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The key to managing freelance projects while you work full-time

Ashley Gainer's Layout avatar

The side gig.

Whether you just want some extra cash or you dream of building your own empire and becoming your own boss, managing freelance projects isn’t always easy.

There’s a learning curve. There’s the need to market yourself, which is a struggle for a lot of people. There’s the need to deal with business finances and pay quarterly taxes, which is kind of a pain.

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But many people have run their own freelance business on the side while they worked full-time. (And not just web designers, either.) There are tons of examples of service and retail operations (and blogs!) that started in the “off-hours” and turned into something viable, if not huge.

It’s not easy to freelance when you’re working a day job, but it’s certainly feasible.

You just have to master one thing.

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How do I know?

I’ve been a freelancer since 2010, and I knew a ton of freelancers before that. So, you could say I know a few things about how freelancing works.

I used to say that commitment was what it took to be able to get any freelance business off the ground, whether you spent the majority of your days working, parenting, or just trying to freelance.

You know, grit. Determination. Dedication. Stick-to-it-ive-ness. Constant forward motion.

That stuff is critical, for sure, and you’ll never get your freelance business off the ground without commitment.

But it recently occurred to me that the stick-with-it stuff isn’t actually what you have to have. It’s the (required) result, but it’s not the starting place.

This is the key, and it will surprise you

Respect.

That’s the key to running a freelance business while you still work full-time.

Surprised?

So was I, when the thought first occurred to me. But stick with me.

Here’s how respect plays out.

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Respect your goals

When you start a freelance business, you naturally have some sort of goal.

It might be fuzzy and poorly defined — “make money with web design,” for example.

Or it might be a rock-star SMART goal that’s clear, measurable, and precise – “net an average of $2,000 through freelance web design per month this calendar year” is a good hypothetical.

Paying for private school tuition. Traveling the world. Eradicating your debt. Buying a new car. Quitting your job and being your own boss. Or even just being able to make ends meet. These are all commonly cited reasons for going into freelancing.

Whatever the reason, you’ve got a goal for your business.

And if you don’t respect that goal – if you don’t take it seriously – you’ll never be able to run your new business well.

“Respect for your goals leads you to make decisions that will support them. ”

You won’t rely on motivation, which won’t get you anywhere, anyway. Instead, you’ll operate with an internal awareness that what you’re trying to do is something that matters, and that it matters more than whatever you would be doing otherwise.

If you don’t respect your goals, Netflix and Reddit will win every single time.

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Respect your day job

Whether it’s something you enjoy but you want to be location-independent or it’s draining the life out of every cell of your body, you need to respect your day job if your freelance job has any hope of survival.

Like it or not, you’ve made a commitment to be there, at that workplace, for the agreed-upon hours, to do the agreed-upon tasks.

Blowing off your job-job – whether you’re spending your work time doing freelance stuff or just completely checking out mentally because “you’ll be out of here soon enough” – is exceptionally bad form.

Don’t be that person. It sets a bad precedent that will not serve you well in the long run.

Respect your new clients

It’s exciting to start picking up freelance work, especially in the beginning. You need to be extremely cautious not to over-promise anything, though. Know exactly how much time you have to give to client work each week, and don’t take on anything that exceeds your limits.

(In that sense, you’re respecting not only your clients but also yourself and your time.)

Respecting your clients means you set appropriate expectations from the outset. You eliminate nasty surprises for them. You establish and then honor schedules and deadlines. You communicate well. You own it when you mess up.

If you can’t do those things, you’ll never get anywhere.

Respect your money

Making money by freelancing is awesome. Suddenly you’ve got this extra cash flow and a PayPal account that isn’t sitting at zero dollars and zero cents.

You must learn how to take care of this money, though, or you will create a lot of headaches for yourself.

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Respecting your money looks like setting aside a portion of what you earn to pay quarterly taxes…and following through on making those payments. It’s tracking every dollar you earn and every dollar you spend in your business. It’s reinvesting some of your profits back into the business by getting training and assistance to make your life easier.

You must also show respect for your money by doing the things with your new income that you intended to do before you had it. You don’t spend it on handbags or hardware – you put it toward your goals.

That means you transfer it to the travel savings account, or you write the check to your student loan, or you send the next tuition payment a bit early.

Your integrity is on the line

If you aren’t able to do those things, you’re what many life coaches might call “out of integrity.” But you want integrity if you want a good business.

So respect it.

Comments ( 1 )

  1. ej23

    April 27, 2017

    Okay. Where do you get clients? Or is this some ploy

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