From grocery shopping to backyard pond kits, new home-based businesses get creative and profitable.
Yes, we know all about child care and dog walking. But isn’t there something you can do while working in your slippers?
In fact, yes. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, entrepreneurs nationwide are finding new and creative ways to work from home. And they’re not just selling ideas anymore, like public relations and consulting services.
Today’s home-based entrepreneurs make up 52 percent of all small businesses, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and they are selling everything from groceries to backyard pond kits. Here are a few of the latest home business ideas, from those who are putting them into play.
1. Go for the Groceries
Entrepreneur Suzanne A. Wells buys groceries, marks them up, and turns them around on Amazon. “This business model works on the concept of scarcity: The less there is of something, the more people will pay for it. I sell things like specific, hard-to-find flavors of Crystal Light drink mix, hard-to-find gluten-free products, or specialty baby formula,” she says. “We scout out our local stores to find products we can sell for a profit on Amazon.” Last year, she sold 100 boxes of limited edition candy corn Oreos for $25 per box. Her cost at the local grocery, $3 each.
2. Mind the Shop
When business owners go out of town, Susanne Riehle takes their calls. As a “business babysitter,” she handles daily tasks such as responding to emails and triaging minor issues, sending receipts and quoting published prices. “Now the business owner can leave on vacation with relative ease and comfort, because the business is taken care of,” she says. Equipment is minimal: Basic computing, call-forwarding from the business, maybe an archived copy of Quickbooks. Should a major issue arise, “the babysitter has an emergency contact number for the business owner.”
3. Spiff up Slides
Margy Schaller’s home-based idea sparked when she saw medical and dental speakers at local society and national association conferences give great talks with lousy visuals. “Their PowerPoint slides were typically rudimentary, with a bland blue background, white font, and way too much text on any given slide,” she says. The market for presentation design on the corporate side is saturated, so she set up Laser Pointer in Poway, California. to address a niche market of medical professionals. Now she takes their basic slides and reformats them into slick-looking, professional visuals. “All I need is my laptop, cell phone, and an Internet connection. I typically start my workday at 8 a.m. and go until 5 p.m., with an hour lunch to play with my dogs.”
4. Make Matches
At Home Remedies in Hewlett, New York, Debra M. Cohen spends her day making matches. She vets local tradesmen for quality -- painters, plumbers, carpenters, and such – and when she’s satisfied, she refers them to homeowners seeking such help, taking a pre-negotiated percentage for her services. She’s grossed $4 million since 1997 with no overhead, not just by making matches but by spawning look-alikes. She charges between $2,000 and $7,000 to others around the nation who want to replicate her business model. It’s a high-touch enterprise, but not so much that she has to leave the house. “This is a people business and it’s important to build trust, so I like to talk to my homeowners and contractors by phone as often as possible,” she says. With phone, email, website, and enewsletter, Cohen has all the outside contact she needs to keep the wheels turning, without having to get in the car.
5. Move Big Goods
At first it looked like John Olson had gotten it wrong. Graystone Industries was thriving, so much so that product was stacked 12 feet high, up to the vaulted ceiling in the living room. It was piled in every bedroom, the garage, the attic. “We had to worm our way through winding pathways to get from one room to another,” he recalls. The product is too bulky for a home business -- statuary fountains, fountain lighting, pond kits -- so Olson solved his space dilemma by outsourcing. “We got an order fulfillment company to ship our products, another company to provide customer service, another to do invoicing while another does web work.” The result: $1.8 million in 2013 sales, and Olson gets to stay in his PJs, should he so choose.
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