“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas A. Edison
Whether you want to leave the rat race, get off the grid, retreat from the city, enjoy a simpler life, or become self-sufficient, whatever your motive – to achieve your goals you need an income. You can work for someone else or work for yourself. Starting a cottage industry can be daunting but it doesn’t have to be.
Start by exploring your talents and hobbies. What are you good at doing? Could you make money from it? Then, look at your area; is there a niche market for what you do? Are you able to create that market? Starting small is key. The temptation to “go big or go home” may cause you to invest your precious capital in the wrong areas of your business.
Hawking Your Wares
Begin with an analysis of your area for marketing. Determine if your local area has a farmers market or flea market and how to participate. Develop an Etsy or eBay page, or your own website. Ensure that you are not using colloquialisms or local lore to market your product. I’ll explain; as a youth, I went to a local restaurant with my father.
My father is from Tennessee, but I was raised in Iowa. At the restaurant, the menu read, “Ham n Aigs with Taters”. I asked my father, “What’s an “Aig”?” After he composed himself he whispered, “Egg”. Some local cute-isms are lost on the young or international travelers! Market accordingly!
The best and most enduring way to market your product, in my humble opinion, is to donate your product or service. Your generosity will be remembered and passed on to new customers. Often your donation can be accompanied by your business card revealing to others how to obtain such a good or service. Happy and satisfied customers are the best advertisement.
If gardening is your forte, attend your local or regional farmers markets. Take notes on what is there. Identify the excess and the rare. See what people like and are taking home. Tailor your efforts toward what is popular, but not in great supply.
Some ideas that are surefire sellers: Herbs, Onions, and Greens. Nothing says “take me home” like fresh culinary herbs, onions, shallots, garlic, and fresh spinach, and salad greens.
All can be grown year-round outdoors, in greenhouses and high tunnels, and in cold frames. Low in overhead, simple to grow organically, and to harvest, they are easily packaged with a simple rubber band at the stems or stalks or in plastic baggies. Think non-GMO, heirloom, and organic!
Cut Flowers and Floral Arrangements
This takes a bit more gardening know-how, but if you are a flower image, put them to work for you! Donate an arrangement to a local church or nursing home. Include a “donated by” business card with your business details.
More than Whirly-gigs and Lawn Ornaments
If your talents include woodworking consider items picnic tables, vegetable hods, window boxes, bookshelves, storage cubes, vertical gardens, antler mounting plaques, and natural walking sticks (add a hand-carved wood spirit and leather grip!) Donate a picnic table to the nursing home or a mini-table to the daycare center with a “donated by” card. Take orders for your creations by posting with pictures on Craigslist or in the free local add paper. Consider furniture refinishing as a side industry.
A Stitch in Time Saves Nine
Sewing can encompass everything from quilting to mending and alterations to custom tailoring orders. It can be basic or include machine embroidery. You are limited only by your creativity and the capabilities of your sewing machine.
Be aware that some may not be interested in your finished product, but in learning to make their own. Offer sewing lessons as a mainstay of this industry. Consider volunteering to teach a basic sewing course to a 4H or homeschool group.
Investigate how to teach an adult education course through the local school system choosing an interesting finished product. Consult with local fabric stores and hospitals to determine if they will display finished class products.
Knitting and Crochet
While a fabulous pastime, hand knit and hand crocheted items are not often lucrative given the cost of fiber and the amount of time invested. This and the influx of cheap china-mart knits make handmade fiber crafts money losers. Better to offer a class as above with a finished walk away product.
Givin’ the Dog a Bone
We love our pets, thus, the pet products industry is very lucrative if you can create a product that appeals. All natural dog treats packaged in human-appealing packaging, for instance, are a boon. Or, hit up the local thrift shop on “fill a bag for a buck” day (or ask for the unserviceable items at a deep discount) and buy blue jeans and fleece coats or blankets.
Turn these into creative two-sided recycled pet beds. Stuff them with fabric scraps and cedar shavings for natural flea repellant. Collars and leashes: nylon webbing, paracord, leather – plain or covered in bling, these simple to make and high return for investment items are a must-have for dog and cat owners.
Think of ways to make them original or trendy. Donate a few of these items to your local animal shelter. Ask them to post your business cards in return.
Bartleby the Scribner
Tutoring, typing, medical and legal transcription, resumes –put those 65 wpm+ typing skills to work for you! Legal and medical offices often search for individuals to take on “a la carte” typing jobs. Canvass your local area presenting a professional business card. Obtain a “good conduct” certificate from your local PD and indicate that you will present it upon request. Consider tax preparation as a seasonal side industry.
Are You Being Served?
Process Server and Notary Public: With a small investment in training and certification or licensure, depending on your area population, you can make a decent wage as a process server. Upon certification, make your service known to the local courts and attorneys by sending a business letter describing your qualifications and services.
Include professional business cards. Consider the dangers that accompany process serving and consider self-defense classes and/or a concealed carry permit. Hang out a shingle stating you are a notary public, run a newspaper advertisement and post a notice on the community bulletin board.
Think Outside the Box
Do you own a truck and/or a trailer? Put it to work for you! Advertise “two grunts moving” on Craigslist, the free add paper, at the local storage units, and farm store. Offer to move everything from hay bales and firewood to Aunt Fanny’s antique armoire. Consider the overhead for packing materials, strapping, and added insurance when pursuing this venture.
Show me Angry – Now Sexy
Quality photography and photo products can be produced with a small investment in equipment and software. If you have a digital camera, a computer, and a working knowledge of Photoshop, you have the makings of a popular business.
Use your innate creativity to make stunning birth announcements, senior pictures, graduation announcements, holiday photo cards, etc. Consider specializing in pet or infant photography.
Add an additional creative niche selling matted photographs. Take black and white photos of common objects that look like alphabet letters. Arrange the photos to spell the name of a local popular establishment. Mat and frame the photo montage and donate to the establishment with a request that they display your business card.
Tis the Season
Some work is only available dependent upon the season or your geographic area. The key is to observe what is popular in your area and determine how you can get in on the action. Some seasonal industries include: cleaning gutters, sealing hot-top driveways, wreath making, gift baskets, rotor tilling/garden preparation, lawn care, leaf raking, camp wood and ice vending.
Break up pallets (often free for the hauling) into 16-inch lengths, mix hardwood and softwood pallets, including a pack of matches and one commercial fire starter. Saran wrap into a bundle. Sell these and ice at or near local campgrounds (with the appropriate vendors’ permits, of course.)
Dressed in Overalls and Looks like Work
Don’t have all of the skills you need? Explore the enrichment or continuing education credit courses at your local technical or community college. These are usually offered at reduced price tuition. Contact the local High School or Cooperative Exchange Office and determine what adult education classes are available in your local area.
Request to apprentice with a local tradesperson during the “off” season. Offer to work for free during the high season as payment to learn the trade. Some trades to consider include butcher, welding and fabrication, and carpenter.
Your choice of employment doesn’t have to be conventional. You may develop the next big thing. Above all else, you must make wise choices and believe that you can be self-sufficient.
How about you? What is your cottage industry success story or suggestion?