By Laura Suchan
I first started thinking of setting up my own business while I was home on an extended maternity leave with my second son. My criteria was simple. I knew my venture had to be something I enjoyed which didn't necessitate a large outlay of capital. As well, it had to be flexible enough allowing me to spend as much time as possible with my family by setting my own hours. One thing I had always been interested in was writing and I had already invested in several seminars on freelance writing and setting up a writing business. However it was not until I faced going back to my job as a museum director that I began to seriously investigate combining my passions for history and writing into a home based business.
Drawing from my experience in the heritage field I soon realized there was a market for historical writing and research. I began to develop a business plan based on the idea of a historical writing business freelancing for groups and organizations who do not have the time or expertise to handle writing and research requirements. I will research, compile, verify, write and publish commemorative booklets and other publications for community organizations, churches and businesses (to name a few) celebrating anniversaries or other milestones. Often times community groups and organizations do not have the physical resources available to undertake these projects. My knowledge and experience earned in the local heritage field allows me to ferret out sources of information for virtually any research request. I have made myself familiar with the holdings of local museums, archives, libraries and private collections and will routinely turn to these sources for information for my writing projects.
One good thing about this particular business idea is it has many other applications which I am pursuing and which are adaptable to virtually anyone's hometown . For example one could produce a hometown history guide complete with a self guided walking tour of the town's historic quarter. Combine historical facts with interesting anecdotes about the people, buildings and events along the route. Market these guides to local businesses who would probably be willing to sell the guides to tourists (or even local town folk) or take out small ad space for a fee. I am currently working on both a tour and an educational program of a local cemetery which will look at how to "read" a gravestone and the meanings behind the symbols adorning the stones. The graveyard program will be suitable for any age from elementary school children through to adults. The local chamber of commerce or tourism centre would be a great place to advertise your walkabout services. Invest in a time appropriate costume to wear. It really adds to the tour.
You could form a partnership with your local museum or historical society. Offer to lead historical walkabouts of your town or cemetery using your guide and charge a fee for your services. Most heritage organizations, forever short on money and staffing resources, would welcome the opportunity to form a partnership with you. The organization would likely handle the advertising and the registrations for a percentage of the fees. Such tours have proven to be a great success in our town. Another idea is to organize a specific tour around a holiday. For example Halloween is a great choice because you can include supposedly haunted sites or a cemetery. Market your tours to local senior centres, schools and community organizations including girl guide and scout troops.
Other things to keep in mind;
Develop a business plan. This will force you to focus your thoughts and expectations.
Do your research. Find out what groups will be celebrating milestones in the current year and present ideas of how to commemorate the event.
I cannot stress enough the importance of verifying your information. CHECK, CHECK and RECHECK all your facts and do not include local rumors unless you qualify them as such. Nothing will cause you to lose your credibility quicker than a bunch of untruths or half-truths.
Make yourself known to the heritage organizations in your community. They will be a great marketing resource.
Constantly update and change your tours and presentations to avoid becoming stale. Obtain a copy of the school curriculum for your area and design programs around specific areas. For example, if the grade 4's examine pioneer culture develop a program about early settlers or do buttermaking or candlemaking demonstrations.
Although my business is still in the planning and development phase my plan is to be fully independent of my full time job later this year. I hope my experience will encourage other "bizymoms" to discover their past and utilize it to enjoy a profitable home based business.