The Accidental Freelancer's Survival Kit

Contracts are as varied as the projects and industries they represent. For specific examples, I recommend attorney Stephen Fishman's book, "Consultant and Independent Contractor Agreements."

Health Insurance Is a Necessary Evil

Yes, it stinks that self-employed workers don't have the same health insurance options as many U.S. employees do. But getting hit with a five-figure ER bill because you have no health insurance to speak of stinks more.

The COBRA benefits offered through your former employer will likely be your most expensive health care option. Instead, check with your favorite industry association; many offer health coverage to members. Also check to see whether the Freelancers Union offers health insurance in your state.

If neither of these is an option, enlist an insurance agent to help you pick an individual plan that best suits your budget and health needs. (I've found this more cost effective than going to eHealthInsurance and playing eenie, meenie, minie, moe.)

Whatever you do, don't let your health coverage lapse, unless you don't mind being hit with nasty waiting periods or denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

The Time to Continue Saving for Retirement Is Now

I know, I know -- save money? In this economy? But according to experts far more finance-savvy than me, an economic implosion is no excuse to stop feeding your retirement kitty. So with that in mind, get yourself to your financial institution of choice and open yourself an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) if you haven't done so already.

If you're worried about losing any more money in stocks, don't be.

"You do not have to invest in the stock market just because you put money in an IRA," said Ken Clark, a Certified Financial Planner and the author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Out of Debt."

"You can choose a money market or CD option -- something you can do in any IRA," as long as your financial institution offers that option, he explained.

Getting Paid in Exposure Won't Pay the Bills

Now that you've hung your own self-employment shingle, people are going to ask you to work for them free of charge. If you don't believe me, peruse the Gigs section on Craigslist, where many of these culprits lie in wait.

Pro bono work and bartering certainly have their place in moderation. And taking a short-lived gig for a high-profile outfit with shallow pockets can be a great way to boost your portfolio and get your work noticed by other movers and shakers.

But unless you've got a pot of gold stashed under your bed, you'd be wise to set a firm limit on the number of hours you can afford to give away each month. Otherwise, you're not freelancing -- you're volunteering.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" -- offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog, Anti9to5Guide.com.

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