Freelancing in different fields
January 13, 2008 8:36 AM   Subscribe

Tell me about people who freelance in different fields simultaneously, in order to increase their income, based on skills, talents, hobbies etc. Personal stories preferred.

I'm trying to figure out if this kind of 'career' is for me, in the long run. that is, being self-employed, entrepreneurial, having more control over what I do, maybe starting my own business empire :)

I would list my talents as programming, writing and good appreciation of science and engineering issues from a bachelor and masters degree in Engineering.

A PhD is in the plans, and if I choose to do it full time I would need a side job with flexible hours.

So, fire away, let me know how you renaissance freelancers get by!
posted by spacefire to Work & Money (5 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Grant writing, events management, volunteer management, and figure skating instruction here. I've also done a little drawing instruction. I have an "anchor" job as the development manager for a local not-for-profit arts organization, 3/4 time, that includes health benefits.

Quitting the full time high pressure downtown job was the smartest thing I ever did. The savings in clothes, lunches and transportation, not to mention ulcers, anxiety, and commuting time more than makes up for the 50% or so pay cut.

Hardest part was developing a client list, and they still really come and go. But I recently dropped all of my private students for a year; when I started up again in only took about 6 weeks to fill up all available slots. This year I'm dropping the freelance grant writing at least for 6 months in order to try to bring the drawing back into the mix somehow.

The main thing is that it takes a financial plan and the strong support of your partner, if you've got one. Search my AskMe comments for lots of stories about this, as it comes up fairly often here.
posted by nax at 9:00 AM on January 13, 2008

I haven't had a 9-5 job since before I went to library school in the mid-90's. I'm not quite bragging since I basically just can't get up early and/or get along with other people enough to swing something like that. Sometimes I think I'd like to try, most of the time I don't think that. Right now MeFi is sort of my "full time" job but it's not any set of hours and I don't punch a time clock. The other things I do for money include public speaking, teaching technology adult ed classes, working for a local high school staffing a computer drop-in lab, doing web design for libraries and library bloggers, doing in-house computer fix-it stuff, writing a bi-monthly technology column for a trade magazine and occasional freelance research. In fact, my problem has more to do with having too much work than having too little.On the other hand I have very modest income requirements and am currently caretaking a house which means my rent costs are zero.

Things that are important to know how to do include record-keeping and dealing with taxes, being an okay self-promoter, pricing your skills accordingly (my one huge rule of thumb here is do NOT have a "friend" rate for anything. Either do work for free and make it obviously a favor you are doing, or charge what you think you are worth), managing your time so it doesn't take over your life, and sort of keeping yourself "in the game" whatever that means for your particular situation.
posted by jessamyn at 9:11 AM on January 13, 2008

The key for me has always been having one big paying freelance activity with reliable clients, and filling in the gaps (or not!) with one or two other kinds of work. Currently, I work as a software consultant for one company, usually on projects that range from two or three weeks to two or three months duration. During those contracts I pretty much give myself entirely to the client, working around 30-35 hours per week.

In addition, on weekends and during the breaks in between software contracts I do a variety of other kinds of work. I have two long term students, one for simple tutoring and the other is a mentorship relationship. I am paid for both of these. There are also other various offerings including card readings, personality profiles (enneagram), and others. These other offerings are very casual and mostly unadvertised, and there can sometimes be periods of months during which nothing happens in those areas.

Find one thing that you can do, enjoy doing, and that pays pretty well, so that you can afford to take breaks during which you can do some other stuff. In my case, the variety and the fact that I don't have to do the heavy, brain-based software consulting all the time, makes all the offerings much more fun.

Of course, the more you can cut down on your living expenses, the easier this is to do. I rent a big apartment and sublet several bedrooms. I am debt-free and live very lightly, so I can afford to take long breaks and even goof off for a few months if i choose.

Good luck! In my experience, it can be hard to set yourself up as a "renaissance person" but once you get it figured out it can be a great way to live.
posted by metabeing at 10:04 AM on January 13, 2008

I have a freelance career in television, and a part-time job teaching television stuff at a college. I have a few related skills that I can fall back on if times are tough- working with kids & teens, coaching actors, teaching music lessons, event hosting, theatre work as an actor, director, or writer, selling stuff online (occasionally I'll salvage & re-sell a sweet thrift-store find to fast-track an immediate financial goal, like a trip or something), and it looks like writing (scripts, and some paid blogging) will be added to the roster this year.

Most of my work is related to my education (in performance), but I have pretty different functions at various gigs- director, writer, producer, on-camera talent, teacher, etc- so I thought my experience might be relevant to your question. I make OK money, and I live pretty cheap and am a good money-saver, so it works for me.

I like that my jack-of-all trades career is varied, involves lots of different people and time-slots (as I'm prone to get office fatigue), and I love that I get to use different strengths in different situations, so no aspect of my skillset goes unused for long. Plus I sleep in all the time and stay up late, which suits my circadian rhythm. The challenges include having somewhat unpredictable finances, self-motivated hours, and most of all, a lack of imposed structure. I find myself procrastinating more than I should, which didn't happen when I had a more steady job with deadlines and project managers. Plus, it's kind of a pain in the ass to answer "what do you do for a living?" at parties- it takes a paragraph. All in all, it works OK for me- although this year I've decided to tackle the structure problem by adding some more steadily-scheduled work to my life, which I might even do by temping, if only to get myself out of bed before 11 a few times a week!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:15 PM on January 13, 2008

Here is how it came together for me:

I grew up in a fairly blue-collar environment where (if nothing else) the major thing I learned was the value of hard work. Additionally, it was near poverty line, so "resourcefulness" was also drilled into me quite hard. I was also told on many occasions, something along the lines of "if you ever want to escape this, and not live your life paycheck to paycheck, you better apply your brain. " (most of these years were Farming/Ranching)

Upon entering high school, I forgot some of those lessons and just wanted to be a typical teen playing video games and lounging around, but the work-ethic thing constantly was a voice in the back of my head, and my mom needed help paying the bills so halfway through high school I got a restaurant job. Worked my way from dishwasher through every position up to Manager.

In high school I caught the computer bug (metaphorically speaking :P.... and thats what I've been doing ever since (Support, IT Admin, Network engineer) Unfortunately I'm still living paycheck to paycheck, but that has more to do with my own failings at money management than anything else.

Currently, I have (roughly) 4 jobs/gigs/whatever: 1) full time night job monitoring a local ISP's datacenter, 2.) my own Helpdesk computer consulting, 3.) freelancing for a friend who runs his own computer consulting gig, and 4.) writing trivia questions and scorekeeping trivia games for a local entertainment company.

The main benefit I think there is to freelancing and multiple jobs is having multiple sources of income. Sure, I'm not getting rich (but would be if I wasnt in credit card debt) --- but the great thing is there is alot less stress. With 1 job, if you lose it, you are screwed. With 4 jobs, if you lose 1, then no biggie, you gotta start looking for a replacement while the other 3 gigs continue to pay your bills. I spent a little bit of time every day looking for new opportunities. Whether thats updating my profiles on job boards, or checking craigslist, or keeping in contact with friends,etc just in case anyone needs anything. You cant be shy about promoting yourself, but at the same time you want to be approachable and "real" (not a pushy telemarkter/car-salesman type approach).
posted by jmnugent at 3:23 PM on January 13, 2008

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