Boomers have been hit hard in the Great Recession. Those of us who've lost jobs through layoffs, been forced into early retirement, or who have been pushed into looking for a job again because of financial issues are finding the job market unfriendly and unforgiving. And the longer you've been out of a job, the harder it is to find one.
One sign of how bad things have gotten: AARP reports that workers over 65 now outnumber workers under 20 in the labor force. "Seventy is the new 17," Teresa Ghirlarducci, director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, told AARP Bulletin.
The answer may be to start your own business, or to work "freelance" from home. Technology can make even the smallest business look big, and can connect you as closely to customers and companies as you would be working from a cubicle—or moreso.
I've been a "telecommuter" since 1995, so I've had some experience in that department. I've worked for companies hundreds of miles away, in some cases only visiting them in person once or twice a year.
Even so, shifting to being self-employed was still hard. While I had many of the tools in hand already, it still took me about three months to get out of start-up mode and rebuild my life around the self-employed lifestyle.
If you're considering working as an independent contractor or running your own business—whether it be doing what you used to do on an assignment basis for your former employer and others, or turning an interest or hobby into a money-making enterprise—you'll need to have some basic bits of technology in place to get started:
A separate computer for work. It doesn't have to be brand new, or top of the line, but you should have a computer that's just for work for work. If you've got a place to make into your "office", set it up there. If you don't, make sure you have a place in the house that has good lighting, is quiet, and signals to others that you are "at work" when you're there.
A professional email address. Invest in an Internet domain name that "brands" you as a business, and keep your business email separate from your personal email accounts. It will make you look more professional to customers and others you do business with, and prevent confusion in your in-box.
A basic Web page. You'll want something you can point customers to that tells them about what you do, using the same domain as your email. You can use Google Sites or some other service to quickly set this up, and move on to something more elaborate if you start selling things online. Even if your business is selling things on eBay, having a website makes people feel more comfortable doing business with you.
Basic office software. Many computers come with Microsoft Works or Office pre-installed, but if you don't have basic word processing and spreadsheet software, you can download OpenOffice—it's free and has most of the features you need.
Business bookkeeping. For tax reasons, even if you're a sole proprietor, you'll need to keep careful track of expenses and income. There are online services that can help. For example, FreshBooks is a low-cost, secure online service for tracking work time and billing customers—it's free for handling up to three customer accounts, and can send invoices by e-mail or by way of the post office. If your enterprise is more complicated, you may want to take a look at QuickBooks from Intuit, either on the web or as software for your computer. The web version is an easy way to start small and work your way up.
A printer-copier-scanner. Inevitably, you'll have paper to handle—forms to print, documents to fax or email. Look for a combination printer-copier-scanner-fax like Canon's Pixma MX870.
A work "phone line". This can be your cell phone, or a "voice-over-IP" service like Skype with a dial-in phone number. Whatever it is, it needs to have a professional-sounding voice mail greeting that lets people know you mean business.
Plenty of help from the Web. There are many resources and communities online for people getting started in self-employment. The Small Business Administration's Business.gov is a good place to start to find out all of the government regulations, programs, and resources that relate to the line of work you're in. It also includes a community site where you can find tips (and mutual support) from people who are already running their own businessses, as well as information from experts in marketing, business planning, and other topics. Even if you're just working as an independent contractor, there's plenty there to help you navigate your way through the pains of getting started.
Your social network. Don't forget to ask your friends for help—and use social networks to your advantage. Set up a Facebook "page" for your business, and use it to let customers know what you're up to. Use Twitter to stay in touch as well, letting customers "follow" you and help you grow your business.
Working from home can be the best thing in the world—or the worst, depending on how you are able to adjust to it. But if you have the right tools and resources at your fingertips, you'll at least have more of a chance of it being better.