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5 hobbies that can make you money

Arts and crafts

Brabec has sold nearly a half-million books that help fellow crafters turn homemade items into cash.

She's also seen the same mistakes over and over -- such as the little old seamstress who made pudgy-faced soft dolls but failed to patent her creation and hence didn't receive a dime when Cabbage Patch Kids exploded.

"The concepts are the same, whether you're selling quilting or stitchery or woodwork or steel sculpture or jewelry," she says. "Arts and crafts is a multi-billion-dollar industry all by itself."

How can you get your share of that?

Start with a computer. Even a technology holdout like Brabec admits you won't get anywhere today without one.

Computers are essential, not only to do the necessary market research, but also to sell your products beyond your city limits, she says. Although you'll probably begin at local craft shows and farmer's markets, your ultimate market may be half a state or even half a world away.

Next, test market your product any way you can.

"One woman who makes jewelry said, 'I just wear my new pieces and if a stranger stops me on the street and says 'I love your pin,' I know I've got a winner,'" she says. "But don't try that with your strawberry preserves!"

Many crafters make the mistake of not charging enough, Brabec says.

"Build in elements for profit and overhead because if you really take off, if you've set your prices too low and then find you have to hire help, there's not enough profit in your pricing structure to pay for an employee," she says. "It's a lot easier to lower prices than to raise them."

Brabec maintains that the ongoing flood of imports only means a brighter future for homemade arts and crafts.

"People want the quality and beauty of real handmade products," Brabec says. "They understand that there is a part of that artist within each piece, so they're buying more than just a product. There's always going to be a market for handmade products."

Arts and crafts business
  • Skills: ability to produce a saleable art or craft product.
  • Market: retail or wholesale, the sky's the limit.
  • Opportunities for growth: license product for mass market production, media spinoffs (cartoons, etc.).

Kathy Short has always had a thing for birds.

"I've had birds all my life," she says. "One leads to two leads to 10, and at some point you start wondering if you can do something with it."

She's not wondering anymore. As the owner of Exotics of the World, Short hand-raises between 250 and 400 cockatiels, parrots and other exotic birds annually at her home aviary in Woodinville, Wash. She then sells them wholesale to pet stores and collectors of show birds.

Short made the leap from infant day care to raising birds after her husband gave her an umbrella cockatoo. She started in her garage but quickly outgrew it. She now has 250 birds in aviary outbuildings but keeps the hatchlings inside her home.

"Birds are extremely messy," she warns.

Startup expenses for an exotic bird business can be steep: a pair of Moluccan cockatoos can run you $2,000, African gray parrots cost $1,200 to $2,000 a pair and individual cockatiels will set you back $500 apiece. Short owns 200 cockatiels, but only breeds 22 pairs at a time.

In addition to the cost of cages and food, exotic birds come with a range of exotic ailments. Securing the services of a good aviary veterinarian is as critical as it is costly; vaccinating five baby parrots against avian polyoma can run $155.

But pedigreed exotic birds also fetch a handsome price, even wholesale. Short says she'll sell a single baby Moluccan cockatoo to a pet store for $1,000, which in turn will sell it to the public for between $2,000 and $2,400.

In fact, Short says her biggest business obstacle is the declining number of independent pet stores that serve as her customer base. Building a stable list of wholesale clients and breeding birds that sell are keys to success in the bird world.

She advises against buying your breeding stock over the Internet.

"People don't tell the truth when you buy birds off the Internet; they're usually selling them for a reason," says Short. "Over the years, I've found it's almost better to start with individual birds and pair them yourself instead of buying what they call 'proven pairs.'"

Exotic birds business
  • Skills: knowledge of care, feeding and breeding of exotic birds.
  • Market: wholesale to pet stores, retail to breeders and the public.
  • Opportunities for growth: depend on whether pet store consolidation hampers growth locally.

Personal shopper

Twenty-five years ago on a whim, Ellen Macklin bought a computer and a handful of business cards and became one of Boston's most successful personal shoppers.

A former art teacher, Macklin had what it takes to make it in her new field: infallible taste, an outgoing personality, a love of shopping and a fiercely independent spirit.

She was one of four personal shoppers listed in the phone book then. The other three weren't in business long.

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In recent years, the personal shopping field has expanded greatly, or so the get-rich-quick scam artists would have us believe. Macklin receives a flood of resumes sent her way by innocent wannabes who've been led on -- for a fee, of course -- by phony placement specialists.

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