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5 Great Home-Based Businesses

Whether you're looking for income or just a way to follow your passion, these paths can get you started

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Working from home is becoming big business.

According to market researcher IDC, there will be 14 million full-time, home-based freelancers and independent contractors in America by 2015, up from 12 million in 2010. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of self-employed Americans from age 55 to 64 rose by 5 percent.

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"Some people start this kind of work as a side job while they are working elsewhere, but huge numbers of older workers and retirees are creating income for themselves in these ways," says Art Koff, founder of RetiredBrains.com.

Mark Nelson is one of them.

When Nelson, 60, retired in 2007 after 30 years with the postal service, he spent about a year hunting, fishing and fussing with his horses and mules. "But you get to the point when you've done all the playing," Nelson recalls. "You have to be productive."

After an accident limited his work options, Nelson decided to turn his first love of leather crafting into an income stream.

"When I thought about what I would really love to do, that was it. I got the bug to make saddles, and not just any saddles," says Nelson, who got his first crafting kit at age 13. His love is for the old western saddles of the 19th century, the heyday of the cowboy era from 1866 to 1899.

Mark Nelson, a saddle maker with a workshop behind his house in Wisconsin

Saddle maker Mark Nelson in his home workshop in Boyceville, Wisc. — Sean McCormick

Nelson's passion is historic re-enactment of cowboy action. He even helped start a Cowboy Action Shooting club. "I wanted to know how to make saddles for my own use, but realized that I had to make some money at it, too."

Nelson opened a tiny workshop on his 5-acre property in Boyceville, Wisc., and went on to buy equipment he needed. He also paid $5,000 tuition to spend six weeks in Montana learning how to make saddles.

During the course, he made three saddles, one for himself and two he sold to team ropers in Montana. He was hooked. When he got home, he opened Way West Saddlery.

His custom-made saddles now start at $2,000 and take him about 40 hours or more to make. His primary clients are historic re-enactors and extreme cowboy competitors, who strive for the authentic costuming and saddles. He also builds custom western stock saddles fitted for an individual horse and his or her rider.

Nelson admits he's not making a lot of money. His upfront material costs usually top $800 per saddle. While his business slowly ramps up, Nelson is logging in two-days a week as a caregiver at a nearby residential alcohol and drug addiction treatment center, earning $9.50 an hour.

Turning a hobby into paying work can ruin your passion for it, so you need to plan ahead and take it a step at a time. And if you need the income now, you might want to supplement your fledgling business with outside work initially, as Nelson has done.

There are plenty of great home-based jobs out there for you. Here are five popular ones to consider. Pay ranges, which will vary based on factors such as experience and where you live, are primarily derived from U.S. Department of Labor data.

Could you turn your craft hobby into a business? >>

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