Keep your head up: How freelancers can weather the storm right now

With uncertainty looming about what the post-coronavirus economy will hold, organizations are cutting back on what is considered nonessential spending—and the world of freelancing has already taken a hit.

According to a Freelancers Union study, since the onset of the pandemic, 76% of the freelancers who responded have already lost work because clients canceled their contracts or projects. And that, combined with high unemployment of full-time workers, brings to mind a number of questions. Will more people who have lost full-time jobs turn to freelancing themselves? Will some of those people take the opportunity to become entrepreneurs, who actually need to hire freelancers? How soon will other businesses be hiring more freelancers again?

It’s difficult to uncover the actual answers, but according to a CNN article from 2009 (as the U.S. was finding its way out of recession), freelancers are “likely to be the first to find work when the recovery begins.” Companies still faced with economic uncertainty are likely to turn to more project-based work over hiring full timers with costs tied to benefits, payroll taxes, new equipment and work space.

Also, according to a recent Forbes article, while several “leaders of the freelance revolution” believe the medium-term expectations for freelance business might be somewhat “somber” as clients eliminate or reduce discretionary spending, “they do not generally believe it will be long lasting.”

Even with those minor glimmers of hope, it can be challenging to look past the clouds and see the light. But there is a bit of good news that can help.

Some freelancers still thrive

According to a few recent Reddit threads, some freelancers weren’t affected at all by past recessions—and some even managed to come out ahead.

They credit a few key actions to their successes:

  • Better budgeting
  • Aligning with industries that might fare better, such as healthcare, “work from home” technology, “self-quarantine” entertainment and consumer goods
  • Building better, stronger relationships with clients, so you are top of mind when they’re ready
  • Providing “great customer service” to build your reputation—particularly important to keep you ahead of the curve, when others might be trying out freelancing. As one Reddit user put it: “Someone who has a track record is better than someone who hung a shingle yesterday.”
  • Planning for what the “next new world” will likely be by keeping an eye out for emerging trends
  • Either (1) diversifying, taking projects from different industries or countries than you might be typically used to or (2) proactively targeting ideal clients that you can excel at working with to help build your reputation
  • Being “pro team, instead of pro me”
  • Proving you actually are a business, not just doing this to get by
  • Being responsive
  • Changing payment structures to be paid in various stages of the project, offering incentives to get payment up front or providing retainer options at a discounted rate
  • Expanding services to offer online training, video conferencing consultations or other digital ways to offer your expertise

Less work now means more free time to amp up your portfolio

If you have been affected by spending cuts, though, here are six ways you can take advantage of slower times now to bring about busier times down the road.

  1. Take free online classes – Consider registering for online classes to add to your skillset—and your marketability. Udemy offers some free courses in photography, design and marketing; Google Analytics Academy can get you up to speed on Google’s measurement tools; HubSpot Academy has a number of free courses tied to content marketing that even offer certifications; Moz Academy is offering free SEO courses through May 31st; and LinkedIn also has a nice variety that you can access with a free monthly premium trial.
  2. Do some virtual networking – You know that feeling when you come out of a really productive meeting or conference, ready to tackle your next project? Even though you can’t do that in person now, you can still meet face-to-face virtually with a mentor or client or even a group of like-minded individuals like this virtual creative community. Also, several conferences have now gone digital, and some like Digital Summit offer free access to their archives. Or maybe you can “get together” for a virtual lunch with friends and mention to them that you’re in the market for some work. Even if they might not directly have something, you will probably be the first person they think of when someone mentions needing a new design, app or article.
  3. Stay healthy – Not only will getting some exercise help you reduce stress and feel better, it can also help you keep those creative juices flowing, according to research. And many workout resources are now offering longer trials for people who are cooped up at home. Fitbit and Peloton are each offering three free months, while the Nike app is free until further notice.
  4. Take advantage of available tools and resources – Several technology companies are also offering discounts that can help freelancers through these times. Hootsuite helps you amplify your social media presence with a free 30-day trial, Shutterstock is offering up 10 free images, Microsoft has some free resume and cover letter templates to give your submissions a more polished look and GoDaddy provides details on how you can set up a free website. At OpenText Hightail, we’re offering 30 percent off our Teams plan to help you collaborate remotely. If you haven’t already, you can also take a look at the Twine Freelancer Toolkit or our recent Hightail blog post about free resources. There also are several financial resources available for freelancers, including unemployment benefits, grocery assistance, bill postponement, grants and more, according to a recent Adweek article.
  5. Challenge your creativity – You may have seen recent articles pointing out that Shakespeare wrote King Lear and Sir Isaac Newton developed calculus during their quarantines. A lot of creativity can happen while you’re safe at home and find yourself with time on your hands. Volunteering your services for a non-profit organization can be very rewarding, in addition to giving you more to add to your portfolio and new people to network with. You can also offer up some free content, like a blog post, design or editing services to local and nonprofit organizations to help keep you sharp and keep your name out there as a thought leader. You might even find a way to reinvent yourself, like this photographer who found a photography business tied to restaurant takeout. Even better, harness your creativity to play a video game to find a treatment for coronavirus.
  6. Have some fun – As the quote from The Shining goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” And creatives don’t have time to be dull. It’s never been easier to take a field trip to another country to keep things interesting. Strap your laptop onto your exercise bike and go for a ride in the French Alps, then tour the Musee d’Orsay or visit the French Catacombs. After your adventures, make some French crepes. And then once those crepes are ready, write about them on a fancy menu board, like the UX designer in this #WinningAtWFH post does.

It’s also important to realize that, even if you are in quarantine by yourself, you’re not alone. As part of the fun and to feel even more connected, check out some popular, more positive images and stories during quarantine, like this plane full of healthcare workers headed to help out in New York, this socially distanced dancing 97-year-old, these funny tweets about working from home or these photos of music and encouragement from balconies around the world.

Do you have some creative ideas to help freelancers weather the storm, work from home more effectively or collaborate on creative projects? I’d love to hear them at lzid@opentext.com.


About the Author

Linda Zid is a product marketing manager at OpenText Hightail, who enjoys writing about creative collaborations and the solutions that make them great (and she has been both a freelancer and someone who hires freelancers).

OpenText Hightail is the essential collaboration software for freelancers sharing creative content for review and approval. With one place to share large multimedia files, collect precise feedback and approve content, Hightail streamlines the creative review process and helps keep projects on schedule. From now through July 31st, 2020, save 30% on a Hightail Teams plan, which allows you to share files up to 50GB with unlimited storage and access Hightail’s creative collaboration features including precise comments, version control, side-by-side version compare and real-time discussions.

You’ll also have access to custom branding and Hightail’s unique Uplink feature, which allows you to collect files from guests, without asking them to sign up.

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OpenText Hightail

OpenText Hightail

OpenText Hightail is the essential collaboration software for freelancers sharing creative content for review and approval. With one place to share large multimedia files, collect precise feedback and approve content, Hightail streamlines the creative review process and helps keep projects on schedule.