Niki Rae knew she was taking a massive gamble when she quit her job two years ago to pursue her dream of running an online boutique – but it has worked out better than she could have imagined.
The bubbly 36-year-old, from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, is not only enjoying her life more managing her two eBay shops, but she is already earning more than the £1,000-a-month she was taking home as an electoral officer.
Turnover from her two shops, Heatwaveshack ( stores.ebay.co.uk/heatwaveshack) and Fourgiraffeshugging ( stores.ebay.co.uk/fourgiraffeshugging), is now £60,000 a year, and she is even planning to take on a part-time employee.
"The best aspect is being in control of everything," she says. "I do work longer hours than I did when I was employed – and have not had a proper holiday for two years – but it doesn't seem like I'm working, because I love what I do."
Niki, who lives with roofer husband Matthew, 40, sells a combination of new, second-hand and nearly new clothes, and has even started to source items from Asia. The longer-term goal is to have her own brand range.
"I have just moved out of a poky upstairs room into a converted garage which acts as my home office and photographic studio, while the clothes are stored elsewhere," she adds. "It is going very well so far and I certainly have no regrets!"
Niki is one of a growing breed of would-be entrepreneurs who start up a business in their spare time to earn some extra cash to help ease the family finances, or with a longer-term ambition of it becoming a full-time venture.
Emma Jones, the founder of Enterprise Nation, the home business website, says a staggering five million Britons are slaving away in day jobs before spending every night and weekend nurturing their fledgling operations.
"We are seeing a lot of growth in online businesses, especially those involved in arts and crafts, and catering," she says. "There are also plenty of people turning hobbies into businesses, whether that is fashion, jewellery, travel advice or pet wares."
The current economic conditions have acted as a trigger. "One of the main reasons they start their own business is because they have been made redundant or fear losing their job," she adds. "If they do find themselves out of work they can switch into the business full time."
The good news is it's cheap to start. If it's an online venture, for example, then check out the likes of DoYourOwnSite ( www.doyourown site.com), which charges around £5 to host your site and offers a range of templates.
Any profits you make can be ploughed back into the business. If it really shows potential then that is the time you can consider borrowing money from friends and family, or applying for a loan.
However, you must tell HM Revenue & Customs as soon as possible because you will need to pay tax on your profits, Emma Jones advises. You will also need to think about insurance but your domestic insurance can usually be expanded to cover the cost of IT equipment or stock you have stored.
Whether you inform your local council, however, is a grey area. "Unless your business is going to create a lot of extra traffic or cause a nuisance to your neighbours, you won't need planning permission," she says. "Therefore the only result of telling your council is that they could start charging you business rates."
You will also need to decide how to set up: as a sole trader, partnership or limited company. It is worth speaking to an accountant who can advise you which route would be the most effective for your particular circumstances.
So what kind of business is suitable for the home entrepreneur? We asked a number of individuals who had already taken the leap why they made the decision, about the challenges they have encountered, and whether they had any regrets.
Putting your skills to good use
If you have a particular skill or talent – such as embroidery, building dolls' houses, painting models, or making garden ornaments – you might be able to turn it into a money-making proposition.
Carolyn Robertson, 62, from Whitchurch, Cardiff, has been selling home-made cards for about six years via her own website www.cardsby caro.com – and plans to go into it full time when she retires from her job as a conference organiser later this month.
"I use computer software for most of my cards as I major on truly personalised ones with messages the sender wishes to include," she says. "Income is just into four figures, which includes invitations, place cards and menus for corporate events."
Her fledgling business even has a card reminder service whereby people give her the date of the event, details about what is happening and the type of design that is wanted, and she will send a card out to them in time.
The launch of eBay in the UK a decade ago revolutionised the retail market and allowed anyone with a computer to start selling. It is now estimated that 178,000 people run a full- or part-time business via the site.
Dan Wilson, author of Make Serious Money on eBay UK, says this can be a very lucrative area, as long as sellers pay close attention to their costs, margins and profits, rather than concentrating solely on their turnover.
"Even in the recession, online retailing continues to grow so there is a huge opportunity," he says. "One of the most attractive aspects is that you only need a few hundred pounds to get started."
The key to being successful, however, is being ruthlessly efficient. Keep detailed records, dispatch orders quickly and be professional. There are plenty of competitors in the market-place so you need to do everything you can to win their trust.
Wilson also warns against becoming too reliant on eBay. "It is just one opportunity but selling online is best done using multiple channels," he says. "Consider opening your own web shop and using other outlets such as Amazon."
Blogging to fame and fortune
This is one of the fastest-growing areas, with millions of people starting weblogs – known as blogs – on a vast array of topics, and making money by selling advertising or earning a commission when certain links are clicked.
The best approach is to choose a niche topic that you know about and that you can write about for the long haul, advises Darren Rowse, co-author of ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income.
"Blogs don't cost much to set up and there are some very easy tools to help you monetise them, such as Google's AdSense," he says. "However, profitable blogs need a lot of readers and building traffic is not easy."
Rowse suggests it's best to pay for a blog to be hosted by a specialist – rather than opting for a free one via the likes of Blogger.com – as it will provide more flexibility and control to make money over the longer term. Visit WordPress.org – as opposed to WordPress.com – as there are plenty of links to possible hosts and information about what is needed to get going.
"If you solve problems and fulfil needs then readers will keep coming back and pass on the word to others," Rowse says. "Most bloggers don't hang in there long enough to build a big enough readership from which to make money."
Economics student Brian Lofrumento from Massachusetts, USA, is proof that country borders are no barriers to blogging. The 20-year-old Manchester United fan's site Premiership Talk ( www.premiershiptalk.com) is read in more than 170 countries.
"The site makes money by private ad sales, advertising networks, affiliate programmes and sponsorship," he explains. "The biggest perk is it allows me to fly to England once a season to watch United. The income is increasing each month so the signs are promising."
The UK's first ever Home Enterprise Day will be held on Friday November 20, and will be part of Global Entrepreneurship Week – and home businesses are being invited to follow each other on twitter ( http://twitter.com/e_nation)
Snap decision: Personal development
When Matt Bull was made redundant from his job as a pensions technician six years ago, he decided to turn his passion for motorsport photography into a full-time business – and has never been happier.
The 38-year-old, who lives with wife Mandy and son Lewis, 19 months, near Stanford-le-Hope in Essex, had been taking photographs as a hobby at stock car and banger racing tracks around the country.
But he has since set up a dedicated website at www.racepixels.co.uk not only to sell his own photographs but also to showcase the work of fellow snappers, with whom he splits the profits on a 50-50 basis.
"I know I could get a job in my old industry and earn a lot more, but I absolutely love what I do," he says. "I am at home all week so can watch my son grow up, and my wife also helps out with the online work as well as working in the track photo shops."
Matt already has plans to expand the business and take on more photographers. "My advice to people is to just do it," he says. "I might never have tried it if I hadn't been made redundant but running your own business is very satisfying."