When you’re a designer, you’re easily roped into the odd bit of work here and there. An invite for a friend’s wedding, a poster for your brother’s gig, a logo for your uncle’s plumbing business… everybody needs something. (Preferably for a cheap price. Like free.) But what do you do when word spreads to friends and friends of friends, and you end up working more hours than you’d like? 


There are lots of benefits and pitfalls to doing a bit of freelance work on the side of your full time job. The extra money is fantastic, and if you’re in a creative industry it might give you opportunities to get some new, and different, material for your portfolio. You gain extra contacts, learn new skills, and it’s a great way to lay the path to becoming a fully-fledged freelancer.

On the flip side – dudes, there’s always a flip side – your free time becomes pretty non-existant. After a hard day at work, you might want to just head home, whack on the pyjamas and dribble your way through six episodes of Gossip Girl. (Chuck Bass, anyone? No?) But if you’ve got a client waiting on something, you have to suck it up and get on with it – even if it means working into the night. Which then brings up problems when you can’t wake up in the morning. And then, once you’ve made your deadline, snored through your day job and made it home again, there’s your tax return. What, you didn’t think you got to keep all of that money, did you? Oh no. Savings accounts and 20% just became your new best friend.

Having successfully (just about) navigated my way through 3 years of freelancing-while-working, here are my tips for riding those tough waves:

Register as self employed

As much of a hassle as your yearly tax return might be, it’s much less of a hassle than getting found out by the taxman. If you can afford it, it’s worth using the services of a bookkeeper, or some business management software like Solo, as it’ll make everything much easier once tax return time rolls around. They can also offer advice on the best way to pay your taxes. One way is to keep 20% of any money you earn from freelance work to one side, and that way you might have a little bonus come tax-time if your business expenses offset some tax. You can get all kinds of tax advice on the HMRC website

Check your contract

Many employers have a clause in their employees’ contracts that forbid them from doing extra work without written permission, as it can a) interfere with various laws regarding working hours and get them in trouble and b) leave you potentially unable to do your actual job. Definitely worth checking your contract before you go ahead with anything.

Learn to say no

As tempting as it might be to say yes to everything to get more cash, something’s gotta give somewhere. Far better to politely refuse work than to spend countless all-nighters to get things finished, or just not deliver what you said you would. A simple “thank you for your enquiry and for considering me – unfortunately I don’t have the capacity to take this project on, but I’d love to work with you in the future” should keep doors open for you, and you could even recommend another designer to them in the short term.

To take the plunge or not to take the plunge?

Only take on work if it’s worth it

If the project is neither bringing in a nice lump of cash or something great for your portfolio, it’s not worth the very precious downtime you’ll be giving up in order to do it. Learn to draw the line.

Protect your work/life balance

Try not to schedule something for every night, and give yourself a realistic amount of time to get things finished so that if you have a tough day at work, you can come home and relax. Every now and then, clear your schedule for a week or two and give yourself a proper break – if you need to do something you could spend the time working on a project for yourself, updating your website or getting some paperwork out of the way.


If you have space, a dedicated workspace will always be helpful. It can be difficult to stay focused on your work if you’re sitting on the sofa in front of the TV with your laptop. Especially if Chuck Bass is on the telly box. If you’ve a space set away from where you do your relaxing, you can stay in the ‘zone’ and get your work done more quickly, leaving you more time for envisioning your life as Mrs Westwick. 

Do you have any great tips for surviving freelance work while employed?

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