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With the possible exception of the telephone, computers have created more start-up opportunities for entrepreneurs than any other business tool. That's because PCs can be used to launch a growing number of hot businesses that offer not only long-term money-making potential, but also the ability to operate from home.
Some of the best opportunities are businesses that have been around for decades but are being made easier by computers. Businesses that deal with preparing resumes or writing business plans may not be new, but computerized word-processing, graphic design and spreadsheet capabilities make running such ventures simpler.
Other opportunities include cutting-edge businesses created by the growing use of the Internet. Despite widely reported predictions that billions of dollars in e-commerce will be exchanged over the Internet during the next few years, no one really knows the Internet's infinite possibilities. But entrepreneurs getting started in this venue can expect high profits in the not-too-distant future.
We've selected the following five businesses as hot opportunities. All have a lot of potential and can be started in your home.
Marcie Geffner is a freelance writer in Los Angeles who reports on small business and real estate.
1. Internet Training Company
Booming interest in the Internet is creating dozens of hot business opportunities. One of the strongest arenas lies in teaching clients the ins and outs of using Web sites, search engines, online marketing, newsgroups and other aspects of the Internet.
Some Internet trainers work onsite at corporations and nonprofit organizations, while others go house-to-house introducing homebased business owners and private individuals to cyberspace.
Ron Gielgun, author of 121 Internet Businesses You Can Start From Home and OneBusiness, Two Approaches (Actium Publishing, $19.95 each, 718-382-2129), thinks the Internet seminar business is a good long-term opportunity. "Seminars will definitely do quite well, especially [seminars about] the Internet because it's such a popular topic and it's going to remain popular for a long time," he says.
One entrepreneur capitalizing on Internet opportunities is Randolph Hock, 53, author of The Extreme Searcher's Guide to Web Search Engines (Information Today, $29.95, 609-654-6266) and owner of Online Strategies in Vienna, Virginia. Hock started his Internet consulting service after working for a few years in the online information industry. He launched his own firm after discovering the strong demand for Internet training seminars. He now conducts day-long courses for corporations, nonprofit associations, government agencies and library systems.
Hock charges $1,500 to $3,000 per seminar, depending on the amount of preparation required to address the group's unique interests. Through the University of Maryland's continuing education program, Hock also teaches classes on using the Web. Referrals remain his strongest strategy for getting new customers, and he continually gets repeat business from previous satisfied clients.
2. Resume Preparation Service
If you enjoy helping other people put their best foot forward, consider starting a resume preparation service. A resume expert creates well-designed, well-written resumes that help professionals set themselves apart from other applicants. A resume company is like a personal advertising agency for job-seekers.
A few years ago, the resume industry focused on the unemployed. But today, thanks to a strong economy and job market, a much broader demand for resume services has emerged, as people with jobs want better ones. "[Until recently,] people who had jobs tended to hold on to them, rather than investigate whether there was a better [position open]. They were glad to have any job-even one without raises or promotions," says Frank Fox, executive director of the Professional Association of Resume Writers (PARW) in St. Petersburg, Florida. "Now, all [those people with] pent-up frustrations and disappointments are going job-shopping."
Resume preparers often have experience in copywriting or human resources, says Fox, but there are exceptions. RenÃ© Hart, 29, worked in clerical and executive support jobs for 10 years before starting First Impressions Resume and Career Development Services in Lakeland, Florida, in 1993. She not only prepares resumes for specific career paths and particular positions, but also helps clients disseminate their resumes to potential employers. "Beyond developing the resume, [my services] encompass everything from mailing, faxing and e-mail distribution to posting the resume on the Internet," Hart says.
Joining PARW was an early decision for Hart, who became a certified professional resume writer through the association. Last year, she generated nearly $20,000 in revenues by working only 20 hours a week.
Most of Hart's clients find her company in the local Yellow Pages, but she's recently broadened her geographical reach by setting up a Web site. Fox agrees the Yellow Pages works well for resume preparers seeking leads. He also suggests such low-cost marketing strategies as sending press releases to the media and speaking in front of local groups and at public libraries.
3. Business Plan Writing Service
With so many people becoming entrepreneurs, business plan writers face a growing market for their services. While inexpensive business plan software can help users structure the sections of the business plan (the company profile, marketing proposal, financial information), software can't substitute for the amount of thought and research a good plan requires, nor the ability to write a persuasive report that will convince investors the business is worthwhile.
Using software as a starting point, these experts construct plans that help new business owners achieve their goals. Business plan writers also assist entrepreneurs in making sales forecasts and cost estimates and in setting up proper accounting systems.
Steve Crow, 42, describes himself as an entrepreneur who enjoys helping other entrepreneurs. He started A Better Business Plan in Mundelein, Illinois, in 1996, after working for 15 years in the sales and marketing division of a pharmaceutical company. At any given time, he has four to eight plans in progress. His standard rate tops $68 an hour; a typical business plan brings in as much as $4,000.
Robert F. Peralta, 67, a retired CPA, started his business planning company, RFP Consulting Associates, in Weston, Florida, in 1992. Peralta charges $100 an hour for his services. However, both Peralta and Crow do some work off-the-clock and discount standard rates for cash-poor start-ups.
Finding business hasn't been difficult for either start-up entrepreneur. "A Yellow Pages ad has been my best marketing [tool]," Crow says. "The other things that have reaped the most benefits have been doing seminars at an SBA Small Business Development Center and the local chamber of commerce. Those have generated clients almost continuously." Social contacts have paid off for both entrepreneurs as well: Crow wrote his first plan for a friend, and Peralta advertises in his church's newsletter.
4. Online Classified Advertising Company
The Internet has given classified ads a whole new meaning. Web sites devoted to classifieds enable consumers to sell big-ticket items such as cars, furniture and appliances over a much larger geographical area than can be reached with a newspaper. They also offer the advantages of search functions and immediate posting of for-sale notices.
But tech savvy isn't a necessity when starting a classified advertising site, says author Ron Gielgun. Instead, attracting viewers to the site remains most important. Gielgun suggests purchasing advertisements elsewhere on the Internet. "Start-up costs for [an online classifieds business] are minimal because you don't have any inventory and you don't need to hire employees," he says, "but you do need to invest in promotion."
Because the industry is so new, many classified sites have not yet generated significant revenues. Ben Lovelace, 43, operates Commerce Corner (http://www.comcorner.com) part time from his home in Orlando, Florida. The site, which features display ads and photos of advertised merchandise, only brings in revenues of about $200 a month, but Lovelace hopes to increase sales through promotions- like listing his site in online search engines, and trading links and banner ads with other sites. He also sends promotional messages to e-mail address lists and past customers.
5. Internet Research Service
If you relish uncovering hard-to-find facts, you're a prime candidate for starting an Internet research service. Researchers provide valuable information to corporations, nonprofit groups and private individuals on an endless variety of subjects.
Research services are in demand because people want to get the information faster than they would on their own. "Not only do researchers have access to databases [other people] haven't signed up for, but they also are more proficient [at searching the Web]. They can dig deeper and do it more efficiently, getting more information than you would ever think [possible]," says Alex Kramer, owner of Kramer Research in Washington, DC, and president of the Association of Independent Information Professionals in Pennington, New Jersey.
Kramer says many researchers have a background in library science or in professions such as law or accounting. While experience isn't required, it does help give people the research and analytical skills needed for this type of work.
Because online research can be done day or night, starting part time is easy in this industry. Glenna Rhodes, 45, is a reference librarian for a public library in Ashland, Oregon, and an after-hours Internet researcher. She started Informed Source in 1996 after earning her master's degree in library science. The company brings in monthly revenues of $750 to $1,000; Rhodes plans to expand her efforts to earn more than 50 percent of her income from the business during the next few years.
Rhodes originally planned to concentrate on market research for corporations, but soon found much of her clientele consisted of individuals seeking information on medical topics. "I didn't like doing personal medical [research]," says Rhodes, so she hired a consultant to help her prepare a business plan. The plan helped her focus on getting the kind of customers she wants-midsized businesses nationwide that need information but don't have the funds to hire a full-time staff researcher.
The Price Is Right
Start-up costs for PC-based businesses are modest. In addition to a computer and a quality printer, you'll need a separate business telephone line and a fax machine for your home office. For an Internet-related business, you'll need an Internet service account and an extra telephone line for data transmission. Plan to spend $2,500 or so for a computer, up to $500 for a printer, and about $500 for the other items.
You'll also need capital to promote your new business. Depending on how quickly you want to grow your business, your marketing budget can range from $500 to $5,000. "The biggest detriment for most people starting a small business is they don't have enough money for advertising and promotion," says Frank Fox of the Professional Association of Resume Writers in St. Petersburg, Florida. "When you're in business, you need to actively promote [your services] and let the world know you're there."
Your PC can be the gateway to dozens of business start-ups. Regardless of which opportunity sparks your interest, boot up your computer, toot your own horn and business will be buzzing before you know it.
The following groups and individuals can provide you with additional information about starting a computer-based business:
Professional Association of Resume Writers
3637 Fourth St. N., #330
St. Petersburg, FL 33704
Association of Independent
234 W. Delaware Ave.
Pennington, NJ 08534
Randolph Hock Online Strategies
9919 Corsica St.
Vienna, VA 22181
Glenna Rhodes Informed Source
426 Walnut St.
Ashland, OR 97520
A Better Business Plan, (847) 247-1213, firstname.lastname@example.org
First Impressions Resume and Career Development Services, email@example.com, http://www.ResumesForSuccess.com
Kramer Research, (202) 234-5410, firstname.lastname@example.org