Start a new business
Online retail consultant
You've heard the saying, "one man's trash is another man's treasure," but have you ever thought of turning it into an actual business? If you're an artist or just have a knack for crafts, try turning items that would otherwise be thrown out into useful products and selling them at craft fairs or on a website like Etsy. You can also offer to turn other people's unwanted items into upcycled projects, like refreshing outdated clothes to make them more stylish or turning old T-shirts into quilts, for example.
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You don't have to be a big-box retailer to start an online store. Whether you sell directly to consumers or use a drop-shipping service, all you need is a website and the right e-commerce software to get started. You can sell your own products or items from niche suppliers. Alternatively, if you're crafty, you can also sell your own handcrafted creations on Etsy or similar online marketplaces.
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Do you love throwing parties and organizing meetings? Start an event-planning business and turn your passion into a profitable small business. Everyone needs event planners, from individuals to organizations and corporations — and with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting 44 percent growth in the meeting, convention and event-planning industry between 2010 and 2020, there will certainly be no shortage in demand for your services. As an event planner, you will need to be resourceful and have a keen eye for detail. You will also need the patience to deal with clients' demands and the Zen to stay calm during stressful situations and unforeseen disasters.
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Home-based food services
If baking or cooking is in your DNA, consider launching a home-based bakery, personal chef or catering business. You can whip up your concoctions for individuals, events, and local businesses and organizations. Not only is it a rewarding opportunity to make money doing what you love, but it's also a great way to test your culinary chops before investing in a full-fledged brick-and-mortar establishment. Keep in mind that home-based food businesses are heavily regulated, so start by figuring out the rules and regulations in your area.
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Home day care
In most places, you don't need a license to run a babysitting service from home if you keep your child headcount below a certain number. With more parents needing to work, offering a home-based child care situation can be a great way to start a business and stay home with your own kids, too.
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Got rake, will travel? Most landscapers will cut grass, but they don't necessarily do the stuff that most homeowners don't have time to do themselves, such as weeding, planting, leaf raking, snow shoveling, hanging or removing holiday decorations. With little more than some work gloves and a ladder, you could be in business in no time.
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In some ways, the recession has made people busier than ever. Between working long hours, cooking more at home and juggling responsibilities, there's a lot that gets left undone. A service that runs errands (including dropping off dry cleaning, paying bills, etc.) requires just a car and cell phone. Start small, do a good job and word of mouth will spread quickly.
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Got a tech background? With the proliferation of tablets, smartphones and laptops for every member of the family, there are lots of opportunities to provide private computer services such as anti-virus software installation, desktop cleanups, software downloads and printer hookups.
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Are you one of those people that love to clean? If so, you may be sitting on a gold mine. Cleaning people who work for themselves can make $30 to $40 per hour. Recession or not, there are plenty of people still looking for a little domestic assistance.
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Energy efficiency consultant
Homeowners and businesses are looking for any way they can to cut costs, but figuring out how to lower energy expenses isn't as easy as you might think. Anyone who has a background in utilities or construction and can advise homeowners or businesses on how to better insulate, install smart meters, reduce water usage, etc., has a valuable service to offer.
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Find your business
Your laptop could be a gold mine. Steel, copper and computer components are all worth more than ever. But, your average homeowner doesn't always know where or how to recycle the stuff they've got. A good local advertising campaign and a pickup truck are all you'd need to start buying or simply offering to remove scrap metal, old computers, electronics, ink cartridges and other recyclable materials. You'll be making a profit and doing the Earth a favor, too.
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Recession or not, pets are people, too (or so many a pet owner believes). If you love animals, are reliable, organized and trustworthy, there's no shortage of work for you. The more satisfied customers you have, the more quickly your business will grow. Nothing soothes an antsy pet owner more than a good recommendation from another animal lover.
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If there's one thing to be learned from the glut of reality shows dealing with hoarding, it's that Americans have too much stuff. And, many junk collectors don't have the time or skills required to organize it all. If you like to organize and create order out of chaos, then starting an organizing business could be for you.
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Virtual assistants are all the rage. All you need to get started is a laptop and a good website. A social media presence doesn't hurt, either. If you've got a background in administrative work but want to work for yourself, this might be a perfect opportunity for you. Virtual assistants work remotely and do all the things a business owner or manager doesn't have time to do, such as open and answer emails, follow up with customers, invoice customers or pay bills. All of these tasks and more can all be done from your own home via the cloud.
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During the recession, many companies cut their employee headcount to the bare minimum. Very few businesses, however, can live without a bookkeeper. But, that doesn't mean they have to have one on staff. If you've got a background in accounting or bookkeeping, you can offer remote bookkeeping services and, in many cases, do most of the work from home.
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Most businesses can't afford to keep a translator on staff, even though they may need one from time to time. As America becomes increasingly multilingual, everyone from doctors to insurance companies find themselves in need of foreign language speakers to help interact with their customers. If you can speak a foreign language, are organized and can come up with a good marketing plan, you may find you have more work than you can handle.
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Ever notice how your phone bill seems to creep up ever so slowly and before you know it, you're paying $50 more a month than you agreed to? So does everyone else. The problem is, few people have time to go over their bills with a fine-tooth comb and call and argue with the provider. A cost cutter does this for businesses and can help them save thousands. Cost cutters need an eye for detail and a good sales pitch. Once you've proven your worth to a client, word of mouth will spread quickly.
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Social media consultant
If you're one of those Gen Y types to whom using social media comes as naturally as breathing, you may have a career as a social media consultant. There's no doubt that social media presents an unprecedented marketing opportunity for businesses, but only if they know how to use it. If you can help existing businesses integrate social media into their other marketing campaigns, you should have no trouble making a go of it.
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Anyone with a website will tell you they have one constant need: new content. Search engines favor websites with new, relevant and constantly updated content and most businesses don't have time to devote to generating copy all day. If you've got a background in writing, English or journalism, you might find there's a lot of demand for your services. Between Web content, blog entries and press releases, there's lots of writing to be done.
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Health insurance consultant
Healthcare reform means that most businesses will have to offer health insurance in the near future. The problem is that many companies can't afford a full- time human resources person, and dealing with the complicated nuances of health insurance is more than most administrative assistants have time to deal with. That's why more and more companies will be looking for outside services to help them wade through the minutia of health plans and premiums. If you have a background in human resources or insurance, healthcare reform could present big opportunities for you. You don't need to be licensed if you're not selling insurance. A health insurance consultant can simply help wade through the details.
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You don't need to be a nurse to aid the elderly. Many older folks would like to keep living on their own, but need a little assistance with daily chores, bill paying, grocery shopping, etc. With just a little outside help and a daily visit from a friendly caregiver, many can maintain their independence. Families are also happy to find a responsible, reliable person in whom they can trust.
Business News Daily managing editor Jeanette Mulvey also contributed to this story. Updated Jan. 1, 2016.