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This story originally appeared on DollarSprout.
As the COVID-19 pandemic is sending shock waves across the economy, forcing large corporations to cut their budgets, freelancers and other independent workers are feeling the pressure.
Freelancers make up 35% of the US workforce and contribute $ 1 trillion to the economy. But some have less work right now while others are working overtime to keep up with new demand. In addition to an uncertain financial future, some freelancers may struggle with isolation and anxiety.
There are still opportunities to build community, find sources of income, and stay productive during the pandemic. Here are some steps you can take to manage the emotional impact and make a living.
1. Communicate with your customers.
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Addressing current and prospects with a professional, empathetic tone can reassure them in the face of uncertainty. When contacting these customers, ask for an appointment to call to discuss their concerns or needs. These little gestures can go a long way now and after the crisis.
"Many experts assume that freelance work will be even more popular after COVID-19," says Andi Smiles, financial advisor for small businesses. "If you connect with people now, they can relate to you later."
To prepare, consider some of these resources:
- A page on your website that explains your pay rates and services.
- Another page tells you how to deal with changes during the pandemic and what new services you are offering.
- Social media posts that help customers understand how you are dealing with the crisis – and why you are the best person to contact.
- Email templates to send to new and existing customers.
Stick to these resources and document how you have dealt with issues throughout the pandemic so that you are better prepared for future crises if they arise.
2. Pivot to meet demand.
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Freelancers are natural adapters, but COVID-19 can make you work even harder. When some clients have stopped sending you work, you may need to find other sources of income or adjust your services.
Jackie Lam, freelance writer and financial advisor to artists and creatives, offers the following tips:
- Look for "Cross Sections". This is the interface between your skills and the requirements. For example, a pet sitter with relationship building skills can help deliver food and other items to her customers.
- Focus on the demand. What do your customers and their end users need right now? This is industry specific so you can reach out to your network for ideas or to do your own research.
- Repackage your services. Take a look at your full range of services and think about how you can customize it to stay competitive.
- Reach new customers. Send them an email, connect on social media, or ask a coworker to introduce yourself. Explain how you think your services can support the business.
Logan Allec, CPA and founder of the personal finance blog Money Done Right, noticed a shift in demand for his services during the pandemic.
"I'm a financial expert," says Allec, "but during COVID-19 people aren't worried about their taxes." They were concerned about unemployment and stimulus checks and the like. "
He started making YouTube videos to understand how COVID-19 is affecting your money and how to get financial aid. "I made over $ 30,000 in YouTube ad revenue in April alone with no partners," he says.
3. Find support in your freelance community.
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Even if you work from home without an employee, it is important to network with others in your industry.
"Coworkers are there to help you maintain your sanity, offer advice when you are struggling with any aspect of your business, and point out promising work instructions," says Lam. And if you're lucky enough to have a mentor, "they can help you define your values and create a game plan to help you achieve your business goals."
Your community is especially important during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. "People remember the people who helped them and made them feel better in an eerie time," says Allec. "Be there for people now, even if there is no immediate return, and you could develop relationships that could be extremely beneficial to both sides when things recover."
You can build these business relationships through social media groups, virtual meetups with local business owners and freelance friends. Conferences are also a great way to meet colleagues – although face-to-face events may be interrupted.
4. Review your contracts.
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Long term contracts between freelancers and customers tend to protect the customer rather than the freelancer. Customers can cut budgets during tough times, but don't bother you when it comes to paying bills and meeting retention agreements.
It is important to have a contract that protects you and clearly defines the scope of work, tariffs and payment terms. This can help you take legal action if a customer doesn't pay.
View your contracts or create a new template if you don't already have one. A lawyer who specializes in freelance work can help, or you can check out the Freelancers Union free contract builder.
5. Evaluate your finances.
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Now is a good time to review your budget and avoid unnecessary expenses. Review your business transactions over the past three to six months and consider avoiding services and products that you do not use or that do not help you make money.
You may also want to check your personal finances. If you don't know where to start, contact a nonprofit loan advisor. For example, GreenPath Financial Wellness and the Association of Independent Workers, two national not-for-profit organizations, have partnered to provide free services to independent workers during the pandemic.
6. Apply for scholarships.
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A scholarship is money that you apply for but don't have to repay. This can be a lifesaver once your income hits a hit.
First, find grants in your city or state, or grants that are specific to your industry. Some grants will also match your demographics. For example, some are aimed at women or people of color.
Smiles recommends getting specific: “Freelancer grants are very competitive and general funding runs out quickly. The more nuanced you get, the greater the chance of earning a scholarship. "
7. Take advantage of federal programs.
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In the past, independent workers could not claim unemployment insurance benefits. But the “Pandemic Unemployment Aid” (PUP) extends these benefits to the self-employed.
"It can fundamentally change people's financial security," says Smiles. "The downside is that you have to keep an eye on compliance requirements." Please visit your state's unemployed website for more information. Check if you need to apply through PUP.
Your professional business may also qualify for a federal loan or grant. Check the Paycheck Protection program or other resources through Small Business Administration. An SBA office near your city may be able to give you more specific advice.
8. Take care of things on your to-do list.
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In the months leading up to the pandemic, you may have had certain tasks at the bottom of your to-do list. But now is a good time to address them.
"When you're facing a lull, think about how you can make the most of the downtime," says Lam. "You may have been so busy with customer work that you haven't had an opportunity to revise your website or consistently post on your social media channels."
Some things to consider on your to-do list might include:
- Reply to emails.
- Catch up on bills.
- Update your contacts.
- Networking with colleagues.
- Build your website or develop new content for it.
- Make a list of people you want to work with or projects you want to do.
9. Set short and long term goals
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While ticking off your to-do list items is satisfying, it's also important to revise and rethink your business goals. Smiles recommends using this time to create a roadmap for setting or achieving long-term goals.
These long-term goals can include:
- Grow your business and hire people.
- Brainstorm long-term projects such as workshops or events.
- Development of a social media strategy.
Don't forget to set short-term goals as well. This could include increasing your prices, renegotiating a contract with a high paying customer, or offering a new service.
Check out 6 Awesome Goal Setting Activities That Will Make You 88% More Successful.
10. Work on a passion project.
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A passion project is usually a creative side project that excites and inspires you. Perhaps you've always wanted to write a book, create a podcast, or start a charity. And if in the past you lacked the time or energy to move your project forward, now you may have all the time in the world.
Even if the passion project isn't related to your work, it can still help advance your freelance career. These projects can demonstrate your full skills, expand your skills, and provide a new platform for various types of work. “They also tell customers, 'Hey, that's my point” or “This is my dream project.” Look what I can do, ”says Lam.
Get the ball rolling by defining your outcome or goal. Then plan the steps, figure out if you need to involve others, and set up a timeline. But remember: while the project can benefit your work, it should make you happy too.
11. Sign up for training programs.
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If you're not making an income, Lam suggests taking some time to improve yourself. You can invest in your business by improving your craft, learning new skills, or simply chatting with experienced freelancers.
You can also do this cheaply as dozens of online courses are currently free. A professional option is professional certification. For example, a personal finance writer can take courses for certified financial planners. Although you may have to spend money on the educational program, the new label can help you charge more for your services.
12. Take a mental break.
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The coronavirus pandemic is causing a historic spike in mental health problems – and they only get worse if your income is hit too.
If you're struggling, the Centers for Disease Control have a few ways to deal with stress:
- Take breaks from the news if it makes you feel anxious.
- Do sports regularly. Go for a walk or run, stretch, and meditate.
- Eat healthy meals and avoid alcohol.
- Get at least eight hours of sleep every night.
- Make time for activities that you enjoy.
- Connect with others using video chat and phone calls.
You should also take regular breaks, set regular office or work hours, and stick to a routine. The work-life balance is important, even if your finances feel uncertain.
Taking care of yourself also means taking care of your sanity. If you need to speak to a professional, some therapists offer virtual therapy sessions.
Take the time to think about your next steps
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When you are feeling the mental and emotional effects of the pandemic, you can hit the pause button. These tips are a starting point for taking care of yourself and your business. During this time, you can choose to work on your business, rest, or do a combination of both.
But it doesn't have to be an overwhelming process, says Smiles.
"You don't have to make big, sweeping changes to your business model," she advises. "Even asking how you can improve your business will help you expand your offerings and your income."
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