Juggling a job and freelance work
March 1, 2007 6:18 AM   Subscribe

Do my job and freelance clients all need to know about each other?

I work for a magazine, and I recently accepted an offer to be a regular monthly contributor to a website that's launching soon. I also have an offer (which I'm still considering) from a different website to write a weekly column. Neither site has anything to do with my full-time job in terms of subject matter, but the sites potentially overlap slightly in subject and audience. I'd be writing about the same topic for both sites.

What is considered proper freelance etiquette in this situation? If I accept the weekly column, do I need to let each site know that I plan to write for the other? Also, I've heard that some editorial staffers are required by their employers to disclose any freelance work. Though that isn't the case with my company, is it good form to notify them about these gigs anyway?

Experiences and advice appreciated.
posted by serialcomma to Work & Money (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a freelance writer, so it may be a bit different for that field, but in general, no.

As a freelancer, your clients would be stupid or naive to think that they were your only client. It should be assumed by your that you have many clients.

And, I wouldn't bother telling your day job unless there is some other way they might find out. Telling them you're doing work on the side might lead them to think any of the following:

you're doing your other job while on the clock
you're using company resources for your other job
you're looking to leave (and are therefore expendable)
you're not giving your 'all' to your job

Them thinking these things, even if they're not true, is bad for you.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:37 AM on March 1, 2007

Check your employee handbook carefully. Chances are there's a no-moonlighting clause. You could be in deep shit if you freelance without prior approval, to the tune of handing over your proceeds to your employer. (In Soviet Russia, employer sue you!)
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:46 AM on March 1, 2007

Make sure your freelance clients understand that you have a regular time commitment that sometimes interferes with communication. Otherwise, they might think you are blowing them off when you aren't.
posted by mrbugsentry at 7:25 AM on March 1, 2007

No need to disclose it to your real job, but don't do anything that you wouldn't want to have to defend.

Mostly, this means that you should make sure that your day job doesn't have any reason to feel like you've done freelance work while on their clock. And it would be nice if your dayjob doesn't feel like you saved the good stuff for the freelance work. Or, what misanthropicsarah said.

Accepting freelance work while employed by a magazine is very commonplace, particularly in specialized areas like local food writing. I think it's commonplace is tech-geek circles, too.
posted by desuetude at 7:29 AM on March 1, 2007

I am a former freelancer. The answer is no, but I agree with mrbugsentry that you need to be fair to all your clients and carve out specific scheduled times to dedicate to their work. I.e., telling them that you'll be available for phone calls between this and this time, etc. That way, they know when you're on the clock. You should also check if your full-time employer will allow you to work off-clock on freelance projects, although most do.

I would also work personally to make sure that what you are writing for each publisher is not so similiar that it raises flags.
posted by parmanparman at 8:10 AM on March 1, 2007

Depends on your employer. Heavily.

For instance, to protect against conflicts of interest and compliance issues with the regulatory body that my department works under, we need to disclose who we're working for. There's a blanket clause for people like me that are heavy freelancers and work for multiple clients, but we're supposed to ask about potential conflict of interest violations before we accept jobs... not asking ahead can mean losing our job.
posted by SpecialK at 8:33 AM on March 1, 2007

Mostly echoing what the others have said, but if there is nothing in writing making you disclose outside work, and if you're not involved in some kind of non-compete document, then all your various employers/clients need to know is that you have "other commitments".

It can be to your advantage to reveal to your employer that you're doing freelance work if they're cool with it. I once hand an employer who was fine with me taking an occasional client phone call and shifting my work hours around as long as it didn't interfere with my work. Though I suspect that is rare. If you know of someone else freelancing at your workplace, ask them how they handle it.
posted by Ookseer at 9:26 AM on March 1, 2007

My anecdotal experience: I was writing for a large web corp's information about my city. I was offered work by a local paper to do basically the same thing for them. I asked my editor at the web corp if that would be ok, he told me that not only would it be fine, I shouldn't have mentioned it to him in the first place (apparently he did alot of other freelance work at the time as well).
posted by drezdn at 9:43 AM on March 1, 2007

Are you asking what you have to do ethically? That's pretty simple - so long as you're not diverting work from your employer or slacking in your duties you should feel free to do what you like in your personal life.

From a practical standpoint it depends on your employer. If you're like the majority of us you're employed in an at-will situation and they can fire you because they decide you have bad taste in socks. Or because your outside writing irrationally bothers them.

I'd ask your immediate boss if there's a policy on outside writing engagements. I'd be surprised if it was an issue given how so many writers contribute to a variety of media, but you never know. If you're not worried about the possibility of them reacting badly if they find out on their own then by all means, don't say anything. But if you would choose this job over the outside opportunities then better to be told no up-front than be told "you're fired."
posted by phearlez at 10:25 AM on March 1, 2007

If you are doing your job & getting your work done at your day gig, the freelance doesn't need to be anyone's business but your own -- unless the company you are freelancing for is a direct competitor & there are confidentiality issues. And freelance clients shouldn't realistically expect to be your only source of income. Even though sometimes they do. And if they do, you can set them straight in a business-like professional way.

Best thing I ever did was to start thinking of myself as a company and that I have a serious business to run & keep afloat. People generally will show more respect to "a business," whereas they are more likely to take advantage of someone they think of as "just some freelancer who's moonlighting." Anyhow, a company doesn't need to disclose who their other clients are to anyone unless the competition issue applies.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:18 PM on March 1, 2007

I'd just tell your clients that you have a busy schedule with some regular commitments, so you're only available for calls from X to Y every day or otherwise by appointment. Get a cell phone and return calls on your lunch break or other appropriate time -- do so from outside your place of employment, so that no conflict occurs.

Your clients won't know if you're a work-from-home parent, regular employee, someone teaching courses, or just a really busy contractor. As long as you signal your availability up-front, it shouldn't matter if you have a f/t job.
posted by acoutu at 1:05 PM on March 1, 2007

I agree with acoutu. When I'm working at home & I decide I want to go to a matinee, as far as anyone knows "I'm in a 2-hour meeting." What I do when I'm not available for my client is not their concern, but when I have time to concentrate on them I try to make them feel I am giving them all I have. That is good enough.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:34 PM on March 1, 2007

Depending on your contract with the magazine, it may or may not be a problem. I've worked for magazines where they didn't care who else I wrote for, and I've worked for people who would fire you for it. It depends on your level of expertise and exclusivity, I think.

Remember that your byline is effectively a part of your/the magazine's branding, and your magazine employer may not like someone else also using it. I've had many contracts where the only stipulation was that I couldn't write for anybody else under the same name I used for that employer, for the duration of the contract.

Better to check— could you ask a co-worker rather than your boss?
posted by indienial at 6:30 PM on March 1, 2007

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