The COVID-19 outbreak is having an immediate impact on the freelance community. It has slowed down the pace of business and, in some cases, has brought work to a grinding halt. Working professionals are adjusting their business models and taking advantage of any resources available to survive the new challenges of freelancing.
We have been monitoring the short, medium and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on working professionals to understand how they are preparing their businesses to tackle immediate priorities and plan for the future as a new normal emerges over the next few weeks/months.
Short-term: Freelancer utilisation is generally up, mostly for those able to add value remotely; finishing essential projects and transitioning businesses to a distributed workforce
Medium-term: Freelancer demand is projected to slow down as businesses start eliminating projects that are not critical to weather the recession. There will still be opportunities for some as clients will prefer accessing contractors than hiring staff.
Long-term: Once recovery is complete, with most businesses surviving the crisis, opportunities for freelancers will start getting back to normal - even benefiting from the perks of working remotely.
Current impacts on freelance workloads
New projects are put on hold
Many freelancers are experiencing a complete freeze in attracting new business. Their clients are focused on crisis communications, so the work that was planned has taken a back seat.
A slowdown of work due to isolation
Due to isolation, projects that require face-to-face interaction are being delayed, resulting in a slowdown of work in the freelancing community.
Many freelancers are not experiencing much change. This is because there are opportunities to replace existing projects with assignments focused on responding to COVID-19.
Some freelancers are finding that their client’s productivity has been slightly impacted due to working-from-home. This is expected as some organisations are used to working together physically and will need to adjust to operating as distributed teams.
Challenges of balancing freelance work and family while in isolation
Many freelancers are suddenly facing heightened family responsibilities while still trying to balance work. The biggest challenge for most has been around balancing work routines with home-schooling young children to ensure they’re learning, being creative, having fun and receiving support. For all, the health of their family is taking top priority.
The recommendation from this freelancing community is to not take on new work during the lockdown and focus on fulfilling current work with existing clients and maintaining those relationships. This helps with investing more time to meet the family commitment.
A sudden change in client communications
Some freelancers have noticed a positive change in their client relationships since the COVID-19 outbreak. They’ve experienced clients leaning toward an empathetic approach when engaging their audiences, thoughtfully considering their heightened anxiety and stress. You should also expect some clients to be distraught over calls as they process the shock and grasp reality. Especially clients from high impact sectors such as health, aviation, and tourism.
Take this opportunity to develop better and warmer relationships with your clients and the freelancing community. Physical distancing does not necessarily mean social distancing. Stay connected and support each other. Business is built on relationships. Sales will follow after.
Creative professionals are getting revision requests for marketing content from clients because they want to express an empathetic tone reflecting the uncertainty we’re all facing. It is important for freelancers to practice flexibility and work together with clients.
Ideas for freelancers to adapt to the new normal
Expect short-term demand
Early indicators show a rise in freelance work. Areas that have seen an increase are; project management, operational efficiency, and finance. A significant area of decrease has been marketing. Expect businesses to continue strategic projects and essential services.
Employees will value freelancers, adding flexibility
Employment in many sectors is rapidly shifting. While sectors such as tourism and hospitality have been hit hard, in sectors such as grocery, pharmacy, warehousing, cleaning, and delivery - employment is expected to increase. As the economy rebounds, we anticipate freelancers will play a key role as employers will value the flexibility over hiring staff during uncertain times.
Stay home, save lives campaigns
This is a great time for creative professionals taking footage while the streets and cities are deserted with infrastructure and buildings. Having the opportunity to capture area shots of empty communities, streets, neighbourhoods, and landmarks are very rare. Check out Nissan's advert on staying home, saving lives.
Focusing on a niche
Make a dedicated effort to focus on a specific niche and be proactive in reaching out to new clients as well as ex-clients. This strategy will help you focus on a sizable market that you can sustain at uncertain times and scale when the economy starts to recover.
Create a new revenue stream that is not dependent on a particular client
According to Patreon, more than 30,000 “creators” registered on the site during the first three weeks of March 2020; the fastest rate in its history - confirmed by Patreon’s Chief Data Scientist Maur Crunch. Patreon is a membership platform that makes it simple for artists and creators to earn a living. This is a great opportunity for creatives to launch a new service that wasn’t dependent on a particular client. In the beginning, this won’t pay your bills, but be hopeful that it could fill in some revenue gaps over time.
Evaluate your finances
Freelancers usually operate with cash reserves due to the nature of uncertainty with project durations and client lifecycles. Cash is king so during difficult times the reserves can help buy time. New Zealand Government’s wage subsidy also applies to sole traders so that should help cushion short-term financial difficulties.
Regardless of your cash reserves or eligibility for the wage subsidy, have a serious look at your expenses and start cutting back where you can. Do everything you can to increase cash reserves and liquidity to prepare yourself.
Make the best use of the extra time available
If you are unable to earn right now, you can invest in your business by learning how others in your industry have weathered downturns in the past. Make the best use of this time to re-launch.
Connect within your network - and outside of it
The Coronavirus crisis has revealed just how interconnected we all are, whether we’re full-time employees, small business owners, or gig workers, we’ll only get through this mess if we work together. Make sure to connect with your network and join new networking groups to ensure fast recovery of your business. If you would like to join our community, get in touch.
Our advice is to capitalise on short-term demand, be patient in the medium-term; invest your time in operational efficiency and staying relevant, and lastly, in the long-term; be ready to meet gig demands when businesses complete their recovering operations.