For Doris Del Valle, the founder of Borough Excursions, what began as a casual and fun way to make some extra money on the side evolved into a full-time entrepreneurial venture. After a few months of driving around out-of-town guests, friends and family to show them the sights of her Queens, New York borough, she decided to take her side gig to the next level. She drafted a business plan and, earlier this year, won a $12,000 grant from the Queens Economic Development Corporation. From there, she upgraded her vehicle to a 14-passenger van and expanded her business to offer a variety of guided tours and customized travel services all over Queens. By summer 2011, Borough Excursions became official.
In today's uncertain economy making some extra income by launching a side business may sound appealing, but without start-up capital, you may be limited to your existing skills and assets. Del Valle, however, proves there's one asset you may not even realize you can leverage: your car. It could be the driving force behind your next big idea.
Here are some tips for turning your car into dollar signs.
First, understand that your car can be an actual business, not just a business expense. The vehicle you take to and from your job and occasionally use for work is generally considered to be a tax write-off, as long as you keep track of your business-related miles. But, if your income is tied directly to your vehicle, you'll need to get the required licenses, permits and registrations.
For example, if you start a business that involves moving or delivering goods in a truck or cargo van, you'll need a commercial driver's license. Check to see what permits may be needed in your city or state. The same goes for if you want to become a personal driver or start a taxi service. Check local regulations. Many cities have a taxi commission that requires a permit. Operating without one could land you fines, as will carrying more than 6-8 passengers at a time without permission.
For other services like running errands or being a personal assistant, services for which you assume all liability, you won't need any special permits or a business license...at least, not yet.
"Once individuals or business partners promote themselves under a company name, if they hire employees or become a vendor to another company, or begin making substantial income — that's when you know it's time to register your business," says Frank Mora of the Queens Economic Development Corporation. Consider filing for an employer identification number with the IRS, and register your business with your Department of State or local county clerks office. Also, use your local Economic Development office so you don't have to navigate all these rules and regulations alone.
Other popular businesses that depend on a car include a paper route, a laundry valet and driver's education, where you offer driving lessons, a ride to the DMV or even a car rental to those taking their driver's test.
In all cases, just make sure you're taking care of your business's number one asset and have both insurance and a plan B if your vehicle fails. "My van is the core of my business. I have a mechanic I work with on a consistent basis. Maintenance is a big part of [my car], and if it ever breaks down, I do work with a rental company so I have a back-up car in case," says Del Valle, who also keeps a fire extinguisher and first aid kit in her car just in case.
Del Valle also chooses to wrap her vehicle in her own company's branding, so that she can drive around and advertise her business at the same time. How's that for having your car work for you?