If you sell on eBay, or would like to, chances are you work from home. Or, at least you got your start there. That's why we turned to some of the country's leading experts on working from home, Paul and Sarah Edwards, for some tips and strategies on working from home successfully.
In Part 1 of this article, the Edwardses discussed how to get started working out of your house (or apartment, for that matter), and how to avoid common mistakes. In Part 2, they discuss the realities of working from home in this challenging economy, and how to weigh your options for health insurance as an entrepreneur. We also probed a bit for their suggestions for other jobs eBay sellers can do from home to supplement their e-commerce incomes. You'll be surprised at some of the opportunities they've uncovered for you!
Also, they discuss their own vision for working locally and selling globally in a way that treats the environment with respect. They call it the "Elm Street Economy." Finally, they share some sources and strategies for staying up to date on home-based business.
Schepp: The new edition of your book, Home-Based Business for Dummies, includes material about operating a business in an economic downturn. What advice do you have for eBay sellers struggling in this economy?
Edwards: Identify products that sell in a down economy and focus on those. Most people continue to purchase necessities, although what's defined as a necessity has changed in the last five years. People buy parts to repair things so they don't have to replace them, and supplies to make items they used to go to a store to buy, like gifts. They may also treat themselves to small indulgences, like inexpensive things to wear or eat.
Schepp: What are some of the best home-based business opportunities for those looking to supplement their incomes from an e-commerce business?
Edwards: Evergreen businesses are ones that extend over time. Architectural salvage, specialized cleaning services, collection work, investigative and security work, micro-farming, repair and renovation services, and tutoring are some that appear to meet this standard, and can be done on a part-time basis. Services that help people and businesses save money on energy, such as building-performance auditing and rating, and installing and repairing are good, too, though these may require closer to full-time effort.
Schepp: We were surprised to read in your book that 62 percent of bankruptcies are caused by health expenses. Indeed, buying health insurance is a major challenge for those operating their own businesses. What tips do you have for people evaluating their options for buying health insurance on their own?
Home businesses are an integral part of the fabric of an 'Elm Street Economy'
Edwards: Here are the elements of a checklist for comparing policies:
- How well does a policy cover your basic needs versus services or benefits you can do without? Chances are an HMO covers basic needs but not a lot of extras.
- Does a health plan provide you access to a full range of physicians and medical facilities?
- Do you have a choice of doctors and to what extent?
- Cost. Take into account all the deductibles, co-pays and the percentages of bills the insurance company will pay because the policy with a lower monthly premium actually may cost more if you use your benefits to any extent.
- Coverage. Are pre-existing conditions covered? Are dental and eye care included?
- How easy is the health care to use? Will you encounter a mound of paperwork every time you need to use the plan? Are there limitations on hours of use, or do you have off-hours appointments?
Schepp: What will home businesses of the future be like compared to those of today and what should entrepreneurs be doing to get ready for these changes?
Edwards: Home businesses are an integral part of the fabric of an "Elm Street Economy," a term we coined to embrace the movement of our economy toward a greater emphasis on localization. There's nothing more local than a home business. Also in this economy, in order to reduce their overhead many businesses are moving their enterprises home.
Technologies like tabletop manufacturing will enable many things to be made in people's homes, serving their neighborhoods and if they manufacture specialty items, faraway markets.
(Author's Note: In their book, the Edwardses define tabletop manufacturing as basically "three-dimensional printing," noting that tabletop machines can be used to make auto parts, bone implants, sculptures and more. They recommend checking out the following sites for more information: fab@home and www.desktopfactory.com).
In our own community, we've discovered that our waste wood products from our forest could be made into furniture
Schepp: Tell us more about the "Elm Street Economy" and what its significance is for home-based operators of e-commerce businesses.
Edwards: We use the term "Elm Street Economy" to mean one that provides jobs that last, services one can depend on, [and enables us to] secure a future in a strong community and live in a healthy environment. In short, people come first.
Localization is important, which means developing businesses that employ people and capitalize on local resources to provide opportunity—which for e-commerce merchants means producing merchandise or growing things that can be sold on the Web. For example, in our own community, we've discovered we could be growing tea and that our waste wood products from our forest could be made into furniture. Items like these can bring in revenue from outside our area, and the Web will be the vehicle to market locally produced goods.
Schepp: You've been covering the field of home-based businesses for more than 20 years. How do you and Sarah stay up on the trends affecting home-based businesses? Are there certain Web sites you would recommend? Books? Radio shows/podcasts? Blogs?
Edwards: I read about eight trend publications a month, both print and electronic because I'm interested in what will be impacting home business. Sarah and I read three major newspapers. I also make generous use of Google Alerts. As working from home has become a staple of our working lives, less attention is given to home businesses, per se. For example, we used to write several columns for Entrepreneur magazine, but it no longer has a special section or a column focused on home businesses. I still read the magazine, however, because it has useful information for businesses.