For the above entrepreneurs, wearing pajamas for a day at the office isn’t far from reality. From pet care to virtual assistants and even online dating, we found entrepreneurs who are not just enjoying work from their living rooms and bedrooms, but they are also making a good living at it. In one case, a business owner grossed $10 million in a year, and cleared half that amount. Here's a look at the hottest industries for home-based entrepreneurs -- illustrated with some fun CEO self-portraits.
Approximately two-thirds of American households own pets, making the pet industry the sixth-fastest-growing industry in the nation -- with $43.4 billion projected to be spent on pets in this year alone. It's no wonder then that Fetch! Pet Care, a Berkeley, Calif.-based company that provides a wide range of pet-sitting and dog-walking services is thriving. The 2008 Inc. 5000 company brought in revenue of $3.5 million last year and operates on a franchise model that includes 200 locations nationwide with a network of more than 3,800 pet sitters. "Pets don't know that we are in an economic downturn, and it's been proven that pets are therapeutic for people," says founder and CEO Paul Mann. "You don't stop feeding your pet in bad times."
As business owners have become more comfortable working virtually, and work/life balance has increasingly become a necessity, the demand for virtual assistants has grown significantly. Tawnya Sutherland would know -- five years ago she started VAnetworking.com, the largest online social network for virtual assistants, which has seen membership triple in the past year to over 10,000 and revenue exceed $150,000. She created the site as a space for fellow virtual assistants to share information, exchange ideas, and discuss industry best practices. Sutherland maintains that "VAs are a really diversified group that can do just about anything." And, in addition to saving business owners the cost of having an in-office employee, "it relieves you as a business owner to work on the thing that you're most interested in doing."
With just a computer and an Internet connection, virtually anyone these days can start their own website and market their products and services from home without spending a lot of money. But despite the low barrier to entry in this industry, not all businesses have worked out the model for success quite like Karen Hoxmeier. The stay-at-home mom founded MyBargainBuddy.com, which publishes hundreds of daily deals and coupon codes for shopping sites all over the Web. "My business happens to be a hobby that pays me," she says. "I love shopping and I love bargain hunting. And if what you do helps someone else, that makes it even better."
In a tight economy, one of the primary goals for a business owner is staying on top of cash flow. But let's face it -- nobody likes having to ask for the check. That's where Melissa Nash Andrews and her company, Accounts Receivables, come in. A full-service collection agency, Nash Andrews stays on top of her clients' accounts receivables and provides a range of bookkeeping services for business owners looking to outsource accounting. "If I can help another small business person to stay in business and to keep their business, then I've met my goal," she says.
As more companies contract out specialty services like recruiting, staffing companies like Atlanta-based XRoads Consulting are seeing an upturn in business. Founded in 2006 by neighbors Ruben Santana and Bill Foster, XRoads specializes in placing people for technical positions at companies located primarily in the southeastern United States. They also help companies select and implement information technology solutions that will best meet their needs. Both Santana and Foster have leveraged their prior experience in the industry to grow their revenues to $5.58 million in the first two years of business. "There are definite financial rewards to being home-based and not having the upfront overhead needed to start a business," Santana says.
Those who are making money in the beleaguered housing industry these days are people like Allan Young, founder and CEO of ShelfGenie, a company that designs and installs custom-shelving units for the home. "A high percentage of our clients are people who are staying put in their homes but want to do an affordable upgrade," says Young, who recently began franchising the sales model in April. Because the shelving systems are customized for the client, there is no inventory for the franchisee, and appointments are handled through a call center, making it very feasible for the franchisees to get their business up-and-running and achieve positive cash flow quite quickly.
When it comes to purchasing products and services, consumers are increasingly making their decisions with the environment in mind. One company that has capitalized on this growing consumer awareness is Postgreen, a Philadelphia-based real-estate development company whose mission is to build green homes that are affordable for the average family. Founders Chad and Courtney Ludeman, and marketing director, Nic Darling, are working on a line of LEED-certified homes that will sell for $100 a square foot -- a cost equal to a regular home without green efficiencies. "We are making consumers look at houses differently," says Darling. "Instead of just a monthly payment, they are starting to look at all the costs that go into owning a home, and we have a distinct advantage in being much less expensive [to maintain] than a normal house."
The way a company represents itself on the Web is becoming increasingly important, and no one understands this mission better than Sam Feuer, founder of Mindsmack.com, a full-service Web-design firm whose projects include everything from iPhone application design to commercial animation. From his home based in North Brunswick, N.J., Feuer manages a staff of 44 along with a network of freelancers, some of whom work globally. "The real key is doing the work at an elite level," Feuer says. "It doesn't matter where my employees are -- I don't care if they work from the moon -- as long as they get the job done and they are two steps ahead of what the client is looking for."
Given the dismal job opportunities at many companies right now, job-seekers are looking for any and every way to distinguish themselves from the competition. Kathy Sweeney, founder and CEO of resume writing service The Write Resume, is busy like never before, with revenue growth of 21 percent in the past year alone. Sweeney, who is recognized as one of the foremost experts in the industry, has written resumes for people all over the world, most of the time just from information that she has gleaned from phone conversations with the client. "It's really about relationship building and I believe you can do that without meeting someone. If I can develop a bond with people then I know I'll be successful in helping them."
Complying with federal regulations is a tricky business, especially for companies in the pharmaceutical and medical-device industries, where many will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to send their employees to required educational conferences. Joseph Pickett of Experts Briefings has found a way around this big expense by offering companies the same experts and packaged information through his teleconferencing business. Pickett lines up the speakers for the teleconference and then hosts it from his home computer, charging companies $400 a head. Pickett purchased the company in early 2008 and has increased revenue from $25,000 to $300,000 in less than a year. "My price for customers and for most pharma companies is chump change, but for me working out of my house, it's a lot of money."
A new ecosystem of free software and low-cost Web services have made it possible for Web start-ups with a little bit of traffic to bootstrap their growth without raising tens of millions in venture capital. No one has done this as effectively as Markus Frind, the founder of PlentyofFish, an online dating site based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Frind launched his company in 2003 by himself and with no idea how to run a Web business. Five years later, PlentofFish is the largest dating site in the United States, according to Hitwise, and the company pulls in $10 million a year. You can read more about Frind, who still works only a few hours a week, in Inc.'s January/February cover story, The Money Comes Rolling In.