3 Ways I doubled my freelance profits while still working a full-time job

If you’re like me, you love to freelance but rely on a separate full-time job for the majority of your income.

I’ve been working as an in-house designer for the past several years to pay the bills. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it, but freelancing continues to challenge and inspire me in ways my full-time jobs never could.

So I think it’s fair to say I won’t be stopping any time soon. In fact, I’ve been steadily building my business until I feel confident enough to take the coveted freelance leap into full-time.

Let’s just say… so far, so good.

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I’ve been able to consistently double my profits year-over-year by following these principles.

1) Secure repeat business

Hunting for new clients whether on freelancing websites or elsewhere can be very time consuming, and in some cases, expensive. This is why securing long-term relationships and repeat business from your existing clients is the most important key to successfully freelancing — especially when you already have a full-time job.

Forming this type of relationship with a client is surprisingly easy. Methods include:

What’s more, your long-term clients will happily make it easy for you to gain new ones through referrals.

It’s been over 3 years since I’ve had to “hustle” for freelance work, thanks to repeat business. This, above all else, allows me to dedicate my time to creating awesome work.

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In the end, that’s what it’s all about, am I right?

2) Keep expenses to a minimum

Whether you freelance part-time or full-time, a healthy profit margin is essential to being successful. It won’t matter how many clients you have if your expenses outweigh your revenue.

It can be tempting to purchase attractive products and services to make your freelance career a bit easier, such as Basecamp or a stock photo subscription.

But be careful! These can eat your profits faster than you think, especially as a part-timer.

I encourage you to seek out free alternatives whenever possible. I use Google Drive to track finances, project statuses, and share or transfer important files.

The same idea applies to graphic design assets, and believe me, there’s no shortage of free stuff out there. One example would be Unsplash, where you can download fully licensed high-quality photos for — you guessed it — free.

Tip: If you do need to purchase something for a specific project, be sure to build it into the cost on your final invoice. And always keep track of your purchases so you can write them off on your taxes.

3) Know your limits & plan accordingly

I’ll be the first to admit, I have a hard time turning down freelance work, especially from new (eligible) clients. But taking on too much work — or work from the wrong type of client — can be dangerous to your full-time career, as well as your health and well-being.

Knowing your limits is key to maintaining a healthy work/life balance and avoiding burnout, unhappy clients, or worse.

Avoid doing freelance work for a business within the same industry as your full-time employer, especially if this business is a direct competitor. This will be seen as a conflict of interest and could get you fired. Also, make sure your freelance clients understand that you are, for the most part, hands-off during normal business hours.

Plan ahead to manage your freelance workload and avoid taking on too much outside of your full-time job . Always make lists, and schedule what freelance projects you’ll work on, and when.

Finally, don’t forget to consistently make time for whatever contributes to your sense of well-being… whether that be exercise, Netflix, or good beer with good company (all of the above works great for me).

What about you?

Are you building a freelance career while managing a full-time job? Tell me about your challenges and successes by leaving a comment!

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  1. Freelancing as a side hustle is a great solution for any finance related problems. What’s even better, if you’re bored with your job or you find it too stale, you can always bring a dash of fresh air with freelancing, without the need to quit in the first place.

  2. Good advice. I currently work remotely as a full-time Sr. Designer, and I too enjoy freelancing on the side. I love illustration the most and do a little at my full-time job but mostly technical stuff so getting those gems of illustration opportunities are fun and rewarding, while others can be more challenging, pushing me to learn more in order to achieve the desired results. Thus making a better artist and designer out of me.

    Plus, you never know when one of your freelancing jobs might turn into an opportunity for a higher-paying full-time position. Another reason to go the extra mile.

    It’s so hard to say “no” though, especially when I really want the money, or when a friend asks for a “favor”… my soft spot.

  3. Great read, Steve.

    My addition to the conversation likely fits into #3 and that is to steer clear of the type of work you are tired of.

    For me, it’s presentation graphics for a lot of reasons. Even with a delightful client who pays a competitive rate, I find myself procrastinating.

    It is okay to say No every so often, and if you can refer someone it is easier on the client.

    Keep up the good work at Millo Steve.

    1. Hi Tim, glad you enjoyed the article!

      I know exactly what you mean about getting tired of specific types of work. In those cases, I usually refer someone or outsource the work as well. If you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing, it simply feels like busy work with no payoff. Couldn’t agree more with your assessment.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Great article! I pulled the plug a little over a month ago. Going great so far! By quitting my full-time job I realize how much more time I have to build on what I started! I no longer dreeeeeead Monday!

    1. Hi Austen, so glad you liked the article! More importantly, congratulations on jumping into your freelance career full-time!! Mondays much be much sweeter now, haha. I’m curious what was the defining moment that made you take the leap? Thanks for reading!

      1. Thanks Steve!
        I waited and pondered on it for a long time. It got to where it consumed me at work and after work. I knew if I didn’t give it a go I was going to spiral downward at my day job. I was out about three weeks to a month with workflow and knew it was time.

        Also I was trying to rebuild my website and had no time to work on it! That is a big issue with working full-time and freelancing. You don’t have much time to build your own brand while trying to keep your good clients happy!

  5. Great article! It’s nice to hear a sorry that I can engage with. I am an in-house designer, and have been for 13yrs. I have started to freelance aswell as working full time. I am loving it. The freelance gives me the creative freedom I have missed so much. I totally agree with everything in your article, it’s areal balancing act. Great stuff!

    1. Hi Jonathan, I’m glad you were able to connect so well with this article! I couldn’t agree more with you about freelancing. Not only does it provide more creative freedom, but I think it creates more variety and always renews my passion for design, especially when the day job gets me down. Thanks for reading!

  6. Love this article and it’s very true that repeating work from clients is the best. I have provided so much value and great customer service for my clients that they actually come up with new work because they want to continue working with me. I don’t even suggest more project, they bring them up by themselves! It feels really good! 🙂

    1. Hi Julieta, I totally agree! Long-term clients are awesome–it’s great when people realize the value in the services you offer. Sounds like your clients truly appreciate you if they’re creating new projects based on your talents. I hope you continue to be successful. When you get a chance, I’d love to see some of your work!

  7. Hi Steve

    Interesting article which I can totally relate to. I am currently working part time in retail, which is a total bore! Although it does give me plenty of time to think about ongoing projects and my business. Just looking forward to the day when I can finally leave and concentrate on my full time business as a web designer.

    Thanks for the article!

    1. Hi Gary, thanks for commenting! I’m happy to hear that you’re able to make time to explore your freelance career. I’m sure your freelance work helps break up the monotony of the day-today grind at your part-time job.

      Sounds like you and I are both looking forward to the day we can go off on our own. When you have a chance, send me a link to your website, I’d love to see your work, and hear about any challenges you might be facing!

  8. Very nice article! I’ve encountered these same obstacles over the years. On a side note, your use of reference links to other articles is greatly resourceful! I didn’t get have way down the page before I was opening up 3 other browser tabs. Haha

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi James, thanks for your comment! I definitely wanted to make sure I backed my principles with specific methods and examples. I’m glad you found the article (and links) so helpful, haha.

  9. Some of it is really good advice, but free photos? Don’t we want photographers to be well paid for their work? I wouldn’t advocate such use of free photos because I want to pay photographers for their skills and talent. Same as Graphic Designers deserve to be well paid. I would only really use free photos if really necessary, but it is still a good article.

    1. Holly,
      I agree that photographers should get paid for the work they ask to get paid for. On sites like unsplash, however, the photographers release their photos for free usage without attribution. There are a few sites like that out there. We would never EVER advocate using photos that are copyrighted without paying the photographer.
      Thanks for commenting!

    2. Hi Holly, thanks for your comments. I certainly agree that photographers should be payed for their work, just as designers are. I think photographers who upload to sites like Unsplash understand that they are essentially donating their work, and that their generosity creates opportunities for designers like us to cut costs.

      I’ve witnessed similar generosity from designers and developers alike in the form of free design files and code plugins. That said, I would never suggest that anyone should use licensed content (whether a photograph or otherwise) without paying for it.

      I’m glad you liked the article overall!

  10. Great article Steve! At my company Twin, we have recently made similar guidelines for ourselves. For years we had taken on projects that were a bit out of our wheelhouse, but within the “graphic design” realm, but quickly learned to focus on our strengths. Our strengths happen to be Squarespace websites and branding. Not advertising, not illustration, not animated videos, not email marketing. We were saying “yes” way too often and it was setting us back.

    We’ve also learned the importance of repeat customers, over the past 5 years of being a business. There is an excitement with a prospective client or project, and it’s easy to crave that excitement over working with repeat clients. We make a point to find clients we would want to work with time and time again. These parameters help us find the most fitting work, making us a more effect and lot happier.

    1. Hi Justin,

      Thanks for your comments! I’m glad you like the article. I know too well what it’s like to accept work from everyone who comes your way, and I completely understand where you’re coming from.

      You’re so right, it can be exciting working with new clients, but the ones who keep coming back are the ones that really count. I’m really glad to hear that your business has found the “secret sauce” that’s contributed to your success. When you have a chance, send me a link to your website–I’d love to check it out!

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