The world as we know it has changed. Since the coronavirus hit the U.S. early this year, businesses have had to continually shift to stay afloat, with freelancers and independent contractors in a unique position to adjust their practices for this new, uncertain economy.
Whether you’ve just started as a freelancer, or you’re a seasoned pro with decades under your belt, these freelancing hacks are designed to help you get the most from the market, while keeping your risk to a minimum.
Always be selling—with empathy
If you’re active on social media, you’ve probably seen the companies who’ve taken a swing at messaging during the COVID-19 pandemic… and missed horribly. It’s scary to get out there and try to market your services. How can you promote your business without seeming insensitive?
First, you shouldn’t stop selling. People are buying, even if they aren’t buying as much, or in the same industries. If your offerings can be adapted to these new needs, then continue marketing in a way that aligns with these market changes.
Instead of posting continually to social with pleas for more work or explaining how you’ve got an open schedule for the next month, differentiate yourself by highlighting the precise services you offer that are truly exclusive to you.
Explain your USP (“unique selling proposition”). Have you worked in the same industry for 10 years? Are you able to turn work around in 24 hours or less? These are the things that stand out. Use them.
You’ll get bonus points if you can express it in a way that says, “I’m fully aware of your struggles; here’s how I’m distinctively qualified to help you get through this.”
Create flexible payment solutions
If you’ve been sticking to rigid payment practices out of convenience or inability to learn new technologies, now’s the time to step up your accounts receivables game and start taking more payment options.
This doesn’t mean you have to start accepting bitcoin or wine for services. (Although those aren’t exactly terrible ideas, either.) But, for the best chance at getting cash within your typical payment window, offer your clients more payment methods, such as Venmo, Chase Bill Pay, PayPal, or Zelle—starting right now.
While your invoices should list your new payment methods, a quick email to clients when you send out your bill is also helpful. Here’s an example of what you could say:
“Hey! I know that things are a little wild right now with COVID-19. To make it easier for my clients, and to encourage a safe, paperless billing environment, I’m now accepting Venmo/Zelle/Chase Pay/PayPal/direct deposit.”
With so many working remotely these days, cutting checks can be a tall order for your clients (and time-consuming for you); helping them helps you get paid.
Brainstorm solutions for retainers
If you’ve worked on retainer before, you know how awesome it is to have those guaranteed dollars coming to you at the end of the month. COVID-19 has spooked a lot of clients into pausing retainers since many don’t know how they’ll fill those hours and aren’t sure if they can afford it.
For each of your retainer clients, start putting together a plan of alternative and essential services you can provide that are adjacent to what you do every day. For example, if you write, see if you can use those hours for research, pitching, editing, updating web copy, composing social media messages, or revamping SEO on landing pages.
Come up with ways that you can continue to support them during this time of uncertainty and keep the retainer partnership active.
Get creative with finances
When freelancers learned of the economic disruptions, many of them stopped buying stuff. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what many freelance clients did, resulting in less work for the gig economy.
There’s a balance between “cancel every online software service” and “buy all the things.” These steps can help you prioritize your freelance budget without going overboard.
Go through your last three months’ worth of transactions and write down all of your business-related purchases. (This will be easy if you have a bookkeeping or budgeting solution in place.)
For each item, ask the following questions:
Do I use this service/product? If not, why?
If it’s because you don’t like or need it, cancel it right away.
If it’s because you haven’t had time to use it, see if you can get some use out of it during this COVID-19 slump and before your next renewal date. Before the next billing cycle, reassess your usage and cancel if it’s still not worth the expense.
Does this service help me make money?
Keep any services that help you earn more than the cost. If it helps you be efficient or customize your services in a way that differentiates yourself in the market, it’s probably also worth keeping. And if you’ve heard good feedback from customers as a result of this purchase, then stick with it.
Do I truly enjoy this? While you can’t keep every purchase that makes you feel good, consider keeping a few. Whether it’s a course, community, magazine, or monthly gift box, do try to have at least one thing that puts joy into your workspace or day.
Assess monthly vs. annual billing. You probably have lots of services that you couldn’t cancel even if you wanted to because you bought it for an entire year.
Because money could be tight for some time, look at how much you could save by using a subscription for just three months out of the year. Even if the monthly rate is a bit higher than what you would pay annually, using it in the short term will still save you money.
It’s also the perfect time to look at how you pay for things in your business. If you’re not already using rewards credit cards to buy business purchases, see if this could help you save in the long run.
Even 3% back on streaming services or courses can help. If you have more than one credit card, look at which card will get you the most back for each purchase.
The future of freelancing
While it’s impossible to operate within a bubble, it can be helpful to step away from the news and social media chatter and look inward to why you do what you do. Like many freelancers, I find my career to be freeing, exhilarating, challenging, and an essential part of finding fulfillment and purpose. I also love helping people.
When the news of COVID-19 gets too heavy, look to your mission statement. Why did you get into this business in the first place? You may be surprised to find that answer will be unchanged from when you started and that it’s more relevant than ever before.
While the virus has made some parts of freelancing more challenging, it’s also helped many of us focus on the important things, become scrappier, and live with intention. Will we use what we learned to emerge as better business people? I certainly hope so.