Home-Baked Business

by Chrissy Laws

I had arranged the toys in a pleasing display. The marble game was in the middle, and fluorescent blocks were here and there. Coffee aroma filled the kitchen as customers milled about, anxious to buy toys.

But, my head pounded in time to the marbles that were rolling down the tubes and careening through the tunnels. My stomach felt like I had eaten one of the too-bright blocks. I hate sales. I should have thought about what I love to do, not how I could make money.

That wasn't the first time I had focused on money. I once bought a booklet full of home-business opportunities, most of which turned out to be scams. Another time I thought I could get rich reading books, but it cost $39 to find out how to do that.

Some opportunities wave red flags when they brag about how rich you'll be without mentioning what you'll be doing. But even if something sounds legitimate, check with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) before you get involved. If you stay away from offers that sound unbelievable, and avoid places that charge a fee, you'll do well.

Direct-selling companies often require the purchase of a sales kit. This kit might include sample products, catalogs, order forms and such, but the price should be reasonable (under $200 in most cases). And make sure you enjoy sales. Stick with reputable companies that have been around for at least five years. Visit the Direct Selling Association at www.dsa.org or call (202) 347-8866 for more information.

I think one of the best ways to make money, though, is to start your own business. But instead of thinking about money, focus on your passion. Do you enjoy baking? Perhaps you could sell your famous blueberry muffins. Can you draw? Consider freelance illustration or giving art lessons. Do you love building birdhouses? Maybe you could sell them at craft fairs and shops. Ask yourself what you most love to do, and then do it.

Some people fear the complicated laws and taxes associated with running a business; don't let this stop you. It only takes a couple of phone calls to head you in the right direction. Contact your town manager or city clerk to find out if zoning laws affect the business you're considering and if you'll need a license. And the IRS gives tax answers toll free at 1-800-829-1040 or you can visit www.irs.gov.

Once you've picked the right business, learn all you can about it by borrowing books. I used to think the library abounded with dusty, irrelevant books, but I changed my mind once I discovered the interlibrary-loan program. Also, some used bookstores accept your unwanted books in exchange for those you do want.

Talk to people already running similar businesses. Find those in other communities so they won't feel threatened by your competition. If you know people in the field, seek an apprenticeship. Join e-mail lists, enroll in a course, read publications and visit websites that deal with the business you want to start.

Finally, take your time. If I told you I could build a roaring fire in three seconds, you would doubt me. Your business works the same way; it takes time and effort. You might start out volunteering or working for peanuts, but that's okay. The money will come later. In the beginning, the experience matters more.

My experience began with a class in something I had always loved, which was writing. An assignment required that I submit a query to a magazine, and soon I had my first published clip. You can find success, too, by pursuing your passion in your own home-baked business.

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