Entrepreneurial

Top 7 moonlighting businesses

By Guest Contributor
July 12, 2011

– Melinda F. Emerson, known as the SmallBizLady, is an entrepreneur, professional speaker, small business coach and the author of “Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months“. This article originally appeared on SecondAct.com. The views expressed are her own. –

In today’s economy, even if you have a job, your money doesn’t go as far as it used to. You’re probably thinking a lot about how you can make some money on the side.

I am a firm believer that the only way to build wealth in America is to build a business, but getting started can be challenging for people who need a weekly paycheck. That’s why it’s best to stick your toes in the entrepreneurial waters with a moonlighting business. It usually takes 18 to 36 months for a new business venture to break even.

There are plenty of businesses you can develop after 5 p.m. each evening and on weekends while still working your day job. Some of these options may require you to work by appointment or find a partner, but all of these businesses are ideal side gigs.

Here are my top seven moonlighting businesses to start right now.

1. Grant and Proposal Writing

If you can help people find money, you will always have clients. As a grant writer, you can charge hourly or, once you are established, a flat fee of $1,000 to $1,500 and perhaps a percentage of any successful proposals. You can offer grant management and sustainability plans, as well. Some grant writers are generalists, and some focus on a niche, such as developing educational, social service or health research grants. “Grant writing is quite lucrative, but there’s a lot of pressure from clients,” says Anisha Robinson-Keeys, president of Lance-Lee Planning in Norristown, Pa.”The key is being an expert in your target area. Fundraising is a relationship business.” One of the best ways to get experience is to volunteer to write grants for a development department at a nonprofit. Be upfront about why you are volunteering so that you maintain the relationship. Richard Walsh, author of “The Start Your Own Business Bible: 501 New Ventures You Can Launch Today”, says grant writing businesses can make $75,000 to $100,000 a year.

Getting started: Many colleges offer grant writing courses through evening extension programs. For more information, visit GrantTrainingCenter.com or GrantWritingUSA.com.

Startup costs: $2,500 to $5,000

2. Bookkeeping Service

There are 27 million small businesses in the U.S. and they all need accounting services. If you like keeping track of records and are organized, this could be for you. You do not need to do taxes to have a thriving business. This is a perfect part-time business because small-business owners struggle with financial record keeping, and if you can be flexible, you can teach them about their business and grow your business alongside your clients. Bookkeeping businesses on average generate $30,000 to $45,000 a year, says Nicole Fende of the Small Business Finance Forum. It’s a good idea to team up with a CPA firm that can provide direct referrals. CPAs typically assign bookkeepers to their clients.

Getting started: You’ll need computer equipment and the latest accounting software. “You must invest in accounting software and pursue training to operate it,” Fende says.

Startup costs: $2,500 to $7,500

3. Virtual Assistant

This is a business where you work as an executive assistant, or personal concierge, on a project basis. Typical clients are busy executives, working moms or small-business owners. The hours and types of projects vary; some jobs may be personal tasks such as preparing birth announcements or business tasks such as editing website copy and making travel arrangements. You may start out working on specific projects and once the relationship is established, you can negotiate a monthly retainer fee for steady work. Virtual assistants can charge $25 to $45 per hour, depending on the services provided, and can earn $25,000 to $50,000 a year, according to author Walsh. “One key thing to watch out for is managing your clients,” says Sonia Schenker, a New Jersey virtual assistant and owner of YourJobMyOffice.com. “If you do not set hours, they’ll have you on call 24/7. Be sure to clarify turnaround times so you don’t find yourself working around the clock.”

Getting started: You’ll need to invest in a good computer, a color laser printer and scanner, time-tracking software, database management and label-making software, a headset and a smartphone. A working knowledge of social media marketing is a big plus and will help you connect with clients.

Startup costs: $2,500 to $6,000

4. Mediator

People have figured out that you do not always need a lawyer to settle your differences. A mediator is a neutral third party who helps two parties resolve their disputes. Many divorces and child custody cases are now resolved through mediation. This can be a home-based business, but you will need to have a professional setting to meet with clients. Your state may require a license or certificate. Mediators can charge $150 to $300 per hour; the fee is typically higher if the mediator is a lawyer. The typical case takes two to six hours. This could be a good business for someone who is tired of being a lawyer because a legal background is an advantage. To become a mediator, you must enroll in a training program that meets state requirements and then obtain mediation experience. “You can gain experience by finding another mediator to mentor you, taking a mediation apprenticeship or volunteering with various courts and organizations,” says Tracy Hornig, director of training for the Center for Resolutions in Media, Pa. Walsh notes in his book that mediators can earn $65,000 to $85,000 a year.

Getting started: Mediation training is often a 30-hour course. For more information, contact the Association for Conflict Resolution.

Startup costs: $5,000 to $10,000

5. Medical Billing Service

Health care is one industry that keeps growing in this economy, and medical practices of all kinds are overwhelmed with invoicing paperwork. Medical billing businesses typically are paid either a flat fee of $1.50 to $2 per claim or 4 to 8 percent of the billing claims. These businesses can make $25,000 to $50,000 a year. Key expenses are professional liability insurance and training. If you are new to the insurance business, you will need to invest in training, which is typically offered at community colleges. “Health-care regulations change regularly, and you must stay on top of them, and you need to manage your clients carefully,” says Angela Madison, who runs Affordable Medical Consulting of Mitchellville, Md., and teaches billing courses at a local college. “Make sure that you do your due diligence with the medical professionals you are taking on as clients and that you are prepared to stand your ground as the insurance professional.”

Getting started: Here’s a list of medical billing education programs across the nation.

Startup costs: $3,000 to $10,000

6. Pet Grooming/Care

People love their pets, and they are willing to spend big money on pet care. At $30 to $90 per visit, a pet grooming shop can be a good side business. “It’s all about the owner, not the dog,” says Mitsi Aljoe-Graber, owner of Yellowpole Acres Pet Spa & Resort in Council Bluffs, Iowa. “Pet grooming and training is a great business to start small, and you and grow quick if you are a good groomer and do what the owners request.” She launched her business in her home for $5,000 and says, “You can make $30,000 to $45,000 a year.” Providing training and pet-sitting services can increase annual revenue by $25,000.

Getting started: You’ll need to invest in equipment such as a grooming table, brushes, tubs, cages, clippers, and either a business location or a vehicle for mobile grooming services.

Startup costs: $5,000 to $20,000

7. Resale Consignment Business

Starting a consignment shop is a great business, especially in these thrifty times. You can purchase a franchise or start your own. Consider creating a specialty business in children’s clothes, uniforms, handmade accessories or women’s clothing. “You must accept more than name brands and have a keen eye for what will sell so that you are not stuck with a bunch of useless merchandise,” says Joanne Rebold, owner of 2 Friends Gifts and Consignment Shop of Drexel Hill, Pa. She started her store by contacting friends and asking each to give her 20 or more items on consignment. She uses Facebook and word-of-mouth referrals to promote her business.

Getting started: You can start this kind business online through sites such as eBay or by opening a brick-and-mortar store.

Startup costs: $10,000 to $40,000

Looking for more moonlighting pointers? Walsh’s book, “The Start Your Own Business Bible”, is an excellent resource.

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