Whether you’re a novice or experienced freelancer, you’ll probably bump into a dilemma often: differentiating between work that you do for money, and work that you do to put in your portfolio. There’s an overlap, but there are some differences. What are they?

We all need to eat, have a nice place to live/work, and if we’re able, have a bit left over to do fun stuff that we enjoy, too. At the same time, we also have to curate a collection of work to show future clients so we can win more work. Sometimes it can be a catch-22 deciding what jobs to take on and which are going to help us most.

When you get into the position of choosing what to work on, think about which will net you the biggest return on your investment. For example, if you do a project that’s mind numbing but brings in a lot of cash, that cash can give you some breathroom to not take on new clients and work on some of your own ideas or develop your skills. Vice versa, maybe you find a client that doesn’t have a lot to spend, but you know that you’ll be able to produce some killer work and in turn, attract some bigger clients.

Ultimately it comes down to setting priorities. There’s a grey area the size of the Grand Canyon here, and part of becoming a pro is learning to know when to pick A or B. Earmarking certain work as an investment in a specific thing can be a big help. Be clear to yourself what is a money gig vs. a portfolio gig, and be clear with the reasons for each. When you blindly just take on work to take on work, you run the risk of removing the value of that work to your future self.