Striking the Right Balance Between Freelancing and Working Full Time

Juggling freelance work and a full-time job requires strategic planning, but it can be successfully done. Learn how from folks who've been there.

portrait of Nikki Carter
by Nikki Carter

Published September 14, 2022

Edited by Giselle M. Cancio
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Striking the Right Balance Between Freelancing and Working Full Time
Image Credit: Westend61 / Getty Images


Whether you want to pursue freelance work to enhance your income, add to your skill set and position yourself for future opportunities, or because you want to lean into a passion, you're not alone. As of 2020 Statista data, there were 59 million Americans doing freelance work — a number that has steadily been on the rise since 2014.

For people who work full-time jobs, entering the freelance world — and successfully juggling both roles once you do — takes some planning. Read on for expert insight on ensuring you're putting your best foot forward with clients and your full-time job.

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Ready to start your journey?

Carefully Review Your Contracts

First, check your current employment contract to make sure it doesn't restrict you from freelance work. Some companies limit you from working with competitors or doing other work. If you discover you're good to go, review any freelance contracts you sign in the future for the same verbiage.

While it's not mandatory, it's a good idea to be upfront with your boss or company about your intent to freelance. That way, no one is caught off guard if they learn about it on social media or through the grapevine. Be clear in conveying that your freelance work will not affect your work quality or performance at work.

Schedules and Planners Are Your Friends

Eva Recinos worked as both a social media manager and editor full time while balancing freelance writing and editing on the side. The biggest challenge for her — and many other freelancers — was time and staying organized.

"I had to learn how to stay organized, to make sure I was doing a good job at my full-time position and also in the freelancing gigs I took," said Recinos. "I had to learn to keep close track of my deadlines and all the moving parts that go into writing an article."

Be honest with yourself about the amount of time you can dedicate each week or month to side projects. Create a breakdown of how you spend your time now, and make sure you still leave time for things you enjoy. Omitting exercise, time with loved ones, and leisure time to work more is a surefire path to burnout.

You should also figure out what scheduling tools you'll use to manage your workload. Many freelancers love platforms like Asana and Trello to stay organized and on top of their tasks. You might also experiment with paper planners, your Google calendar, or other methods.

Be Strategic With the Extra Income

Quick PSA: Don't forget to pay taxes on your freelance income!

Beyond that, while your freelance money is additional income, decide whether it makes sense to be more intentional with this extra cash flow. For example, are you looking to leave your job and move to full-time freelancing or a different position in the future? If so, having a financial safety net isn't a bad idea.

Or perhaps you want to use your freelance money to accomplish a goal, like saving up for a down payment on a house or affording a big trip. In that case, you'd want to funnel your freelance income to a savings account so you don't treat it as spendable cash.

Use the Opportunity To Build Up Your Portfolio

Even if you're not freelancing to improve your portfolio, it makes sense to do so. Showcasing the projects you've been able to do — especially while balancing a full-time workload — can help you grow your network and land future client work.

If you are taking on freelance work specifically for this reason, consider what client work will best round out your portfolio and go after those projects.

Evelyn Frison is a strategist who's worked full-time jobs while taking on projects she tackled after hours or on the weekends. She actually encourages everyone to try freelancing in this way at least a few times. While it adds stress and work to your plate, she believes it helps teach people where their boundaries are — a helpful lesson across all areas of life.

Communicate With Clients If You Need Extra Time

Recinos urges you to speak up with your clients if you find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed or running behind schedule.

"As long as you do so politely, and with advance notice, don't be afraid to ask for deadline extensions"

— Eva Recinos

"Everyone's process is different, but I can attest that having extra time when I truly need it makes a huge difference in my output and the quality of the freelance work, so it benefits both parties when you ask for more time."

In general, as long as it's not happening with every assignment, most clients tend to be pretty understanding about needing to shift things back a bit. And if it is frequently happening, that might be a sign to revisit your original freelance time commitment and decide whether it's still reasonable.

Say No When You Need To

That leads us to the next point, which is to know when it's time to decline additional work. As freelancers, it's sometimes all too easy to think we have to say yes to everything that comes our way because we don't know when another opportunity will come along. However, your health — and sanity — depend on your ability to create and keep boundaries to protect your time and energy. The only one who can look out for you is you.

Remind Yourself Of Your "Why"

Frison has struggled with FOMO and turning down fun opportunities in order to work. She has some advice if you find yourself here.

"Remind yourself why you are doing this," she said. "If it's because you are curious or trying to switch jobs, that's great. If it's purely for spending money, that's equally valid too. Be real with yourself and remind yourself what you are doing and why when times get stressful." This can help you stay focused as you move forward.

Continue to Prioritize Your Day Job

While freelancing can feel both consuming and exciting, it's important to remember that you still have a full-time job that requires just as much attention as you gave it before freelancing. Don't use on-the-clock time to freelance or grow your client list — this goes back to having appropriate boundaries. This way, even if you leave someday for another role or strike out on your own, you'll maintain your professional relationships and reputation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Freelancing and Full-Time Work

Is working two jobs at the same time illegal?

Usually, working two jobs at the same time is not illegal. However, some employment contracts restrict or prohibit current employees from taking on certain kinds of extra work. This is why you should always review your employment contract before you take on extra or freelance work.

Do I need to tell my employer about a second job?

It's not mandatory to tell your employer about your second job or any freelance work you take on. At the same time, it may be worth doing so to prevent any future misunderstandings. For example, in case your employer or boss sees an article you've written for another company as a freelancer. If you decide to talk to your boss about your freelance work, be sure to communicate that your full-time job is your top priority. Ensure they understand that there'll be no change in the quality of your work product.

Can an employer stop you from freelancing?

Yes, an employer can restrict you from freelancing if they have a non-compete clause in their employment contract or other verbiage that prevents you from working part time. It is critical to review your current employment contract to make sure you're in the clear before you begin working as a freelancer.

With Advice From:

Evelyn Frison

Evelyn Frison is an energetic marketer with expertise in tech (web3), eCommerce, and media. She's worked for iconic agencies, centuries-old brands, growing tech startups — and even launched her own eComm company. Her strength is understanding how different marketing channels fit together and what mix is best for a brand at its current stage of growth.

Outside of work, she plays sports (@evplayssports), reads, and travels. These activities bring variety, adventure, and balance to her life — and also inform how she works.

Eva Recinos

Eva Recinos is an arts and culture journalist and nonfiction writer. Her reviews, features, and profiles have been featured in Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Los Angeles Magazine, VICE and more. She received her BA in English with a minor in art history from the University of Southern California and her MA in the history and theory of contemporary art from the San Francisco Art Institute.

She was a 2019 nominee for the LA Press Club Awards in the category of Arts & Entertainment Feature (Online) and a 2021 finalist in the PEN American Emerging Voices Fellowship.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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