7 Steps for Taking on Freelance Projects Without Pissing Off Your Boss
Want to stop scraping by to pay your rent each month, but can’t risk leaving your not-so-high-paying job without a guarantee that a better paying one is waiting for you?
Are you feeling like you really need some great experience on your resume, but don’t know how you can get that without, well—some great experience on your resume?
Or are you just wishing that you could do what you’re really passionate about without having to give up the security of a 9-to-5 job?
Good news! There’s a solution for you, and it doesn’t involve any Breaking Bad badness or incredible luck in the next Powerball.
I’m talking about freelancing. And, in particular, freelance side projects.
While freelancing on the side definitely takes hard work and commitment, you won’t be alone: According to a 2014 survey commissioned by Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk, 14.3 million Americans moonlight as freelancers.
But how can you do your side hustle, still hold down your full-time position, and avoid pissing off the people who pay your paycheck? Here are seven tips that will help you take home more cash while still keeping your boss happy and building a stronger foundation for your career.
1. Check Your Contract
Nobody likes sifting through the small print, but this is job #1 when you’re getting ready to start freelancing. The reason is that some companies include non-compete clauses, which might limit or prevent you from doing the same work outside the company or for the same clients. And, if what you’re doing isn’t allowed, you’re at risk of being fired or even sued. So, read those employment agreements carefully, and then stay on the right side of the law.
2. Be Honest
As tempted as you might be to believe that your employer will never know about your side gigs, it’s neither realistic nor wise. With social media, Google searches, and just knowing people in the same industry, someone from your company is more than likely to stumble across what you’re doing outside of work. And even if freelancing is technically allowed by your company, in most cases it’s still a good idea to give your boss a heads up.
So, set up a meeting to present the idea, making it clear that you won’t let it affect the job you’re being paid for. Try this:
“I’ve been looking for ways to cover some of my expenses better, and I’m thinking about doing some freelancing projects. I want to make sure you’re OK with that. Of course I’ll be doing it all on my own time, so my work here won’t be affected at all.”
3. Tell What Kind of Freelance Work You’ll Be Doing
Of course you don’t have to (and probably really shouldn’t) go into details about your clients, the size of the projects, what you’re earning, and so on. But you may have to (because of your contract) let your boss know about what area your freelancing work will be in.
This will often clear up any doubts of conflicts of interest. For example, if you’re planning to freelance as a copywriter and you work as a customer service rep, you’ll probably be in the clear. Or, if you are planning to do the same work freelancing as you do in your regular job, your company might allow it as long as you work for different clients and agree not to approach ones that the company had first. Either way, being honest about the type of work you are (and aren’t) doing will help ease your boss’ fears.
4. Emphasize the Benefits Freelancing Will Bring to Your Job
Beyond just getting the green light, consider showing how you freelancing will actually be a benefit for your boss, your colleagues, and the whole organization. After all, the fact that you’re ready to spend your free time doing much more than clearing out your Netflix queue shows your excellent work ethic and high motivation—what employer doesn’t want that?
But you can also show how your side projects will encourage you to get valuable skills and experience that will be an asset for you during your whole career and to your company right now. So, if you learn amazing tech skills that you’ll be putting to use as a freelancer, let your boss know that those same skills will help you make a killer email newsletter for your company.
5. Make Sure You Still Give 100% at Work (or Make That 110%)
No matter how excited you and, hopefully, your boss are about you freelancing, you have to keep in mind that you still have to be committed to your job as much as before—if not more so. Be sure you’re on time for meetings, stay on top of deadlines, share ideas and enthusiasm, and just generally do what’s expected of you.
And don’t forget—that includes coming into work rested and ready to work (no staying up all night working on that side project!) and not talking about your freelance clients with your co-workers during coffee breaks, much less during working hours.
6. Keep Your Freelancing on Your Own Time and Your Own Dime
Speaking of time, that literally means not doing freelance work when you’re on the clock. Even if it’s a slow day, save your projects for after hours. Stick to the business of your company during the day, and you’ll stick in your boss’s mind as a good employee who just happens to be doing some fantastic work on the side.
And resist the temptation to use your work laptop, phone, or even the copy paper and stapler for freelance projects. Although they’re small costs for the company, they’re still company property. And you’ll avoid any hard feelings (or worse!) by staying within those boundaries.
7. Make the Most of Your Freelancing Time
Take advantage of the time you do have to freelance so that, when you have to be at the office, you’ll be there fully mentally and physically.
You can find time for freelancing by getting up early, staying up late (but not all night, right?!), using your weekends, or trading in your vacation for time spent on your own projects.
And you can use each and every minute as best you can by not taking on more than you can handle, planning your work carefully, staying on schedule, and focusing fully on the work to be done. All this will help you earn more money as a freelancer, get better experience, and build a reputation that will serve you both now and into the future.