by Robyn Roste

Freelancing at the best of times is a careful balance of optimism, drive and risk.

So when a crisis, like a global pandemic and looming economic recession, hits, this balance is upended, thrusting freelancers into limbo where everything is uncertain, leaving us desperate for stability.

At the outset of any traumatic event, common emotions are shock, denial, anger, depression, fear, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness.

And it makes sense. We’re facing a threat, which is causing great stress to every aspect of our lives.

In any crisis situation we have to make choices, which will impact our future freelance business—although we may not be sure how.

Many of us have seen contracts cancelled, clients bail and projects put on indefinite hold. So how should we respond?

Do we close up shop and wait for the storm to pass? Do we slash rates and take anything that comes up, grateful for the work we do have? Or do we hold firm to our pricing and risk bringing nothing in?

Here are three suggestions for how freelancers can respond to crisis in a proactive way.

Escape the feast or famine cycle

A classic experience in the freelance life is the feast of having more work than you know what to do with, followed by the famine of nothing to do. In general, this is a self-propelled cycle because freelancers tend to stop marketing their business when they’re busy and then kick it into high gear when the work dries up.

During this pandemic, it’s easy to assume there’s no point in marketing or that no one’s hiring. It may feel like we’re in a famine. Some of us may not be in a position to keep our business running right now due to illness or other personal issues. But those of us who can should be continuing to market and get out of the feast or famine cycle as soon as possible.

Perhaps this issue is more about not finding work at the rates you’re used to. Is a bad gig better than no gig? This is a personal choice but please take a close look at your reasons before jumping in. Are you making decisions in a panicked, reactive state of mind? Will taking work at a lower rate serve you in the long run? Does the work you’re considering align with your business and personal values?

In some situations, it may make sense to reduce your rates but make sure you weigh the pros and cons and ensure it works with your budget before moving forward.

Pivot when necessary

Many, if not most, industries are facing an ambiguous future in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s important we manage our own reactions and responses to our personal and professional uncertainty, it’s also essential to notice how our clients and prospects are handling it.

With some it will be obvious—they’ve closed their doors, stopped using freelancers or are somewhere in between giving up and attempting to ride out the wave. Others will be leaning into the chaos, pushing forward with their strategy and adapting to the ever-changing circumstances.

We want to find clients who are making strategic moves. And that may involve us having to pivot. Maybe the niche we’re in and the work we’ve been doing has all but dried up over the past few weeks. If this is the case, take a look at who is still working in your industry.

What are they doing to remain financially viable? How are they reframing their work and their services or products to help their customers? What tactics are they using to make sales? Where can you fit into this new normal?

It takes creativity, innovation and determination to pivot, but it’s necessary for coming out the other side of this stronger and better positioned to serve your clients.

Maybe your services don’t make sense in this current context. Now is the time to rework them and use your marketing to reposition yourself and your freelance business.

Notice which industries are still working

In what feels like the blink of an eye life as we know it has changed, leaving many freelancers looking for work. Numerous sectors and their publications are suffering, but there is still work available for freelancers, it just might not be where you’re used to finding it.

Here’s one exercise I use to discover new clients:

  • Write down every industry (or business, if relevant) you know is busy right now
  • Research publications or other media who serve and/or cover these industries
  • Approach these outlets with an email letter of introduction (LOI) or brief pitch (if appropriate)

One thing to keep in mind is that your attitude will have a strong influence on your openness to new opportunities. If you’re in a despondent state it will be easy to miss potential leads and shoot down creative solutions, because they don’t look the way you’re used to seeing them.

If you’re able to get into a responsive mode, believing the opportunities exist and it’s only a matter of discovering them, then you’ll find it easier to manoeuver and position your services to align with the current market’s needs.

Robyn Roste is a freelance writer in Abbotsford BC. Her blog is listed in The 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2020 by The Write Life.

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