Freelancing in uncertain times: what are the positives?

by Rachel Smith
20 March 2020

I know, I know. It feels like there isn’t a whole lot to be positive about right now.

A killer virus is sweeping the world, global markets are crashing, there are rumblings that a recession is imminent. Freelancers have been ignored in stimulus packages, the balance of our super funds are plummeting. And many of us are losing work hand over fist.

In the past 2 days alone I’ve fielded calls from half a dozen friends and family about the state of play. Anxiety has been high on everyone’s agenda.

But again, I’ve gotta ask: what are the positives of this hairy and unpredictable situation we’re in? Are there any glass-half-full nuggets of wisdom to glean from all of this? I think so.

1. Freelancers can thrive in uncertain times (often far better than in-house staff).

I sometimes toy with the idea of looking for a permanent job. Sometimes, the idea of steady work and a monthly pay cheque appeals (especially in times like these). But my parents, who are very much of the job-for-life generation, completely quashed that idea on the phone to me today.

By their reasoning, I’d been freelance for a long time (20+ years). I’d built a strong business with a portfolio of loyal clients, so while my income could take a hit if I lost one or two, I’d be in a far worse position losing my sole in-house job. And I’m cheaper to hire on a short-term basis than it is to have a full-time employee. Who are those clients gonna call? Freelancers.

2. Freelancers live with uncertainty constantly, and we’re used to pivoting our way around it.

If you made it through the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008 as a freelancer, you can do it again. Make no mistake: the shit is very likely to hit the fan and things might be lean for a while, but don’t forget that you’re in the driver’s seat of your business. You have strong freelancer networks and systems in place. You can cut back and have some control over your costs. Dammit, you can hustle in your sleep.

What all this boils down to is agility and your ability to try new things. Like upskilling. Tweaking your marketing, updating your own portfolio. You can put together some brand new discount packages for your services and promote the shizz out of them on LinkedIn and other social media. You can brainstorm strategies to help your clients weather the storm, and offer yourself as an extra pair of hands on deck – even doing things you might not have otherwise. You can send pitches to editors and LOIs to former and current clients letting them know you’re available for quick turnaround work and suggesting ideas.

3. Freelancers have the freedom to tap into new industries.

This is a big one. Even if you’re scared and haven’t written for those industries before, a little research goes a long way AND many of your skills are translatable. For example, ten years ago I would’ve fallen off my chair in disbelief if someone told me I’d be writing about finance, business and insurance in the near future (after years interviewing celebrities, doing movie reviews and writing travel stories). But I have some solid clients in these areas now and they’ve become great income streams.

While some industries (like travel) are temporarily tanking, others are going to be in need of content, comms, crisis PR, etc etc. What might those be? Banking is just one of them. Health and medical is another. And with the shift to online and working from home, industries serving that trend will also be in need. Many digital outlets, too, will need vast amounts of informative and engaging content for people stuck at home, bored, desperate for entertainment, how-to pieces, tips on keeping the kids amused, ways to make the most of the pantry, strategies for staying connected with loved ones. How can you spin this to your advantage? What’s new and fresh that you can pitch that taps into the current reality?

4. The remote working that’s happening now may trigger a truly positive culture shift.

Running a jobs board, I feel like I’ve been banging on my drum for years about why companies should hire freelancers, the benefits of outsourcing projects and embracing remote working.

So I’ve been watching with great interest as so many companies start sending their employees to work from home in droves. Yes, Covid-19 has forced the issue, but suddenly freelancers are the experts in this way of working and watching bemused as the in-house staff fumble and try to get with the program. Just look at the millions of blog posts flooding your feeds in the past week (including ours, sorry) about pointers for remote working.

And, yes, part of me hopes this will trigger a real culture shift, away from the old-school bums on seats policy and more towards an enthusiasm for remote freelancers. I’m hoping it will mean a surge in more remote short gigs and jobs for us all, by companies who realise it’s cost-effective and smart to use freelancers plug the skill gaps in their teams.

5. The most successful freelancers are resilient and know they can navigate to the other side of a crisis.

Take a freelance copywriter friend of mine who works across marketing, advertising and corporate comms.

“When the GFC kicked in, I’m not going to lie, it was a bad year. This was because work just froze up — clients were suddenly cancelling or indefinitely delaying projects. No one wanted to commit to spend. There was clearly a lot more competition suddenly for what work there was thanks to layoffs. I got through that year somehow,” she remembers.

“I still had work and made money, just significantly less than I had been in years prior. However, the following year, there was a dramatic turnaround and I actually found the work rolling in. This is because in the interim companies had laid off staff and axed their big agencies so they needed contractors more than ever. If you can make it through this tough patch, maintaining your existing clients as much as possible and forming new relationships wherever you can, you’ll be ok.”

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Make no bones about it, freelancing during uncertain times can be tough. Are you hustling more than ever, tapping new industries, picking up new clients? To help, we’re giving away 5 copies of our powerful new lead generation tracker worth $19.95. Leave a comment below about what you’re doing to weather the coronavirus crisis and you’ll go into the draw to win.

Rachel Smith

15 responses on "Freelancing in uncertain times: what are the positives?"

  1. Nigel says:

    As a freelancer, you’re typically either frantically trying to get work completed or desperately shaking the trees to get work in. I suspect things will return to normal sooner than is being predicted but if freelancers do have a quiet period where they have nothing to write and there is no point pitching anyone, that would seem to be a good time to do a SWOT analysis and engage in some unhurried reflection about their longer-term business goals.

  2. Louise says:

    Great to think about the positives. I too hope that when employers are forced to have a go at letting employees work from home, it will seem much more acceptable in the future – even beneficial.

  3. helenhawkes says:

    Yep, Rach, I remember the GFC and it was a pretty bad time for freelancers. But we survived it and we can now. I also think that, post COVID-19, there will be a dramatic shake up in how businesses work and that might be great for freelancers.

  4. lauren martin says:

    There will be so many shifts that happen in this time – it’s important to stay positive and be open to the opportunities, which is BAU for freelancers! Thanks for the excellent post.

  5. Bianca Smith says:

    I’m kind of excited for a short break. Instead of client projects I get to put more polish on Brand: Bianca (finish building out the content on my sites and do the training I’ve been delaying). My clients also tend to book me full time for a few weeks so I’m suggesting maybe they just book me for a day a week until they adjust to their new normal.

  6. Karen Gee says:

    Such a great article – thanks Rach. I’ve started making some new contacts in the hope of getting more work, to try to broaden the base of the kinds of companies I work for, including going back to a very old industry for me.

  7. Alison Hill says:

    I’m going to use any slowdown in my work to learn things (online, of course!). I’ve earmarked courses on SEO, UX copywriting and some basic tech things. I find that working freelance for 10 years has left me behind in things like videoconferencing software and the like, so I will use the time to catch up a bit.

  8. Kirien Withers says:

    Thanks for great post Rachel, I think we are very blessed that at least for us its business as usual even though we need to chase harder, innovate better, think sideways in curve balls and quell the oh-oh belly fear more regularly. At least we know our systems and can get straight into it without any new basic methodology to slow us up … and well, I’ve been ‘stuck at home working’…. for a very long time now! I just don’t make as good a coffee as my favourite cafe.

  9. Naomi says:

    Just doing the best I can! I’m focusing on adding as much value as I can to current clients and my social audiences. No business plan as of yet. Just creating good content and not giving up. Love this article!

  10. This time has lit a fire under me, so to speak, I have spent the last 12 months working part-time and freelancing for a previous employer which was steady income and so I was blase about finding more work. Then my freelancing work gets put on pause and suddenly I am hustling (for a lack of a better word) to get new clients and new work that if all goes well will mean I may not be able to accept my previous client back in the same way in the future.

    This was the shock to my system I needed to get my arse into gear to be the freelancer I knew I could be and actually work hard to get the work. I will also use this time, once finances are sorted, to work on my website update, some training options I have wanted to offer for a while and see what else I can use my skills for.

  11. Thank you for writing this post! It’s good to shift perspectives and try to see the silver linings during this difficult time. It’s certainly reassured me as I was in panic mode for a bit! As a freelancer, I think I’d like to slow down and use this down time to upskill myself so that when the market stabilizes again, I’ll be in a much better position for new gigs.

  12. Tracey Porter says:

    Great post Rach. I actually think my existing clients are getting better value out of me as a result of COVID-19. Instead of frantically working to file a piece because I need to get the next one underway, I feel my writing is becoming more considered. Thanks to the Rona, I now have the space to breathe.

  13. Emma Lovell says:

    As a freelancer of 10 years, the positive is that we have been here before. Not in terms of a pandemic, but in terms of the uncertainty. That’s been a lot of my career. I feel like I’ve been training for this and now it’s game time. I’m pulling on every strategy, tool and skill I’ve built over the years to help me through this time, and to support my community. I love working from home and one of my biggest down falls is popping out throughout the day to do other things. That is no more! I’m grounded, focused and dedicated to this work from home life and I hope that this time will show companies/ orgs that it is possible for them to have remote workers and contractors too.

  14. Amanda Hughes says:

    Another great piece of content thank you

  15. Bunny Banyai says:

    Thanks Rachel, I needed this. I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed by the sudden shift in gear and 24/7 parenting that I’d neglected to pitch to any editors, figuring it would be futile anyway. You’ve encouraged me to get off my couch and, well, back onto the couch to be honest, as that’s where I usually work anyway ( any physiotherapist reading this right now will probably be weeping, I know it’s a terrible habit)

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