The Clever Way She Got Rich: Helping Folks Find Trustworthy Contractors

Courtesy Debra Cohen
Courtesy Debra Cohen

Summertime is here, and for many of us, that means we'll be taking some vacation -- a little down time to let our minds decompress from the usual worries of work, housekeeping, and the like. It's at times like those that a person, perhaps sitting outdoors, sipping a relaxing beverage, might start thinking about some outside-the-box ideas -- pondering some what-ifs.

To help inspire you to work on your own million-dollar ideas, for the next three days, we offer you three stories of unusual entrepreneurship -- true tales you probably haven't come across before. First up: David Mintz and his sweet solution to an ancient problem. On Wednesday, we began with David Mintz, who made millions by taking the "cream" out of ice cream. Next up, young Rhys Davies, who turned MySpace into a cash cow with the help of a bit of graphical flair. On Thursday, we met young Rhys Davies, who turned MySpace into a cash cow with the help of a bit of graphical flair. And now, allow us to introduce Debra Cohen, who wants to introduce you to a contractor you can trust.

Debra Cohen
Courtesy Debra Cohen

A Pregnant Squirrel Leads to Inspiration

Debra Cohen of Hewlett, N.Y., might have the strangest story yet. In 1997, as a stay-at-home mother of one, she got the idea for her contractor-referral business ... after discovering a pregnant squirrel in her attic.

Cohen and her husband struggled to find a contractor to deal with the problem. "No matter who we hired, the squirrel came back," she says.

"After hiring three different contractors who couldn't solve our problem, I got a recommendation from our local hardware store -- an experienced pest control professional who explained that pregnant squirrels will always return to the place they gave birth last, and the only way to keep them away was to take them over a body of water because squirrels can't swim!" says Cohen.

"I was so grateful to have found a contractor that I could trust, that I offered to refer him to local homeowners and he said he'd pay me a commission for any new jobs."

Soon, with a $5,000 loan, Cohen was running Home Remedies of NY, a business based on referring reliable contractors to homeowners. It took six months for her business to turn a profit. Until then, "I took a part-time job at a local decorating store and my husband took on a few extra jobs to make ends meet," she says. "We lived very frugally -- one car, no dinners out, no extras."

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Cohen has gone on to help others launch similar referral networks in other states, and says her business has grossed $4 million to date. The Homeowner Referral Network been lauded in The New York Times and Good Housekeeping.

But the going wasn't always easy. "I was hesitant to tell anyone about my business when I first came up with the idea because I was afraid I would fail and didn't want everyone to know. I did share my idea with a few people (including my father!) who couldn't understand the concept and were a bit negative. My husband, however, was my biggest cheerleader and supported me every step of the way."

Cohen now says the experience has taught her the importance of paying attention to signs. As she puts it, "Most great business ideas are born out of personal necessity and if you pay attention to your day-to-day life, you'll start to notice services and products that can make life easier and that may serve as inspiration for a great business idea."


Got a crazy business story, DailyFinance reader? Share it in the comments section below.

Catherine Baab-Muguira is a contributing writer to The Motley Fool.

Originally published