NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- With the unemployment rate still above 8% and likely to remain elevated for years, many Americans would jump at the chance to find an occupation that pays them a decent salary and doesn’t depend on the (more often than not) indignity of applying for a thousand and one jobs and receiving a thousand and one formulaic email rejections in response (if there even is a response).

While the economy remains in flux, many people have seized the opportunity to develop their own dream job, often by starting a small business. Initial investment may be a lot less than you think for a career that offers good pay with relatively low stress.

Here are seven strategies for those interested in ditching the cover letter and being your own boss:

1. Freelance Writing
The 2011 Freelance Industry Report shows that only a small percent of freelancers would quit their freelance careers to go back to work for a boss in exchange for a higher salary. This level of satisfaction combines with plenty of business out there for freelance writers.

According to a CNET.com report, since 2006 one new blog emerged every half second, and in 2010 alone, 21.4 million websites and 152 million blogs were created. Most of these sites need content to improve positioning in search engines.

If you have a way with words, but have no plans to be the next J.K. Rowling or James Joyce, freelance writing may be the way to utilize your existing skills and earn some dough. With minimal start-up costs and an increasing demand, freelance writing offers the opportunity to earn up to $100,000 a year while working out of a home office.

The key to success in this business is to specialize based on your area of expertise. To enter this competitive market, you may have to write a few free clips. It won’t be enough to contact monthly magazines which tend to offer the most lucrative opportunities to get your foot in the door, but that’s worth a shot too if you have a compelling angle on a popular subject – a subject where you have a demonstrated history as an expert.
Michael Germanovsky, a freelance writer and a credit card expert for Credit-Land.com, says: “You lose stress when you do what you love. It’s important to choose an industry and become an expert so that you are comfortable in meeting deadlines. Your success depends on being timely, relevant, and offering great presentation of your material. It may take years before you develop great relationships with editors, but if you love to write, it’s a dream job.”

Job details
• Startup cost: minimal (laptop, phone, internet)
• Average potential annual earnings: Up to $115,000, according to careerinfonet.org
• Typical fees: $10 - $300 per article or higher.
• Qualifications: reading and writing, communication and marketing, light computer skills
• Equipment needed: computer with word processing software and internet, phone
• Work from home potential: Yes
• Staff required: none

Germanovsky goes on to point that the job does come with expenses – “Aside from my laptop, my cellular phone is a recurring expense, which does cost me a lot, since I am always on my phone with editors, emailing article idea proposals, or tethering my WiFi from my phone to power wireless internet on my laptop.”


A good way to cut down on the cost of a cell phone used for business is to use Skype or any of the offerings in the voice over internet protocol class of technology. Skype, for example, offers voicemail, a landline number at which people can call your “office”, unlimited calling in North America, a call forwarding service to your cell phone for when you are in transit, and all for an annual fee that may be less than a one-month bill for a cell phone. And that land line number offered with Skype subscriptions means that a source for a story can call you back while you are on the beach with your laptop in Bali, and have no idea that they aren’t reaching you at a desk in New York.

2. Outdoor Sports Equipment Rentals
Opening up a sports equipment rental business can provide you with a good source of income, up to $50,000 a year, while you get to spend some quality time outdoors. Justin Hernandez a spokesperson for BoatsToGo.com says, “Outdoor equipment rental, a kayak rental for example, does not carry any more stress than any other customer service job, but the benefit is that you are outdoors. If you have set up the business like a clock, you should have no worries, and it’s as simple as getting to know where you can rent, get equipment, and start renting.”


According to an American Community Survey from the Census Bureau conducted in 2009, just about 57 million people, representing 27.3% of the population from the age of 16 and up, got on a bike during the summer of 2002.  Biking is one of America’s favorite sports and forms of family recreation. In fact, bicycle rental shops and stands in outdoor spaces are popping up in many U.S. cities, renting bikes for $12-$15 an hour. If you love being outdoors, and engaging with people, this may well be a good match for you.

Job details
• Start-up cost: $2,000 - $5,000 (depending on inventory)
• Average potential annual earnings: $20,000 - $50,000
• Typical fees:$12 - $15 per day
• Advertising: flyers/brochures (give some to the local Chamber of Commerce or travel agencies), internet
• Qualifications: none
• Equipment needed: fleet of bicycles and bike-repair kits
• Staff required: No

Ordering equipment for your rental business will require spending a sizeable amount upfront, and as a result, it’s a good time to consider whether a small business credit card with an attractive cash back promotion makes sense as a way to get something back for the investment and also begin to build business credit.

3. Online Auction Sales
According to study conducted by AC Nielsen in 2006, 1.3 million people were making a full-time or part-time living doing sales on eBay. Although you may get a bit stressed out at the very end of the auction, this is one of the simplest and stress free jobs you can find. All you need is to obtain a source for low cost items and sell them at a higher price, the proverbial buy low and sell high. You can rely on drop shipping companies, like Doba.com, who will provide you access to their inventory and will even ship the item for you. Since they often do not offer the most competitive prices, you can scout local stores or wholesale clubs, like Costco, for discounted items sold in bulk. The goal is to find a product whose costs, auction fees, and payment clearing fees do not eat up your profits. Shipping cost can have an effect too. Free shipping can be used to attract customers, but shipping fees can be paid by the customers independently, as well.

Job details
• Start-up cost: Varies, but up to $5,000 depending on the complexity of a website.
• Average potential annual earnings: variable, depending on item pricing 
• Advertising: internet, social network
• Equipment needed: basic photo editing and HTML writing software
• Potential home business: Yes
• Staff required: depending on volume of sales

At times it can be difficult to find items at a discount to resell. It makes a huge difference how you pay for the items you buy. This is especially important if your profit stems from the price you pay for your inventory.

4. Dog Walking
The National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health report that 58.9% of dog walkers took at least two dogs out for a walk in a single day, while 42.3% walked at least three dogs, with each walk lasting at least 10 minutes. According to petbusinessexperts.com, dog walkers typically earn $22 to $30 per one hour walk. The reason why the rates vary so much is simple -- there are different kinds of walks offered by individual dog walkers and services.  For instance, walking a dog individually typically cost more than doing a pack or group walk. This business can be set up fairly quickly, requiring almost no startup costs, except for transportation costs, a few supplies, and a good pair of walking shoes or sneakers.

Job details
• Start-up cost: limited or none (all you need is a dog, a leash, and a waste bag, all of which could be provided by the pet owner)
• Average potential annual earnings: $43,000, according to SimplyHired.com
• Typical fees: $22 to $30 per hour
• Advertising: internet, classifieds, social networks, flyers
• Qualifications: good physical health, love for canines
• Potential home business: Yes

Expenses associated with dog walking are rather small, but are all oriented around supplies like bottled water, dog treats, and small pet grooming supplies. 

5. Cleaning Services

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of janitors and building cleaners is expected to grow 11% from 2010 to 2020,  just about the average for all occupations. While this is a physical job, it’s not as stressful as many professions. Walter Pataridze, at Walter’s Cleaners in Brooklyn, New York says, “Once you’ve done it many times this job is not stressful at all. The job can be tiring, because it’s physical, but if you are in good health it can actually give you very little stress.”

To get started in this job, Pataridze points out a prospective cleaner will have to create a list of all equipment and cleaning products needed, factor in costs such as gas to travel to work site, and advertising costs.

Job details
• Start-Up cost: $10,000 (includes equipment, cleaning supplies inventory, local advertising)
• Average potential annual earnings:  $22,210 per year (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics)
• Typical fees: $10.68 per hour
• Work from home potential: No
• Staff required: none

This business requires constantly purchasing cleaning supplies. While it is possible to get them in bulk from manufacturers when your business has grown, on a start-up level it is easier to get them at local home supply stores like Home Depot, though online prices are usually lower than in-store prices when purchasing cleaning equipment and supplies.

6. Website Development
An estimated 650,000,000+ sites currently exist on the web, each requiring a level of information technology expertise that many businesses do not support. Web developers fill this void offering services that range from site design to server configuration. Outsourcing to a managed service provider, a budding trend in this field, provides an affordable option that might otherwise be cost-prohibitive to some business owners.  Blue Star Technology is one such provider working with companies with 10 to 1000 users, which receive enterprise-class solutions at an affordable fee.


Job details
• Start-up cost: Varies, but up to $5,000 depending on the complexity of a website.
• Average potential annual earnings: $40,000 - $120,000
• Typical fees: 6% - 12% of a project
• Advertising: internet, direct mail to manufacturer's representatives or marketing departments, industry conferences
• Equipment needed: Computer programmer pack that includes html, php, and other programming software
• Potential home business: Yes

7. Wedding Planning
Being a wedding planner brings more stress than other low-stress jobs we’ve mentioned, but a recent survey conducted by TheKnot.com reveals that the average cost of a wedding is $27,800. That makes investing in the services of a wedding planner at an average of $1,000 a small part of the overall event cost. In fact, the relatively small fee provides an insurance policy on a substantial investment. With more than 2.5 million people getting married each year in the U.S., a huge opportunity exists for these service providers. If you enjoy party planning, now is the time to get involved in this market.

Ultimately, it’s a job that will require hiring assistants if you plan to grow the business successfully. It’s also only for the detail-oriented person, requiring the creation and management of spreadsheets for events.

Job details
• Startup cost: $2,500 or more (according to iVillage.com)
• Average potential annual earnings: $73,000, according to SimplyHired.com
• Advertising: internet, radio, print
• Work from home potential? Yes
• Staff required: none

--By Ilana Greene