Six ways for freelancers to future-proof their business during coronavirus

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The COVID-19 crisis has hit freelancers harder than many other groups working in the creative world. Commissions are down, clients are slashing budgets, and staying visible is becoming more and more difficult.

Prolific North has opened its Freelancers Directory for free profile submissions, giving freelancers of all stripes the ability to get in front of our audience.

Nikki Kitchen, MD of Purple Riot and Founder of The Freelance Kit, tells freelancers what they need to know about surviving, future-proofing, and making it beyond the crisis.

 

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the subsequent effect on businesses has hit the freelance economy hard, with many clients cutting their freelance support overnight.

A recent survey of PR freelancers by the PR Calvary has found that half have lost 60% of their income, and many of them cannot claim the rescue package help from the government in June, due to their length of time in business or the nature of their business set-up.

Although there is some good news - with several fortunate freelancers reporting new business wins - most people are finding that they suddenly have a lot of spare time on their hands.

With that in mind, here are six things that you can do to survive and future-proof your business during the COVID-19 crisis.

1. Think strategically for the future and get your house in order

The freelance and gig economy has grown exponentially over the last few years, with nearly 64% of businesses employing freelance support. In 2017, People Per Hour Founder Xenios Thrasyvoulou predicted that half the UK workforce would be freelance by the end of 2020, and - while a lot of freelancers have lost work - as the crisis starts to ease, businesses are more likely to turn to flexible, agile support rather than employing full-time staff.

Until things start to get back to the new ‘normal’, it’s a great opportunity to work on your business rather than in it. Do you have a strong portfolio, and is your website up-to-date? Use the extra time to get your house in order so you’re ready to go when new opportunities start to appear.

Do you have robust terms and conditions in place? Do you need to rethink how to structure your business? Lots of freelancers rely on a couple of big clients for their income and that isn't the best approach because they can (and have!) disappeared quite literally overnight.

Of course, it’s easier said than done to try and secure new clients right now, but when it does start to pick up, which it will, work towards creating more balance in your business so you’re not so reliant on one or two clients.

One thing that this extraordinary situation has taught freelancers is that anything can happen, whether that be a global pandemic or a personal crisis. Now is the time to think about how to protect yourself going forward.

2. Learn new skills

While we’re all probably a bit sick of being productivity shamed (what’s wrong with daytime drinking and Netflix binging anyway?) if you do want to use the time to upskill, there are some amazing free and heavily discounted courses available.

Google’s Digital Garage is a fantastic place to start and I highly recommend the 'Fundamentals of Digital Marketing' course, with 26 modules covering SEO, SEM, social media, and content marketing. You can complete it at your own pace, and the modules will be of great use to most freelancers.

Udemy has some incredible courses which have all been heavily reduced, and Jolt London offers specific courses for startup businesses led by world-class experts. The Open University is also offering a variety of free courses; and the PRCA and CIPR are both offering free webinar series and short courses to help PR freelancers navigate the crisis as they go along.

3. Set business goals

Although it might feel tricky to set goals when we don’t know what the heck is going on - or what the world will look like when this crisis finally starts to pass - you can start to think about what you really want for your business. Why did you start freelancing in the first place? What type of clients do you want to work with?

Start to reflect on your freelance career and be honest about your achievements - have you been going in the right direction, and on the right trajectory? Do you want to increase retained monthly earnings by a certain percentage? Attract different clients from new sectors? Write a book, start a podcast, or branch out into a new area?

Write down your goals for the year and break them down into quarterly and monthly actions where you can.

So often, we can get caught up in just paying the bills and forget about the work we’re really passionate about, so use this time to get clear on your ‘why’ and what’s next for you.

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4. Work on your mindset and focus

Most freelancers and business owners have been through a whirlwind of emotions during the crisis, from anger to anxiety, to grief to acceptance and back again! Members of The Freelance Kit community have reported various mental challenges, but many seem to be arriving at a positive place of acceptance and have started to have more of a growth mindset.

As a side note though, it’s totally fine if you aren't in that place, right now is the time to be kind to yourself and go at your own pace.

The Freelance Kit is running a free weekly Facebook Live expert interview series where we spoke to qualified business and freelancer coach, Matt Essam about the future of freelancing.

Matt commented that this situation was a “great time to pause and reflect,” and think about your business and where it's going. He also talked about how we can use this time to change our mindset from focusing on what we ‘do’, to focus on how we can solve problems for our clients - and future clients!

For example, by offering a free brand audit, you put yourself in a stronger position to deliver the actual work and position yourself as the knowledgeable guide solving a problem the client didn’t know they had.

Think about who you can approach, both previous and potential clients, and what problems you can solve right now. Start with a list of five contacts and see what happens, there might not be paid work immediately, but you’ll be first in mind when there is.

The free Freelance Kit community has already had weekly expert interviews on mindset, finding purpose, and mental health - and we have upcoming discussions about accounting and marketing your freelance business during the crisis.

5. Collaborate

Now is the perfect time to look for collaboration opportunities or expand your network. By reaching out to other freelancers, you never know what opportunities you might be able to access or help out with, or they may be able to introduce you to other clients and connections looking for support.

Starting to reach out in an authentic way right now will build relationships for the future - so think about other freelance skillsets that your skills complement. For example, are you a graphic designer who might be able to help a PR with social media content, or a digital marketing whizz able to help a traditional marketer take a business online?

The best place to start is in freelance social media groups - there are tons of brilliant ones including Freelance PRs, The Northern Creative Collective, and The Freelance Kit. All are safe and supportive spaces where you can look for opportunities to collaborate and start building a network of like-minded people.

6. Rest and recharge!

Now the initial panic is (hopefully!) starting to pass, we can start to reframe the extra time as an opportunity to just rest and ‘be’, so sleep, relax and do what makes you happy.

Ditch the screen time, take the dog out, do some yoga and leave the phone charging while you spend some time in the garden with the kids.

Resting and recharging your batteries will do you the world of good - so when the crisis has passed, you can come out fighting and raring to go.