Navigating Freelance Work Alongside a Full-Time Job

Are you looking to branch out into the world of freelance, but aren’t quite ready to make the leap? Or perhaps you’re not planning to make the jump to #freelanceforever, but are looking to stack some cash from side projects to fund your next vacation. Whatever the reason, there’s a hot debate going on about how, exactly, one should navigate the complexities of freelancing while in a full-time role. 

As we all know, full-time roles have their appeal: a set salary, benefits, an established work schedule, and surrounding team are all in the “pro” column. Freelancing, however, has its own unique set of perks: you can control your schedule, client roster, and generally how you get the work done is totally up to you. 

If you’re thinking about supplementing your existing full-time role with freelance work, here are a few tips to keep in mind. 

Play by the rules

Technically, you cannot take on freelance projects if your employment agreement has a non-compete clause in place or any language that stipulates that outside work is off-limits.  Essentially, a non-compete clause outlines that employees cannot work for a competitor/competitor-adjacent company on top of their full-time role. “Competitor-adjacent” is important to point out, because you could be working at a bookstore full-time with a side hustle at a doctor’s office, but if you’re doing similar work for both organizations, you’re using your “industry secrets” that are not really supposed to leave the bookstore in the first place. This is why checking for a non-compete clause is step #1 – you probably don’t want to get fired from your full-time job.

Yes, this is a bummer if you’re hoping to use freelancing as an opportunity to build new skills – or your bank balance. The good news is that it can give you some leverage in negotiation for juicier projects or a higher salary – if you’re a great performer, your manager should be willing to help you find ways to reach your goals within the company. 

Honesty is always the best policy

While you don’t necessarily need to sit your boss down to tell them about every new freelance contract, it is absolutely worthwhile to be open about the fact that you take on side projects from time to time. You should be ready to provide specifics if they ask about your planned time commitments (will meetings with your freelance client conflict with any internal meetings? Are you working on major projects at your full-time and freelance jobs simultaneously?) and give your manager confidence that you can continue to deliver excellent, on-time work in your full-time role. 

Do good work (duh)

Maybe we’re stating the obvious here, but balancing full-time and freelance work requires you to be good at both roles at the same time. Even if you are testing the freelance waters and really do intend to quit your full-time job as soon as you can, it’s in your best interest to act with integrity and keep your commitments at your full-time role until you actually hand in your notice. Having positive references, potential client referrals, and (gasp) a fallback option are all essential to making the leap to #freelancelife as comfortable as possible. 

Even if you’re not planning on leaving your full-time role for freelance work, doing a great job balancing your professional endeavors will help pave the path for your current and future teammates. It’s possible to set a positive example and show your company that freelance work can truly help their employees stay engaged, motivated, and even “up-skilled” through their outside projects!

Lastly – and this may be hard to hear, especially coming from an organization built around the power of freelance talent – when in doubt, you should prioritize your full-time job. It’s not going to help you, your work team, or your freelance clients if you bite off more than you can chew. Taking on freelance work on top of a full-time job is inherently a lot of work! Be honest with yourself about what is realistic for you to handle on a week-to-week basis, and remember that as with almost everything else – work that you will be proud of comes down to quality, not quantity. 

Structure for success

So, you’ve checked your contracts, you’ve told your boss, and you’re crushing it at your day job. NOW, how the heck do you balance all of your work?

Tip 1: Keep your calendars separate, but together. 

We all tend to work from a primary calendar (work or personal), and the trick here is to create a separate calendar for your freelance work and “subscribe” to it from your primary calendar. This will let you easily see your time commitments across both roles in one place, without showing your side-hustle calendar details to your full-time colleagues. Use your best judgment on how you can effectively block time for freelance client meetings without disrupting your full-time team’s workflow; you should aim to tackle your freelance work in your off-peak hours and on weekends as much as possible. It bears repeating here: honesty is the best policy! Don’t pretend you have a bunch of doctor’s meetings every week when you’re actually working on your side hustle. It’s bad karma, and bad karma is bad for your health. 

Tip 2: Find a freelance “backup buddy”

If you’re taking on consistent side work, it’s helpful to find a partner that can help take on some of your freelance workload when it’s crunch time (or vacation time!) at your day job. Once you work out the specifics of a subcontractor relationship, you can brief them on each project you take on so you have backup support at the ready. 

Tip 3: Be realistic with your energy levels

Freelancing while in a full-time job can be a recipe for burnout, and you won’t have your boss to blame if you’re the one taking on too much work in the first place! As you enter into new freelance contracts, be generous with your time estimates. Think you can do a project in 3 days? Pad that estimate and tell your client you’ll have it to them in 5. If a fire drill comes up at your full-time job, you’ll have plenty of time to handle it, and in the best-case scenario, you’ll be able to deliver early for your client! It’s a win/win. 


Ultimately, successfully balancing full-time and freelance work requires you to continually check in with yourself. Are you taking on too much? Are you missing deadlines? Is the work quality slipping? If you’re starting to see cracks, it’s OK to step back! One of the best benefits of freelance work is the fact that it can be done on your own schedule and on your own terms. Freelancing can offer a choose-your-own-adventure that allows you to express yourself with fewer limitations and empower you to create and protect boundaries around your work/life balance!

At the end of the day, freelancing while in a full-time job is not for the faint of heart – you have to do great work with split focus, be honest with all parties involved and be rigorous with your time management. If you do it right, though, you’ll benefit from an expanded skill set, a richer portfolio, and likely a bigger bank balance from your extra hard work. Good luck!