Freelancing Ethics

Hi all,

I’m hitting a financial rough patch and am looking for ways to supplement my income. I’m currently working full time in POP design (and by full time of course I mean 50+ hours a week, which is making it difficult to find another part time job)

I was considering picking up some freelance work for nights and weekends and I figured it’d probably be easiest to go for what I have experience in; POP. My question is: is it kosher to freelance for the competition, or should I try to stick to graphic design or other product design to be safe?

I just worry I don’t have the engineering skills for product design and that graphic design is so saturated I won’t be able to compete. I might be totally wrong and psyching myself out, but I feel like sticking to POP would be best as long as it’s not going to get me into trouble? I did not sign an NDA or noncompete when I was hired.

Let me know what you think! Thanks in advance.

BONUS QUESTION: My plan is to peruse job boards and freelancing websites, does anyone else know of a good technique to get my name out there? Is it inappropriate to send my portfolio and a note that I’m available for freelance work to other local POP companies?

Generally speaking, if you consider your clients “competition” it is NOT Kosher. Especially if it’s a client who potentially would have called your employer and is now using you directly.

If you were working in the evenings designing T-shirts, or artisinal lamps, ie something not related to your day job there’s very little chance of anyone seeing a conflict of interest. Working directly in your area of expertise is a different story, even if you didn’t sign an NDA or non-compete.

I would take this up with the legal department and run this by the company. Trying to moonlight this sounds like a very dangerous route to take. See the recent Nike/Adidas lawsuit involving designers allegedly sharing confidential information.
Should anything happen and it becomes public that you have worked for the competition, it will be very hard for you to prove that you didn’t share any confidential information.

You signed what you signed.
If there are no legal grounds to prevent you from working on the side, they will not be able to stop you from doing so.
I am surprised that there isn’t a clause regarding this in your contract. Are you sure?
Every contract I have signed at agencies and inhouse departments had a line about this in there, mostly prohibiting me from having any other side jobs unless granted by the employer.

Keep in mind even if you don’t have any non compete clause in your contract (which may be the case especially at a smaller company) - there is nothing to stop them from firing you if they found out.

Right, even if you don’t have a clause they can fire you, also, not having a clause makes it legal for you to freelance for the competition, but it doesn’t make it ethical.

If POP is what you know, then why not find a better POP employer? Or maybe you need to have a compensation convo with your current employer? You’re a for-profit employee, are you being fairly compensated for working 50+ hour weeks?

You should never freelance for the competition. Easy.

You should not freelance in the same category at all as the company you work for. I’ve seen others do this and get fired.

In the past I have discussed freelance opportunities with my manager or even a VP level, and made sure to let them understand this was for fun and personal development and would not cut into my work time at all. Most of this work has been passion project based and for friends or people I had some connection to. No soliciting, it “fell in my lap” as the saying goes.

Most consultancies I’ve worked for have a no freelancing policy, and that makes total sense. You are competing with them no matter what you do.

I think the root cause as I read it here is financial not passion or personal development. In this case I recommend you have a conversation with you manager about pay and lay out a case to get paid more or try to get a job at a company that will pay you more.

I’m currently going through a similar experience. My reasoning behind attempting to freelance is the following:

  1. Learning the business of freelancing.
  2. Keep my skills up.
  3. Alternate source of income: What if I get laid off? I currently have only one way of making money. Better to have a backup.

Note: I do like the idea of talking with your manager to get the “ok.” However, what if your company has been recently laying off people from various areas of the company? I’d be to scared to even ask with that going on.

That’s a bad situation, but look at it this way - if you are competing with your employer you can literally open yourself up to your own set of law suits from your employer. Whether or not any of it holds up in court is one thing, but you can imagine you’ll spend a ton of money trying to defend yourself.

If you are doing something you wouldn’t be comfortable discussing with your boss then it’s not a good idea. To Yo’s point - if you are designing aftermarket car bumpers and your day job is cell phones, no one is going to care. But when you’re using your direct experience to take away potential business or work for anyone who may even be remotely considered a competitor it’s a no no.

If the problem is purely financial then consider other ways of improving the situation.

Yeah, you are all totally right. This is literally the definition of conflicting interests haha… I think my wallet was talking on this one :slight_smile:

My company pays me well especially for a junior role, so I don’t feel comfortable asking for a raise. But, I do live in a really expensive city, and probably could move to a much cheaper city fairly easily being that POP jobs are so plentiful. It’s just risky as I love the people I work with and would rather be happy and broke then stuck in a miserable environment. Decisions, decisions I guess.

Thanks guys for that much needed kick in the pants!

I agree.

Freelancing outside your companies market is ok. Also don’t do it on work time and keep up the effort at your main job.

The freelancing should be competing with TV time, not your day job.

All great advice especially about staying away from your competition or your own market area. But one important thing did you sign any type of contract? if so have someone review it or sit with your boss and review it.

I worked at a company and in my contract had it that anything i invited no mater whose time i was on they had right of first refusal - so when i wanted to start doing freelancing which they where fine with I had to have the contract modified and we also refined more clearly what was out of bounds as the initial contract was very broad in scope and almost all encompassing.

Chevis, similar here. When I took the job I let them know about my work for Icon and had that worked in to our understanding.

If you do go freelance, be prepared for the hit you’ll take at tax time. That extra cash isn’t all extra, Uncle Sam will want some of it. That is, unless you make over $600. You’d be best served to set aside 40% of your take from freelance to pay your tax bill. Once that’s paid, anything left over is yours to do whatever. It kind of sucks to see it on paper, but that’s the way it goes.

Ding ding - if you’ve gotten used to spending your tax return be prepared for that to be reversed. My wife is not fond of freelancing since “our” tax return (even when filing separately) takes quite a hit compared to when she was single.

And dont make the mistake that what you buy or own for freelancing is 100% a tax right off… make sure you talk with an accountant to understand what you can and cannot write off and how much… keep all receipts and track everything.

A lot of this info is available online, but you should plan to have an actual accountant who you can bounce questions off if needed and ultimately help you out come tax time. I’d avoid H&R Block or any of the walk in tax places, see if your parents or any of their friends have someone who they could recommend for business taxes.

Another point - if you are making very little money and purchasing things to get your freelance self off the ground (computer, Wacom’s) that are big ticket items and you end up running at a loss, be very good about keeping track of your expenses. It is worth getting a credit card specifically for freelance expenses so all of your receipts are kept in order away from your personal expenses.

Running at a loss for 2 or more years generally sets off a red flag with the IRS (if you are in the US) to trigger an audit.