There comes a point in the career of many freelancers when we need a break from project-based work. Sometimes a tough-to-refuse full-time job offer comes along. Other times our professional lives get sidelined by a major life event like a birth, death, illness or cross-country move.

If you’re thinking of pressing pause on your solo career, you’d be wise to keep the freelance door ajar, even if you don’t know if or when you’ll return to self-employment. That way, if you do start freelancing again, you quickly can pick up where you left off.

I’ve halted and restarted my freelance career multiple times in the past two decades. Following are six of my best practices for making a return to freelancing easier in the future.

Put clients on a need-to-know basis. If you only work with a client on occasion, you don’t need to make a grand announcement that you’re leaving the self-employed life. If a client like this offers you work during your freelance hiatus, there’s nothing wrong with saying you’re currently unavailable or that you’re tied up with a big project for the next quarter or two but would love to touch base after that.

If, however, a client relies on you as a regular contributor, you need to warn them you’ll be less available in the coming weeks or months. But you also can say you’ll let them know if your situation changes, and you can stay in touch with them to keep the relationship afloat.

Loop in fellow freelancers. Because other freelancers can be such a great source of work referrals, it’s best to keep them up to date on your career twists. Let self-employed pals know you’ll be taking a break from freelancing, and feel free to get specific on when see yourself returning to independent work.


Refer work to others. If you’ve been working solo awhile, you’ll probably get freelance job offers while you’re off the market. Don’t let those leads die in your inbox. Offer to refer another capable freelancer or two to the potential client. Besides helping the client, you’ll help a fellow freelancer. And you’ll build goodwill with clients and colleagues, which may come in handy the next time you find yourself needing freelance work.

Keep your freelance business open. Keep active any websites or social media accounts you opened for your business. You may even want to do a small freelance project periodically to keep your portfolio current. Just be sure your job contract or employee handbook doesn’t prohibit you from moonlighting and doesn’t grant ownership of any intellectual property you create on the side to your employer.

Limit your moonlighting. If you continue to freelance on top of your day job, be careful not to bite off more than you can chew. This likely will mean greatly reducing the number of freelance projects you can complete each month, especially while adjusting to your new position. You don’t want to do anything to jeopardize your new job or your reputation as a reliable freelancer.

Announce your return in advance. Get in touch with clients and fellow freelancers the minute you know that your return to self-employment is imminent. Remember that it can take several weeks, months or longer to line up a full-time freelance workload. The sooner you start filling your freelance dance card, the easier your return will be.

Seattle Times Explore columnist Michelle Goodman (Courtesy of Greg Beckelhymer)