In tough economic times, some have looked into seemingly strange ways to make money and launch new careers.
From selling used items on eBay to hosting web chats, some savvy entrepreneurs have taken advantage of a simple idea and turned it into a successful business venture.
|Sell Returned Stuff on eBay|
'Tis the season to be returning, and a large warehouse in Cranbury, N. J., is just one of the places where your returned Christmas gifts "go to die."
After the holiday splurge last month, big retailers that offered those extended gift return promises are now flooded with hoards of unwanted Christmas gifts. In fact, the National Retail Federation estimated that holiday gift returns would total a record $46.3 billion, up 4 percent from last year.
But all those returns don't end up back on store shelves. The process of figuring out what's defective and what's just unwanted is so complicated that many of the big-box stores outsource that task to someone else.
Liquidation.com has become a booming business by taking returned items and excess inventory from seven of the top 10 retailers (although they wouldn't reveal who), and re-selling them -- everything, including Prada bags, TVs, iPads, air hockey tables, treadmills and battery-operated, remote controlled cars -- for up to 40 percent off.
Buyers then purchase discounted items in bulk from the company, and sell them themselves through eBay, Craigslist and other marketplace websites.
Carmel Harris said he buys discounted TVs from Liquidation.com three times a week, and then resells them for a profit, earning twice as much he did at his old job installing car stereos.
|Be a Phone Sex Operator|
A typical day for 45-year-old Star includes walking the dog, straightening her 8-year-old son's room and running a load of laundry.
It also includes stepping into her home office to work as a phone sex operator.
"I look at what I do as a business," Star, a single mom, told "Good Morning America" in December. "It happens to deal with sex."
Star, who asked that we not give her last name or hometown, is one of thousands of moms in the U.S. who work as phone sex operators, and the numbers are growing at dramatic rates.
In the last 18 months alone, the number of mothers of young children pursuing sex work has jumped 400 percent, according to ratracerebellion.com, an organization that helps mothers find work-at-home jobs of all kinds, ranging from writing assignments to telemarketing.
|Host a Mommy Blog|
Mommy bloggers number in the millions. They solicit and offer advice and anecdotes on parenting, essentially creating massive online support groups.
Being a mommy blogger can be big business: If the website gains a big enough following, companies will often try to connect to the blogger, asking them to try and possibly endorse products for cash. The most successful blogs, like Dooce.com, can net tens of thousands of dollars a month.
Soleil Moon Frye, who many know through playing the character Punky Brewster from the '80s sitcom, left the TV spotlight to raise her daughters, quickly found a new line of work as a "mom-trepreneur."
She has a new book called "Happy Chaos," a website for organic children's clothing called "The Little Seed," a web series called "Her Say," and she also now works for Target as a "Mommy Ambassador," all of which have turned into an enormous online following -- she has over 1.4 million followers on Twitter.
"I talk about products that I love," Frye told ABC's Lara Spencer. "I talk about the companies that I connect with. I share so much of my life, but I don't share anything that isn't genuine to me."
Inside a shed next to his house, Joe Henry of Medford, Ore., has orange tubs filled with 200,000 pennies, and he spends hours sorting through roll after roll.
It's not just any and all pennies. Henry is only interested in those that are dated 1982 and earlier because they're made with 95 percent copper. A copper penny is worth more than other pennies -- now mostly made of zinc -- currently priced at $0.024.
But there's a catch.
It's illegal to melt pennies and there is an obscure federal law that makes it illegal to transport more than $5 in pennies out of the country.
Penny hoarders know this of course, but they also know something else. In what could be the biggest legislation to hit the U.S. Mint in 50 years, officials are now looking at the composition of pennies and nickels and considering an overhaul. If the laws change and the mint decides to abolish the penny, people would be free to melt them down for the copper.
|Get Rid of Someone Else's Junk|
Brian Scudamore is the man who is the king of junk. The CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK has grown his multimillion-dollar business into the Starbucks of trash.
1-800-GOT-JUNK is a full-service junk removal company that began in Vancouver, and has now spread to the U.S. and Australia. Scudamore's company has become a classic example of a simple idea executed to perfection, raking in millions as a result.
"I'm surprised nobody thought about it," Scudamore said. "I mean, I'm a high school dropout, a university dropout. It's such a simple idea, how did it become what it is today?"
The company hit its first $1 million year in 1999 and now brings in roughly $100 million each year. One thousand trucks do the simple task of picking up people's unwanted stuff and getting rid of it.
|Show off Your Shopping Haul on YouTube|
One of the hottest Web phenomena for fashionistas has turned shopping sprees into something that brings worldwide bragging rights.
"Haul videos," homemade online videos in which women and young girls show off their bargain-hunting triumphs, or "hauls," have gone from being an Internet sensation to a lucrative business. There are almost 300,000 haul videos currently on YouTube, with several getting millions of views.
Essentially the videos are short product reviews, and as they became popular, major retailers started to take notice. A few have actively recruited some of the haulers for their marketing campaigns.
|Rent Out Your Stuff, Even Your Dog!|
All over the country, websites are popping up where people can rent one another their stuff, turning something that's gathering dust into a moneymaker. And the people who need the stuff save big bucks by renting instead of buying.
On websites such as loanables.com and snapgoods.com, you can rent -- or rent out -- almost anything: a barbecue, bungee cord or backyard, power tools, a parking space or a storage space.
Kelly and Steve Haley rented Healthcliff the dog from Ame Shillington.
"It's always funny when we tell people we rent a dog because it's like, 'You rent a what?'" Kelly Haley said.