How To Balance Full-Time Work and Freelance Work
by Anne Kostecki
How can you work a full-time job and a freelance job? Well, as someone who did both for over 8 years, I can't tell you it's easy, but it's definitely possible. It's very popular now to diversify income streams and open an online shop selling products or to offer your skills in contract work. Whether or not you plan on taking up your side job full-time someday, it's important to set boundaries so you don't suffer with either job.
1. Does your full-time employment allows freelancing?
Some full-time positions do not allow employees to work other jobs at all, some do not allow work in certain industries, and others have various other restrictions or freedoms. Your employee handbook, HR department, or your direct report should be able to answer your questions for you.
Before asking someone at your company, I would write down and formalize what your freelance job will be. Are you offering services, products, or both? How many hours per week do you estimate you'll work on this job? Does the freelance job involve the same skills as your full-time job? If so, then it might be a benefit for your full-time job: you will be honing your skills with extracurricular practice.
If you end up talking to your direct report about freelancing, and they look worried about this interfering with your day job, I would be absolutely clear about your boundaries. Don't bring in side projects, talk on the phone with freelance clients, use the company printer to print freelance work, package orders at your desk, or anything of that sort. Remember to respect your full-time job - they are still paying (most of) your paycheck!
2. Passion project, or extra income?
If you have a full-time job and have been thinking about freelancing, then the first question you should ask yourself is: am I doing this as a passion project, or to gain extra income? This is an important distinction, because it will determine how you will spend your money and time.
Regardless of your ultimate motivation, the first thing you need to do is decide what you need. Make a list or spreadsheet of supplies, and don't forget to separate recurring costs (an example of a recurring cost would be things that need to be replenished, like paper, ink, yarn, etc.) versus one-time costs (a laptop, table, etc.). Think to yourself: do you want to pay for marketing, advertisements, Etsy fees, etc.? Once you have an idea of your costs, you can identify your average monthly costs by adding up what you will use in a year, then dividing by 12. How does this cost fit into your lifestyle?
If your side job is a passion project, then I would recommend double checking your monthly budget to ensure that these extra costs do not impact your finances negatively. Of course, if this passion project adds to your income, then it's a boon for you!
If you're primarily looking to make money, then you've got to be more strict with your spending. As with all new businesses, there needs to be an upfront investment with the plan of breaking even and then making a profit. You have your monthly costs, so look at your budget: can you cut things out to make room for your new side job?
Now that you have your supply lists and costs, you can get started!
3. Schedule your life.
How many hours per week do you work on your full-time job? It might be 40, or it might be more. Draw a weekly calendar, or type up an iCal or Google calendar with all of your commitments. Don't forget to add in mealtimes, exercise, grocery shopping, errands, childcare (if applicable), social events, and sleep! All humans need sleep, including you!
Fill in time for you to work on your freelance job. Break up tasks for your job, such as: administrative, marketing, website maintenance, networking, research/development, order fulfillment, and any other types of tasks. Estimate how many hours you may need per week or month for these tasks, and schedule them when you can. I will admit: I'm not always great about this, and I think this led to a lot of haphazard work. The more organized you are with your time, the more time you will save to actually get the work you need done.
If your schedule feels stifling, and you're losing sleep or feeling unhealthy, then it might be time to cut back. If you have too many clients, then finish your current projects, and perhaps only take one client per month. If you're receiving too many orders (which in this economic climate, I must say congrats!), then it might be time to enlist help with family/friends or hire an assistant. Get what you can done, take a break, and approach your new schedule with a fresh mind. Balance is achieved when you take care of yourself first.
4. Decide on your level of commitment.
Once your freelance job is well under way, it's time to check your finances. Are you staying within your original estimation of your monthly budget? Are you making money, or losing it? If you're losing money, it's time to see if there are more items you can cut from your budget. Have you seen gains in your business in certain areas? Is one product/service particularly popular, and others not so much?
I've heard different things about when to expect your initial investment to break even in your business. Some take a year, some may take even more. The most important thing is to decide what level of financial commitment is right for you.
Besides financially, the other big commitment is your time. Are you spending a lot of time on this business, and it's not taking off the way you thought it would? Are you tired, frustrated, and perhaps not doing a great job at your full-time work? Maybe it's time to pull back on your time commitment.
The key to balancing your full-time and freelance work is deciding what your level of commitment should be. What feels most fulfilling for you? You might be perfectly happy balancing a full-time job with some freelancing here and there. If your freelance work fulfills your financial, emotional, and stability needs, you may be able to take it full-time in the future!
Either way, balance is achieved through recognition of what you can and what you cannot do. Decide on your level of commitment, and remember to adjust it as needed: when your financial or psychological situation changes, adjust your freelance work. You can do this!
I hope this was helpful in some way for you. I worked on freelance projects before I graduated college in 2010, and I continued to work on them throughout my professional career. I saved a lot of money before I went full-time in my freelancing, and I think that was instrumental in my work/life balance. As always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions or comments!