Mar 19, 2021
For web designers, developers and creatives, most will consider the option of doing side work or freelance, at some point in their careers . The occasional one-off job is usually not a big deal. But, if you are aiming to freelance on a regular basis, balancing it with a full time job, while maintaining a life outside of work, can be difficult.
Done correctly and you can substantially pad your income or even grow your side-gig into a full-time thing. Done incorrectly, and you could find yourself overworked, stressed out, burnt out, and possibly out of a job.
So how does one find a healthy balance of side-work and a full-time job? Here are some tips.
Open the calendar app on your computer, or even draw a crude calendar on a piece of paper. I want you to account for all 24 hours of each day of the week. A 7x24 grid. 168 boxes.
Next, I want you to color in every box where you have expected obligations. This includes hours spent at work, time spent commuting, hours you are asleep, and planned weekly activities such as going to the gym or church.
Every activity that you do on a daily or weekly basis should get a box filled in at the approximate time that you do it.
Once that is done, count the number of hours that are not filled in. This is what you have available in a typical week to put towards freelance work.
Of course, I don't recommend that you occupy every unused block with freelance work. But, if you’re like most people, you might be surprised at how much extra time you actually have in a week.
When I first did this exercise, I realized that when I included weekends, I had almost 50 hours of unaccounted for time in a week. Most of that time was on the weekends of course - but 50 hours seemed like more than enough time for me to start putting some of it towards freelance work.
Now, you might not have 50 unused hours available. You may have substantially less. That’s okay. Everybody is going to have different obligations and different responsibilities. There is no right or wrong answer here. 25 spare hours is not necessarily better or worse than 50 spare hours. It is simply what your reality is, and what you have to work within.
Once you have that number of hours, you need to decide how much of the it you want to put towards doing extra work.
Again - you want to make sure to include some buffer to give yourself time to unwind, and do non-work related things. But, your ultimate goals are going to help you dictate how much of this spare time you occupy with side work.
If you ever intend on making this a full-time thing, you are likely going to need to put more time in, and will likely be in for a busy season while you work to replace the income from your job.
Once you know how many hours you are willing to set aside each week for side work, the next thing to do is set aside dedicated times to do that work. This is going to help you set expectations for any clients you take on. It is very important to let clients know upfront that you will likely be doing work during the evenings and over weekends. This will help prevent any awkward meetings or conflicts with your job during normal working hours.
Sometimes however, meeting with clients is inevitable - and they can’t always meet outside of normal work hours. When that situation arises, you’re going to need to be creative and flexible.
You may need to use time off or vacation time to attend those meetings. Or, you may need to take unpaid time off of work, or make those hours up at another time.
It's never fun when you have to use your vacation time to work - but it is a sacrifice you should be prepared for if you want to make a serious go at freelancing.
To be sure, there are lots of fantastic employers out there who genuinely care about their people and want what’s best for them.
However, “most” employers are not going to be exactly thrilled about their employees freelancing on the side, because the conflicts that can arise because of it.
From their perspective, a lot can go wrong when an employee is freelancing.
Now, the reality is - what you do on your own time is your business. So unless your company has a policy strictly forbidding freelance work (which you should definitely check before you take on any freelance work), it is totally within your rights to accept side projects.
But, knowing all of the different ways that your employer might feel uneasy about it, it’s probably best that you also keep it on the down low. That is not to say that you should be dishonest or lie about it. It simply means that you go above and beyond to keep your side work as far removed from your regular job as possible.
When you are freelancing, don’t use a company provided computer or phone to conduct freelance work. This is in everybody’s best interest.
Naturally, your employer is not going to want you using their machine to do work for other clients. But it is also important for both your sake and your clients sake.
If you would ever leave that job or be terminated, you may not have the luxury of getting necessary files off of the machine before you have to turn in your computer. This leaves both you and your clients in a lurch.
Additionally, there may be legal repercussions if you do freelance work on a company-owned machine. While unlikely, they may be able to claim that because the work was done using their property, that the work technically belongs to them.
I’m not an attorney, and I don’t know how strong of a case they would have - but for your own safety, the best advice is - just don’t do it.
Yes, your work computer may be faster than your own personal computer. Yes, it may have software on it that you don’t have or want to pay for yourself. My advice is - suffer with poor equipment for a little while, and use the extra money you earn freelancing to upgrade.
If you once loved doing web design, or graphic design, or photography, or whatever it is that you do for a career - don’t let side work cause you to hate what you once loved. If you feel yourself getting to a point where you no longer enjoy what you do - it might be time to step back, and give yourself a break.
When you are burnt out, stressed, frustrated, and overworked - you are not going to be of any use to your employer, your clients, or yourself. It is important to be very in-tune with how you are feeling when you decide to pursue freelance work, so that you don’t become overworked and overly stressed.
Freelance work can be an incredibly rewarding endeavor. I know that for me, I always felt far more passionately about my freelance work than I did about my job. There was just something about building something on my own that provided a level of energy and excitement that simply wasn’t there with my job.
When it is a client that you managed to turn into a sale by yourself - it just carries a greater sense of pride with it. And that is a feeling that I think every creative person should experience in their life.
With that being said - freelancing isn’t always for everybody. It is easy to become burnt out, and to let it affect your performance at your job - which is not fair to your employer.
After all is said and done, integrity is everything. If you want to freelance, then it is imperative that you do it in the most honest way that you know how. That means being wise with your commitments, and only taking on jobs when you are sure it will not be a conflict of interest with your employer.
I confess - I didn’t always follow this advice when I was working on growing my freelance business into to a full-time thing. I worked way too much, with little to no break. By the time I left my job, it was unlikely that I would have been able to maintain the pace I was going at for much longer. Something was going to break - it was just a matter of when. Fortunately, I was able to leave before it did, and was able to restore balance in my life.
When I made my freelance gig into my full-time gig however, it proved to be one of the most rewarding and gratifying decisions of my life - and it is one that I would absolutely recommend to other people, if they have the opportunity and desire.