It’s amazing what you can and can’t do for $150. You can’t buy a large flat-screen television. You can’t buy a new pair of Chanel sunglasses. You can’t drive from New York to Los Angeles, not even in a hybrid. But, wonder of wonders, some women have started businesses for $150—or less.
With advances in technology, it’s easier than you might think to launch a new venture on the cheap. “Women can start Internet-based businesses that wouldn’t have been possible in the past,” says Jayne Huston, director of Seton Hill University’s E-Magnify women’s business center in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. “Marketing costs can be kept to a minimum by using Facebook and Twitter to reach customers.”
And the asset you need most is free: your own skills. If you’re already dazzling clients as somebody else’s employee, it might be a simple transition to take your one-woman show on the road. “The entrepreneur herself is the core business when the company is service based,” says Susan Duffy, PhD, an assistant professor at Simmons School of Management in Boston. “She puts her experience and intellectual capital into the marketplace.”
Of course, once business starts to roll in, you’ll have to invest some of your earnings in a better website, promotional travel or a larger inventory. But the following women definitely made the first $150 count. Here are their success stories.
Jennifer Campbell, Heritage Memoirs: Recording life stories
Start-up costs: $52
Three years ago, Jennifer Campbell was laid off from her position as a writer and editor for an Ontario television station. She considered applying for other corporate jobs, but a close friend’s recent death caused her to reprioritize. “There’s nothing like getting fired and going to a funeral to make you think about what you really want to do in life,” she says. “I pictured my little gray cubicle and said, ‘I just cannot go back to that world.’ ”
She was intrigued by the idea of writing people’s personal histories. When her father, a British soldier, died in 1998, she suddenly realized she knew almost nothing about his younger years. Then her mother developed dementia, and Campbell felt she’d lost her parents’ stories forever. “I thought, Maybe I can use my journalism skills to help other families avoid that loss,” she says. Now she transforms hours of client interviews into polished memoirs for $6,000 to $15,000, or into a typed transcript or basic set of CDs for $1,500. Once she’s finished writing a manuscript, which typically runs about 275 pages, Campbell publishes the book with photographs and other memorabilia, working with either a traditional printer or a print-on-demand service such as Blurb.com.
She started small, spending $25 on a domain name (heritagememoirs.ca) and $20 on batteries for her tape recorder. Using a ready-made template from Microsoft FrontPage, Campbell launched a simple website that she could maintain for about $7 a month. Shortly afterward, she ran into a former colleague. “I grandly told him that I was writing people’s personal histories,” she says, “even though I hadn’t yet had my first client.” Her bravado paid off: He later called with a lead to her first customer, a man who wanted to document his life for his children and grandchildren. So Campbell jumped in. “It was nerve racking,” she says. “I used a beat-up old tape recorder held together with duct tape.” Over five months she interviewed the man, who was happy that he could give his family a bound manuscript of his story before he passed away.