The full impact of Covid-19 on the economy is still unknown, but one thing is for certain – it’s not looking good.
Even more certain is that freelancers are going to be feeling the heat right now. Work may have dried up and support from the government still isn’t available.
But another given is that we won’t be in this forever. Again, it is unknown when exactly life, and work, will return to normal, but that day will come. And when it does we will all have to start rebuilding on the freelance foundations we have laid. Of course, that is hard when you’ve taken a once-in-a-generation seismic beating from a collapsed global economy (Or, fellow millennial, make that twice-in-a-generation). Where do you start when you’ve been knocked down? How do you get back up again?
I have just done that, and very recently. It was a much smaller tsunami but when a company I wrote for folded and I lost just shy of £10,000 in unpaid work, my world, my bank balance, and my footing in the freelance world, was turned upside down. That was last January. And I have recovered (just in time to take another pummeling!). So I thought now would be a good time to share a few pointers on how to pull yourself out a financial black hole:
1. Having your back up against a wall will make you more fearless than you believe you are
It’s worth prefacing this list by saying it is amazing what you can do when you have to. When I knew I needed money, and fast, I was bolder, braver and worked harder than ever. I wish I had that hustle all the time, but I have always worked best with a touch of fear fuelling me.
2. Be informed
Know what you’re entitled to – be it a loan, a mortgage holiday, or the government’s freelance package. Stay abreast of conversations around freelancers’ rights, sign up to freelancer’s free newsletters. When I lost my money, I was clueless to what I was and wasn’t entitled to. Having to sift through government pages, a large glass of wine down, teary-eyed, is something I strongly do not recommend.
3. Diversify your income
This was huge for me. I learned, the hard way, not to have all your eggs in one basket. Maybe you already have a nice broad range of clients but if you don’t, figure out how to. Obviously, right now it is tricky to meet new clients or pitch for new work, but you can do the strategizing and thinking. Use the downtime to research potential clients in different sectors and fields. Consider how you can sell yourself to a different market. Write up some introductory emails that are ready to go when we get the all clear.
4. Keep up with your network
I had a lot of coffees and sent a lot of emails when I realised I had no money (the nervousness of bombarding people or getting in touch with people I hadn’t seen in years evaporated when desperation kicked in). Go back through your contacts, remind them that you’re still here, remind them what you’ve been working on and what you’d love to collaborate on going forward. When we’re all allowed out again, you’ll be at the forefront of their mind.
5. Be visible
Obviously not to the determinant of your mental health, but stay active on social media. Remind your followers what you have done, what you are capable of, and if you’re one of the lucky productive ones, what you might have created on lockdown to keep yourself from going insane. Don’t start to assume there’s no point playing the game anymore. A side note: Be careful with tone. After all, noone wants to watch someone exploit a pandemic but everyone understands we need to survive
7. Budget and have targets
Know exactly what you’ve got and what you need (the less you have, you quickly find the less you need). Targets, which in this case might be just enough to make rent, massively helped me focus on my work and time. Plus, when I knew I needed to make a certain amount each month, it took the fear out of cold-calling and pitching. Make it a numbers game, not a decree on your talent or self-worth.
8. Be smart with debt
Crashing back into my overdraft was heartbreaking as I spent so long paying it off. I took out an interest-free credit card to pay it off. This is cheaper than letting the debt sit in your bank accumulating interest.
9. Make a habit of checking your bank balance daily
It’s painful but it helped me stay on track with budgeting, and keeping my situation in mind meant I didn’t prematurely relax accidently slip something into my Amazon basket.
10. Be a better negotiator
If any work is still coming your way, ask for payment on submission, a percentage upfront or a shorter payment period. Don’t be afraid to protect yourself in unprecedented times. Ever since my downfall, I have been asking for payment in 14 days, not the industry standard of 30 days. I don’t always get it, but sometimes I do, and it makes a huge difference.
11. Don’t give up
It’s really easy to think everything is awful and your career has sunk like a stolen bike to the bottom of a canal. I vividly remember waking up and sitting bolt up in bed, like in a film, realising I had no money. On those days, make a lot of tea and watch a lot of Friday Night Lights. But on the other days, you have to keep going. Reread complimentary emails if you have too. Make a pile of stuff to sell on Ebay if need to. Embrace mantras. Whatever it takes. Yes, survival comes down to paying bills but having that right mindset will make a tough job much more bearable.