Why you shouldn’t moonlight long term

You’re considering going full-time as a freelancer. But it’s a little scary making the leap, isn’t it?

So you come up with a plan: You’ll work after hours as a freelancer, building up clients and revenue so you can (someday) have enough income to take the plunge. In other words, you’ll be a “moonlighter” for a while.

It’s a trap!

It’s not a bad thought. Theoretically, you can earn some extra money whilst testing the waters.

But moonlighting has a lot of pitfalls you need to consider. In fact, I don’t recommend moonlighting long-term (more than a few months) unless you’re a superhuman work machine – and here’s why.

Day jobs are exhausting

Being a good, mentally-engaged employee is tiring. Assuming your moonlighting work is in the same field as your day job, you’ll have already drained your mental “muscles” during the day.

At first, you’ll be ultra motivated. It will feel easy. The excitement of change brings a wave of energy to your after-hours work.

Give it a week or two. I’ll bet that, when you get home, you won’t feel like more coding/design/writing is what you want to spend your free time on. Your family, your hobbies, your life will start calling for your brain.

It will drain your joy

Once you’re past the initial honeymoon, your heart will be split. You’ll start focusing your energy on either your day job or your moonlighting. And if you’re doing moonlighting with the hopes of going freelance, you’ll probably save your “good” creative juices for after work.

Motivation was already thin at your day job, and now you’re giving yourself one more reason not to care. I’ll bet your performance at work will fall off a cliff.

You won’t be hungry enough

When your livelihood doesn’t depend on your work, you’ll undervalue your work. When I was doing side work prior to going freelance, I charged less per hour than I made at my day job. That’s like the exact opposite of what you should be doing!

AuthenticJobs recently added a “moonlighting” category just for folks like you.

Why would someone would want a “moonlighter” instead of a “freelancer”? Probably because they’re hoping the moonlighter is cheaper.

Don’t be lulled into cheap work just because you have a cushion. If you eventually want to go freelance, you need to charge rates that justify your risk.

Make a decision

Moonlighting can be a good way to test the waters, but make sure the test has time limits. Set goals.

In 2 months, I need to be charging $X per day and have 2 consistent clients. Then I will put in my 2 weeks notice.

Don’t burn out. Burnout is bad for freelancing. Burnout is bad for your day job. Seriously, don’t burn out. As soon as you can, pick one path and put your energy behind it.


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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. This is an insightful post. As a moonlighted for 6 years now, I felt like it was written specifically for me! 🙂

    Day jobs are indeed exhausting and I’ve gone through a lot of cycles of burnout – recovery – burnout – repeat… Think I’ll choose one soon. Thanks for the advice.

    1. 6 years! That’s amazing! I don’t know how you’ve done it. Juggling 2 projects for more than a few weeks exhausts me.

  2. This is all excellent advice.
    I’ve been moonlighting for the better part of a decade with the last four years been non-stop.
    It’s an absolute nightmare.
    I’ve had terrible experiences with bad clients and been lucky to find a few decent ones but I’m in no position to pass up any extra cash so I take the cheap ones as well in hope that I can push through it as quickly as possible (hint: it never works out that way).
    Every night I get home from the day job at 6, spend some family time then work from 8pm until 2am or so then up again at 7 for the day job. Weekends are no break either, working from dawn ’till dusk but I can usually squeeze in 8 hours of sleep.
    All of this is due to medical bills. I have insurance from my day job but it’s just barely better than none.
    I dream of having one job with good insurance.

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