ScoreCard Research Lauren Tharp - The Penny Hoarder

Invoicing is something every freelancer has to do. After all, earning money is what distinguishes us from the “writing just for fun” writers — but to earn that money, we have to invoice our clients.

While you might start by creating a simple invoice in Microsoft Word, eventually you’ll likely want to transition to an invoicing system or website that automates some of the work.

But what’s the best invoicing website for freelancers? The many choices available can be a bit intimidating, especially if you’re a newbie.

So I went on a mission. I signed up for trial accounts with 10 popular online invoicing companies. For each one, I set a time limit of 30 minutes to explore and create mock invoices.

With each site, I took note of any immediately positive features (pros) as well as anything that stuck out as challenging or frustrating (cons). I also checked out their cheapest and most expensive payment plans.

Here are the results of my experiment:

1. Pay Panther

Pay Panther is not currently accepting new users, but you can sign up to be notified via email when it is.

Pros: Pay Panther’s dashboard was one of my favorites. It was uncluttered and focused on the essentials — Paid, Due and Billable — with a calendar page and a “Feeds” box to communicate with your team (if you have one). Nice and simple!

Pay Panther was also very flexible with how you could bill your clients, with options for flat rates, item rates, user rates or per-project rates.

You can sync your Pay Panther account with your Google account (handy if you use Google Calendar!), Outlook, iPhone/iPad or Mac Calendar.

Pay Panther offers an option to pay a 50-cent PayPal Business Payment fee, no matter the size of your invoice, rather than applying the standard PayPal fees to payments received. PayPal only offers this option to U.S.-based users.

Cons: As a new user, I found Pay Panther’s WalkMe walkthrough to be very aggravating — it slowed down my exploring and I couldn’t turn it off. That’s a minor quibble, though.

My larger problem with Pay Panther was that before you can create an invoice, you have to create a “Client” and a “Project.” Those felt like unnecessary extra steps when so many other invoicing sites allow you to write your clients and projects directly into the invoice as you create it.

Free Plan: Yes. You get one user and three clients.

Paid Plans: $15 per month for two users and 500 clients; $199 per month for unlimited users and clients.

2. Quaderno

Pros: Quaderno was specifically made and marketed toward freelancers, and my initial impression was that they “got” me.

Quaderno was simple and easy to use.

Its reports (“Numbers”) section was colorful and easy to read. It has a nice importer tool, offers several color choices and invoice templates, and even has an affiliate program for groups of freelancers.

Cons: The main drawback to Quaderno is it doesn’t have a free plan. I couldn’t find anything else that really stuck out as terrible. However, the “pros” that I found weren’t all that remarkable either.

Free Plan: None. You get a seven-day free trial and then you have to get a paid plan if you wish to continue.

Paid Plans: $29 per month for unlimited teammates and up to 250 transactions; $79 per month for up to 1,000 transactions; $149 per month for up to 2,500 transactions.

3. Ronin

Pros: To be honest, there weren’t many. Ronin was probably my least favorite of all the sites I took for a test drive.

The only really impressive feature I found was the number of payment integration options it offered; however, payment integration is only an option for the pricier subscription plans (a definite negative!).

Cons: Before you can create an invoice, you must create a client and a project. If you’re selling products or services, you must add those into the system before they’ll show up on your invoice.

Rather than writing in each project/product/service on the invoice itself, you select items from a drop-down box. It added an extra level of tediousness and inflexibility to the process.

In addition, you have to pay to see your reports! Sure, the “free” plan is pretty much useless (most of us have more than two clients!), but we should be able to see our records for how much those two clients have paid us.

Free Plan: Yes. You get one user and two clients.

Paid Plans: $15 per month for one user and 30 clients; $29 per month for three users and unlimited clients; $49 per month for five users and unlimited clients.

4. Simplybill

Pros: Simplybill is exactly what you’d expect it to be: Simple. There were about four tabs to choose from and within each page, everything was written out in large letters and chunked into easy-to-understand sections.

Simplybill was a no-brainer when it came to creating invoices — I didn’t even need my full half hour!

I was also amused that a site that embraced simplicity so thoroughly had a total of 37 different template designs to choose from (hidden way in the “Settings”). Fancying up my invoice was optional, but discovering the option was a fun surprise.

Cons: Simplybill doesn’t do anything but invoice clients. If you’re looking for other functions, like time tracking, this isn’t the invoicing site for you.

Simplybill also doesn’t have options for additional users or teams. Unless you’re a solo business, look elsewhere.

Free Plan: None.

Paid Plans: $5 per month for one user and unlimited clients (but you can only send out 25 invoices per month!); $15 per month for up to 100 invoices; $25 per month unlimited invoices.

5. The Invoice Machine

Pros: The Invoice Machine is another invoicing company that was made for freelancers and small businesses.

Again, I found that comforting -- if you’ve ever had to explain freelancing to a non-freelancer, you can imagine how edgy you’d feel if the company handling your billing didn’t understand your profession.

True to its name, The Invoice Machine ran like an efficient, well-oiled machine. It was exceptionally easy to create and send invoices using the clean, simple interface.

I also loved that I could export my invoices, estimates, templates, clients and other information as XML or CSV files.

Cons: The Invoice Machine only invoices. If you want additional features, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Reports were also a bit too simple. Other than “Paid” and “Unpaid,” I didn’t see any records or stats. If there were any, they were too hidden for me to find.

Free Plan: Yes. You get one user and unlimited clients; however, you can only send three invoices per month. Free invoices will also come with Invoice Machine branding.

Paid Plans: $12 per month for two users and unlimited clients and 30 invoices; $24 per month for 10 users and 300 invoices; $48 per month for unlimited users, clients and invoices. You can use your own logo and remove Invoice Machine branding for paid accounts.

6. Zoho

Pros: There were two things that really stood out to me about Zoho. The first was that it’s the only invoicing site I tested, other than Freshbooks, that offered a snail mail service.

Second, Zoho had an extensive reports page with 25 different categories. It wasn’t just organized, it was micro-organized!

For someone like me — the tightly-wound physical embodiment of organization — the extra effort put into recordkeeping is a welcome feature.

Zoho also offers the 50-cent PayPal Business Payment fee option.

Cons: Perhaps this is just my experience, but in terms of its design and overall aesthetic, Zoho feels like it’s trying to be Freshbooks and can’t quite pull it off. It’s a bit like Elvis and an Elvis impersonator – you’ll get a good show either way, but the latter just isn’t as impressive.

Zoho also sent out far too many emails, even after I’d closed my account.

Free Plan: Yes. You get one user and 25 clients.

Paid Plans: $7 per month  for one user and 50 clients; $15 per month for three users and 500 clients; $30 per month for unlimited users and clients.

7. Paymo

Paymo’s new website and services are far superior to what it used to be. It has a multitude of great features, including a time tracker I love.

Free Plan: Yes. You can start with a free 15-day trial to test it out, but after that the free plan allows one user, three projects and one invoice per month.

Paid Plans: $8.95 per user, per month for unlimited clients, projects and reports, but no invoicing — great if you’re just looking for a project management system. If you want to send invoices, you’ll need to pay an extra $9.95 per month.

8. Freshbooks

Pros: I was immediately blown away by Freshbooks — it’s an invoicing website that truly does everything. Not only could I create online (paperless) invoices, but I had the option to create and send traditional (paper) invoices as well.

Plus it had a built-in time-tracker, a team management system and even a way to connect your accountant to your Freshbooks account to make tax time easier!

From the moment I signed up, I felt like Freshbooks understood what we, as freelance writers, need: “Content marketer” and “copywriter” (among other writing-related career choices) were company options when you sign up!

It also have an excellent referral/affiliate program.

Freshbooks offers the 50-cent PayPal Business Payment fee option.

Cons: Since I was basing this article on how “intuitive” the site was for new users with limited time on their hands, I honestly found Freshbooks a bit overwhelming. It does so much! And, as a single freelancer, its emphasis on teams and team management made Freshbooks feel a bit too big for my needs.

Also, the free payment plan is a bit useless for busy freelancers, making paid subscriptions a must if you choose this service.

Free Plan: Yes, but you can only invoice one client per month.

Paid Plans: $15 per month for five clients; $25 per month for 50 clients; $50 per month for 500 clients.

9. Harvest

Pros: The thing I liked best about Harvest was the finished invoice: It was easy to read and the total amount due was written both at the top in large numbers and in normal-size print within the invoice itself.

Even if you have one of those clients who hates to read (we’ve all had them), there’s no way they could “accidentally” skip over the amount they owe you!

I also liked that the reports section was uncomplicated and easy to use. It has a search function similar to PayPal’s and it was simple to find exactly what I was looking for.

Harvest offers the 50-cent PayPal Business Payment fee option.

Cons: Although I enjoyed the inspirational quotes on its timesheet/calendar pages, I found Harvest’s time-tracker tool a bit too tucked away on the website. I prefer time-tracking tools to be easily accessed and even easier to use.

Free Plan: Yes. You can have one user (yourself) and send invoices to four clients.

Paid Plans: $12 per month for one user and unlimited clients; $49 per month for five users and unlimited clients; $99 per month for 10 users and unlimited clients.

10. PayPal

Pros: In over four years of writing professionally, I’ve only had two clients not pay through PayPal. It makes sense to use PayPal for invoicing if all (or most) of your clients will be paying via PayPal anyway!

PayPal was also easy to use, had a great search function for invoice records, and didn’t charge any additional fees to send invoices to clients.

Cons: The “Create Invoice” section of PayPal can be difficult to find for new users. It’s tucked away under the “Request Money” tab.

PayPal also featured no additional functions (like time-tracking), and, although clients can pay you via credit card, that’s not immediately obvious to users (and clients) who are unfamiliar with PayPal.

Free Plan: Yes, in a sense. PayPal doesn’t charge any extra fees for sending out invoices; however, once your client pays, the usual PayPal fee comes out of your earnings.

Paid Plans: None.

Your Turn: Do you use an invoicing site to bill your clients?

Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Lauren helps small businesses bring their brands to life through written content; and she also helps fellow writers get started as freelancers via blog posts, bi-monthly newsletters, free ebooks and one-on-one mentoring.

This post was originally published on The Write Life, a website and community to help writers create, connect and earn.

Leela Loisel has made an entire career out of hula hoops.

Yes, hula hoops! The toy we’ve all seen -- and likely played with -- at some point in our lives helps Loisel earns her living.

Whether she’s busking at the street fair in Monrovia, California, building her own custom hula hoops to sell or teaching others how to get their hoop-centric dance on, Loisel is all about the hoop life.

And, fortunately for us here at The Penny Hoarder, she was willing to share how to turn exercise-based fun into a big-time moneymaker!

Perform with Hula Hoops

She breaks out her hoops at community events, “concerts and outdoor parks where music is playing. Then people see me dancing and come up to talk to me,” said Loisel.

Professional hula hooper

“I also have little business cards I printed up, and I’ll sometimes place ads on [websites] for hoopers, but I depend mainly on meeting people in person -- word of mouth.”

And it turns out hooping is lucrative. Loisel earns an average of $50 an hour when busking at street fairs. Parents are, by far, her best customers when it comes to street performing.

“Children love hula hooping and they’ll drag their parents over to watch me dance. And then I’ll encourage them to join in,” Loisel said.

“It’s a great way for them to burn energy, and their parents will sometimes hire me to teach them hooping lessons.”

Build and Sell Hula Hoops

Loisel originally began making her own hula hoops so she’d have a variety of different sizes “because different size hoops do different things.”

From there, she started making them for interested friends, and now creates hoops for anyone who’s willing to pay.

“The hoops themselves are made out of plumbing tubing. You can get it at hardware stores, but I prefer to buy it online in bulk” to keep her costs low, she explained.

“I charge $20 to $30 per hoop depending on what kind of tape they want. Different tapes are used for different levels of grip and, of course, aesthetic value,” said Loisel.

Professional hula hooper

Teach Hooping

In addition to teaching others to hoop through Blackbird Dance Company, Loisel also teaches out of her home.

“I charge $15 to $20 an hour for lessons, depending on how many people there are and how far they have to travel to meet with me,” Loisel said.

“I also like to offer a free lesson to anyone who buys one of my hoops -- and the people who take me up on it will often come back for more. It’s a great way to market my lessons without being too pushy.”

As a relatively low-impact exercise, anyone can pick up a hula hoop and start manipulating it.

“[A hula hoop is] like a dance partner that you have complete control over,” said Loisel. “It’s wonderful, and no two people hoop alike. My favorite thing is that it gets people to dance who normally wouldn’t dance. It gets [people] to stand up and be part of something!”

HoopingHeadstand

Unexpected Benefits of Hooping

In addition to being able to earn a living off of hula hoops, Loisel has found a lot of additional benefits to the lifestyle.

I don’t work out – all I do is hoop. Not having to go to the gym is great!” she explained.

“And there are days when you’ll be pissed off, but then you can pick up a hoop and instantly feel joyous. And it’s so fun to do with friends.”

“But the best thing that’s come out of hooping, for me personally, is my dog, Porkchop,” continued Loisel. “He originally belonged to a woman I was giving private lessons to. We developed a good rapport and when she had to move away, she gave him to me. He’s my greatest joy, and I wouldn’t have him in my life if it weren’t for hooping!”

Your Turn: How about you? Would you consider hula hooping as a potential money-earner? Let us know in the comments!

Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Through her website, Lauren helps small businesses bring their brands to life through written content; and she also helps fellow writers get started as freelancers via weekly blog posts, bi-monthly newsletters, free ebooks and one-on-one mentoring.

While produce comes in and out of season, eggs are always "in." That's right, for those with the inclination, egg farming can be an eggs-cellent opportunity to eggs-ponentially increase your side income. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Yes, it’s a real option: egg farming is a great side job for anyone who loves spending time with animals, working outdoors and sharing fresh food with others.

Such is the case for Pomfret, Maryland's Dana Kee, owner of Moose Manor Farms; and Appalachian, Kentucky's Barb Webb of RuralMom.com -- two eggs-perts who were willing to share their eggs-pertise with The Penny Hoarder's readers.

Ready to learn whether you’ve got what it takes to become an egg farmer?

Getting Started an Egg Farmer

You don’t need a ton of training or education to be successful in this business, but you will need to know what you’re doing.

"A love for animals and a basic understanding of care and feeding of chickens is a good place to start," Kee told me. "Chickens have few requirements... Give them a little space, fresh air and predator-proof nighttime housing. [Also], many states offer classes for a small fee -- or there are folks like me who offer workshops and 'Chicken 101' courses on-farm to potential chicken keepers."

Speaking with a local chicken expert or taking one of these courses can help you feel out whether raising chickens is a good fit for you -- and teach you the skills you’ll need to be successful. Another option is to test-drive your new side business by renting chickens from a local farmer or business. This way, you can see whether raising hens is really all it’s cracked up to be, or whether you’re better off finding a different gig.

The Legalities of Raising Chickens and Selling Eggs

Of course, it's not all about your love for fowl and having enough space -- there are legal qualifications to consider as well. Some cities and regions have bylaws limiting the number of chickens you can keep and the size or location of your property. Make sure to consult your local extension agency to find out about any rules or restrictions in your area prior to beginning your farming adventures.

"To sell the eggs commercially or at farmer's markets, check with your local extension eggs for rules and regulations in your area,” said Webb. “Many locations will require a county permit or safety courses to be completed prior to selling."

Kee agreed, adding, "About once a year the MDA [Maryland Dept. of Agriculture] will send out someone to test my henhouse and yard for salmonella. [But] it takes about 5 minutes, they work around my schedule, and it's not as intrusive as it might sound."

How Much Money Can Egg Farmers Earn?

"How many [eggs] you will sell or how much you will make is truly only dependent upon how many chickens you have and how many eggs you collect,” said Webb.

On average, if your hens are young, you can expect one egg per chicken, per day. Production may stave off in colder weather or with age. However, younger hens may produce two eggs within a 24-hour period if they’re healthy and warm.

So what will these eggs be worth? Your earnings depend on your region, according to Kee. "The going rate in my area of Maryland for organic chicken eggs is between $4-$5 per dozen and for organic duck eggs around $8 per dozen.”

Kee charges $4 per dozen for both her duck and chicken eggs. “[M]ost folks I sell to have a standing order each week and I get a few extra 'ad hoc' requests so I'm usually sold out,” she explained. “I could probably charge more, but I kind of have a thing about making good food affordable for everyone so I really just try to cover the cost of feed."

Finding Customers and Managing Inventory

Friends, family, and neighbors also make great first customers, said our experts -- and often, that’s all it takes for your business to snowball.

“Once the word gets out that you are selling them, unless you have an area that is already saturated with egg sellers, it's easy to run out of inventory quickly!” said Webb. "Before you begin selling, be sure to have a little bit of inventory on hand so you can accommodate all of the requests."

Encourage your customers, friends and family members to save their egg cartons for you to reuse, and make ordering from you as easy as possible. "Be sure to get your customer's phone numbers and offer to call them each week to let them know what days you will have fresh eggs for sale, take their orders and set up appointments for pick up,” recommended Webb. “This way you won't have to worry about too many people stopping by at odd hours or being disappoint[ed] to learn you are out of town when they want to get a dozen."

Eggs have a shelf life of three weeks or more if stored properly in the refrigerator, according to research from Colorado State University -- though many backyard farmers disagree, noting that their eggs are keep well for weeks at room temperature.

“Production slows down in the winter, so do keep that in mind,” noted Webb. “You may want to charge a little extra to help compensate for your lower inventory" during the colder months.

Unexpected Perks of Egg Farming

Both of our sources reported having a wonderfully good time with their animals, as well as better-quality food in their home kitchens. These results aren’t surprising, but they also both shared a feeling of closeness and contribution to their communities.

"Amazing conversations with locals, tall tales from neighbors and plenty of baked goods are all a result of selling eggs in your community!" said Webb. "It's a great way to make new friends and get to know your community members!"

Your Turn: Would you try egg farming as a side business?

Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Through her website, Lauren helps small businesses bring their brands to life through written content; and she also helps fellow writers get started as freelancers via weekly blog posts, bi-monthly newsletters, free e-books, and one-on-one mentoring.

This post is part of our series on Weird Jobs. Check out the other articles to learn about more weird jobs you could try!

Halloween may come once a year for most of us; however, for mask makers, Halloween is a year-round business. Finely-crafted, full-head-coverage latex masks can earn their creators $60-$400 a pop,depending on their artistic skill and selling abilities.

Admittedly, the highest-earning mask makers base their creations on pre-existing properties -- an elaborate form of fan art -- but licensing and copyright issues can be tricky, especially for beginners. Luckily, artists with original creations have the potential to earn a pretty penny in this field as well.

One such artist is Illinois-based Aaron Lewis, an accomplished sculptor who has been earning a living with his original mask designs for the past five years.

Getting Started as a Mask Maker

Creativity and artistic skill are must-haves. However, a college art degree isn’t necessary. "I draw/design, sculpt, mold, pour and paint latex rubber Halloween masks. [But], other than the usual high school art classes, I have no formal training," explains Lewis.

"I've always been interested in making things and movie [special effects]," says Lewis. "Growing up reading magazines like Fangoria gave me a glimpse into how some of the stuff was done. Then when I got access to the Internet, it opened up a whole new world of information to me and I realized I could try making some of my own 'monsters' at home."

"While posting pictures of my creations online, I discovered that other people were interested in owning copies of the things I made," says Lewis of how he first began earning a living as a mask maker. "Over the years, that led to being contacted by a couple of [mask-making] companies. I'm currently contracted to sculpt for Trick or Treat Studios."

Mask Making 101: Earning a Living

Most mask makers work as freelancers, meaning the creation and selling of Halloween masks is in their own hands. In other words, how much you earn is completely up to you.

"Selling pieces on my own the income varies," says Lewis. "I've sold single pieces for as low as $60 and as high as $400. It depends on what it is. For my contract work, I'm paid a percentage of what the company makes off pieces I've done for them. "

Of course, to earn any money, you first need to learn how to create the product. Are you ready?

Step 1: Sculpt a mask on a plaster bust using soft water-based or oil-based clay. Lewis uses EM-217 (WED) Clay, a slow-drying water-based clay.

Step 2: Spray your finished sculpture with Crystal Clear Krylon. Then build a wall or dam around your sculpture using water-based clay, running it along where the seam-line will be.

Step 3: Mix up some plaster and apply it to one side of your sculpture. After it dries, remove the wall or dam and put Vaseline on the surface edge of the plaster so the two halves of your mold won't stick to each other. Then mix up some more plaster and create the other half of your mold following the same procedure.

Step 4: Remove the mold from your clay sculpture after the plaster is completely dry and wait a few days before using it. "No dulling spray or mold release [needed]," says Lewis.

Step 5: Pour a couple of gallons of liquid latex into your mold, filling it completely. Wait a couple hours, then dump the excess latex back out, leaving only what clings to the sides. Allow it to dry for approximately 24 hours and then pull your mask out!

Note: Recommended places to get liquid latex are Burman Industries and Silpak, Inc. -- both companies sell their products nationwide in the United States. (If you live elsewhere, try Googling "liquid latex" for other reliable vendors).

Step 6: Trim out eyes, ears and nostril holes from your latex mask. Also remove flashing (excess latex along the seam-line) and patch any holes where the latex is thin or missing. Paint it, and add hair if desired.

Step 7: Sell your mask.

But when it comes to mask-making success, Lewis has one final piece of advice: "Practice, practice, practice! Be patient and do it because you love doing it. You never know where it may lead to. I've met a lot of cool people and made some awesome friends though mask making and it gives me a chance to be creative."

Your Turn: Would you like to make a living creating wearable monster masks?

Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Through her website, Lauren helps small businesses bring their brands to life through written content; and she also helps fellow writers get started as freelancers via weekly blog posts, bi-monthly newsletters, free e-books, and one-on-one mentoring.

Freelancing is never easy, but artists have it especially tough. "Tortured artist" and "starving artist" stereotypes have followed the artistic community for years and show no signs of dying out.

Successfully "making it" in the art world requires more than raw talent: you'll also need to market yourself. For most artists, that means getting your art on display at an art show, trade show, gallery or convention.

Unfortunately, art shows can be costly. From $25 for a small table at a local street fair to $350+ to exhibit at San Diego Comic Con, whether you're self-publishing comic books or oil painting on linen canvases, expenses can add up -- especially when there's no guarantee that you'll sell any of your products after your initial investment.

Lucky for you, we found Indiana-based artist Heather Landry, owner of Sandpaperdaisy Art. Landry is quickly becoming an expert on saving money -- while still creating amazing art! -- and was willing to share a few of her favorite methods.

Upcycling

The money-saving technique with the biggest impact on Landry's artistic wallet has been upcycling. From frequenting flea markets to scour for previously-used frames; to busting up old furniture; to creating collages and decoupages out of obsolete electronics, scrap paper and toys her children have outgrown -- Landry is always looking for ways to make artistic treasures out of "another man's trash."

"Once, I had a very violent piece for a client involving a lot of gun imagery, so I walked into a gun shop and asked if I could have any of their discarded bullet casings. I got a huge sack full, free!" said Landry, adding, "I've [also] seen other artists make beautiful driftwood frames or marvelous creations from old appliances, signs and broken glass … the list is endless. Just make sure you've cleaned up everything you use and ensure there are no sharp or rusty surfaces left to harm you or your future buyer!"

"As a bonus, telling people that you've used upcycled materials is generally a selling point," Landry said. "Many people who love art also care about the environment."

Recycling

Do you have old art pieces collecting dust in your portfolio? Or unfinished work from your "learning period" that never quite came together the way you'd planned? Landry suggests recycling that art, turning it into something new.

"I paint or draw or even print over [my old artwork]. I'll even cut it up and use the elements I want to create an entirely new work of art at my current skill level," said Landry. "In this way, I transform something I had no use for into something I'm proud of, that people can see and enjoy."

Bartering

Landry also told us about several successful trades she'd made with patrons while exhibiting at local art shows. She once traded a $5 unmounted print for a $45 ticket to an amusement park. She's also traded art for jewelry, headphones and art supplies.

"Other forms of bartering include offering to do work for a client in return for getting something desirable from them besides money. In my case, I do the promotional art for a small convention," she said. "In return I get a free table in their Artist Alley every year. This table always earns me hundreds of dollars."

"I've also designed a beer glass for a local brewery," Landry continued. "In return, I got a $100 gift card from them. This brewery has delicious food and of course, great beer, so this was a very nice thing to get!"

Networking

Landry explained that when it comes to saving money on exhibit costs, it's best to be a part of a group. By banding together with other artists in her area, Heather Landry has successfully made deals with local business owners for art exhibit space for little to no commission.

"Nature centers, breweries, restaurants, framing shops and other local businesses have all opened themselves to having our art there for sale and hosting special art sales. Generally all we had to do was ask!" said Landry. "In these scenarios, everyone wins, and the artists save a lot of money."

"Better yet, the more artists you know, the more great tips and opportunities you will get on how to save money. Everyone has their own little tricks and secrets," continued Landry, adding, "While you're at it, let all your friends and family know the kinds of things they should ask you about before they throw it out -- house paint, wood, broken furniture, sheets, curtains, lids, etc."

Diversify

"As the creator of a piece of art, you begin by owning the full rights to your work. Take advantage of this by selling instances of your artwork through as many non-exclusive venues as possible," said Landry. "For example, if you have an image that is a nice print, shirt or both, you have every right to sell it on Redbubble and Society6 at the same time. [Or] if you make your own comic and choose to self-publish, nothing is stopping you from having it on both Comixology and IndyPlanet." (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)

"Just make sure you read the terms and conditions of any place you're thinking of offering your art," she warned. "If they have a non-exclusive license to sell your work while explicitly stating you retain the rights and ownership, go for it! The more places you are seen, the better."

In the end, when it comes to saving money on creating, marketing, displaying, and selling your artwork, all it takes is a little creativity.

Your Turn: Have you ever used your artistic creativity to earn or save money?

Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Through her website, Lauren helps small businesses bring their brands to life through written content; and she also helps fellow writers get started as freelancers via weekly blog posts, bi-monthly newsletters, free e-books, and one-on-one mentoring.

This post is part of our series on Weird Jobs. Check out the other articles to learn about more weird jobs you could try!

When she first started her business in 1997, Janet Huey repeatedly heard, "It will never work." After all, she was already 44 years old -- it was a little late in the game to be starting a business, let alone one that was so "weird." Right?

Well, that was a little more than 17 years ago and Janet's Houston, TX-based microbusiness is still going strong. In fact, although she's "not rich," Janet is only one year away from paying off the 10-year mortgage on her house!

Janet Huey is the founder of Pet Stuff Resale and has made a career out of refurbishing used pet toys.

The Pet Stuff Resale Story

"After a downsizing from a job I loved, I floundered for two years until I figured out what I wanted to be when I 'grew up,'" joked Janet. "I took a job at a pet store out of desperation, and it -- along with my rescue background with greyhound adoption -- triggered the idea [for Pet Stuff Resale]."

"I started with donated inventory and a list of everyone I knew in rescue from vets to rescue buds to shelter employees," said Janet of her business' humble beginnings.

But, like any growing business, getting started isn't the hard part; the biggest challenge is marketing. Janet relies primarily on referrals, connecting with others through social networking and her pet fostering and rescue work. All 50 employees at her local veterinarian's office know her by name and send multiple clients her way. She also claims that the her truck advertising is "the best investment [she ever] made."

"I [also] wear scrubs a lot, which encourages questions," added Janet. "And I have a small dog on my arm as much as possible. I [also] wear pet jewelry to trigger conversations. Most of my clients are women."

She’s also found a few unexpected benefits to running her business. While helping others, Janet has been known to help herself -- to great deals! "While I'm trolling thrift stores and resales for pet items I do find some wonderful non-pet items, including clothes and shoes," she said. "Yesterday I wore a linen shirt that was $2.00, [and] got hiking boots for $3.00. [The best part] Is how much fun it is at times. I love my job even after all these years!"

Looking to Start Your Own "Pet Stuff" Business?

If you've got a knack for refurbishing old pet toys, why not make a little extra cash from it?

Janet Huey's Pet Stuff Resale has no website -- only a Facebook page -- and no physical store front. Instead, Janet takes her goods "near Dairy Ashford and I-10" on weekends, selling directly to local buyers.

"It saves people money and keeps stuff out of landfills," she said, adding, "I have no storefront, no shipping, no credit cards, no website, no PayPal."

But while this business doesn't require technical support, it does require a lot of hard work. "I have put in more of my time than most people would. I don't mind working every weekend," said Janet. "Okay. Football season is tough ..."

Still interested? You're not the first person who's tried to follow in Janet's footsteps. "People contact me to help them start but disappear when I quote my consulting fee … which proves they don't need to be doing it," said Janet. "I could save them lots of mistakes. My advice would probably be to look into something else, [but] not because I'm worried about competition. I would not mind the competition. [But] there's a reason PSR is the only one of its kind: It's lots of work!"

However, if you're not afraid of "lots" of hard work, Janet suggests gathering as much information as you can on animal care and pet supplies from your local pet stores and veterinarians. The more you know about the products you're refurbishing and who you're refurbishing them for -- the animals! -- the better.

"Also, ignore naysayers who have no business background and look for non-traditional thinkers with business sense," she concluded.

Your Turn: Would you become a professional pet toy reseller? Let us know in the comments!

Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Through her website, Lauren helps small businesses bring their brands to life through written content; and she also helps fellow writers get started as freelancers via weekly blog posts, bi-monthly newsletters, free e-books, and one-on-one mentoring.

If you’ve always dreamed of writing professionally online –- or are already earning money as a freelance blogger –- then you’re going to love this. You can earn a nice chunk of change each month simply by writing as one of your favorite fictional characters.

It’s called character blogging. While it’s technically a form of ghostwriting – or ghostblogging, if you prefer – it’s very similar, in principle, to writing fan fiction. And how many of us have a lovingly-crafted written tribute to our favorite character hidden under our beds?

If you’ve ever dabbled in fan fiction, you’ll want to keep reading -- you could earn $600 to $4,800 a year as a character blogger!

Getting Started as a Character Blogger

Professional character blogger Luana Spinetti started fan blogging “just for fun” in 2001, but began turning a profit around 2005. She officially monetized her blogs in 2007, and has since blossomed into an expert in the field.

Spinetti began her career with characters lifted straight from her favorite fandoms, such as Toy Story and Transformers; however, she has since branched out, now focusing on original characters (also known as OCs) and universes. “I’m now developing two new characters in a more business-oriented niche,” stated Spinetti of her business’ growth.

You don't need special skills [to get started as a character blogger],” said Spinetti in an e-mail interview. “Only a bit of healthy creativity and the willingness to keep your character blog ‘alive’ – make your character interact with their readers and market their posts. Just let your creativity flow, but remember to keep it consistent throughout the blogging process and the interaction.”

“As for practical advice, remember to add a disclaimer that informs the readers about the nature of the blog and that the person they will be talking to is a fictional character you role-play, not a real person,” she suggested. “If your character is an existing figure from a movie or a cartoon, make sure you legally can use it for your character blog and that the creator doesn't mind that you earn money via creative advertisement.”

Creating a Side Hustle with Your Character Blog

“You can have fun and earn money at the same time,” said Spinetti. “It's a relaxing type of blogging; not as stressful and demanding as regular ‘niche’ or even personal blogging can be.” (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)

“Among the character blogs I run, the most successful are a sentient toy's -- based off my Buzz Lightyear toy – and a robot girl from my world of Robocity. These two are by all means my favorites and they attract at least $200 to $300 a year in advertising,” said Spinetti.

Using a mixture of advertisements and sponsored posts, Spinetti has monetized her character blogs with great success. “I especially love [sponsored posts] because the advertiser’s product or idea [can] spark new universe ideas for my character or [the character’s] universe,” she said. “For example, if the advertiser's product is outdoor furniture, my character can mention that in the context of a restructuring of their home to add a balcony or a yard.”

“I generally find work through sponsored blogging networks such as SocialSpark and PayPerPost, but I have received good direct offers over time that often pay even better,” continued Spinetti. “I was once paid $150 for a sponsored post on a character blog! And it was just the character's life journal, not a niche blog.”

“If you have good blog rankings and a following, [your earnings] can range from $50 to $400 per month,” Spinetti said. “If your character has a niche you can earn even more.”

Character blogging isn’t restricted to personal blogs, however. You might also approach corporate companies about blogging as their mascot. Or, television shows will sometimes look for ghostbloggers to write as their characters for promotions or additional off-screen content.

But, at its core, no matter what niche you delve into, character blogging is all about having fun with your imagination. “Trust your inner kid as if your life depended on him or her,” concluded Spinetti.

Your Turn: What do you think -- could you blog as your favorite character?

Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Through her website, Lauren helps small businesses bring their brands to life through written content; and she also helps fellow writers get started as freelancers via weekly blog posts, bi-monthly newsletters, free e-books, and one-on-one mentoring.

This post is the first in our new series on Weird Jobs. Check out the other articles to learn about more weird jobs you could try!

When it comes to funeral homes, the funeral directors get all the glory. Also known as morticians or undertakers, these men and women have become synonymous with death -- and their skilled craftsmanship can’t help but be noticed.

From preparing bodies for viewing through embalming, dressing and cossetting (make-up artistry); to funeral arrangements; to burial or cremation preparations, morticians have a lot on their plates. And they couldn’t succeed alone.

While morticians typically need a degree in mortuary science as well as director and embalming licenses (depending on their state), there are plenty of other positions within funeral homes that are easier to break into and pay well.

Working With the Living

Sales associates, bookkeepers and administrative assistants are all important parts of the mortuary team. These positions are less “hands on” when it comes to the deceased, but still require professional decorum and compassion as they often work closely with grieving families. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)

California-based Nydia Martinez works as a sales associate and part-time bookkeeper at her local funeral home (who wished to remain anonymous). Martinez applied to the position straight out of high school as the requirements were “just knowing basic math and a high school diploma.”

“I do all kinds of stuff,” says Martinez. “From helping families see their loved one, to calling doctors, to making arrangements with the cemeteries… It’s a little bit of everything. I love helping families -- giving them some sort of closure and relief. But it’s really, really hard not to cry. I still haven’t been able to control that as good as the other employees do.”

In her current position, Martinez earns $11 an hour plus commission. “You get money from flower sales,” says Martinez. “You also get commission on urns, caskets and funeral services. It’s a percentage and it varies depending on the company you work with.”

However, while you can earn commission from those with an immediate need, Martinez far prefers those who plan ahead -- making funeral arrangements for themselves or their loved ones far in advance. “Basically you open a contract for a ‘pre-arrangement,’ which is paying before the time of death, and you get a cut depending on how much you sold it for,” she says. “The other way is ‘at need’ which is the same thing only the person is already expired so it’s a little sadder.”

Working With the Dead

Mortuary technicians and mortician’s assistants work behind the scenes, helping the funeral director, or they assist by going out into the field and removing the deceased from their places of death. While these positions work more directly with the dead, you’ll also be expected to interact with family and friends of the deceased.

Kris Cardinale currently works for Deltona Memorial Funeral Home and Cemetery in Orange City, Florida, as a removal specialist and an administrative worker. Much like Nydia Martinez’s application process, Cardinale found few obstacles when it came to entering her current career:

“When I was in high school I was in a health academy, and different health fields would come and talk to our class. I liked what [the morticians] had to say so much I asked to job shadow,” says Cardinale. “They offered me a job that day. You don't need any special qualifications. Just compassion and professionalism.” (Note: Legal requirements vary from state-to-state and city-to-city; check before you apply.)

“I have done just about every job except sales,” says Cardinale. “I started out as a staff associate -- they are the ones who stand visitations and assist with funerals. I then moved up to removal specialist. I go and pick up the deceased from the hospital, hospice, home or medical examiner. [And] I now do administration work and [do] more on the cemetery side.”

“The pay depends on what you do and what region you're in,” continues Cardinale. “Also, pay differs greatly if you work for a family-owned [funeral home] versus a corporate-owned. You can start out at minimum wage and work your way up. For example, I make around $11 an hour and I work for a corporate company. If I were to work for a private family, I could be making maybe $15 an hour.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2012 those who work in funeral services earn $28,000 to $94,000 each year. Mortuary Technicians specifically earn an average of $37,000 per year. However, the paychecks are far from the only benefit to working with the deceased.

“The job is very fulfilling in a sense of helping someone when they need you the most. You learn that people really aren't all that different. Everyone dies,” says Cardinale. “I've also learned that if you smile, you have no gag reflex when you're dealing with a decomposed body. But I think you learn a lot about yourself and what you can handle.”

If you’re looking for a job in which you help others -- living and dead -- you could do a lot worse than this “weird” occupation.

Your Turn: Would you work at a mortuary?

Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Through her website, Lauren helps small businesses bring their brands to life through written content; and she also helps fellow writers get started as freelancers via weekly blog posts, bi-monthly newsletters, free e-books, and one-on-one mentoring.

Farmers markets have a way of cropping up (pun intended) when the weather’s nice. Seasonal crops can be found on tables both indoors and outdoors, depending on your region. They look, and taste, delicious.

But have you ever wondered just how much these farmers are earning from their booths? Or if you could do what they do? Could earn money at a farmers market selling something other than produce?

Those were questions we wanted answered as well. So without further ado, here are three unique ways small business owners can earn money from farmers markets:

1. Traditional Farming and Produce Sales

The fact that farming would come into play at a farmers market is no surprise. Fresh produce is the star of the stands.

How to Get Started:

Jordan Taylor, a successful farmer in his own right and representative for Fresno County, CA’s Regier Family Farms, had this to say: “Most [farmers markets] will want to make sure you’re certified. That certification is a piece of paper that you keep in your stand that proves that what [you’re] selling, [you] grew. It’s so you can’t just go to Albertson’s, buy a bag of tomatoes, slap an organic sticker on ‘em, and jack up the price.”

Image: Regier Family Farms

After contacting the Department of Agriculture and gaining the proper certification, Taylor recommends turning to the Internet for good local markets. “Look for ‘farmers market’ and the name of your city. Then contact the manager to see what you need to do to get a table,” he said.

Also be prepared to meet health standards to appease not only the general public, but the health inspectors that come by for random inspections. “The standards themselves change from state to state, and sometimes city to city, so do your research and make sure you do what’s needed,” said Taylor.

Earning Money:

“How much you can earn depends on if your product is desired,” said Taylor. “It’s all about supply and demand. Last week was our first week for peaches and we made just shy of two grand [at our farmers market booth]!”

“Think about how much product you can acquire and then how much you can sell it for,” suggests Taylor. “Ideally you want to acquire product for less than you sell it for -- that’s the business end. Say you get a few tomato plants for five dollars each. And then each of those plants yields around 20 pounds of tomatoes that you then sell for four dollars a pound. The first pound nearly pays for the plant!”

Setting Yourself Apart:

“Talk one-on-one with people… share [your] expertise. Try to always look for a safe, organic way to deal with the pests,” said Taylor, adding, “And have fun! Farmers markets are the way to go -- they’re more fun for the customers and the growers!”

2. Beekeeping and Honey Sales

Honey is money when it comes to farmers markets. That is, if you’re willing to put in the work -- and aren’t afraid of (or allergic to) bees!

How to Get Started:

Southern California-based Jeremy Jensen of JJJ Bees and Bill’s Bees got into beekeeping “by accident” after a swarm took over his backyard. However, after that initial encounter, he soon learned that there was more to the business of bees than meets the eye. “Beekeeping is a learning process,” said Jensen. “There’s a lot to it -- much more than people think. You have to learn about the etymology of bees and how the bees work, from the inside out. There’s a lot of research involved.”

Image: Honey at a Farmer's Market

“Get affiliated with your local beekeeping community. Join a Beekeepers’ Association. Really work at building a good support system for yourself. Don’t go it alone -- get people who can tell you why things are going wrong or what you’re doing right,” added Jensen.

Earning Money:

“I’d rather not say how much money can be made,” said Jensen. “There’s good money in beekeeping, and I could give you specific numbers… but when I say exact numbers, people start doing a lot of bad math with ‘em and think that beekeeping is the next ‘get rich quick’ scheme. It’s not. It’s a lot of hard work.”

According to The US Bureau of Labor Statistics, beekeepers can earn $40,000 to $60,000 annually depending on their regional location and personal tenacity.

Setting Yourself Apart:

In our interview, Jensen put emphasis on making connections and learning to interact with people.

In addition to upping your people skills, consider branching out: “Soaps, candles… When you have the beeswax, it’s not difficult to make soap,” said Jensen, who also offers a bee extraction service to those who find their yards invaded by the honey-making Hymenoptera.

3. Selling Jams and Jellies

The art of making fruit preserves -- jams, jellies, chutneys, marmalades or spreads -- can be done from the comfort of your own kitchen. With some creative packaging and good booth-side manner, you’ll be a hit at your local farmers market.

How to Get Started:

Regan Boone, founder of Crescenta Valley’s Highway Highlands Farm, started out making jams and jellies as holiday gifts.

Highway Highlands Farm

Getting started with jams and jellies as a business venture can be expensive, depending on the route you take. “If you love doing it, it’s worth it at any expense. That said, buying or renting a commercial kitchen is very expensive,” said Boone, adding, “Fortunately, you can get a license to work out of your home.”

With an upgraded license, you can sell your preserves via mail order (online or off) or on consignment. You’ll need to be ready for a health inspector to occasionally inspect your home kitchen to ensure it’s running to the highest standards. Each state manages their licensing differently, so be sure to check with your state’s department of health.

Earning Money:

“I could be earning more if I didn’t use top-of-the-line ingredients, or if I used cheaper jars,” said Boone, referencing her uncompromising quest for quality several times in our interview. However, she has her own means to turn a profit: “In order to continue giving my clients the best quality, I keep the same prices across the board. Some of the jams and jellies cost less to make -- apples cost less than raspberries, for example -- but I charge the same per jar. In the end, it evens out; and it keeps the prices fair for the customers and me without being overly confusing.”

Boone also offers price breaks to customers who buy more than one jar, encouraging them to buy in bulk. She also has a recycling program set up in which she gives back $0.25 to the customer whenever they return one of her pricey glass jars. “I then sterilize those jars and reuse them, which saves me a lot of money,” she said.

“When you account for time in the kitchen, the time it takes to market everything, and the cost of ingredients and supplies… I end up making about $25 an hour,” said Boone. “But, if it’s your passion, it’s not work!”

Setting Yourself Apart:

Boone suggests offering free samples of your product to potential customers. She also takes on-demand orders for seasonal preserves and offers a free newsletter with recipes.

For jams and jellies, clever marketing will take you far. You’ll want to open your customer’s eyes to possibilities they may not think of on their own.

“Get creative,” said Boone. “Tell them jam isn’t just for toast. Suggest a glaze. Or sell it as a guilty pleasure. Or remind them that they don’t have to eat a whole jar in one sitting -- it’s an investment, and they’ll have it around as a treat for the next three months!”

Final Thoughts

Depending on where you live (some regions have farmers markets available year-round while others are seasonal) and how much work you put into it, farmers markets can either be a full-time job or an excellent side-hustle.

Plan ahead and choose the path that you’re most passionate about.

Your Turn: If you could sell one item at a farmers market, what would it be?

Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Through her website, Lauren helps small businesses bring their brands to life through written content; and she also helps fellow writers get started as freelancers via weekly blog posts, bi-monthly newsletters, free e-books, and one-on-one mentoring.

If you were the class clown, joyously imitating your favorite cartoon heroes in the back of the classroom, only to be rebuked with "children should be seen and not heard," have we got a gig for you.

As one of the fastest-growing industries of last year, voice acting is offering up career opportunities for those who choose to be heard and not seen. In other words, you finally have an outlet for all those silly voices you've been saving up since your elementary school days -- and you can get paid for them!

The field of voice acting is a vast one, covering not only traditional gigs such as voice work for cartoons (ala Mel Blanc), films and television; but also video games, puppetry, radio work, dubbing, commercials and any other form of voice over. Audio books in particular have exploded, with over $1 billion dollars spent by consumers in 2010 alone.

Now that digital media has become more accessible to obtain and create, smaller businesses are playing catch-up with the big leagues, creating their own online commercials with professionally done voice overs. But the truth is, you don’t need professional training to become a "professional" voice actor.

How to Get Started as a Voice Actor

Georgia-based Chris Hardy works as a repairman at Kirkwood's Music and Repair for his day job. But Hardy has created a profitable side-hustle as a voice actor -- offering up personalized audio files with famous cartoon voice impersonations, from Homer Simpson to Hank Hill -- on Fiverr.com.

Since activating his account in 2010, Hardy has become one of Fiverr's top sellers, and his  voice-over talents have been utilized by thousands of individuals worldwide.

Hardy noted two "main ingredients" as the foundation to his voice acting career: "One, as a child growing up with Saturday morning cartoons, I enjoyed mocking all the characters and memorizing the commercials (much to the annoyance of my parents). And, two, I’ve been a songwriter/musician/vocalist since the late '70s, so I’ve always had decent recording gear at my disposal.”

“Enter Fiverr,” he said, “and it all came together."

 

How Fiverr Helps Hardy Earn a Side Income as a Voice Actor

What’s Fiverr? It’s a website where users sell products and services for $5. Here’s a post that explains how to make thousands of dollars on the platform.

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty of standing out as a business professional, Hardy suggests "uniqueness and treating your buyers as humans" are the most important elements to success. (Click to tweet this idea.)

"When I got on Fiverr, the Fiverr folks saw my gig 'I will speak your message in the cartoon voice of your choosing for $5' [and] they thought it was different, so they featured it -- meaning it popped up on the home page more often than non-featured gigs, resulting in many orders!" says Hardy. "Also, I see sellers on Fiverr that simply have no manners and appear to be really gruff to their buyers. They may actually be nice people, but they need to make the extra effort to type in a nice way. If the buyer signs their name [on their order], at least say 'Thanks for your order, James.'"

Hardy also notes that niceties go a long way toward repeat business: "I offer to fix anything that may need fixing in the voice overs I deliver -- pronunciations, tone, whatever. Some sellers would charge for that, but I’ve found that happy customers tend to return."

As for the bottom line? When we asked Chris Hardy if the rumors of his making an estimated $10,000 per year from voice acting were true, he had this to say: "No, that is completely false! It’s more like $13,000 per year."

Sell Your Personality, Not Just Your Voice

As the voice acting trend continues to rise, more individuals are jumping on the bandwagon. And with the technology needed to get started now available to virtually everyone, standing out has become more important than ever.

"In 2010 when I started on Fiverr, there seemed to be a good amount of voice over gigs, but now it seems like anybody with a USB microphone and a laptop has a gig posted on Fiverr. It appears that there are far more cheap voice overs available to the public now," says Hardy. "This is why I cannot stress enough that it’s the non-voice-related things that will keep your buyers ordering: treat them well, try to actually care about their needs, and try not to be so formal and anonymous. The human element will make the difference."

Although there is money to be made as a voice actor, Hardy wanted to pass on one last tidbit of overall career wisdom: "Instead of trying to mold oneself into being a voice actor -- or any other profession -- try to look for opportunities that actually fit what you already do. You’ll be far happier that way, and I’m a big fan of happiness."

Your Turn: Would you try voice-over acting as a side business?

Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Through her website, Lauren helps small businesses bring their brands to life through written content; and she also helps fellow writers get started as freelancers via weekly blog posts, bi-monthly newsletters, free e-books, and one-on-one mentoring.

Want to put your organization and communication skills to work from the comfort of your own home? Good news: busy professionals need your help -- and are willing to pay for it.

As a virtual assistant (VA), you could make a successful career out of helping people and businesses with data entry, social media management, website maintenance, research, customer service and more. One day, you might be helping a small business set up their social media accounts; the next, you could be researching travel destinations.

Full-time VA and owner of TheOnlineVirtualAssistant.com, Nica Mandigma, says she’s seen opportunities for VAs grow over the past six years. "I get inquiries now more than ever. And I do not see the demand abating anytime soon,” she explains. “VAs will be in demand as long as people look for more ways to balance their work and personal lives."

How to Find Work as a VA

The most important step to finding work as a freelance virtual assistant probably won’t surprise you: networking.

"I always recommend telling people you're a VA -- especially at networking events," says part-time VA Tatiana Christian. "[Try] joining an entrepreneurial community… and the obvious: setting up a blog where you talk about being a VA."

Mandigma agrees, adding, "Make sure you have good presence on social media. I found my ideal clients through Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. It also pays to read and comment on blogs about virtual assistants and outsourcing because many people who read those posts are the ones that need virtual assistants."

In other words, the skills you need to obtain work as a VA are the same ones you need to perform the job: organization and great communication.

Where to Find Work as a VA

Want to try your hand at working as a VA? Here are eight of the most popular websites for finding clients:

1. Elance/oDesk

These companies have always been similar, and they merged in late 2013. On each site, prospective clients post their needs and then sit back while hungry freelancers "bid" on a chance to work for them.

While this strategy may work well for certain professions, Tatiana Christian suggests that VAs use caution, stating, "I hate bidding sites. People only use those sites to get really good help for very little money." Mandigma agrees, saying, "I still have a profile [on oDesk] but do not use it at all because bidding for jobs takes a lot of time. I would rather focus on marketing myself through my blog and social media."

2. TaskRabbit

TaskRabbit specializes in connecting people locally; however, they're now offering limited "remote" work, much of which is perfect for a VA.

If you're over 21 and live in a city mentioned in TaskRabbit's directory, apply to research, vacation-planning and usability-testing jobs.

3. Craigslist

While Craigslist doesn't offer any safety net services (such as Elance's escrow service) to protect freelance VAs from payment risks, it remains one of the most convenient, easy-to-use, sites to look for work. Mandigma names it as one of her personal favorites, but adds, "Just beware of scams!"

4. VANetworking.com

VANetworking.com is a social network and forum for VAs founded by a VA. About half the posts are from VAs swapping tips, and the other half are from potential customers sharing jobs.

5. WAHM.com

Also recommended by Mandigma, WAHM.com provides a job board for remote workers. And although "WAHM" stands for Work At Home Moms, they cater to everyone, regardless of gender or whether you have kids.

6. PeoplePerHour

PPH is well-recognized as one of the most reputable job sites for freelancers. Simply name your services, set your hourly rate and wait for customers to come to you. Or, you can search for clients who need your services and submit an (hourly) proposal.

7. Zirtual

The youngest site on this list, Zirtual used to be "invitation only" for both clients and VAs, but as of January, they've opened their virtual doors to the public.

Zirtual works as an agency for VAs, assigning them to clients. They pay a minimum of $10 an hour for part-time work; however, they only accept applications from United States residents.

8. HireMyMom.com

Recommended by Entrepreneur's Lisa Druxman, HireMyMom caters only to work-at-home mothers. Mandigma added that, although she's heard nothing but good things about their services, "you need to pay if you want to become a member of HireMyMom. I was discouraged [from joining] because I didn’t have that kind of money when I was starting out six years ago." It’s the only paid site on this list.

Your Turn: Have you considered working as a VA? Which of these sites would you use?

Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Through her website, Lauren helps small businesses bring their brands to life through written content; and she also helps fellow writers get started as freelancers via weekly blog posts, bi-monthly newsletters, free e-books, and one-on-one mentoring.