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Be bold: start a little business

by Andy Millard

Andy Can Help

 

I was 36 years old and the principal of a high school when I finally figured out what I should’ve known 20 years earlier: I’m not good at being bossed. That just proves what a slow learner I am.

At 15, I lied about my age and got a job flipping burgers at the Hardee’s in downtown Spartanburg. Straight-up hated it. The place was dirty and greasy, my coworkers were impolite, the grill was hot and smoky, the hours were long and the surly manager never learned how to pronounce my name. I quit after two weeks.

Undeterred, I leveraged my extensive experience to secure a position at the McDonald’s next to Dorman High School, where I had just completed the 10th grade. What a difference! The place was clean, the employees friendly and I knew half of the customers because we went to the same school.

After a couple weeks, the young manager pulled me aside and said, “Andy, you’re supposed to be making Big Macs back here, not talking to the customers through the pass-through window.” But instead of firing me, he moved me to a cash register up front. I was the only boy in a row of girls, and it was great. I talked constantly — and sold the heck outta some burgers.

But the pay was just $1.60 per hour, and the boss owned my schedule. Both were deal breakers.

So the next summer, my buddy Pat and I went into the grass cutting business as A&P Turf Specialists. We started by (illegally) stuffing Xeroxed flyers into people’s mailboxes. That lead to a few jobs, which lead to a few more.

Before we knew it, we had a regular business with a list of steady customers. We’d get up in the morning, stuff our old push lawnmowers into the back of Pat’s Chevy Vega, go mow some lawns, and knock off around 4:00 pm. We worked a few days a week and pocketed between $200 and $300 a week — each. Which was a lot for a kid in 1974.

If this story resonates with you, you might be a candidate for starting your own little business — especially if you find yourself without a job. When I say “little business,” I’m talking about a one-person service enterprise that requires minimal equipment or start-up capital, but depends heavily upon your initiative, optimism, persistence, commitment and skills.

This is what they call the “gig economy:” combining a bunch of small jobs into a decent living. Today’s “gigs” often involve technology — think Uber or Lyft — but that’s not necessary. Here are some possibilities:

There was a Polk County High School student a few years back who had a little trash collection business. He went around picking up his customers’ garbage in an old pickup truck, then delivered it to the transfer station. He got so busy and made so much money that when he left for college, he hired his dad to run the route.

With people reluctant to leave their homes these days, doubtless there are folks who would pay a careful and reliable person to do their shopping for them and deliver it safely to their door. What about Instacart, you ask? They don’t deliver around here. You could.

A friend who lives in Hendersonville drives for Lyft when she’s in town between trips as a flight attendant. There’s no law that says you can’t provide a similar service on your own, without Lyft. Many of us remember the great James Payne and his taxi service; Sean Miller took over the business a few years ago and is doing an admirable job.

I’ve been interviewing a series of local artists for the Tryon Fine Arts Center. Each one has her or his own unique little business. Check out the videos at TryonArts.org.

It’s hard to keep up with all the little businesses my friend Libbie Johnson has had over the years: flower deliverer, speakers’ agent, tour guide, equine directory publisher, newsletter writer. And now she’s a real estate agent.

Once you start thinking about it, there are lots of possibilities for little businesses, depending on your skills and inclinations. House painter. Home handyperson. Babysitter. House sitter. Pet sitter. Dog walker. Bread baker. Bookkeeper.

My wife says I’m bold because I have a habit of trying my hand at things I don’t know much about. Sometimes that boldness doesn’t work out — but often it does. If you find yourself out of work, now might be a good time to brush off your boldness and start a little business.

Andy Millard, CFP® is a retired financial planner. He does not offer financial planning services; this column is not intended as advice but rather education, commentary and opinion. Consult a professional advisor. If you have questions about financial planning or investments, feel free to submit them to Andy at camillard@mac.com.