What's your problem?

I work for a marketing company, and a long-time client has asked me whether I'd be interested in doing some freelance work on the side.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I am tempted because they will pay me well (I could really do with the money), and it could be an interesting project. But if I take it, I'm worried that my manager will find out. Strictly speaking, I'm not meant to do any work like this and I'm afraid that I could be sacked for it. Should I take it?

It's interesting the way we use the phrase 'strictly speaking'. 'Strictly speaking, I've given up desserts.' 'Strictly speaking, it's my turn to do the school run.' And what we actually mean is, just this once, we'll cry off the school run and have a bit of Black Forest gateau.

Strictly speaking, you're not meant to do any freelance work - but, just this once, you're thinking about it. And the only thing that's making you hesitate is the thought of being found out.

You need to think this through from the beginning. What this long-term client is hoping to do is bypass your company and get a chunk of your valued time on the cheap. However generously he pays you, it will cost him less than your company's charge-out rate. He's perfectly entitled to try this on, of course, but it seems a bit shifty and it certainly puts you in a diffi- cult position.

Tell your client that you greatly appreciate the suggestion and that you'd love to do it, but your contract forbids it. However, it's possible that your boss would agree to make an exception, so is it OK if you put it to him?

If your client insists on keeping the deal a secret, your decision makes itself. It's a pity about the money, but the alternative is a nightmare future of guilt, furtiveness and fear. If he gives you the thumbs-up, however, you can put the proposition openly to your boss.

My guess is he won't take kindly to the thought; to him, it will look as if you're doing him out of a bit of legitimate business. He will also suspect that you would do the client's freelance work during normal office hours, but he'd probably have enough sense to refrain from saying so. Should he say no, take his decision with good grace. At the very least, you'll have registered the fact that the client rates you highly and that you could do with more money.


Jeremy Bullmore has been creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London and a non-executive director of both the Guardian Media Group and WPP. Address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime