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Running a business these days is one tough row to hoe. Winners of the 2008 StartupNation Home-Based 100 are proving, however, that you can not only survive, but thrive in this economy and are growing their revenues in this challenging period.
According to John Jantsch, founder of Kansas City, Mo.-based Duct Tape Marketing, and a judge in this year’s Home-Based 100, entrepreneurs based at home are sitting pretty. “I think home-based businesses have some natural advantages in good times and bad,” he observes. “They come with much lower overhead. In most cases, they don’t have 10 to 12 full time employees on the payroll.”
Their overhead and infrastructure are limited and this makes them more flexible and nimble than large, bloated corporations. Further, Jantsch contends (and the 2008 winners confirm), “There’s a tremendous growth opportunity in service businesses where you do things for people,” Jantsch says, pointing to one sector that’s experiencing expansion.
He doesn’t need to tell that to Joseph Pickett.
The winner in our Home-Based 100 “Recession Busters” category is owner and sole employee of Winchester, Va.-based Expertbriefings.com, a firm that supplies teleconferencing and webinar services to pharmaceutical and medical-device professionals regulated by the FDA.
To start, Pickett found a somewhat recession-proof sector. He caters to an industry that tends to keep spending even in downturns. Everyone needs medical care, right? Even in the face of cutbacks, though, he’s got an edge. Gone are the trips to Aspen conferences that end up as downhill skiing—and après ski—boondoggles. The teleseminar service he provides is a far cheaper way for pharma and medical device personnel to conduct their required continuing education.
Since Pickett bought the fledgling Expertbriefings, he’s been able to make the company flourish. He bought the firm in February 2008 for $50,000, and has grown it from total gross revenue of $25,000 in 2007 under previous ownership, to well over $250,000 in its first six months of operation. Talk about a home-based business that can thrive in tough times!
His recession-busting strategy, in addition to picking a great niche service, has mostly to do with strong marketing and communication skills. Pickett is the kind of guy that leaves no stone unturned. He’s optimized for search engines, aggressively conducting PR within his sector and working his base of relationships.
Benjamin Sann, too, is running a thriving business during the recession and has earned Top Ten status in the Recession Busters category.
Sann is the founder of BestParking.com, a website that finds people the best parking deals available in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. Ironically, he launched the venture in 2006, when parking cost a premium in his native New York during the residential real estate boom. Additional inspiration came from a “Seinfeld” episode when character George Costanza refused to pay for a parking space.
As times have gotten worse and worse with investment banks going belly up, traffic to his site has grown by leaps and bounds – doubling over the past year. In the current economy, drivers are desperate to find a deal in places like Manhattan, where parking can cost upwards of $30 a day, and parking-lot owners are faced with a shortage of customers, as more people choose to take public transportation.
In a partnership with lot operators, Sann lists deals that are exclusive to his site, at both daily and monthly rates. The deals come at no cost to the consumer, who simply prints out coupons available only on BestParking.com. Customers simply enter the part of a city they want to park in, what they want to pay, and lot owners can compete for their business. In many cases there are savings of more than 50%.
“We’re really on the side of the consumer,” says Sann, our youngest winner this year at 20 years old who is studying business Washington University in St. Louis. “What’s best for the consumer is best for us.”
Sann has attracted visitors to his site by promoting it to newspapers and bloggers, which has, in turn, upped his placement on Google, and he plans to do radio advertisements in the near future. The next city on his radar is San Francisco, and after that he plans to expand to other U.S. cities and then possibly airports and foreign locales.
And for one more example of how to bust the recession, consider Karen Conroy another Top Ten winner and founder of Fundraising for a Cause.
Conroy saw a need in the wake of a major tragedy – her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. After becoming involved in related fund-raising events, she was abhorred at how little direction people had in collecting money for the cause.
“They don’t tell you how to do it,” she says. “If that walk comes, and you don’t have the money, you either have to pull out a credit card or you don’t walk.”
Conroy’s solution was to start FundraisingforaCause.com, a website that sells products in bulk, at an inexpensive price, to people looking to raise money for cancer-awareness events. For example, she offers 50 pink silicone bracelets (a la Lance Armstrong’s yellow ones) at 49 cents each to be sold for a dollar apiece.
Ironically, around the time she started this venture, she was employed by Countrywide Financial, a mortgage lender closely associated with the subprime-fueled recession. Conroy was laid off and faced with one of two choices: She could either take a job with another large company or try to make her own enterprise take off. She chose the latter.
“I said, ‘I’ll do it as a hobby,’” Conroy remembers. “I’ll develop a website and see where it goes. People looked at me like I had five heads. I think it was the scariest thing I’ve done in my entire life. But it was the most rewarding. I’m glad I took the leap and did it.”
In her first month after launching earlier this year, she pulled in $20,000. Sales have only gone up, and now Conroy’s looking at focusing on causes beyond breast cancer.
“What I keep envisioning is being the one-stop shop,” she says. “There are all of these great causes out there that I can service.”