Timika Downes is a busy woman. She has a full-time job as a school nurse, she blogs at Reluctant Frugalist, and she owns a lice clinic in Medford, Massachusetts. If that’s not enough, she’s also a wife and mother of three kids.
Timika’s story is very interesting. She has experience with some of the more common side hustles like blogging and podcasting, but she also has one of the more unique side hustles that you’ll come across, and she does very well with it.
As a school nurse, Timikia found out about a lice clinic in Massachusetts when there was an outbreak in her school. After looking into it, she saw an opportunity to start her own local clinic that would treat patients.
Describing her business, Timika said, “At my lice clinic, families and individuals receive heat treatments that eradicate head lice in a fraction of the time that traditional lice treatments take. It sounds strange, but to rid yourself of lice the old fashion way requires 2 weeks of daily comb outs. For parents of busy kids, this process almost never goes well at home. Parents miss days, kids don’t want to stay still, and it’s hard to know what you are even looking at without proper lighting and knowledge. We use an AirAllé machine to heat treat and dehydrate the head lice (bugs AND eggs), and we guarantee treatment in one session!”
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Licensing and Franchising
One of the things that makes Timika’s side hustle unique is that she licenses the technology from AirAllé, which is owned by Larada Sciences. When Timika joined, they were using a licensing model. Since that time they have switched to a franchise model, which is what you’ll see if you check out their website.
There are some similarities and some differences between licensing and franchising. With the licensing agreement, Timika has the right to use their technology but she has the freedom to run her business as she chooses. Franchising opportunities usually involve more of a business model to follow (like a fast food restaurant) and less flexibility as a business owner.
When I asked about the relationship between her clinic and AirAllé, Timikia said, “The AirAllé technology is owned by Larada Sciences. I do pay them (LARADA) a fee every time I use the machine, reported on a monthly basis. Beyond that, our relationship is minimal. I prefer the flexibility of running and owning my business 100%. This means that the next business I own would likely be completely conceived by me, in lieu of working within a franchise model. I think working with a company for your first venture into business can be a great way to get some hand-holding, though.”
Although a licensing or franchise model means that you’ll have some additional startup costs and ongoing fees, there are obviously some perks as well. Timika said, “There is some support – which has mainly developed in the last year as the company positioned themselves as a true franchise. I do find some of these offerings helpful. For example, there is a portal that we can pull marketing materials from. They use great family photos in their marketing kits, and provide outlines for blogs and social media content.”
→ Related reading: How to Start a Side Hustle
One of the attractive things about many side hustles is how easy and inexpensive it is to get started. In many cases, you can start a business with very little money. However, starting a brick and mortar business is a completely different situation, and often it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars.
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Timika was able to start her business with an investment much smaller than most brick and mortar businesses. She told me, “I invested $28,000 to get started, and I pay a fee every time I use the device to treat head lice. This is the only ongoing cost paid to the company, Larada Sciences. There are, of course, other expenses such as product orders and wages.”
With that investment, Timika was able to start a business that now makes $10,000 per month.
The low startup costs allowed Timika to turn a profit very quickly, which is also not common with most brick-and-mortar businesses. She told me that her business “became profitable after about 6 months in business. That August I completed 65 treatments and sold thousands in additional products. It was a great month.”
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Running the Business
The part of this story that is the most intriguing to me is that Timika runs this local brick-and-mortar business while she has a full-time job as a school nurse. The common thought is that owning a local business will require you to be present in order for the business to function, but in Timika’s case, that’s not true.
She told me, “At the beginning, I spent many hours each week working at the clinic. I would say anywhere from 24-35 hours (in addition to my full-time job). As of this most recent month, I spent 9 hours in the business.”
The key to owning a business that doesn’t require much of your own time is hiring the right people.
When I asked Timika if her staff members are employees or contractors she said, “I have on-call employees. There is some discussion about the use of 1099 employees (or contractors) in this type of service. Some of the clinics have been able to pull this off. I prefer to rely on the technicians a little more than is allowed in a 1099 situation, so my employees are W-2. This was one of the first decisions I needed to make when I started – and it was a tough one.”
I asked Timika bout her favorite and least favorite things related to this side hustle business. She said, “One thing I will change with future businesses – proximity to home. For a small business, you need to be able to help out as needed. Because my day job has short hours (out by 3 pm), I have some flexibility to support my staff if need be. I just wish I placed the clinic closer to home! I don’t travel far for my day job, and I don’t prefer to travel through traffic for the business either – but sometimes I have to!”
Although this has obviously proven to be a successful business, it seems to me that it could be a pretty intimidating side hustle to start. Not only does it involve setting up an office and paying rent and employee wages, but it also involves the startup costs related to the license.
When I asked Timika what gave her the courage to try such an unusual side hustle, she said “The FIRE (financial independence, retire early) community gave me the courage to think outside of the box, and to shift my mindset. The rest of the courage is all my own. It took years to make the leap, but I feel I am resourceful enough to combat any issues that may come up.”
Timika says that she has plans to release a business course in the future, as well as a FI (financial independence) podcast. In the meantime, you can catch up with her work at Reluctant Frugalist.