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Money Making Ideas in San Francisco

February 2014 - By

I recently found my notes from a trip my wife and I took a few years ago, and what we saw is worth reporting on. We went to San Francisco to for several purposes, including a visit to Google's headquarters. The latter was fascinating. Workers were eating outdoors on the corporate "campus" with their families, playing volleyball, using bicycles that were provided by the company -- what a great place to work!

But enough about Google. As I always do when we travel, I spent some time observing how people were making money and looking for new business ideas. In the Fisherman's Wharf area there was a man in a sparkling robot-like costume walking around and talking to people using a voice-distorting device. I'm not sure what he was supposed to be, but he certainly attracted a lot of attention. We tipped him a dollar to take a photo with him. A family with kids had just done so a moment before. I suspect he had a pocket full of currency.

I first saw this kind of street performer in Banos Ecuador, where a man had painted his entire body gold. He looked something like a coin-operated robot. He stood on a box on a street corner, perfectly motionless until somebody dropped a coin in the slot. He would then start to move and twirl his staff. Once he stopped, someone from the crowd -- and there was soon a large gathering -- had to put more money in the "machine" to get him to start moving again. Ana and I contributed to this performer as well.

How much can a person make doing this on the streets of a big city or tourist area? It's difficult to say, as it is with all such cash businesses. Your costume could be expensive if you didn't make it yourself, but that's just about the only major expense. Of course tourist areas are the place to try this, and the busier they are the better. Because your "performance" is largely your appearance, this is perhaps one of the easiest ways to become a street performer.

Coin Collecting

Along the wharf in San Francisco we saw dozens of coins (a few dollars' worth) on top of the wooden posts sticking out of the water. These were next to the line where we waited for our boat tour to embark. Apparently people try to get a coin to land on the top of the posts for fun. A person could climb down and along the boards that connected the posts to collect the money, but it occurred to me that a hundred times as much must be laying at the bottom of the harbor. It isn't easy to throw a coin and have it stay atop a nine-inch wide piece of wood after all. It makes me wonder if anyone practices their scuba diving there.

Collecting coins from the many places where people throw them is perhaps a way to survive if someone was living on the street, but most of the time there isn't likely much to be made. This might have been an exception. In any case I do try to include any way to make money that I come across, without regard to how lucrative it is.

Selling One's Own CDs on the Street

We were walking one night in the North Beach area of San Francisco, and we asked for directions from a young man who was singing. With a speaker in a bag hanging from his side, he walked around making interesting sounds that were somewhat like music. It was entertaining, and after he walked a block with us to help us find the street we were looking for, we bought one of his $4 CDs.

How much did he might make as a street performer selling CDs on the street? Who knows, but perhaps it paid the bills or at least bought him groceries. Seeing this did trigger some other ideas. CDs can be made on a computer for less than a dollar, for example, and a person might record a narration for a tour of a city and sell it to tourists for $5. Customers could then drive around listening and learning about the things they're seeing. The recording could include information on the best restaurants and other attractions.

Used Car Market

Although we stayed nearby, we never did make it to the huge flea market in San Jose. The advertising for it included mention of cars for sale, which reminded me of another money making idea I read about a while back: a used car flea market.

Some people want to sell their cars and others want to buy them. One problem, though, is that it's a lot of work both for the seller to find prospective buyers and the buyer to travel all over looking at cars. One solution is a market place where sellers can sell their cars and buyers can therefore find many of them to look at in one place; a kind of used car flea market.

When I first heard of the idea it was in an article about a man who rented a lot on weekends where he charged owners $25 or so to display their cars. That's less than the cost of a classified newspaper ad in most cities. The entrepreneur advertised in local papers, bringing in hundreds of potential buyers. As I recall, he made a couple thousand dollars each weekend, and I imagine that sellers and buyers were happy to have this place.

With a business like this you could add various products and services. For example, you might charge to clean up a car for sale. For that you could find a mobile car "detailer" and take a percentage of the work he gets on your car lot. You could arrange with a mechanic to do inspections on the spot for buyers, and you would get a portion of his fee for this service. You could sell cold pop and snacks.

One final thought: One of the best ways to make money in San Francisco and the surrounding area might be to have a hotel. We thought our room was expensive during the week, when we arrived, but when the weekend came the rate doubled .

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