I often encourage folks that are preparedness-minded to develop a second income stream. Why is this important? “Living off the land” style self sufficiently is an admirable and commendable goal. But even if you are living truly “debt free”, you will still have property taxes to pay. That means that you will need at least a modest recession/depression proof revenue stream in the event that you lose your primary job. Let me underscore this point with a bit of Rawles family history: My family came out west by covered wagon in the 1850s. They soon after set up a sheep ranch that eventually had more than 6,000 deeded acres where they ran more than 3,000 Merino sheep. Sadly, more than 5,000 acres of the original Rawles Ranch was forfeited, mainly because of unpaid property taxes in the Great Depression of the 1930s. There was just no market for either wool or timber–which constituted the only cash income for the ranch. The family was easily able to feed itself, but despite their best efforts, chunk after chunk of the ranch was taken over by the county and the bankers for unpaid taxes and unpaid agricultural loans, between 1932 and 1942. By the time that the economy started to recover during World War II, the ranch was down to only about 800 acres.
Successful home-based businesses usually center around: unfilled needs. In a rural area, that is easy. Just ask your neighbors: Is there anything that you buy or rent, or service that you “hire” on a regular basis that currently requires a 40+ mile drive “to town”? Those are your potential niches.
A successful recession-proof home-based business is likely to be one where the demand for your goods and services is consistent–even in a weak economy. These include septic tank pumping, home security/locksmithing, care fore the very young and the very old, and escapist diversions such as DVD movie rentals. (It is noteworthy that the movie industry was was one of the few sectors of the economy that prospered in the 1930s.)
Another category of business that prospered in the 1930s was repair businesses. Obviously, in hard economic times, people try to make do with what they have. So repair businesses are a natural. If there is some small appliance that you could repair that could be mailed from and back to the customer, so much the better. (That way you could have a nationwide business, rather than just a local one.) This might include: DVD player repair, laptop computer repair, and so forth.
Another category is second-hand stores. People on tight budgets will be actively looking for second-hand goods, rather than buy new items. A second-hand book store in a medium-sized town might do just fine in a depression.
Yet another approach, for those with mechanical aptitude and don’t mind strenuous outdoor work: Own one or more useful pieces of fairly expensive machinery that a lot of people need to rent (or hire the services of ) on a fairly regular basis, but that are expensive enough that they cannot justify buying one for themselves. Typically, this is a piece of machinery that sells for $2,000 to $20,000 that you can “hire out” in a relatively unregulated business. (Not requiring any special licenses, guild membership, or a union card.) Examples include “Ditch Witch” trenching machines, vehicle-mounted posthole augers, vehicle-mounted well drilling rigs, portable sawmills, “cherry picker:” bucket hoists, Bobcat tractors, small tracked excavators, and so forth. Once you’ve identified a clear unfilled need, and after you’ve confirmed that nobody else in your local area already has one that they presently rent out, then start looking to buy one. Ideally, you’ll want one that is a few years old (since brand new machinery is usually too expensive) in nice reliable running condition, at a reasonable price. As necessary, get a trailer to transport it. Practice with it at your own property, so that you’ll be competent and confident that you can do a good job. Practice loading, hauling and unloading your machinery (if needed) a few times, so that you won’t look like an idiot when doing so. Be sure to get liability insurance started before you officially launch your business. Then it is simple enough to advertise your services on the Internet, through your local chamber of commerce, and post flyers at the local feed store and supermarket. You can “scale” the size of your second business (read: how busy you’ll be) by setting your prices. If you want a lot of “hours”, then price it low. If you are getting too much work, then just start raising your rates to slow your business down. Then, if and when you ever lose you primary income stream, you can drop your rates on your second business substantially, so that it can take up the slack for your lost income. If necessary, add a second or third piece of equipment that you can rent out, to diversify your business. (For example, your business card might read; “Exemplary Excavations: Bobcat, Mini-Excavator, Ditch Witch, and Portable Posthole Auger. Reasonable Rates!”)