Economists say that small businesses are the engine of financial recovery -- both for our country and for people who want to take their work life into their own hands. There's no shortage of resources to help even the smallest start-ups to make more money now.
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Crowdfunding. Elaine Zelker is a mother of three in Easton, Pa., who works as a registered nurse. And while she's good at what she does, her real passion is photography, which she wants to make her fulltime career. Like anyone interested in such a transition, she can't afford to lose her steady income and benefits to pursue her craft full time.
To draw attention to her work, Elaine dreamed of a gallery exhibition showcasing her series of elderly hand portraits. But such an undertaking costs money for printing, framing and promotion. So she turned to crowdfunding to raise the cash. Instead of looking for a single financier such as a bank loan, investor or that rich uncle, crowdfunding enables you reach out to a large group of people through social media to contribute smaller amounts of money for your cause.
Elaine used Indiegogo, one of several sites that offer all the tools to create a campaign to raise money. She spread the word about her business idea on Twitter, Facebook and via e-mail -- and she raised $2,600 to launch her exhibition. Contributions -- not loans or investments -- came from almost 40 people (friends, family and even strangers who appreciated her idea) and ranged from $10 to $500. The site takes a percentage of the amount you raise. Indiegogo says more than a million bucks was distributed to its members last month.
Crowdsourcing. Tiffany Reed owns a graphic and web design business and is always looking for new clients. She benefits from a crowdsourcing site called CrowdSpring, where thousands of projects are posted, along with the price the buyer is willing to pay. Creative freelancers and small business owners like Tiffany submit their work for consideration.
CrowdSpring says about $300,000 a month is paid to US-based creatives like Tiffany. The majority of projects are low-paying, but you can make up for it in volume and by establishing contacts with prospective clients to help grow your business. That's worked well for Tiffany: last year, she earned nearly $13,000 from CrowdSpring, and many of her clients hired her off the site for additional work and others found her work on the site and engaged her in projects.
Mobile payments. Mother-daughter team Donna and Lauren Johanson run Chivas Skincare on their goat farm in Fillmore, Calif. They make soap from goat's milk and sell their wares online and at farmer's markets and holiday bazaars.
With a cash-only business, customers don't buy as much as they do when they can pay with plastic. Now they use Square, a small attachment to a mobile phone that allows them to swipe credit cards to accept payments on the go. The Johanson's says business has increased by 15 percent since they began using Square.
The device is free, with no set-up, cancellation or monthly fees. Square takes a flat fee of 2.75 percent and 15 cents per transaction. Visit Square's website for complete details on rules and restrictions.