If you feel like you've hit a dead end with your employer and aren't having any luck finding a telecommuting-friendly new job, one of the quickest remedies is to strike out on your own as a freelancer.
In their book "The Work from Home Handbook: Flex Your Time," due out next month, attorneys Diana Fitzpatrick and Stephen Fishman cover how to become a freelance at-home worker.
First, the authors say, evaluate whether freelancing is for you. While freelancing can be a wonderful opportunity to earn a living from your home and enjoy the freedom that comes with choosing only projects that you find appealing or financially worthwhile, the lifestyle is not for everyone. It means losing many comforts such as regular paychecks, paid vacations, and health insurance benefits.
Even longtime, successful freelancers can't say for sure how much they'll earn in any given month. You'll give up the peace of mind and promotion potential that comes with a steady job at a stable employer.
If you're having trouble identifying the type of work that a company or a client would be interested in outsourcing, consider projects that are labor-intensive or that require specialized knowledge. Common types of freelance assignments include architectural drafting, bookkeeping, proofreading, writing and editing, illustrating, researching, even assisting with international agreements. Visit these major freelance job boards: Elance (www.elance.com), SoloGig (www.sologig.com), Guru (www.guru.com), and HotGigs (www.hotgigs.com).
You'll also need to set appropriate freelance rates. Negotiating a good hourly rate is the safest bet, because you won't bear the risk that the project will take longer than expected. By contrast, fixed-fee arrangements can prove lucrative if you're an unusually speedy worker, as well as reassure the company that hires you that your services can be written into a predictable budget.
No matter how you charge, Fitzpatrick and Fishman caution, be careful not to undersell yourself. The hours you spend on a project don't represent your whole investment in it - you still have to pay your business expenses, cover your own benefits and factor in the unpaid time spent on billing, marketing, and bookkeeping. (You should figure that 25 percent to 35 percent of your working hours will be spent on nonbillable tasks.)
Finally, whenever you take on a freelance assignment, be sure to get the terms in writing. Discussing and drafting a written agreement will avoid misunderstandings and differing recollections regarding issues like project scope and pay.
A basic letter agreement should include a detailed description of the project or services you'll perform, a deadline for completing your assignment, the schedule of hours you'll work each week (if applicable), the hourly rate or fixed fee, and how and when you will be paid.