Rae Schiff, 24, boasts of her Chicago publication, Word of Mouth: The Freelancer's Guide, "We begin where the Yellow Pages leave off." It lists everything from calligraphers and ethnic caterers to hypnotists. "They're special people," she says, "and best of all, they're available round the clock." Indeed, the volume includes all-night plumbers. A listing (which usually throws in a personality profile as well as a phone number) costs $15 to $150; the book itself sells for $1. After trying her hand at art, poetry and jazz at colleges from New York to Mexico, Schiff joined the economy. Word of Mouth would have classified her variously as a cocktail waitress, designer, chef and tour guide. "People were always asking if I knew a house painter or a shoemaker," she explains. "And I had all these friends who didn't know how to find jobs." So after borrowing $1,500 through her dad, a former delicatessen owner (her mother is an artist), Rae spent eight months of 15-hour days producing the first edition last July. "I voided my social life," Rae complains, and now she's toiling on an update to run as an insert in the magazine Chicago Faces—which will triple her circulation to 30,000.
Matthew Block is one kid who turned his fondness for animals into a bonanza. He is, at 17, the president of Pet Birds Inc., a Miami firm which imports umbrella cockatoos at $800 each (above) as well as $4,000 hyacinth macaws, lower-priced reptiles, tarantulas and even monkeys (for laboratory use). "The business has grossed around $450,000 in the last 12 months," says the soft-spoken capitalist, who recently bought out his partner, a veterinarian. Since he pays himself $30,000 a year, Matt left high school and hired a private tutor for his senior year. An only child, he got into the bird game at 12 when his father, a printer, gave him a parrot. "How it went from there I can't really recall," Matt grins, "but I started acquiring birds as a hobby to sell and breed." After volunteer work at a local zoo and a job with a vet, he made his move. This summer, having returned from a buying trip to Singapore and Thailand and gotten into quarantine-law hassles back home, the young entrepreneur is getting restless again. "I want to become a veterinarian," he says. "If I can get a capable manager, I'll leave the business in his hands and start right away."