Five Low-Cost Ways to Be Your Own Boss

Of course, everybody and their mother wants to be a paid writer, so there's no shortage of resources clamoring to tell you how to do it well and get paid handsomely in the process. Unfortunately, not all those resources are legit. For trustworthy tips, see reputable Web sites like Copyblogger, Inkthinker and The Well-Fed Writer. For online classes, see Mediabistro and the Editorial Freelancers Association. And to start lining your portfolio with writing samples, volunteer to update a Web page or tri-fold flier for a friend or colleague (rather than waste your time with bidding war sites like Helium.com).

Blog Designer

Static Web sites are so 20th century. These days, we freelancers want Web portfolios that deliver fresh content and personality to our current and potential clients monthly, weekly, even daily. In a word, we want blogs, and we want someone who can customize the standard Blogger, Movable Type, WordPress and other blogging templates into a unique design that reflects our particular business.

Enter blog designers like Cody McKibben of ThrillingDesign.com in Sacramento, a self-taught web coder (he earned a college degree in religious studies and history) who has landed many of his clients "just by talking to people online and interacting on existing blogs."

As with would-be copywriters, the resources for those looking to channel their inner geek abound. Some of McKibben's favorites: WordPress for Dummies, WordPress Theme Design and ProBlogger. And while there's always a better, stronger, faster computer on the horizon (McKibben recently treated himself to a new $2,000 Mac desktop), much of the Web-based design and development software he uses is free.

Bookkeeper

"If you look on Craigslist, there are literally hundreds of ads looking for bookkeepers," said Cari Jones of Spitfire Bookkeeping in Seattle, who started her thriving business two years ago. (She's right. I checked.)

Jones, a single mother of three, didn't receive any formal accounting training; instead, she learned how to handle invoices, collection calls, expense reports and profit-loss statements in her previous career as an administrative temp and office manager.

If, however, you have a knack for math but lack the relevant office skills, the bookkeeping, business administration and QuickBooks accounting software classes offered at most community colleges can help. (You'll of course have to purchase a copy of QuickBooks, too.)

Another key ingredient of bookkeeping -- or any freelance gig for that matter: people skills.

"Most people are more afraid to divulge their financial information than they are to divulge their personal information," Jones says of her clientele. To cultivate that added trust level, she chooses to work at her clients' offices rather than work solely from her home.

Virtual Assistant

When it comes to the skill set of virtual assistants, anything goes. In the past, I've hired virtual assistants to help proofread and publicize my books, return my e-mail and phone messages, even update my blog. But other VAs dabble in bookkeeping, database management, web design, transcription and any other support service that you can think of.

"Rather than seek out a VA training program, find courses that focus on the specific skills you would like to develop and sell services in," said Christine Durst, co-founder and CEO of Staffcentrix, a virtual assistant training firm based in Woodstock, Conn.

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