For everyone scratching their heads about how to make a profit in the modern world, my advice would be to turn the old acting axiom - "never work with animals and children" - on its head.
As a parent in a highly commercialised age, I say that the smartest thing you can do is find a kid or animal-friendly niche, and work it for all it's worth.
All kid and animal businesses are potentially lucrative, but let's be honest: the parents who will spend a week's wages on a birthday party are the best bet. And on the animal front, at this moment someone clever is probably working on a million-dollar idea for a pet hospice with adjoining counselling services for bereaved owners of cancer-stricken labradoodles.
I don't have a pet, but I do have three children, one of whom has just had a birthday party, and oh, let me recount the ways a soft parent is steadily relieved of her cash at the sight of her darling's round, imploring, soon-to-be-the-next-age eyes. My daughter is at that age when all things pink and fairy-like appeal. There's a shop in Auckland crammed to the gunnels with highly priced fairy paraphernalia which also offers fairy parties hosted by "real" fairies armed with fairy dust and fairy gifts that seek to make little girls' fantasies come true. (A particularly busty, pretty fairy who was once hired to come to the house to entertain the kids for 45 minutes probably helped make a few of the fathers' fantasy lives richer as well).
As my husband pointed out with a pained expression as he faced the bill for this year's in situ fairy party, you do actually need to sell a kidney to fund this particular event. Luckily, he had two healthy ones to choose from.
I know there will be plenty of people reading this in exasperation, mentally berating me for not supplying crackle pops and orange rinds filled with jelly, playing pin the tail on the donkey and capping it off by asking for a $2 donation for the Royal Foundation for the Blind.
But even the 1970s-style, much-cooler-than-the-real-thing retro-event takes a lot of work, and herein lies the genius of the fairy enterprise: it takes everything out of your hands. Including your credit card of course, but so much more besides. You and your guests simply turn up. The adults are served coffee and tea as they mill about the edges of the fairy circle. An uncomplicated fairy "banquet" follows the festivities. Other lovely fairies, I'm presuming, clean up after you. It's woe-to-go service and more of us are looking for it.
Unlike the building project managers who, when working on a renovation project for family members, insisted on calling them out of every business meeting to get a final decision on the precise tint of cork flooring or hinge design, there is huge pleasure in dealing with a business that is happy to keep you away from the minutiae of each decision.
If you get a kick out of hosting children's birthday parties that are exquisitely designed and executed, good for you. But the truth for the rest of us is that our birthday cakes sag, our games are lame, and we still end up spending the equivalent of a small nation's GDP on it. The smart businesses have twigged that modern parents are happy to outsource the birthday; harvesting organs or flogging the family silver are a seemingly small price to pay for the convenience.