From the August 2001 issue of Startups

Sick of the 8-to-5 rat race? Tired of spending countless hours in your car, wondering why turn signals were even invented if people so rarely use them? Want to stop taking orders from other people and start working for yourself?

If you answered yes to those questions, you may be ready to embark on your own homebased business. Before you get too excited, however, remember that even though you're in your home, you'll still be working hard to get your business off the ground. But you'll be doing what you truly enjoy and making money to boot. To inspire and hopefully motivate you, we at Entrepreneur have compiled a list of five of the hottest homebased businesses. Read on to see what's hot, who's doing it...and, most important, how you can do it, too.

Virtual Assistant

If you've got a computer, an Internet connection, great administrative skills and a serious interest in serving clients, virtual assisting may be for you. A relatively new specialty, virtual assistants (VAs) do everything from building databases and managing schedules to making travel arrangements and editing newsletters. Says VA Christine Barnes in San Diego, "I have to remember that these are my clients' businesses-their livelihoods. And it's about representing them in the best possible way."

One special joy for Barnes is being able to choose the people she works with during her average 20-hour workweeks. In 1999, Barnes felt stifled in the job she held at the time and started taking classes from AssistU, an organization that trains and incubates VAs.

Stacy Brice, president of AssistU, advises prospective VAs to do some serious planning and realize that juggling the different needs of several clients at any given time can be extremely challenging. New VAs bill around $30 per hour, while the more experienced professionals can command more. Some VAs even focus on certain industries. Brice, for example, specialized in virtual assisting for bestselling authors before starting AssistU. "Our entire [VA] culture is built around collaboration," says Brice. And AssistU graduates are encouraged to build long-term relationships with clients as well as fellow graduates, to combat the isolation that is so frequently a part of homebased business.

Professional Organizer

Knowing exactly where everything goes is a gift. And people who are born organizers can peddle that talent to those of us who don't know where things are from one day to the next. Steve Skidmore, founder of Transformations Organization Services in Long Beach, California, has the skill. Working from his home, he and his four employees go to clients' houses to organize and create order out of chaos. "We get [clients] to a place where they have a workable space and a clutter-free environment," says Skidmore.

This entrepreneur started out with a housecleaning business in 1993. While cleaning for his clients, Skidmore found himself organizing for them as well. He turned organizing into the main part of his business in 1996. Now a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, Skidmore says the biggest challenge he faces is educating the community about what an organizing service is. Once people understand what he does, Skidmore typically receives additional business. And he's enjoying the benefits of it-his sales have been increasing about 50 percent per year since 1996.

Technical Writer

It's 2001, and technology continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Now more than ever, people need those tough tech concepts broken down into digestible bites. Technical writers are becoming the communicators of the future. Deborah Sauer in Danvers, Massachusetts, is right in the middle of the milieu. Working as an independent consultant on and off for the past 20 years, Sauer has come to appreciate the freedom that technical writing gives her to work on different projects. "I've been writing for a long time, but I'm always writing about something really new and cutting-edge," she says. "I get to use new tools-new and still developing as we speak."

Sauer advises aspiring technical writers to get a significant amount of experience before taking the leap. "You have to be able to change gears quickly," she says. Like other homebased business owners, you'll have to constantly combat isolation and be able to work without much guidance. Still, working about 30 hours per week, which allows her to be there when her children get home from school, is one of Sauer's greatest rewards.

Computer Consultant

Knowing the tricks to making PCs run perfectly is a highly marketable skill. Just ask Tina Richardson, a homebased computer consultant in Spring, Texas.

Formerly a tech support employee, Richardson was unhappy in her corporate digs, but she wasn't sure what to do. A friend set her up with someone who was having computer woes. Fixing those problems made Richardson realize she liked the technology part of her job. So she began offering such services, going from referral to referral and helping people get connected.

That sort of networking can happen anywhere. Richardson's local Women's Club was brimming with connections. Passing out her business cards there brought in lots of new clients, and she didn't do any expensive advertising. Business cards and some basic tech manuals constituted Richardson's start-up materials and costs. In that initial phase of her business, she worked about 16 hours per week; now she puts in closer to 22 hours per week. The best part? "I get to be a geek and have social interaction as well," says Richardson. "I really enjoy being able to talk to [my clients] and teach."

Success/Life Coach

Coaches are empowered with the ability to help people set, focus on and reach goals. They create momentum and provide the tools, support and structure necessary to succeed. They even get the credit when a sports team wins a game. But coaching isn't just for teams. Chris Hamilton has taken coaching to an individual level. The Lancaster, California, entrepreneur started coaching in 1997 because he was interested in working with people. But it was his real estate background that helped Hamilton discover his niche in 1999: coaching self-employed real estate professionals. "[I really want] to help people accomplish more. Each individual has skills and desires within," he says. So Hamilton helps people tackle their problems, move beyond them and attain the level of success they want.

After training online with Coach U, Hamilton currently coaches his clients over the phone or via e-mail, helping each one create an action plan for his or her life. Much of the public is still unfamiliar with the concept of success coaching, so educating people is one of his primary responsibilities. Hamilton works with about 10 clients on a regular basis and contracts with Welfare To Work to coach program members. He says the most rewarding part of his work is "seeing somebody go from that point where they really don't know where they're going or what they're doing to that point where they have a clear direction in mind."

Next Step

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