$50k for a small business, what do you got?
March 20, 2009 7:08 PM   Subscribe

If you were starting a business in the current economic climate and you had $25k-50k start up capital, what type of business would you start?

I'm in a situation where I have access to a large amount of cash, plenty of time on my hands and I'm looking to start a business. I have a list of ideas and I'm looking for input on what type of businesses *you* think should be started.

I'm a graphic designer and am comfortable in most facets of business (design, branding, marketing, advertising, bookkeeping, etc.). I'm very computer-saavy and have a very strong work ethic.

I'm going to start a business, so there's no need to tell me how I'd be better off saving the money. I look forward to hearing what you guys think would be great businesses that could be started for $25k-50k and could thrive in the current economy. Thanks for any and all input.
posted by ibechase to Work & Money (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would buy a hot dog cart and a vending license and set up outside the unemployment office.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:17 PM on March 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

bike shop.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:18 PM on March 20, 2009

One that will receive government funding and/or significant tax breaks, both under long-standing law and under recent legislation. I would make it a government contractor and have someone (you or someone else) who is a woman and possibly a minority own enough of a stake in the company to qualify for the numerous advantages that woman-owned government contractors get in the bidding process. I would probably find an angle that would qualify the business for advantages given to "green" companies, including, but not limited to having it be a company that develops and/or sells some sort of "green" product according to whatever the legal criteria are for that.
posted by The World Famous at 7:20 PM on March 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you're willing to put in long, late hours, barkeeps make good money (even more when times are tough).
posted by bjork24 at 7:25 PM on March 20, 2009

Seconding bike shop, but it really depends on where you are located...

Indeed, your location will dictate many types of businesses whether it's retail or consulting. If you haven't already you should assess your community in terms of sustainability projects, "livable streets," etc... all of that stuff is very hot right now - again, if you are in the right place.
posted by wfrgms at 7:30 PM on March 20, 2009

Where do you live? If the conditions are right, there's success to be had in services like curbside recycling. That's the business I started (with much less money).
posted by stuboo at 7:32 PM on March 20, 2009

My understanding is that laundromats are perenial cash machines, with the added benefit of low upkeep costs, and low staff costs. Though I think 50k might be a bit low for the up-front investment.

*My* money, though, I would buy a McD's franchise, or a Chik-Fil-A, though those are harder to get. The Golden Arches is a king at isolating what the great unwashed masses want, and delivering it to them, with a Coke and a smile. You might be surprised how many people go from assistant manager to manager to franchise owner to millionaire. And, with the economy in the crapper, lots of people want to buy eat on the cheap. Arches is obviously not cheaper than grocery shopping & cooking, but it is a bargain compared to anyplace else you can drive to on your lunch break.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:43 PM on March 20, 2009

Scratch that, McD's franchises are way more expensive than I thought. Sorry.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:45 PM on March 20, 2009

Health food and supplements store, or businesses that seem to be stable no matter the state of the general economy like health care or waste management.
posted by netbros at 7:54 PM on March 20, 2009

Liquor and gun stores are booming these days.

Something with less traffic, but still needing security would be a precious metals store. That should do well, particularly if you start now.
posted by buzzv at 8:14 PM on March 20, 2009

Name your favorite hobby on earth that isn't computers or design, something you love to do in your free time.

Start a business doing/selling/teaching something related to that. With money not being a problem, you can totally run with it and love every second that you do it. If it becomes successful, you're stoked, if it doesn't, that still means you got to do your one favorite non-work thing on earth for a while (and you got to call it "work" during the time you did it).
posted by mathowie at 9:17 PM on March 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you're only after the dolla-dolla...become a repo-man, or part of a sheriff's team that helps to evict people/move their furniture out of foreclosed properties.

If you want to make the world a better place:

1. Become a blogger.
2. Find the names of all the people who F'd the masses (AIG, Fannie, Freddie, etc)
3. Publish them with FACTS about what they did...so they do not get jobs in the future in the financial sector.

When businesses fail/dissolve...there are TONS of people who are more than willing to talk about what happened, who did what, and all sorts of dirty stuff that can be backed up with data and verifiable info.

HR commonly uses google to find out stuff about candidates. Whether its official/legal or not is irrelevant since its done on a regular basis. Googling John C Bastard's name and having the first 10 hits be your blog entries would be awesome.

$20K would give you a lot of time/resources to do this. You would also be my hero.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:56 PM on March 20, 2009

I would start a coffee shop. With your visual sense, I'm sure you could create a space that is enjoyable, interesting and stimulating to visit.

You don't have to worry about moving merchandise, and the product itself is very basic, with extremely high margins.

There are a lot of coffee shops out there, but only about 10% of them have actual ambiance.

And only 10% of coffee shops actually have good coffee and good snacks.

You could copy what Starbucks does - coffee is what drives customers to your commercial space, and once they are there you offer opportunities to buy stuff. Starbucks is kind of tacky, so you could try selling local pottery or artwork. Buy a bunch of used CDs from some wholesaler or clearance site on the Internet, and sell them, too, for a 1000% markup.

It's getting easier to source your own beans, and it's cheaper to roast your own as well.

You'll need to leverage your 50K to get a loan to cover startup costs, so you'll need to create a business plan.

One option would be to create your own coffee stand, to limit your costs. Somebody set up a coffee stand about a block from my son's school (it's in the commercial part of a very livable and walkable middle class neighbourhood, next to a video store and a fish and chip shop).

One of the more popular independent coffee shops in town started out as a coffee stand catering to tourists (we're a tourist town).

However, the fellow who started out with the coffee stand 15 years ago was very very focused on success, even as a university student. He would hire his friends to help out at the coffee stand, but many of them quit because it was such hard work. But anything worth doing is going to be hard.

Anyway, this sounds like a real opportunity. It will be interesting to hear how it turns out, whatever you decide to do.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:09 PM on March 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Maybe I am missing something, but why wouldn't you start a freelance graphic design business, targeting the clients and projects you prefer, of course.

Trust me on this - if you are starting your own business, some of that $ should be used to fund it. Things you should pay for/save for include: 1) Paying for an accountantant, 2) Paying for a lawyer, and 3) Having 6 months or more $ in reserve - why? Because those clients may take a few months to pay, especially in this economy. Or, what if you need to outsource part of a project? With that are you going to pay these people?

If you are offering anything to larger companies right, it will do well. Some companies are outsourcing more of their work right now to cut back on $ they spend on employees -- they still have lots of work and need someone to do it.
posted by Wolfster at 11:41 PM on March 20, 2009

Theres a lot of money and attention being thrown at "green-collar" jobs these days; do you have any science experience? Starting up, say, an enviornmental remediation consulting firm from scratch is out of the question, but you could, say, start a service where you educate local people about sustainable food gardening and composting and local ecology and etc etc etc. You'd be surprised at the people who are interested in learning more about it, especially if you could come help them set up gardens or take them on tours.

What, you say you dont have any science experience? Why, I do seem to have my resume right here.... ;)
posted by CTORourke at 12:04 AM on March 21, 2009

Man, I don't think $25k is enough to start any business at all. I've got that much saved up and it is barely enough to cover what the loans don't for grad school. Start something up as a hobby in a way that you can make some money. Then buy yourself some expensive toys. If you're able to cover your expenses, great! Free hobby. If you profit, all the better.
posted by brenton at 12:13 AM on March 21, 2009

move to southeast asia (or anywhere 2nd/3rd world that suits your fancy) float for a year or two on the money you bring with you (you can stretch a little money a looooong way in a place like, say, indonesia) while you're floating, take language courses, make connections, and brainstorm business ideas involving imports/exports - highbrow/lowbrow art? handicrafts? fashion? (if you're a graphics guy i assume you've got a good eye for these sorts of things) or whatever else strikes you as a success story waiting to happen.

you could easily stretch 10k to a year+ in one of these places while you figure out what you're doing/wait for the economy to recover a bit...
posted by messiahwannabe at 1:53 AM on March 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

A low-cost/risk approach is to think about ways of packaging your main skills into a 'product'. For example, you could set up a business helping others set up in business, covering branding, web/print design, technology advice and pointing people in the right direction for things like accountants and lawyers (who'd promote you in return).

By all means go outside that comfort zone if you have the right skills and find the right opportunity, but ask yourself tough questions. If someone who's always run a coffee shop suddenly decided to go into graphic design & branding you'd be highly sceptical, right?
posted by malevolent at 1:55 AM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Aerial advertising has some potential. When a plane and banner appears overhead, people instinctively gaze with curiosity when they hear the drone of a low-flying plane. If you do have the graphic arts experience and know the business side of things, find a printer, licensed pilot, and a rental plane. It's no longer just a string of letters, these days it's more flying billboards.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 5:03 AM on March 21, 2009

Seconding the graphic design studio. Start at home, buy a computer. Make sure you go out a lot to network. Profit. 25k should be more than enough. Invest in a good name, a good visual identity (d'oh), and be sure you know what kind of clients you target (a hint: don't bother with small business - they'll invariably find some nephew that's "great" at design, target the ones with at least 4or 5 employees that are thriving).

The key to profitability is:
- low overhead (no office space, no car, no machines, no stock, no staff)
- low overhead
- low overhead

Good luck.
posted by NekulturnY at 5:58 AM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

porn. [SFW]
posted by nam3d at 7:41 AM on March 21, 2009

Graphic design is not a good industry in a down economy. Not at all.

A few businesses I would recommend:
  1. Moving company
    • Easy to hire workforce (these days, you'll have plenty of options)
    • Very low costs (leases on a couple of trucks—should be dirt-cheap as car/truck sales are way down, some cardboard boxes, wrapping tape, bubble wrap...). A lot of your material expenses can actually be passed along to the customer—boxes and bubble-wrap, for instance.
    • Very low initial capital outlay required; can start small and build steadily.
    • It's an industry with a notoriously bad reputation, where word-of-mouth is probably the best advertising. Which is good, because word-of-mouth doesn't cost you anything—just make sure your employees do a good job!

  2. Pawn Shop
    • Appealing for lovers of gadgets, guns & gold—guys, basically.
    • /obvious

  3. Towing Company
    • Cons: slightly soul-crushing.

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:51 AM on March 21, 2009

This might be too new of an idea to be profitable, but you could go 3D and start up a FabLab like the one at MIT or Shapeways. Basically you help make small custom designed objects with things like laser cutters, 3D printers and scanners, and other toys.

Just think how annoying it is when you want something specific and have to go to 5 stores or scour the web trying to find it. Instead someone could give you the specs, you could draw it up in CAD or something and pop one out for them. Either charge a flat fee plus hourly, or a percentage of the materials.

Do a couple of pro-bono gigs for the girl scouts or other community groups. Have a workshop through your local library to get the word out. Pass out flyers to artisan groups. You could do it all in one room and set up a website so people could send you designs and then you could ship the finished project.
posted by CoralAmber at 9:14 AM on March 21, 2009

Go work for a business you might want to start. Learn all about it. Your savings mean you can quit on your own terms, and then if that is still what you want to do, start your business. Opening a coffee shop, having never worked in one is a recipe for disaster.

If I didn't already own a successful small business, I'd go work for Zappos for a year to figure out how to develop and maintain a positive corporate culture.
posted by Classic Diner at 6:14 PM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Graphic design is not a good industry in a down economy. Not at all.

He's not starting an industry, he's starting a business. A lot of companies are looking at cutting costs right now. They're going to be shopping for cheaper alternatives for work they have to do anyway (packaging, mailings, logos, product design, branding). A small business where they have a direct line with the owner instead of some account manager might be just the thing they're looking for. If your price is 15 % cheaper and you have 30 % less overhead than your competitors (because you work from home and have no account managers, secretaries and other costs), you'll have a *very* profitable business, even in a down economy.
posted by NekulturnY at 5:49 AM on March 22, 2009

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