KNOW WHERE YOU STAND, IT ISN’T JUST ONE OR THE OTHER.
Maybe the toughest part about becoming a freelancer is the transition. You really want to nail it, to stick that landing. The easiest way to do this is to save. Be patient, stick with your full-time job, and save up some money, because the first couple years of freelancing probably won’t be all that financially rewarding. The more savings you have the more time and leeway you get to figure out your business plan, do some trial and error, and eventually start making real money. But many of us simply don’t have the patience. We want to begin freelancing (or stop being an employee) as fast as possible. A more common route to freelancing involves baby-stepping your way there. This could involve taking some freelance gigs while you’re still working full-time or taking a part time job or two while you build your freelancing business. These half-steps often lead to freelancing success, but just as many potential freelancers get stuck in these in-between careers. In fact, many people who think they’re freelancers are probably one of these other things.
Moonlighting is an older term that traditionally referred to people who have a steady job (a day job) and then supplement their primary income with other work that tends to be done at night, hence moonlighting. Obviously, this side-work doesn’t have to be done at night, but back in the day when everyone worked 9-5, the only time you had to work another job was at night. Moonlighting today refers to any full-time employee who has a side-job. That side-job could be done at night, on the weekends, even during a person’s regular work depending on the nature of the side-job. It could also earn that person any amount of money, even potentially more than their primary job, or in some circumstances, no money at all.
The key concept of moonlighting is that the work done while moonlighting is secondary, and inherently less important than the person’s primary full-time work. For this reason, moonlighting is very much not freelancing as the moonlighter’s income still comes from one primary source, and while their secondary work may supplement their income, it usually isn’t necessary. The choice to moonlight doesn’t come from someone’s need for monetary gain, but rather form interest. It could be that someone is interested to dip their toe into freelancing, but if they get stuck here, and never advances further toward freelancing, then they’re a person who really prioritizes stability. They may like the idea of freelancing, but at the end of the day, the lifestyle isn’t appealing enough to make the leap. They may continue to do side-jobs of some sort, maybe turning it into an active hobby.
The diversified worker is a step beyond moonlighting, and toward the line into freelancing. While this isn’t a term you would hear said out loud very often, it’s a prudent name to help explain this style of worker. Where the moonlighter desires to keep a full-time working life, the diversified worker has no such hang-up. In fact, most of the time they desire the opposite, to not be bound by traditional work. These workers have a mix of incomes, none of which is considered primary.
This certainly sounds like freelancing doesn’t it? Many full-timers perceive freelancers simply as people with more than one job. “Oh they’re just like us except they have three jobs instead of one.” Well it depends on what those jobs are. Essential to being a freelancer is that the hours and location you work are up to you. If you’re a diversified worker with three part-time restaurant jobs, you aren’t a freelancer because those jobs require you to be in a specific place at a specific time. A person might remain a diversified worker rather than becoming a freelancer because the level of freedom they have is enough. To become a freelancer they wouldn’t only need a diversity of income, but the sources of that income would regularly change. While this provides even more freedom, for some it isn’t worth the loss in stability.
A temp is something most are familiar with. People who find work through a temping or staffing agency, for a defined, usually short, period of time. But temping and the agencies that filled those positions no longer exist to solely place menial administrative workers. The industry has very much evolved over the decades, in no small part because of freelancers. As freelancers gained popularity so did the popularity of working somewhere for a short period of time. Regular job hopping is now quite common for professionals in every industry (especially among younger people). The reason it’s become so common is that it gives people more control over their career. For a long-time it would have reflected badly on you to job hop so often. This is no longer the case. Does that mean all temporary workers are freelancers? Certainly not. Plenty of people feel enough freedom simply by switching full-time jobs every 6 months or a year. That is not a freelancer, but it’s the reason people who maybe wanted to be freelancers get stuck as temporary workers. They’re perfectly fine with their level of freedom and don’t need more of it.
As the way we work becomes more open and more bespoke, many people are having to determine how much freedom and how much stability they want their work to provide. If you fall into one (or multiple) of the categories we went over here, in no way should you feel inauthentic or less than. The life of a temp or a moonlighter may provide the right balance of freedom and stability for you. But if you still desire more freedom, know that it is never too late to start freelancing. Many of you are already half way there.