Computers, plus the necessary software and peripherals, have never been as affordable as they are now.
If you are considering purchasing one, remember that although it may be costly in the short term, the income you can generate as a result should pay for your hardware many times over and create a hefty profit too! Here are more opportunities from which you can earn cash from your computer. Each can be lucrative on its own, but you may wish to combine two or more of the ideas.
Also included is a list of useful books and addresses. So get reading and discover how you and your computer can really forge a money making partnership!
1. Customised Form Production
Businesses require standard forms and stationery of various kinds, such as headed note paper, invoices, compliment slips, order forms and delivery notes. Many go without because they don't have the necessary time or expertise, or because going to a printer requires a large and expensive print run.
These forms can be easily and cheaply produced using a good quality word processing package such as Microsoft Word, or a desktop publishing program such as Aldus Pagemaker or Quark Express. These are the leading programs, although there are lots of others you can use.
Produce a standard version of each type of form. You can then modify them according to each client's requirements, printing them out using a laser printer.
Begin by studying examples of these forms and produce your own standard ones. You could incorporate companies' existing logos with the document, perhaps placing them within the document using a scanner, or you could create simple company logos for your clients if required.
Market your service to local companies, perhaps by advertising in the local press and business publications. Sending out promotional leaflets is a good idea, as is marketing via the Internet.
When you have more experience you could produce a wider variety of print, such as posters (often used to advertise events like jumble sales, markets, theatre performances and coffee mornings), party invitations, menus and leaflets. Setting up a print shop will attract the general public as well as business clients. A useful hint is to purchase patterned or textured paper specially designed to go through a laser printer - this will make your forms look more attractive and professional.
You could also produce certificates, which are used all the time at school and work, such as for winning a sporting event, reaching a sales target or completing a course. These are easy to produce using WP or DTP software, and you can charge between £1 and £5 per A4 sized certificate. If you frame it too, you can charge more.
2. Letter Writing Service
Letter writing services have taken off massively in the USA and the same could happen here. Different types of letter might be required for different occasions/receivers, but each style of letter tends to use a standard format. Sales letters, complaint letters, payment demands, job and grant applications, even thank you letters - a standard version of each one could be saved on computer and modified according to each client.
Start by perfecting each standard letter - several books are available that outline standard letters for a variety of situations - and save them on computer. Promote yourself to local businesses by advertising in suitable publications, or contact them directly by letter, leaflet or telephone. At the same time contact community groups to generate non business work.
3. Business Card Printing
If you have a computer with a printer and WP or DTP software, printing out business cards is a simple process. Printers and instant print shops can take hours to even days to print them, but it is a service you can perform in just a few minutes.
Make sure that your software has a range of font sizes and typefaces so that you can make each card look a little different. Again, it is worth using specially coloured and textured customised laser printer stationery to provide the personal touch. A suitable guillotine can be had for around £75.
The business market is an obvious one, but this is another service you may want to offer to the general public at markets, boot sales and other public events. Fake business cards make an excellent gift - you could produce fun ones like "Dad's taxi service", "Mum's Cordon Bleu Cooking", or "Best Grandma in the World".
4. Accounts and Spreadsheet Services
All businesses need to produce some form of accounts. For small traders, it will only be necessary to record a few details by hand in an accounts book for tax purposes, but for most businesses it will be far more efficient to produce computerised accounts using a specialised accounts package like Sage, or a spreadsheet program such as Quattro, Excel or Lotus 123.
Computerised accounts are much quicker and more efficient. Important bills like wages, National Insurance and VAT can be calculated virtually at the touch of a button, removing mathematical headaches at the end of the month, and less filing cabinet space is required. A further advantage is that the data can be modified to produce extremely useful management accounts, enabling managers to know how each sector of their business is doing.
Using these accounts packages is easy for someone who is numerate and has basic computer knowledge. So, setting up a service producing computerised accounts on behalf of other businesses is a lucrative and simple to start opportunity, especially if you already have bookkeeping experience.
Aim your service at small to medium sized businesses, preferably ones that don't use computers. It is worth advertising in local newspapers, although posting leaflets (or handing them in, in person) to targeted companies may be a more efficient marketing method. You only need to take on the bookkeeping for a handful of businesses and you have a full time job on your hands!
5. Computerised Expense Analysis
If you're skilled in the financial area you could provide an expense analysis service, helping clients to track and analyse their monthly expenditure and giving them 'what to do' recommendations. It is an essential business service, helping to control cash flow headaches and maximising profits.
Finance packages such as Quiken are very helpful, and particularly useful for personal finances, but any spreadsheet or financial software will do. WP or graphics software is also useful to produce reports.
6. Database Handling
Computer databases are a sophisticated way of storing, filing and handling information. Businesses have to file information, like customers names and addresses, details of clients, suppliers or competitors.
Of course, this can be done using a simple filing card system, but the advantage with using a computer database is that huge amounts of records can be stored, found and updated at the touch of a button. So instantly a manager might be able to see how many clients he has got, where they live and what they have purchased in the past. Databases are an important business tool, but a huge amount of businesses, perhaps through ignorance or the time or cost involved in setting them up, do not use them.
Offering a database handling service might therefore be a useful money maker. Software like Filemaker Pro, FoxPro, Dbase or Access is relatively cheap to purchase and simple to use. You could set up databases to handle a company's records, inputting details and producing file reports when required, working either on an in-house basis, or using your own computer to store companies records. Again, newspaper advertising may be beneficial, but targeting and leafleting selected companies will be a more efficient form of marketing.
7. Handling Business Mailings
There are various spin off services you can offer. Database software (as well as some WP and integrated office programs) has a mail merge facility, which is extremely useful for various reasons. A standard letter could be written and using the database records, details like customer names and addresses could be automatically inserted into key areas within the letter. You can also print address labels: thousands of letters could be automatically addressed according to selected files on the database, saving the time and expense of typing or writing them out by hand. Bank statements and all sorts of promotional letters are produced in this way.
Many companies will wish to promote themselves using direct mail, but won't have the computer facilities or the time to do it. Offering a business mailing production and handling service will therefore be a useful service for you to offer other companies. All you need is database software with mailmerge facilities and a printer that can handle printing large amounts of letters and envelopes/address labels.
The best way to promote your service is to target small to medium sized companies that you think may want to send out large promotional mailings. Send them all a promotional letter to explain your service and telephone them in person to see if they are interested. You can generate valuable customers this way, and they will be able to see the benefits of your service at the same time.
8. Mailing List Supplies
This is another computer database spin-off. Companies very often keep their customer records on database, giving information on where they live and what they have ordered in the past. It is possible to profit from this information by selling customer names and addresses to other companies.
Firms like to purchase mailing lists because they target customers who have demonstrated a willingness to buy a related productive/service. They are an effective marketing tool and are bought and sold for big money. If you already possess a similar list of customers you could make money by selling it as a mailing list to another company. You could also buy mailing lists from all kinds of other sources and sell them on.
Alternatively, you could put together your own mailing lists. For example, you could go through the local Yellow Pages and put all the companies and their addresses onto a database (any other information, such as company size, products, contact names, might be useful too). Then, for example, if a company selling taps wanted to send a promotional mailing to all the local plumbers and DIY retailers, they could come to you and purchase a mailing list, or simply get you to handle the mailing.
Setting up this business is fairly simple and very lucrative. You could sell mailing lists by advertising in suitable publications, but again direct mail may be the most effective way to promote this service. Make sure each mailing list is current, and update them regularly.
9. Address Label Printing
A further database related business is printing address labels. It is extraordinarily time consuming to type out hundreds of address labels or write them out by hand. However, a computer with a printer set up to print out address labels could perform this task in just a few minutes. So why not set up a business charging people for this service?
The necessary computer equipment is not expensive, and address labels suitable for computer printers can be purchased cheaply from office equipment suppliers. Local businesses might form your main target market, so advertise in the local press and business publications.
Alternatively, you could promote your service to the general public, printing off labels featuring their own address, that they can put on letters, Christmas cards and so on. A small address label printing stall could be profitable at flea markets and boot sales.
10. Computer Business Bureau
Some or all of the services described previously could be provided in the form of a computer business bureau. This is a 'one stop shop' for customers wanting things like accounts, spreadsheets, database and letter writing and mailing services, business stationery, form design, and even fax/e-mail sending and web browsing facilities.
One possibility is to set up a High Street shop with computer terminals and associated software and computer peripherals. This is an expensive option, but you will benefit from the high visibility and accessibility of a High Street site. Alternatively, you could set up the same kind of service at home using a single PC, if you wished. The profits would be less, but as long as you are flexible and offer a range of services, businesses and other clients will come to rely on you and you can make money as a result.
11. Internet Access Provision
Providing access to the Internet looks set to be one of the business success stories of recent years. It is the current computer craze to get hooked up to the world wide web, surf the Internet and send e-mail messages. Of course, there are all kinds of advantages to be had from using the net, not least the marketing potential it offers.
Many companies and individuals would like to get involved in the Internet, but haven't the cash to invest in the equipment, or don't know how to set it up. One useful service you can provide, therefore, is to offer access to the Internet, allowing computer time in return for a small fee.
Using a small shop, an office, or even the front room of your house, you could set up one or more computers linked up to the Internet and charge clients by the hour to use them. You should be on hand to offer advice and information. Apart from the initial set up expenditure, day to day running costs will be very small and you can generate a significant income. Internet cafes work along these lines.
On the other hand, if you have more money to invest, you could set up as a large scale Internet Service Provider (ISP). An ISP acts as the computer link between the consumer at the end of the telephone line and the Internet itself. You'll need to lease a line (from a Leased Line Provider) to serve a large number of users with 24-hour Internet access, and you will need the necessary computer hardware and technical knowledge to handle them. Although it costs around £20,000 to £30,000 to set up as a full scale ISP, you can expect an annual income of around £90,000 to £180,000 if you can sign up around 500 to 1,000 dial up customers.
To really do well you need to offer good customer support and 24-hour, seven day access. The most popular time for using the Internet is outside business hours when phone calls are less expensive. If you can provide good customer support early on you will benefit as the popularity and capabilities of the Internet continues to grow.
This business will provide a huge income for anyone with the necessary technical know how. Because Internet services are usually payable by standing order it will generate a healthy cash flow, and its potential profitability is set to increase massively in the foreseeable future.
12. Killing Computer Viruses
Businesses can lose huge amounts of money as a result of a computer virus getting into their system. This means they will pay big money for people to come and get rid of them. Don't believe that this is necessarily a job for an expert though. Virus killing software is available from specialised software outlets, and is usually easy to use, requiring you to follow a simple list of instructions. Many virus killing programs are available as shareware too, so this service - at which you can earn up to £50 an hour - should be cheap to set up.
13. Selling Business Opportunities
If you've read the whole of this article, you might already be well on the way to setting up this business! You could set up a 'Making Cash From Your Computer' club, sending out a monthly newsletter covering computer related opportunities, along with advice, case studies, quizzes and so on.
Another option is to develop and market programs covering different business opportunities. You could send out a disk or CD containing word processed files that explain how to set up and run each business, along with standard letters and forms. You could even include a cash flow and profit/loss forecast so that potential entrepreneurs can monitor their income and profits. Market this service by advertising in business publications and newspapers.
14. Computer Teaching and Game-playing Weekends
Organising weekend breaks, where people can learn how to use a personal computer or play all the latest computer games, is an excellent potential earner.
The venue is the first thing to consider - your home will do if it is large enough, or a local community centre or school will be ideal. You'll need computer terminals and software too, and someone on hand to provide tutoring or offer technical support.
Put plenty of effort into publicising the event. Taking out advertisements or inserting leaflets into local and regional newspapers and magazines is one possibility. Select your publications carefully: computer teaching weekends will appeal more to people aged 30 plus, who perhaps have never properly been taught how to use a computer. Game-playing weekends, on the other hand, will be more attractive to young people. Placing leaflets in shops and handing them to passers by is another good idea.
Charge each guest around £10-£30 per hour. If your first event is a success, then your computing breaks should become increasingly popular - and profitable!
15. Home Computer Courses
If you have specialist computer knowledge it is well worth cashing in on this by providing computer courses. You could tutor people on a one to one basis in your (or their own) home, or set up a computer class at a local school, office or community centre. Devise different lessons that cover subjects like basic computing and programs such as word processing, desktop publishing and computerised bookkeeping.
Advertise locally to attract students. Another marketing possibility is to contact local businesses with the idea of going in to teach staff on a one off basis. Companies often need to train staff but can't afford to send them on a computing course. An in-house tutoring service represents a cost effective alternative.
16. Computer Correspondence Courses
Many people are looking for a hassle free way of learning more about computing. For people who either haven't the time or the available transport to visit a computer class, a computer correspondence course will solve their problems.
Ideally, you should send out your course in monthly instalments, each covering a particular topic. For example, Month A could cover basic computer use. Month B could cover word processing. Month C could cover spreadsheets, and so on. make your course materials as attractive as possible, perhaps by printing them out using WP and/or graphics software, and include plenty of exercises for your students.
Sell your course by placing ads in newspapers and magazines, and/or the Internet. These needn't be specialised computing publications - advertising in local newspapers may attract computer novices. It is a good idea to produce certificates for people who complete the course. You can charge course members upwards of £100 for 12 monthly sections.