All of us have probably been asked to take on private work, and it can be a good way to top off your earnings, but is it okay to use the knowledge amassed courtesy of an employer to go it alone?


Okay, so this may seem a no-brainer, but people have a lot of differing views.

Some people believe that you should work for only one boss. Others think that there is no harm in an occasional freelance job; it might even help build experience and knowledge.

Personally I can’t see that there is any conflict of interest, provided you aren’t poaching clients from your employer. I did a job on the weekend. As part of my drive to save up  for a Gibson Les Paul, I have been working freelance for a while and hope to be placing my order very soon. I couldn’t do this without a bit of extra work, nor do I think it fair to sequester a large lump of cash from the household budget for something that is a luxury.

I understand the value of taking time off and the concern I have is that by working outside of normal working hours, I will not have enough downtime to keep me fresh. I needn’t have worried, because I worked Saturday. Sunday was better, because I had worked, albeit in a more relaxed way, and I really treated Sunday like a holiday. I walked on the beach, had a swim, relaxed with a book, and enjoyed an excellent Sunday lunch.

Maybe it was worth the extra effort. I am £60 ($120 US) nearer my Les Paul, I enjoyed my Sunday far more, but I realize the value of my free time even more now. I would not recommend doing extra work all the time, but if there is a specific goal you need to save for I can’t see the harm in it, provided you don’t affect your day job at all.

As I see it, there are two kinds of private work opportunities that come our way, roughly split into the ones that offer payment and those that want a freebie.

There has been far-ranging discussion about the rights and wrongs of people expecting you to fix their machines for nothing and general agreement seems to be that we help family and friends but draw the line at “friends of friends” getting the benefit of our precious free time.

These people we expect to provide something for us in return, either reciprocal service, like asking our local plumber to fix a dripping tap in return for upgrade work on his PC, which nicely circumvents the rigors of tax law, where cash earned is taxable but there is no such requirement for services-in-kind.

The part I find hardest is the end of the transaction, where the person I have been working for asks me how much they owe me. I find it difficult to ask for too much, especially if it is someone I know well. I balk at those people who hijack me as I travel from one job to another and ask me about their home PC. I don’t like to turn people down out of hand and, unless I have already had a bad experience of the person, I will usually try to accommodate any reasonable request. But I do make it clear that any work I do in my own time will be considered billable. This often leads to an indignant refusal, but that suits me, as I won’t be taken advantage of.