A few years ago, I went to a Tupperware party in a friend’s apartment. It was a somewhat surreal experience. The official Tupperware representative was a middle-aged suburban woman sent in to this tiny apartment filled with Manhattan 20-somethings, most of whom — or perhaps all of whom — had never been to such a thing before. What I remember most about the experience is that the representative gave a little spiel about selling Tupperware as a career. As she put it, “Tupperware will let you stay home with your kids.”
I think this depends on what your definition of “staying home with your kids” is. She was clearly a working woman, earning a fair amount through a sales job. In her mind “staying home with your kids” meant not reporting to an office/factory/store for 8 hours 5 days a week. Selling Tupperware let her set her hours, and work more or less at different points in her life, yet still make some cash.
Once upon a time, Tupperware, and perhaps Avon, had that market to themselves — tapping the energies of semi-entrepreneurial types who didn’t want to come up with an entirely original business model, but also wanted a lot of flexibility and didn’t want to commit to full time hours. In our modern, networked world, though, I keep coming across more business models that offer some element of that. I’m still investigating which ones actually translate into good opportunities or not. But somebody pointed me over to UrbanInterns the other day, noting that people could specify their virtual availability by hours per week and skill. A bookkeeper who wants to work 11-20 hours per week? You can put that out there. Etsy, of course, has been written about a lot as a craft portal, but I was also pointed toward Zazzle, which seems to traffic in light manufacturing on behalf of creative types. Design an image and they’ll stick it on a bag and do the back office stuff. I’ve been looking into Macaroni Kid, which has women doing local newsletter content in home-based publishing businesses. Then there are the usual portals: elance, Craigslist, etc.
In general, if you want to make serious money, you may be better off doing something truly entrepreneurial. But the existence of the new Tupperware does point to a certain changed element of our economy. Much of the usual personal finance advice is based on the assumption that families cannot change their income. That may have been the case when people had jobs long term. But if people change their jobs every 4 years, that means that every 4 years there’s a chance to renegotiate. And beyond that, there are starting to be all kinds of other ways to make money on the side now through the new Tupperware and other ventures. The “frictionless labor market” is a concept economists talk about that means a world where people move in and out of jobs quickly with demand, scale up and down their involvement as they wish, and can turn any available time into money without massive transaction costs. The new Tupperware may be pointing us toward that world.
Have you ever made money through a non-traditional venture?
(photo courtesy flickr user ctudball)