How to Make Money Without Leaving Your House


When Ronald Reagan took the oath of office for the Presidency in January of 1981, one of his earliest pledges was to make life a little easier for the small business person. Reagan believed that America was founded on the backs of intrepid folks who took a chance and gambled everything they had on a chance to start fresh. Small business today is the embodiment of that idea.

Less regulation and lower taxes during the former California governor's first term in office sent the number of small business formations skyward and the industry, despite increased taxes and regulation, has never looked back. Today, as much as ever, there are outstanding opportunities in the small business market.

Think about it. Big business puts out a controlled product that appeals to the masses. When selling nationwide, little attention is paid to particular regional differences. Small business fills this void. It's not necessary, in an environment of lower overhead and more flexibility, to have a product that necessarily appeals to the masses. You might produce T-shirts and apparel with local slogans and insignia on them out of your own home. This product will likely appeal to the locals and certainly may have some fascination for tourists, too. It's not something a major company is likely to fashion because of its limited audience attraction. But you don't need to sell as many units to operate a successful small business.

There are numerous examples of small businesses having local flavor that became an overnight sensation nationally. Ben and Jerry's ice cream was a Vermont tradition that suddenly caught on big everywhere. Numerous franchises and grocery distribution outlets later, the original owners are ready to cash in--big time!

Perhaps you have that kind of ambition. It may be that your idea for a home-based business may have a national market. It's wiser to start smaller if you don't have a lot of initial capital. If you have access to capital, that's a different story. Wayne Huizenga, owner of the Blockbuster video stores, borrowed heavily to finance his outlets. The first store didn't make any money. But he believed in his idea--to have numerous video copies available for two or three nights at a time. He thought people would pay a little more for this kind of convenience. The first ten stores didn't make any money. Neither did the first 100 stores. But Huizenga knew Americans. Suddenly the profits started to come and Blockbuster has developed into a commercial trademark for most shopping outlets in this country.

But you don't have to make it that big to be a financial success. You can make thousands of dollars a week from your own home without having to invest very much capital for business start-up.

Being Your Own Boss

Most Americans dream of being their own boss. This is true for many reasons. First, America has that kind of promise. If you play by the rules, you can accomplish virtually anything; just ask any number of Korean and Vietnamese immigrants who fled their countries to come here and start up their own businesses. They are truly a late 20th century success story in this country.

Second, it's usually not very fun working for someone else. There are plenty of rules to follow. There are specific hours to be in the office. There are specific sales goals that must be met. And on and on. Your own business isn't going to be a vacation, but when you go in early and stay late, you're doing it for you; not for the person who signs your paycheck.

Third, the control of running your own business is both exciting and, at times, overwhelming. Responsibility is at your feet. There is no one to pass the blame off to, but small business owners wouldn't have it any other way. They take a chance every day by running their own shop. Yet most wouldn't trade it for working for someone else again if they can possibly help it. The risks are great, but the rewards can be greater.

There are many sad stories around this country about people who dreamed big, who had a good idea, but who couldn't summon up the courage to take it any further than their own thoughts. Afraid to take a chance, they passed up the risks and the rewards of striking out on their own. At the end of their lives there is always that doubt, always that wonder, always that speculation, about what their lives would have been like if they'd only taken that one chance.

The independence that comes with being your own boss also calls for rigid discipline on your part. Because you are the one setting your own hours, there is no one to tell you what time to start, what time to knock off, what time to take lunch or how much work must be accomplished each and every day. This is the drill you must teach yourself. You have to set your own goals and objectives, financial and otherwise. You'll have to analyze your market, what you will produce, how much it will cost to produce, who you will distribute the product to and how much you will charge.

You must know what your profit margin will be on each unit. Knowing the profit margin and how long it takes to produce one unit, will help you to set up your work schedule. It might be ten to twelve hours a day to start, much longer than you worked for someone else. But instead of a paycheck equal to a small portion of the profit, you'll keep the entire profit margin for yourself. It's a whole new world!

The Contingent Workforce

Layoffs at big businesses have become a way of life. Companies are constantly undergoing a reshuffling of the players and the companies under their umbrella. The information age produces data instantly, the analysis of which can be accomplished quickly. Once digested, companies make moves much earlier than in the past. Products evolve so much faster today, and the improvement in technology can mean the need for less human involvement.

But technology has a bright side. Computers, fax machines, modems and telephone answering machines have evolved to reasonably priced equipment which can make you an instant player in whatever field you choose to work when set up in your own home. The future of America may well be in people working at home and communicating with each other through increasingly sophisticated equipment.

Let's say you work for ABC Company, a large firm that is undergoing its ninth rightsizing move of the year. This time around you get the pink slip. Your services are no longer needed at the end of the month. Here's two months' severance pay. See you later. It's been a great ten years.

This is not uncommon today. There have been thousands of layoffs at the Fortune 500 level in the last decade. But unemployment has not changed that dramatically! Why? Where are these people going? Why aren't more of them filing unemployment claims, especially as Congress made several efforts to extend benefits to the unemployed?

Some of these people were able to find full-time work relatively quickly. Still others took the severance package and simply retired, being eligible (or nearly eligible) for Social Security and perhaps a pension benefit. Many of these individuals became a part of what has come to be called the contingent workforce.

The contingent workforce consists of temporary, part-time, contract and leased employees along with people who simply decided the time was never better to start their own business. This is the group that doesn't have a true employer-employee relationship, yet are working and often making more money than their full-time labors yielded in the past.

Not everyone likes it. But the chance to be your own boss has appealed to many Americans, those with that true early pioneer spirit that former President Reagan spoke so warmly about during his tenure as the nation's Chief Executive. Armed with today's technology, many have set up their own businesses and have gone to work--for themselves!

They've established their own businesses after deciding what fields they wanted to go into. It may be the field they just abruptly left--or it may be something they've longed to do for some time. Perhaps it's a hobby they believe can make it big. Ask Mrs. Fields, whose cookies that pleased friends and family are now being eaten in nearly every major airport food court in the country.

Working as a contract, temporary or leased employee gives you the benefit of a paycheck without much of the stress. You go home at the end of a day without the same worry you carried as an employee--unless stress is just part of your character! But this isn't the same as working for yourself, as more and more people are finding out.

The downsizing by big business in the last few years has created the opportunity for many to finally make the big push--and start their own company. They are the President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and all of the other jobs to start. But there is always light at the end of the tunnel. If you never take the chance, you could be another of those sad stories where, in the sunset of life, you sit and wonder what might have been.

Choosing Your Home-Based Career

There is one thing you can count on when you begin your own business. You won't be bored. There are plenty of details to work out; a number of tasks that await each day. You won't find yourself looking at the clock very often, , that's for sure!

What do you do? That's easy! What ideas do you have? More importantly, what would you like to do? What are your current interests? What hobbies do you have that you'd like to work at more and make them pay?

Let's say you have a vivid interest in history. You've spent a lot of time reading history books. Let's say you've even specialized and most of your reading is about the American Civil War. Do you think there might be something you can do about the Civil War?

Of course there is! If you have a computer and subscribe to the Internet, why not try polling people via e-mail about their interest in a Civil War newsletter that you will publish monthly on line! A substantial interest will help you set a subscription price and begin enrolling people. If you have enough interest, this could be your full-time job. You'll spend the month coming up with the assorted items for the monthly newsletter, from articles about unusual aspects of the war, to commemorations of anniversary-related events that month, to news about meetings held everywhere for other Civil War enthusiasts, to book reviews of the latest volumes written. If you have an interest in the Civil War, you'll know that there isn't any period of history which has generated more interest and more books about the particulars.

But what if you're not into computers? If you're interested in the Civil War, contact the local universities and colleges and find out who teaches the subject on their campus. Contact those individuals for suggestions first. It could very well be that they long to write their own book about the Civil War, but don't have the time during the academic year to do the necessary research to write it on their summer break. You have the time, though, and they may be willing to hire you as a researcher for them.

You should also buy any Civil War magazine you can lay your hands on and turn to the classified sections of their pages. A current issue is best. Read everything you can. There may be direct advertisements needing help, or names and companies with interests in the Civil War whom you can contact. Find out if there are any local Civil War Roundtable chapters in your area. Find out if there are any Sons of Confederate Veterans (or Union) or United Daughters of the Confederacy (or Union) chapters locally. Attending those meetings will bring you into contact with a number of like-minded individuals. Some of these folks might pay you to write about their ancestors. Or they may know publishers who specialize in Civil War history who would be willing to listen to an idea you had for a book. Or you could contact some local community colleges and put together your own course on the Civil War and get paid to teach it.

This is the kind of analysis you need to do with any of your ideas. Make lists! Put your idea at the top and think of all the possible connections to it. Leave no idea out! Nothing should be considered silly or off-limits! This is your business now! The most obscure contact can yield the greatest results. Try them all!

This should also serve notice that any idea is possible for business. If it's something you like to do, why not try it? Many of these ideas can be followed up on your own time, even while you're still working for someone else.

If you hate the job you're currently doing, wouldn't it be great to work at something you truly love? Especially if what you love has an interest for others--enough interest to have someone put down a few bucks for your product or service. The Civil War is a great example. People who have an avid interest in it will shell out a few dollars to read anything about the subject. The more they read, the more they want to know. And there are thousands of ideas that can sustain the same kind of interest!

Securing clients for your service is the key. New subscribers to a newsletter will more than offset the ones who, for whatever reason, don't renew. The more new customers you obtain, the more likely your business will experience tremendous success.

Prospecting for new clientele is an ongoing process. It never stops! Some people may not care for that end of the business, but you'll be different. Why? Because you're working in your own business, doing what you love to do in an area that you have a great amount of knowledge and curiosity. When you talk about it, there will be no hiding the fact that you truly believe in your product or service. Talking about it is fun. Talking about it is prospecting. Hence, prospecting is fun!

How do you get people to open up today when you're in a conversation with them? You ask them about a subject you know they like, and then let them talk. Prospecting in your business is going to be much like that. You're going to feel compelled to talk to people about a subject because it's your favorite topic. Those that share that interest are going to like listening--and talking about it! They're prospects! They're interested! They're potential clients!

You may choose to advertise your product or service. This has more start-up costs to it, depending on where you advertise. Try and be market-specific! In other words, advertise to an audience most likely to be interested in your subject matter. For Civil War buffs, there are plenty of magazines that you can successfully target an audience. Advertising the same product or service through your local newspaper at two or three times the price makes less sense since it's more money and not as efficient.

You can also reach an audience through some type of direct mail. This also carries a significant expense in terms of postage costs. Thus you want to be sure that you are reaching an audience base most likely to respond. This should be a secondary approach, however. Reaching out via the phone lines is more cost-effective.

You can start getting news out about your product or service through your family and friends. They can do a lot of word of mouth advertising for you. The more people they talk to, the faster the word about your business gets around. If you are also prospecting by calling others, even remote acquaintances, all the better. The more people who know, the more likely you can get referrals. This is the hardest part of the business--getting enough people to know about what you're doing. But once you know how to do it and you've started the machine rolling, this all becomes easier. You may end up with more clients than you know what to do with--a great situation to have!

There are a number of resources for you to review and contact as you get started. The advice and information you can obtain may help you to avoid some of the more common mistakes. Every connection you make might lead you to a nest of prospects. Many of the organizations listed here can help you focus in on the right direction and save you time and money pursuing people who have no interest in what you're doing.

Home-Based Opportunities

There are a few businesses that you can get up and running quickly if time is of the essence. If you've just lost a job or you can't take the one you have much longer, here are a couple of fast start ideas.

  1. Private Tutor. To start this business, you would have to be qualified in at least one academic subject, have some teaching skills and experience (being a training instructor could qualify). The subjects usually requiring tutoring are math, foreign language and any of the sciences. It's less demanding than full-time teaching and you don't have to put up with the bureaucracy. It will undoubtedly be evening and (perhaps) weekend work, but you can charge anywhere from $25 to $75 per hour depending on the subject.

  2. Errand runner/driver. Many businesses today are in need of a runner to bring material around from place to place. A company which does a lot of printing may need constant business to printer assistance. As long as you have your own car and are a safe driver, you're in business. You don't need to learn anything about computers, either. You're simply in business. You will likely always be on call during the week (maybe Saturdays), and if you don't like traffic this could be a problem. You should be able to canvass local businesses for work and be paid upwards of $10 per hour. Your auto insurance agent should be informed of the new use for your car.

  3. Computer services for small businesses. You'll need a computer, laser or bubble jet printer and a fax machine to offer these services, but many small businesses need the assistance. It might be in copywriting, mailing programs, newsletters or maintaining a billing follow-up database. You can charge from $20 per hour and up depending on the work. It's easy to get going since you've already got the computer in your home. Canvass businesses locally for work after you've devised an attractive flyer listing and selling your services.

There are other jobs that may require more set-up, but can be fantastic money-making opportunities. Among these are:

  1. Tax preparer/bookkeeping services. Being computer literate will help you handle several dozen clients all at once. You may need some training if you are not a CPA, but software programs today make it easier to walk through even the most complex tax situations. You will be overwhelmed during the tax season of January to April, but you can charge from $25 to $50 per hour and make enough during the first four months of the year to almost get you through the remaining months.

  2. Specialty grower. Let's say you have some land and you love to garden. You enjoy working outdoors and are tired of working inside a building for a living. Why not become a specialty grower? Gourmet stores all over the country are looking for the unusual in the way of plants and edible flowers. Herbs are also popular. You can even sell the crops you grow at the local farmer's market on Saturday mornings. If you already have the land and the desire to do this, why wait. Start it part-time if you want, but you may find dozens of outlets for your goods if you are up to the test. The risk is bad weather, of course, but it's a chance worth taking if you love gardening.

  3. Cleaning services. Commercial building maintenance people are often on the lookout for good help in this area. You'll need a lot of cleaning supplies, but if you can handle the evening hours and can find reliable assistants, this can be a gold mine business, especially if you specialize in the hard-to-do work like swimming pools, blinds and windows. People hate to do windows. You can charge per house or per hour for commercial buildings.

  4. Massage therapist. If you're good at giving massages, consider getting a license or certification to be a massage therapist. Health clubs, running clubs, and conventions are all good candidates for your work. You can earn up to $100/hour but you have to be in good physical condition. Arm, hand and back strength are particularly important. You make your own hours!

  5. Caterer. If you like to cook, consider the catering business. If you have a good kitchen set-up and can cook large volumes well and have a few unusual, but tasty, recipes, you can become a local party favorite. Repeat business is the name of this game and you can charge per person for your catered meals or appetizers. Ethnic dishes are the in thing for parties these days and the more diversified you are, the better.

  6. Computer consultant. If you are a programmer, this is certainly a job that can lend itself to contract labor, run out of your own home. Competition is heavy, but once you have a few clients, you will likely make an excellent living at something you're good at and probably enjoy. The low starting rate for programmers is $50/hour and you can charge more based on your expertise and the problem to be solved. The more diversified your experience, the more likely the calls will be coming in for your services. You will need to stay up on current technology, but most programmers do this naturally. There is a plethora of magazines and other publications about the latest and greatest technology. Canvass local businesses to ascertain their computer needs. You're only selling your services, so cold calling is a low pressure issue. Most businesses have some complaint about their computer system and are looking for easy answers from someone who is local and has good knowledge and experience. Solid computer expertise is invaluable to small businesses.

  7. Bed-and-breakfast accommodations. Wouldn't it be great to operate a bed and breakfast in the middle of a territory that attracts thousands of tourists and other travelers each year? If you've a knack for hosting people on a full-time basis and have the house to convert to a couple of extra bedrooms, you can be in business. It's truly full-time, even though you're only serving breakfast. There's laundry to do, beds to be made, bathrooms to clean and reservations to handle, but it can often be done at a leisurely pace. Room rates are $75 per night and up, so the money can add up pretty fast. Be careful of burnout, however, as there are no holidays from this job, unless you have another person/couple who can take over for a couple of weeks.

  8. Arts & Crafts. If you have a propensity for things arts and craftsy, you should consider selling your goods for a living, part- or full-time. Have you ever walked around an art show? There are plenty of these around and you can get a booth and earn back your expenses for the day with one sale. If you love to paint, sculpt, make pottery or whatever, there is a lot of potential for you. You can also starve, too, but you don't start up the business thinking that. Businesses buy lots of arts and crafts each year for their firms' decorations or for sales contest prizes, convention awards, etc. If you are already doing this, you probably have studio space in your house plus some supplies to get going. Step it up to the next level!

There are many other types of home-based opportunities which may require more specific skills, longer training or more time to get up and running. They are no less useful, however. Here are a few ideas for you.


Home-based businesses are the chances of a lifetime for many of us. It's the opportunity to be your own boss. This is not work without risk. Knowledge of how to run a business is critical. For that reason, consider contacting your local Small Business Development Centers for help in breaking out on your own--and getting the information every employer needs to know. That's right! You're a bona-fide employer now!

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