How to Make Money at Home

The Gift-Basket Designer

Lisa Stenson
Olathe, Kansas

Mother of Adam, 10, Nicholas, 5, and Erin, 3
Business: Bon Vivant Gift Solutions (
Job description: Creates and ships themed gift baskets for corporations and small businesses
Start-up costs: $3,500 for inventory, business cards, brochures, and Web site design
Annual income: $22,000

Back story: While working as a real-estate paralegal in Chicago, Stenson noticed that real-estate agents often bought thank-you gifts for home-buyers on closing day. So she found picket-fence planters and house-shaped boxes and filled them with gourmet goodies. They were such a hit, she was soon spending every spare moment filling orders for colleagues. Gift baskets remained her sideline business for two years, until the family moved to Kansas in 2001.

Instead of job-hunting in her new city, Stenson joined Olathe's chamber of commerce and the local chapter of Business Network International. By exchanging referrals with fellow business owners, she landed her biggest account -- an insurance agency that sends thank-you gifts to clients around the country. Now clients include financial advisors, sports agents, software developers, and doctors' offices. "People think I spend my days sitting at home putting pretty things in containers," she says. "But 75 percent of my job involves face-to-face sales."

Best advice: "Don't overspend on inventory." Budget $500 for basics that can go in any basket, and then personalize the gift to the occasion with themed containers and ribbon.

Most unusual order: "When major-league ballplayer Jim Thome hit his 400th home run, a client hired me to send him a basket filled with 400 packages of beef jerky."

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