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7 hot businesses to start now

Firearm instructor

trending jobs gun range
Alecs Dean’s shooting range in Fort Myers, Fla.
  • Thumbtack searches: 7,083 in 2014, up from 2,550 in 2013
  • Businesses listed: 304 in 2014, up from 175 in 2013

Firearm training is in high demand both from people who just want to learn how to shoot and those who want to become instructors.

In the past year, searches for firearm instructors have tripled on, a site that connects more than 400,000 small businesses and freelancers with prospective customers.

Alecs Dean offers several NRA-certified courses at his range in Fort Myers, Fla. He and two part-time assistance teach a full-day basic training course with work in the classroom and on the gun range. They also offer a four-day course for instructors-to-be. Dean will teach classes anywhere in the country for a fee. His school is open seven days a week, and brings in about $75,000 a year.

Women are a big driver of the increased business, Dean said. Two-thirds of his clients were women last year, compared to just a third five years ago.

“They’re the single biggest growth market by far,” he said.


Paranormal investigator

paranormal investigator shamus denniston
Paranormal investigator Shamus Denniston
  • Thumbtack searches: 1,539 in 2014, up from 631 in 2013
  • Businesses listed: 278 in 2014, up from 147 in 2013

Think you have a ghost? You’re not alone, judging by the amount of people who seek out paranormal investigators.

Part of the increase is due to their presence in pop culture, said Shamus Denniston, a paranormal investigator in Connecticut.

“There are many reality shows about paranormal activity,” he said. “While they’re helping to raise awareness, they can also create misunderstandings about what it is.”

In 2010, he formed a group with other experienced individuals who perform paranormal investigations for no charge.

“The only time we charge a fee is when someone wants to do a tag-along to understand what we do,” he said. “I consider this a labor of love. It’s my way of helping people.”

Denniston, who works full time as a college security officer, investigates homes, historic locations and even college campuses. He uses instruments like audio visual equipment, electromagnetic field detectors and night vision cameras.

“When someone says there’s a spirit in the house, 90% of the time it’s not the case,” he said. “When it’s true, it’s usually a human spirit that’s there for some reason and we try to find out.”


Wardrobe consultant

quirky startup wardrobe consultant
Blane Charles
  • Thumbtack searches: 16,570 in 2014, up from 6,959 in 2013
  • Businesses listed: 963 in 2014, up from 546 in 2013

Blane Charles, a wardrobe consultant in New York, said he’s busier than ever as the economy improves.

“People are finding jobs, they’re happier and they’re paying attention to how they present themselves,” he said.

It’s a relief, especially after he struggled to gain traction for his startup, which he launched in 2009 in the midst of the downturn.

A former model and dancer, Charles worked as a personal shopper at Barneys for nine years before he decided to go solo. “I was fortunate that I had word-of-mouth referrals and my loyal clients from Barneys stuck with me,” he said.

Charles charges up to $225 an hour to revamp wardrobes and help people find their personal style. His clients range from single moms starting their own businesses to artists, socialites and fashion designers.

“To be successful at this, you have to stay on top of trends,” he said. “But you also have to respect people and be sensitive to their needs.”


Costume character 

quirky startups costume character
Shelly Dean-Leff
  • Thumbtack searches: 5,796 in 2014, up from 2,550 in 2013
  • Businesses listed: 368 in 2014, up from 172 in 2013

Shelly Dean-Leff’s skills are in hot demand at kids’ birthday parties, bar mitzvahs and even corporate events.

For Dean-Leff, working as a face painter, balloon artist and clown easily beats her previous part-time job at an insurance company, which made her feel like she was wasting her talent.

“I studied graphic design in college,” she said. “I paint, I do ceramics. I’ve been artistic my whole life.”

So last year, Dean-Leff decided to test the waters and posted a Craigslist ad for her services in the New York City area. “Right away, business started coming,” she said.

She charges $100 an hour, and is often booked from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. She can make as much as $4,000 a month.

“The money’s great, but I also love doing what I want to and being around kids,” she said.

Bee removal expert

quirky startups beekeeper
  • Thumbtack searches: 1,043 in 2014, up from 417 in 2013
  • Businesses listed: 411 in 2014, up from 203 in 2013

When you think of pest control, it’s usually for roaches, bedbugs and rodents. Busting beehives doesn’t immediately come to mind.

But bee removal is increasingly in demand, especially when the weather turns warm and wet. So Jesus Freijeiro keeps his Los Angeles business open seven days a week from April through July.

Freijeiro started the business in 2010 after working with another bee removal company for five years. “It’s usually just me, but I hire help when it gets very busy,” he said.

He gets calls about bees flying around in attics, empty wall spaces and commercial buildings, as well as about hives hanging from trees. He doesn’t kill the bees but donates them to local beekeepers.

It’s dangerous work. “We wear hats and gloves to protect ourselves from stings,” he said. Sometimes he has to break open walls to remove hives.

Most visits take an hour or two, and he charges $100 to $150 per visit.


Voice-over coach

quirky startups sally blake
Sally Blake
  • Thumbtack searches: 2,084 in 2014, up from 1,016 in 2013
  • Businesses listed: 1,340 in 2014, up from 852 in 2013

If you’re particularly good at public speaking and have a distinctive voice, you might have a shot at voice-over work.

Sally Blake, 57, started training for voice-over work a few years before she retired from 26 years as a firefighter.

“People would often compliment me on my speaking skills. And I’ve always had an interest in acting,” she said. “That’s a big part of voice-over work.”

Blake, who lives in Tacoma, Wash., took online courses, private coaching and prepared a demo before launching as a voice-over artist in 2008. She also invested in equipment and a home studio.

Over the years, Blake’s voice has been featured in commercials, podcasts, audio books and public service announcements. In the last five years, Blake said she’s seen more people getting into voice-over work.

“It’s something you can do from home and it can be lucrative,” she said. “Besides firefighting, this is the most fun I’ve had.”


Dove handler 

trending jobs a doves nest
Dove’s Nest, an Atlanta-based company, provides dove releasing services for weddings and other events.
  • Thumbtack searches: 315 in 2014, up from 129 in 2013
  • Businesses listed: 28 in 2014, up from 17 in 2013

If you’ve dreamed of doves at your wedding, you’re in good company. Thumbtack searches for dove releasing services at special events have more than doubled since last year.

Nancy Cole and her husband Charlie, a Vietnam veteran who’s trained birds for 50 years, launched their dove-releasing business near Atlanta in 2004.

“It happened because of a dream,” said Cole, who was working as a baker at the time. “I dreamed I had released a white dove in a field of flowers. It felt so peaceful.”

She shared the dream with Charlie, who told her about businesses that released white doves for special occasions.

“I looked into it and everything fell into place,” she said. Cole and her husband work full time on their business, which has 40 birds that they keep in a specially constructed loft on their property.

They provide the birds for about 200 releases a year, charging $175 to $225 per event in the Atlanta area. Their firm, A Dove’s Nest, makes $30,000 annually.



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