How to make part-time freelancing work for you
Maybe you’re not ready to leave your full-time job. Maybe you’re working from home caring for small humans. Maybe you like the security of a regular pay cheque. Maybe you've tried to make a go of full-time freelance writing, but it didn’t work. Whatever your situation, there’s a way to make part-time freelancing sustainable and fulfilling.
Freelancing on the side - how to make part time freelancing work for you
I was a part-time freelance writer for five years before I went full-time. When I started writing for magazines and newspapers, I was so thrilled that publications were actually going to pay me for my words that I didn’t even think about writing as a career until a few years later.
But that’s not to say this is what everyone wants. You definitely do not have to be a full time freelancer to be successful.
What if you’re a part-time freelance writer?
Here are four ways you can make your freelancing side hustle work for you and succeed at freelancing while you are employed.
1. Embrace your main job
There’s no shame in working while you do freelance work on the side. In fact, I think it’s the ideal situation (if your workplace allows it).
Working in a stable job allows you to establish yourself – it provides you with some financial security, may even spark some ideas for articles you want to write and allows you beaver away at your side hustle so that it eventually can become your full time gig if you want it to be.
Lots of writers feel that by taking a three day a week job in a bookshop or corporate comms position they are moving further away from their career as a full time freelancer, but actually I think it’s smart – they get to test the freelancing waters, pitch to dream publications, go after ideal clients – and do all that while they have the safety net of a regular income.
2. Use your time wisely
When I worked two days a week as a social worker it wasn’t like I had three days a week to devote to freelancing – nope. On the other days I was looking after my two small kids and doing my PhD.
It’s probably pretty likely that if you’re freelancing on the side or thinking about it, your schedule is jam-packed. That means you’ll have to think cleverly about how you’re going to fit your writing in.
Think about the way you work best and the opportunities in your day.
Are you an early bird or a night owl? You may be able to squeeze some writing time or brainstorming time in before the rest of your household wakes or before you go to bed.
I tend to be a solid middle of the day sloth kind of person who isn't particularly great very early in the morning or late at night so early starts or late evenings weren't a great option for me.
Instead, I used my commute time to listen to podcasts that would spark lots of ideas for articles. I also had lunch breaks of at least half an hour where I would go to my car and conduct phone interviews or send personal emails.
I’d also schedule interviews for the evenings or on weekends. If the topic just needed some fairly standard quotes, I’d conduct an interview via email.
I would regularly work on writing articles for four or so hours each day on the weekend.
I must admit, for me, this was ideal for a few years. But as I got deeper into freelance writing, I didn’t have any spare days that I could dedicate solely to it and I wanted that badly.
Over five years, I built up some great relationships with editors and it gave me enough confidence to go full time.
If you do have specific days off or a solid chunk of time to dedicate to freelancing, make sure it works for you. If you can, schedule things that take time (like writing) when you have chunks of time and use your little bits of time (like lunch breaks) to gather ideas and pitch throughout the week.
And if you want to talk through how to become a more productive part-timer or if you want to make the leap into full time freelancing, I offer coaching sessions to freelance writers just like you.
3. Focus on building relationships
Are you sick of me saying this yet?!
Building relationships is what’s going to make you successful as a freelancer.
When you’re freelancing on the side, it’s the ideal time to focus on building relationships with editors and clients.
When I started out, I’d have an idea for an article and immediately try to think of where I could place it. I might write once or twice for that publication before I ran out of ideas.
Nowadays I’m much more likely to consider which publications I want to write for on a long-term basis. It doesn’t always work out, of course, but I have a strategy in mind.
Editors and clients like responsive freelancers, but you do not have to be on call 24/7. This is especially so if you have other work you’re focusing on.
If you’re worried about not being able to get back to editors or clients straight away or sending emails after hours – you can always put a clever tagline like freelance journalist Sue White does at the bottom of each email. Sue's email footer reads:
If you were sent this email at a highly unsociable hour, please go back to your non-work life. I work around the schedule of a cute but active 3yo, so often send emails at odd times. I don't expect anyone to reply until office hours.
4. Things may get a bit out of control
It’s hard to get the perfect balance when you’re freelancing (let’s face it, even as a full time freelancer I still have weeks where I’m utterly overwhelmed by the amount of work I’ve committed to do).
Recognising that sometimes it’s going to be a stretch to do your regular work and your freelance work is important. It actually means that you’re making progress and getting traction in the freelance field.
When I was working and studying, I tended to have one big feature (1800 words +) on the go at any one time and perhaps one other smaller feature (500 – 700 words).
That added up to juggling up to eight case studies and interviewees and that was really all my brain could manage. Of course, sometimes I was writing three or four features a week, but I tried not to.
Now that I’m freelancing full time, I must admit I have really rejoiced in having time to be fully committed to writing and not feeling that I’m being pulled in lots of different directions.
But I’m so glad that I freelanced on the side for five years. It gave me the confidence I needed to make the leap and also the financial buffer. I don’t think you can underestimate those things.
Are you freelancing on the side? Are you thinking of going full time?