One thing you learn super quickly as a freelancer is get on board or get run over. By nature, we have to be nimble, innovative and push.
That isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
You know that twee, cheesy thing people say about your attitude making all the difference in a crisis? It’s true. We forget sometimes that flipping the script doesn’t mean things are not stressful or painful. It’s not meant to lessen the impact in any way.
It’s about building strategies to get through what we need to get through.
As a freelancer with an anxiety disorder, I can tell you in all honesty that stomping the anxiety down doesn’t work. It will smash through the denial or chase you through the fields of delayed reaction twice as hard. Nor does giving it fuel, as attractive as it may seem.
You have to work to observe the sensations, look at the feelings from a distance and give it the old rational review routine.
I am hearing a lot of people cannot focus right now. The things you’d usually do feel pretty small in comparison to what needs to be done. And the old rules of freelancer life have run off with those jobs you expected to have.
One freelancer to another, I present to you some small head changes that might release the second wind you need right now.
Be a friend to your current and future freelancer allies
If you are a freelancer, now is not the time to hold onto grudges or heckle from the sidelines. But I think it applies to our clients, politicians, and the wider community as a whole, too.
A person who feels appreciated will always do more than expected. That’s why it’s important to give rather than hold back in a climate like this. It’s also important to be as open-hearted as possible rather than wall off or engage in snark.
Your client, landlord, advocate, politician, union, supplier, grandma, favourite courier, acquaintance, best friend, old boss, school community, neighbour and so on and so forth could be your next saving grace.
By helping people out, connecting them up and building a network of resources, ideas and connections, you open the channels to freelance support and help for you as an individual freelancer.
Plus, the act makes you feel like you are bigger than something else. That you have a community. And that together, somehow, the answers will become clearer.
Be staying open to possibility, you create it.
How you can help others (without stressing yourself out):
- Ask them how they are doing – yep, that simple!
- If you’re seeing people enact change you admire, ask what you can do to help
- Have an honest conversation or send a compassionate email. If your client or landlord knows you care, you can start dialogue and remove the distance that often depersonalises us
- Come armed with solutions to problems you suspect they are having. Nothing says “I’m with you” like anticipating another person’s struggle.
Your job is to make the client, landlord, friend, politician or arts body (etc) feel smart enough to make their own decisions. Empower them by inspiring them. Be the freelancer with a plan that they can depend on.
There are some wonderful things already coming out of the arts and freelance sectors through individuals attempting to find a new way forward. Different times call for a different approach.
I keep remembering the words of Osher Gunsberg in his book where he talks about losing every single opportunity he had. His agent told him that because he had no opportunities, he also had the time and space to create them.
Now I know that seems flippant at a time where contracts and jobs are being cancelled left and right. But it looks like it’s the only sustainable way forward.
While I campaign for the stimulus to be extended and for real relief to be given to the sole operators, freelance and arts sector workers, I know whatever relief we receive will need to be paired up with a lot of change, hard work and innovation.
Now is the time to work on crazy, sustainable ideas. Meet the people need. Get creative and think about the problems you see that need solving that you can do right now, in a short span of time and for maximum impact.
It’s also the time to set aside any cynicism at what people try and/or what we are given as support. We have to switch our heads to create a culture where innovation and ideas are respected, nurtured and applauded.
Because it’s that innovation in business, arts and freelance that will keep us motivated and fed.
Right now, there’s a lot of uncertainty so innovating will give us the purpose and sense of control over our destiny we so desperately need right now.
How to innovate as a freelancer:
- Look at what is sorely needed right now
- Assess what you have available to you in terms of resources and time
- Pick the quickest idea that meets the two other criteria and give it a shot
I know that sounds basic, but the best ideas usually are.
Hang out with someone who makes you happy
It’s fair to say that all our colleagues, friends, family and freelancer acquaintances are hurting right now. From fear of what might happen with work through to issues related to health, child-rearing, economic downturn and bad actors in our community, there is a lot to feel overwhelmed by.
This is where being around the right people matters.
Have the difficult conversations you need to have but make space and time for humour and connection as well.
Choose the people that make you feel inspired and buoy your spirit. I spent an hour and a half on the phone with my big sister earlier this week and it was a riot. We laughed at a lot of absurd things. But she also told me about her current woes, and I told her what it is like to freelance right now.
From those conversations, we made plans to support each other. And those plans and that laughter made all the difference.
I also caught up with fellow advocate to have a big chin wag about anything and everything. That helped enormously.
There are a couple of things you can do:
- Call someone you have been worried about and check in, so the fears don’t remain the art of your imagination
- Digitally connect up with your fellow freelancers for working sessions, masterminds, freelancer friendly virtual events or simply a coffee chat
- Reach out to check on someone who you know might be feeling the pinch more than others due to disability, travel plans changing, added stress through kids and so on
- Find the jokes and share them. A lot of people are overwhelmed by the news and everything that is happening. But finding the time to share good news and humour makes all the difference
- Don’t be afraid to laugh and take a time out. Find your version in TV, film, song or podcast form and use it to your best advantage
- Share the experiences that give you joy. The Italians playing ping pong out windows or singing on balconies warm our hearts. Let’s start creating our own versions of these and adding to the joy.
Build trust in yourself and the people around you
Trust is the currency of a tanking economy, a pandemic, a natural disaster or hard times in general.
I think it was Paul Jarvis who wrote that the 3 aspects of trust are confidence, competence and benevolence.
What you want your client to feel when they think of you is:
- I believe what you say
- I believe you have the skills to do what you say
- I believe you are acting on my behalf
This is going to be incredibly important advice for people in freelance and/or who are trying to make ends meet in the next few months. It will be tougher to do because people often guard themselves and shrink back from vulnerability when they are hurting. But it’s also going to be an incredibly powerful glue to those you do reach.
We have to find our voices and our responses to the stress people are under.
The old ways of “here’s me and I am for sale. Check out my social proof” are over.
Get intimate with your freelance business. Work out what it is that you really what to champion for people during this tough time. Imagine what you would do to fix things and then relate it back to the skills and abilities you have.
For me, it’s writing and annoying the heck out of people to get them thinking. And that’s what I am doing. Opening a vein to the page to say, “this is hard, and something needs to be done. But there’s also hope here.”
How we go about it and what will work will be in tester phase for a while. We have to be prepared to fail and cry and learn.
But I do believe that focus on doing it for the right reasons and seeing the gaps in the market will be what brings us through this. I have to, because to deny that sense of thinking means to have no other alternative.
Here are a few tips to building trust as a freelancer:
- Reach out and talk to your clients. Don’t wait for the uncomfortable conversations. If it’s coming, hiding won’t help. And if it’s a 50/50 moment, maybe you’ll give them more to think about
- Come prepared with solutions. Overcoming objections (instead of leaning into sob stories) will get you from considered to trusted in a big leap. We know the problems we face. We trust the person who has a plan to do something (anything) about it
- Have empathy. Make more space than you would usually for conversations with people. Also, recognise that empathy goes a long way. Ranking your hardship or their hardship or whatever is never cool. Now, it’s downright distasteful. Everyone has a reason to feel worried right now and if you are the kinder light in a darker world, it will build trust from that hopefulness
- Have a voice. Review that ailing social media, blog, SEO, podcast, and marketing plan. The digital world is about to be our biggest companion and saving grace. Now is the time to get it tippy top!
- Look to your inner leader. A leader doesn’t have to be someone who is shiny, brave and has all the answers. A leader is simply the person who is brave enough to stand up and to say, “I’ll give it a crack.” Your clients, freelance peers, friends, community etc are overwhelmed so you are uniquely placed to show them a little courage goes a heck of a long way. And they’ll thank you for it. Mostly, anyway 😉
Trust is what we need right now.
Switch your success yardstick for a better one
We default to measuring success in terms of money, status, and social media because it’s easier to measure.
But it’s far more intangible qualities that make for profound impacts.
It’s harder to measure kindness, parenting skills, job satisfaction, our purpose, supporting our clients purpose, the difference we make, our impact on the industry, how future-proof our ideas are, what we care about when it comes to community, if we can be relied upon, gratitude, how we lead, what we do to inspire others, how we handle crisis and/or stress, and all those tissue paper concepts.
Yet these are the values we need to have front and centre.
Besides, most of us will face dramatically reduced earnings and/or tougher slogs to make the coin. I’d argue that crowing about how amazing you are is going to be slightly less fashionable. And as the world shifts back to basics in our thinking, planning, work and daily lives, many of the extrinsic things we admired will melt away.
Part of protecting each other is allowing people to do what they need to do without feeling shame or as though they have let us down, fallen from great heights or that they are less of a person for making some tough decisions.
In the last few days, I have spoken to friends as well as many a freelancer that has had to move home with their parents, front up to supermarkets for shelf packing jobs, cancel their tours and gigs, let staff go, put halt to projects that were going to be major streams of income in 2020, shutdown their holiday and rental income side-streams, refund deposits, beg their elderly parents for money to pay the mortgage, and more.
If you judge any one of these people for their decision-making right now, you’re as heartless as you are gutless.
What we should be admiring their strength, courage and ability to make tough calls in an increasingly changeable and stressful environment.
Now is the time to rip away the plastic pastiche of visibility and throw parades for the people who are doing their best in trying circumstances.
The Australian freelancer scene is changing
The enforced change coronavirus and the economic downturn is bringing big losses. We’re already seeing discussed in the Freelance Jungle and other arts sector related groups. And across the contract work in education, tourism, hospitality, travel and the casual workforce.
What heartens me though is that we are self-starters by nature. We’re innovative and curious. We fight for the opportunities on a regular basis. We believe in ourselves and we’re damn good at what we do.
If ever there was a group of people to allay the fears of the general public, it’s us.
We have to find our courage, connect up and get to it. But I am confident we can and will find a way.
Don’t forget to check out some of the innovations currently undertaken to get our voices heard and bring us together.