Everyone is sharing memes about how the freelancers survive coronavirus due to our self-isolating work styles. Oh, my freelance friends, if only it were that simple.
Having been through the GFC, I can tell you right now even mild to non-existent impacts to Australian business are felt strongly in freelancing. Freelancers, casual workers and start-ups are almost like the canaries in the economic cage when disaster strikes.
We have to get ready to fight. It really is that simple. We can no longer coast along, laughing at the misery of clients that don’t pay on time, cracking jokes about real work life balance struggles and whether we should put on pants.
The virus may not spread to impact as predicted, but you can bet the nervousness of business and government will.
Here’s how I believe that Australian freelancers survive coronavirus and come out the other side prospering
Change the way you invoice
Cashflow is already a significant issue, as our report into the State of Australian Freelancing demonstrated. When global issues come, the purse strings get even tighter.
Businesses can and will commit to work and then freak out and pull away. They will also over-invest in your ability to save their business from faltering by committing to projects they can ill-afford. They will also be hit by sudden, expected disruptions. And many cultures will be carved in fear as budgets, jobs and leeway are all slashed.
You cannot stop a business from turning around overnight and changing their mind, pulling their funds or losing their budget. But you can protect yourself from taking on the negative aspects that result from it.
Freelancers survive coronavirus triggered economic downturn and market changes by:
· Taking ScoMo’s advice to “Pay your suppliers not just in time, but ahead of time, especially now” to heart and asking for what you need from your clients when negotiating terms
· Passing that attitude onto your contractors and support staff by paying them on time, too
· Setting minimums on jobs as upfront- e.g. $700 and below rather than hourly
· Charge a deposit, commencement fee, milestones or whatever you call upfront and at regular intervals
· Save money now. Cut your costs, re-factor what you are going to spend, take more out of your earnings and squirrel more money away. The worst outcome of having saved a lot is you have a lot of savings to use when you need it the most
· Don’t get shy about chasing money. Companies will fall over. Don’t be the freelancer left with nothing but a hole where your former client’s invoice should be. Nobody cares how nice and patient you are once there’s no money to be found
If you feel squeamish about asking people for money, find a way around it. Get a VA that does debt collection. Download the Collectmore App and memorise the scripts. Ask your accountant to give you tips or kick you up the butt. If you’re super terrible at asking for what is owed to you, accept that you will need to give 20-30% to a debt collection agency and factor that into your quotes to compensate.
My message is clear though- get over the cringe you have for asking for your money and do it quickly.
Review your service offering
Australian freelancers survive coronavirus if and when we’re willing to innovate.
Our clients will be changing the way they work, the budgets they possess, and their focus will shift. We’ve already seen jobs cancelled in tourism, decisions delayed in events and shifted focuses in healthcare, education, and NGOs and NFPs that look into other parts of the world.
This will continue. And there will be a knock-on effect for international travel into domestic. As money dries up and focus shifts in key employers such as tourism, healthcare, hospitality and education, it will change the spending habits of the country and tighten budgets elsewhere.
There are opportunities here to reinvent yourself and adapt as the market’s needs change.
How you review your services in light of changes are:
· Look at what you offer – write it all down
· Mark each service as ESSENTIAL or NON-ESSENTIAL to a business continuing to operate
· Focus on the essential items with your own social media, blogging, general marketing, advertising, relationship building etc
· Map out the problems your client will face due to coronavirus
· How can you help them solve those problems, allay their customer fears and get on with the job of making money?
· Pitch that to your old, existing and potential client base in a tasteful, helpful way
Our clients are probably looking right now at all the beautiful plans they had for 2020. They will be feeling the shock and wondering how they get through this. If you come up with an outline of a game plan, even if they reject it later, you give them hope.
Hope is powerful in situations like this. And it’s something most people won’t think to give.
That makes you stand out from the crowd.
Get well-versed in facts
You may sell dog pampering in Wollongong or wine from the Barossa Valley for your clients, but you will still need to answer the questions posed by coronavirus. Their customers are the customers who buy toilet roll on mass, who bypass Asian restaurants and generally panic at the first sign of anything.
The clients you have will be flat out thinking their business issues and feeling the strain. Freelancers survive coronavirus by recognising it’s your job to do the thinking for them.
How do you do that?
· Assess your client in terms of their risks. E.g. what are common misconceptions floating around? Is there travel involved in their product? Are there areas within the product that cause potential communication issues?
· Think outside the box. Panic is not logical. The toilet paper crisis has taught us that. Make it your job to think of the lunacy that make occur and be prepared for it
· Follow the hygiene and contact guidelines. Wash your hands for 30 seconds, carry hand sanitiser, don’t shake hands, request the virtual meeting, don’t kiss hello, stay out of hot spot areas, and lead by example with your clients, contractors and peers
· Know the facts. Linking to places such as the Global Wellness Institute and their Positively Well Global Health Resources means you have credible, up-to-date resources at your fingertips
· Stop feeding the misinformation machine. Resist the temptation to scare your clients into working with you off the back of this pandemic or potential financial crisis. This is not something to mess with for your own personal gain.
We have a unique opportunity right now because people believe that freelancers survive coronavirus because we’re self-isolating and remote work enabled. Let’s not ruin it by stretching the truth or not knowing how to answer our client’s biggest concerns with evidence-based solutions.
Make contingency plans your best friend
We’ve all seen those times when a social media blow up has a company on their knees. Or a festival has failed to address problems in a timely fashion. You can also apply contingency plans to disruptions in workflow, issues with racism and ableism, dramatic loss of staff, major changes in communication, sudden illness and death, changes to accessibility to services like electricity or internet and more.
Think of it as the white-collar version of having a building fire plan or a terrorist event activation plan. Only you focus on internal communication, digital assets, people’s attitudes, breakdowns in culture, social media impacts, and strategy.
Have contingency plans built into your offerings. Contingency plans are about speaking to customers when they freak out, such as with social media or internal communications. They also come in handy for events, festivals or anything that relies on people gathering. Contingency plans also need to cover other impacts- e.g. what happens if you can’t get stock from overseas, your supply chain is disrupted, or the tech fails?
If you plan to have a plan, it brings peace of mind whether or not it needs to be activated. And trust me, when it has to be activated, it makes everyone’s life a lot easier.
What’s in a contingency plan? It includes but is not limited to:
· Pre-canned messages for internal and external customers on specific situations
· A suggested go-bag list that is specific to keeping communication lines open plus the location of that go-bag
· Plan A, B and C to meet disruptions to customer flow, communication, PR or whatever you think you need to cover
· List of relevant contacts so you’re not digging through your laptop or dealing with a flat phone
You may think this sounds more like a primer for zombie attack than a plan for how freelancers survive coronavirus, but the same bones apply to your business. You need to have this in place in case you get sick. Or your clients get sick and you’re asked to step up.
Even if you never need to use it, you’ll have a lot less to worry about through feeling prepared.
Be optimistic about outcomes
All this talk of economic downturn, being sick, changing your business and fixing your invoicing policy is not going to make for happy breakfast banter. However, having a plan brings peace of mind. The optimism can be built on top of that mental bedrock.
Here’s how you stay optimistic during a major impact:
· Resilience is needed, so self-care is your friend. You have to make sure you make time for yourself in a positive and proactive way. If you need that, there’s 30 days of self-care waiting for you to read and get ideas from on the Freelance Jungle Patreon
· Don’t use “oh well, only the vulnerable die” attitudes. Not only is full of ageism and ableism, it soaks into our brains and sends some pretty dark messages. Think about what you can control, how you can help others and choose to stay positive in the things you say and do
· Stay away from scarcity mindset. Scarcity is what drives us to hoard goods, get hyper-competitive and turn into horrible human beings. It is common in business through sales techniques, SEO rankings, and “I’m number 1” mentality. It will get worse if the virus spread and/or the economy starts to slow. Choose your leaders, your peers and your information sources wisely
· Embrace optimism. A University of Kentucky study (2010) found that optimism improves our immune responses to both viruses and bacteria. When we lose our optimism, we lower what’s called cell-mediated immunity, which makes it easier for our health to erode.
In short, we may not be able to change what is happening, but we can change our attitude to it. And that attitude might even help protect us.
Looking for more strategies on how freelancers survive coronavirus and thrive? Hit the Freelance Jungle now. Seriously, there are already a bunch of threads to help you out!