How to Work From Home

Sandy Stein is a former flight attendant who invented a gadget to prevent her keys from getting lost at the bottom of her bag. Several big distributors told her the Finders Key Purse would never sell, so she set out to build her own sales force made up mainly of stay-at-home moms and other women across the country who go door to door to their favorite gift shops and boutiques for wholesale orders. In the first year, more than a million pieces were sold. Visit the website to learn more about becoming a local rep in your area for this and the company's sister products.

And speaking of selling, direct sales remains a viable option if you select the right product category for you. The Direct Selling Association offers the most reputable advice on the industry, including a listing of hundreds of legitimate companies.

Sell and Serve: Last week Arise Virtual Solutions announced it would add 5,000 home-based agents over the next few months. Virtual customer service opportunities, which allow you to answer customer inquiries from home, can also be found through VIPDesk, LiveOps and Alpine Access.

Most companies require home-based agents to have an up-to-date computer, high speed Internet access, a dedicated phone line and a quiet workspace. Each operates differently -- from hiring employees to contracting with independent reps to requiring incorporation, so research all options, including mandatory start-up and training fees, before determining which (if any) may appeal to you.

Personal Concierge: At 56, Bill Doyle was laid off in October 2009 after working for five years at a popular Philadelphia performing arts center. Devastated by that pink slip -- losing the job was like losing a best friend, he said, Doyle wound up in the hospital for two weeks with chest pain. While on the mend, within a few months he realized what he loved most was serving people and solving problems, so he started Go2Guy, a personalized concierge service.

His services range from planning small dinner parties for a busy family, to running errands, waiting for repairman, you name it. And he's marketing himself to individuals who don't have enough time to get it all done and to companies whose employers don't have enough time to get it all done.

So far he's bringing in about $1,500 a month, but says it's picking up steadily as word spreads and he's very hopeful that it will soon out-pace his previous income, which is a good thing because Doyle told me, "I will never get that goodbye handshake from any boss again."

Resources: Triangle Concierge is run by one of the leading concierge experts and offers advice articles on the industry; At Your Service Atlanta is run by my friend Barbara Betti, whose website describes the range of services a concierge can offer.

How to Work From Home

Virtual Social Media Consultant: Lanae Paaverud in Minnesota recognized that so many small businesses didn't have a presence on Facebook or Twitter because they lacked time, knowledge and know-how. So just about a year ago, she dubbed herself the Social Networking Nanny and became determined to take care of the social media needs of small businesses.

For $150 she'll set up a Facebook page or a Twitter profile, and then for a reasonable hourly fee she updates the content, builds a following, and develops meaningful ways for the business owners to engage with their current and prospective clients and customers.

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