Ask the cubicle expat: How can I freelance on top of a day job that requires me to be under my boss’ nose 40 to 50+ hours a week?

November 21st, 2008

A couple weeks ago, I was interviewed by personal branding guru Dan Schawbel on his Personal Branding Blog. We talked about everything from getting started as a freelancer to using a pseudonym to the personal branding benefits of collecting bylines. We also talked about how on earth a person can start freelancing on the side when they’re required to be at a day job from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week. Because I get asked this question several times a month, I’m posting the answer below. For the rest of my Q&A with Dan, click this here link.

Dan Schawbel asks: How could someone manage to write, while having a full-time job?

I answer: Because it can take weeks, months, or longer to build up a solid, full-time client base, keep your day job for as long as humanly possible. Some part-time freelancers do their writing and research before work, some do on the bus or train they take to work, some do it during their lunch hour, some do it evenings and weekends, and many do a combination of all these.

Last summer, I worked a part-time contract gig for four months because the opportunity and pay were too good to turn down. Fortunately I could do 75 percent of the work from home. But when I had to go in the office, I edited my stories on the commute (if I was bussing), came up with article introductions that I saved via digital recorder (if I was driving), snuck in interviews with sources during my lunch break (from the cafeteria, complete with Bluetooth and laptop), and worked again after dinner when I got home. When you cut back on “Law and Order” and lengthy phone calls with your BFF, you can accomplish a lot. You just have to be disciplined.

I hear single, child-free people lament all the time that they’re stuck in a cube from 9 to 6 and couldn’t possibly meet clients or look for freelance work. These people haven’t tried hard enough. I have yet to meet a majority of my clients, as many of them live 3,000 miles away, and we do the bulk of our business via email, not phone. If you can shop online, IM your friends, and update your Facebook status at work, then surely you can research new freelance job leads, hobnob with other self-employed professionals online, and email potential clients. Just make sure that you use your own computer or mobile device and that you do your freelance work during your lunch hour or scheduled breaks. If this isn’t possible, then you’ll have to learn to wake with the birds. It’s the only way.

Bonus answer: I can almost hear those of you who work 60 hours a week and spend every other waking hour tending to your children saying, “But what about me? How can I possibly freelance on the side with my schedule?” Let’s be realistic. You can’t. Unless you’re one of those rare freaks of nature who doesn’t require downtime or sleep. That old saw “You can do everything — just not all at once” applies here. The only way someone in your position can find the time to freelance is to reduce your hours at work (not always possible, I know, especially given the crappy economy) or find a less-demanding day job.

Entry Filed under: Ask the Cubicle Expat,Balance

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. watercooler » Word &hellip  |  November 27th, 2008 at 11:14 am

    [...] Anti 9-5 Guide’s advice on how to transition from full-time office worker to full-blown freelancer (hint: it involves doing [...]

  • 2. Katie  |  November 29th, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    This was a great post,

    I just have one objection. You seem to think that people without kids have it easier than people with them, In reality many companies, or even individual bosses, give people with children extra breaks at work. I can’t tell you how many times before I started freelancing full time that I had to do the work of someone with a sick kid who was at home.

    Also, just because you don’t have a kid does not mean you are not taking care of someone like an elderly parent, a task that can be as challenging as raising a child.

    People without kid’s aren’t whiners, we just have lives too, and a lot of parents forget that fact!

  • 3. Michelle Goodman  |  November 30th, 2008 at 11:24 am

    no, i don’t think that. i am single, 41, no kids, with a mortgage. i work twice as much as most of my cohabitating friends just to make ends meet. (i am working today, as a matter of fact.) ditto for when i was in an office job. but i don’t profess to know firsthand how hard it is to raise a kid. if you read my blog and my book and articles, you’d know that i always take into account the fact that some people are caregivers for their elders (as opposed to kids; in fact, i have people in my life who are caregivers for their siblings and believe me, it is no walk in the park) — and that no one side has it “easier” than the other, definitively. i just can’t express this in every single post. :) also, see this post, which refutes the notion that it’s easier to freelance when you’re single/babyfree:

  • 4. kim  |  November 30th, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Great post! I work at an advertising agency. I work at least 50-60 hours every week. I have a family. I also have several freelance clients. I also have my own personal online store where I sell illustrations, jewelry, etc. So, I end up working a minimum of 14 hours every day including weekends. It can be done, you just have to have the drive to do it all and turn off the outside distractions when you need to get it done.

  • 5. Michelle Goodman  |  November 30th, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    kim, this is so great to hear. so many people say, “i could never…” it’s inspiring to hear from someone like you who has so many balls in the air. right on!

  • 6. Laura @ move to portugal  |  December 7th, 2008 at 9:44 am

    Hi Michelle
    I recently bought your book while on hols in the US and managed to read most of it on the plane home..the best 7 hour flight I’ve ever had :)

    Your book has really helped to motivate me further towards self employment.
    I currently work 50 hours a week, run 3 blogs (!) have a p-t organising business and a family and although I love it, I need to move to working for myself sooner, rather than later. Thanks for the push

  • 7. Michelle Goodman  |  December 9th, 2008 at 10:32 am

    Laura, very lovely to hear. So glad the book is helping you! Best of luck with it all.

  • 8. Ananda Leeke  |  December 28th, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Great post with discussions.

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Who I am

Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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