If you have a full-time job you love (or feel like you can’t leave), the thought of freelance might seem irrelevant to you.
On the other hand, if you’ve always been intrigued by freelancing but are skeptical it could work for you as your sole source of income, then read on. You’ll find some useful tidbits here, and my upcoming guide on how to get started moonlighting will be especially useful. Subscribe below to make sure you don’t miss it.
In this article, I’m going to lay out eight reasons I think most people should give freelancing a try. While I’d be the first to say freelance isn’t for everyone, especially as your only source of income, I think most people could benefit from dipping their toe into the water by moonlighting or doing consulting on the side.
So here are the benefits freelancing on the side (moonlighting) can give you:
1. Put your income on a dial
As a salaried employee, you have the advantage of knowing with a high degree of certainty what your income will be next month (unless you get fired). This is good for a lot of reasons.
But on the flip-side, you also know you probably can’t get your job to pay you an extra 20% next month for an unexpected expense. You get what you get.
By contrast, one of the worst things about freelance is also one of the best things: your income isn’t fixed. How much you make is a direct reflection of how much work you put in. If you want to make more one month, you can hustle more.
Moonlighting with some freelance or consulting work on the side lets you get the best of both worlds. You have the luxury of a steady income, but you can also hustle extra if you need to pay for a car repair, extra vacation, wedding, etc.
2. Boost your BATNA
Want a raise? Want to be responsible for that next big project, work from home, travel less, etc?
I’m not saying you should go into your boss’s office and start giving ultimatums. However, if you want to work from home or you deserve a raise, why aren’t you pushing hard for those things already? If you’re like most people, it’s probably because you feel you don’t have enough leverage and you fear the downside of being too pushy.
The best way to get what you want is twofold: 1) show how it’ll be better for the other party, and 2) be willing to walk away if you can’t come to an agreement.
In negotiating, there’s this concept called BATNA, which stands for “Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement”. Basically, your BATNA is what you’ll get if you can’t work out something with the other party and walk away.
Without a good BATNA, you have to get all angry and forceful:
Generally not a good look, especially when your boss responds by firing you.
So one of the best things you can do to increase your bargaining power is improve your BATNA. This gives a strong psychological edge to calmly hold out for what you really want, because you have little to lose by walking away.
If you can build your freelance moonlighting income up to the point where it’s 20-30% of your salary (which might be easier than you think) AND you can easily see that you can scale it up if you need to, you have a powerful BATNA to leverage when asking your boss how you can setup a working arrangement that’s mutually beneficial and exactly what you want.
Or you can just walk away:
Btw, this is effectively why I left my job back in 2007 (you know, right before this happened). I was freelancing on the side and could easily see I could earn more doing it full-time than my job was willing to pay me, so I just quit.
3. Never go to zero
This is similar to the point above, but more about the freedom freelance moonlighting gives you if you’re in a really toxic work situation, or if you get fired or laid off.
Seeing your income drop from normal to $0 in a single day is scary. Really scary.
Having some freelance work to fall back on gives you three huge advantages if you lose your job.
First, you’ll have some income so you don’t fall all the way to zero. Again, you should be able to pretty easily get 20-30% of your salary by moonlighting 5-10 hours per week.
Second, you’ll have a framework and momentum to quickly scale up your client income from 20-30% to 100% (or even 150 or 200%) of your monthly income requirements. You won’t be starting from scratch and scrambling to get started, which might take weeks or months from a dead stop.
Third, you’ll immediately move out of the desperate category as you look for a new job. Imagine this: instead of needing to find something within a few weeks, you can scale up your consulting work, ratchet down your expenses a bit, and then be in a position where you’re completely fine to wait a year to find the perfect job. Think of how much power and strength this gives you when you’re out looking for a job.
4. Be a diva
One of the toughest things that people who are new to full-time freelance go through is the feeling that you can’t turn down any work, because some money is better than no money. That’s not a good mindset to have as a freelancer, but it’s understandable.
However, if you already have a monthly salary and freelance income is just extra money, you have the luxury of being able to easily say no to any client or project you don’t like.
You can set whatever terms you like, because if they don’t like it and you don’t get the job, you’ll be completely fine.
Basically, this is the inverse of the items above, where freelance gives you a better BATNA with your job. Here, your job gives you a better BATNA with potential clients.
Side benefit: if you do eventually go freelance full-time, the experience and connections you’ll have because you started by moonlighting with this mindset will go a long way to ensuring you don’t take crappy freelance projects out of desperation. You’ll have primed the pump of a great freelance career.
5. Level up
Working for yourself changes the way you think and expands your skill set in at least three different ways.
First, working for yourself over time will increase your productivity. You’ll quickly find that the fully unstructured, unsupervised workplace of self-employment is hard. And especially if you’re doing this on the side where it competes with family time, leisure activities, etc, you’ll need to be proactive about how you manage your time and your work to get things done.
Second, a big part of being a successful freelancer or consultant is finding great clients, closing the sale and then keeping them. This encompasses a lot of really valuable skills, like positioning yourself, marketing, pricing, persuasion, negotiation, and more. No matter who you are and what you do, these skills are valuable to have. Whether you’re running a business, cutting people’s hair for a living, buying a house, trying to get someone to stop using drugs, or writing the great American novel, understanding how to package and sell yourself and your ideas is a critical set of skills.
Third, it gives you the freedom to explore your technical skills in new ways. By technical skills, I mean the hard skills you need to do your particular job. So if you’re a print designer in your day job, freelance gives you the freedom to try your hand at web design, or mobile user experience design, or even just another facet of print design. This can expand your overall value, and give you excellent insights into how you can perform better in your full-time job or for other freelance clients.
All of these skills will be hugely beneficial in every area of your life, including your full-time job.
6. Thrive in the future
We’ve all read the stories of how loyalty between employers and employees is dead, how people will have multiple careers during their working years, etc.
The future of work is increasingly one of multiple, overlapping, temporary projects. Call the freelance economy, the gig economy, a dystopian hellscape, whatever you want. The point is it’s coming for all of us and none of us can stop it.
Btw, I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all, and I’m not alone: 78% of moonlighters in the U.S. report feeling happy and optimistic, higher than the average worker (lots of great info about that stat and more here).
If you have a stable job, you may not have been affected by these trends yet, but instead of waiting for them to smack you in the face and put your financial future at risk so you have to scramble to catch up, why not get ahead of them?
Better yet, why not learn how to thrive in this new world?
Which brings me to my next point:
7. Do more to happen to life…
…instead of life happening to you.
It’s my belief that one of the most important life skills you can have is the practice of being proactive, of seeing the world as a malleable set of possibilities and opportunities, and taking action to craft the ideal path for the lifestyle you want to have.
Working for yourself will make you more proactive. You’ll ask yourself more questions about how you spend your time, what meaning you want your work to have, what kind of lifestyle you desire, and how you relate to those around you. It won’t happen overnight, but it’ll start shifting your mindset in that direction.
Happen to life, don’t let life happen to you.
8. Be open to surprises
I really didn’t expect to still be freelancing now.
I quit my last job and started working for myself full-time in 2007. My thought at the time was that I was just going to do freelance for awhile, until I built a startup of my own.
Well, the startup fizzled, but freelance has just gotten better and better. Along the way, I found out I really like working for myself. I like doing sales and marketing. I like working with a constantly shifting set of clients and projects, being able to set my own terms and chart my own course.
And I love being solo. I love the freedom of earning a high income in an infinitely flexible career where I don’t have to worry about adding employees and spending all my time managing.
…and that’s why you should try freelance moonlighting!
So for all these reasons, if you haven’t ever tried freelancing or consulting, I think you should dip your toe in. You might find your life taking a totally new direction you never expected.
If you have tried it and it didn’t go well, email me and tell me why. I think and write a lot about how to be successful with freelance and I’d love to help if I can.
I’m writing a guide on how to get started with moonlighting if you’re a full-time employee. You can get the guide when it’s realized and other posts on freelancing & consulting by subscribing below: