How to be a successful part-time freelancer
by Rachel Smith
09 March 2018
Part-time freelancing is a tricky balancing act, especially if you’re fitting it into a schedule that involves a full-time role, study or family commitments.
I should know. Ever since I became a mum, I’ve worked part-time – and I will until my cheeky little dude goes to school. It is completely different to how I used to work, pre-parenthood: I was ‘on’ all the time. I worked late. I worked weekends. I rarely said no to a job. I had a pretty crappy work-life balance but I didn’t care because I’d usually rather be writing than doing anything else.
But when you work part-time, this crazy-ass urge to write becomes tricky. Suddenly, you have limits. You can try to push them, but anyone with a kid knows it’s near impossible to do anything when they’re around, much less getting into a flow that enables you to craft decent copy or put the finishing touches onto a feature. I’ve been known to put Hey Duggee on repeat just so I can finish blog posts like this one!
Three years in, though – and after much trial and error – I’ve build up a decent client base and figured out how to meet my monthly targets (for the most part). I hope, when Charlie goes to school, I’ll be able to ramp it up to a full-time workload, already having the systems and client base in place.
Anyhow, if you’re thinking about freelancing part-time or are looking for tips, here are mine.
- Be transparent with clients. In a world where clients and editors increasingly want things NOW, it’s tempting to present yourself as available more often than you are. But doing so can get you into hot water, so I don’t do it. Maybe I’m lucky to have landed clients with good boundaries (or kids of their own) but I’ve found being super clear about the days and hours I’m available to them has worked fine. Most people tend to respect my work times, phoning me or planning certain meetings around my availability.
- Make every work minute matter. I do this by marking up a calendar with ‘blocks’ of time. Currently I’m using the built-in Mac calendar which syncs with my iPhone, but I’m looking for something better (suggestions welcome!). For now, it does the job in helping me meticulously plan my work days, allocating blocks of time to gym visits, projects or stories and phone calls with Leo or Claire to discuss Rachel’s List. I definitely wasn’t as strict about this when I worked full-time, but when you’re part-time, you have to be. Time tracking can also help if you want to get better at calculating how long jobs will take you.
- Establish a workflow of questions before saying yes. I factor in everything – do I like the project? (Kinda important, although I’ll often take on stuff I’m not that interested in because I need the money.) Do I have time to do research? Interviews? Find the right case studies in time? Can I fit in writing time? Do I have enough free ‘blocks’ of time to deliver by the project’s deadline? If I know it’s going to be a stretch and it’s something I really want to do, I’ll try to negotiate a different deadline with the editor or client. (We have scripts for doing this in our 25 Scripts ebook if the thought makes you break out into a cold sweat.)
- Use a bullet journal. I’ve written before about getting on the #bujo train and how it’s helped my productivity. My bullet journal is just a spiral book I have open while I work, and I use it to jot down tasks, ideas and so on when they strike, so I can quickly get back to the task at hand. You don’t get dragged down the rabbit hole of an idea or dealing with a task right then, but rather, leave them in your ‘external brain’ for later! I love that term – it was coined by neuroscientist Daniel Levitin and author of The organized mind: Thinking straight in the age of information overload.
- Outsource to buy yourself more time. As a part-timer I greedily guard every work hour – which means paying for other people to do things so I have more time to write. Transcribing is easily my biggest outsourcing expense – depending on how many interviews I do, I’d spend anywhere from $50-200 on this per month, with a fast 24/hour turnaround from uploading the file to getting the transcript. I also try to automate stuff as much as I can, particularly with social media, and I ‘batch’ tasks like invoicing, research and admin.
Do you freelance part-time? What are your top tips?
As a kid, Rachel used to carry around a little suitcase of pens and paper so she could stop and write stories whenever inspiration struck. These days, she writes for a living, in between running the show at Rachel's List. Some of you may actually believe she looks like a megaphone in real life, but it's not the case. Honest.
Latest posts by Rachel Smith (see all)