I began freelancing as an affiliate marketer in 2005 while I was working as a full-time employee for a bank. My boss never knew I was sitting in the server room reading up on SEO and practicing basic HTML and WordPress skills.
But this was exactly how I got my graduate relocation site ranking at the top of Google for relevant search terms like “where to live in London” and “moving to London guide.” And how I secured backlinks from Ivy League colleges like Princeton and Cornell from their student abroad pages.
It was such a buzz and I was totally hooked on the thrill of seeing my content beat high-profile competitors and watching those site visitor clicks convert into affiliate commission.
Although my affiliate income never made me rich, it was great pocket money on the side and set me up for a future in content marketing. After starting my family, it was a no-brainer to quit my full-time position and switch to freelance writing and editing which I’ve been doing for the past seven years. The work is lucrative, fits well around my three kids, and there’s never a dull day.
So, if you’re interested in balancing a side hustle with regular work, you’ll make extra money, learn new skills, and could even turn your passion project into a new career as I have.
Why is freelancing popular?
I’ve been freelancing for many years, but it was always something I did on the side until my first baby arrived. But more recently, freelancing has skyrocketed in popularity during The Great Resignation, and it’s easy to see why.
In my experience, there are three different introductions to freelancing we see regularly in the industry.
Starting as a side hustle
When employees aren’t satisfied with the work-life balance offered by full-time employment, they get itchy feet. Freelancing is a great way to keep options open while bringing in extra cash. Think of it as a ‘try before you buy’ approach to self-employment.
Freelancing to replace a lost job
Some people try out freelancing after losing their permanent job when they need a quick way to make ends meet. Many of these end up thinking it’s the best thing that ever happened to them.
My newspaper was making journalists redundant when we went digital. I knew it was only a matter of time before I left. Stumbled across a freelancing course and now 4 years later, here I am ✍
— Kimberlee Meier (@KimberleeMeier) March 16, 2022
Pivoting from part-time freelancing to full-time freelancing
From talking to freelance colleagues within my network, many people arrive in the freelance industry after changing their attitudes towards work. They want to work more creatively, be rewarded with better pay than the ceiling on their full-time income, or just carve out their own career path away from the rat race.
Lockdown 2020 gave me time to think and retrospect my entire career trajectory. I always saw myself as a 9-5 employee.
Covid was a blessing in disguise for me.
However it wasn’t until this year that I started taking my freelancing journey full-fledgedly. Loving it so far ✨
— Akanksha Patnaik (@Akankshapatts) March 16, 2022
How to get started doing freelance work on the side
When I began freelancing as an affiliate marketer, I didn’t need to find clients in the traditional sense. My business model was based on driving organic web traffic to my site and making money from advertising referrals. While I used affiliate platforms to sign up for these referral programs, it was an entirely faceless relationship.
But when I pivoted to freelance writing and editing, finding clients was a necessity. Like many people, I started hitting job boards on sites like Craigslist and Gumtree to seek work.
I found I didn’t need a presence on social media, or a website to find content writing jobs with marketing agencies. And I received plenty of referrals too. The problem?
These jobs were low-paid so I was working flat out to make a decent wage. If you’re trying to do the same while working full-time, this is a super quick race to the bottom – hello, burnout!
The low-paid work I was producing was also ghostwritten, meaning my client’s name was attached to all the work and I didn’t have a portfolio. Only once I set up a website and put my own name out there, have I been able to start charging several hundred dollars per article instead of the $25-50 I was earning as a ghostwriter for agencies.
If you have limited time to dedicate to your side hustle, you’ll want to hit those big bucks quicker than I did. And I want that for you too! So, once you’ve chosen the skill set and services you’d like to offer, these are my top recommendations to promote your own business and maximize your time.
Create a freelance website
This isn’t up for debate. If you want to attract clients and look professional, then you need a website as your own personal base on the internet. This isn’t an expensive step to take either–if you set up a WordPress site, you can expect to spend less than $100 a year for hosting and a domain name.
Rebecca’s tip: Worried about your employer finding out you’re moonlighting? You can always choose to promote your freelance business under a brand name instead of your own name.
Your website is where clients and colleagues will fill in your Contact form, read a description of your services, and examples of your published work. When you’re getting started, you’ll add your website URL to your social media profiles, your email signature, and include it in your job pitches too.
But as you become more established, it’s possible to rank on the first page of Google with your freelance website, particularly for “your business name + niche”. With a few backlinks to your site and some optimization, you might even rank for broader terms like “Freelance B2B SaaS writer” to pull in heaps of potential clients.
For example, (at the time this article was written) Alex Boswell ranks in the second position of Google for this term by using several SEO techniques like crafting a headline of “Do you need a freelance writer for your B2B SaaS content?” By making clever on-page optimizations like this, Alex can take advantage of an excellent position in the search results to attract more leads.
Reach out to your existing network
If you’re just getting started, don’t overlook the value in your existing network. Kaleigh Moore is a high-profile freelance writer for eCommerce and SaaS clients, and she recommends reaching out to your existing contacts to find freelance work.
Kaleigh says, “You have a network of people that you know. Send out an email: “Hey, I’m taking on new clients for this specific type of work. If you or someone you know needs help with that, send them my way.”
“I still use that to this day, when things get slow, that’s the email I send to the people either who I’ve worked with in the past or I know from a past job, that’s the easiest way to jumpstart things.”
Try sending out something similar as an email, a post, or direct message to your current connections to see if this generates any work. Word-of-mouth referrals are everything in the freelance world.
An old colleague saw I’d just gone freelance and asked me to help. It gave me the start I needed.
— Eimear Jude (@EimearJude) March 16, 2022
Look at freelance part time work job boards
If you’re looking for starter work, freelance job boards are a good place to start. But be aware the quality of these ads varies wildly and it’s typical to find ads offering lousy pay of just a couple of cents per word. Check out this ad with a headline of “Tech & Gadgets Writer – We Pay for Quality.”
At first glance, this looks promising. The blog owner finally understands they need to invest in their content strategy and stop offering low fees of 2 to 3 cents per word to freelance writers. When I skipped to the bottom of their ad, though, the rate they’re now offering instead wasn’t much better.
It’s typical to find freelance projects paying just a few cents per word, and I should know – I picked up enough of these gigs when I was starting out. But as you become more established, you’ll have the experience and credibility to apply for higher-paying work like the below ad.
A better job board ad will pay $$$s per article or project, while some of the best job board ads are from companies willing to pay more than $1 a word for a single piece of content.
Creating your freelance portfolio
Before you reach out to companies, you’ll typically need to have built up a selection of clips before it’s worth connecting. Clips are samples of published work with your byline attached and this is the easiest way for prospects to see your style, expertise and know you’re a great match for them.
For example, a long-form writer like myself shows examples of my blog posts or white papers. If you haven’t worked with clients yet, or if you’ve been ghostwriting, you can create your own clips and publish them on your own site, upload them to Medium, or guest post on other websites.
Freelance writer Jessica Perreira had been writing for less than 2 months in 2020 when she submitted a free guest post to FreelancerFAQs.com. Not only was she able to include this clip in her portfolio, but the post also gave her great exposure and she landed a paid writing gig with Blogging Wizard.
Getting your portfolio going is like making a snowball. It starts small, but once you’ve got your snowball rolling, it becomes easier and easier to pick up new bylines and referrals. The best part? You won’t always need to write for free!
Pitch your freelance part-time services
Besides guest posting, another option is to cold pitch. Start by seeking a company you’re interested in. You can check out their website or search LinkedIn to find the relevant person to contact.
For example, a freelance writer might search for a content manager to connect with. You can choose to send a DM over social media or use software to locate their email address. Next, you’ll craft a pitch highlighting your skills, your experience, and introducing your services.
Elise Dopson is one of the top freelance writers in the eCommerce and marketing niche and she’s an absolute pro at pitching.
She says, “I’ve landed three high-paying jobs from pitching and even grabbed one client from the warming-up process (without sending a single pitch!)”
Elise also recently pitched Business Insider to tell her story of how she grew her freelance business from $40,000 to a six-figure annual salary.
Cold pitching is often considered a numbers game, but it can be highly effective if you’re willing to put the effort in. [link to when live]
How to balance freelance side hustle with regular work
Freelancing on the side can feel like a juggling act when you’re working two different jobs. So, the key is time management.
Back when I was working a full-time job, there weren’t as many clever time-tracking software solutions available as there are now. So my old-school ways to manage my time were making lists of tasks I wanted to accomplish during the week, and then calendar blocking so I knew exactly when I would achieve them.
Things are a little more complicated with time management now as my family is definitely more 24/7 than 9 to 5. So, I like to smash through a couple of work hours in the morning before my kids are up.
This means I’m often tiptoeing around at 5 am, trying not to wake anyone, but it suits me because my brain feels particularly creative first thing in the morning. I’ve also been known to work during naptimes, late at night, and of course, during the few childcare hours I have each week.
Freelancers with any kind of a juggle on their hands can try some of these popular time management strategies.
Working nights and weekends
Working outside of usual business hours doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up all of your free time, but you might work 5: 30 – 7: 30 pm Monday to Friday, plus 5 hours on a Saturday. That’s 15 hours of dedicated time towards your side hustle but still leaves you with plenty of downtime.
Of course, you might prefer to start your day much earlier and work on your freelance project before your job starts as a paid employee. The point is to find a pattern and schedule that works for you.
Working these slightly irregular hours is also effective if you have freelance clients in different time zones, allowing you to jump on calls without disturbing your regular work.
Freelancing during your lunch hour
Another option if you have a designated lunch break as an employee is to use the time to work on your freelance projects. This is an excellent option if your freelance side gig is creative and you see it as a hobby.
If your full-time work is in an office, be careful about the implications of carrying out your freelance work using a computer paid for by your employer. A better option could be to head to a library or coffee shop with your laptop or tablet and let your creative juices flow. Don’t forget to grab a sandwich too!
How to become a full time freelancer
Got the freelance bug? If freelance contracting while working full time is becoming too much, you might be tempted to throw in the towel as an employee and become a full-time freelancer instead.
If freelancing is in your heart, and it’s a better fit than working for an employer, you’ll find a way to make it work. For me, I wish I’d made the switch to full-time freelancing before my family arrived so I didn’t go straight from trying to balance employment and freelancing with trying to juggle kids and freelancing.
But I also understand why I didn’t take the plunge earlier: giving up your full-time salary alongside benefits like health insurance and paid leave is a scary move!
Even if you’re gonna go for it, it’s hard to find the right time to quit your day job. Some people reduce their hours and go down to three or four days in their permanent role. This gives you chance to build up more of a freelance business before you commit to full-time freelancing.
Other independent contractors will put their side hustle cash into savings and then quit their job when they’ve got enough of a financial cushion built up.
So, what’s the best freelance strategy for you?
The truth is: every individual freelance journey is different, and there isn’t a set route you should take. Do your research, craft a sensible freelance business plan and trust your gut when it comes to making decisions about your future as a freelance contractor. Good luck!
Rebecca Noori is a freelance writer crafting long-form blog articles on HR, careers, productivity, and leadership, with bylines in places like Insider, Zapier, Zavvy, Clever Girl Finance, and many more. When she's not writing, you'll find her helping beginner freelancers and raising her 3 kids (who are quite a handful). Connect with Rebecca on her website or LinkedIn.