No more discounted dental or a 401k match. No more access to an office vending machine selling Coke for 50 cents. And bye-bye color copier.

Those were the days working full-time at Thestreet.com. Since getting laid off in March it's been hard to say goodbye to those lovey-dovey corporate perks.

But don't feel sorry for me. As a new member of the freelance economy I am actually working more now and even (don't hate me for saying this) turning down some projects.

I've gone from unemployed to self-employed. I'm happy. And I'm not alone.

Sarah A. Needleman's great piece in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) today about "Negotiating The Freelance Economy" captures the big picture. She describes the fast rise in freelance opportunities in the recession, since it's cheaper to employ part-time or contract workers without health and retirement benefits.
In fact, one freelance worker is so busy with projects she has the luxury of "doing just the fun stuff" with no immediate goal to return to the full-time workforce. She works in web-optimization, but as the article explains, it's not just web and software wizards and graphic artists who are making out well. Everyone from accountants to lawyers, sales reps and journalists are joining the new freelance economy. Jobs posted at work-for-hire sites like Elance.com and Odesk.com are surging compared to the same time last year.

Don't get me wrong; freelancing is not a perfect world. I had to get over some insecurities and annoyances, like "How should I afford health care? COBRA, individual policy or Freelancers' Union?" "How much time can I spend working at Starbucks before they start charging me rent?" and "What to put on my new business cards?"

Some parting advice for the full-timers out there who think they could never enter the freelance economy, that it's too scary: Start making some income for yourself on the side. Ease into the freelance world by taking on a part-time, once-in-a-while gig that you enjoy. That's how I did it. I've always freelanced articles and worked on side projects throughout my full-time working career.

Do you speak a second language or have an A in statistics? Tutor. Have a passion for writing? Freelance some articles locally. Love to garden? Offer to landscape this summer on the weekends. Catering, web design, direct-sales, you name it. A lot can be done in the evenings and on weekends. You never know what your side job might lead to. At the least, it may be something to fall back on part-time if you lose your full-time post this year.

And at this rate, with so many freelance openings, you'll likely make enough to pay up for teeth cleanings and color copies.

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