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Monthly Archives: October 2016

7 Strange Businesses

A starchy message

If you’re having trouble getting your message across to someone, you can deliver it in the form of a potato with the help of Potato Parcel

According to the site, you can compose “all kinds of fun messages” in 15 words, including those with more colorful language. The company vets hateful, harmful, or threatening messages and will not process orders with messages that have wording like this, so keep your potato messages fun when using this service. Once you send it, the recipient will be delivered a package containing your Potato Parcel.

The leftover sock saver

Doing the laundry is a part of life, no matter how boring it is. It’s risky, though: Somewhere in the journey from the hamper to the dresser, you could lose one of your favorite socks. And then what?

With Throx, you can reduce the chances of handling another lonely leftover sock. The company helps customers fight the infamous “sock monster” by selling socks in threes, not pairs. That way, when you lose one, you’ve still got a backup sock to keep the other company, so you can keep wearing your favorite pair and doing your laundry worry-free.

A mobile wedding chapel

Need to get hitched quickly on a budget? The Wedding Wagon may be able to help. This unique mobile company founded in Las Vegas provides a full wedding ceremony out of the back of a van for just $129.

You choose when and where you want to get married — by the colorful fountains of the Bellagio, for example — and the wedding wagon will meet you there with a minister, a witness and a fully decked-out mobile chapel. For an extra hundred bucks, the Wedding Wagon will even arrange to meet you at some truly beautiful venues, such as Tahiti Village’s 10th floor dining patio or Red Rock Canyon State Park.

A dog-sledding business

Adventurists in New Hampshire can feel like they’re running the Iditarod thanks to a local company. The Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kenneloffers a variety of dog-sledding trips, ranging from a quick, 20-minute ride to an overnight voyage through the White Mountains. The kennel has more than 100 sled dogs, including Alaskan Huskies, Siberians and Malamutes.

A furniture business for slobs

Have an incontinent cat or a spit-up-prone baby? You might be interested to know that there’s a company devoted entirely to helping people like you.

Slobproof, a Maryland-based furniture and design company, builds custom chairs, sofas and ottomans with specially engineered fabric that withstands spills and other messes without staining.

A used cardboard box marketplace

Whether you’re moving and need containers for transporting your items or you spend too much time online shopping and don’t know what to do with all the cardboard boxes, BoxCycle can help.

Founded in 2008, BoxCycle streamlines the processes of obtaining and getting rid of cardboard boxes. Instead of throwing out used boxes, businesses or individuals with an abundance of boxes can go online to BoxCycle.

A fantasy dating company

Are you a (slightly competitive) single gal seeking a more interesting love life? This next weird business is for you. Fantasy Dating Game is like a grown-up version of “Truth or Dare,” and it’s way more interesting than a run-of-the-mill date.

7 Unique Box Subscription Services to Try

Whether they’re signed up for a box of snacks, crafts, beauty items or even toys for the kids, subscribers are able to discover new products they’re sure to love. Here are 7 unique box subscription services that are using data analytics to improve the customer experience.

You may have dozens of bookmarks of delicious recipes saved in your browser, but how often do you really have the time to buy the ingredients and make them? Blue Apron delivers everything you need to make gourmet meals at home every week. When you sign up for this service, you’ll get a weekly delivery of pre-portioned ingredients and recipe cards for three chef-created meals. Pressed for time? Don’t worry: Every Blue Apron recipe takes 30 minutes or less to prepare.

If you love do-it-yourself crafts, you’ll love Darby Smart, a service that delivers DIY projects-in-a-box, based on the latest fashion and home trends. Each kit comes with all the materials you need to create homemade jewelry, purses and other accessories and home goods, along with easy-to-follow instructions. Once you start making a few Darby Smart projects, you might just get an idea for a great handmade business.

High-end cosmetic companies often receive their skin care and beauty product formulas from overseas research facilities. These formulas frequently take several years to make it to the U.S. retail market, meaning that consumers who purchase the latest top-of-the-line items are actually a bit behind the times. True to its name, From the Lab gives its members direct access to beauty products straight from the laboratories, up to 18 months before they’re available in stores and at 80 percent off retail price.

Time and budget constraints often prevent people from going on vacation as often as they’d like. But with Hammock Pack, you don’t even have to leave home to take a quick “doorstep getaway.” Each month, the company chooses a theme or a specific destination, and puts together a box of snacks and home goods from local vendors to make you feel as though you were really there.

Have crafty kids? Kiwi Crate sends kid-friendly projects, like tissue tie-dye bags, shadow puppets and kaleidoscopes. For an extra $9.99, the company provides extra materials so siblings don’t have to fight over who gets to make the project. You can sign up for a monthly subscription or purchase single crates by theme.

Loot Crate is the perfect box for video-game and comic-book lovers. Each month, you’ll receive six to eight handpicked products based on popular games, comics and TV shows. Keychains, T-shirts, figurines, wall decorations and candy are just a few of the types of items you’ll find in your monthly crate.

Many clothing box subscription services are geared toward women, but The Mr. Collection knows that men want to be fashion-forward, too. This company allows subscribers to fill out a style profile and receive hand-selected clothes and/or accessories that they can either rent for as long as they like, or purchase at 40 percent off retail prices. Once you return your Mr. Collection rentals, you’ll get a brand-new selection so you can do it all again.

6 Clever Ways to Use Social Media

Stroll through StumbleUpon

Do you think of StumbleUpon as merely an entertaining way to explore the Internet? Think again. The social media site, which allows users to “stumble” across recommended websites by clicking an icon in their browser, can be a powerful source of inspiration for wannabe entrepreneurs.

“StumbleUpon is a great way for budding entrepreneurs to get inspired by content they wouldn’t have found through traditional channels,” said StumbleUpon CEO Mark Bartels. For inspiration, aspiring entrepreneurs should take a look at a select group of followers, Bartels recommended. “Follow well-regarded curators, like Mashable, Branding Magazine, Garrett Camp or J.T. O’Donnell,” he said. “They’ve each assembled unique collections of thought-provoking articles, business tips and beyond to inform and inspire business ideas.”

If the business content on StumbleUpon doesn’t trigger a new idea, it’s time to move out of your comfort zone and get creative. “Sometimes, the best ideas come from exploring beyond your usual websites and sources,” Bartels said. “Picking a topic like space, architecture or design will recommend pages that offer you a different perspective.”

Surf the subreddits

If you’re on the prowl for a new tech-related product or service idea, head over to news and entertainment social media site Reddit, and start surfing the subreddits, or subject areas.

“I would recommend technology companies leverage Reddit,” said Sahana Jayaraman, vice president of digital and social practice at technology PR firm Eastwick. Reddit users submit content that other users can vote up or down, influencing the content’s placement on the front page of the site.

Jayaraman said Reddit is a good source of new business ideas. In particular, people looking for new business ideas should review subreddits and use the Ask Me Anything feature, where users can ask experts and celebrities questions that may uncover potential ideas for small or midsize businesses (SMBs).

“Reddit is a hotbed for SMBs to learn about what their customers want and need,” he said. “It can benefit from an R&D perspective or from a marketing perspective.”

Pay attention to Pinterest

If your talents lie in identifying or creating the next great must-have product, get a Pinterest account. The image-based social media site provides a constant stream of new images to get you thinking creatively about new business ideas.

“Of all the social media sites, Pinterest is one of the best to see the next hot product trend,” said Gail Oliver, a small business consultant and blogger at Attention-Getting.com. “Pinterest is the only social media [site] that has a Popular page where you can see the images that people like the most,” she said.

Oliver said she’s seen many wedding, home decor and fashion trends take off because of Pinterest. “It also clearly shows you how many people like the image and how many repin — both great indicators of their popularity,” she said.

Pinterest users can monitor comments without alerting other users, to get a site-wide look at what people think of each pin. Oliver said the sometimes-overlooked comments section provides more inspiration for new ideas than some other social media sites.

“Comments are also visible to everyone, so you can see what people are saying,” Oliver said. “Facebook posts no longer go out to everyone who follows you, so you get a limited response, and it would just be a portion of your followers.”

Search Twitter questions

If you’re just following trending tweets or hashtags on Twitter in an effort to find business ideas, it’s time to change your approach.

“Find questions people are asking on Twitter,” said Jay Neely, creator of Boston Startups Guide. “Twitter search is an amazing tool for startup idea research.”

Neely said Facebook’s advertising tools are also a great way to research and evaluate markets for business ideas.

“Facebook’s ad creator allows for some amazing interest, demographic and location targeting,” he said. “I’ve used it to measure if an interest is more popular among iPhone or Android users, get a sense of a profession’s demographic breakdown and see how large the target market is within the area I’m based,” Neely said.

Uncover under-the-radar social media networks and apps

For another largely untapped social media source of idea-rich content, use your cellphone to cruise through one of the lesser-known mobile social networks, or visit a social shopping network.

“Mobile social networks are highly engaged, and great for feedback,” Neely said. “If you post a question on a LinkedIn group, you’re lucky to get any responses. But on mobile social networks, push notifications and better social context result in much higher engagement.”

If apps aren’t your thing, try a visit to a couple of niche social sites for inspiration.

“I think social sharing sites like Wanelo [an online world shopping community] and Lover.ly [dedicated to shopping for weddings] are better for identifying business opportunities,” Oliver said, because they gauge people’s interest and approval with the whole “like” system, instead of just measuring the reaction of your followers.

Spy on your competitors

A truly stealthy way to find new business ideas is to quietly monitor the social media activity of the big players and/or competitors in the industries in which you’re interested.

“The trick to using social media to find new ideas and stay on top of the current trends is to monitor your competitors,” said Matthew Reischer, CEO of LegalAdvice.com. When you see the totality of engagement from your market competitors, you get a better sense of an overall pattern that allows you to connect the dots to discover new ideas, Reischer said.

Tips to Start a Pet Care Business

For entrepreneurial pet lovers, there’s almost no question as to what type of business they would want to start. Becoming a trainer, groomer or sitter is likely a dream job for those who want to spend their days working with and caring for dogs and cats. But, as any pet care professional can attest, being a part of this industry is no easy task.

“Pets are often regarded as family members, and the responsibility of caring for those pets is not one that should be taken lightly,” said Daryl Conner, manager of Yankee Clipper Pet Grooming and certified petcare dermatech specialist. “[Pet care professionals] don’t just play with puppies all day. We work with living creatures who can often behave unpredictably.”

Starting a pet care business is certainly an achievable goal, but you won’t succeed without a strong knowledge of both animal behavior and business basics. Before you start writing up that business plan, here’s what you need in order to work in the industry.

Regardless of what type of pet care business you want to start, a basic education in animal care and handling is the first step to working with animals. While you don’t necessarily need a degree in animal science, reading books, taking courses and attending industry events are essential to expanding your knowledge of animal anatomy and behavior. Groomers and trainers are responsible for more than simply washing and cutting fur and teaching tricks: They are often the first to spot issues like fleas and ticks, which they will need to know how to deal with.

Consider getting certified by a reputable industry organization with rigorous testing and training requirements, such as the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors or the National Dog Groomers Association of America. This will not only give you a good educational background, but also build up customer trust when you do start your own business. However, a good pet care professional knows that his or her education is never complete.

“Always continue your education,” said Mandy Massara, founder of All Aspects Animal Care. “Keep refining your craft. We don’t know everything, but we want to.”

While books and classes are a good start, a theory-based education can only get you so far. Firsthand experience handling animals is critical to starting and running a successful pet care business. Most groomers and trainers started out as apprentices under more experienced professionals before branching out and starting their own practices.

“A lot of pet owners don’t know what goes on behind the scenes,” said Teri DiMarino, president of the California Professional Pet Groomers Association. “[For groomers,] getting the cut right is one thing, but handling the pet is another issue entirely. What happens if a dog gets in a fight, or needs first aid? You have to be prepared.”

Linda Kaim, founder of Lionheart K9 Dog Training, said that many industry certification programs don’t include hands-on training to work directly with animals, and that knowledge-based tests are an insufficient assessment of how a trainer or groomer will perform when dealing with pets.

Similarly, Sandy Blackburn, author of The Everything Dog Grooming Book and owner of The Groom Room Pet Spa, noted that online courses are okay for refining skills once you have experience under your belt, but as a novice, this route is not recommended.

Because animal behavior can be unpredictable, protecting both yourself and your customers through proper licensing and insurance coverage is a must. Massara recommended doing thorough research into local ordinances and taking the proper steps to comply with them.

“Consumers should be wary of unlicensed businesses,” she told Business News Daily. “They have no recourse if something goes wrong.”

In the pet care industry, one must remember that professionals work with both pets and people. While the bulk of a trainer, groomer or sitter’s day-to-day activities involves the care and handling of animals, it’s the owners who ultimately drive your business. George Quinlan, NADOI member and founder of All About Dogs Behavior and Training Center, said that liking people and being able to communicate with them is just as important as loving animals.

“Without good communication skills, you’ll lose half of your clients,” he said.

A true love of animals and experience working with them only make up one half of the equation for an independent pet care business. The other side, of course, is knowing how to run a business.

“Having a good grasp of basic business principles is a must,” Conner told Business News Daily. “Many groomers [and other pet care professionals] do not understand how to figure out the cost of running a business, and because of that, they have no idea how to structure their pricing. They end up setting their prices to be comparable to other professionals in the area, with no way to compare overhead, and do not charge what their service is worth.”