25 companies you could start without quitting your day job

By: Elizabeth Cogswell

In this economy, it's a good idea for every working person to have a small business on the side as a Plan B -- even if you're gainfully employed at a rock-solid company. Just in case your job suddenly went away, you'd already have that Plan B company in place and making a little revenue. You might decide to ramp it up into a full-time endeavor. Or you might just be extra grateful for that non-salary income while you're looking for the next job.

Even if you stay at your current job for years to come, it's still helpful for your peace of mind to have that company on the side. If nothing else, it gives you something else to focus on when you have a bad day at work.

The best sideline company is one based on some particular passion. It could be your lifelong desire to be a rock star or your keen interest in the history of your city or your secret love of cake decorating. I'm not talking about starting a business taking in ironing (unless you love ironing), but something that's fun for you and that you don't get to do at your real job.

But how are you supposed to launch a company when you work 9-5? There are plenty of small businesses you could handle on weekends or evenings. Here are 25 ideas, just to get your wheels turning. If none of these sound right for you, maybe one will give you an idea for something else you might want to launch in your spare time.

1. Pet Sitting Service: Charge a fee to care for pets in their owners' homes while they're on vacation or away on business. Besides feeding the dogs and cats and lizards, you might also offer dog walks, plant watering and mail collection.

2. Birthday Party Entertainment: Can you put on a clown costume and make balloon animals? Stage a magic show for toddlers? Bring in bunnies and sheep for a farm party, complete with pony rides?

3. Tennis Coach: Or golf, or swimming, or batting. If you're particularly good at a sport, you can coach kids, or maybe even adults, for an hourly fee.

4. Holiday Lights and Decorations: Offer to string lights in trees and hang wreaths, for a fee. Or offer all the bells and whistles of a Santa theme, or Winter Wonderland, or Reindeer Village.

5. Garage Organizer: We recently hired a local company to come in and give us a garage makeover, with new paint, sealed floor, installed cabinets and wire frames with hooks for everything from garden tools to bike helmets. You also might offer a service for figuring out where everything will go, once the cabinets and hooks are in place.

6. Junk Hauler: Okay, this may not be something that fuels a passion, but it's a great weekend sideline, if you happen to have access to a giant truck. Companies like 1-800-Got Junk are adding franchises all the time, but I've also noticed some homegrown local competition in our area lately.

7. Private Language Tutor: Speak fluent French? Or Mandarin? You could offer lessons by the hour. I have a language-savvy friend who has clients who pay to spend an hour just having conversation with her -- in their chosen language.

8. Bicycle Trainer: The New York Times had an article not long ago about the increasing number of parents hiring someone else to teach their kids to ride a bike. You could charge by the hour, or an inclusive fee that covers all your time until the kid gets the hang of it and can ride unassisted.

9. Party Caterer: Are you a fabulous cook? Love to pull together a dinner party or a big buffet? Maybe you could do a little catering on the side.

10. Boot Camp Instructor: Offer a Saturday morning class in a local park and kick some butt. Or give personal training sessions in clients' homes.

11. Bat/Bar Mitzvah Planner: I know plenty of mothers who consider putting together their kids' bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah to be an intense (and nearly overwhelming) year-long project. If you've thrown a few yourself, perhaps you'd be useful as a planner for others in your area.

12. Tour Guide: Are you particularly knowledgeable about the history of your city? Or the architecture of an historic neighborhood? Maybe you could put together a walking tour for Saturday or Sunday afternoons. In Chapel Hill, there's a professor who used to do an annual tour of the old town cemetery, complete with colorful stories of some of the town's earlier citizens.

13. Resume Writer: There's got to be a huge market for this right now. If you're particularly good at crafting resumes, or knowledgeable about hiring practices, you could be helpful for job hunters wanting to put their best foot forward.

14. Personal Bookkeeper: Can you put a family's finances on Quicken and track their spending? Help people develop a budget? Handle routine financial chores like reconciling accounts or paying bills? Then there's a market out there waiting for you. (You might want to steer clear of offering actual financial advice, though. Bound to be some laws regulating that.)

15. Deliver Home-Cooked Meals: Could you spend your Sunday afternoons making giant vats of chili, pans of lasagna and tuna casseroles? Or maybe healthier versions of comfort food? People might pay to have a meal or two delivered Sunday evening so they've got dinner handled for Monday and some leftovers for the rest of the week.

16. Freelance Writer: Maybe you could spend some weekend time querying magazines or websites for article assignments. This is certainly easier if you already have a track record as a paid writer, but smaller local pubs are sometimes easier to break into.

17. Party Band: Tell your buddies the band's getting back together. I know one band made of lawyers who play parties on weekends. When I first met my husband, he would travel every weekend because his band was paying colleges and country clubs across two states. Learn a few more covers and some dance tunes, and start strutting your stuff.

18. Landlord: If you've ever considered buying some rental property, this could be the time. You might buy a condo that needs a little renovating to become a great rental unit. Or a house that's in a great neighborhood for renters.

19. Custom Treehouse Builder: If you've got carpentry skills and some imagination, you could have a business building tree forts and play houses for backyards. If you think no one would pay for that, think again. Even if affluent households have cut back on spending recently, they're still whipping out their wallets for things having to do with their kids.

20. Fishing Guide: Are you an expert on where the fish are in your area? Hire yourself out as a fishing guide.

21. Kayak Guide: Know the river like the back of your hand? You might start a small adventure company for occasional weekend trips.

22. Handmade Invitations: Offer custom invitations you print on your letterpress or create out of handmade paper and buttons and feathers -- or whatever. You could also make greeting cards and sell them on etsy.com or convince local shops to carry them.

23. Online Merchant: I had a friend who was passionate about babies being carried close to their mothers in fabric slings. So passionate that she started a website to sell them. You might be more passionate about selling rare books or handmade handbags or restored vintage dollhouses.

24. Car Detailing: Are you a freak for cars and a master of cleaning them correctly, inside and out? You might start a weekend business selling your services to other car owners.

25. Social Media Coach: If you're savvy in social media, you've got something to share. Plenty of Boomers are feeling way behind the curve on the whole social media thing, and would gladly pay for someone to get them up to speed over a weekend.

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Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin is the CEO and Creative Director of Tribe, a $5 million branding company, and the author of the "Start Your Own Company" deck of Starter Cards. She blogs on entrepreneurial issues at www.life-sizedbusiness.com.

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