Secrets of a Successful “Moonlighter”

If this article in the Wall Street Journal is any indication, there are more white-collar “moonlighters” – people who have a second job or freelance on the side – now than ever.

But, that shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who’s lived through the past two years. During the Great Recession, employees have learned the hard way that they’re expendable. Long gone are the days where you’d stay at a company for decades, slowly (or quickly) moving up the corporate ladder until you retire with a fat pension. Nowadays, people are lucky to be at a job for three years. Employers have learned that they can treat their employees like day laborers, forcing them to accept furlough days, cuts in pay and benefits and basically stripping them of any job security they thought they had. And those are the lucky ones who haven’t just been laid off.

So, is it any wonder that even salaried employees are worried about “putting all their eggs in one basket”? Frankly, if we’ve learned anything it’s that the only person you can count on is yourself. And, the best way to protect yourself in a recession is to develop more than one income stream.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned in my career as a “moonlighter”:

1. Two Clients Are Always Better Than One: The market is topsy turvy, but no matter how the economy is going, someone’s always making money. By constantly looking out for new clients, you give yourself a little insurance in case one goes bust.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for What You’re Worth: Always think about your “hourly rate.” A $500 project isn’t a great deal if it takes you 100 hours to complete.

3. Plan Your Time Well: It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Especially when you have to juggle a 9-to-5 job with a few freelance clients… It’s amazing how everyone seems to want everything on the same day. That’s why it’s so important to stay ahead fo deadlines. Be aware of how long something really takes and what prep you need to do ahead of time. Easier said than done, but a little planning always goes a long way… and helps you sleep a little better at night.

4. Clarify – In Writing, If You Can: There’s nothing worse than spending a week on a freelance project, delivering it to your client, only to find out that you missed the mark. That’s why it’s best to be sure exactly what your client is expecting. Write up what you perceive the scope and parameters of the project are and send the document to your client for their approval before you do anything. It will save you many headaches down the line, especially if you have proof that your client did change their mind without telling you (yes, it happens).

5. Think About Other Things Your Clients Might Need: The best way to get more business? Ask for it. But it’s one thing to send your client’s an email asking if they have work for you, and another to suggest services you think they might actually be interested in. If you notice a client’s website needs revamping or if you think of a product that might be a perfect accompaniment to one you just delivered – mention it. If they agree, more work for you! But, even if they say no, it shows them that you’re vested in their business and eager to help. It will be noticed.