2020 has certainly been quite something. As if hurricanes and wildfires weren’t devastating enough, March arrived, and with it came a deadly, global pandemic. And it’s not done yet.
Along with everybody else, many freelancers were completely blindsided by the advent of COVID-19 and its potentially devastating effect on business, not to mention the tens of thousands killed by the disease.
The challenges faced by freelance writers are many in the best of times, from clients who completely undervalue your skills, to making sure you keep on top of marketing, to out-and-out writer’s block.
Many freelancers are also parents, being attracted to the flexibility offered by the self-employed lifestyle. But, juggling sudden home-schooling responsibilities with a full work schedule coupled with the ever-looming threat of work drying up completely makes for a very stressful cocktail.
So what are some of the main problems freelancers face during a pandemic?
1. Flexible working hours.
Okay so this sounds like a positive, and it is. Most of the time.
But, during a pandemic when you are trying to juggle home life, home-schooling, and the work that brings in money, suddenly having no fixed hours doesn’t seem like such a great way to live.
You find yourself working into the small hours trying to meet deadlines which does not bode well for stress levels.
You need to try to combat burn out by setting time aside in your diary each week that is protected, non-work time. Your mental health will thank you for it.
2. Constant marketing and self-promotion.
There is an unspoken consensus amongst freelancers that you should spend approximately 20% of your working time on marketing your services so that you are lining up work long-term.
For the famously introverted writer-types, this is pretty vomit-inducing, but needs must. With the world set to enter the worst global recession since World War II, writers really need to be making sure their marketing strategy is on point.
Not only will you want to make sure your website is optimised for SEO, but you also need to be on top of your socials, update your portfolio, and brush up your CV.
3. Inconsistent cash flow.
This is always a concern that is at the back of a freelancer’s mind. The pandemic has done nothing to help this situation.
Freelancers operate without the benefits enjoyed by employees – no paid annual leave, no sick pay, no maternity pay, to name a few.
It helps to be clear with payment terms on your invoices, and make sure you chase up late payments.
As redundancies soar, and unemployment rises, established freelancers are finding themselves competing with cheaper, entry-level writers.
It is even more important, therefore, to spend more time on marketing and communicating to clients what value you bring, even if you might not be the cheapest writer.
Use your USP – your experience. You know how to navigate the freelance world already and know the pitfalls and how to overcome them.
Of course, remote working is always pretty isolating, but a lot of freelancers will make use of co-working spaces for networking social interaction.
COVID-19 has seen the closure of co-working spaces and there is no guarantee they will survive the inevitable recession.
Perhaps one good thing about the pandemic though, is that conferences that previously had been in-person events have gone online, so suddenly a world of opportunities can open up for networking.
Suddenly, previously inaccessible conferences in foreign countries are not out of reach. It’s not quite the same as face-to-face meetings but you can still get to meet and talk to like-minded peers.
6. Passion projects get shelved.
A lot of freelancers tend to pack out their schedules with better-paid client work that isn’t always in their preferred field.
In difficult times, the decision to work in a better-paying niche is more easily made.
What you can do in these difficult times is make a long-term plan to return to your passion once the economy recovers.
7. Improving skills.
As part of professional development, freelancers are used to constantly striving to keep up with industry changes and trends.
This is something that might be a little trickier given the ever-changing lockdown situation.
You’ve suddenly got less time and freedom to complete your client work, let alone finding time to learn new skills.
The good news is that courses that you might have attended in person sometimes offer discounts for online or correspondence versions.
8. Resisting the lure of low paying gigs.
It’s difficult to hold fast with your rates during a downturn, but some freelancers manage to not reduce their fees.
In fact, some sectors have not seen any reduction in demand at all. The problem with charging less is that it attracts clients who do not value your services.
It’s a difficult one to judge and it is also niche-dependent.
You might want to pivot your offering to focus on niches that pay well and still have a need for a lot of content. E-commerce, technology, and health are all strong areas to be involved with.
9. Managing burnout.
With gyms, pools, cinemas, theatres, and other entertainment venues all closed, the usual methods of letting off steam are all shut off.
However, there are plenty of streamed fitness classes or YouTube workouts you can take part in.
There are more streaming services than ever before, and you might now be able to relax and read that book that you never got around to or go for a run in your local park in the fresh air.
10. Slow pace.
According to a survey for Evernote, 48% of Americans are enjoying a slower pace of life than they did before the pandemic.
This might not be a bad thing at all. Life was always a rush with appointments here and there. A slower pace might doesn’t always relate to rates of pay and volume of work..
Not all of the negatives brought by the pandemic are insurmountable. Take time to review your offering, and it can’t hurt to go back to basics and revisit the strategies you used when you first started out.