5 Low-Risk Self-Employment Ideas

As the economy limps its way into recovery you may find yourself looking for a new job. For many people this is an opportunity to start a new career or simply find a new job in the same industry. Either way, it’s possible you’ll have some free time on your hands until new employment comes your way.

So what’s a person to do in the mean time?

Well, you could just sit around hoping you don’t run out of money. Or you can be proactive and use the time to earn a little extra cash.  I’m not talking about getting a temp gig slinging burgers or holding up those big timeshare signs on street corners. But rather starting your own low-risk, small business that requires minimal capital. Even though just about any skill can be honed into a small, service-oriented business, I’ve found that these five self-employed jobs offer plenty of flexibility without a lot of start-up bucks.

1)   Professional/Mystery Shopper

If you like to shop why not get paid to do it? But don’t limit yourself by only accommodating rich ladies looking for skinny jeans. The real money is in grocery shopping.  Busy executives and vacationers don’t have time to pick up their own bread and milk. That’s where you come in. For a fee (usually 10% of the total grocery bill) you shop for your clients and deliver the groceries to their homes or vacation condos. To avoid fronting any money use your clients’ credit or debit cards, and then bill them afterward for your services.

Similarly, a mystery shopper shops with someone else’s money, but for different reasons. A mystery shopper is hired by a market research company to test the quality of a service or product. Part detective, part consumer, a mystery shopper enters a business under the guise of an average consumer, asks for help, then grades the business on its response. In other words, you shop, fill out a report, get paid. It’s really that simple.

2)  Speed Dating Coordinator

One of the more popular networking creations for singles in the last 10 years has been the introduction of speed dating. For a small fee singles come together (usually at a restaurant or bar) and spend anywhere from one to five minutes with a person getting to know them. When a bell rings (signaling time’s up) everyone shifts to a new person and the process starts all over again.

As you can imagine, someone has to be in charge of setting up the speed dating party, which includes signing up guests, coordinating with the restaurant, collecting fees, and basically running the event as it happens. This takes topnotch organizational skills, plus the personality to host a party where you don’t know anyone. It’s the perfect in between job for unemployed event coordinators or wedding planners. (Or anyone who knows how to through a really good party.)

3)  Virtual Assistant

Duties here range from doing data entry to proofreading to bookkeeping. And if you’re really flexible, occasionally picking up someone’s dry-cleaning. Basically, you set the limits of what you want to do for someone willing to pay you for administrative services.

But in order for you to be “virtual” make it clear that you work out of your home office and that all administrative duties are performed via the Internet and email. This allows you to take on multiple clients and thus make more money. If your boss actually wants you to come work out of his or her office, then charge more, since now you’re working on their timetable and not yours. (And most likely won’t be able to have multiple clients.)

4)  Professional Organizer

Some people were just born with the ability to find the perfect place for everything. These are the people you want organizing your house. And if you’re one of those types, consider offering your organizational skills as a service to the rest of us messy people. We will pay handsomely for you to come into our homes and organize our basements, garages, closets, kitchens, and kids’ rooms. And if your tidy skills extend to the office, feel free to charge more to come in and get the business files in order.

You can even offer seasonal incentive programs, like organizing receipts at tax time, organizing gifts during the holidays, or organizing kids rooms right before school starts. Believe me, people will pay you to get their lives in order because nothing feels better than getting rid of clutter.

5)  College Applicant Consultant

College has never been more competitive, which means it’s harder than ever to get into a college of one’s choice. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, so if you’ve successfully navigated applying to the hallowed halls of higher learning, why not share your success with others – for a fee.

Helping people successfully complete their college applications is a valuable skill. Depending on the school the application process can involve not only filling out a form, but writing an essay, gathering references, preparing for an interview (or an audition, if submitting to a performing arts program), and applying for financial aid and scholarships. Multiply this times the number of schools an applicant is vying for and you’ve got yourself a massive job consumed by paperwork - that people will pay you to help them with.

Whatever you decide to do, the key to making money in between jobs is to keep your operation simple and down to a one-person show. This makes it easy to walk away once you resume your career. And who knows, if you’re successful at your temporary stint as a self-employed mini-mogul it could evolve into a whole new (unexpected) career.

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  1. Posted February 24, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    It’s kind of hard to see anyone really earning a living wage at any of these things. Maybe if you did all of them at the same time. They’re good for extra spending money, and that’s about it.

  2. Angela D
    Posted April 21, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Great ideas,although the professional organizer path can carry a large risk.

    Being in other peoples’ homes for long hours at a time, especially on an unsupervised basis, can set you up for trouble. If you are thinking of going the professional organizing or cleaning route then seriously think about becoming bonded.

  3. Moochi
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    So the key to earning money while no one will hire you is to become a paid slave for a bunch of rich people… in an economy that THEY ruined and refuse to take higher taxes in the name of their fellow men to fix.

    Good to know.

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