Nine business ideas for Romania

Guest writer Matt Sampalean comes up with nine ideas that could work in Romania, where he is also the co-founded of a technology startup.

Romania’s business laws are not exactly the most friendly on earth, but if you force yourself to go through the red tape, you can be the ‘Administrator’ of your own business sooner than you think. Just make sure you sign every single page of every single document, back and front, even on the blank sides. Basically once you do that, you’re in good shape. I recommend retaining the services of a good lawyer (I can recommend if you’d like), and smart accountants (I can also recommend one of those). You won’t be dealing with them every day – or even every month – but you gotta have them in your corner.

I don’t want to go into too many technical details, but here’s the only other detail you need to know. You can choose to open your business as a PFA (Persoana Fizica Autorizata), Romania’s equivalent of a Sole Proprietorship, or a SRL (Societate cu Raspundere Limitata) or S.A (Societate cu Actiuni). Unless you’re planning to hire a bunch of people in short order, don’t worry about SRL or SA. Your accountant and lawyer will give you that advice based on your business model anyway.

Right, so here’s the list:

1. Become an online antique dealer – Romania’s perfect for this. If you’ve got a long family tree and old homes in the family, you’ll probably find plenty of jewels among the junk. You’d be surprised at the kind of stuff history buffs want in their homes. If you have plenty of stuff to see it might be easier to sell to antique stores and bypass all the online and shipment stuff. I’m thinking of getting a 1980s rotary dial phone. I know there are people with these just lying around. Technically, you don’t even need any sort of business status to do something like this.

2. Offer guided tours – If you have a car, you can take tourists all over, otherwise you can stick to the city, but basically, you just need to know what you’re talking about. If you know your area and love meeting new people, it’s a perfect solution. Do your marketing by creating a website and blogging about the place, its sights, and history. Get in touch with companies that offer tours to Europe and offer your services as a private guide. Sign up for guiding websites. You’ll have to do a lot of casting, but it’s that much more satisfying every time you catch a fish. There are lots of tourists here, but not a lot of guiding.

3. Grow and Deliver Vegetables and Herbs – Horticulture is a beautiful thing. If I were able to take care of my basil plant better I’d consider it as my own side business. This is a place where people still go to ‘farmer’s markets’ so the demand is there. It’s all about the strategy. Considering there are already a number of initiatives in this biz (Cutia Taranului, Cosul Taranesc), it just goes to show how lucrative it can be.

4. Become a Lobbyist – It probably helps if you’re a lawyer to do this, but I found that on LinkedIn there are only 7 profiles under Public Affairs in Romania. In Canada, there are 48 job openings for Public Affairs. Open a consultancy and approach various associations in the country to offer services related to monitoring and reporting government policy in their area of operation. You can extend this to an online presence via a website. This eventually becomes a job where you need to raise awareness in government and in front of the public about certain issues and push for reform where necessary. Depending on your area of expertise, you’d most likely be courted by international companies who want to do business here and don’t know how to navigate the rocky political landscape. It’s a tough one, you’d probably need a partner or two, you’d work hard, but you’d be a pioneer in this field.

5. Marketing Consultant – Similar to the Lobbyist business, you’d be a bit of a pioneer in this too. Whatever marketing consultancies exist here, they’re definitely not covering enough ground. Almost every restaurant here needs a menu redesign. Bricks and mortar businesses need to work on their presentation and understand that kitsch isn’t cool (except when it is, very rarely, and probably not in Romania). You need to start small and grow a reputation as somebody who knows what works and what consumers want. There’s enough work to build an empire doing this.

6. Offer Training – What are you good at? Are you in the gym all day? Then become a personal trainer. Can you coach a sport, teach a language, offer art classes? Everyone’s got some sort of talent. You might need to start by volunteering to help somewhere, but as your reputation grows, you can turn it into a real business. If the demand is high enough from the get-go, you’ll start off with a business. If you’re not good at anything in particular but you have the money to hire people and pay their salaries and marketing for the training offered, you may find your talent is management. No matter what though, it’s all about the hustle.

7. Dog Walking -This one is definitely not for me, but it’s a highly lucrative business in any big city. When you cross busy people with pets that need to get walked, it spells out opportunity. The best part is, Wikihow just posted a 12-step guide on becoming a dog walking enterprise.

8. Iron Shirts – I just had to put this one in. I love the site, the idea, and the hustle. What I like most about this initiative though is that it just goes to show that you can turn just about anything into a business, as long as you want to. An original, self-starting business idea, that’s about as un-Romanian as it gets. And at the same time, it isn’t! Looking forward to this in Cluj – last time I ironed a shirt, I burned a yellowish streak onto it (but I still wear it out at night, so there).

9. Food Truck – Finding a decent street meal here is next to impossible. My idea comes from watching a lot of Food Network and living in Toronto, where hot dog carts pepper every major intersection. Aside from street meat (hot dogs), there is a huge potential in a food truck. You basically have a real kitchen at your disposal and you can move it around based on your market. Business district at lunch, city center in the evening, next to clubs and bars late at night. This trend is really picking up in North America (WATCH the video!). What are you waiting for?

These are just some ideas I came up with through observation. I haven’t done any market analysis and I’m sure I missed others that could be added to the list. There is lots of opportunity out there though, and no political nonsense can get in the way of your ideas. You just need to know what you want, and go for it. Bottom line is, that business is business. It’s a lot more hard work than it is fun. Nobody does anything for you, nobody cares if you’re about to go bankrupt, not even your clients, and its success is almost entirely dependent on you alone. But business is also what keeps the economy going. In light of this whole recession thing, opening your own business is about the only guarantee that your hard work will pay off. Once that happens, then it starts to get fun. And then you’ll want to start another one.

By Matt Sampalean, Guest Writer

Matt was born in Romania and grew up in a world of ration cards and clandestine Radio Free Europe broadcasts. He emigrated with his parents to Toronto, Canada in 1991 where he spent twenty years before returning to Romania as co-founder of a technology startup. When he’s not working he blogs about his experiences as a person with ‘bipolar nationality disorder’. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Romania

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