Don't Lose Your Day Job When Freelancing On the Side

Women having an argument at work
Women having an argument at work

By: Robin Tran

More money. More contacts. More skills. More personal fulfillment. Side jobs have a lot going for them. But whether or not you can pursue or be open about any after-business-hours endeavors depends on your main employer's policies. If you're considering freelancing on the side, read this before you do anything.

First things first. Very important: Do not use company time or resources to complete your side work. Besides looking unprofessional, you also run the risk of violating any agreements you may have signed that give your company ownership of all work created on its computers. That's a legal traffic jam waiting to happen.

Next, know that all of the individuals in this article requested anonymity, a sign that this is sensitive territory. If and when you make your own arrangements to engage in side work, proceed accordingly.

Finally, maybe you're considering the circumstances in which you'd like to opt into side work later. Perhaps a future employer wants to pay you below market rate, but you want the job anyway: Consider negotiating for the ability to freelance openly in order to make up the difference in income.

HR perspective

Remember, company policy varies, and it's up to you to know the rules. One HR manager at a major U.S. car manufacturer describes her organization's policy:

-It's OK to freelance on the side as long as there's no conflict of interest, interference with daytime job tasks and schedules, or competition with the company's business.

-It's not OK to freelance with a competitor, and employees who anticipate a conflict of interest should speak with HR.

-The company would intervene with an employee's side work in certain cases; for example, if an employee maintained a website in which they spoke as a representative of the company.

Worker perspectives

The senior editor at a major gaming company, who has been freelancing on the side for several years with her manager's approval, describes her experience as generally positive.

You don't want to give [your main job] the impression that you're not putting all your work into your job, but it's better to be 100 percent transparent... I just told [my supervisor], 'I'd like to do these side projects and I wanted to make sure there were no issues,' and all he said was, 'Yeah, that's fine.' My supervisor has never had a problem with any of the projects I've done.

If I freelance for a project that is in the same industry -- so, let's say, if I work on a project within the gaming industry -- I have to let my manager know in case there's a conflict of interest... [if not], there's no reason to. It's just unneeded extra effort.

She says that as yet, she hasn't had any such conflict of interest.

A writer in the entertainment industry took a much more under-the-radar approach to her side work. She comments:

I once worked at a company with the policy that all side work had to be cleared with the organization. I took on multiple side jobs while I was with this company without a word to my managers because a) this place was a red tape factory and I couldn't afford, financially or patience-wise, to wait while they considered it; b) even though my title at both my day job and my side jobs was similar, the side work was in different industries and on topics that were not even close to this company's focus, so I figured if it ever came to light, I'd be fine. And of course, I never, ever did my freelance work at my main job. Not on the clock, not on my breaks, and not on their computers.

She found the approach worth it, saying, "The creative freedom, ownership, and sense of responsibility I found in those side jobs -- where it was just me, my client, and a blank page -- gave me a great feeling of accomplishment that lifted my performance in my day job too."

This was originally published on Savvy.

Robin Tran is a stand-up comedian and blogger. She regularly performs at the Brea Improv, Irvine Improv, Comedy Palace, and Mad House Comedy Club, and she writes for xoJane and LOVE TV.