For the past two years I’ve always been doing some sort of moonlighting work as a freelancer.
It feels totally normal to have a 9-5 gig and then always be working on projects on the side. There are times of the year when I take on less projects than others (during the summer for example, when I want to be able to come home from work and immediately sit on a patio with a glass of wine for hours), but I’m almost always doing some form of design, development, updating, or just general consulting on the side.
It definitely helps that I absolutely love the work I do, and I’m always pretty eager to take on a new challenge.
But, occasionally I forget that my side gig is more than just a hobby – it’s real work. This happens when I come face-to-face with a side-project deadline in the wake of an extra long day at my day job. Or when I end up in a 2 hour client meeting right after work and I’m so hungry I could eat a horse and my brain is already fried from the rest of the day’s work. How do you keep enjoying your side projects when you essentially have two jobs that you’re trying to balance? It’s taken me two years to figure out some real answers to this question and especially since stepping up my freelance skills with web development and taking on more side projects than I used to. Since I can’t be the only person in this particular double-work pickle, I thought I’d share some tips that I’ve learned from managing a work-life balancing act:
1. Choose your projects carefully.
There’s nothing worse than coming home after a long day and having to do more work that you don’t enjoy, or are tired of doing. When I worked in print/logo design I used to hate coming home after work only to log 3 more hours of print or logo work that evening. It just makes the day SO long. I’m finding it much easier to balance working in digital marketing during the day and coming home where I can sink my teeth into more creative projects. My creative brain is way less drained and I feel much more motivated. I’ve also been fortunate enough thus far in my career to say that all my clients were/are awesome, understanding, and generally amazing to be around. When you work with clients like that, it doesn’t feel like work.
2. Set clear project objectives and scope.
Ahhh, scope creep: when the client asks you, “Hey what do you think about this, do you think we can add this in?” and you’re like, “sure!” because it means more work, which = more money. This can also mean your project gets dragged out by a few months and never really seems to end. This might be okay if they’re a great client and easy to get along with, but it can be draining and frustrating as well.
3. Keep your timelines realistic
If freelancing is your side gig, having 2 weeks to pump out a website probably won’t work for you. Set realistic timelines based on how many hours you think you can actually work during the week. This leads into the next thing:
4. Track your time
Because freelancing is your side gig, this is your free time. Track your time to know how much time your spending with each client and really consider what that time is worth. For a long time my freelance rate was really low and I justified it to myself because I had limited daytime availability and had a long turn-around time to clients. But when I looked at how much time I was spending on projects, I felt really silly. It’s my time that I’m choosing to work, and obviously, that’s still worth the same as if this was my full-time job.
5. Don’t forget to have fun.
When you’re moonlighting on the side, maintaining a good sense of work-life balance becomes crucial. I try not to answer freelance emails while I’m at work and I try not to answer work emails when I’m freelancing. Some days I might work late on a freelance project, but I usually try to limit myself and not spend the entire weekend working.
Most importantly, only freelance on the side if it’s something you like doing and you want to do.
If you’d be happier doing something else with your time and you feel like your time would be better spent doing something else, then by all means, go do that thing! Freelancing only works when you find satisfaction and joy in the work you do.