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7 Clever Businesses You Could Start By Spring

Jeanette Mulvey

Maybe 2011 is the year you'd like to start your own business — but you’re not quite sure yet what it will be. Here are seven hot areas for small businesses that you may not have thought of. The good news for each is there’s lots of room for growth, and you could be prepared to jump in by spring.

Medical interpreters

As the number of non-English speakers in the United States who are seeking health care continues to grow, so does the need for medical interpreters who can serve as a liaison between these patients and their doctors.

Medical interpreters have been in short supply, and the demand for them is expected to increase even more, because standards that went into effect Jan. 1 require health care organizations to provide an interpreter for patients who speak limited English.

Even before the new standards were introduced, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted jobs for interpreters and translators would grow by 22 percent over the next decade, faster than for all other occupations.

A nationwide survey of 4,700 doctors, conducted by the nonprofit Center for Studying Health System Change, found that only 55.8 percent of practices with non-English speaking patients provide interpreting services, and 40 percent offer patient-education materials in languages other than English.

Medicaid currently reimburses medical providers for the services of an interpreter. Depending on the state, medical interpreters can make $25 to $50 an hour. In the private sector, they can command upwards of $100 an hour. However, forgoing the services of an interpreter could be even more costly, said Olgierda Furmanek, an associate professor at Wake Forest University who has designed a new graduate-level curriculum in response to this burgeoning career path.

“In a hospital, when there is a language barrier between the patient and the medical professional it slows everything down. Trained medical interpreters bring more efficiency to the overall operation,” Furmanek said. “Without interpreters present, mistakes can happen and they can be costly and tragic.”

In order to be effective, medical interpreters must not only be fluent in a second language but know a great deal of medical terminology, have good memory recall, understand ethics and cultural sensitivities, and be accurate and precise in interpreting and translating medical information. They also must not omit or filter information exchanged between a doctor and a patient.

Beginning this year, Wake Forest will offer an M.A. in Interpreting and Translation Studies with three options for track of study. One is Intercultural Services in Healthcare, which the Winston-Salem, N.C., university says is the first such specialization in the United States; it prepares students for managerial careers in areas of culture-sensitive health care delivery. Another track, Teaching of Interpreting, will be the only one in the Northern Hemisphere educating faculty for college-level interpreting programs.

“It’s not enough to know anatomy and biology to be a doctor, so why would simply being bilingual be enough to be a medical interpreter?” said Furmanek. “Medical interpreters are professionals who are part of the health care team.”

Age management services

The first group of Baby Boomers turns 65 in 2011. It is the beginning of an aging wave being called "the silver tsunami." In fact, the number of Americans 65 and older will double between 2010 and 2050, and the number of those at least 85 will increase fourfold.

This new set of aging and moneyed boomers presents big opportunities for small businesses.

Richard Allman, a professor at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, said the need for specialized caregivers for geriatrics extends beyond physicians to include nurses, therapists, dietitians, social workers and community caregivers.

Furthermore, there will be all sorts of business opportunities for people in a variety of related fields, from technology to product design to architecture.

“The boomers have always gotten what they want when they want it, with the demographic numbers to push society to accede to their demands,” Andrew Duxbury, a UAB geriatrician, said. “They are not a generation to sit back and let history roll over them. They’ll go out and make their own history.”

Duxbury suggests that the average boomer who reaches 65 in reasonable health will remain healthy and active well into his or her 80s and may live into the early 90s.

Many business owners have already entered the market in response to this trend.

"People living longer is changing the business of aging. There are a gazillion opportunities out there,” said Susan Towers, vice president of sales and marketing for Omhu, a company that designs stylish but functional products for older people.

Event planners

Like hungry bears awakening from hibernation, businesses will be eager this year to get back to schmoozing. Event planners are just the people to make it happen.

"As companies slowly come out of the recession, it is now more important than ever to see your customer, motivate your team or allow people to experience the 'serendipity' effect of the randomness of the events,” said David Adler, founder and CEO of BizBash Media, an event-planning publication based in New York.

Adler said event planners have to have an artistic eye as well as a talent for organizing.

“Event planning has become an important art form as well as a skill. The bar has been raised, and when you take the time to create a face-to-face event, it better work perfectly and be effective,” he told BusinessNewsDaily.

It's not a one-person job, he added. You'll need employees, even if only part-timers.

“Event planning is also one of those businesses that doesn't scale that easily. You actually need a person at each event who is responsible.  If a detail falls through the cracks — like the food not showing up, the AV not working, or check-in is a mess — then it reflects poorly on the company in more ways than just one 'off' incident,” Adler said.

While the demand for event planners may grow, you should be prepared for clients who have limited budgets.

“You have to speak to your clients realistically and come up with great concepts but scale them back to fit budgets. Just have to work more creatively,” said Matt Toubin of Shine Events, who has worked with Paul McCartney, Joan Lunden and a number of National Basketball Association stars.

Toubin’s advice? Be a good listener and be organized.

“Understand what they are trying to accomplish, then go out and give them creative, sensible concepts that will deliver what they are looking for,” Toubin said.


With the legalization of gay marriage in some states, the prevalence of civil unions and the general desire of people to find a unique way to mark and celebrate special events, there’s a growing demand for professional celebrants.

Celebrants are part event planner and part spiritual adviser. They help people create ceremonies to mark events including marriage, divorce, birth and death. They officiate at all types of ceremonies and rituals of life, including baby namings,  adoption ceremonies, coming-of-age ceremonies, civil unions, commitment ceremonies, community and corporate events, funerals and memorials.

While the field is occupied mainly by people doing it part time or as a second job, celebrants are professionals "who believe in the power and effectiveness of ceremony and ritual to serve basic needs of society and the individual,” according to the website of Celebrant USA, a training school based in  New Jersey. “They collaborate with their clients to create and perform personalized ceremonies that reflect the clients’ beliefs, philosophy of life and personalities.”

According to Celebrant USA, there are more than 3,000 professional celebrants worldwide. The fees charged by most range from a few hundred dollars for a basic ceremony to thousands of dollars for a complete event-planning service.

No official licensing or certification is required to officiate over most events, but states will require you to be licensed to officiate at weddings. Requirements for that certification vary by state.

In general, to be a celebrant, “you have to be good listener, be empathic, open-minded, good attention to detail,” said Sarah Ritchie, a New York-based celebrant who performed more than 100 wedding ceremonies last year.

Ritchie suggested a firm grounding in cultural anthropology, comparative religion, good organization skills, and proficiency in PR, marketing and communications. She said the industry is getting a lot of women embarking on second careers, many of them from the “helping professions.”


Pets are getting a lot of love from the travel industry lately. An increasing number of hotels are welcoming them, and even RV rental companies are catering to pet owners.

However, sometimes pet owners just need to go away without their furry loved ones. That’s where pet sitters come in.

The business has grown in popularity in the last couple of years, spawning pet-sitting franchise Home Buddies, owned by, as well as thousands of individually owned firms.

The growth doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Before jumping in with all paws, though, you should take a moment to assess the viability of your business idea.

“Drive around and see how many pets are out and about. Count 'invisible fence' signs. Determine the radius you are willing to travel. List how many vets, pet food stores and shelters are in your radius,” advised Jean and Richard Vollrath, the owners of Pet Watchers Plus, which has branches in Michigan and Utah.

Learning about the business is important, too.

“The very first thing I would advise any person who is thinking of opening a pet-sitting business is to go to work for another sitter," said Cindy Campione, who owns Florida-based Secure Home Solutions. "You’d be surprised at the number of people who think that pet-sitting is a no-brainer. After all, what more is there to it than going in and walking the dog? Well, the answer is: There is a lot more to it, and newbies who jump in with no previous experience can really have a rough time.”

Specialty Web designers

Web designer is already on the top 10 list of hot jobs in 2011, according to recruiting firm CyberCoders, which analyzed hiring statistics and 12,000 job listings.

But designers that specialize in creating websites for specialized industries or fields — for example, environmental services or artwork —will be in particular demand. Each industry will develop a specialized group of web designers who focus exclusively on its needs.

It's "critical to specialize in one industry. Going forward, that’s the only way you’re going to be able to stand above your competitors,” said Michael Ayalon, founder of, which has designed hundreds of websites for pet companies.

“People seek out specialized doctors. The same is true in web design,” Ayalon said. “People seek me out because of my expertise in pets. I’ve built up a name for myself.”

Offering specialized services also allows web designers to charge more.

“As a general web designer, there’s no reason to use me over someone else. Our skill sets are essentially the same,” he said. Because he specializes, “they are willing to pay a little bit more.”

Professional listener

“When people turn episodes from their lives into anecdotes, it’s not just to entertain friends,” said Dan McAdams, a Northwestern University psychology professor, in a recent issue of the American Psychological Association’s publication, The Monitor. “Stories allow us to make sense out of otherwise puzzling or random events."

However, not everyone who wants to talk over a life experience chooses (or can afford) to see a therapist or psychiatrist. So there is a new field developing: informal “listening” businesses that provide listening, feedback and life coaching to their clients.

One such company, The Availability Group, provides one-on-one listening services to its clients.

Clients can contact the Chicago-based company through its website. Josh Samuels, who created the company, offers clients a sliding pay scale that ranges from $10 to $75 per session, which he conducts by phone.

“Sometimes it’s just people venting,” said Samuels, who considers his occupation more of a free-lance gig than a formal business and who emphasizes that he has no therapy degree or license. “Sometimes it’s people with businesses who have different issues they are struggling with, looking for ideas, problem-solving approaches, fresh input.”

Why would someone choose to consult with a stranger rather than a licensed therapist or professional counselor?

“For some people it’s about money,” Samuels said. “In other cases, they want a more casual, less formal, relaxed relationship.”

Jeanette Mulvey Member
<p>Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter <a href="" target="_blank">@jeanettebnd</a>.</p>