To Freelance or Not Freelance?

From time to time, I’m offered an opportunity to do a bit of moonlighting. In my case, it’s freelance writing. Sometimes I accept the offer, and sometimes I don’t. Before accepting any offer, I carefully consider a few factors and discuss with my spouse. If you’re looking for side work, or being offered side work, here are some questions to ask.

Am I Qualified to Do the Job?
A potential client may not be completely familiar with your skills. Before accepting a side job or freelance project, get more details about what they expect from you, when they need it, and what the job requires. It might be something that you can do in a weekend, but it could also be something that requires you to learn new skills. If you don’t have the time to learn them, or don’t want to learn them, pass on the job.

Is the Money Worth My Time?
Ask up front how much the client is expecting to pay and how the pay will be structured. Once you know how long you have to complete the job and what sort of pay you’re looking at, figure out how long it will take you to do it. Are there any events or jobs that will require your time in the interim? How much actual time do you have available to do the job? If you don’t have enough time in your day already, then don’t do the job. If you’re stressed about fitting the extra work into your life, you and the job will suffer.

Even if you have enough time, is the money worth it? If you’ll earn just a few bucks an hour, the additional stress and exhaustion may not be worth it. That’s especially true if you work a full-time job, and would have to do the side job on top of that. On the other hand, sometimes the money is just too good to pass up. If it’s a big job that you’re fully qualified for, and have time for, then it’s probably worth giving up an hour each night and a few hours on the weekends.

Can You Afford the Taxes or Related Expenses?
Remember, any self-employment income over $400 is taxable. Is the job still worth it after you pay 5.3% of it in self-employment taxes, plus income tax on the additional income, and cover the costs for any necessary supplies? If the supplies are expensive, ask the client to pay for those separately. Don’t let them eat into your profit. If you can afford the taxes, make sure you pay estimated taxes in the quarter you earn them, or adjust your withholding to cover it. Failing to pay those state and federal can result in a penalty if you wait until tax day to pay them.

Do I Want to Do the Job?
It sounds simple, but for me this is the trickiest question of all. The allure of extra money is very tempting, but sometimes I’m just not interested in the topic. Other times I don’t want to deal with the client. Still other times I don’t want to give up my already short time. All of those are valid reasons to say no, even if the money is good. If you don’t want to do the job, you’ll just make yourself miserable in the long run.

Freelance work can be a great financial windfall, but only if you can handle the extra work. If you’re overwhelmed, just saying now is okay, too.

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