by Jeremy Quittner and John Tozzi
In any economy, a part-time business can bring in extra income, give you a fallback plan if you lose your job, or plant the seed for a larger venture. In a downturn, it's hard to argue with preparing a backup plan. Of course, starting a business is always risky, and you will almost surely spend more than you make at first. Previously, we offered advice for recently laid-off workers considering going into business for themselves. Now we're offering snapshots of part-time solo business ventures that could turn into full-fledged businesses, including tips on getting started.
Man does not live by bread alone, or so the saying goes. But if anyone checked the sales of some of the best independent bakeries around the country, they'd be astounded. In 1994, Jim Lahey started Sullivan Street Bakery after several years experimenting as a home baker. Today, his company, which has about $6 million in annual revenues and about 90 employees, is a New York City bread-baking institution. Lahey has a word of warning, though: "Knowledge of cooking is much greater than 20 years ago," he says. "The market is more competitive and if you want to develop a cottage industry, the product better exceed expectations."
And if you want to jump on one of the hottest trends nationally—cupcakes—you might even find yourself selling upwards of 2,000 a day, an amount that New York's famed Magnolia Bakery easily exceeds. At $2 a pop, you can do the math, even for your home-based business.
First steps: Break out your market. Are you going to make muffins and cupcakes or bagels and baguettes? As with most food businesses, you'll need a state license in order to sell to the public. If that seems daunting, you can start by selling to friends and relatives or at local bake sales.
You also need to decide how much space you'll need. If you outgrow your home kitchen, consider renting space in a professional kitchen.
Time needed: Baking is a time-consuming business, so expect to devote 10 to 20 hours a week on it for part-time work.
Average sales: $41,000, based on Labor Dept. data.
It's true that few bloggers make enough to earn a living—most make nothing at all. But if you can write well about a topic you're passionate about, you may develop a following, and with enough page views you can start bringing in revenue from ads. Pick a narrow topic that you're intimately familiar with and that has a well-defined audience. For example, a site that covers the world of digital SLR cameras in minute detail has a more natural audience than a broad technology blog; likewise, a general restaurant review site may elicit yawns, while a blog chronicling the seafood shacks of New England could attract a cultish following.
First steps: Begin writing and start participating in online communities where people interested in your topic hang out. Start for free on a platform like Blogger or WordPress.
Time needed: Prepare to spend at least a few hours each day writing. Keep a regular schedule to make sure your blog doesn't get stale.
Average sales: $24,335, based on Economic Census data.
Yard-sale mavens who already spend weekends trawling for hidden treasures can resell what they salvage online, on eBay or other sites. Pick a niche that interests you and that you have some expertise in and monitor what already sells online so you can set prices accurately. If you know your vinyl, buy old record collections in bulk and resell the gems individually online. From books to electronics, you may be able to find resalable items out on the street on trash night or given away for pennies at moving sales.
First steps: Set up a shop on eBay or other e-commerce sites and begin to build your seller rating. It's free to list items on many e-commerce sites, though eventually you may want to invest in your own Web site, advertising, or premium services.
Time needed: Expect to spend several hours a week finding inventory and listing it for sale.
Average sales: $22,196, based on Economic Census data.
Turn your love of flowers and colors into bouquets and arrangements for occasions that vary from weddings and bar mitzvahs to confirmations and dinner parties. About one-third of the estimated 87,000 floral designers are self-employed, according to the Labor Dept.
First steps: Community colleges, vocational schools, and private floral schools all offer courses in flower design. You'll need to find a source for flowers, too. If you don't live near a flower wholesaler, a growing number now sell online. This is a supply-intensive business. You'll need a workshop space, refrigeration system, and some means of delivering your goods to clients.
Time needed: Three to 20 hours per week.
Average sales: $21,700, based on Labor Dept. data.
It's probably easier than you think to turn your love of bling into cash on the side. About half of all jewelry makers in the U.S. are self-employed. You can sell online or to thousands of brick-and-mortar retailers.
First steps: You'll need design flair, manual dexterity, and attention to detail to get started. Technical and vocational schools offer classes on basics; community colleges also offer courses on design. A clean, well-lit workspace is necessary. Be sure to design pieces in a variety of price ranges. You'll probably spend $500 to $2,000 for materials, from beads and wire to gold and silver to cloth and wax, plus tools like a vise, pliers, and jigs.
Time needed: Evenings and weekends.
Average sales: $30,000, based on Labor Dept. data.
Love animals? Opportunities abound in the pet care industry. Consider walking dogs during the day, grooming or training pets on weekends, or boarding animals overnight. Even if you're not equipped to keep others' pets in your home, you can offer to wash and groom animals at clients' houses, or check in on their pets at their home while they're away. Owners often need someone to watch their pets on weekends and holidays, so pet care can be an easy business to start if you work during the week.
First steps: Start by caring for your friends' animals and get referrals through them, because trust is key for people placing their pets in other people's care.
Time needed: You can get started working on weekends and evenings.
Average sales: $22,183, based on Economic Census data.
The barriers to starting a photography business virtually disappeared with the dawn of affordable digital SLR cameras and software like Photoshop. If you're skilled in taking great pictures, pick a niche and build a business around it. You might want to shoot weddings, bar mitzvahs, or corporate events. Or consider family or individual portraits. You could even set up a small studio space in your home. Consider what services you'll offer clients beyond just taking pictures—can you build a Web page to showcase the photos of their event as well?
First steps: Put together a portfolio of your existing work to show potential clients.
Time needed: For event photography, expect most gigs to be on weekends or evenings (galas, for example). You may be able to arrange portrait appointments on a more flexible schedule.
Average sales: $26,259, based on Economic Census data.
Translator or Interpreter
Those who speak more than one language have a ready skill to turn into a part-time business. You can get work translating documents or as an interpreter over the phone or in person. Focus on an area you have some deeper knowledge in. For example, if you have a legal background, angle your business around translating legal documents.
First steps: Get a certificate proving your proficiency from the American Translators Assn. and/or the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
Time needed: Translation work can be done from home on your own schedule, but be prepared to meet client deadlines.
Average sales: $21,541, based on Economic Census data.
Launching a T-shirt business is about as American as apple pie and your first paper route. Take the Life is Good guys, Bert and John Jacobs, who started out in 1989, selling their shirts door to door, at street fairs, and from the back of their van. Today, the company has about $100 million in annual revenues. T-shirt design is a hotly competitive market, however, and it should go without saying that the barriers to entry are low.
First steps: Create a catalog of design ideas, or simply one good one, like the Jacobs brothers, whose smiling stick figure captured the national mood. You need to decide if you will invest in the manufacturing materials or use a third-party designer, frequently known in the trade as a publisher: Lots of these exist, from CafePress to T-Shirt Monster. Using a publisher is cheaper, but you have less control and you'll be handing over most of your profits. On the other hand, investing in your own equipment, including a heat transfer press, can be expensive: $500 to $1,000. Again, this is an intensely crowded and competitive industry.
Time needed: Nights and weekends.
Average sales: $48,000, based on Economic Census data.
If you're adept at coding and have an eye for sharp design, you make be able to make a business making Web sites—especially if it's something you already do professionally. Begin by building sites for friends and contacts to accumulate a portfolio. Focus on a niche, like designing pages for bands or restaurants, where you can develop a name for yourself in the community and get referrals from your early clients. Decide whether you want to build a one-time site for clients or take on the responsibility of updating and maintaining it, and bill appropriately.
First steps: Set up your own Web site with a portfolio of your work.
Time needed: You can make your own hours as long as you meet client deadlines—which may mean pulling some all-nighters.
Average sales: $42,104, based on Economic Census data.