When Does Part-Time Copywriting (vs. Full-Time) Make More Sense? (Guest Post)

Thanks to Emily Suess for contributing this great guest post. While most of us probably think in terms of full-time when it comes to our commercial writing careers, there’s no doubt plenty of folks out there for whom part-time would make more sense. Enjoy!


Until recently, when people would ask me what I do, I’d have to make a serious decision. Should I define myself by my day job as an administrative assistant for a synagogue and preschool, or should I define myself by my part-time freelance career as a copywriter and editor? The day job got more of my time; the freelancing got more of my devotion.

Then a few months ago, I came home from a particularly mind-numbing eight hours at the day job. I dropped my keys and purse on the dining room table and started assaulting my boyfriend, Dan, with complaints about the woes of being an early childhood administrative assistant.

I could tell he was getting less patient with the increasing frequency of my rants, but somehow he found the grace to let me complain about the broken printer again. I had a headache, I told him. All thanks to the preschoolers listening to those insipid Miley Cyrus songs again.

On a loop. All day long.

To get to my happy place, I took a dry erase marker and wrote on the white board clinging to my freezer door, “I will be a full-time freelance writer by January 1, 2013.” And by God, I meant it. I would be free, I would be my own boss, and answering questions about my vocation would be so much easier.

Now, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. My nine-to-fiver was a pleasant gig, and I loved my coworkers. But after several years of freelancing on the side, I began to feel the itch.

So it was settled. I would begin the transition, pick up more clients, refine my services, and market myself in earnest. I’d turn my part-time hobby into a full-time, mortgage-paying career.


Just two weeks ago, I gave my notice at work. Only I wasn’t going to be my own boss after all. I accepted a corporate gig complete with cubicle and time clock.

I know, I know. But one of my freelance contacts from a local, well-established company told me about an opening they had for an editor, and the next thing I knew I was peeing in a cup for the pre-employment drug screen.

More than once I had to ask myself if I was a sellout. I decided I was not. The opening was truly serendipitous, and, most importantly, it was in my field.

Being a Part-Timer Has Its Advantages
Maybe I’m just rationalizing or maybe it’s a personality thing, but moonlighting is good for me. Here’s why:

• I can still explore topics and genres. Right or wrong, for me specializing has always been synonymous with restricting. Exploring different avenues is less threatening when you’re part-time, and the need to commit to a niche isn’t an imperative.

• I can wait for the clients to come to me. I still make the first move from time to time, but the majority of my clients find me through my website—like magic. I have to spend very little time searching for work, and that eliminates a lot of cold-calling, querying, and rejection.

• I get to be choosy. If a client relationship isn’t a great fit, I can move on to the next project without wondering if I’ll be able to buy groceries next week.

• I still love being a freelancer. Who knows? Maybe after a year of full-time freelancing I’d be burned out and dying a slow and painful creative death. Now I feel like a kid getting paid to eat candy.

Emily’s Unused “Part-Time to Full-Time” Plan
I won’t need this plan for the foreseeable future, but feel free to take my plan and tweak it for your specific needs.

1. Deliberate on potential niches, selecting one that is both marketable and suited to your education and experience.

2. Increase web visibility through more frequent guest posting and press release distribution.

3. Accept more clients, even if the projects seem boring or tedious.

4. Join professional groups and attend at least one professional conference every year for networking purposes. Hermits make poor businesswomen.

5. Hire a virtual assistant and delegate non-writing tasks to keep up with increased workflow—especially while you are still working the day job. Having someone to schedule and format guest posts, address and send direct mail packets, and compile research frees up more time to write.

Are you a part-timer or a full-timer?

If you are thinking of making the switch, what is the one thing you are most worried about?

If you have already made the switch, how did you know it was time? Was it scary?

Do you have any words of advice for those ready to go it alone?

Emily Suess is a freelance copywriter in Indianapolis and a contributor at Small Business Bonfire. On her blog, Suess’s Pieces, she is currently working her way through the series, The ABCs of Freelance Writing. Reach her at emily@emilysuess.com.

Want to be a guest blogger on The Well-Fed Writer Blog? I welcome your contribution! Check out the guidelines here.

29 replies
  1. allena
    allena says:

    First, Suess’s Pieces has got to be the cutest name for a blog, ever.

    Couple things: 1) nothing wrong with a full time editor gig and a part time freelance gig unless you start to/have to ignore other important things in life (kids, exercise, date nights, sleep) I always visualize moonlighters as DINKs with no other hobbies living in a very peaceful, well lit condo with no legos anywhere.

    2) Do NOT take on boring or tedious work as a your switchover strategy, because you will run screaming. There is plenty of writing work out there. Plenty. In just about every niche. . . Find something you LOVE.

  2. Maureen
    Maureen says:

    Everything I read about freelance writing part time is about people doing it on the side because they are trying to escape something (i.e., a full-time, meaningless job). I write part time because it works perfectly with my other gig, a stay-at-home mom. I LOVE the balance that I have. I get to keep my foot (firmly) planted in the working world while being there for my kids. I get to drop them off at school, pick them up, volunteer, go on field trips, help with homework, etc. I can’t imagine being a mom and not having this flexibility. And I can’t imagine being a mom without having my work to keep my brain sharp. The income is nice, too!

  3. Rick Middleton
    Rick Middleton says:

    While working at an ad agency, I also moonlighted as an independent writer. The schedule was a killer but I was making serious bank. I did that for about a year, then went full-time freelance for six years. I had three great years and three tough years during the recession. And now I’m back to full-time work (at a large university), and I have clients on the side. It is true that I’m picky about my assignments. The full-time gig gives me consistent income, 20 vacation days per year, paid sick days, paid holidays, great health insurance, free tuition for myself and my three kids, and a 401k. I’m more stable but also more frazzled in terms of time and life balance. Some of my clients know I’m moonlighting but some do not, so its a bit of a schizo lifestyle; for example, I haven’t listed my current job on my Facebook profile because I don’t want my freelance clients to know. It’s not for everyone but it was a good move for me.

  4. Emily Suess
    Emily Suess says:

    First of all, thanks for the huge compliment on the blog title, Allena.

    On point 1: you couldn’t have called it better. I’m a DINK, and although my life wasn’t always so peaceful? It certainly is now. I haven’t stepped on a Lego with my bare foot since I was about eight. 😉

    On point 2: I’ve taken on a couple of boring/tedious jobs even as a part-timer, and I think they build character. They also make me appreciate the great jobs a little more. I guess I’m sort of a dualist. But I do agree 100% that the majority of work your work needs to be work you love. Otherwise you risk killing your creative mind and passing on work neither you nor your client find very exciting.

  5. Michael Scully
    Michael Scully says:

    @Star — Upbeat as usual, I see.


    Do your clients know that you have a full-time job? (I would suppose the fact would be difficult to hide.) How do you manage the need for telephone meetings? What about e-mail response times?

  6. Emily Suess
    Emily Suess says:

    @ Michael: They do know. My full-time job is mentioned on my blog, and is brought up in conversation before the contract is signed. It does occasionally preclude me from accepting some jobs. For the most part it, though, it works flawlessly. I have breaks and a lunch hour for returning and making phone calls and constant access to email.

    Interestingly, my day job boss was once a freelance client of mine! He understands that I may need to tweak my schedule from time to time and is fine with that, provided my productivity doesn’t suffer. It works out perfectly for me, and I think that’s because I’m open with everyone about what I can and cannot do.

  7. Star
    Star says:

    @Star — Upbeat as usual, I see.

    My mistake–I thought a sig other was mentioned…But it’s only a job… I am so not an optimist–you are right–the glass half full or empty thing? I don’t even believe in a glass!

  8. Steven Rainwater
    Steven Rainwater says:

    I’m going to tag onto Rick’s comments about difficulties in the part-time lifestyle. I took a “real job” a few months ago – my first in 1o years (all previous 10 spent freelancing – most at great pay and 6-9 hour work days). I’m now a PR manager for a small creative firm. It’s a good group of professionals I work with and similar work to my past – I had a blissful few years of writing focused on some particular industries and providing client PR support; now I’m writing in some other industries and managing PR efforts for our clients – so not really much change in my work. The big difference is I have a commute twice a day, office hours and dress differently – all which I have mixed emotions about. (I’m definitely made for freelance!) I did all this on purpose though – my goal was to get the steady paycheck so I can focus on other creative projects that will pay when they’re completed…hopefully…I’m translating one book and writing another – and plan to do both these activities ongoing.

    The problem I’m having is that by the time I put in 8-9 hours for the firm, I’m short on “creative gas” in my tank to work on my other projects. I still have 3 kids at home so we never lack activities there. Since I’m in the office all day my errands and other daily tasks are slotted in all different ways too. I can juggle the time, I’m just not happy about the quality of the work. I tried last week waking up an hour and a half earlier each morning to get work done (I don’t like waking up before daylight). The result was I’m only more ready to slow down on the weekend – which was previously my quality productive time in this new scenario.

    I still write for a couple of magazines, and recently turned in work past deadline twice (not my normal M.O.). One 2000 word article I completed rapidly in the middle of the night a week late to an editor whose patience was wearing thin, ended up being some of my best work – according to said editor and he was really glad he waited for it. Some other things I’ve done could certainly be better. I realize this is slightly different than juggling employment and copywriting – but I still prefer to slot actual creative time into the best hours of the day whenever possible and it’s not that easy juggling both gigs.

  9. Erica
    Erica says:

    I came across this blog a few weeks ago right when I was about to give up on the freelance writing field. Although I had a few lucrative staff writing positions, other gigs were a lot less money. I had stooped down to a low level of content writing (earning $15-$20 per article *wince*) and was burnt out. Writing was no longer enjoyable to me and yielding absolutely nothing. But I have been reading this blog everyday and you guys are so encouraging and wonderful! The Well Fed Writer concept makes sense and since that failthful day I stumbled across this site, I have been prepping myself to take the plunge into commercial writing. I created my website (still needs a bit of work), ordered business cards, crafted a query letter (although that needs help and I was wondering did Peter have a sample query letter for approaching clients), and made a directory of who to contact. I know this will not work overnight but Peter’s philosophy really lets me know that there IS money out there to be made in this field.

    As for this particular post, I was thinking some of the same things. I’ve been interviewing for a teaching position and wondering what would be the balance between working full time and writing as a contractor part-time. There are pros and cons to this situation. Even if you had steady clients, great hours and interesting work and a level of freedom to create your own schdule, being a freelancer gets lonely. There is something going to a job and working with a great group of people. The companionship and comraderie is sort of priceless. Plus there is stability in knowing your check will be on time. The downside is that the salary/benefits may be low, the job tasks completely boring, and little freedom. Because I left my job, I want to take the risk to becoming a sought after commercial writer.

  10. Emily Suess
    Emily Suess says:

    Re: @Star’s comment: A sig other isn’t necessarily a guarantee of a second income–for a lot of reasons. And falling somewhere on the feminist spectrum myself, I am all for women (and men too) being self-sufficient even while married or co-habbing, just in case that second income suddenly disappears with something younger or hotter. 😉

  11. Emily Suess
    Emily Suess says:

    Oh! And I think the DINK (dual income no kids) comment I made earlier might’ve led people to think that I had a sig other helping with the mortgage. To clairfy–in my case, both incomes come from me.

  12. Star
    Star says:

    Don’t worry about it–just being snarky…you are doing fine… On many boards, I do see comments from people about how great they are doing–and I know they have a working partner or spouse, which is rarely mentioned. I call it working with a net. I freelanced for Washingtonian Magazine when I started–while having a full-time job on the Hill.

  13. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Hey, good discussion! Thanks Allena for visiting… Nice to have you here. And while I agree that ideally, you only take on work you love, unless you DO have that second income, that’s not always realistic. Yes, doing ONLY work you hate absolutely doesn’t work, but the kind of work I love to do (say, writing columns for local rags, or dabbling in fiction)…well, suffice to say, they’re not lining up pay the big bucks for it.

    I think that’s why commercial writing can be such a good fit for many writers. No, it’s not always (or even mostly) writing we’d choose to do on our own if pay wasn’t involved, but it IS writing, and that beats the heck out of spending 8-10 hours a day doing something we hate that has nothing to do with writing, just to pay the bills.

    And as Rick and Steve point out, even if you basically enjoy your FT job (if not the very idea that you have to have one!), just having the creative energy at the end of the day can be a challenge. But we do what we have to do, and for those with families, I salute you for doing what you have to do. I’m like Emily – just me, and a DINK as well in the same sense: my commercial writing practice AND my book publishing biz (or maybe a THINK if you count my coaching, or even a FINK if you count my book titling business…;)

    And if you have little choice about having to do something that pays the bills first and foremost, there’s an upside to doing the writing you love on the side as opposed to making it your main occupation. Funny thing often happens when we do only what we love to do all the time; it becomes a J-O-B. Not always, but often enough. You always enjoy the cashews in the mixed nuts more than you do the bowl of all cashews, right?

    If one DOES have the luxury of choosing (more power to you, Maureen!), then by all means, find something that lights you up.

    And Emily’s smart to be completely upfront about her responsibilities when dealing with her part-time clients. As you note, you might lose a client here and there, but better that than to be looking over your shoulder wondering if you’ll be found out. I value my sleep at night.

    And welcome, Brooke and Erica. Glad you’re finding my books and this blog a good source of inspiration. This is a tough, experienced group of folks here and you can learn a lot from them. Erica, I wish you the best in crafting the right balance if indeed you take on the teaching gig as well. As for the “query letter,” I don’t really have a sample one because it all depends on whom you’re trying to reach, so they’d all be different.

    And letters aren’t necessarily the best way to reach clients, unless you have a very specific niche and are reaching out to a very targeted group of prospects, and perhaps with a free report you’re offering in the letter (see the info on the “Free Report Strategy” on pp. 160-165 of TWFW).

    And just an FYI (and I’m smiling as I type this), it’s not called a “query letter” in our world. That’s magazine-writing terminology. You want to shift your thinking: we’re not querying editors, we’re prospecting for clients.

    Thanks again to all who weighed in!


  14. Liz Morley
    Liz Morley says:

    I was given the same advice, to join professional group for women in business. My only misgiving is that I am not sure about going somewhere and being surrounded by other women.

  15. Melzetta "Mele" Williams
    Melzetta "Mele" Williams says:

    My situation is different in that my “day job” is a self-employment endeavor as well. I’m a contract corporate trainer, and my clients are training companies. While I don’t have to market for training gigs–the training companies sell the training programs and assign them to me–the corporate training industry has taken such a hit I don’t have as much business there. I find that I am trying to build TWO businesses. Very difficult!

    I want to speak to the dual income thing. Those with a working sig other don’t have it easy either. A furlough, or a reduction in hours, or an increase in employee contribution toward the health care premium–can make that “safe” income, not so secure after all.

  16. Peter W
    Peter W says:

    My wife is a psychotherapist and while there’s a squeeze on prices, as with copywriting, there’s never any shortage of clients if you know how to market yourself. In many ways it’s actually far more secure than being employed.

    Neither of us would go back to working for someone else even if you paid us a lot more than we currently make working for ourselves.

  17. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    True enough, Mele… While a second person out there working hard to be/stay gainfully employed is better than one, we’re in an unpredictable world these days. That said, not surprisingly, I appreciated Peter’s comment above, since it’s one of my mantras. I know the work is out there if you’re willing to market yourself and ferret it out. And I also know that ALL of us (and I am absolutely no exception…) can get comfortable where we are when things are good, and we can and often do slack off on our marketing.

    And when we do, and those inevitable changes come – clients dropping off, pulling work in house, finding another writer, their company being bought by someone else, you name it – in the short term, what’s pretty predictable (given that we’re all card-carrying members of the human race…) is this: we’ll spend a certain amount of time silently lamenting our fate, sitting back, and hoping things will turn around on their own.

    AND, just as importantly, we may very well join in the chorus of folks proclaiming that yes, times are sure tough right now, and we separate what we know to be true based on our own empirical experience (i.e., that there are plenty of clients out there who WILL pay well for quality writing, regardless of the economy) from our present circumstances.

    Now, I’m not delusional, and not going to claim that the economy hasn’t affected our field, but by the same token, I have always maintained that, assuming you’ve got the skills and have been success, “the economy” has little bearing on one person’s quest for financial self-sufficiency.


  18. Kendra Francesco
    Kendra Francesco says:

    Just when I’d about given up the dream of commercial writing because I’ve a full-time job (retail in a bead shop) and a part-time one (substitute newspaper delivery), this article comes around and gives me hope. Thank you.

    It’ll mean a bit of shuffling my schedule so I get enough sleep but still be up in time for a phone call or whatever else is needed to contact customers. It’ll mean being conscientious about using my “days off” more effectively / productively.

    But, it gives me hope that even I can do it!

    Thank you.

  19. Jim Bouldin
    Jim Bouldin says:

    First, I want to thank Peter and Emily both for putting the web to such good and productive use. You are being positive, sincere, and helping to motivate others with your great writing, thank you for that!

    It is wonderful to read other people writing out loud (I mean posting their thoughts – and good thoughts at that – in a public forum). While I’m not a freelance writer, just giving it serious consideration, I had to put in my two cents worth because I’ve had similar thoughts when wondering if I have the chops to make it as a writer, especially in this economy. Do you see that? Peter’s comment about the economy being bad is dead on, and I think he was alluding to so many people using it as an excuse to not take action, or maybe to explain away why they have not performed up to their full potential. I’m guessing that Peter is successful due in large part to his ability to do the heavy lifting required to perform the occasional “gut check” as painful as that sometimes is, to look himself firmly in the mirror and ask questions like: “why am I not making 5 more phone calls a day to land new clients or ask existing ones if they need anything else written this week, etc.”

    It took me a minute to figure out what was meant by a “sig other” but eventually, I caught on. Melzetta William’s comment about the possible pitfalls of a sig other’s income are true, there never really was a time when any of us could count on an endless number of paychecks from any full time employer. Also, Emily’s comment about other ways to lose the second paycheck no doubt conjures up images in all our minds of the people we have known who endured the painful loss of a spouse or sig other and their income to our happy homes. So maybe that gets at the heart of this story (and so many others), what kind of work can we do, and how can we go about the task of providing a higher level of financial security for ourselves and those who depend on us?

    Who knows if freelance writing will become another revenue stream for me or not but after reading this blog, maybe now is the time for me to start working toward that as a goal. I’m beginning to believe that whether we fully accept it or understand all that is implied, the real economy of today and probably tomorrow too, is one where we all compete to produce the best ideas. Thankfully, techies are creating more and more tools to put our ideas out there for others to experience. Or maybe I should write… to put our ideas out there for others to BUY, in an effort to begin switching over my outlook to better match up with the philosophy so well fleshed out here at the well fed writer’s blog!

    Okay, I owe anyone who had the stamina to read through all of my comment to this point at least one new idea not included in this discussion so far, so here goes. My advice to all of us out there thinking about freelancing is this: don’t worry about making mistakes and certainly don’t let the thought of making mistakes stop you from trying to write because; one – mistakes are unavoidable (even though we try to minimize them) and two – aren’t mistakes a natural part of the learning process and doesn’t learning lead to improvement? Again, a great discussion, I hope it wasn’t bad etiquette for a non-writer to jump in.

  20. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Thanks Kendra and Jim,

    And Kendra, there’s no question whatsoever that trying to build a writing business while working full-time is tough. It takes high skill levels in the areas of time management, juggling, creativity, writing itself, and a lot of other things as well. Not to mention strong desire and determination.

    But, first and foremost, you have to take care of yourself: physically, spiritually and of course, financially. If you want it badly enough (and I can tell you, it’s so worth having), you’ll keep at it, hang in there, perhaps build it slowly, and at a pace that works for your life. And I applaud anyone who’s striving for more in their life, who’s going after it, who’s saying, “I deserve better” or simply, “I can, so why not?”

    And Jim, ANYONE is welcome on this blog, and we appreciate your comments and observations. Mistakes, as you accurately point out, are the gateway to progress. I suppose one could be successful without making a lot of mistakes, but it would be a shallower success, methinks. AND, yes, if one can avoid making the mistakes that so many who walked before you made, by learning from those who’ve been there, even better. Thanks for weighing in, and all the best on your journey forward, whether it’s writing or something else!


  21. Holly
    Holly says:

    Thanks for a great article, Emily, and to all the commenters. It’s good to hear is that I’m not the only one struggling in this economy. I tend to think it’s just me and my lack of marketing skill, etc. Then I start to doubt myself and my ability to do this freelance thing, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, a negative spiral.

    We all need practical stuff, plus lots of positive encouragement, which this blog seems to provide.

  22. Tracy Derrell
    Tracy Derrell says:

    Hope it’s ok to be late to the party on this post, but it’s very relevant to where I am now. At the moment I am a middle school English teacher, planning to leave the field at the end of this school year. I love to write and read Peter’s book over the summer, along with several others. Almost everything about the freelance lifestyle appeals to me, but the idea of losing the steady paycheck I have had since 1996 is scary indeed! I am blessed to have had the same job for so long but I really need a change, for lots of reasons.

    My plan is to start small in the near future with resume writing and branch out from there, but I also think I am going to ease into freelancing with a part-time job and then make the full-time transition the year after. It feels a little less overwhelming to me, especially coming from a field where I don’t have business experience or contacts.

  23. Kendra
    Kendra says:

    Tracy, you have contacts: they’re the parents of your students. Let them know your decision to write and then ask them for referrals. As for business experience, make a resume for yourself – I think you’ll be surprised at how much business experience you really have. In my book, anyone who can teach wriggling, hormone-raging and bored-out-of-their-minds middle-school children (without losing their patience and perseverance) has a terrific grasp of certain business practices, including being able to explain a concept to a client who doesn’t quite “get” why he / she needs a good commercial writer. You go!

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  3. […] When Does Part-Time Copywriting Make More Sense? On The Well-Fed Writer Blog I discuss why I decided to take my current day job and postpone my dreams of one day being full-time freelance. […]

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