Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do. : Oscar Wilde

Monday, January 28, 2008

Non-Traditional Self-Employment


A friend asked me whether I had any suggestions that she could pass on to a client who wants to work from home on odd jobs like walking dogs, stuffing envelopes, entering data, and so on. Not having much to offer I put the question on the Contact Point mailing list and on LinkedIn. I received some excellent ideas. This is a summary

Contact Point

  • Advertise on free sites such as Craig's List ( and kijiji (
  • Use informal word of mouth advertising and you might yield results sooner
  • Visiting business prospects with formal advertising (such as a brochure)
  • Apply for jobs and negotiate working at home
  • Leave flyers describing services in neighbourhood mailboxes
  • Read one of the highly recommended books about starting businesses and related topics
    • Guerrilla Marketing by Jay Levinson (
    • Denise Bisonnette, Beyond Traditional Job Development
  • Look at the Alberta Government document (pdf), "Self Employment is it for me?", on
  • Given that people who do this and services like this called "personal assistant" and "VIP services" respectively in California
    • Consider turning your business into a franchise at:
    • Consider JVS ( and other organisations that host information sessions, etc; Fran Banner, o/o, Guildwood Virtual Office Services did a session recently
Other points mentioned:
  • Denise Bissonnette, Terry Kelly and Alan Cuvelier will be presenting at "Rekindle the Flame" in Dartmouth, 6-8 February
  • There was an ffer to introduce my friend's client to people needing personal assistants


In some affluent areas residents 'hire horse walkers, dog walkers, house sitters, person shoppers as well as personal assistants.' In others residents may have tired of 'door hangers and ads pasted to the post box by people [the many people hoping to do business in] the same way.' Nonetheless, you can 'select an affluent area and post your services on [the 'net] for that area.' You can post notices in grocery stores in any area, affluent or not.

Approach companies that employ well-paid personnel to offer personal assistance service. (They would rather have these employees use your services than take time from work in which to handle personal business.) Useful services to mention: fetching dry cleaning back and forth (and don't forget to suggest to the dry cleaners that you can offer exclusive service to them if they post an advertisement for your services), buy tickets, walking dogs, taking children to classes and games, minding pets when their 'owners' are away.

More generally, partner 'with local business who offer related services and products.' Offer them your exclusive business in exchange for referrals and advertising. If you walk dogs then 'drop cards and flyers with small pet shops, groomers, and feed stores.'

Places to post free advertisements on the 'net: Craig's List, LinkedIn,, Add your profile to social networking sites such as, and Offer to meet people that you encounter on sites like and for coffee. When you post an advertisement or profile on the 'net make it link to your website or blog. Other places to advertise at little or no cost: local newspapers.

Start a simple blog (on, for instances, or where you can announce special prices and services. Make it possible for blog visitors to keep up to date by using to send them messages when you add a blog item. If you build a website consider including a form where you can gather contact information from visitors.

Don't ignore old-fashioned advertising. A handyman says, 'My best results were from a sign on my truck with the phone number.' Another says, "I'd also advise the person to read the emyth revisited." In other words, don't assume that the 'net is the best or only way.

When you network 'start with whom you know' and think of 'neighbors, church, [and] organizations [of which you are a member].' Network at meetings of chambers of commerce and home owners. '[H]anging around successful business owners ... and helping their causes and getting their perspective on your business are the foundation.' '[T]ell business owners you are introducing your business to the area and would like to get to know more about them.' Offer to send business to them. In fact, 'Create a list of everyone you know -- including services you use (doctors, etc) and send them notification that you're in business, what you're doing, what they'd hear your ideal client say and provide them with two discount certificates or a referral fee for referring you.'

'[M]eet local radio show hosts and offer to talk about something related to your area of expertise and offer their listeners some special deal.'

Be ready for networking with business cards that offer special prices to new customers--or anyone for that matter. Offer gifts or special offers to those who refer business to you.
Watch for business owners who are willing to co-operate. A pet shop owner says, 'We have a dog-centric store, and referring local service providers has been a real win-win for us. We've even provided some of these folks with custom sample packages of our products to use as customer appreciation gifts. One hand washes the other, and the business has come back to us many times over.' By all means, post your business cards on bulletin boards.

The handyman 'found that realtors prepping houses before sale or after purchase were [his] best customers. Many realtors also manage rental properties and need service between tenants. [After] I started working for a real estate agent, ... I picked up the rest of the agents in that office and [used them as references to get business from] other agencies.'