Freelancing on the side while keeping a full time job can be a good way to test the waters and save money before plunging in full time. In fact, I freelanced part time for three years while building up the confidence and the clips to succeed as a full time freelance writer.
Though it’s often the sensible thing to do financially, it’s certainly not the easiest. Any part time writer, designer, coder, or other freelancer will tell you that it requires careful discipline and superior time management skills.
Here are several tips on tackling freelance projects while keeping a full time job.
Be selective about your freelance clients and projects
All freelancers should be selective, but it’s especially important when you’re not available during the day and you’re giving up personal time to finish freelance projects. Working for someone who expects you to be at their beck and call to answer questions or turn around last minute requests just doesn’t work for part timers. Ditto on setting up phone interviews or status calls with someone who’s a perpetual rescheduler. Cut these people loose. If you’re freelancing part time, then you’re probably not solely dependent on that income to pay the bills. Your time is limited, so give yourself permission to hold out for clients who respect your time and projects that truly interest you.
Use different time zones to your advantage.
If, for instance, you’re a freelance writer who’s on assignment for a general interest publication, then you may be able to find interview subjects in another time zone. If you’re in California, you could call an expert source in New York City at 10:30am EST and still get to your office by 9am PST. Those who are developers or graphic designers could apply this same principle to scheduling phone calls (if required – see #3) and choosing who they’ll work with.
Encourage people to contact you via email
Many editors, project managers, and web types are already email savvy, and this can be a huge help to those who freelance part time. Rather than listening to lengthy phone calls about website specs or word counts or playing phone tag during the work day, have the client email you the information so you have a digital paper trail. If you need to interview sources for an article, an email interview can sometimes do the trick (better yet, write something that doesn’t require interviews, like a blog post or an essay). No need to explain that you have a full time job, because you can simply say “I work better when I can read it in an email.” One caveat: checking your non-work email on a company computer could force you into full time freelancing sooner than you’d planned, so I wouldn’t recommend that unless your company has an incredibly lax internet policy and you’re simply being paid to be there.
Once you’ve trained clients to contact you via email, a mobile device will make it even easier for you to stay plugged in. Yes, there are some not-so-nice stories about CrackBerry addiction, but using your own BlackBerry or iPhone will keep you in the loop without having to use your company computer. If you use public transportation, then you can catch up on email or RSS feeds during your commute (my BlackBerry even gets service in many of Boston’s subway stations!) and discreetly check it during lunch or other breaks. The added productivity will help offset the extra cost.
Request a compressed schedule
This is a tricky one, because you don’t want to raise any red flags with your employer. But depending on the nature of your job and your company’s policies, you may be able to work a few more hours four days per week and spend the fifth day focusing on freelance projects. Or if you’re able to work from home on occasion, you could use of the time you save by not commuting. My last employer was flexible enough that I could sometimes start my day a little earlier and run home a few minutes early to get ready for a phone interview. The important thing is to show your boss that you consistently deliver good work, even when you’re not working a traditional workday.
For those of you who freelance part time, what tips would you add? If you’ve already made the transition from part time to full time, how long did it take?