How to: Balance freelance work with a full-time job // How to balance freelance work with a full-time job

In any article about leaving your full-time job to pursue a creative passion you’ll find a common caution – stay at your job as long as possible to save up money and create a safety net. But most of these article neglect to tell you exactly how you’re supposed to work two (or in my case four) jobs all at the same time. It’s not an easy thing and it takes an enormous amount of planning and ambition to keep it all together.

Here are my suggestions for balancing freelance work with a full-time job…

Figure out how many clients to take on: Something I learned early on – if you’re pretty awesome at what you do, clients don’t mind waiting a couple weeks or even a couple months to work with you. Start with one client per week and then layer in a second and a third until your schedule is full enough that you are still able to take a few nights and weekend day or two off. Google Calendar is great for visualizing this – give each client a different color and set them to ‘all day’ then you can drag them around to make your schedule work. I try to schedule a week break every other month, which inevitably ends up being used to finish up client work that spills over the scheduled time.

Schedule everything: Work, blogging, designing, friend time, make-out time, dog walks, exercise – if it’s not in your schedule it doesn’t exist. Keeping a tight schedule will help you stay on track. If you’re jut working whenever you have free time you’ll end up in the weeds real quick.

Say no sometimes: This is the time you need to pick only the best projects. You have a lot on your plate, your time is precious, so only choose clients who will make you happy & add something great to your portfolio.

Ignore the nay-sayers: Your mom, your boyfriend, your boss – hopefully you will have nothing but supportive people cheering you toward your goal, but if you run into a Debbie Downer you gotta learn to put on your ear muffs and ignore them. You already know what you want, you’ve done the planning, and while it can be hugely difficult at times, it’s worth it. You don’t need to be defending yourself. Their negativity probably comes more from their life than anything you’re doing. So nod, smile and keep going.

Give yourself a break: If you’re going to be working multiple jobs at once at some point you are going to end up tired, stressed, overwhelmed, and possibly crying your eyes out over the amount of work you’re taking on. Remember when I said to schedule everything…this is one is super important. If you’re a busy worker bee like me you will happily keep designing until 1am and then get up for work the next day, so make sure to include a night or two off – something relaxing like a massage or yoga if you’re bad at not working when you’re home.

Evaluate: What parts of your jobs are most important and are moving you toward your goal? Are daily blog posts, networking, Tweeting/Facebooking/Instagraming/Pinning helping or wasting time? Take time once a month to make sure you aren’t spending time on things that aren’t benefiting your business and find better ways to use that time.

Stay healthy: Exercise regularly (I finding something with punching and kicking is always helpful), eat well, take your vitamins. I’ve said it over and over, working two jobs at once can be mega stressful and draining. If your body doesn’t feel good then your brain will not feel good and your end product will be a waste. Stress can your lower your immune system making you more susceptible to a winter cold or flu bug & trust me, you do not want to have to take a week off and then figure out how to double up your schedule to get it all done.

Any questions? Do any of you 9 to 5-ers & escapees have any other advice?




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  1. says

    Hey Sarah, GREAT post. I am really enjoying all your career posts lately! :)

    I actually quit the “office life” in Jan 2012 and have been freelancing ever since (writing, my blog, social media consulting). I think one of the biggest tips I would tell people is that once you’ve got all the financial planning out of the way….just do it! It was so scary making the leap but I am so glad I did. It’s a risk that a lot of people are hesitant to take, but you’ll never know unless you try! If you’re truly passionate about something and you know in your heart it’s meant to be… it’ll happen! It’ll be a lot of work, but so worth it in the end.

    x Renee

    • says

      Agreed! It’s one of those giant life changes that you can never be 100 percent sure you’re ready for. No matter how much you prepare there will always be worries so you just have to make the leap.

  2. says

    I work full time and freelance part time. I think I’d like to jump into self employment someday, but not yet! For now, here are a few things I’ve found important:

    1. don’t compare. Go at a pace that is good for you! I can’t take on more than one client at a time or I quickly get overwhelmed. I have a lot of commitments outside of work that are important to me. Since I’M not aiming at self employment anytime soon, I don’t think its necessary for me to work myself to death.
    2. even though your clients suck at email, you have to be ON. Since I can’t offer next-day turn around I make sure to reply “Got your email! I will reply/have something to show you by [friday]!” This helps my client feel important and maybe will impress upon them the importance of communicating through the process.
    3. Make a simple but clear contract NO MATTER WHO your client is! Outline your time constraints and point out how you prefer to work. I’m currently stuck in a job that I skipped the contract on – it was for someone I knew and sounded super simple at first…now its huge and my client is annoyed because I can’t meet her at a coffee shop with a laptop to finish it off. I outline those things in my contract and now I feel terrible!

    Those are my biggest tips lol. All the best to anyone making the jump, and thanks Sarah for all your tips! They’ll be super useful when I finally get there!

    • says

      Thanks Laura – great additions! Contracts are so so so important even if it’s someone you know. I edit mine every few months to cover things that pop-up with new clients. And email – I like to respond within 24 hrs and let them know what to expect next in the process.

  3. says

    I would add to your schedule everything with STICK to your schedule! If you work from 8-5 and freelance from 6-12 everyday, then don’t stay up until 3am working or replying to emails. Create your contracts to work with your schedule so you don’t go crazy or fall asleep while you’re driving. Let your clients know your office hours so they’re not expecting emails from you in the middle of the day while you’re at your other job—or worse, calling you nonstop. It might seem fun at first to work all hours because you’re passionate about your freelance business, but when you go full-time with it you don’t want to be working 24/7 or having clients think it’s okay to call you while you’re in church on Sunday morning.. Set boundaries now, so clients know what to expect! You can change your hours later, but having work hours in the first place sets the tone for going full-time.

    • says

      Yes! Good point – it’s one thing to make a schedule, but another to work when you’re supposed to be working and put down the mouse when you’re not.

      I’m pretty good at only answering emails during office hours, but every once in a while if I’m antsy to finish a project I’ll respond late at night or on the weekend. No bueno – I know I’m setting myself up for clients to expect to hear from me at all hours.

      There’s also no harm in letting clients know that you do work a full-time job and will only be available at night or on weekends unless there’s an emergency.

      Thanks for the insight Erin!

  4. says


    I am a new (and avid) follower of your blog! I’ve been following for a couple weeks now, and I have to tell you that I love your advice and tutorials. They ‘dumb’ things down for me and have helped me immensely! This kind of advice gets me going… making me wish that I could actually drum up some clients to be able to work and do freelance on the side. What would you suggest for doing that?? I have an experimental Etsy shop front and an established blog…. I’m just not sure how to get people to buy into it! What would you do if you were starting up all over again?

    Much Love,

  5. says

    Awesome post!! Thank you so much! You are always so inspiring and the points in this post are soooo spot on!
    I really liked how you talked about “saying no sometimes”. That was perfect timing for me to read.

    • says

      Thanks Brielle! Saying no is my favorite – it’s like a breath of fresh air clearing a little space in my schedule where I can do anything I like :)

  6. says

    Thank you for sharing! I’m still in the full-time/freelance mode and it’s encouraging to read that I’m doing this as best as I can. I have the hardest time saying no (especially when I know I want to transition) but sometimes I have to do what’s best for me. I’ve managed freelancing with a full time and part-time job so I’m sure the day for my transition will come. Thank you for sharing Sarah!

  7. says

    Great article! These tips are amazing and often unshared! Thank you for sharing and I can’t wait to pass them along & take some of the advice myself (like scheduling…)

    The only advice I can add is one that I struggle with: always focus on the task at hand. I will get an idea for one of the projects I am juggling while at the office, or working on someone else’s work and immediately want to execute it right away! Shuffling back and forth between projects turns out to be such a time waster! So, I’ve decided to keep a notepad handy and write down any ideas to execute them the next time I’m working on that project.

    Great blog! xx


  8. says

    I’m a full-time employee who also works freelance, and so your article was a great help to me. I’m currently trying to figure out if I could take on more freelance work (without stressing myself out). It’s not easy! I linked back to your article in a recent post of mine. Thanks for the tips and advice. :)
    Conni x


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