Raising cash in a hurry #25: Start your own business

Update May 2009: Hundreds of thousands of newly unemployed people are coming to the sudden realization that cell phones, laptops and coffee shops with Wifi have opened up a brave new world for the self-employed.

If you're going to do it right, it's not always a quick way to earn cash. But earning money by starting your own business can be a fast way to bring money into your account.

A little over 10 years ago, I started freelancing for Entrepreneur magazine. Since then, I've interviewed hundreds of CEOs, of mostly small and medium-sized businesses, though every once in awhile I'd talk to someone who looms large, like the founder of Monster.com. Oddly enough, I don't remember meeting anyone and leaving them, thinking that they were in the business solely for the money, but that ultimately is what everyone wants to make. That green stuff gives an entrepreneur the chance to keeping doing what they love, and when they get a lot of it, it's a good measuring stick that their company is successful.

But what has struck me is how even the biggest companies usually started off small, and how if you want to start a business, you don't have to invest much money to make money. Sometimes you can start a business with next to nothing.

I once interviewed a married couple, Jacob and Susan D'Aniello, who had begun their own pooper scooper business. It's now a multi-million dollar franchise called DoodyCalls, but in the beginning, it was just them, a bag, a little shovel... They started the business when they were dating and basically fell in love over canine feces, and while the business became complicated, in the beginning, it only involved a little time, some exercise and then collecting the fee a short time later. I've always been impressed with that -- and, yes, I know there are many other pooper scooper franchises out there -- in the sense that they didn't need many resources at all to begin their business.

If you're skilled with computers, you could set out a shingle and become a part-time computer repair-person. If you know how to cook, you could start to run a catering business out of your home (but check with your state; preparing food for the public out of your own kitchen can sometimes run afoul of the law). If you like being outdoors and have a lawn mower, you could sell cheese.

(Just wanted to see if you were all paying attention.)

If you want to get some quick cash, certainly there are limitations to what sort of business you can begin. If you need a lot of inventory, you're going to have to spend money to make your money. But if you're going to do something that takes your skill, talent or knowledge, you can bring in cash quite quickly. No matter what, though, provided you enjoy what you're doing, if you start a business, whether you're successful or not, it's always rewarding.

Bottom Line:A home business based on your talents could provide you the flexibility to work through lean times, not just this time, but for a long time.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist, mostly for Entrepreneur magazine, and is the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).

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