Five Low-Cost Ways to Be Your Own Boss

Being your own boss means different things to different people.

For me, it means kissing those dreaded dry cleaning bills goodbye and working in my sweatpants. For Harris, a Web programmer I met at a friend's wedding, it means never having to set the alarm clock again. For my friend Tammy, a marketing maven and mother of two, it means losing the commute and saving a bundle in day care.

Contrary to popular belief, achieving this kind of career autonomy without winding up on food stamps is entirely possible. And it doesn't even require a four-year college degree or a significant financial investment.

Even better, there's a rich market of customers just waiting to be tapped.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 12 million people work for themselves. And I can tell you from years of experience in the freelance trenches that many of us self-employed slobs need help with everything from setting up a blog to tracking our business expenses to keeping up with our blasted e-mail in-boxes.

In honor of Independence Day, I've outlined five low-cost freelance businesses that you can start from the comforts of your home and market to other independent professionals -- plus, the skills, training and overhead they require. See if one lights a firecracker under you.

Professional Organizer

My home office looks like the aftermath of an earthquake: My desk is buried in six inches of paper. The floor is strewn with files, magazines, books and computer peripherals that haven't worked in three years. The last time I had to dig out an important tax document from the rubble, it took me the better part of a Monday.

In short, I am a professional organizer's dream.

But organizers are far more than design-minded neatniks who can rattle off the names of 10 models of Ikea bookcase without peeking at the catalog.

"Someone who makes a good professional organizer is someone who's a good listener," said Joshua Zerkel of Custom Living Solutions in San Francisco, a graphic designer turned organizer for hire.

Rather than using a "one storage system fits all" approach, Zerkel suggests the shelving and filing units that best suit the way each of his individual clients work.

To learn more about this tidy profession, check out the National Association of Professional Organizers, which has 33 chapters throughout the country. Chapter meetings are a great place to pick up tips on breaking in, as are NAPO's many telecourses.

Copywriter

I'm assuming you're looking for a way to make a decent living working from home, so let's skip the poetry, fiction and creative essays, and discuss something that can actually pay the bills: copywriting. Most small businesses and freelancers have blogs, Web sites, brochures, direct mail pieces and loads of other marketing materials they need written. And if you're the sort who can make sentences sing, you're sitting in the catbird seat.

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