I wasn’t planning on being a part-time freelancer.
Six years ago I made the move to full-time freelancing after my third career layoff. I knew financial potholes existed. I also swore I’d avoid the worst ones.
I wasn’t planning to blow through emergency funds and my family’s patience, or stiff-arm friends asking for updates.
Fast-forward 5 years. I was stuck in a major client drought and bottomed out financially. I realized I had to find a part-time job FAST and settle for being a part-time freelancer. Like it or not. And I didn’t.
It felt like failure — you thought you could do this and couldn’t, dumb bunny. But monthly expenses had become monthly drama, plus some ugly debt was staring at me.
Ever find yourself wondering if you can make a living as a writer and do work you love? I did. And I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of becoming a part-time freelancer just so I could collect a paycheck from a J-O-B.
But when I made the switch, it had a big impact on my money situation. And I discovered there were also some positive and unexpected benefits to being a part-time freelancer.
More than 1 path to freelance success
When my financial situation reached a tipping point, I discovered desperation. It was more important to pay bills and be solvent. I couldn’t continue hoping the third or fourth or whatever client I needed to fully afford myself, was on the other end of my latest marketing efforts. I was tired of the constant monetary panic and worry.
Instead of (mostly) enjoying building a freelance writing business, I was hyper-focused on how much I wasn’t making. And yes, I’d had flush periods where I did earn well. The problem was sustaining it — freelancing’s sweet spot.
If you’re a working freelancer in a similar crisis, sit down and take notes. There’s more than one path to freelance writing success. Grabbing a part-time job can be exactly what you need to do instead of relinquishing your writing dream. Here’s how:
Part-time job = insurance, not failure
That’s what I’m doing and it’s paying off (pun intended). As a part-time freelancer, I continue to write for clients, and my part-time job serves as a financial buttress. Debt is receding. I’m restocking my savings. I no longer have to do the buy-one-get-one-free thing at the grocery store unless I want to. I get gas where it’s convenient rather than drive out of my way to the station that accepts my gas card.
None of the above is failure. It’s freedom, especially with the smaller things that grease day-to-day life. It’s also freedom because I don’t view it as having chained myself to a part-time job. I view my part-time job as a helpful means to an end. And I get to say when the end is.
Knowing I can meet all monthly financial obligations is — as the commercial says — priceless.
Why the right part-time job mattered
If you’re looking for a part-time job to help you supplement your writing income, some jobs are better than others. Check out Carol’s advice from the post: 7 Easy Jobs That Leave Your Days Free for Writing.
If you need emergency funds, and the quickest available job will do, get on with it to deal with those financial issues as soon as possible. But if you’re looking for a part-time job to support your part-time freelancer goals, take some time (hours, not days), to consider what you’d enjoy doing as a part-time gig.
Where to look for a part-time job
Think of hobbies, lifelong passions and yes, former careers. Tap your professional network for leads and tips, but don’t stop there. Get the word out to friends, family and your college alumni society, for example. Let people know you’re interested in part-time work.
In my case, I’m a museum docent at the Daytona International Speedway. And it’s a perfect fit. I spent nearly a decade writing about NASCAR racing, drivers, cars, mega-million dollar sponsorship contracts, fan culture, and everything else unique to the sport, so I’m familiar with every exhibit. The job also came upon the recommendation of two former co-workers (thanks, guys!).
Beware of soul-sucking part-time work
Don’t forget to avoid what makes you miserable, even on a part-time basis. For me, that’s being a telephone customer-service rep, or being trapped in a office. I’d also be a lousy cashier.
Keep this in mind when you’re trying to bridge the income gap as a part-time freelancer. Part-time work — even the online kind — isn’t the perfect prescription for all income ills. Family obligations and health issues are only two situations that might negate it. One alternative is to do temp work with a reputable staffing agency (I did, briefly). You can work when you can, and not work when gigs don’t fit your life.
How to organize your part-time schedule
When I decided to get a part-time job, I still had a steady stream of freelance work. And I haven’t given up on my dream of freelancing full time. So I had to figure out how to keep my current clients happy, make time to keep on marketing, and work all that in around my new gig at the museum.
Here’s what you need to know about managing your schedule when you’re a part-time freelancer:
- Don’t drop current clients for a part-time job. It requires planning and discipline, but you can continue to freelance and work part-time. A job obviously complicates things, especially if you have a family or are a caregiver. Or, if you fill any other demanding role.
- Work in blocks of time. The key is blocking off time chunks each day for your various responsibilities, then sticking to those appointments with yourself. You likely already do this if you’re serious about freelancing; adding part-time job hours means massaging that schedule.
- Use a calendar. If you don’t keep a calendar, get one — or use the digital version on one of your devices. Mark that puppy up! Say your daylight hours are packed with obligations? Consider working early in the morning, before others in your household wake up, or in the evening, once they’re in bed. Then write down when you’ll do your freelance work.
- Track your time. At each day’s end, log the number of hours you spent actually working on various freelance tasks. Your rate of progress gets real in a hurry. The end of the day is also a good time to review your schedule for the next day.
Me? I do certain client work for several hours before I go to my part-time job, then different client work at night. Tackling a variety of writing throughout the day works well for me.
Free up headspace and unleash energy
It’s hard to concentrate on tasks when something’s bothering you; we all know this. Ignoring those nagging worries about money and paying your bills as a freelance writer, and it can have a negative impact on your work. It’s hard to focus on trying to find more quality clients ASAP and do a good job for existing clients, when you’re stressed about money.
Makes your head hurt, doesn’t it?
As my financial doldrums lingered, my creativity and patience nosedived. Every LOI or query I wrote and sent HAD to hook its bait. I didn’t have the margin to shrug off normal marketing response rates. Decent query and story ideas became hard to come by.
Whenever worry intensified, I could feel blood-pressure surges. I’m fortunate those were the worst manifestations (no, I didn’t mindlessly eat chocolate). After more months than I care to admit of this, I realized I had to ditch the futility and find a part-time job.
Unexpected benefits of part-time freelancing
Within a few weeks of hunting for a part-time job, mine materialized. And guess what? So did another awesome client. Once my cash crisis passed, solvency reappeared, along with better writing and more creativity.
I’m one of those people who can hole up and pound out verbiage. The daily trip to the gym, running a few errands — waving at neighbors — I’m good. But weeks and weeks of holing up? Not good.
Besides a steady paycheck, part-time work can also help you:
- Talk to people in person. One of the biggest silver linings of a part-time job (assuming you go somewhere other than your computer to perform it) is getting out of the house. Into the world. Yakking with customers, guests or co-workers. Interacting with human beings. Just what you need to brush up on your interviewing, listening, and interpersonal skills to be a better writer.
- Find story ideas. Working a part-time job can provide bonus material — inspiration for story ideas, blog posts, photographs and infographics. You can ponder how to write the lead of your next assignment while you’re zipping up and down grocery-story aisles returning “go-backs,” or restocking clothing racks in a store. Once you’re home and ready to write, you won’t waste time.
Be a part-time freelancer to grow your writing business
My part-time job is exactly what I need to continue toward my goal of viably freelancing full-time. I have a solid financial cushion and a better sense of what I need to earn consistently, to succeed. I’ll keep my current job as long as I need it. If I ever veer back toward uncomfortable financial territory (please no!), I’ll find another part-time gig down the road.
You can do the same. Without shame. Don’t be afraid to help yourself out.
Have you had success as a part-time freelancer? Check out my Facebook page, and let’s discuss.
Denise Maloof is a veteran journalist who has written for CNN, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and many other publications.