I’m not going to sugarcoat it – times are tough for many freelancers. As this article in the Financial Post succinctly put it:
“Your income can vary wildly from month to month and is likely being cut back as companies shave costs. Your check may come in the mail, or it may not. Your healthcare is expensive, or you may not even be able to afford it – which makes you even more terrified of the coronavirus.”
I have always said that freelancers who play the long game will ultimately come out on top. It may not seem like the right approach when you need a new contract today. But in the absence of having a fairy godmother, it is the absolute best thing you can do in troubled times.
How do you play the long game during a crisis? Here are my top recommendations:
Be gracious, even if work disappears – it’s easy to get emotional when a project that was in the works fades away or a long-term contract is suspended. But it’s important to remember that this person will likely be in the position to hire you again at some point. Be gracious and do everything you can to help the project succeed, even without you. That kind of commitment will be remembered in better days.
Keep paving new paths – one of the biggest mistakes a freelancer can make is to stop prospecting when times are good. If you don’t contact your network, you can easily become a distant memory. For those who’ve kept prospects warm, now is the time to ask for assistance, either work or referrals. There is still work available in many fields, and it doesn’t hurt to let people know you’re looking. For those of you who’ve let your network lapse, if you have free time on your hands, start re-connecting. A lot of people have time for virtual coffees these days.
Focus more on how others are faring than pitching your own services – when calling your network, be sure to lead in with how they and their company are faring. This is a time to give and be of service. Letting others vent helps manage their anxiety. It may even give you an opportunity to suggest a way you can help. And if it doesn’t, stick to soft sell techniques. A simple “Let me know if you need any assistance, I’d love to help,” will suffice.
Alter your messaging and offers for the times – smart freelancers are tailoring their services and messaging to the current times. As a market research consultant, I’m spending my time helping clients decide what projects are appropriate right now and how to position them in a way that doesn’t sound tone deaf. This is what my clients need. As a writer, your clients may need to be reaching out to their customers with urgent or reassuring messages about how they’re responding to this situation. Make sure your offer is consistent with the client experience.
Offer a temporary discount (if necessary) – I am loathe to suggest cutting your rate as it will make some clients think they can negotiate you down to the bone. But if discounting is necessary, the key is to set parameters for the discount. Be clear that that rate applies only to the next project, or to the next three months. After this, your normal rate will apply once again. Also be sure to position the discount as something you are giving to clients to help them during difficult times, rather than something you need to do to pay your mortgage.
Take stock of your financial situation, and figure out what (if anything) you’ll be doing differently once the pandemic ends. If you let your emergency fund slide and are now scrambling, be sure to build it up again once that is an option. If you are charging more than you’d like on your credit cards, be sure to pay those down as soon as possible.
Check in on your peers – If you’ve previously thought of fellow freelancers as a threat to your income, now is the time to shift that attitude. Other freelancers are likely also struggling and could use someone to lean on in this time. Having a support network makes us all feel better, and may even benefit you in the future with work partnerships.
Leverage your expertise – leaders are born in times of adversity. If clients and prospects can benefit from your expertise right now, share it freely. Don’t stop there – take your knowledge to social media and let the rest of the world benefit. I know from experience that the value you give to others in times like this come back to you exponentially.
It’s easy to panic right now. Take a deep breath and realize that you will see the other side of this challenge. You need to decide what your freelance practice is going to look like once you do. Remember, you are playing the long game, even in the difficult times.
If I can help, feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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