The results of the 2008 StartupNation Home-Based 100 ranking are now in, and one thing is abundantly clear: Starting and running a business from home is more mainstream than ever.
This year, the number of contestants in the Home-Based 100 tripled, numbering in the thousands. Votes in support of those businesses increased tenfold, to a quarter of a million for this year’s contestants, a sign that what they do is of immense interest among more and more Americans. As usual, the Top Ten categories ranged from serious, like Best Financial Performers, Recession Busters and Most Innovative, to light-hearted, like Most Slacker-Friendly and Wackiest.
It may surprise you, but now over half of all businesses are run from kitchen tables, extra bedrooms, basements and garages, making home-based businesses a $530 billion contributor to the U.S. economy annually.
For many, starting up at home is a necessity. What appeared to be an economic downturn a year ago has devolved into a far more dire situation. With major economic giants, such as Lehman Brothers, AIG and General Motors showing their vulnerability, and droves of other corporate titans laying people off by the thousands, Americans are being forced to find new ways to make a living.
Their criteria? Inexpensive and immediate.
Enter home-based business. Running your own show from home requires typically nothing more than a skill set and a passion, making it the least expensive way to endeavor into business. It’s become the stepping off point for many a newbie entrepreneur. A recent Wells Fargo study indicated that the average amount of capital required to start a business is approximately $10,000.
But when you consider that that statistic includes the capital-intensive brick-n-mortar startups, you begin to realize that a home-based business can really be started on as little as hundreds of dollars. Just look at one of our 2008 winners, Britt Taylor, who started marketing swords and related merchandise online in 2007. He threw a few hundred dollars at Google Adwords and has since grown the home-based business to a monthly gross of $30,000, half of which he pockets as profit.
Greasing the skids for home-based startups are key solutions that bring a home-based operation to life. Take Home-Based 100 sponsors Microsoft Office Live Small Business and FedEx Office, for example. They offer free website templates and efficient printing and shipping services (respectively) that are optimized for home-based success, and are among many such companies that have realized the appeal and growth opportunity that the home-based market represents to solution providers.
And outsourcing plays a role, too, in the growth of home-based business. The ability to outsource certain tasks is simpler than it has ever been. Web design, payroll, accounting services, and contract manufacturing, for example, are all available to the at-homer – in many cases being supplied by other home-based ventures.
A new reality this year was the priority placed on social media by home-based businesses and their audiences. For the first time, that sense of isolation of being based at home has given way to immense connectivity through online networking, which has been widely adopted.
We’ve noticed this trend in the blogosphere, which has been lit up with references and links to the StartupNation Home-Based 100, as well as social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon and others, which have driven immense amount of traffic to contestants’ profiles in the competition. This is testimony to the swelling current of conversation that home-based businesses are participating in online and the networking and marketing benefits they’re gaining as a result. You’ll see great examples of how home-based entrepreneurs leverage social media by visiting the Top Ten Highest Vote Getters for 2008.
In terms of who is being drawn to home-based business, it’s definitely a mix of men and women, young and old. A big part of the surge in these startups, though, was indicated by a huge spike in boomer contestants this year. They clearly are leveraging the marketable skills they’ve accumulated during their corporate careers and previous entrepreneurial adventures. They realize, too, that there’s no more hitching your wagon to a star for a dependable corporate career. These days, counting on a large corporation for a long-term role is like hitching your wagon to a black hole.
Adding additional impetus, boomers have watched their retirement savings whither on Wall Street, forcing them to figure out ways to replenish their coffers. Throw in the dramatic jump in the cost of living in 2008, with energy prices reaching historical highs, and you’ve got a situation where the income generated from a home-based business becomes—whether primary or supplemental—incredibly appealing to these boomers back in business.
For those who are still skeptics about the capacity of a home-based business to generate meaningful revenue, look no further than the winner of the 2008 Home-Based 100 Best Financial Performers category, Berkeley, Calif.-based FETCH! Pet Care, who’s seen revenues more than double in 2008, to over $9 million.
But as compelling as the income-generating aspect of home-based business may be, the winners of the Home-Based 100 confirmed again this year, first and foremost, that at the center of every home-based business is one driving force: Passion. The opportunity to do what you love, to have proximity to family and pets and the comforts of home, while conducting meaningful work, still plays the star role. Running a business built around a passion adds meaning and direction in life, a welcomed antidote in these confusing and disenfranchising times.
For some, this passion is expressed by going green. FunPhotoGuys, the winner in the Greenest category, offering eco-friendly photography services, is a shining example. Kevin Slovick and his partner at the photo business use every extra hour of the day promoting green business practices. He uses his business as a vehicle to influence the green behavior of other businesses and in so doing is creating a better world for the next generation.
One of our Recession-Busters category finalists has also infused her work with a mission. Karen Conroy created Fundraising for a Cause, which sells cancer-awareness items in bulk so they can be resold at higher prices, so that the profits then donated to cancer fundraisers. It’s proving to be far more effective than sticking out your hat for donations.
Our Most Innovative winner, Lee Lonzo’s and his Kick-Off Program, has followed his passion, too. He’s taking on our outdated educational system by helping freshman transition into high school more smoothly, a time when statistics show they’re most vulnerable to dropping out. He’s helped over 100,000 students already.
The start-up world is showing no signs of slowing down. Whether people are joining to combat a tough economy, as an alternative to the corporate life or to simply follow their passion in life, startups are alive and well across the country. Unlike many of the big enterprises out there today, a great number of home-based ventures are still open for business and truly thriving.