Four Types of Freelancing: Working Full-Time While Freelancing (part 1 of 4)

12 Comments 20 September 2009

Four Types of Freelancing: Working Full-Time While Freelancing (part 1 of 4)

This is part 1 of a 4 part series that looks at dif­fer­ent approaches to free­lanc­ing and which one may be best for your situation.

Work a full-time job while freelancing

Free­lanc­ing is one of the most flex­i­ble careers you could have. In Part 1, let’s take a look at what is prob­a­bly the most com­mon arrangement—working full-time while free­lanc­ing (or moon­light­ing, as it is often called).


The pros:

Work­ing full-time cer­tainly has its advantages—a steady pay­check and ben­e­fits such as health insur­ance, 401(k), paid vaca­tion, paid sick time, profit shar­ing, and vision plan are the most notable. A few of the more employee-centered com­pa­nies may even offer non-traditional ben­e­fits such as flex time, telecom­mut­ing, day­care, paid gym mem­ber­ship or a mul­ti­tude of other benefits.

Chances are you don’t have to worry about being respon­si­ble for bring­ing in new clients, pay­ing the rent, mak­ing pay­roll, pur­chas­ing new equip­ment, hir­ing or firing. You can focus on what you do best — design, pro­gram­ming, writ­ing, illus­tra­tion, pho­tog­ra­phy, etc.

Most likely, you work a set sched­ule, say 9 am–5 pm from Monday–Friday. You can plan to do things, know­ing your evenings and week­ends are free. If you’re not a salaried employee, you prob­a­bly get paid over­time for any addi­tional hours you work.

Work­ing for a com­pany or agency also gives you a place to go, a rou­tine to estab­lish and a group of peers with whom to asso­ciate. You may not real­ize it, but you ben­e­fit from the social inter­ac­tion of a work environment.

Now, com­bine work­ing full-time with freelancing.

By free­lanc­ing, you can earn more, have more cre­ative free­dom, enjoy the sat­is­fac­tion of build­ing up your own busi­ness and get all the credit for a suc­cess­ful project.

Espe­cially if you’re just start­ing out in your career, the sup­ple­men­tal income from free­lanc­ing can help you save for your first apart­ment, buy your first home, get mar­ried, start a fam­ily, etc. You can work as much or as lit­tle as you want, gen­er­ally speak­ing, because you know you have that steady pay­check com­ing in from your full-time job and that your ben­e­fits are covered.


The cons:

Sounds like work­ing full-time and free­lanc­ing is per­fect, right? Unfor­tu­nately, it’s often not. There is a down­side that may not be obvi­ous in the very beginning.

There are no per­fect com­pa­nies. OK, maybe one or two. But most often, your full-time job can become a great source of stress. You may have an over­bear­ing, con­trol­ling boss whom you can’t seem to please. Or maybe you dis­agree with your boss’ deci­sions or actions. You have to deal with office pol­i­tics and unruly co-workers. You get stuck doing tasks that you don’t feel should be part of your job. You have to play by the rules — some­one else’s rules — which is some­times hard to swal­low for creatives.

Maybe you haven’t received a raise in a long time. Your liv­ing expenses keep going up, but your pay stays the same—so you are ulti­mately los­ing money.

The econ­omy takes a down­turn and you face uncer­tainty of job cuts or worry about busi­ness. Sud­denly, the secu­rity of that steady pay­check and ben­e­fits doesn’t seem so secure anymore.

You work long hours at nights and on week­ends free­lanc­ing. Maybe you don’t mind the work, but it’s start­ing to affect your rela­tion­ship with your spouse, your fam­ily or your friends. Every­one else is out hav­ing a good time, but you’ve got this big project that’s due, so you’re stuck in front of the com­puter. You feel as if you are work­ing two full-time jobs.



In my expe­ri­ence work­ing full-time and free­lanc­ing can allow you the income level you desire to achieve the things you want, but comes at a price. The long hours, the lost time with friends and loved ones—all need to be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion. Weigh all of your options and decide if this is the best move for you. I rec­om­mend this sit­u­a­tion if you’re try­ing to achieve spe­cific goals, but not as a long term solution.


Your turn…

Are you cur­rently work­ing a full-time job while free­lanc­ing? What chal­lenges do you face? How long do you expect to do both? Please take a moment to com­ment below and let me know what you think!

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Neil Brown

Neil Brown - who has written 16 posts on Freelance Show.

Neil Brown is the founder of the Freelance Show and runs Brown Advertising, LLC, a successful graphic design studio.

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Your Comments

12 Comments so far

  1. Gary Vayn­er­chuk works this model best: before he was an inter­net hot­shot Gary would work days at his full-time job, and nights doing what he loves.

    In his new book, Crush It!, Gary talks about mak­ing time to do what you love out­side of your day job. It’s pos­si­ble, and it’s hard (as you’ve men­tioned: lack of sleep and a loss of any type of social life), but when all is said and done the rewards are enormous.

    It’s worth a shot!

  2. kyle Steed says:

    I have been free­lanc­ing while work­ing full-time for almost a year now. In the begin­ning it was fine, as I had maybe just 1 or 2 projects to work on. But over­time I have had an increase in request for more free­lance work. Some of which I’ve had to put on hold or sim­ply turn away.

    But now I am back in col­lege tak­ing two classes while work­ing full-time, so I have pulled the emer­gency brake on my free­lance work. I have one project that I am still work­ing on and another in the queue, but over­all I have had to take a break.

    The hard­est part to me is bal­anc­ing the time with my full-time job, free­lance work and my fam­ily. Some­times my pri­or­i­ties get turned around and that’s when I have to step back and re-focus my atten­tion on what really mat­ters, my wife.

    Thanks for the great post. Look for­ward to read­ing more.

  3. Neil Brown says:

    I’m a big fan of Gary Vayn­er­chuk. The pas­sion and excite­ment that he has in con­ta­gious! I’m going to pick up a copy of Crush It! for sure.

    @Kyle Steed
    It is hard to man­age work­ing FT and free­lanc­ing, espe­cially when you start adding classes and spend­ing time with your spouse, etc. I think the work / life bal­ance is one of the most dif­fi­cult things to manage. 

    I like to look at work­ing FT and free­lanc­ing as a way to jump start your solo career. If you can man­age the long hours for a period of time and ensure you still take care of your impor­tant rela­tion­ships, then you can build a good client base (with refer­rals) and make the tran­si­tion eas­ier than just jump­ing in cold turkey.

    It’s good to define goals and set a date so you can stay focused and keep the end in sight!

  4. wow you just described my life ver­ba­tim, I’m really enjoy­ing your blog so far. It’s much dif­fer­ent from other blogs about free­lanc­ing, much more enjoy­able and realistic.

    • Neil Brown says:


      Thanks for the kind words! I think this describes how many (if not most) free­lancers began before becom­ing com­pletely inde­pen­dent. It cer­tainly describes my expe­ri­ence of work­ing FT as a Cre­ative Direc­tor while free­lanc­ing for sev­eral years. 

      It’s really best, I believe, to work for a com­pany or agency out of col­lege or just start­ing out. You really gain so much valu­able expe­ri­ence and can sharpen your design skills, build a pro­fes­sional net­work and learn as much as you can about busi­ness before mak­ing the leap!

  5. Mikerdzign says:

    Yes, I agree with Jenni, you com­pletely got it right on tar­get. I worked my own graphic design busi­ness for three years from home before a nice City job came along, doing the same line of design work with steady pay and ben­e­fits. As a hus­band with a mort­gage and a father of three I couldn’t pass it up, the free­lance as you know can be uncer­tain and pay­checks don’t come in reg­u­larly. I retained the major­ity of my clients and con­tinue to work free­lance on the side, and it is a great help to us, along with all the pros and cons you men­tioned, but I think it sta­bi­lizes me and my ego as it gives me the pride of my own projects, my own cre­ativ­ity and a lit­tle secu­rity regard­ing job cuts in these cur­rent eco­nomic times. Thanks for the post.

  6. Neil Brown says:

    Thanks for the com­ment. Hav­ing a fam­ily and mort­gage def­i­nitely impact things. My wife and I have two young daugh­ters ourselves. 

    I actu­ally had a one-year period where I went into busi­ness with a part­ner sev­eral years ago. Things went well for a while but we ulti­mately went our sep­a­rate ways when my wife and I were expect­ing our first child. I ended up going back to work for my for­mer employer for the sta­bil­ity in income dur­ing that period. That wasn’t the time to start from scratch build­ing a new client base. My pri­or­ity was my fam­ily and being sure I could pro­vide for them.

    In a way, it was a small set­back to me, but in hind­sight it was the best thing that could have hap­pened. I really focused on the busi­ness of design and knew at some point I was going to take the plunge again, but this time on my own and in com­plete con­trol of my own des­tiny. I enjoyed the job and my cowork­ers and my boss was sup­port­ive of my free­lanc­ing, so it was the best of both worlds and made things man­age­able until I was pre­pared to go for it again!

  7. Megan says:

    Neil, I only just found your web­site a few days ago and already have read most of your older posts! This is just what I need for encour­age­ment and con­fir­ma­tion that I am not on my own out here. I just started my own busi­ness with that final kick to do so being 3 rounds of lay­offs at my full time job. Always wanted to be my own boss and that was just the shock needed to push me! 

    Thanks for pro­vid­ing great insight and basi­cally detail­ing my life at the moment! A strug­gle, but so rewarding.

  8. Neil Brown says:


    That’s great that you are now your own boss! Some­times a lay­off or job loss is just what you need to be that push into a suc­cess­ful free­lance career. Best wishes!

  9. Ryan Gibson says:

    Great post Neil. I have been in a sim­i­lar predica­ment since Sep­tem­ber last year and things have been extremely dif­fi­cult. You find your­self get­ting up at 6-7am on a Saturday/Sunday because your mind is on the work. It takes ded­i­ca­tion and under­stand­ing friends and of course Girlfriend/Wife.

    For­tu­nately i have been able to build a posi­tion where i have a num­ber of good clients. Unfor­tu­nately i then reached the full time work/freelance work thresh­old and some­thing had to give. Thank­fully after approach­ing my man­ager and com­pany have agreed to reduce my work­ing hours to four days a week as opposed to full time hours mean­ing i have a day (will prob­a­bly be a dif­fi­cult 10 hour day) to do the major­ity of my free­lance work.

    The oppor­tu­nity has pro­vided me with a real chance to com­bine both my full time job (which offers the secu­rity to pay the bills and the social side of things) and my free­lance work (which i absolutely love). Fur­ther­more it pro­vides me with a day to really plough through a huge amount of work and ulti­mately free up week­end time to see friends and spend time with the imme­di­ate fam­ily with­out hav­ing work on the mind.

    This is another avenue i would rec­om­mend. Sure you will lose 4 days worth of wage in a month but with a rel­a­tively suc­cess­ful free­lance client base you should be able to facil­i­tate the wage you are los­ing. Free­lanc­ing on the side was a fan­tas­tic plat­form for me to develop my own work how­ever it comes to a stage where some­thing needs to good. Thank­fully my work were extremely acco­mo­dat­ing with this.

    Keep up the great inspir­ing posts.



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