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Home Business Success Stories: Internet Edition

In our last column, we took profiled two families who found success as owners of community-based home businesses. Today we’ll look at another group of home-based entrepreneurs, real people making a decent living by using the medium of the Internet.

Etsy: The Online Marketplace for Home-Based Artisans

For those wishing to sell their wares online, the Internet marketplace is no longer confined to just eBay alone. A newer kid in town, Etsy.com, is hot, hot, hot. Its popularity with both buyers and sellers is rapidly expanding each day. Etsy, an online artisan marketplace, offers unique, handmade items you can’t find anywhere else.

The Etsy online community is huge, spanning the globe with buyers and sellers from more than 150 countries. Etsy’s mission, according to its About page, “is to enable people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers. Our vision is to build a new economy and present a better choice: Buy, Sell, and Live Handmade.”

Ginger O’Hara, from St. Louis, Missouri, is one of many Etsy success stories. In 2006, she opened her Etsy shop, Serendipity  – Beyond Design, hoping to make a little extra income by doing something she loved – making custom invitations for others. Using bold colors, unique textures and all things beautiful, Ginger designs and creates specialty items for her customers. Custom logos, save-the-date cards, vintage postcards and wedding invitations are just a few things she offers in her online Etsy shop.

In the beginning, Ginger never imagined the at-home design business would eventually allow her to quit her day job as a graphic designer. In fact, when she first began Serendipity – Beyond Design, Ginger had no marketing plan for her business at all. She simply began using Etsy as a platform to sell her one-of-a-kind products. She relied on word-of-mouth to gain new customers. Over time, her exposure on Etsy grew.

“I was completely impressed with Etsy’s seller platform,” says Ginger. “It is easy to use and it just seems to get better and better every day. I just log on and then I can see stats, find sales, and all sorts of neat things related to my business. It’s a great tool.”

Before Ginger knew it, she was spending every free second of her day working on designs for Etsy clients. She converted one of her bedrooms into a studio and took over the garage. Eventually Ginger knew she’d have to choose between her full-time job away from home, and the ever-growing, now full-time job at home.

Ginger chose the latter, and she has never looked back. There isn’t one single thing that she misses about having a standard day job.  She likes the flexibility of being her own boss, and says each workday looks different from the one before. “Nothing is more rewarding than working for myself, and being able to show up to work in pajamas isn’t half bad, either,” she jokes.

Exceptional quality is Ginger’s #1 business tip for those who are considering the switch from a day job to working at home. “What makes me different from the competition are my stand-out designs,” says Ginger. “My goal is to always create something that I would buy for myself, and something that my customers will be proud to show off.”

When I asked Ginger to give a parting word of advice for new off-the-grid startups, she responded, “Be passionate. If you’re passionate about your business and what you do, there’s no way it can’t grow.”

Virtual Assistants: Online Administrative Support

Not everyone is an artisan at heart. You don’t have to be an artisan like Ginger to still be able to work from home. One profitable service-based Internet business is that of Virtual Assistant.

Virtual Assistants provide secretarial, administrative, and support services to small businesses, large companies, and busy individuals who need assistance with their daily business operation. Virtual Assistants (sometimes called VAs) normally work directly from home. They provide their services via phone, fax and e-mail, almost always using their own equipment.

Virtual Assistants appeal to so many modern day businesses because they allow companies – especially very small businesses or the self-employed –  to spend more time making money and less time focusing on administrative details. Most Virtual Assistants work on a contractual or per-project basis. This means businesses get the office support they need without the expense of hiring multiple employees. Because they’re contractors and not employees, companies do not have to provide VAs with insurance or 401K benefits.

Anna Baron is a Virtual Assistant in Dallas, Texas. She runs her own VA service, The Virtual Secretary, out of her home. Before starting her practice, Anna worked for 10 years supporting busy executives in corporate America and has an extensive resume.  “Hiring me is having your own administrative assistant, computer guru, certified webmaster and business consultant all in one,” says Anna.

Anna offers a myriad of specialized services to her clients. Internet research? No problem. Need to make travel arrangements or have a professional Power Point designed in 24 hours? Again, no problem. She also assists busy professionals with administrative tasks such as correspondence, e-mail and voicemail monitoring. Anna also creates reports, mailings, and offers database management … all from the comfort of her home office.

“Most new clients find me through my website,” says Anna. “And once my customers use my services, they’ll usually come back for more work.”

She also gains new business through word-of-mouth and referrals. Like so many others, Anna says quality really counts if you want to be successful in your at-home work venture.

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