6 tips for creatives working full time and freelancing

6 tips for creatives working full time and freelancing

While the juggle of freelance and other commitments has been something I’ve been trying to balance for a little over five years, this past year was the first time I took on the responsibility of full time employment. This has been a hard transition for me, as I’ve had the tendency to bite off way more than I can chew. Literally and figuratively — I’ve been to the doctors a couple times this year because food keeps getting stuck in my throat! Serious there, but kidding aside, I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way that have been born out of some serious mistakes as well as taking notes on what was going well. If I can give you one over-arching tip, it’s to notice what’s going right, and to keep doing that.

Anyways, here are my 6 tips for creatives working full time and freelancing on the side:

1: Specialize

Since moving to Ohio, I have worked on all sorts of projects on the side. I’ve taken on styling and photography, copywriting, consulting, branding, web design…the list goes on. What I’ve been learning over this past year is that I feel best when I am working on shorter-term projects. For now, I’m trying to focus on contract lettering projects. I can concept and letter over my lunch breaks, and then come home to edit and send off finals and be done with a project within a week. Getting work out the door on my off time, while still having a weekend full of fun feels incredible. I give this up a little when I take on bigger projects that require full-days of work that I can only do on the weekends. I’ll take them on here and there, but for now my heart is with these lettering projects because of the flexibility they afford my schedule and the passion I have towards doing them.

2: Under promise, over-deliver, and over-estimate

Over-promised, missed deadlines, apologies, and guilt. Been there, and I’m through. Keep lofty goals to yourself, and tell your clients about half of what you hope to accomplish. It’s not deceitful, it’s just honest. I’d much rather the client be happy with what they 1: assume they are getting and 2: a little something extra, than to be promised something huge and grand and end up with something less than. This is a huge one that I’m still working on. I get ahead of myself, and I let my passions speak louder than what my time allows. Also, over-estimate the time that it will take you to complete a task. Unless you’re up against a strict client-given deadline for a certain deliverable, double up the time you think you could get it done in. If you get it done early, your client is happy, and you’re happy! If you run in to snags, you have that buffer time to smooth them out.

3: Learn to say no, to say yes

My 2013 goal was to learn to say no. It’s treated me well. When you’re working a full time job, you usually have the liberty to take on only the projects that you’re super passionate about. Your regular work pays the bills, and the freelance is a little something extra. When you’re taking on these extra projects, they should be fun. This is one of the huge perks of doing both! You get great creative projects to do at work, and you get different projects to balance out those other creative needs on the side. Say no to anything that doesn’t immediately have you saying heck yes! When you say no to the so-so, it opens your schedule to say yes to the thrilling projects when they do come along. It’s so worth it.

4: Connect with peers in and out of work

Working for a creative company, I’m lucky to have so many other people who are in this very same position. A group of us have a monthly sushi lunch where we catch up with our lives, and usually end up talking through the struggles and benefits of doing this working full time and freelancing thing. Being a blogger also lead me to finding one of my creative soul sisters at work, which has lead to us collaborating and chatting about so many things we tackle in life as creatives. Outside of work, it’s been important to me to connect to others through instagram, by leaving comments on others’ blogs, and to be active in the online creative community. I definietely had my moments where it was all too much, but a blog post here, a ‘great job’ comment there, it all adds up! All of this leads to a network of people that are there for you in different but necessary ways. These connections help keep me inspired, and they help me gauge some of that ‘what’s going right’ business. It’s too much burden to be a solitary creative. Reach out, open up, and find out the possibilities of what some of these creative relationships can do for you all!

5: Take smaller bites

This is something that I’ve been learning since I went to Pursue in April. One of the speakers (eeep, I can’t remember who! Giving myself a wrist-slap) showed us how writing out to-do lists for our to-do lists in teeny tiny steps actually helps you get more accomplished. Herm!? Yeah. So what you do is that for each task you have that seems a little daunting or that you can’t quite make yourself manage, you write out every tiny step that is put in to that to-do item. Maybe it’s as simple as buying a new calligraphy pen — yeah, lettering girl at heart here. For example:

1 – open safari

2 – google ‘calligraphy pen’

3 – browse for a calligraphy pen shop

4 – compare prices at different shops

5 – choose which one works for you

6 – put it in your cart

7 – get out your wallet

8 – type in your card info

9 – click purchase

10 – celebrate!

Kidding, kind of, on that celebration part, but honestly this does work. I’ve been breaking up to-do’s at work and it has been helping me manage things that seem a little daunting to me. By breaking up to-do’s for freelance, I’m able to get small aspects of work done on my lunch breaks that I would have otherwise spent worrying about how I was going to get the whole project done during the nights that week. Taking bite-sized pieces of work, and of food, is just the way to go for a more productive you.

6: Give yourself grace

This is the biggest one of all. I have extremely high expectations for myself, and it’s bitten me in the butt in the form of emotional sabotage waaaay too many times. Look at you, you’re basically working two jobs! That’s excellent! You did your dishes this week? CONGRATS. Learn to give yourself the opportunity to mess up, and learn in the process. Smile and solve when something does go wrong. The freaking out wont help the matter. I realize this is all simpler said than done, but it’s something I try and remember when I feel like I’m just going about life all wrong.


And that’s that! For those of you who are working full time and freelancing, do you have anything else to add? This is certainly a work in progress, and I know we’re all just trying to figure it out one day at a time. Hope this helps full time workers, freelancers, and anyone just trying to manage their work load.

PS: you’ve got this!


Leave a Reply

  1. Angel Y.

    August 28th, 2014 at 10:33 AM

    Even though I’m not working full time as well anymore, I totally needed #6! Working full time and designing was hard to me and I didn’t specialize at all. I was taking any and all projects just to get out of my full time job. You’re definitely approaching things with a better mindset! :)

  2. Kelsey

    August 28th, 2014 at 8:06 PM

    @ Angel — Oh good! I was hoping that while I’m in this particular situation, that it would still help out those who weren’t in the same boat exactly.

  3. Loretta

    August 28th, 2014 at 10:34 AM

    Lady, you’re speakin my language. This past 5 months has been a tough transition for me too, going from full time contractor to full time employee with a salary that never fluctuates, no extra income from overtime etc. As soon as I moved back to san francisco, I had two very large freelance projects waiting for me and I was crazy thinking i could handle them both at once.

    It’s been tough mostly on my boyfriend, who has felt neglect sometimes at night and on weekends. But he understands we need the extra money that comes from freelancing. My salary pays the bills and rent just BARELY. If we want to enjoy weekends going out, taking zero places, then we have to make more money. Period.

    So I feel your pain. I too have done some soul searching and realized that I want to spend more time on branding/brand strategy/ marketing strategy than larger web projects like full website redesigns for established websites with hundreds of pages. (what was i thinking!?)

    We all have to learn in our own way. So glad you wrote this though. Thanks for your insights!

  4. Kelsey

    August 28th, 2014 at 8:08 PM

    @ Loretta — That is so good that you have a supportive boyfriend! I’m glad mine is as well :) We both have our certain things going on outside of work, and we’re sure to communicate about our needs and schedules so that we can be together as much as possible while still getting our personal stuff in. So glad that you’ve been able to specialize a little more and find out what lights your fire! That’s amazing!

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  6. Jacquelyn | lark & linen

    August 28th, 2014 at 12:57 PM

    I love this! Thank you so much for sharing. For a type-a to-do-list-maker like myself the smaller bites thing is something I feel could TOTALLy work for me (and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself!)

  7. Kelsey

    August 28th, 2014 at 8:08 PM

    @ Jacquelyn — Hah! So glad :) I know, when I heard that at the workshop it was such an ah-ha moment! Hope it helps you :)

  8. Katie

    August 28th, 2014 at 4:14 PM

    You writing about this couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for me! I just recently took on the biggest freelance project I’ve ever had that’s gotta get done after my normal 9-5 design job.

    I’m hoping that this experience goes well and gives me the confidence I need to persue more projects of a similar scale but I love what you said about taking on smaller jobs and saying “No” to say “Yes”. This job isn’t particularly up my alley, but the budget is great so I think that’s another good reason to say yes sometimes.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

  9. Kelsey

    August 28th, 2014 at 8:10 PM

    @ Katie — Awesome! :) Congrats on the big job! I think it’s great to take on different things that might be outside of your norm for sure. That’s how you learn what’s right for YOU! Good luck on this adventure :)

  10. Amanda

    September 4th, 2014 at 3:46 PM

    I started my new full time job a few months ago after freelancing full time for about 2 years. When I got this job I told myself my freelancing days were over! I just wanted to be a normal person who could come home and enjoy my evenings… well, of course that’s not happening. Word of mouth from past happy clients is wonderful, and I am grateful for the extra cash, but sometimes I am just so tired! I think these tips are so spot on… especially the one about saying NO and only saying YES to projects that get you excited. I’m also finding that short and sweet, simple projects actually are a great creative outlet from the 9-5 daily grind. I guess it’s all about balance and figuring out what works for you. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  11. Courtney Shelton

    September 17th, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    These are great!!! I could not agree more with them too!

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  15. Ariana Nicole

    January 12th, 2016 at 9:51 AM

    These are some great tips for finding a balance between working full time and freelancing. When I first started working full time, I found myself really overwhelmed with all the things I had to get done and I was sacrificing almost all of my weekends. I knew something had to change if I planned to keep my design business going so I did something similar to your advice in number 6, taking smaller bites. I looked at what I wanted to accomplish with my business long term, then broke that down into smaller tasks – first monthly, then weekly, daily and eventually I had a set (and manageable) to-do list for each day. Looking at the bigger picture, sometimes it can seem impossible to finish everything that needs to be done. But I agree with you, small chunks are definitely the way to go and much less overwhelming. Thanks for sharing!