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Selasa, 10 Agustus 2010

From Offbeat Hobby to Lucrative Business

by Clare Kaufman,

It's just crazy enough to work: countless Americans strike gold every year transforming their offbeat hobbies into businesses. In a diverse country that rewards idiosyncrasy, there is a market for just about everything. And thanks to e-commerce solutions, it's never been easier or cheaper to access that market and build your passion into a living.

Chris Anderson described the phenomenon in his best-selling book "The Long Tail": e-commerce solutions have given rise to micro-markets, as legions of Web surfers access products that match the most idiosyncratic interests. Collectors of antique slot machines? Check. Punk kids looking for counterculture knitting patterns? Check.

5 Labors of Love Paired With E-Commerce

No matter what your passion, there's someone out there who shares it. The following five entrepreneurs prove that it's possible to build a lucrative business on the most quirky of personal obsessions. With the help of e-commerce solutions and other small business support services, you have the tools to transform your hobby into a business.

1. Birdhouse Artisan. His name is Michael Parayno, but his Berkeley, California, neighbors know him as "the birdhouse guy." A lifelong tinkerer, Parayno began building off-the-wall birdhouses in order to get rid of the wood from his decommissioned garden fence. Neighbors took notice, and he began selling the handmade birdhouses right off his front yard.

That was over a decade ago. Today, the Berkeley birdhouse guy owns a lucrative business selling hand-crafted birdhouses. E-commerce solutions have played an important role in helping Parayno find customers, market his products, and even sell birdhouses using an online point-of-sale (POS) service.

2. Pinball Restoration Service. Whom do you call to get that antique machine spitting pinballs again? Where do you go when only a pinball machine will complete your game room? The Snyder family offers a one-stop shop for vintage pinball restorations and sales.

To reach their small but passionate market of pinball wizards, the Snyders operate both a brick-and-mortar store and an Internet storefront. The store website, which lovingly markets the vintage machines, owes its existence to a Web design firm that specializes in e-commerce solutions for small businesses.

3. Jellyfish Aquarium Construction. Jellyfish have special needs. The gorgeous and ethereal creatures have eluded standard fish tanks, which lack the technology to keep them alive. Until Alex Andon, a laid-off biotechnology worker, developed the means to keep jellyfish alive in captivity. Evidently, there's a market for pet jellyfish: A restaurant was among the first in line for a tank. Price tag: $25,000. Cool factor: priceless.

With several charter clients under his belt, Andon is developing his hobby into a business selling desktop jellyfish tanks for a comparatively affordable $249. E-commerce solutions are critical to bringing the venture to the niche masses. The Web design caters to jellyfish customers with a range of aquarium products and a credit card processing system.

4. Teddy Bear-Stuffing Parties. Parents charged with entertaining a roomful of pint-size partygoers will be thrilled to discover Teddy Bears to Go, which hosts teddy bear-stuffing parties for children. Lisa Roby, a single mother of two, started the small business when she lost her advertising job. Her new labor of love suits her just fine: "It's the most wonderful job I've ever done," says Roby. "It's so rewarding."

To get the word out to parents, Roby relies on a variety of e-commerce solutions. Media placements and a compelling Web design ensure a steady stream of teddy bear-stuffing birthday party requests.

5. Pet Detective. Animal lovers have a wealth of opportunities to transform their passion into a business. Linda Callaway found her niche market in owners who have lost pets. Her four coonhounds have a knack for tracking lost pets. And Callaway has discovered a knack -- and the resources -- for turning the dogs' noses into a small business.

Pet detectives can take advantage of online advertising to locate local pet owners in need of their services. Pay-per-click management services, for example, can help pet detectives bid strategically on search terms related to their service and locality --"Denver area pet detective," for example. A Web site optimized with pertinent search terms can also net potential customers online. E-commerce solution providers typically offer packages that combine Web design with PPC management and SEO services.

The age of the micro-entrepreneur has arrived. Today's small business services are designed to help enterprising hobbyists turn their passions into paychecks. E-commerce solutions offer affordable resources to locate your niche market online, market your product or service, and even complete the sale. In today's long-tail economy, turning your hobby into a business is as simple as 1-2-3: a SEO-savvy Web design, PPC campaign management, and an online point-of-sale system.

Clare Kaufman is a freelance writer who covers business and education topics.

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