Starting an online business can be a great way to work from home.
It can be an especially appealing option for women with children.
Women such as Rose Elliot. She has two children and sells foot jewelry
on her Ladybead.com website. Her success shows that an original product that's
well marketed can be the foundation for a profitable online business.
"I didn't want to work outside of my home and thought, 'If only there were
a way that I could make money from home,'" says Elliot. "I went to the local
video store and this girl there was selling beaded jewelry, and I thought,
'I can do that.'
"I started beading for something creative to do with my kids when they
were young and found I really had a passion for beading," Elliot adds.
Working from home means you don't have a boss looking over your shoulder.
But that doesn't mean you can slack off.
"When you work from home, it is more than full time -- for me it was all
the time," says Elliot. "I had to learn not only how to make and promote my
website, I also had to create products. I was fortunate to have a husband
who supported me."
There are many challenges to having an online business. After deciding
on a product or service, you have to reach potential customers. And you still
have to pay the bills while your business becomes profitable. That's when
it helps to have a supportive (and employed) partner.
"Making ends meet is a big [challenge] for most people," says Elliot. "Another
challenge for me was finding something to sell that was unique. I also had
to figure out how to get my website listed so that people could find me. When
I first started making what I now call barefoot jewelry, people did not know
such a product existed, so I had to call them something that people knew existed
Elliot now sells many different styles of foot jewelry. Her designs are
all original, so no one can copy them without her permission.
Elliot is just one of many millions of women who own their own business.
There are over 9.4 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. according to
the 2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report. These women-owned firms employ
almost 7.9 million people and have sales totaling $1.5 trillion.
Online businesses can be an especially good fit for women with children.
"I feel personally that they are [well-suited for women], as more women
want to be at home with their kids, but with the high cost of living are not
able to unless they find a way to make money," says Elliot. "I know that is
why I started my home-based online business. Even though times were tough,
being able to be there for my children made it worthwhile to me."
Often, an online store can be a great addition to a bricks-and-mortar store.
This was the case for Sarajane Fillmore. She already had a physical storefront,
selling children's clothes, when she launched her Planet Kid website.
"The storefront still does more sales," Fillmore admits. "When we decided
to start the website, it was obviously as a way to expand our sales."
Fillmore has found that many customers use the website as a catalog. They
check out online what items the store has to offer. Then they go into the
physical store to touch and feel the clothes and make the purchase.
Fillmore spent between $10,000 and $15,000 on her website. "It was a big
investment, but it was entirely worth it," she says. "And I think anybody
who's starting a business of any type, whether it's a store or a blog, they
have to make a big investment in their web presence.
"It's the old adage -- you get what you pay for," Fillmore adds. "It's
like having your child make your business cards for you. It's going to look
like a child did it and doesn't present a very professional image. In this
day and age, it's absolutely necessary to put forward a professional image."
Fillmore estimates that her online sales have earned back the money she
spent to build the website.
"I think I've done at least that much in [online] sales since it's been
launched," she says.
"What makes it worth it is the face that I'm presenting to the world. People
open that website and automatically assume it's a huge, professional, high-end
company. It's not as huge as it might appear to be. It's a small store...,
but we've got this beautiful, well-executed website."
It's hard for Fillmore to know just how much her online presence has increased
her offline sales. But she often gets calls from people who have questions
about a product that they're viewing on her website.
"The amount of inquiries I get from the site these days is colossal [compared
to] the first few weeks when we were running around to everybody and sending
out e-mail blasts to people," she says. "It's amazing how over time, without
even doing much work at it, it has seemed to exponentially grow."
Creating websites for people like Fillmore can be a great online business
in its own right. And by providing a service rather than a product, you have
the advantage of not having to store inventory or worry about shipping.
Sherice Jacob has a website design business. She's been designing websites
since high school. She started by marketing herself online and in web design
"Back then I just did purely website design, and I did that for several
years, until the competition got really saturated and I had to find a way
to differentiate myself from everybody else out there," says Jacob.
"So I kind of shifted from being an all-purpose design person to a website
improvement person. [I'm] like a consultant that helps people either take
their existing website and make it better, or just start from scratch using
the best possible practices."
Jacob now gets a lot of work by word of mouth and referrals.
"All you really need is a handful of really happy, really successful clients,
and they'll tell everyone else about you," says Jacob. "And that's primarily
the way I get business now. But I'm also in certain marketing forums and places
where I know my ideal client would tend to hang out."
Jacob says she often works 12-hour days. But like many people who have
their own business, she says the flexibility and satisfaction of being her
own boss make it worthwhile.
"With the job market being what it is, I think a lot of people are coming
to realize that an online business is not something wild and exotic, it's
something that people use to pay the bills, be their own boss, and have a
good time at it."
Working at home is not for everyone. Without someone else providing the
structure, you need to provide your own. And mothers of small children have
additional challenges to deal with.
"I tell every woman who's dissatisfied with her job that she needs to seriously
consider taking things online, doing things online," Jacob says.
"I don't have kids, but I can tell you that parents of young children who
think that they're going to be able to do this full time have got to be able
to manage their time well and have the self-discipline to put in the extra
time when it's called for.
"But, absolutely, I think any woman -- anybody -- can make a go of it if
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National Association of Women Business Owners
This association has more than 7,000 members and 80 chapters
across the U.S.