• Would a Mini-Business Serve Your Needs? BY “AWAKE!” CORRESPONDENT IN COLOMBIA

    IN Cali, Colombia, a young mother was suddenly widowed and left without support for herself and two young sons. Her only asset was her home. After careful planning, she divided off four of her rooms into two independent apartments and thus supported her small family from a mini-business.

    As prices increase on all commodities, many persons find their earnings inadequate for even basic needs. If father takes two jobs, however, the family loses his guidance and he invites illness due to overwork. If mother is employed outside the home, the children suffer the loss of her supervision and loving companionship. But where a family needs additional funds, the means to provide such income could be a self-operated mini-business.

    By “mini-business” is meant any small enterprise, whether in service, manufacturing or sales, frequently using the home, garage or patio as the base of operations. The objective may be to employ profitably the spare time of older children, provide income for mother on a part-time basis, or to develop a business that would eventually support the family entirely.

    Why Many Prefer Self-Employment

    While a job in industry may offer greater financial security and attractive fringe benefits, it can also be routine, monotonous and lacking in opportunities to use initiative. In many countries, however, even such industrial jobs are scarce, and the inexperienced or untrained cannot readily find employment.

    Among the advantages gained by the self-employed are a flexible work schedule, a more active interest in the business and so greater productivity, plus the satisfaction of worthwhile accomplishment. They can also choose their work companions, perhaps giving on-the-job training to sons and daughters, equipping them with a useful trade.

    What Type of Mini-Business?

    Service opportunities offer a return for one’s time and energies and usually require only a modest outlay for tools and equipment. Every community needs the services of a carpenter or plumber, a tailor or seamstress, a beautician, barber, mechanic, electrician or appliance repairman. The necessary skills can often be acquired in a trade school, or by apprenticeship to someone already in the business.

    Maintenance of property or equipment on a contract basis could be a source of income for you. If you have mechanical training, why not approach the management of office or factory buildings with a contract to service air-conditioning units, electrical generators, boilers or elevators? For those without technical skills, landscaping or maintaining the grounds of private estates, clubs, or business properties, providing janitor service to industrial or office buildings, are a few of the areas for employment on a contract basis.

    Agricultural work is also done by contract, such as the harvesting of grains or food crops. In the Buenaventura area of Colombia a father contracts with owners of large plantations to harvest their banana crops. This frees the owner from hiring each individual worker, and the father negotiates for a better wage for his family.

    But you may feel that the manufacture of a useful or decorative item would be more appealing as a mini-business.


    Since your product must be sold, a realistic appraisal of the market potential should be made before investing in machinery or raw materials. Is your product such that the public will come to you to buy? If not, would you sell to retail stores? Would it be advantageous to advertise? Is there a year-round market for your product, or would it sell only seasonally? How would your sales be affected by inclement weather, public transportation strikes or breakdowns, or illness of yourself or other family members?

    Valuable information on sales could be gathered from small manufacturers experienced in your field or in a related one. Talk to them, ask for their suggestions, make notes for later reference as to how they promote sales and where they market their products.

    Public-relations-oriented manufacturers have long capitalized on a natural curiosity about how their product is made, and plant tours are arranged with customer appeal in mind. Scaling this idea down to mini-size, a rug manufacturer employing six workers opens his plant to full view of all passing-by, and frequently a crowd gathers to watch his operations, observing with interest the emergence of lovely patterns as bright yarns are woven into the backing.

    What Enterprising Colombians Have Done

    Before making a decision on what specific business to enter, you may find the experiences of many Colombian families in operating a mini-business of interest.

    A widow in Bogotá earns her livelihood as caretaker of homes whose owners are out of town. Reliable and trustworthy, she obtains work through referrals. Before engaging in this type of work, you may wish to insure yourself against the risk involved in guarding another’s property.

    Few Colombian mothers work outside the home, but many add to the family income by preparing hot meals. Boarders may eat at the family table, or the hot lunch may be sent to the work site. Others prepare food for sale to small grocery stores, such as a cornmeal bun called arepas,

    served in most Colombian homes for breakfast or snacks. The sale of cake, candy, roasted peanuts, baked ham or fried plantains outside of stadiums or at playgrounds on holidays or Sundays brings in enough to support many families.

    Persons in your community might enjoy sausages, pizza or other specialty dishes prepared with good-quality meat, free from harmful preservatives. Tamales, pasteles or empanadas, prepared with meat and vegetables, wrapped in dough of cornmeal or flour, either fried or boiled, are fast- selling delicacies in Colombia.

    Supermarkets with a complete line of food items under one roof are almost unknown outside Colombia’s largest cities. Thus an opportunity exists for mini-merchants operating a booth in the central market or renting space in a small food store. A successful vendor in Barranquilla specializes in yucca, a starchy root much in demand for the preparation of soups. His stall is sought out by customers who know that he maintains the largest and best stock of yucca in the market.

    Could you roast and grind coffee? A family in the city of Armenia has a small electric unit set up in the garage, and the aroma of roasting coffee brings customers from blocks around. One can buy a pound of coffee already ground and packaged, or watch while the newly roasted beans are ground to order.

    A family in Medellín earns all its income from the home manufacture of gelatinas,

    a dessert similar to marshmallows. Sales are made retail from the home as well as wholesale to small food stores.

    In communities where very few persons own automobiles, vendors render a real service by delivering fruits and vegetables to the customer. An elderly man, with a view to earning a little pocket change, started out to offer lemons from door to door. To his surprise, several persons asked him to come again the following week, and thus a route of steady buyers was established. Later, at the request of his customers, he expanded the business by adding papayas, bananas, pineapples and other types of fruit to his deliveries.

    A mother needed extra cash for a trip the family wanted to take. She turned the front room of her home into a salesroom and started selling eggs to her residential neighborhood. From the profits of her modest efforts, a vacation was enjoyed by all the family.

    In a tropical climate, a refrigerator is a real necessity, but in Colombia it is very expensive. How to enjoy owning one and still keep up the monthly payments? Possibly by sharing the products of your refrigerator with your neighbors​—for a price! Stir up a mixture for popsicles, varying it with flavored syrups, crushed pineapple, mango, banana or shredded coconut, pour it into the ice trays or paper cups and drop in a short wooden stick. Now pop it into the freezer. Before long you will have a line of customers, especially children coming home from school, who have seen your handwritten sign in the window: helados. Since most families do not own a refrigerator, you can increase profits from your mini-business by the sale of bottled refreshments, home-prepared punch or fruit juice, or from the sale of ice cubes.

    A young lad can find ways to employ his spare time profitably, contributing substantially to the family’s support. One young boy, after a nominal investment in supplies, called from door to door offering to shine shoes, then returned the following week where his services were accepted. With initiative and diligence, he built up a route of regular, appreciative customers. Shoe repair added to this service would increase one’s income.

    A mother and daughter in Bucaramanga started making baby clothes in the home for sale in the immediate community. Through sales to local clothing merchants, this business was later expanded to become the family’s sole means of support.

    A man sat on the sidewalk at a busy intersection of a large coastal city, with a supply of palm leaves around him. Quickly he cut the fronds into strips one inch wide, then fashioned a circle from a length of wire. Deftly, he covered the wire with many strips of palm leaf, weaving a flat brim inward about three inches, then shaped a crown, completing an attractive hat in less than ten minutes. As he started on the second hat, fascinated observers were already waving the money and shouting: “The next one is mine!”

    A drugstore was opened in the living room of a home in a residential area. A supply of pharmaceutical-products, shampoos, lotions and ointments was neatly arranged on display shelves out of reach but within view of an open window. Since all sales were made through the window, mother was freed from constant attendance and could continue her housework between customers.

    From a small sidewalk booth called “Noah’s Ark” all manner of used tools, plumbing equipment and other hardware are sold. A small business could be formed to sell or rent used books, magazines, furniture, clothing, appliances, sports equipment, musical instruments, or a combination of these items.

    Metalwork in the form of doors, door-frames, window frames, metal shelving, or furniture provides employment for many businessmen in Colombia. Iron grillwork is becoming ever more popular for protecting windows and entrances, for enclosing porches, for fences or handrailings. Decorative and practical, the iron can be worked into floral designs, leaping antelopes, a dazzling sunrise, or even bars with musical notes.

    The manufacture of flowerpots and planters provides an income for a resourceful family. While the teen-age sons and daughters mix sand and cement, mold and paint the product in the patio, father sells to small merchants in the local market, or from a handcart in residential areas. Another family expands this idea by marketing potted palms, orchids, philodendron or coleus plants, using the second-story balcony to display them.

    Shoe manufacture is still largely a handcraft in Colombia, and three or four men often work together under contract to retailers or by selling from a display case in their shop. The customer can select footwear already made, or may order shoes to his exact size and style preference. A family in Bogotá makes a soft hand-stitched house slipper, similar to an Indian moccasin; and this business is their sole source of support.

    Leather and imitation-leather book covers, wallets, coin purses, belts, handbags, briefcases or school-book bags are items constantly in demand. Sport jackets, made of suede or other leather, as well as imitation-leather raincoats, are clothing articles that never go out of style. Upholstering auto seats or living-room furniture in leatherlike plastics provides an income for many.

    In the higher altitudes, a woolen ruana or poncho is a year-round necessity. Worn as a cape, a ruana serves for cold or rain, and is preferred by Colombians to a coat or jacket. A family in Bogotá weaves the fabric on a home loom, varying the colorful patterns for different effects. But

    ruanas can be made from any type of woolen fabrics, solid-color flannels or wool knits trimmed with white fringe, or lovely plaids with matching fringe.

    Many other opportunities await the businessman or woman in furniture refinishing, rebinding worn books, crocheting or knitting shawls or sweaters, embroidering sheets or table linens, the manufacture of wigs or hairpieces, costume jewelry, macrame handbags, rope or wool scatter rugs, table lamps, mattresses, pillows, wicker furniture or stuffed toys.

    Whatever field you choose as a means of earning a living, you will experience satisfaction in providing for your daily needs by applying your talents to productive work. So, if you need employment or additional income, why not give consideration to operating your own mini-business!

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