When Freelance Isn’t Your Day Job

by Holly Johnson

If you’ve ever been to a circus, or even just surfed the web, you’ve probably seen iconic images of tightrope walkers. Carrying a long balancing pole, they work against and with the laws of physics to conquer them.

On a much less dramatic scale, walking the line between full-time work and a freelance business can feel that way. With your nine-to-five on one side and your personal creative efforts on the other, how do you move smoothly between the two?

Define Your Goals

Establishing your reasons for taking on what is essentially a second job will help inform the way you approach it and manage it. Here are some questions to consider as a starting point:

  • Do you want to pursue an independent writing career?
  • Do you want to simply keep a side hustle?
  • Do you want to develop skills that could help you earn a promotion at work?

It’s also important to look at what other responsibilities are on your plate. How will you prioritize them?

  • Family?
  • Friends?
  • Additional activities and commitments outside of work?

Know Your Limits

Overestimating your capacity? Easy. Accurately evaluating your time and energy? Not so much. At the 2022 EPA convention in Colorado Springs, I chatted with a woman who works for a ministry full time, as I do. She also does freelance work. It was refreshing to be able to talk candidly about the challenges of juggling these dual roles. When you’re eager to excel in your job, but also want to be recognized in the freelance world, it’s so very easy to overextend. Last year, this new acquaintance had accepted too many projects, and she became overwhelmed and exhausted. For my part, there are times when “full time” is more than full time. And there are weeks when the sheer intensity of that week leaves my creative tank too drained for me to even write for myself. I have to be judicious and conservative about what freelance opportunities to pursue, and when to pursue them.

When you’re considering new assignments, collect as much detail up front as you can so that you can make an informed decision. As the adage goes, saying “Yes” to one thing means saying “No” to another. When you say “Yes” to extra work too often, you may soon find yourself saying “No” to social connections, sleep … even health. This have-it-all culture may tempt you to burn the proverbial candle at both ends, but at what price? Consider which projects are best suited for your long-term goals and your current obligations. Then choose wisely.

Be Intentional …

Look for creative ways to develop your skills in ways that can apply to both realms. Where could your freelance work intersect with your vocation?

For example, my current job, while not a purely editorial role, does land in the communications space. When the Evangelical Press Association convention schedule is posted and I see topics that clearly apply to my work, I talk with my supervisor about attending the event as my professional development opportunity for the year. Even though my employer doesn’t currently hold a membership with EPA, because I maintain my associate member status, I’ve been able to attend the convention several times as an employee and as an EPA freelancer.

On the flip side, if your vocation doesn’t dovetail with writers’ conferences in this way, you’ll need to be even more intentional about networking and landing freelance projects. Connecting with groups like Christian Freelance Writers Network and investing in professional membership opportunities can help build a strong foundation for that strategy.

Being intentional also means following up on freelance leads. If you have a regular assignment that hasn’t arrived in your inbox on time, check in with your contact to find out what’s up. If you talked with someone at a conference or other event, send a quick email to see if that project you discussed is still on the radar.

and Go with the Flow

There’s an element of trust that comes into play in the middle of your efforts toward equilibrium. Certainly, do your part to cultivate leads … to follow up … to pursue that other facet of your life. Just keep in mind that when you have a regular job, you are responsible to be “all there” so that you can meet your employer’s expectations first. Your work performance is part of your Christian testimony. As far it depends on you, make sure you’re honoring the Lord in that setting.

So be persistent — and patient. This isn’t only a balancing act; it’s also a work in progress. If you need to let go of some freelance opportunities in the short term, you need to also trust that God will open other doors down the road, when the time is right. Remember, He has a plan. He began a good work in you, and He’ll be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6).

By day, Holly Johnson works for Compassion International as a donor communications specialist. By night (well, some very select evenings and weekends), she painstakingly cultivates Vision43 Communications LLC. She has written and edited for a variety of organizations such as Focus on the Family, Christian Camp and Conference Association, USA Triathlon, and Compassion. Contact her at hollyjwriter@gmail.com.

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