How to be a successful part-time freelancer

by Rachel Smith
11 February 2020

Updated Feb 2020

Kids, health reasons, study commitments – there are lots of reasons why you might choose to become a part-time freelancer. I did it for five years and I won’t lie: it’s a tricky balancing act.

Why? Well, as a part-timer, you have limits. Your writing time shrinks. You need to actively carve out chunks of time in which to craft decent copy or put the finishing touches onto a feature. 

That said, with a little structure you can build up a decent client base and figured out how to meet my monthly targets (for the most part). Now I’m full-time again, it’s been a relatively easy process ramping it up to a 9-5 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.

1. 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 when you’re part-time, doing so can get you into hot water. It’s important to be super clear about the days and hours you’re available and most clients (if they have appropriate boundaries) will respect your work times, phoning you or planning certain meetings around your availability.

2. Make every work minute matter.

You can do this by marking up a calendar with ‘blocks’ of time so you can meticulously plan your time and allocate blocks to interviews, work calls or writing sprints. It’s a time-keeping habit I’ve kept since going back to full-time as it really helps me structure my work day. Using time tracking can also help if you want to get better at calculating how long jobs will take you.

3. Establish a workflow of questions before saying yes.

As a part-time freelancer, you don’t have the luxury of oodles of time, so you need to factor in everything – do you like the project? Do you have time to do research? Interviews? Find the right case studies? Can you fit in writing time? Do you have enough free ‘blocks’ of time to deliver by the project’s deadline? If you know it’s going to be a stretch and it’s something you really want to do, 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.)

4. Use a bullet journal.

I’ve written before about getting on the #bujo train and how it helps my productivity and saved me hours each week – essential when you work part-time. 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.

5. Outsource to buy yourself more time.

As a part-timer you have to greedily guard every work hour – which means paying for other people to do things so you have more time to work. Online grocery shopping, tick. Transcribing, tick (although if you’re on a budget, look for cheaper alternatives like Otter.ai or OTranscribe. You should also try to automate stuff as much as you can, particularly with social media, and ‘batch’ tasks like invoicing, research and admin.

Do you freelance part-time? What are your top tips?

Rachel Smith

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.
Rachel Smith

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