Freelancing while working full time

Yesterday I left work, met a friend for dinner then headed home to write. I had a deadline and 600 words to meet.

In university, I perfected the art of the last minute essay. I’d leave it to the very last minute then write the eight to ten pages, print it off and hand it in the next day.

These days I try not to do that. You don’t get very far as a freelance writer if you keep leaving articles to the very last minute. I’ve done that and they weren’t good. The research is sloppy, you tend not to dig deeply because you don’t have time and the writing can be very haphazard.

So why bring this up since it’s so obvious? It’s because it’s one of the pitfalls of freelancing while working full time and don’t think that because you’re writing a few articles a month that you’re not working a second job. You still have to do your research, conduct your interviews, write and edit your work – and do all of that while working a full-time job.

It’s a good idea to keep your freelance if you take on a full time job. The journalism industry is quite shit and full time jobs disappear every week. Freelancing means you will have money in your pocket should that happen to you. It’s doable – writers have been writing while balancing full-time work forever but it does require discipline. Yes, even more discipline than you need for writing and a few rules. I’ve had to impose these rules on myself otherwise I will be that last-minute writer. Not good.

1. Don’t mix freelance and work

Don’t open up a fresh new Word document and start drafting your article. Your job pays you to do their work, not yours, so don’t freelance on their time. Some companies might be ok with you freelancing at work providing you’ve finished your responsibilities but always check with your boss. If you have to do interviews, try to schedule them around your job. That means scheduling them early in the morning or at night. If you have to do a phone interview, use your own phone, schedule it for your lunch hour and do it off company property.

2. Check for conflicts

When I received my job offer from Global News, it came with a contract. In that contract it said I couldn’t work for their competitors. As a result I had to give up writing for Forbes and the Globe and Mail. Looking back, I wish I didn’t. Yes, it was the right thing to do but considering I was laid off 14 months later, it wasn’t worth giving up those jobs. (Side note: Who thinks Forbes and Global News are competitors?)

3. Embrace technology

Skype, email, Google Hangouts – all of these are alternatives to the face-to-face or phone conversation. It also means you can work on your freelance assignments around your job. Send the questions the night before or early in the morning. They might come back during the day but you’re not working on them. They’re just sitting in your inbox, waiting for you.

4. Plan your schedule

If your deadline is a week from now, plan out your freelance schedule. Make the next couple days research days. Use your phone to do the research on your commute. Draft your questions to and from work. Read up on your topic. The next day, send those questions and jot down the outline of your article. The last few days, write your article. If you can, leave a day between the last draft and the deadline. It’ll give you some breathing room and you can always take one last look before you send it.

Of course, this depends on whether you get a week between assignments. If not, adjust your schedule to suit.

5. Jot down everything

I get some of my best ideas when I’m walking to the subway or when I overhear people talking. That old recommendation about keeping a notebook and pen nearby just in case? Still applies today.

6. Don’t turn your company into a source

Try not to. It’s easy to fall into that habit. If you find a story that might be of interest, do a little research and see if it has broad appeal. While people will think it’s cool you work and freelance, some may not appreciate being the subjects of your articles, especially if you don’t tell them.

To wrap up, here are some links that might be of interest for your brainstorming needs:

35 sure fire copywriting tips

How to set up your first podcast

How to build a strong digital influencer program

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