Freelancing – working on the side for clients you find on your own while continuing to work full-time for your employer – can have its benefits:
- Extra income to go for “fun,” things, to save for a large expense, to help pay off loans, to splurge, etc.
- The chance to check out a new career/working in a new business sector to see if you’d like to pursue it full-time.
- The opportunity to engage in work you “love” while ensuring the bills that must be paid are paid.
- Building up a base of clients – and putting some extra money aside for living expenses – so that you can possibly move to freelancing full-time. (While also seeing if doing so actually can earn you enough money to work for yourself full time.)
Yet there are two major downsides to freelancing while working full-time:
- Freelancing before or “after hours” – and you really should do so only after or before the hours your employer expects you to work – means you’ll be working a LOT of hours! Never underestimate the chance of burnout.
- Also, if your employer finds out, they may decide you’re more interested in freelancing and, well, could decide it will provide you the chance to do so “full time.”
Note: Some companies have a “no freelancing” rule, one that’s grounds for termination if you do so. You’ll therefore want to find out your employer’s policy on this before you take the plunge.
Thankfully, most “no side hustles” rules usually mean you can’t freelance for one of your employer’s competitors – which makes sense.
But it also could mean you can’t hustle doing the same type of work you do for your employer. This could hurt your freelancing dreams if, for example, you work in marketing and want to take on some marketing gigs. Make sure you check the policies with your current employer.
A company shouldn’t be concerned if a sales manager takes on dog-sitting work or if an IT person takes on teaching piano lessons.
Strategies to start a successful freelancing side hustle while working full-time
First, let us define what we mean by freelancing:
- You’re not working a “gig” job, such as driving for Uber or delivering food for DoorDash.
- Instead, you’re using your professional-level skills to provide businesses with such services as coding, marketing, writing, accounting, engineering, grant writing, legal brief writing, and so on.
Now, let’s dive into the steps you’ll be taking to start your freelancing business:
- Note the word “business” above. Aim to look at your side hustle as an actual business, not just “something fun to do when I want to do it.” Remember to put aside a percentage of your income from each client to pay taxes (check with a tax expert to find out what percentage.)
- Get the tools you need. Do not – DO NOT! – use any digital devices provided to you by your employer in your freelance endeavors. Not the laptop, not the phone, not your Slack, etc. Use your own laptop, your own phone, and so on. Naturally, you’ll need to use your own email. (No need at this point to set a “business” email. You can if you like, but your personal email is fine. You can always change to Celeste @ businessname.com.
- Don’t worry about getting a website. Not important at this point (and possibly never, as you’ll see as we discuss finding clients.)
- Chances are you don’t need to market locally. As in going to local Chamber of Commerce meetings, etc., to network. You’ll be providing your service predominately online, so you can find clients anywhere. You can look for clients locally, of course, but don’t limit yourself.
- Email everyone you know who can use your services that you’re now offering them. Former bosses. Former colleagues.
- Update your LinkedIn Profile. If you want to hide your hustle from your current employer, that’s ok. Don’t put your freelance business as an “employer” or current/past employer on your profile. DO revamp your profile to ensure it mentions your skills as a freelancer.
- NEVER EVER market during your traditional working hours. You will be marketing your services on LinkedIn (see below). Make those comments after or before work.
- Search LinkedIn for the type of clients you seek. Reach out for a connection. Once connected, in a few weeks, send them a message that mentions your services.
- Even as you’re asking for connections, start writing updates on your profile that offer valuable tips on how people can solve the problems/reach the goals your services will help them solve/reach. For example, let’s say you’re a high-level coder and want to offer your coding skills. Talk about how companies can solve the type of coding issues they may encounter. (This could help you in your career; if you work as a Salesforce admin, your boss will see that you’re offering great advice. It helps your company while it’s helping you build your business.)
- Keep connecting/posting LinkedIn updates that offer value.
- Reach out to your connections via LinkedIn Messaging, saying you offer your service and you’d love to talk to them about it.
- If you can find prospects’ emails, pitch your services via email. Finding email addresses that go directly to individuals is becoming harder and harder, but this can be a great way to pitch your services to someone directly. (Some people do put them on their LinkedIn profiles.)
- Keep offering great insights/answering problems on your LinkedIn profile.
“That feels like a ton of effort,” you may be thinking. “I’ll just market myself on Upwork.”
We’ve talked to people who have marketed their services while fully employed with a company and don’t recommend using sites such as Upwork.
Why? Because you’re one of thousands marketing yourself there and competing with others for assignments. You might be paid less and it could take much longer to land your first client.
Marketing your services WILL take time.
It just will. Yet that first client will turn into a second. And the second to a third. And so on.
But here’s one tip. If you work on the East Coast, you can start pitching once you’re done with work to prospects on the West Coast. If you live on the West Coast, you can do so to East Coast folks before you start/leave for work in the morning.
Remember, it’s all about balance. Freelancing can be exciting and consuming, and maintaining a balance between your freelance life and work life is crucial to maintaining your employment situation.
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