If you’re a single mom with cash flow issues, you need a way to bring in money fast. Starting a home business can get that job done, but it has to be the right business to work with your life.

That can be especially tricky if you

  • Are stuck at home with young kids
  • Have a special needs child
  • Were a stay-at-home-mom for years
  • Haven’t worked in a while
  • Don’t have highly specialized skills

There are dozens, probably hundreds of websites out there with super long lists of business you can start. A lot of them assume you have tons of free time that you can devote to writing or blogging or bookkeeping or other gigs that require special skills or focused concentration. But if you’re taking care of kids and trying to earn money at the same time, those kinds of businesses just aren’t realistic.

Others involve shelling out money to get started – another unrealistic aspect for many single moms who are struggling to make ends meet.

But there are legitimate businesses you can start that will bring in a worthwhile amount of cash, work around your schedule, can be done with the kids in tow, don’t require specialized skills or training, and won’t cost you anything to launch. (I’m not saying these will be fun to do with your kids, just that’s it’s possible to do them with constant interruptions and split attention.)

    1. Errand-running service Single moms run errands all the time. Doing the exact same thing for other people puts money in your pocket. Plus, you can get your own errands done at the same time.  There’s a huge market for this, especially among seniors who can’t manage all of their own errands anymore.Average pay: $25/hourExtras: mileage charges over a certain distanceWhat you need to get started:
      • Reliable transportation
      • A cell phone
      • Flexible schedule
      • A way to get the word out (community-based flyers, Facebook page, Craigslist, your own website, word of mouth)

      Decide what types of errands you’re willing to do. Some typical gigs include things like:

      • waiting in line at the post office
      • picking up/dropping off dry-cleaning
      • grocery shopping
      • picking up prescriptions
      • retail returns and exchanges
      • holiday and gift shopping
      • gift wrapping
      • returning/picking up library books

      Gigs to avoid when you’re doing this with kids include:

      • Animal care
      • Driving someone else’s car
      • Taking people to or from appointments
      • Housesitting services

      Once you’ve got a few repeat clients, you can set up specific days for errands (grocery shopping on Monday, post office and dry cleaner on Tuesday) to make the best use of your errand-running time.

      If you want to do this type of job but don’t have the energy to start a business, you can sign up with an errand-running service like TaskRabbit … but you won’t get paid as much.

    2. Virtual Assistant
      If you’ve ever made pediatrician appointments, spent 45 frustrating minutes on the phone with the cable company, or ordered flowers online, you’ve got all the skills you need to be a virtual assistant. This kind of work is easier if your kids can entertain themselves for at least 30 minutes at a time, but it can be done even if they need more attention. Just make sure to never commit to deadlines you aren’t sure you can make.Average pay: $20/hour

      What you need to get started:

      • Reliable internet service
      • Computer
      • Cell phone
      • Flexible schedule
      • A way to get the word out (LinkedIn, Facebook, your own website, word of mouth)

      Decide what types of jobs you’ll be comfortable doing. Some typical tasks include:

      • Setting up appointments
      • Making travel arrangements
      • Making reservations
      • Making customer service complaints
      • Write and send thank you notes
      • Research
      • Social media posts

      Gigs to avoid when you’re doing this with kids around include:

      • Responding to customer service calls
      • Attending virtual meetings

      If you’re having a hard time finding clients, you can look for virtual assistant postings on websites like Upwork and FlexJobs.

    3. Copyediting (Proofreading) service
      If you notice typos on signs, menus, and websites or it drives you absolutely crazy when people say “between you and I,” proofreading could be a great gig for you. You can do this kind of work any time, anywhere, making it perfect for single moms.

      People often use the terms “proofreading” and “copy-editing” interchangeably. They’re not the same thing, and most people mean “copy-editing” when they say proofreading. Basically, they want to make sure everything is spelled correctly, the grammar is right, and the text flows in an easily readable way.

      Copyediting jobs may come with tight turnaround times – it’s often the last thing that happens before posting or publishing – so make sure you can block out enough time to meet critical deadlines before you accept any projects. At first, you may want to take on any jobs you can find, but you’ll end up with more repeat clients (and the ability to charge higher fees) if you specialize in a particular area (like lifestyle blog posts or educational materials). And if you have any special expertise – like legal, financial, or medical, for example – you can score more technical, higher-paying gigs.

      Average pay: $25/hour

      What you need to get started:

      • An almost obsessive attention to detail
      • Reliable internet service
      • Computer
      • Word processing software or access to Google Docs
      • Adobe Acrobat with editing tools
      • Phone
      • Flexible schedule
      • Access to style guides like The Chicago Manual of Style or The Associated Press Stylebook (You can buy the latest editions on Amazon through these links. Please be aware that I may earn a fee if you do that – I just want to be perfectly transparent about it. You may be able to find used copies or borrow them from your library, but make sure you get the most recent versions.)
      • A way to get the word out (LinkedIn, Facebook, Craigslist, your own website, word of mouth)

      Some areas you could find this type of work include:

      • web content and blog posts
      • newsletters and e-letters
      • e-books (especially self-published)
      • marketing materials
      • magazines and journals
      • college papers
      • résumés

      These types of gigs can be done with kids around (as long as you can concentrate enough to catch every mistake or inconsistency). Make sure to schedule client calls when the kids are at school or sleeping, or when someone else can keep an eye on them.

      If you’re having a hard time finding work, you can find copyediting gigs on websites like Indeed and FlexJobs.

    What about getting paid?
    When you’re an independent contractor (meaning you don’t work as an employee), you’ll have to invoice your clients and wait for them to pay you. Make sure you have an agreement in writing that spells out how and when you’ll be paid. For example: “Freelance copy-editor will be paid $25 per hour within 30 days of returning the edited manuscript.” OR “I charge $25 per hour for running errands and will bill you weekly. Expenses must be prepaid or reimbursed daily.”

    When you finish the work, invoice your clients right away. A lot of small/solo business owners (and your side gig is a business) forget to bill their clients, or bill them weeks or months later. All that does is keep you from getting paid.

    For new clients, it’s a good idea to get a down payment, like 30%-50% up front before you do any work. The truth is, some clients won’t pay. Some will pay late. And some will be perfect payers – those will be the clients you stick with. By getting at least some money upfront, you won’t be totally screwed if a client doesn’t pay – and you’ll know not to work for them again.

    You’ll also be responsible for paying all of the income taxes, including self-employment taxes. That means making estimated tax payments every quarter – if not, you could get hit with IRS penalties when you file your tax return next April.

    Remember, you’re a business now – and that means you can deduct business expenses. So keep track of receipts, mileage, and anything you buy to keep your business going.