error in the beginning, she was clear from the start about the geographic limitations of her service, as well as the options offered. Today, she has one part-time assistant and plans to make sitting her retirement business.

Another variation of this — a particularly good opportunity for city dwellers — is dog walking. Professional dog walkers, who earn more money than you might imagine, build a regular clientele of dogs that they handle every day. It’s a little bit like servicing a route, with a built-in exercise bonus for the dog walker.

Pet boarding services and the newly fashionable pet daycare centers require more commitment of time and financial resources, but have great potential as profitable endeavors. An excellent manual for starting a sitting business is Patti J. Moran’s Pet Sitting for Profit (IDG Books Worldwide, $17.95).

Pet grooming businesses also seem to flourish everywhere. Many people simply begin advertising without any training whatsoever, although the National Dog Groomers Association of America is trying to change that. Technical colleges often have short courses in grooming and other national programs are also available. Publications such as Dog Fancy magazine have numerous listings for programs located throughout the country.

Training is another huge area of business. Dog and horse trainers, especially, are in demand. A few trainers specialize in training guide dogs for the blind or hearing impaired. Here in Minnesota, we have a business that trains unusual and exotic animals for television commercials — a unique service. Programs that train the trainer exist throughout the country, but before signing on, you need to thoroughly investigate the methods taught by a prospective program. An additional profit center in the animal training field is the do-it-yourself training video, always popular with new pet owners.

Pet products. As anyone knows who has set foot in a pet superstore, there’s a dazzling array of merchandise available to make life comfortable for a beloved pet. Small business owners can often create their own niche by producing a product that’s unique and then marketing it in an equally specialized way. Handmade coats and sweaters for pets living in cold climates have long been hot items (that pun is purely accidental) and there’s always a market for cute, colorful or utilitarian outdoor gear.

With the growing interest in nutrition, pet owners are often eager to feed their animals the healthiest possible food. Many local cat and dog treat bakeries have sprung up around the country to provide healthy alternatives. One such business was started by Anne Abrams, owner of Treatoria Food Company, which produces specialty food and treats. After moving to Seattle, several things happened that led to the creation of this business. She found, she says, that as a newcomer she was meeting the most people on her nightly dog walks at the park. She also had become interested in naturopathy and had changed her diet to reflect that. When she began feeding her own pets a naturopathic diet, she noticed positive changes and decided to produce fresh foods for other pet owners lacking the time or inclination to cook for their pets. Originally, her products were sold through her retail outlet, but today the focus is on wholesaling.

Products for petlovers. Another area of opportunity awaits in creating and marketing products aimed at the pet lover, not the pet.

A big category here is information packaging. Instructional books and magazines help pet owners do a better job of caring for their adopted animals. Much of the information is general, but niche publications also find an audience. One such publication is Wendy Ballard’s DogGone newsletter, which highlights pet-friendly destinations across the U.S. plus offers tips for people who vacation with their dogs.

Then there’s Petoria’s Secret, the brainchild of best friends Patti Pigeon and Maria Rizzuto. The women met while in a training class for their Newfoundlands. This led to the idea of marketing products to dog lovers that were more creative than the T-shirts with breeds stamped on them that were the usual offering at dog shows. Five years later, the business, which was started on a shoestring, had grown to include a mail-order catalog plus a garage-turned-doggie-boutique in Patti’s Golden, Colorado home. Much of their business comes from selling their wares at dog shows. In addition to clothing and jewelry, they have some home furnishing with a dog theme in their repertoire as well. Big sellers include a polar fleece jacket with comical dog and dog-bone appliqués and dog-bone earrings. All products must meet their stringent criteria for being whimsical.

Over the years, I have interviewed hundreds of people about their businesses, but I have never encountered the level of passion that I found in talking to people who have pet-related enterprises. Not only do they love animals, they all sounded almost giddy in talking about sharing that love through their business and having the opportunity to work with others who share their passion for pets.

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Nancy Lindemeyer had a vision — a vision not of the future, but of the past. That vision paid off nicely and Victoria, the magazine she edited from its beginning in 1987 until she resigned in 2000, made publishing history. Not only did Victoria attract a loyal following, its lavishly photographed pages frequently featured small businesses devoted to old-time, romantic lifestyles. Its advertising pages were filled with dozens of other small businesses offering products that recall an earlier time. Although Victoria ceased publication in June 2003, its success demonstrated that there are vast opportunities for those in love with the past.

It’s not just romantics and history buffs, however, who are cashing in on nostalgia. My 18-year-old niece became quite an authority after taking a job in an antiques mall in California. “The baby boomers are buying up their childhoods,” she confided knowingly when I visited the mall. My seatmate on that same trip had been a young Englishman living in Los Angeles who told me that he and his wife were avid collectors of things from the Fifties, and it was his wife’s dream to become a serious dealer of these artifacts.

All of this comes as no surprise to trendspotter Faith Popcorn, who writes in her book Clicking:

Good old-fashioned nostalgia with its sweet longing has a major place in the Down-Aging trend. It seems that we’re always wanting everything back that we used to have. The same toys you played with as a pup are making a steady comeback for this upcoming generation. And they’re consistently anti-technological. Erector sets are selling by the tens of thousands. … Stamp collecting, too, has returned as a hobby.

If you’ve got one foot planted firmly in another time or place, you may also have the makings of a fine profit center, one that allows you to indulge your passion and keep building your expertise — and that pays you handsomely while you have all this fun. Here are some ideas to consider:

Research and write. Before Sarah Ban Breathnach dazzled the bestseller charts with Simple Abundance, she had turned her passion for Victorian domestic arts into a lovely book called Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions: Nostalgic Suggestions for Re-Creating the Family Celebrations and Seasonal Pastimes of the Victorian Home. The growing interest in times past will fuel the market for guidebooks, retrospectives and, even, biographies.

Your unique interests may very well fill a void. I once saw an author on The Today Show who turned his unusual interest into a book. It seems that since childhood, he’s drawn floor plans of the homes and apartments featured in early television sitcoms. (No kidding.) The Today Show deemed it interesting enough to give him an interview twice as long as most authors receive on that show.

Writing about the past for magazines that celebrate various times in history, as well as shelter publications, is another income possibility for those with expertise. If you’re a history buff and you know a lot about your local area, regional publications offer another possibility for publication.

Rummage. Gathering and selling antiques and collectibles seems to be an occupation that knows no bounds. For several years, I’ve been lamenting the deterioration of the little town where I grew up in southern Minnesota. On every visit, I would notice another storefront that had become vacant. Now, however, there’s a revival going on, with antique shops popping up all over the place. Even the little Episcopalian church is finding new life as a refuge for antiques. It is hoped that this concentration of dealers will attract out-of-town buyers, as it has in other parts of the country.

Opening a shop is, of course, only one way of marketing the past. Flea markets, antique malls and, also, mail order are popular ways of selling. Online auctions such as eBay have created fabulous new marketing opportunities. Marilyn and Rocky Rockholt market the perfume bottles they collect through networking, mail/phone orders and at collectors’ shows. As they grow more knowledgeable and meet more people who share their interest, new ideas for marketing keep presenting themselves.

Reproduce. While the supply of antiques may be finite (even though it doesn’t always seem that way), craftspeople are finding enthusiastic buyers of reproduction works of the past. At the moment, the Arts and Crafts Movement is enjoying a lively revival, with artisans copying all manner of home furnishings from this era. You can find everything from hand-hammered copper hardware, to wallpaper, to lighting and furniture. The interest is so high that Elaine Hirschl Ellis has built a successful tour business specializing in arts and crafts tours to Britain.

Although rich collectors may thumb their nose at anything less than an original, thousands of enthusiasts are happy to furnish their homes with the more affordable reproductions. And after several decades of mass production, more and more folks are assembling one-of-a-kind items, creating vast opportunities for artisans who lovingly invoke earlier times in their work. Stencil artist Amy Miller has built a thriving business doing custom stenciling in the Arts and Crafts style. In addition to creating fabulous decorations for homes and businesses, she also produces a line of pre-cut stencils and teaches classes to others interested in preserving this style.

If you share a passion for the past, give serious thought to turning that love into a profit center. “Whether they’re craftspeople or collectors,” says special events coordinator Mary Alcott, “the desire to share a personal passion drives these businesses.” The time couldn’t be any riper as we rediscover our appreciation for the things that decorated our pasts and now enliven the present.

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On a steamy July Saturday several years ago, I accepted an invitation to accompany a friend to the bridal shop where she had chosen a gown. As I sat on the sidelines, I watched groups of women arrive — brides-to-be with mothers, grandmothers, sisters and friends in tow. The young women would arrive in jeans or shorts, but moments later they’d be transformed into fairy princesses. As they modeled their dresses for their families, there were often tears, along with the smiles.

When we left the shop, my friend commented that I had appeared spellbound by the process. I agreed that I had found the experience surprisingly fascinating. “You should open a bridal shop,” she joked.

Amazingly, her words stayed with me and for weeks I contemplated doing just that. I couldn’t get over what a happy atmosphere existed at the bridal shop and I envisioned the fun it would be to share in that excitement day after day. About the time my friend came to her senses and called off her engagement, I came to mine and admitted that shopkeeping of any sort was not for me. Nevertheless, I’ve never forgotten that helping people celebrate special moments could be a joyous way to earn a living — and shopkeeping is only one of the possibilities.

Our culture is filled with events, holidays and family traditions that call for a celebration. Sometimes those celebrations are intimate and follow a well-used pattern; others occur only rarely and can cause panic. It’s no wonder, then, that all sorts of businesses exist to help us make the most of these special times in life. If some holiday or special occasion makes your heart beat faster, consider how it might become a happy profit center for you.

What does it take to launch a celebration business? An experienced party planner says the main requisites are:

  • A sincere interest in people.
  • The ability to organize and manage numerous details and personalities while staying cool.
  • A specialty or niche.

“Although special times are exciting for the client,” she adds, “there is often plenty of stress, too. Part of your job is to make sure that your client, who is throwing the party, has as good a time as his or her guests. That frequently requires building rapport and trust, along with staying calm when things go wrong. It’s a wonderfully challenging, creative and varied business and I can’t imagine anything more fun!”

Find your specialty. If you possess the necessary social and organizing skills, it’s time to decide what your specialty will be. Again, your own personal interests will help you zero in on the sorts of events you’d enjoy working on. There’s no point in organizing children’s parties, for instance, if you can’t bear being around kids. On the other hand, organizing corporate events or class reunions might be a perfect fit. Or your niche may be planning spectacular romantic evenings for couples or fantasy birthday celebrations. Several companies specialize in staging murder mystery parties. Look around your own community for ideas. In Minneapolis, where I live, we have a thriving theater environment. A number of set designers and construction people joined forces a few years ago to create backdrops and sets for conventions and corporate parties — expanding their talents in a lucrative new way.

Besides your own creative and management talents, your network of suppliers and contacts will become your business’s biggest asset. Get to know as many caterers, photographers, suppliers, florists, designers, musicians and entertainers as possible. Keep building your talent bank. The more people you can call on, the better. You’ll need to know prices for all the services you’ll be hiring for each event so set up a system for recording pertinent information for each of your suppliers.

Like most personal service businesses, special events planners get much of their new business from referrals from happy customers. As a newcomer, you can get things rolling by advertising in the Yellow Pages plus having a brochure and web site detailing your services. One memorable brochure I saw was designed to look like an invitation, a natural promotion idea.

Another appropriate way to start this kind of business is to throw a launch party for yourself and let people see what a great job you can do.

A wedding consultant summed up his business by saying, “Imagine this: I get to share the happiest times with my clients, I get to attend beautiful receptions every week, I get to wear terrific clothes, I meet all kinds of people, and I go home knowing that my efforts made someone’s special day even more special.” It’s almost enough to make me think again about opening that shop.

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In my scrapbook is a page of Making a Living Without a Job memorabilia that I’ve titled “The Class That Became a Business.” Indeed, it was only after people repeatedly said, “I’d love to be doing what you do,” that I began to realize there was an opportunity to share what I had learned. You may have your own opportunity hiding in plain sight.

“The new source of power is not money in the hands of a few,” said John Naisbitt, “but information in the hands of many.” This boom in information, technology and communication has made creating and packaging information a popular enterprise for self-bossers. And rightly so. Not only can you capitalize on years of experience and learning, you can start building your own information brokerage immediately—and do it from the comfort of home.
Information packagers are often people who have a real passion for their subject; others are passionate about communication and may write and speak about a number of subjects. Good communication skills are, of course, basic to making this work.
While it does take planning to create and produce information packages, you can get started with a minimum of expenditure. People are turning to experts with practical experience—people who have done what they’re teaching. Whether you are a world-class mountain climber, financial planner or legendary party giver, your audience awaits you.
Here’s a quick overview of the possibilities for packaging and marketing the information that’s already at your fingertips.
Teach a class or seminar. You can, of course, market your own classes. If you’re just getting started, however, you’ll save a lot of frustration if you join forces with someone who can promote your teaching such as a community college or professional association. Community education programs, art centers and even libraries are also possibilities.
Give a speech. Conventions and professional groups are always seeking speakers who can motivate, train and educate. Professional speakers need stamina, but the financial rewards can be great. Many successful speakers begin their careers more modestly, however, offering to speak to local groups which offer exposure and experience—not much money.
Write articles. Magazines, newsletters, newspapers and association journals, which number in the tens of thousands, are good markets for how-to information. Some online sites also pay for material. You may be able to produce articles that you can sell several times to non-competing markets.
Self-publish. Desktop publishing has made it possible for impatient authors to produce their own reports, books and so forth. The profit margin is greater than with conventional publishing, but distribution can be more difficult when you do it yourself. However, self-publishing makes a great mail order venture. Or you can follow the lead of other successful self-publishers who also do public speaking and market their books at the same time.
CDs, DVDs and videotapes. The market for tapes and CDs has grown so large that many publishing houses have audio/video divisions. Again, tapes make a wonderful product to sell in conjunction with classes and public speaking.
Newsletters. While a newsletter can be a good profit center, it may not be profitable enough to be your single source of income. Newsletters are a great way to update and expand the information that you dispense in other formats.
Consulting. Working with others on a one-to-one basis can be a lucrative way of sharing the information and experience of a lifetime. Many consultants limit their work to a few select clients, leaving time for other information pursuits.
Internet. The world of cyberspace offers ample opportunities for sharing information. Since much of it is free, you need to establish your own position about how you want to operate online. Some websites share free information and market additional products, such as books and tapes. Becoming an online expert for someone else’s site is another way of taking advantage of the Internet.

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Classes on “How to Become a Private Detective” have enjoyed great popularity in adult ed programs and I think I know why. For as long as I can remember, mystery writers have delighted us with tales of amateur sleuths who always outsmart the professionals. It’s logical, then, that some of us would deduce that we could be solving fascinating cases that have others stumped. But becoming a private detective isn’t the only way to satisfy an urge to solve mysteries.

During our visit to Tuscany, my sister Margaret, brother Jim, and I were being given a tour of the Etruscan Museum in Murlo by our sister Nancy. Since Nancy had worked on the excavation from which the artifacts in the museum originated, she knew a great deal about the things she was showing us. She casually mentioned that she had personally made a discovery that had completely altered a popular theory about Greek and Etruscan influences. “Good detective work, Nancy,” I thought.

All of a sudden, my mind flashed back to our days growing up with early television and I remembered that Nancy was the one who loved solving the crimes on Perry Mason and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In fact, she was usually the first one to finger the villain. Her life as an archaeologist has given her the perfect vehicle to keep solving mysteries without having to deal with living criminals.

If you love to put together the pieces of a puzzle or love to follow clues to their conclusion, you could easily utilize that skill in designing a business. Persistence, clarity and good problem-solving abilities plus a love of the hunt are what’s needed. Add to that a bit of expertise, a network of “sources,” and an active intuition, and you could have the concept that keeps you happily engaged solving problems for your customers and clients.

While the possibilities go on and on for ideas that would thrive on detective work, one of the most promising is to be a professional finder. What might you find? Almost anything and everything that needs finding, it appears. Here are some ways others have done it:

Lost loves. Wondering what became of that adorable redhead who broke your heart in the seventh grade? Even if you aren’t looking for someone from your past, plenty of other people are. And those who are computer savvy know that much of the legwork can be done in cyberspace rather than in musty old county clerks’ offices. Businesses, too, use the services of private agencies to do background and credit checks. Not as romantic, of course, but another opportunity.

Locations. Out-of-towners visiting my hometown of Minneapolis frequently ask to see the Mary Tyler Moore house. It’s one of our famous attractions (and, yes, it is an actual residence). Films and television programs aren’t the only businesses that need to find appropriate backdrops for their work, however. Magazine editors, advertising agencies and photographers also use the services of location scouts who find the perfect place for a shoot and make the appropriate arrangements. (This would have been an ideal business for my father, who thought driving around town was high entertainment.)

Information. Tracking down information and doing in-depth research is another perfect occupation for wannabe detectives. Information brokering has, of course, become a hot business in the past several years. “It comes as a surprise to people who love to dig for information,” says info broker Carl Hansen, “that not everyone wants to spend time locating data. Many people who could happily run such a business don’t realize what a valuable service they have to offer.”

For more independent souls, this offers endless opportunities for gathering and compiling data that interests them and is useful to others. Jack and Marcia Kelly, for example, followed their own curiosity and ended up compiling a directory of monasteries and retreat centers that take in paying guests, combining a passion of theirs with a void in the market. Independent researchers are also employed by a host of businesses, writers, television producers, and marketing firms.

Things. Until a friend introduced me to John Dunning’s mysteries, I had never heard of book scouts. But I learned a lot about book scouting from him and, also, from another book called Book Finds by Ian C. Ellis. A book scout works independently to track down valuable books which are then sold to dealers or private collectors.

All sorts of profit center possibilities exist for tracking down hard-to-find items. For example, when Southwestern decor and cuisine became trendy throughout the U.S., one scout specialized in buying items from the Southwest, which he sold to restaurants wanting to duplicate a Santa Fe ambiance in other parts of the country.

Then there’s the young aristocrat in London who specializes in tracking down antiques for an elite clientele. Most such businesses are highly specialized, rather than all-purpose. You might think of it as being a freelance buyer with the entire world being your marketplace.

If you’re looking to add a touch of mystery and adventure to your life, creating a business that allows you to sleuth has all the necessary elements. As G. K. Chesterton pointed out, “There is one thing which gives radiance to everything. It is the idea of something around the corner.” Why should Agatha Christie have had all the fun? Why not create your own business with lots of corners?

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Many would-be entrepreneurs get frightened off by the thought of marketing. They tremble at the erroneous notion that marketing is about finding universal acceptance, and they assume they’re doomed to a life of rejection or cutthroat competition.

If that sounds like a thought you’ve had, let me suggest that you consider another possibility: What if you created a business that was designed to serve only a few happy clients? What if that business measured its success not by the number of units sold, but by how well it did in finding a simpatico clientele?

If you’re a person who thrives on relationship building, a personal service business with an elite client base could be perfect for you. This focused kind of business is appealing to people who love personal attention and are looking for ways to save time.

To create such a business, consider your passions and talents, then put them in a package that only needs to be marketed a few times. Keep in mind that the kinds of businesses I’m suggesting here often rely far more on word-of-mouth marketing than on conventional advertising and promotion. Provide a needed service and do it really well and you will devote little time to marketing.

Assist someone. Personal assistants aren’t just for movie stars, although many celebrities employ them. A personal assistant needs tact, integrity, good people skills and a sense of humor. Many personal assistants work for only one client at a time, doing everything from running errands to making appointments to keeping the client’s life running smoothly. Rapport with your client is absolutely essential or this kind of business will be a nightmare.

The new version of this service is the virtual assistant who helps clients handle the details of their business or personal life using technology more than face-to-face contact.

Train a body. Personal trainers have been popular for some time. Busy people, who can’t find time to get to the gym, often employ trainers to keep them in shape. Trainers may work odd hours (early morning is often popular) and have the added challenge of working in the client’s home — which may or may not resemble a gym. Trainers are also involved in designing a workout regimen for the specific needs of their client and acting as a motivator for reluctant clients.

Cook a small feast. Personal chefs are replacing takeout and frozen dinners. Some chefs cook in the client’s home, preparing a week’s worth of meals, which are stored in the fridge or freezer. Others cook in their own homes or commercial kitchens and either deliver meals or have them picked up at the end of the day. In addition, some personal chefs add catering to their line-up of services.

Run around. Not long ago, I spotted a car in a mall parking lot that had a door sign listing numerous errand services the owner provided. Errand services can include anything from standing in line to get concert tickets to taking elderly folks to the doctor.

Many errand services specialize by doing things like picking up kids after school and taking them to karate class. You’ve got to love driving in order to make this work.

Go shopping. It comes as a surprise to power shoppers to learn that everyone doesn’t share their passion for shopping. Even with the popularity of online buying there are still plenty of things that require a trip to the store. Personal shoppers can provide the solution for those that think it’s a drag.

A young woman I met — right here in Minnesota — did shopping for movie and television productions. Props, clothes and accessories are all part of the storytelling process, and it’s often easier to hunt them out rather than create them in a prop or costume shop. This one’s a natural for savvy shoppers.

Care for property. Absentee owners often have need of a responsible person to live on their property and take care of things. Caretaking offers a wide selection of opportunities from yachts to ranches to estates to small properties. Responsibilities are as varied as the situations themselves.

The possibilities for creating a unique service with a handpicked clientele are truly limited only by your willingness and imagination. While it may take a bit of detective work to get it just right, your perfect business could be just one client away.

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“I know what I like to do,” the little thinker smugly says, “but I couldn’t possibly make money doing it.”

Many of us carry around a belief (often hidden) that earning money is only appropriate when we’re not having too much fun doing so. What nonsense. If you look around, you’ll see that some of the most abundant people are also those who are having great fun with their work.

Of course, you need to examine your own thinking and see if you’re carrying around outmoded ideas about what is and what is not possible for you. Even more important, you need to begin with the assumption that any passion you have can become the basis for earning money, if you so desire.

A useful exercise is to write down a broad passion (e.g., working with teens, flying airplanes, collecting china, writing essays), and then start a list of all the possibilities you can come up with to make money.

My friend Chris Utterback was the publisher of the Herban Lifestyles newsletter. She once created such a list of possible ways that a passionate gardener could earn money. In fact, her first venture came about because of her love of gardening. She says, “I was overjoyed when my first harvest of French tarragon grew. I was overwhelmed when it grew into a huge patch. Not having any idea how I could use up all of my crop, I thought I might interest some Denver chefs in it and earn myself some extra income. Not only were the chefs interested, they were delighted. My tarragon was my entree into the world of making a living without a job.”

Chris was so delighted that her avocation could also be the start of a new vocation that she kept generating new ideas about other ways garden lovers could make money from their passion. Here’s her list of wonderful ideas:

Lecture to garden clubs and other small groups. The most inventive use of miscellaneous talent that I’ve seen was a lecture given to our garden club by a man whose flyer read, “Gardener, Photographer, World Traveler.” He was also a member of the Actor’s Guild in New York. His slide presentation of “Monet’s Gardens at Giverny” was a perfect mesh of his talents. While narrating his show, he drew upon his acting ability to play the part of Monet. This enterprising man received $125 for his time. Moreover, he had created a “product” he could market over and over again.

Sell your passion. If you love to photograph gardens, for instance, but you hate the thought of teaching, sell your slides to those who would like to lecture but haven’t the visual aids to do it. I’d love to teach a garden design class (a subject in great demand), but since my gardens aren’t completed or it’s the wrong time of year to take garden photos, I lack the visual aids I need. Purchasing the photos of others would get me going.

Perhaps woodburning is your hobby. Why not make custom herb garden markers and sell them at weekend flea markets? Other products of interest to your fellow gardeners could be marketed at summer fairs, garden shows or farmer’s markets.

Sell your excess. My abundance of tarragon was unbelievably easy to sell to chefs. I started by making a list of all the restaurants that were French or that I knew used fresh herbs. Then, on a Saturday, I cut my tarragon, divided it into quarter-pound bunches and placed them in buckets of water in our van. My husband drove me to each restaurant on the list, where I knocked on the kitchen door, tarragon now in a large flower basket, and was greeted enthusiastically by the chefs. The chefs sniffed, caressed and tasted my tarragon. They were impressed by the freshness and wanted more. I had to make it clear that I could only produce random amounts and that they should continue to get it through their usual distributor. They appreciated my honesty and continued to buy from me when I had it available.

You could sell flowers, seedlings and many other self-produced items this way, too. Here in New England, gardeners put a table and sign on their front lawn to sell berries, flowers and excess produce to passing motorists.

Enter county fairs. A friend of mine tells me that every year her entire family enters houseplants, pies, herb vinegars, jellies, etc. in several local fairs. They win numerous ribbons and money for their entries. Check with your local extension office for dates and applications.

Write. Many newspapers, newsletters and magazines include an article on herbs in every issue. If you find writing enjoyable and are willing to learn what it takes to get things published, then you could easily start to bring in income for your efforts. You may be able to circulate the same article over and over to noncompeting markets, too. After you’ve written a number of articles, you may decide that there is a book in you, thus producing long-term income through royalties. Writing also gives you the recognition that could lead to many open doors in the future.

Flaunt your garden. That masterpiece that you have toiled over just may produce added income if you enjoy the company of others touring your garden. Display gardens are very alluring to other gardeners. Even if you have a full-time herb farm, bookshop or restaurant, a garden adds to its attractiveness. You may also be able to attract media attention and/or create other opportunities such as consulting and lecturing by opening your garden to the public and gaining visibility as an expert.

Don’t overlook related interests. Even though my primary focus became writing an herb newsletter, I also became proficient in another field, desktop publishing. Because of this I have been able to pick up freelance publishing and typesetting jobs and have been asked to teach seminars for the local computer store.

An idea-starting list such as the one Chris wrote for her gardening passion can start your imagination working. You may find that your passion leads to several undertakings, each with a satisfaction of its own. As Nobel prize winner Linus Pauling reminds us, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” Maintaining an ongoing idea file is a necessary means for keeping track of ideas as they come to you. Not only will such a file become a valuable personal resource, challenging yourself to add to it on a regular basis will generate fresh and innovative notions that can become the seeds of great enterprise.

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Like thousands of people, Tim and Nina Zagat loved dining out. Unlike thousands of people, the Zagats found a way to turn that passion into a multimillion-dollar business.

As is often the case, the Zagats hit upon their great idea because they couldn’t find something they wanted themselves — a reliable guidebook to restaurants. Because they found selecting a new place to eat was often a hit-or-miss proposition, they got the idea to enlist some of their friends in helping them rate places they had eaten. The Zagats printed up the information and passed it among their friends. Their little restaurant guidebooks were so well-received that they decided to turn their hobby into a business.

Today, the Zagat dining guidebooks are the most popular in the field, covering several cities in the U.S. plus London and Paris. The food-loving couple now enlist the aid of thousands of people to evaluate a wide range of restaurants and give their opinion on everything from ambience to service. They added another profit center by issuing special editions, which corporations use as gifts for their customers and business associates.

Food has always, of course, been a popular basis for building a business. No other commodity is as universal in its market and fortunes have been made at every link of the food chain. One of the most prevalent business fantasies is to open a perfect little restaurant, despite the expense and failure rate of such undertakings.

But if food is your passion, there are numerous ways to turn that pleasure into profit, other than opening a trendy eatery. Let’s consider a few of the ways you could create a tasty business.

Catering. If cooking for a crowd is your forte, catering could be a natural for you. Both businesses and individuals use the services of pros to feed parties, conference-goers and other large gatherings. I recently met a woman who has spent the past 30 years creating luscious wedding feasts. Then there are the youthful caterers here in Minneapolis who specialize in feeding touring rock bands and their crews. Even more challenging are the catering businesses who specialize in cooking for film crews — often in out-of-the-way locations.

A new trend that’s catching on with busy professionals is hiring a personal chef who prepares a week’s worth of meals in advance and freezes them for the time-pressured singles and families who can afford such a service.

And catering is a business that seems to thrive almost everywhere. In small towns, private caterers now assume the role that was once played by the ladies’ aid organizations in churches. One of the advantages to catering, of course, is that it’s easier to control your time as a caterer than is possible with a restaurant where you’re expected to show up every day. Catering also allows you to be as creative as you like. You can specialize in something unique, such as wedding cakes or vegetarian cuisine.

Share cooking information. There are several formats that can be adapted if you love food and have good communication skills. When I visited my sister Margaret in Los Angeles, our drive time on the freeway was often enhanced by listening to the amazing Melinda Lee, a resident food expert who shares her tips and techniques on the radio.

Food is also a popular subject for writers, with an endless stream of cookbooks appearing all the time. This is one market that never seems to get saturated. A friend of mine compiled a cookbook of family recipes that was so treasured by everyone who received a copy, that she saw a new opportunity for starting a business to design and edit family cookbooks for others. And even self-published regional cookbooks find an eager market.

Examples of self-publishing success abound, so if you have an idea that might be conducive to publishing it yourself, by all means consider doing so. You’ll be in good company.

As our interest in fine dining and healthful eating has grown, the number of food magazines has also grown, with all sorts of opportunities for freelance food writers, critics and stylists to share their passion for good eating.

In addition, experienced cooks often teach adult education classes to share their expertise. A woman in Florida devised a class just for single men — and improved her social life at the same time. Classes in everything from low-fat cooking to haute cuisine continue to draw curious students wishing to expand their cooking repertoires.

Market a food product. Actor Paul Newman garnered enormous publicity when he decided to market his homemade salad dressing. Several million dollars in profit later, his company, Newman’s Own, has added other products, including popcorn and spaghetti sauce.

If you have a great recipe that’s deserving of its own place in the market, consider small-scale manufacturing. While this requires a considerable financial investment and, in most places, a rigid conformity to state regulations, the growing specialty food and gift shop market can provide a perfect vehicle for getting your product launched.

Many successful entrepreneurs sell food at special events or out-of-doors. You’d probably be surprised to learn that the annual income of some street vendors in New York surpasses the six-figure mark.

Another idea that has proved successful is specialty sandwich delivery to workers in large office complexes. Many entrepreneurs have carved out a nice little profit center this way.

Sell food via the mail. Thanks to speedy delivery services such as Federal Express, specialty food items are being shipped all over the country. I was flabbergasted when I saw a classified ad in Los Angeles magazine offering burritos for sale via the mail. Who’d ever buy a burrito that way, I wondered. Well, plenty of people, apparently. A few days after the ad caught my eye, I saw a story on television about the success of Burrito Express, which ships its specialty from coast to coast.

Then there’s Coriscana, Texas, home of the biggest purveyor of fruitcakes in the country, a product that is sold primarily through the mail. Gift baskets of local foodstuffs are also popular mail-order items. You can order all the fixings for a pancake breakfast from a company in Vermont, for instance. If you live in an area that’s famous for a food not easily found elsewhere, opportunity could be knocking.

While specializing seems to be the key to a successful food business, it’s equally important to have a desire to share your passion for glorious food. If you’ve got those basic ingredients, there could be a goldmine in your kitchen just waiting for you to discover it.

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Jan Dean and I became friends because of our mutual love of books. Several years ago, Jan was doing conferences and workshops in northern Texas on starting a home based business. She ordered Winning Ways, the newsletter which I publish, and promptly wrote me a charming letter telling me about her affection for 84, Charing Cross Road, which I had mentioned in that issue. That love of reading and our joint passion for everything English has kept our friendship going for over a decade. When I did seminars in Dallas, Jan and I always planned time together — time that usually involved at least one bookstore visit.

Last year, Jan told me one of her goals for the year was to learn about book collecting. Her enthusiasm was contagious and I began reading about book collecting, too, and promptly realized a potential (and natural) profit center waiting to be born.

Like many avid readers, Jan has found a way to share her love with others. She is the author of The Gardener’s Reading Guide, which lists hundreds of books on all aspects of gardening. Her passion for cozy mysteries led her to start a specialized newsletter called Murder Most Cozy, which shares news about this genre. Every year, Jan leads a tour to England that is designed especially for other cozy lovers. Here’s a bit of what the tour brochure promises:

The Cozy Crimes & Cream Teas tour was created so you can truly experience the picturesque English villages where many cozies are set. You will fall in love with Burford, Chipping Campden, Bibury, Stow-on-the-Wold, and many other tiny and not-so-tiny Cotswold villages. In addition, you will have a chance to meet and chat with the English authors who write the cozy mysteries.

Obviously, Jan has found a wonderful niche in the vast world of books. If you’re a bookworm, perhaps you, too, can find a way to combine your love of books with a nifty profit center. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Read for a living. Kathy Baxter is a professional librarian who has found several outlets for sharing her expertise. For years, Kathy has been a popular speaker on the subject of books and kids. She regularly delivers book talks to other librarians, teachers, parents and schoolchildren. After Kathy submitted an article about her approach to giving booktalks to Library Journal, the industry publication, her visibility as an expert expanded even more. Not only did the magazine like her article enough to publish it, they asked her to do a regular column which now appears in that publication and is called “The Nonfiction Booktalker.” Kathy has also written a book called Gotcha! Getting Kids Excited About Books. In addition, Kathy is a founder of the Maud Hart Lovelace Society, a national organization that brings together lovers of the Betsy-Tacy books.

There are numerous other ways to turn reading time into bottom line. For instance, many newspapers use freelancers to read and review new books. Film producers and some publishers use the services of reader’s advisers to comb through piles of manuscripts and make recommendations about those that seem feasible for production.

Then there’s the business started by Linda Seger, who describes herself as a script consultant. “There were so many people in the movie business who wrote, produced or made decisions about developing a film,” she explains, “but there was no one to come in and spot problems in the script from an objective viewpoint. That’s what I do. I troubleshoot scripts.” She now works with more than 150 clients a year who pay her anywhere from $750 to $3,000 for her advice. In addition, she conducts seminars and has written a book for others who would like to start a similar service.

Sell books. Next to opening a restaurant, running a dear little bookstore seems to be the most popular business fantasy around. As every booklover knows, independent bookselling has become a most unstable occupation. (Of course, if you have your heart set on it and financial backing, by all means ignore this warning.) Even in this age of superstores and Amazon, specialty booksellers with a bit of imagination can carve out a place for themselves.

Collette Morgan opened a children’s bookstore called Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis with the intention of making her store “something a corporate mind would never dream up and that a large company could never sustain.” Her bookstore sells children a good time along with books and is thriving despite competition from the chains.

That’s just what Debbie Cravens did. After she left her job at the Wisconsin Historical Society, where she’d been a book buyer and done searches for out-of-print books, she found that “I could not not sell books.” That led her to start a business to do searches, which eventually became a business specializing in gardening books. That turned into a mail order business called Wood Violet Books, although Debbie does a great deal of marketing through garden fairs, as well. Thanks to the Internet, Debbie says she’s doing more book searches than ever — and finding it easier to track down elusive titles.

Because the world of books is so huge, those wishing to market books would be wise to find a niche and become highly specialized. For many years, Jan Longone has operated a successful mail order bookstore devoted to culinary subjects, tracking down books from around the world. Without ever advertising or even owning a fax machine, Jan’s Wine and Food Library, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has built a devoted clientele, including Julia Child and the late M.F.K. Fisher. “This business suits me perfectly,” she says. “We’re surrounded by good books, good food, travel and we’ve made friends around the world.”

Travel, cooking, scholarly, architectural and mystery specialty shops have flourished in many places; a mail order and/or Internet counterpart could offer opportunities to those wishing to specialize.

Antiquarian and other book specialists also market through book fairs and other book-related events, as well as conventions, special meetings and conferences. If you market childrearing books, for instance, setting up shop at parenting conferences is a logical way to build your business. And, of course, selling books is a natural add-on profit center for many kinds of businesses.

While booksellers may not become fabulously wealthy, most agree that one of the great bonuses in selling books is that it brings them in contact with others who share their passion — making business the pleasure it should be.

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Are you living in a place that you love, a place that attracts visitors? If so, you could be sitting on a logical profit center — the proverbial acres of diamonds in your own back yard. Hospitality is big business and there are wonderful small-scale opportunities to meet and greet guests who come to your part of the world.

After Ronald Winkles retired from the U.S. Army, he decided to settle in the Czech Republic, a country he had fallen in love with as a visitor during his tour of duty. Winkles and his wife bought a vacant 12-room villa near Prague and converted it to a bed and breakfast inn. “The country never has fewer than 18 million tourists a year since its borders first opened in 1990. This is one and a half times the number of people who live in Czech,” says Winkles. The influx of tourists has created plenty of opportunity in this newly entrepreneurial country.

If being a full-time innkeeper is not quite your cup of tea, another option is to run a part-time guest house, sharing your home with visitors. Some of the most successful operations of this sort are those that target a specialized clientele, such as traveling businesswomen, families of hospital patients or visiting academics and artists. Many homeowners in New England, for instance, open their doors to the annual leaf-peeping crowd, earning hundreds — even thousands — of dollars during this short season.

But renting out the spare bedroom is only one possibility. Creating a profit center that is aimed at out-of-town visitors can take many forms — even in very small places. The key, of course, is to genuinely enjoy meeting new people and making them feel at home. It’s also helpful if you feel a sense of pride and enthusiasm about the unique qualities that are part of your hometown.

Here are some other idea starters to consider.

Show off your city. When David Lucia settled in Washington, D.C., after a long career with an international nonprofit association, he decided to pursue his passion for photography. He started doing commercial photography, specializing in photographs of national monuments. His main client for these pictures was a postcard company. Then he added another profit center called Photo Tour of D.C. showing tourists how to get the best shots of our famous landmarks. Since Lucia is multi-lingual, he conducts his tours in several languages, making his tours even more marketable.

Walking tours have long been popular in cities that attract a lot of visitors. When American writer Alan Epstein relocated to Rome, he offered his tour guide services to visiting Americans. On a larger scale, London Walks presents dozens of specialized walks throughout the historic city, with the most popular being Jack the Ripper’s London (conducted at night, of course). Tour guides often are experts or actors who revel in making a real production of the walk.

If this idea appeals to you, consider how you might create a specialized niche. How about a bicycle tour? Or a walk to admire local architecture? Areas with unique attrac-tions such as wineries or a historic neighborhood have obvious opportunities for sharing interesting stories with out-of-towners.

Become a destination. In the days when I used to visit my friend Chris in Connecticut, our favorite pastime was visiting several friendly and creative shopkeepers who had opened businesses in small towns. These businesses were so delightful that people came from great distances to buy unique items. In tiny Riverton, three old houses had been turned into an antique shop, an art gallery and a lunch room. Many days the number of visitors was greater than the population of the town.

This small-town revolution is happening all over the country. After artist Tracy Porter opened her shop in Princeton, Wisconsin, other entrepreneurs renovated sagging buildings and welcomed an influx of visitors who went out of their way to uncover the treasures that they offered.

With the migration of people back to small-town living, this idea has a fresh appeal. In my former hometown, an old church has been resurrected as a charming antique shop and a rambling old house is now a bed and breakfast inn. This new wave of entrepreneurship is creating recycling on a larger scale and attracting visitors to places that would have been drive-throughs in the past.

In many ways, a business that offers hospitality combines the best of several worlds: you can put down roots and still have the enjoyment of meeting a steady stream of new people. So take a look around and see if the spot that you call home might be ripe for the kind of innovation that attracts and welcomes others. There may be a diamond mine waiting to be uncovered right where you live now.

Note: For additional possibilities, check out the tip sheet “More Welcoming Ideas.”

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