2015 – The Year In Review of Starting a Small Business(es), by T&BR

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In our goal of self sufficiency, we established that being self employed was at the top of the list. We also wanted to apply the idea of redundancy to this area, meaning multiple businesses.

Our criteria:

  • Income now, income during a collapse, and income in the recovering of a collapse.
  • Allows us to be good stewards of the land.
  • Something that allows us to strengthen our community by providing jobs and affordable services.

Web Store

One of our ventures started from a failure. We saw the sale listing for the Homestead Store site and business. We weren’t able to get our financing together in time and were not able to make that purchase. That, however, got our wheels turning, and we decided on our own web store where we would carry items we manufactured as well items via drop shipping.

Anyone can build a website, or so we thought. Sites that say you can build your own website like “hostgator”, while affordable to start and easy to build basic pages, become more difficult as you try to build a web store. Watching several different YouTube videos that take you step by step, we found that the website builders change things so often that the techniques used by the YouTube video makers were obsolete sometimes in as few as six months after the how-to video was posted.

Though we haven’t given up on this business, the cost of having someone else to fix our website-building errors is pricey. Our local community college offers website design as a course, but they seem to only graduate two or three people per year and they usually jump straight into a job. Our hopes were that this would have been something we could start and operate as we still had a regular job and were in school, and as it grew we could scale back on the regular employment. This would have satisfied the income now criteria and eventually provided a job or two for our community. While this has been a disappointment, it’s allowed us to research what we need to as well as focus the scope of the site when we get it going again. We have started just using eBay to sell but haven’t really done anything wild with it yet, due to our next business idea.

Sandblasting

In March of 2015, we came to realize that what we really needed to do was start a business for which we already had all the equipment and little cash was needed for the upfront investment. Being an industrial maintenance technician by trade, I knew that sandblasting was a widely used service. However, in our area, most of the sandblast businesses had gone out of business due to the owner deciding to retire and no new young people wanted to take over or buy out the businesses. Personally-owned blasting equipment was already available to us, so we began advertising a mobile sandblasting service. The first issue we came upon was that a 20-gallon pressure pot blaster can really only do small personal jobs. The fitting and lines were so small that it would clog up and make unclogging take up more time than actual blasting. This will cost us about $9,000 to rectify, and we just don’t have it yet, but we are pushing on with this blaster. The second roadblock we came to was lack of air. Everybody knows about PSI, but really CFM (cubic feet per minute) is the bigger issue and not just with sandblasting. The pancake compressor we used with our nail guns for projects around the homestead only makes 3 CFM. The big compressor in the shop for sandblasting makes 10 CFM, but it runs on electric and can’t really be moved to jobsites, so we ordered a Northern Tool wheelbarrow style, gas powered compressor for $700. It produces 13 CFM and seemed to be a nice unit until we got our first big job– a 22 foot wide by 18 foot long disk/plow. We worked on it for three days, and I even hired a couple day labors to run grinders with wire wheels. We still didn’t get a quarter of it done. This led to us bowing out gracefully and not charging the customer; that was $1,200 out of our pocket for nothing. Some brainstorming led us to two options– either a 30 CFM truck-mounted unit or a used, towable 150 CFM unit. (We wanted both for different possible applications), which brings us back to money, or the lack of it. The next issue was a business location. The shop we use is a family member’s and wasn’t available for business use. With a location, we would have a dry location to store our blast media (sand, coal slag, etc), which is very important to reducing clogs. We could buy the media in bulk, which is a huge savings, and we could work indoors in the winter on small- to medium-sized jobs. A location would also give us a spot to secure our tools and equipment and a place to put customer items before and after we work on them. There was a shop not a half mile down the highway from us that would be available if we had $65,000 but we don’t.

This business satisfies the criteria of income now, during, and after a collapse. We will also be able to hire a number of employees and provide a much-needed service to our community. As a side note, it would probably be a huge money-maker going by the number of customer calls (even the ones we must turn down, due to our reduced capabilities) and that is with almost no advertising!

Let’s take a moment to talk about money. I’m sure that you are asking yourself, “Why don’t you go and get one of the government grants that you always hear about?” Well, it’s because they don’t exist unless you are opening a girl’s school in Afghanistan or possibly if you are working on some really high tech product. Going to “grants.gov” just reminds you that our tax money often goes overseas. Even being a minority (TR is mixed black and white) and a vet (he also served as a mortar maggot for almost 12 years) or even being a woman doesn’t help any when raising money to start or expand a business.

Over the last couple of years, we have drained 401k’s and savings trying to get our businesses running, to the point that our cash flow and credit are suffering. That means that our own bank won’t give us a secured loan for the sandblasting building or equipment. Not to be held down, we are trying angel investors and crowd funding (Indiegogo) now, with the determination that we WILL figure this out. Just as a bit of background, our first business was biofuels in 2007. This fits the criteria of before, during, and after and is, to me, the key critical business as an after-a-collapse business; fuel will be the big resource that will be in short supply. Manufacturing biodiesel and biobutanol will fulfill the needs of keeping us, our businesses, and our community going. The problem is money. The equipment for producing 200,000 gallons a year, plus the location and associated infrastructure, would cost about $250,000. (Note that the sandblasting shop we want to buy is on enough acreage that we can set up a building and tanks for biofuels and if we bargain basement the equipment, we could get up and running for $50,000.)

Sunflower Farm

This brings us to the next business. Our homestead is a small farm. We were able to buy it for $75,000. It is 20 acres with our home. We want to clear it and plant a crop of sunflowers for dual usage cooking oil, to sell and then get it back after the customer uses it for biodiesel, with eventual lease or purchase of more land to plant more. Of course, clearing it is costly, but we thought we could use a lot of “sweat equity” and clear it ourselves, but farms down the creek from us have allowed beavers to build dams and now most of our land stays marshland. This means building dikes and so forth, which only adds to the money we need to put into it. An offshoot of the farm plan is also to purchase more land for Christmas trees, pumpkins, and setting that portion of the business as a destination service, which can operate as a event venue, host school field trips, et cetera. We also would like to host farmer’s markets and offer seasonal baked goods and other treats, including classes teaching folks to make Christmas wreathes or churn butter and the like. We also wanted to do a CSA kind of like a club where members pay dues and get a basket of produce and such each week and maybe offer eggs and milk, but when we purchased 30 chickens and ducks we never expected a family of raccoons to feast on our birds and just leave us two buff orpingtons.

So $140,000 later, we still aren’t making money, yet. I have a lot of respect for those who can build small businesses with little money and make it successful. I can offer that we have only gotten as far as we have by improvising. For instance, we purchased two tractors with front loading buckets– a 35-hp 1958 Massey Ferguson and a 1981 50-hp John Deere for a grand total of $7,500. The Massey was originally a back hoe with no PTO, and it will become that again. The Deere has enough HP to farm the 20 acres we have. If we were to buy it new, it would have been too costly, but with a bit of wrench work they fill our needs nicely. We look for free dirt all of the time (for dikes). Flea markets often supply tools and equipment. My military experience and my mechanical knowledge has allowed us to go a lot further than we would have without it. (A fella once total me that if you can weld nothing is impossible, and though it’s not true it’s a good mentality. I currently feel that if you can build a smelter and cast things out of aluminum, nothing is impossible.) My wife’s business experience, knowledge of commercial real estate, and general ability to do anything and talk to anyone has been the glue that holds everything together. (You can’t do anything without a good spouse who has the survivalist mentality too. Thanks, Survivalistsingles.

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