Start a Work-From-Home Business

Our readers get down to business, offering advice on how to be your own boss.

Susan Welsand, Owner of The Chile Woman Mail-Order Business

Susan Welsand, The Chile Woman, grew her plant-propagating hobby into a full-time business.

Photo Courtesy Susan Welsand

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Self-employment is a dream shared by many people, but finding the right work-at-home job can be daunting. We asked our readers to tell us their successful home-based business ideas. Despite their different ways of making money, these home-business veterans offer similar advice: Be creative, be patient, listen to your customers, learn from your failures, and have a backup plan for dealing with the inevitable setbacks.

Their stories provide inspiration for other start-ups. Many of our readers’ home-based business ideas grew out of a hobby, and these entrepreneurs urge you to choose something you have a passion for. They’re convinced that a work-from-home business will be rewarding if it provides a way to do what makes you happy.

Exotic Vegetables

I always describe my home business as a hobby that grew out of control. When I bought my current home, there was a handmade greenhouse that had become a giant litter box. I cleaned it up and started a huge garden. Friends began buying my pepper and tomato plants, and they encouraged me to sell the extras at the farmers market. So, I did.

People are always passing through Bloomington because it’s a college town. Out-of-towners asked how they could buy my exotic chile and tomato plants from their homes, and my mail-order business was born. I’ve operated it for more than 20 years, shipping pepper, tomato and tomatillo bedding plants across the country. My business, now at The Chile Woman, grew beyond my dreams and has become my full-time occupation. There is nothing more satisfying than the one-minute commute to my greenhouses.

Susan Welsand
Bloomington, Indiana

Internet Food Sales

A family friend gave me some chickens after I bought a 4-acre farm in 2009, and it was off to the races from there.

I have a background in business and look at everything from a profit perspective. When I got my chickens, I turned to the Internet to research, which put me in touch with local farmers who were already doing what I wanted to do. I began selling chickens, eggs and heritage-breed hogs through a dedicated website, via Craigslist and on Facebook. I also maintained a newsletter and blog. My online presence was like having a 24/7 salesperson. I raised products specifically for my customers. When I needed more customers, I sold eggs below market cost as an introduction to my products. My market was suburbanites who wanted to experience the finer things in life. And which is finer: meat bought in a grocery store, or meat raised on pasture, just for them?

Shawn Dostie
Coshocton, Ohio

Yurt Camping

Things were looking grim when my job was eliminated in 2004. Putting our heads together, my business partner and I planned a getaway destination in an under-served tourist area: the Mountain Loop area in western Washington state. Our goal was to open a guest ranch that offered yurt camping for hikers. We like to say we were heading for the hills but taking the public with us!

We bought 17 acres, built a log home, yurt and barn, and established pastures for alpacas. Paca Pride Guest Ranch opened in 2010. We’re online at Paca Pride Guest Ranch, and offer yurt bookings and retail sales of alpaca yarn, hats, scarves, socks and more.

David Capocci
Granite Falls, Washington

Bed-and-Breakfast

After coming through a long and difficult divorce, I returned to live alone in the passive solar home on my 8-acre organic farm. My place was 2 miles from an amusement park that attracted many overnighters, so I converted the house into a bed-and-breakfast that accepted small children. The kids would gather eggs from my chicken house, pick blueberries from my patch and fish in my pond. I advertised all-you-can-eat breakfasts and guests getting to “sleep on sun-dried sheets.” I gradually worked out of extreme poverty. I sold the farm at age 76 and later married a lady who had once said, “I could never sleep with total strangers in my house!”

Alvin Smith
Frisco, Texas

Fiber Arts

I took up weaving because I wanted to have a retirement hobby. I started by gathering yarn and introducing myself to a wonderful local woman who owns beautiful alpacas. I helped her with shearing, and she taught me all about processing fiber.

I became such a passionate weaver, spinner and crocheter that my friends started ordering my shawls and hats. I booked myself to appear at local fairs and craft shows, calling my business Woven Wool Wear. Now I give lessons on basic weaving, spinning, crocheting and knitting, and I sell fiber and yarn on Craigslist. It’s been a wonderful journey, and there’s always something new to learn.

Fran Kwiecien
Courtenay, British Columbia

Goat Harnesses

In my small work-from-home business, B. Iles Harness, I make and sell equipment for working goats — harnesses, pack saddles and other tack. I got started 15 years ago when I needed a proper harness for the 17 working goats I use to do jobs around the farm. When I couldn’t find a goat harness on the market with proper breeching, or one that was adjustable for various goat bodies, it led me to make my own. I use the equipment almost daily, so I know what works.

The best advice I can give to people hoping to start a home business is to find a niche and do what you know. If you have a passion for what you do, it won’t be such a daunting task. I love working goats!

Bambi Iles
Aptos, California

From-the-Farm Sales

In the hopes of living more self-sufficiently, we ended up on 2.5 acres with a chicken coop, root cellar, large garden and an orchard. We acquired 18 chickens from a friend two weeks after we moved, and a week after that, we got three bred Boer goats. While researching home-based business ideas, we learned that our state didn’t regulate from-the-farm sales of honey, fruit, veggies, eggs, broilers (less than 500) and livestock. An accountant told us that most people are so scared of the paperwork and regulations that those stop them from starting a work-from-home business. The Rural Enterprise Assistance Project hooked us up with someone who taught us to use Quickbooks, an accounting software. We also connected with SCORE, an association offering free advice from local mentors. All told, we did about six months of research before we began selling goat’s-milk soap at Udderly Naked.

Ken and Wendy McKenzie
Overton, Nebraska

Handyman Business

For years, my wife told me I should start a business because I know how to fix things. About five years ago, I started Honey-Do-List. What I like best about my work-from-home business is that I can make my own schedule.

Always find out which permits, licenses, certifications and insurance certificates are required in your area. When you’re having a good month, remember to plan ahead for the bad months. Don’t go overboard on buying tools — rent an expensive tool that you’ll use only once a month or less.

Don’t spend all your profits on advertising. Visit local real estate offices to leave a business card, and post your cards on bulletin boards at local diners and coffee shops. Place an ad in your local free press. Give discounts to senior citizens or offer a free half-hour of work in return for referrals.

Rick Rounds
Brasher Falls, New York

Urban Farming

So many people are looking for organic, local food these days. There’s more demand than I can meet with the small community-supported agriculture (CSA) program I manage from our urban backyard, Ivywild Farm Home. I also consult, teach classes, run a blog and operate an urban farming organization.

I’ve had my share of disasters. In 2012, I endured blistering heat, hail, the Waldo Canyon fire and a plague of flea beetles — all in one month. Lesson learned: Always have a Plan B in case you’re skunked by Mother Nature.

The consulting has been challenging, because every future backyard farm is so different. My classes cover all aspects of urban agriculture — backyard chickens, meat rabbits, honeybees, water management, and miniature orchards and vineyards. I’ve zeroed in on urban farming along the Front Range of Colorado, where the weather is brutal and every tomato is a small victory.

Christine Faith
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Top-Bar Hives

I started as a backyard beekeeper, eventually increasing my number of hives to 200. Now, I rent my top-bar hives to farmers for pollinating their fields at 200 Top-Bar Hives: The Low-Cost Sustainable Way. I can build a top-bar hive from recycled wood for as little as $5. My overhead is low — mostly just gasoline for a pickup truck and sugar for feeding the colonies during winter.

To start a home business involving beekeeping, you’ll need to know how to move hives and keep colonies healthy. Build a good reputation by renting out only strong colonies and getting them to the fields on time. Don’t overcommit.

Dr. Wyatt Mangum
Bowling Green, Virginia

Wooden Toys

My desire to start a home business, combined with my boyhood love for woodcraft, helped me decide to make and sell small wooden toys. I started with simple, animal-shaped pull toys, and I contacted tourist-based gift stores about selling them. I learned some bitter lessons when store managers mocked what I had to offer, but some of them suggested improvements and gave me ideas for items that would appeal to people looking for unique, educational toys. By learning to accept criticism, I have built up a successful work-from-home business with about 20 items. My biggest buyer is Lehman’s, which ships our handmade toys to 152 countries.

Elias Keim
Fultonville, New York

Goat Cheese and Milk

We bought our first goat to have fresh milk for our table in about 1979. After retirement, we decided to expand our herd and try cheesemaking. Today, we can’t keep up with the demand for our goat cheese, milk and yogurt. We sell to restaurants, supermarkets, specialty food stores and farmers markets, and we also do direct-to-consumer and Internet sales (Goddard Farm).

Making goat cheese is profitable and exciting, and we encourage anyone who has the desire to get into the business to give it a try. You don’t have to milk hundreds of does to make the business profitable. Two dozen healthy, well-managed, productive does will pay their way.

Sue and Noah Goddard
Lecompton, Kansas

sunndelight
3/25/2016 9:09:35 AM

We haven't moved to our farm yet...still building our home on it. We do live on one acre at the time in suburbia where we raise meat rabbits for our own consumption as well as for selling. We also grow vegetable seedlings for ourselves and for selling during that season. We grow garlic on our farm for sale as well even though we don't live on our farmland yet. Garlic doesn't require constant maintenance so it can be managed from afar. I also sew and sell many hand crafted items through etsy, eBay and amazon. While we don't make our living 100% from these yet, it's getting closer to that and once we move to the farm, we'll be able to expand. Through this we are able to generate more income without me having to work for somebody else. My husband is employed and I stay home and take care of our small business and the household. Our business only makes me a part time paycheck but it has grown over the years from zero income to part time income and it keeps growing. I am also available to care for my family and home as well as take in the grand kids once in awhile. I don't have to waste gasoline on commuting to work, I grow much of our food so savings there (believe me, our grocery bill proves just how much we save compared to the past when we never grew our food). I can veggies for the winter and have plenty of jams to sell and gift. We enjoy doing all of this. It keeps our minds and spirit healthy and keeps us connected and grounded with our surroundings and what it takes to make food. You can do it too. Just start slowly and choose what you love to do.


jason
9/12/2013 4:41:09 PM

Very well thought out article. I run a home based office and i can relate to what the writer is putting across. Kudos for the article. This should help a lot of our teeming unemployed youth to see the possibility of joining the labour force on their own terms by starting a business with little or no capital.. this is my blog please have a look ➜ http://empowernetwork.com/jasontemple/


thefamilypickers
7/13/2013 11:09:04 AM

We feel blessed to see other like-minded families and articles such as this. After husband losing our sole income from Corporate America last year, we have ventured full-time into eBay as "The Family Pickers". Though it hasn't provided full-time income to sustain all our monthly bills, it has been beneficial. It could very well be everyone's extra income at a part-time level or even primary. For us, the extra benefit is that we can do it as a family. From "pickin" the items, teaching the children basic finance, buying & selling, one taking pictures, one lisitng, etc. Of course there is always that extra excitement when we hear the "cha-ching" when a sale is made. This can be started with very low cost and packaging material is free through the USPS. You will need a internet connection but the great thing about an eBay business is that you can be located anywhere. Decide to move? No problem, your business can be operated anywhere. If your interested in getting started, feel free to contact us as we would help any way we can. Otherwise here is a link to a good source of direction for getting started if new to eBay:  http://tinyurl.com/ogtewsy


scromwell
6/12/2013 10:25:18 PM

I love that people can get back to the earth and make an income with it too! Until the time when I can get back to the earth myself, I have found a way to earn income that is totally compatible with homesteading. A company I've discovered has products that are not only environmentally friendly, safe and effective, I have discovered that they are beneficial for those with septic systems as well. The cleaning products contain no toxic ingredients or phosphates, making them safe for use around our children, pets, livestock AND septic systems. From those who use them, I know that septic systems need less maintenance because of them! And cleaning products are just the start!

There are 5 full lines of products from cleaning supplies, laundry supplies, personal care items, vitamins, first aid and so much more. And I DON'T HAVE TO SELL ANYTHING. That's the best part. All I do is introduce people to this company, set them up with their own account, and feel good that they now can have items they were going to buy anyway, but now they have the option of buying safer, more effective products - at about the same price they were paying for toxic ones.

How do I earn? The company does not advertise, but relies on word of mouth to introduce it's products. For doing this, I earn commissions. Much better than paying for advertising, and frees up the company to use top of the line naturally derived ingredients for all it's products.

Please feel free to email me for information, as I am always glad to share amazing things that help us live longer, healthier, more fulfilled lives.

mailto:sandracromwell3@gmail.com


aclincol
5/28/2013 10:23:42 AM

There is one type of business that was not mentioned which has a lot of potential. Weddings! I talk to ranch and farm owners every day and they are getting phone calls from couples looking for beautiful places to get married. Barn weddings and farm weddings are extremely popular right now. 

Feel free to contact me with questions!

Anna Ogden - Novel Weddings

anna@NovelWeddings.com


sady
5/26/2013 1:12:48 PM

I am so happy there are people in this world who loves growing things.  I get to eat scrumptious foods because of their passion.  If anyone is interested in having an online store as a work at  home business, here's a technique you can use to get started==>http://ebiz.inthebog.com


judy.rainey.589
5/22/2013 8:34:14 PM

Thank you for updating this subject....I've been trying to do research on homestead based businesses, and most of your articles were old and outdated!  It's great to learn from others and see what has worked for them.


aquadragonfly
5/22/2013 9:48:57 AM

As a stay-at-home mom, I was looking for something to do with only a small investment of time and money compared to most businesses.  Although it doesn't totally fit a homesteading model, I decided to work for an energy supply company! I simply show people how to save money on natural gas & electric – at NO cost to them!  I chose the company that is largest direct seller of retail energy in the world, with an A+ rating by the Better Business Bureau, so the people I talk to can have confidence in switching to an different supplier.  (Although energy deregulation has been going on for many years, many people don’t even realize they have the power to switch and save!)  I love being able to help people save money on something they need and use every day!

Lori in NY
Regional Consultant, Ambit Energy
Do you like saving money? Every day I pay less for my electric!
Find out how you can too at http://getpowerforless.myambit.com/