Seven great businesses for you to start in 1998
(MONEY Magazine) – If you've been thinking about starting your own business, '98 will be a good year to follow through. The economy is expected to remain strong with interest rates relatively low. What's more, two-thirds of owners of small and mid-size companies--those with fewer than 500 employees--expect their revenues and profits to increase during the next 12 months, according to a recent report by Arthur Andersen's small business advisory arm, the Enterprise Group.
To join these upbeat entrepreneurs, you must first identify a growing market with an unmet demand--say, businesses that need tech consultants and work-force trainers, or the swelling ranks of the elderly who require all sorts of services. To help you find these sweet spots, MONEY canvassed small business owners, consultants and trend watchers. All the ventures in the seven categories described below can be launched for under $20,000 and some for just a few grand.
--Web retailing. Commerce on the Web is expected to explode from its current $2.6 billion in annual sales to more than $220 billion in 2001, according to International Data Corp., a market research firm in Framingham, Mass. To capitalize on this boom, go online with a product that people like to order by phone or are actively buying from catalogues. You'll need experience with interactive technology and a flair for marketing.
That nicely describes Ken Burke, 31 (below), who has an M.B.A. from the University of Southern California. He saw that "businesses wanted to get their products and services on the Web." So, with just $10,000 in seed capital, Burke founded Multimedia Live in 1995 to create "cybershopping malls" where anyone with a computer and a modem can buy anything from floral bouquets to auto parts. His largest site, Choicemall.com, is home to some 1,600 stores and serves 500,000 visitors a month. Burke says his company, based in Novato, Calif., will net a profit of $1.5 million in 1997.
Getting started: The Association for Interactive Media (202-408-0008; www.interactivehq.org) is a prime source for industry information--but annual dues run at least $750. The more specialized National Association of Webmasters (888-564-6629; www.naw.org) can put you in touch with Web pros in your field of interest for a $95 membership fee.
--Technology consulting. Businesses of every size today must constantly upgrade their technology to stay competitive. According to the Arthur Andersen study, 70% of small and mid-size firms improved their computer systems in 1997, and 10% plan to add a Website in 1998. If you're tech-savvy and entrepreneurial, opportunities abound in Website and database development, preparing computers for the year 2000, and general PC doctoring in the neighborhood.
Jim English, 48, started English Computer Consulting with just $9,000 in capital in July 1996, customizing off-the-shelf database software for advertising and publishing companies in New York City. He says his four-employee firm will net $150,000 in 1997 and adds that "there's the potential to be a millionaire in this business."
Getting started: The Independent Computer Consultants Association (800-774-4222; www.icca.org) offers good networking opportunities in return for annual dues of $175 to $275. CompuServe members can post queries on ICCA's forum GO CONSULT.
--Financial and retirement planning. More and more Americans are hiring experts to help manage their finances. Access Research, a retirement services consultancy based in Windsor, Conn., surveyed 750 workers across the U.S. in 1996 and found that 20% would pay for aid in sorting out their 401(k) retirement savings options. No wonder 86% of certified financial planners expect their client rosters to swell in the next five years, according to a survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education.
Jill Gianola, 46, a former economist and small business consultant, completed a course from the College for Financial Planning to become a fee-only certified planner in 1994. Gianola today helps more than 60 middle-income clients create budgets, retirement plans and college-financing strategies. She expects to bring in about $70,000 in 1997.
Getting started: Call the College for Financial Planning (303-220-4800) for details on becoming a certified financial planner.
--Small business consulting. Over the past 10 years, employment at U.S. companies with fewer than 100 workers increased by 2 million, even as it dropped by 10 million at the 1,000 largest firms. "But many small business start-ups need expert advice to get up and running," says Gene Fairbrother of the National Association for the Self-Employed in Washington, D.C. To succeed, you should have a background in business and experience with start-ups.
Four years ago in north Dallas, Charles Vanstory, 48, launched Vanco Consulting to help small firms fine-tune their strategies. He boasted 20 years of experience running successful start-ups in the restaurant and oil industries. Vanstory operates from a home office in a converted utility room, where his set-up cost was just $1,000, yet he expects to earn about $80,000 in 1997.
Getting started: Tap into the Small Business Administration's database (www .sba.gov), or phone their office of economic research at 202-205-6530 for a report on small businesses in your area.
--Elder helpers. By the year 2010, the ranks of Americans over 65 will swell by 15% to 39 million. So cater to the needs of the elderly, and you'll have a rapidly growing customer base.
Greg Gunderson, 37, created Gentle Transitions, which helps seniors move into new dwellings, in May 1994. The former buyer for Home Depot started his business from his Manhattan Beach, Calif. home with a mere $5,000. He now leases space for 15 contingent employees servicing clients in the Los Angeles area and expects revenues of $140,000 in 1997 and $200,000 in 1998. (He won't discuss his profits.) Gunderson, whose mother started a similar business in 1990 in Minneapolis, says the need for his service "exists everywhere" and would like to expand his business nationwide.
Getting started: For demographic information on the senior population in your area, try the American Association of Retired Persons' Website (www.aarp .org) or get in touch with the Census Bureau (301-457-2422; www.census.gov).
--Home remodeling. Trend prognosticator Gerald Celente notes that as the population ages, "Americans will be spending more time at home than ever before both for pleasure and business." (See page 27 for an interview with Celente about his book, Trends 2000, available in paperback from Warner Books for $14.99.) Home offices are now in 43% of households, according to the International Data Corp., and many people are upgrading rather than moving to a new home. Home remodeling sales reached $115 billion in 1996 and will grow to $180 billion by 2005, reports the Remodelors Council of the National Association of Home Builders in Washington, D.C. The NAHB estimates that by 2010, spending on remodeling will surpass spending on new homes. You can profit from this trend if you are, say, a skilled carpenter or plumber ready for the added responsibilities of being a contractor. Interior designers and architects are also likely candidates. Hot niches to pursue: home-office additions, combining kitchens and family rooms, and adapting homes for the elderly and disabled.
Getting started: The Remodelors Council (202-822-0216; www.nahb.com; yearly dues average $400) can put you in touch with any of their 150 local chapters.
--Work-force training. Julian Lange, a professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., observes that to remain competitive, companies must "constantly train and retrain their workers." And about half of the $55 billion that companies spend each year on employee education--from new technology to evolving management systems--now flows to outside firms, according to the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), an association of training professionals. To start your own training business, you need expertise in an area like computers, human resources or organizational psychology. Teaching experience is a plus.
Robert Hayles, a former vice president of human resources and diversity at Pillsbury, the prepared-foods conglomerate, started Effectiveness/Diversity in 1995 to help firms across the country achieve higher performance and greater diversity by race and gender in their work forces. Working from his home office in Arden Hills, Minn., Hayles, after two years and about $15,000 in seed money, says he is earning a six-figure income--"substantially more" than his former salary at his corporate job.
Getting started: The ASTD (800-628-2783; www.astd.org; $150 yearly dues) has 68,000 members worldwide and can connect you with other training businesses.