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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I live in an apartment complex that limits how many cats or dogs a person can have, but not aquariums. Sometimes when I'm low on money I think about putting up an ad for helping people design, set up, and/or maintain their tank. While it sounds like fun, I'm not sure how to do it.

If I limited myself to just cleaning people's tanks, I could just charge by the hour or by tank size and that would keep things simple. But I would have to worry about transferring fish diseases from one tank to the next and not spilling water everywhere. I might also be liable if their fish or plants die because I forgot to plug in their filter or something.

Acting as a consultant to design an aquascape (with real or fake plants) or set up a new tank would be trickier. I'm no master scaper, but I'm sure I can do a good enough job to impress a newbie, and with practice I would inevitably get better. But I might end up turning people off the hobby entirely because of sticker shock (most people don't realize a 10g costs $100+ before decor or fish).

Then there's the legal side. I already have a part-time job that covers my bills, this would only be on the side. Would I still have to go through the hassle of registering as a business or would it be okay to just state the additional income on my taxes each year? I checked out a couple library books on starting a business and it seems like way too much effort for something this minor. I mean, my 'investment' would probably take less than $200. But if I did 4 - 10 tanks a week at $10-25 each, that would be $160 - 1000 each month, which is probably enough to get me in trouble if I accidentally break some business law.

I keep coming back to this idea and I really want to know if I could pull it off. My family has a lot of chronic health conditions and the extra money would make things a lot easier on us. But I don't want to waste my time dreaming about something unlikely to work.
 

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I know a couple guys that pay someone to regularly maintain their tanks, but ones doing the maintenance are people with jobs in aquaria. I doubt the average aquarist would hire someone to maintain their tanks. Most people wouldn't find that service worth cost, can't afford it, or just want to do that aspect themselves. Rich people that can't be bothered to gain knowledge on aquaria or do the work themselves (just want a tank to look at fish), might hire someone, but I doubt they would hire just any guy, they would probably seek service from an actual company that specializes in doing so (those services do exist, at least in my area). Aquascaping might have more interest, but I still think not many would even look to see if that service is available, and I doubt there is many potential customers.

Just not a booming market, so I doubt you would even get to do 2 tanks a week, especially at first, I so honestly don't think those numbers/figures are realistic. Just not enough potential customers/profit to be made. I think you are better off just growing plants everywhere and selling locally (classifieds), to your fish stores, and online. Could also breed some fish. That's what I plan on doing to make back some of the money I've spent on the hobby.

Just helping to reason it out. Hope things get better for your family. Believe me, I can relate.
 

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most people consider this a hobby and as with any hobby, you tend to do it yourself.
I think there is an opportunity for your services with businesses, not hobbyists.
I have seen several fish tanks in restaurants, and my dentist's office, places like that will definitely be willing to pay someone to take care of their tanks.

as far as registering an LLC or corp goes, you can worry about that when you start generating some real income. the IRS is not going to come after you for a few hundred bucks.
 

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Here in Georgia I ran into someone whom has such a business. He told me that a lot of people start aquariums and get tired of taking care of their aquariums and hire him. I sent him a message with the link to your thread. Perhaps he will answer.

So much info on water change makes many think you have to change the water weekly. Thus most do water changes weekly. Many do not have the time to do that so then they hire someone to do it.
 

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I see it out here in Cali. I mean many mom and pop stores have 1 or 2 people in the store that help with that sort of design layout to even help with clean of the tank. honestly its up to you if you say your family has as many medical things as you say then you should get out of the fish hobby and put money towards those bills. not trying to sound rude or a jerk but why not take the risk and put the add out there and see if any one bites i mean whats the most you are going to loose out on any ways? investing and starting a business isn't cheap but what is cheap now a days.. honestly do some more research and see what is out there and see what people would bit..plus if your just a local with good word of mouth a lot can be under the table if your smart about it. but if your trying to go full blown operation then get ready in a chunk of money for the risk..I say see how many people bit on to your cleaning operation once you start getting a lot or to many customers then think about going into business if not many people or none bit then no harm no foul has been done..
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I would love to hear from him, thanks!

There might not be much interest in my apartment, but I know there's a potential need because I've worked full time before and barely had enough energy to keep my own tank clean. Not to mention there are a lot of people who don't even think of it as a hobby - they get some goldfish for their kids or something and the parents end up doing the maintenance. A lot of people use stuff like disposable filter cartridges, algacides, and pH up/down, which I imagine make water changes a hassle. For $10 a week they might like clean glass, clear water, and peace of mind without all the fuss.

I know there might not be much interest, but even one client would give me an extra $40 a month, which is almost two tanks of gas. I won't know if I have any clients until after I give it a shot, so let me rephrase the question:

Assume there were four people sitting in my complex wishing someone would clean their tanks. What would I need to do before I could work for them, and what might make me wish I hadn't even tried?
 

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Just start, do it. No, you won't get everything perfect at the start, no one does.
Put up a flier or two. But make sure you have tests for water quality on hand, as well as small water pumps, maybe a few hoses, siphons, a wheelie bin, a few medicines, etc...
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
honestly its up to you if you say your family has as many medical things as you say then you should get out of the fish hobby and put money towards those bills.
Missed your post, sorry. The money in my tank was spent when I could afford to spend it. Before I moved to this apartment I had twelve tanks. I sold them all on Craigslist and have used that money along with birthday/Christmas gifts to pay for the one 5.5g I have now. I pay about $20 a year for excel and prime and have had the same plants/fish since setup.

Until January, we were doing pretty well, but my health insurance went up by $100/month and my hours have gone down. There a few other things, but it's mainly those two that have thrown everything else out of whack. We aren't broke, I have savings, but I have to dip into them more and more lately and I don't want to wait until they're gone to take action.

I'm not afraid of hard work or getting dirty, and I know I'm good with people. I think I could do it, but I feel like I can't see the potential problems, so I can't plan any solutions. And of course I don't want to invest money in equipment and not get any takers.
 

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Put up a flier or two.
First make certain that the city will permit you to put out flyers or you could get fined.

I have a small business. The con is the self-employment tax is 3xs my fed tax. So check out how much you can make before you have to pay taxes on it. Then check out what a sole proprietorship license cost.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Yeah, the taxes are what I'm worried about. I tried to look some of it up, but my eyes keep glazing over. There's the self-employment tax, federal taxes, state taxes, licensing fees, insurance... How does anyone start a single-person part-time freelance business? They'd need to go into debt just to hire a tax advisor to tell them if their business would make enough to cover the cost of an accountant. (Kidding. Sort of. Please tell me it's not that bad.)

I think what I'd be doing is a cross between pet sitting and house cleaning. Possibly gardening/design if I tried to help set up tanks. I've been looking for info on how people in these professions manage red tape, but I haven't found much yet. Do stay at home moms really register as a business just to clean neighbors' houses for a few hours a week?
 

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They probably have a phone number... Will take care of your questions.
I am sure they are doing everything to encourage new business.
Don't get scared before you start. You could put up flyers at the vet, at the pet shop etc... places it makes the most sense, and the least effort. (ask permission)

I am encouraging you, as am planning something similar. There is nobody doing that kind of thing in my area, despite their being a number of pet shops. Most don't know their donkey from their elbow when it comes to fish. I'd prefer commercial installations and offices, places that are easier to access in office hours, and willing to spend a bit more than a lazy hobbyist.

But remember people are going to pone you when they gave up, so it will be dirty tanks, or sick fish you need to deal with. Go prepared, have medicine, have purigen, dechlorinator, carbon, all the tools of the trade. Invest in a few hospital tank setups you can rent out.

Busy sorting all my water testing chemicals as well as laboratory checks for those willing to pay. Also getting new equipment as indicated. I'd like to be able to leave a fish net with each individual tank for instance to avoid cross contamination. Siphons etc. are easy to deal with if you just store it in salt based baby bottle steriliser. I'll start worrying about tax once it makes more than it costs to run. Noone is going to come busting your chops because you made $400.
 

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You should call your state or county department of taxation and just ask them what's required to be considered a small business and to register- they should answer your questions. I've tried out a small home business. The business license cost depends on what you make in a year- I think I paid $30- but it's only required if you make a certain amount of income. It didn't really work out for me, I made so little in prior years that I'm now considered a hobbyist. So I report it as supplementary income -still have to pay taxes on it, but not quite as complicated. I had a DBA and paid quarterly taxes and my own self-employment tax and all that before. It wasn't worth it for me to pay an accountant- I looked a bunch of stuff up and made phone calls to figure out how to handle it.

(My little venture had nothing to do with fishkeeping, by the way)
 

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I have been self employed for years, and the most important thing is to keep all of your receipts for everything that you buy for your business. Keep all of the receipts organized, even just a simple envelope so they are all in one place. Also, if you are going to drive to locations, keep a mileage log. Just a little notebook in your car, and mark down the mileage before you leave, and the mileage when you get home, so you can calculate the mileage for that trip. Keep all gas receipts, car repair receipts, etc. You can write off a percentage of car expenses if you use your car for business. But, it is essential to keep the log, so that you can provide proof. You can get software to keep track of your business income and expenses, or you can do it the old fashioned way and just get some paper with columns and put it in a three ring binder, and write down everything that you do. Simple bookkeeping. And, good luck, I hope it all works out!
 

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I know of an individual in the DC area.
He cleans a friend of mine's tank 4 times a year for $50.
Vacuums gravel, changes half a tank of water, tests all parameters, adds some gh booster, and runs a diatom filter for about 1 hour to polish it up. While running the filter they drink a few beers and he's done.
My friend also provides the beers.

I believe he works in a LFS, maybe that is his source of customer base.

I doubt he claims anything, cash only, no receipts.
Kind of like cutting grass or shoveling snow when we were kids.
 

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Yeah, the taxes are what I'm worried about. I tried to look some of it up, but my eyes keep glazing over. There's the self-employment tax, federal taxes, state taxes, licensing fees, insurance... How does anyone start a single-person part-time freelance business? They'd need to go into debt just to hire a tax advisor to tell them if their business would make enough to cover the cost of an accountant. (Kidding. Sort of. Please tell me it's not that bad.)

I think what I'd be doing is a cross between pet sitting and house cleaning. Possibly gardening/design if I tried to help set up tanks. I've been looking for info on how people in these professions manage red tape, but I haven't found much yet. Do stay at home moms really register as a business just to clean neighbors' houses for a few hours a week?
You can not be certain yet if it will take off. First figure a name that covers an all around home service. Then get permission to put fliers out in your area. If your net earnings are 400 or more you need to get a business license and file taxes. To deal with taxes I found H&R Block software the best. It was better than the service I got at H&R block office. Plus it cost way less. Write down the mileage of your car when you start and keep track of your mileage. Using your home as business base you can count mileage.

Some whom do home service like babysitting do not report what they make. It will bite them in the end. Reporting my earning has doubled my SS retirement.

I am still not certain if I am making more working for myself but I love my job, private home care. I have a sole proprietorship license which cost me $100. The H&R software cost $50. My self-employment tax is 3xs my federal tax.
 

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I have done several small businesses at times and find one thing in common for most. The taxes.licenses, rules are not the hard part for me. There are many ways to get the correct taxes paid. First rule that many people break is a no brainer for me. If you don't want trouble, pay the taxes! Tons of ways to figure what is owed and it can be as simple as buying a program to figure it for you. When/if it gets big enough to have major questions, you will also have major income to pay for the extra help. Meanwhile you can just go low and slow and pay what is owed. Cheating is for the big guys who can hire people to bail them out.
Meanwhile, the major question when I look at business is not so much involved with the operation but the dealing with the public. Do you have lots of public service experience? I find it difficult to deal with the general public until I know where to draw the line. There are those who feel it fair to push the limits and you will have to be ready to drop them as customers or be ready to lose money in dealing with them. Jerks are everywhere and you will find yourself dealing with them so you will have to be ready.
I would look at your circle of friends, etc. to start. Pick a few to work with and see how it goes. As you find what works, you can adapt. That is what life is about, is it not?
 

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There are those who feel it fair to push the limits and you will have to be ready to drop them as customers or be ready to lose money in dealing with them. Jerks are everywhere and you will find yourself dealing with them so you will have to be ready.
That reminds me of a cleaning job I had. I was talked into buying some cleaning products from a company the client was involved with. It was decided to exchange the cost of products for the job. After I ordered the products she changed the job. Thus I ended up owing her. I dropped her and paid her.

Information I read about starting private care suggest to get in writing duties. I didn't but I have a great client whom does not abuse me. Also I have a lot of free time on the job so I do work not asked to do.
 

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People who feel appreciated do more than what one expects from them.
 

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Taxes, rules and regs. - Go to the Small Business Administration. It's a start. They get paid to help and answer questions.

Here's a decent read: How to Start an Aquarium Maintenance Company | Chron.com

The insurance thing is tricky. Make sure you're clear about consequential damages. People will install an aquarium in the weirdest places and hire someone to take care of it; thinking everything is covered by insurance.

A LFS near where I work was bought by a tank building and maintenance company. They installed a 500G SW tank in the entrance lobby of a Wall Street investment firm. The day they filled it, one of the guys stands in front of the tank to admire their work. In the blink of an eye, the front panel blows out and flattens him. 500G of SW rushed out onto the lobby and right down the elevator shaft. No, I have no idea how the insurance companies settled it, but it's a funny story to remember.

An example: I work for a small company whose CFO is fond of aquairums, SW especially. I installed it (120G) about 7 years ago but he agreed to hire someone to maintain it. The guy gets paid $125 a week to do a 20G water change, provide RO topoff water, scrape the glass, clean the skimmer and pump intakes.
 
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