Small Business Ideas For Smaller Times


June 9, 2009 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California

From Small Is Beautiful, by E.F. Schumacher:

As Gandhi said, the poor of the world cannot be helped by mass production, only by production by the masses.

The system of mass production, based on sophisticated, highly capital-intensive, high energy-input dependent, and human labour-saving technology, presupposes that you are already rich, for a great deal of capital investment is needed to establish one single workplace. The system of production by the masses mobilizes the priceless resources which are possessed by all human beings, their clever brains and skillful hands, and supports them with first-class tools.

The technology of mass production is inherently violent, ecologically damaging, self-defeating in terms of non-renewable resources, and stultifying for the human person. The technology of production by the masses, making use of the best of modern knowledge and experience, is conducive to decentralization, compatible with the laws of ecology, gentle in its use of scarce resources, and designed to serve the human person instead of making him the servant of machines.

I have named it intermediate technology to signify that it is vastly superior to the primitive technology of bygone ages but at the same time much simpler, cheaper, and freer than the super-technology of the rich. One can also call it self-help technology, or democratic or people’s technology—a technology to which everybody can gain admittance and which is not reserved to those already rich and powerful.

Excerpted from The Transition Handbook – From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, by Rob Hopkins

We need to be building the capability to produce locally those things that we can produce locally. It is, of course, easy to attack this idea by pointing out that some things, such as computers and frying pans can’t be made at a local level.

However, there are a lot of things we could produce locally: a wide range of seasonal fruit and vegetables, fresh fish, timber, mushrooms, dyes, many medicines, furniture, ceramics, insulation materials, soap, bread, glass, dairy products, wool and leather products, paper, building materials, perfumes and fresh flowers – to name but a few. We aren’t looking to create a ‘nothing in, nothing out’ economy, but rather t close economic loops where possible and to produce locally what we can.

Excerpted from Peak Oil Prep, by Mick Winter

[Mendocino County has been in the forefront of renewable energy systems for many years. The first solar panel was sold here in Mendocino County. Research, development and installation of high tech, clean energy systems are one of the obvious small industries we can continue to create here. Here are some low-tech ideas for the coming power-down era. -DS]

Self-Employment Ideas

We can’t make any guarantees, but these are good possibilities. And they should get you thinking in the right direction about other likely businesses.

Barter Network
When people don’t have money, they barter. They’ve always got stuff—and skills—that they can exchange. [See Mendo Time Bank]

Beer and Wine Making
No matter how hard times get, people will still want beer and wine. If you can turn them out at home, you’ve got an endless supply of barter material

Bicycle Sales/Repairs
The first thing you should do right now is run out and buy as many used bicycles as you can. Used bike sales and repairs should do very well. You could even add motorcycles and scooters, because of the good gas mileage they get.

Boarding House
If your home is big enough, or can be made big enough, open a boarding house. Offer rooms on a weekly or monthly basis, and include as many meals a day as you feel you’re up to. You should probably at least include breakfast and likely even dinner, giving your guests a choice as to which plan they prefer.

Car Repair
While this is no time to be in the new car business, car repair should be fine as people try to keep their existing vehicles running as long as they can—and as long as they can afford the gas. Consider basic car repair/maintenance where you go to the customer’s home to do the service. You might even have luck with ongoing maintenance contracts. You could also give car repair classes.

Cheap Luxuries
Even in hard times—actually particularly in hard times—people will want to spoil themselves now and then. But the luxury has to be cheap. It might be a special chocolate chip cookie, or delicious homemade candy. Or maybe it’s very special hand-made gift wrapping paper. Or fragrant hand-made soap or a hand-carved wooden toy.

Computer Repair
Computer repair and maintenance should be exceptionally well. People will no longer be running out to buy the latest upgrade (computer, monitor, printer, etc.) but will be more interested in keeping what they have working properly.

Consignment Shop
Consignment shops don’t have to be limited to clothing. Garden and automotive tools, household appliances, furniture.

Delivery Service
It makes much more sense to pay a slight fee to have a store deliver a purchase to you than to get in your car and make a round trip to do it yourself. Smart store owners will offer free delivery in order to attract customers. On a larger scale, companies like UPS and FedEx should do well. On a small scale, why not start your own local service? You might even consider moving people around as well as packages.

Energy Consultant
There is, and will be even more, a demand for information on how people can cut their utility bills. Armed with the information in this book, and your own research, you could offer local classes on energy conservation (and thus money conservation), and even go into homes giving people specific advice on how to save money by using less electricity and gas.

People want to be entertained, particularly when times are tough. Consider bringing together talented people to offer live entertainment in neighborhood or community locations. You probably won’t get rich but you’ll have a good time, and you and the entertainers will end up with more money than when you started.

Errand Service
On a more personal level than a delivery service, errand services can combine your needs with similar needs of others, to provide services cheaper than you could do them yourself. This might be pickup and delivery, but could also include banking, taking children to after-school classes and sports or pets to the veterinarian, and a variety of other activities.

You don’t have to have a huge farm to have a healthy farming business. An acre of land and a lot of hard work will produce what you need for a small-scale business. Consider specialty items such as mushrooms, herbs, or sprouts. Because of the many uses of hemp, that will be a great crop once it’s legal—or at least possible without enforcement—to grow.

Herbal Treatments
You can grow, or forage for, herbs and use them to make healing concoctions, syrups, salves, teas, and a variety of other healthy items. You could also use flowers for Aromatherapy.

Home Repair
People will have to do what they can to keep everything in their home in working order. If you have carpentry, plumbing, electrical, or other practical skills, you can be a big help to those people. You might even have success at teaching those skills to others.

You name it, someone will be interested in it. Whether it’s using tools, playing music, sewing or storytelling. The lessons likely to do best will be those focused on basic essentials, saving money and protecting health, such as gardening, food canning, inexpensive home cooking, yoga and other health exercises, meditation and relaxation, herb foraging and use, and pet care.

Rental Library
Libraries aren’t just for videos and books. Consider offering specialty kitchenware, car and woodworking tools, games, toys, household repair tools, gardening equipment and literally anything else you can think of. However, do this for your community, not your neighborhood. In your neighborhood, you should simply be sharing.

Toys and Games
There was a time when toys were not mass-produced plastic things. They were carefully crafted from wood, cloth and other natural materials, were treasured by the children who received them, and were passed down from generation to generation. Create some yourself, and you’ll have customers.