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Debra L. Rothenberg
Brian Adams for AEDC
Internet Marketing –– Jason Sadler, IWearYourShirt.comFranchising –– David and Stuart Pikoff, Games2UOnline Advice –– Amanda Steinberg, DailyWorthInsurance –– Chris Jordan, Atlanta Insurance LivePersonal Fitness –– Franklin Antoian, IBodyFit.comSpecialty Travel –– Deborah Mayer, Shop Around ToursGovernment Contracting –– Jim Anderson, LeadDog Consulting Children's Wholesale and Retail –– Michelle Tunno Buelow, Bella TunnoOnline Content Aggregation –– Michael Sitarzewski, Callisto.fm
So you've got a ton of friends on Facebook and a loyal Twitter following. Why not profit off them? Jason Sadler has found a way to capitalize on all the hype surrounding social media marketing. Three-hundred sixty-five days a year, Sadler serves as a live billboard for companies and charities on all the major social media sites. Sadler, who launched IWearYourShirt.com at the end of 2008, wears a shirt a day, and sells each calendar day according to its numerical value. On January 10, for example, a company would pay Sadler $10 to wear its shirt. He works from his home in Jacksonville, Florida, and leverages his social media following by blogging, tweeting, filming a live video show, and updating his Facebook photo, all while wearing the designated T-shirt of the day. And, yes, he will still wear your shirt to a wedding, or even if he's sick in bed. Now that the idea has taken off, Sadler has hired a West Coast counterpart -- with a whole new following -- to expand the company's marketing reach.
Franchises are becoming an increasingly popular and easy way for anyone to start their own business from home, thanks to entrepreneurs like David and Stuart Pikoff. The brothers left their corporate jobs with the intent to get into the franchise space, but after researching different options, none appealed to their offbeat personalities. So they ventured out on their own. In October 2007, they launched Games2U -- a mobile entertainment center complete with video gaming stations and big screen TVs -- after concluding that there wasn't much new in the kids entertainment space. The brothers sell the completely self-contained vehicles to franchisees, who then rent them out for birthday parties, community events, and the like. Games2U, which began franchising in early 2008, now has 97 franchises in 23 states, and Joel Kocher, a former president at Dell, has signed on to help the Pikoffs with their 2010 high-growth expansion plan.
In the past decade, the Web has become the go-to place for consumers to seek out advice and scope out the newest trends and deals. Sites like DailyCandy and Thrillist have been successful at monetizing this online community by publishing daily e-mail newsletters packed with exclusive information for subscribers. After operating Soapbxx, a Web consultancy, for 10 years (the past four of which have been home-based), Amanda Steinberg launched a second business from home last January to provide personal financial advice to women. Building off of the DailyCandy model, Steinberg's DailyWorth publishes daily e-mail newsletters with tips and advice from financial experts, including MP Dunleavey, a former finance columnist for The New York Times. With 9,000 subscribers and counting, Steinberg simultaneously runs her start-up and Soapbxx from her home in Mount Airy, Pennsylvania, while playing mom to two young kids.
Insurance may not be the most exciting field, but opportunities abound for businesses owners willing to break away from the traditional corporate model and add their own spin. That's exactly what Chris Jordan did last March when he left his corporate insurance sales job and founded Atlanta Insurance Live, a home-based sole proprietorship that is built on the premise of interacting with clients virtually. Jordan maintains a video blog about insurance issues and chats live with customers through his website. He employs a casual style and remains transparent about his home-based status -- as a new way to market his business and dispel the stigma of stuffy insurance agents in suits and ties, in order to attract a younger demographic. So far, it seems to be working, with a steadily growing customer base.
As a personal trainer who held private sessions in people's homes for many years, Franklin Antoian discovered a growing trend of people who didn't want to trek to the gym. In 2006, he launched IBodyFit.com, a site that allows anyone to get the complete personal training experience online. Through the website, members get individualized attention from a personal trainer and have the ability to access online fitness classes and exercise videos. Trainers create customized workouts for clients and are fully available to them via phone, e-mail, and IM. Members can work out on their own time at home, or download their custom workouts to their iPod at a cost much lower than the average gym membership, which is an increasingly expendable luxury in a down economy. In 2009 alone, Antonian, who is based in Del Rey Beach, Florida, signed up 2,000 new members.
There are always good deals to be had in the travel industry, if you know where to look. After spending several years working for travel companies putting together itineraries for group tours, Deborah Mayer had an idea to structure a tour around outlet shopping in Italy. She had been watching the outlet scene grow there, and since many of the stores were off the beaten track, she knew it was the type of tour that would need a guide. In the spring of 2001, Mayer launched Shop Around Tours from her Manhattan apartment. Within the first few weeks of putting up her website, the first tour was sold out. Mayer now runs three to four shopping tours around Italy per year and continues to grow her business primarily through word of mouth. Her business grew dramatically after a mention in O, The Oprah Magazine in 2006, and with a niche focused on discount shopping, she's managed to fill all her tours, even during the recession.
Just because you work from home doesn't mean you can't sell to the world's biggest customer -- Uncle Sam. Jim Anderson has digitally mapped over 100 countries from his home office nestled in the hills of Anchorage, Alaska, which he describes as the crossroads of the grizzly and black bear populations. Founded in 2000, Anderson's company, LeadDog Consulting, has carved a niche in the mapping industry by documenting roads and major points of interest in developing countries, where major infrastructure knowledge is lacking. The company got attention for its extensive mapping efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, making it one of the only providers of those materials to the U.S. government and military. After the start of the Iraq war, NBC News commissioned LeadDog to produce a map of Basra that the network could display as part of their broadcasts. In addition to the government, LeadDog works with GPS tracking companies to develop maps, as well as private companies on projects like location scouting.
After having her first baby in 2004, Michelle Tunno Buelow started making clothing and other baby items that fit her funky style. Friends started taking notice, and before long, she was selling her custom-designed line called Bella Tunno in local markets in Charlotte, N.C. Soon after, she received an order from a store in Beverly Hills where celebrity moms like Nicole Kidman shopped. The owner was putting together swag for new moms at the Golden Globes, and asked Tunno Buelow if she would like to donate one of her products. Once the brand name was out there and attracted a celebrity following, Tunno Buelow started receiving calls from major retailers like Gap and Nordstrom. Today, the Bella Tunno brand is sold in over 4,000 stores worldwide and includes practical yet trendy "necessories" such as laminated bibs and smocks. Tunno Buelow, who founded the company in her late brother's memory, also donates a portion of every sale to drug- and alcohol-related charities.
With so much content consumed on the Web these days, the door has opened for entrepreneurs who have found ways to not only catalogue some it, but to make it easier for users to consume the information. While plenty of sites existed for streaming TV shows, Michael Sitarzewski realized that there wasn't anything comparable for listening to podcasts. So in 2008, at a podcaster conference, he pitched his idea for a site that would stream podcasts and organize all the content by channels, giving visitors a place to consume podcasts all in one place. Immediately, he had interest from developers, and within months, Callisto.fm was launched. The site now has 4,500 shows listed and operates primarily through ad revenue. Sitarzewski, who works from home and in places all over his hometown of Boulder, also runs Hypersites, another company he founded in 2001 that serves as a website development application for designers.