Most of the people I know who can earn enough to support a family and homeschool at the same time were already earning a lot of money before they started homeschooling. So they took a pay cut to work from home and but they’re still making pretty good money.

That’s actually what I’m doing. But it’s something that takes a tons of focus and planning before you start homeschooling, so whatever, this is not an option to most of the people reading this blog.

So you are going to have to sell something – either a product or a service. Here are some guidelines to help you think of an idea that will be successful:

Sell services. The easiest thing to do is to sell your services by the hour. If you have skills that are worth a lot, you can charge a lot. If you have skills that are general and entry-level then your hourly fee is lower. But in either case, the success of this business depends on your sales skills. Because it’s much easier to do the work than it is to convince someone to hire you to do the work. So when you think about selling services, think not so much about what services you can do but what services you can sell.

Look for people with money. So often people pitch me products for kids or recent grads or nonprofits. All these ideas have the same problem: they are aimed at people with no money. When you try to think of a company idea, think about who has money and solve a very very specific problem for those people. An example of a company that does this is Invoicehome because of course if you are sending an invoice then you have money. And this is straightforward solution to a straightforward problem, which is that places that make it easy to send an invoice (PayPal, for example) brand themselves instead of the sender.

Don’t sell to homeschoolers. Think about the problems you have outside of homeschooling and how you can solve them. Really. Most homeschoolers don’t have a lot of money, and besides that, things that they would be interested in (curriculum or parenting tools) are well addressed by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs – twenty something year old guys who don’t eat or sleep and just write code nonstop – and you don’t want to be competing with them. Instead think of a product that someone in Silicon Valley would never dream of — like Cybele for innovative undergarments or Piper & Leaf for the best loose tea I’ve ever had.

Don’t sell to schools. Selling to schools and government is very specialized. The process of selling is long, full of red tape, and a maze of connections and politics. Companies that have products to sell to schools are absolute masters of the education channel. For example Blue Label Power sells only to schools. They are great at what they do because they simplify the red tape around school purchases. Do you know how to do this? Don’t create a product for schools unless you want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire an education sales specialist to sell the product for you.

Make stuff and sell it. This is probably an Etsy business, and the products that sell best on Etsy are common products with a handmade differentiator – like tights with Emily Dickinson poems. The biggest hurdle for people who sell what they make is that there’s usually one thing that sells well and the rest doesn’t sell. People who are makers don’t want to make the same thing over and over again, but that’s how you make money. Some people resist this, and making money is difficult. Emily Free Wilson is an example of an artist who embraced the art her fans loved on Etsy and she created her own business based on just one, single design she created among hundreds of dishes she sold.

Consider the cost of your time. If you homeschool, it’s way better if one person takes charge of the family and one takes charge of the money. When you start thinking about a side business, add up how much time and energy it will take you to get the business off the ground. Businesses can take years to become profitable. And you might find that by the point you’re making enough money from a side business to justify the time it takes that your kids are old enough that you can just go work 9-5 at someone else’s company.

Make your goals easier to attain. When you started homeschooling, did you have some vision of yourself managing every lesson, teaching every idea, etc? It’s impossible and unpleasant and not really how homeschooling works, right? The same is true of creating and running a business. You can’t do everything, you can’t create everything you think of, because do everything is impossible and unpleasant and not really how a side business works. It’s about doing just enough so that you meet your goals.

So many people tell me they want to homeschool and make money while they do it. It’s hard enough to homeschool, so it’s not easy, but it can be done. And anyway, the truth is that the same principles that gave you the insight and gumption to homeschool will give you insight and gumption to run a side business. And both start with this motto: Do the least you can, not the most.