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.