Top Five Home Businesses

There're no guarantees when starting a home biz, but these five low-risk, low-cost ideas sure come close.

learn more about Rosalind Resnick

By Rosalind Resnick

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There's no recipe for business success--homebased orotherwise. From my own experience as an entrepreneur, I can tellyou that the best businesses are the ones that either solve aproblem you're facing or solve a problem for one of yourclients. For example, when my partner and I started our homebasedWeb design firm, NetCreations, back in 1995, most of our clientswanted a Web presence. A year later, when thousands of sites poppedup on the Net, our clients needed to find a way to drive people totheir sites and persuade them to buy their products. That'swhat led us to enter the Internet marketing business and to pioneerthe concept of opt-in, or permission-based, e-mail marketing--thebusiness that enabled us to go public in 1999 and sell our companyfor $111 million cash in 2001.

Here are five types of businesses you can start from home withvery little capital or downside risk:

Consultant/newsletter publisher: Assuming you have someindustry-specific expertise and a good relationship with yourformer colleagues, consulting is probably the easiest type ofhomebased business to start. Many companies that have downsizedexperienced managers are eager to hire them back as consultants totap into their years of knowledge and industry contacts. Networkingto find new clients is easy-just print up some business cards andpass them out at the next industry trade show. Speaking at showsand writing for trade publications can also get your name outcost-effectively. Another way to play the consulting card is tostart an e-mail newsletter. Not only will you make some moneyselling your expertise to multiple subscribers, but you'll alsodevelop a useful PR tool that will help you get speaking gigs atindustry conferences where you can prospect for more clients.There's also a crop of "social networking" Web sitessuch as craigslist and LinkedIn that can help you find consultingwork.

Tech support/programmer/system administrator: While bigcompanies typically have full-time tech support staff on-site,small businesses typically don't. If you're a supporttechnician, programmer or system administrator who has the skillsto troubleshoot desktop computers and networks, you can sell yourservices to business owners for $75 per hour and up. If you find aclient who needs your services on a regular basis, you cannegotiate a retainer agreement in which the client pays you a fixedfee on a monthly basis to monitor his network, install softwareupdates and fix problems that occur. Just remember to keep track ofthe hours you put in and to avoid giving clients theall-you-can-eat plan.

Real estate investment/property management: With interestrates at historic lows, investing in income-producing real estateis almost a no-brainer. Once you've bought the property andlined up the tenants, running the business from home is easy.You'll need an accounting program like QuickBooks to track yourrent collections and operating expenses, and, unless you likegetting calls in the middle of the night and fixing toilets, youshould hire a handyman to help you. Depending on the property'scash flow, you can make thousands of dollars per month for five to10 hours per week of work while picking up some nice appreciationalong the way. Once you get comfortable managing your ownproperties, you can start managing other people's properties aswell. Check out the Property Management Association for moreinformation.

Online merchant: With more and more people buyingproducts and services online, becoming an online merchant isanother homebased business opportunity to explore. Thanks to siteslike eBay,selling collectibles, used clothes, toys and the like worldwide isas easy as taking pictures of your merchandise and uploading themto the Net. eBay not only provides a marketplace to sell yourgoods--a virtual swap shop, if you will--but also processespayments. Best of all, you don't need to stock any inventory.So-called "drop shippers" can ship the goods to yourcustomer the minute you make the sale.

Virtual assistant: With companies outsourcing practicallyeverything these days, many people are becoming virtual assistants,handling the work that an executive's administrative assistantused to do. As a virtual assistant, you can handle calls, scheduleappointments, book travel reservations and perform other tasks forone executive or several-without ever having to come into anoffice. For more information, check out The International VirtualAssistants Association.

Rosalind Resnick is the founder and CEO of Axxess BusinessCenters Inc., a storefront consulting firm for start-ups andsmall businesses. She is a former business and computer journalistwho built her internet marketing company, NetCreationsInc., from a two-person homebased start-up to a public companythat generated $58 million in annual sales.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author,not of All answers are intended to be general innature, without regard to specific geographical areas orcircumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting anappropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

Rosalind Resnick

Rosalind Resnick is a New York-based freelance writer, entrepreneur, investor and author of The Vest Pocket Consultant's Secrets of Small Business Success.

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