Freelancing During and After Coronavirus

Ferre Peeters

Love him or hate him, odds are you've heard of Gary Vaynerchuk before. Both thought leader and internet celebrity, he blasts his social media with tips, experiences, and insights to help young entrepreneurs get started.

When someone asked Gary on Twitter how small bussinesses should handle the coronavirus crisis, his answer consisted of three short words: 'Perspective, Patience, Innovation'. What may at first appear as hollow feedback, proves a valueable blueprint for freelancer to cope with the current situation.

Perspective: Protect Yourself Against Recession

The first step Gary gives to weather the coronavirus crisis is to put the entire situation in perspective. What he means is that despite all the hardships we have to endure, we should be grateful to have our health and to be able to collectively take responsibility as a society.

But putting something in perspective also means thinking about the context. Because although the coronavirus crisis has kicked everything into high gear, economists already predicted two years ago a new recession would occur in 2020.

As a freelancer you should always prepare yourself for the worst-case scenario. So how can you protect yourself against the looming recession?

Take care of your financial health

First, try to build in some financial security. If you put some money aside every month you have a lot of work, you're better protected against recessions and other periods of economic hardship. While a savings account that allows you to bridge the better half of a year without income is ideal, try to be realistic and save what you are able to.

Then you should take a critical look at your lifestyle. Maybe you have a couple of large expenses that make your life more comfortable but aren't really all that necessary. No one likes cutting costs but it does allow for a larger margin when you're trying to make ends meet.

Take your business investments into account as well. Avoid unnecessary risks by not getting into too much debt. An expensive company care can be tempting when you think you have the means but a standard model gets you from A to B just the same.

During a recession your potential employers may fall on hard times themselves. While you should never not ask for a fair price for your work, you could show some goodwill by meeting the employer halfway. Perhaps there's a little extra something you can do at no additional cost. Such things help you build trust and may lead to a greater return on investment in the long term.

Maybe try to look into alternative ways to get paid. Instead of doing project after project, you could instead consider a recurring revenue model. If you provide monthly service to an employer at a fixed price, they can calculate your cost into their monthly budget. That way, your business can go on as usual even when times get tough.

Dissect your business

Opt for a thorough analysis of your own capabilities and how you can improve your work.

Ask previous employers for feedback about your collaboration. Freelancers often find it awkward to ask, but the response can be extremely valueable. It allows you to gauge your employer's satisfaction and question them about what they think is an essential skill in their sector.

Keep a good eye on your current employers as well. Is their business financially healthy? If you start to notice that they don't have the means to pay you, it's best you stop investing your time and money in their projects.

It's the same for your own field of expertise. Research whether the sector you're working in is starting to boom or starting to disappear. In case of the former, it's time to get to work and earn some money. If it's the latter, you may be better off to start looking at alternatives. In order to get an overview of the playing field you can investigate various freelance communities, such as the Freelancers in Belgium group on Facebook.

Patience: Work on Your Personal Branding

The second step in Gary's process is patience. There's not a lot we can do to solve this situation right here right now. Taking your responsibility and social distancing is the only way to beat coronavirus.

But at least you can prepare for when the storm starts dying down. It's generally easier for freelancers to find new assignments during a recession than it is for laid off employees to find a new job. But you do need a strong personal brand to do so.

What is personal branding?

What's in a name? A personal brand is the story and experience that you construct based on you as a person.

In essence it's the combination of three distinct elements. There's the image that you have of yourself and your business, there's the image you want others to have of you and there's the way you're going to sell yourself to them.

Your personal brand can't be some forced approach but the natural offspring of your skills, your personality, your interests, and the values and beliefs that you hold dear.

Why should you engage in personal branding as a freelancer?

As a freelancer it's important employers know how and where to find you. Building a personal brand can help you with that. Because a strong and authentic brand pulls in the right kind of employers. People like to be able to identify with a brand: if employers recognise themselves in yours, they'll be more easily attracted.

Besides, you can't forget that an increasing number of employed workers are trying their hand at freelancing as well. You might say that's not a bad development but it does mean employers have a much bigger pool of freelancers to choose from. A personal brand helps you stand out from the crowd.

How do you go about it?

At the foundation of every strong personal brand lies a deep understanding of one's self. What skills do you have and which values do you find important? Only when you've put those ducks in a row, you can start communicating to the outside world.

The story you're going to tell always comes from your own experiences and always has the same main character: yourself! Write an extensive biography about yourself that you can share on a website and create shorter versions for social media.

When you've completed your story, you can focus on its formal expression. Use your own name to add a dash of personal flair or opt for a business name that mirrors your unique way of working.

Make sure you have a clear and recognisable visual identity. Pick a logo or font for your business name that adds a little oomph to your brand. Get some pictures taken by a professional photographer who understands your brand style and use them as profile pictures.

Finally, you should examine the channels you're going to use for your personal branding. Research the location of your ideal employers but also consider the ones where your work is best displayed. Maybe start a website that shows who you are and what you can do in great detail.

And don't forget: own your brand! Get to work and produce content that helps you attract new employers. Consistency is the key to a successful brand strategy!

Innovation: Experiment With Alternative Business Models

The last step to weather the coronavirus crisis as a freelancer is innovation. There's a lot of uncertainty when it comes to our current situation and where we're going to be in a couple of months. But chances are a lot of things are going to be different.

As a freelancer, it's in your best interest to start experimenting with alternative ways of generating income as soon as possible. It's the only way to find out how you can keep running your business in times of coronavirus.

Thinking outside the box

Your value as a freelancer does not come from the job title you give yourself or the type of assignments you usually accept. Your value comes from the particular knowledge and skills that you as an individual possess. During periods where circumstances prevent you from working on as many projects as you'd like, it's important to make that distinction.

Because many employers temporarily put their projects on hold, there's an ever increasing amount of people getting bored at home. Solidarity is the name of their game these days and those same people are supporting their local businesses by ordering items en masse. So why wouldn't they want to help freelancers who are affected by the coronavirus crisis?

But of course, those people aren't waiting for a new website, an audit of their business plan, or a funnel to generate more leads. Those are the kinds of assignments you would do for a business. That's why it's important to consider your skills to be distinct from the type of assignments you carry out. Because while the demand of individual customers may not be the same, they can still benefit from your knowledge.

You could share your considerable sales experience in a blog. Or you can start an online course about how to get the most out of Microsoft Excel or about how to write engaging copy. Maybe you're a creative freelancer and you show your process from sketch to finished design in a series of YouTube videos.

But you don't have to focus solely on the specialised skills you possess. Maybe you're great at time management, sharing your favourite tips on social media. Or you could create video tutorials about some software that you're a full-fledged expert in.

The side hustle

The other option is to, instead of changing the output of your knowledge and skills, change your active field of expertise. Like stock brokers who recommend to diversify your stock portfolio, it can be advantageous as a freelancer to generate income from multiple sources.

Not only do you have more financial security but you also get the opportunity to discover new interests and work on your personal development. And you're not running the risk of financial ruin because you still have your main activity—or possible other side hustles—to fall back on if you don't like the work.

You could start by carefully expanding your work field to an adjacent discipline: from sales to marketing or from UI design to web development. However, you could also choose to do something radically different. Creativity emerges from linking two things together that appear to have nothing in common.

Finding a new direction for your business that allows you to make some money is definitely no walk through the park. No one can predict how the coronavirus crisis will impact our society and economy in the long run. Experimenting with the different options you have at least gives you the tools to combat the uncertainty we're currently experiencing.

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