Boyd Wright spends lots of time at home in Grand Forks, North Dakota. So much so that the U.S. Small Business Administration named him the 2010 "National Home-Based Business Champion of the Year" during the Small Business Week ceremony in Washington, D.C. last year.
Wright's success is a noteworthy example for would-be entrepreneurs seeking to bootstrap their start-up businesses with minimal cash savings. It is also a paradigm for artists, crafters and hobbyists seeking to boost their income enough to give up their day-jobs so that they can devote all their efforts to what they love to do.
Working at home can drastically reduce your business' overhead. And during this tough economy, it can mean the difference between success and failure. Regardless of what industry you are in, it might turn your negative cash-flow to positive and preserve your working capital.
"I started my woodworking business in 1984, part-time, while serving as general counsel for The University of North Dakota," Wright says. "Originally, I made wooden board games and sold them at craft and art shows in the area."
While law was his profession, woodworking was his passion. But making a living at arts and craft shows was tough -- especially while Wright had a full-time job. "Over time, I evolved into a wide-ranging inventory of wood products and marketed them at the craft shows; direct mail marketing (retail and wholesale); wholesale accounts in tourist areas, museum shops, etc.," he says.
After six years of trial and error marketing his wood creations, Wright decided to follow his heart. In 1990, he left the University of North Dakota "to work full-time on my business." Still working from home, Wright discovered that he could use the Internet to reach far beyond the boundaries of Grand Forks and North Dakota -- even beyond the United States. "I sell all over the USA, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Ireland, Portugal, France, Russia," he says. "As the computer revolution developed I began marketing on the web through amazon.com's 'z' shops, e-Bay, and now primarily on etsy.com."
Etsy.com is a well-established site to market handmade items. It was founded in 2005 by Rob Kalin, a Brooklyn, New York-based woodworker. He was 25-years-old at the time and envisioned networking with crafters as a way to find others with similar marketing needs.
Buyers, sellers and bloggers with a common appreciation for handmade merchandise get together at the site.
Adrien Lucas is an avid user of etsy.com. She taps it to fill the booths at her Atomic Bazaar, an annual indie-craft show in Sarasota, Florida during the Christmas season. "I use (it) to invite crafters to apply or attend our show," she says. Lucas' show sells out every year. Additionally, she sells Tuffbetty handbags at the site.
SBA Champion Wright says, however, that selling at etsy.com has its limitations. "I don't make a living from etsy," he says. "I have wholesale and retail accounts in a number of states, local sales, and some retail mail accounts." His success comes from multi-channels of income and trial and error with various products.
Currently, Wright is specializing in kaleidoscopes because that is what the market demands. But the ability to be flexible and change quickly is key. "My work with kaleidoscopes is simply an evolution to what sells," he says. "I have tried several hundred different wooden products over the years," and "as one begins to die in sales for whatever reason, I move on to something else."
Wright will be leading an SBA-sponsored online chat this Thursday, July 28, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m., EDT. It is called "Growing a Home-Based Business: What You Need to Know."
"I do not have a formal presentation for the webinar," he says. "But rather will answer (questions), as best I can."
You can ask Wright questions and attend the event live. Alternatively, check it out in SBA's archives after it is posted -- usually 24-hours later.
Jerry Chautin is a volunteer SCORE business counselor, business columnist and SBA's 2006 national "Journalist of the Year" award winner. He is a former entrepreneur, commercial mortgage banker, commercial real estate dealmaker and business lender.