14 Ways To Juggle Freelancing While Working Full Time

By Alyssa Gregory
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juggleThe process of becoming self-employed can take a number of paths. One common situation is doing freelance work on the side while working a full-time job. This allows you to build up a client base, generate some financial reserves, and have time to do the rest of the necessary preparation to give yourself a running start when you finally take the plunge.

The biggest challenge is time. You can essentially be working two full time jobs when you’re trying to jumpstart a solo career and maintain your primary job. In many cases, mine included, it eventually gets to the point where you have to decide to go one way or the other – cut back on the freelance work or quit your job. That’s an exciting time and one that will define you in many ways. But what about the weeks, months, and maybe years that led up to that defining decision? Here are some ways to help you juggle your split lives and stay sane while managing both successfully.

1. Plan Ahead

It may sound simple, but it is much easier said than done. If you have vacation time, holidays, or other scheduled time off from your full-time job, plan to focus on freelancing work on those days. It’s also helpful to give yourself extra time for all projects you’re doing on the side to avoid the all-nighters.

2. Keep Them Separate

For many reasons – legally and ethically, especially – you will probably want to keep your freelancing work far away from your full-time job. Sure, you could work on your lunch hour or during slow times, but I don’t think it’s worth the risk. When at your job, focus on that and save the freelancing for after hours.

3. Give Something Up

Juggling a full-time job and moonlighting work is draining, and you may find that you need to give something else up to have the time to manage it all. Look at what’s expendable in your schedule, like your weekly poker game, going out with friends during the week or weekend sports, and put those activities on a temporary hiatus.

4. Take a Break

While giving something up may be the only way to find the extra time you need to do it all, keep some downtime in your schedule. This time is vital for staying fresh and excited about what you’re doing.

5. Start Slow

Come up with a plan that provides enough time to start your freelancing career without feeling overly pressured. Start slow and steadily build your business as you go.

6. Sleep

Taking care of yourself is vital. While you may need to work some early mornings and late nights, be sure to take time to sleep and recharge.

7. Be Honest

Your freelancing clients may wonder why you’re not available during business hours and you may have a difficult time explaining that if you’re trying to keep your full-time job a secret. Be upfront and honest about your work situation if this becomes an issue.

8. Get Organized

The last thing you want is to spend an hour after work trying to find the information you need to work on your freelance projects. Being organized will save you time and stress.

9. Track Your Time

The only way to see where your time is going and become more efficient is by tracking your time. Use a time tracking tool to track both billable and non-billable time and see where you’re putting in the most effort.

10. Avoid Distractions

This is another one that is easier said than done, but do whatever you can to get away from distractions when you’re working on your freelance projects, including kids, pets, phone calls, TV, and e-mail. Create time that is off-limits to those distractions so you can make the most of your time.

11. Be Realistic

Your solo career is not going to happen overnight. Be realistic about the work, time and energy that you will have to put in. It will be well worth it in the end.

12. Keep Up the Quality

Yes, you’ll probably have some days at your full-time job when you’re flat out exhausted from working on your side projects all night. But it’s no excuse for letting your work quality slip at your job. Strive to maintain your performance at your full-time job — you need it (for now at least)!

13. Be Flexible

You can make plans and set schedules, but there will be times when things happen that throw you off track. Being flexible and able to go with the flow will make you more resilient and able to make up for lost time.

14. Keep Goals in Sight

Freelancing on the side is hard! But it’s possible to do both. Keep your goals in view and continue to push, even when things get difficult. You will eventually get there.

What is your experience with juggling a side career while working full time? Do you have any tips to add to this list?

Image credit: Stephen Henderson

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  • I’ve been working full-time and freelancing for 7 years and these hints are spot on. Some ways I keep organized is by utilizing the label feature in gmail. I have a bunch of different labels, but the two most important ones are my ‘TO DO’ label and ‘WAITING 4 PAYMENT’ label. Every time I get a freelance work email when I’m at my full-time job, I label it and get back to it when I’m home ready to work. I also BCC myself when sending invoices (QuickBooks), so I can mark it with the WAITING 4 PAYMENT label. That way I know the status of all my invoices right from my gmail account. I also recently took on a partner I can collaborate with on bigger projects, I wouldn’t be able to handle on my own since I work full-time. I’m also starting to subcontract a bit more, which can really help your “business” grow as well.

  • hudey123

    Great suggestions. I have been freelancing on and off to earn some extra income while working a full time job and you’re right on the money, Alyssa. The most important item is “Give Something Up.” Freelancing evenings and weekends will suck a huge portion of your free time and if you don’t give something up you’ll never be successful. In my case my exercise and dog-walking regimens disappeared, but I try to wait a couple of weeks before accepting a new freelance assignment to recharge the batteries that have been drained during the previous one.

  • emily

    The point about keeping your two jobs separate is especially important when talking about finances.

    Have a business name, so there’s no confusion later whether that check was written to you or your business. Open a separate bank account, get a separate credit card, and “pay” yourself (the same amount each month if possible) by writing a check from your business account to your personal account.

    Having just completed my taxes, it’s fresh in my mind how vital this is!

  • charles

    I couldn’t agree more. been struggle with this effort for a few years now. organization is key but not my strength so I try to apply pareto’s principle here. my strength is development. so I want to spend most if not all my time doing that. as a result, I’ve hired a personal assistant to help me organize. I have an accounting friend doing billing while maintaining her website on a barter. it all works out.

  • Alberto

    Live longer and happier, avoid freelancing. (If you can’t, at least ignore 1 and 3)

  • Alyssa, you made me fell like this article was written “just for me”.

    I’ve been my own boss for the past five years, and was just recently offered an opportunity to work full time for a local company that has been experiencing rapid growth.

    It’s taken some adjustments on my part, and left me wondering if anyone was experiencing similar issues.

    I’ll review this checklist from time to time to help me stay om track… GREAT article! JC

  • I don’t really have any tips to add, but I’d say that working full-time and freelancing on the side worked out well for me when it came time to making the decision to freelance full-time. Freelancing on the side for a couple of years gave me time to build up a decent enough client list that I didn’t have to worry about enough work coming in when I decided to let the 9-5 job go.

  • mark

    and where is “get the job done” ? come on, more useless slogans. i learn nothing from reading this.

  • Good tips. I would suggest use freelancing as a way to strengthen skills you don’t use often at work… like if you are a HTML/CSS guru at work. Do designing or programming on the side. This way your work would probably be more willing to allow you to do it on the side, yes you need to let them know ;)

  • hs

    Work freelancing hard to get extra income, then spend this income in getting relax !!.

    How to solve this equation !!.

    I`am so stupid !! :(

  • Giving up social activity and sport to work more and spend more time in front of a screen. Where do I sign up?

  • linda

    My full-time job lets me work 4 10-hour days, and it’s probably the only way I could continue to freelance. Working in a cubicle, I have little privacy for phone calls. But I must have weekday time to contact people working 9-5. Scheduling phone calls for my day off actually helps me get work done because I can’t put off until tomorrow what needs to be done on that one day. I also am realistic about deadlines and I’ll only take an urgent project if the night I have to stay up late is the night before my day off.

    I also sometimes make calls to other time zones in the early morning before work.

  • ash

    i’d be more keen on living conservatively, saving up a lot of money (probably would only take 2 years), then give up the 9 till 5, and concentrate 100% on your own business.