The COVID-19 outbreak is having an immediate and profound impact on the freelance creative community. It's slowing the pace of business and, in some cases, grinding work to a halt. Writers, designers, photographers, and videographers are having to adjust their business models and take advantage of any resources available to face the new challenges of freelancing in the coronavirus era.
We're taking a look at how the coronavirus and freelancing intersect, highlighting how some creative professionals have been affected so far, how they're taking stock of the situation, and how they're preparing their businesses to weather an uncertain future.
How the Coronavirus Is Impacting Freelance Workloads
The coronavirus outbreak has caused the closure of businesses across the globe and triggered head-spinning market volatility. Almost overnight, freelance creatives saw much of their work get paused or outright canceled.
"Active projects are on hold. New business is effectively frozen. Three weeks ago, I was a freelance writer and artist. Today, I am home-schooling a fourth grader, sourcing PPE (personal protective equipment) for the health care workers in my life, and checking in on friends and family." - Kenny Keil, writer and artist.
"When the U.K. government announced that vulnerable groups of people needed to start self-isolating and that anyone who could work from home should, I saw an immediate effect on my business. My clients suddenly had to focus on crisis communications, and the work we had planned had to take a back seat. I went from having three months' worth of work to none in the space of two days. On top of this, I am due to go on maternity leave in July, so the timing couldn't have been worse!" - Helen Deverell, internal communications consultant.
"I think initially there is a decline just because of the face-to-face aspect of being a videographer, being on-site and location, shooting and dealing with clients, actors, and other people within the process. Now that we have to isolate, there's not as much opportunity for jobs because a lot of people are reluctant [to meet in person]. Then, there are a lot of jobs and positions that are considered nonessential that we do a lot of business with. So unless you're dealing with an essential employee type of facility that's going to remain open, you're kind of stuck dealing with the times." - Charles Hughley, videographer.
"Work is definitely slowing down a bit. My inbox used to be inundated with work requests. Those have slowed down, although they've not stopped altogether." - Poornima Apte, writer.
"I'm also just operating from a 'place of yes' right now. I have no idea when my work will come to a screeching halt, so I'm trying to load up on work now to balance out a potential feast or famine cycle down the road." - Satta Sarmah Hightower, writer.
Other freelancers are still enjoying a steady stream of work, even noticing an uptick in assignments with a coronavirus focus.
"Fortunately, not much has changed. I'm still busy. Other than having some assignments that focus on COVID-19, science, and public safety—especially several for one of my big marketing clients—the nature of my journalism assignments and marketing work hasn't changed much." - Albert McKeon, writer.
"Although my clients have had to work from home due to the coronavirus outbreak, and that's slowed down the working processes a bit on their side, I haven't noticed any significant changes in the amount of work done during this period." - Boris Benko, designer.
"To be honest, I'm not seeing much change at all in work volume. If anything, there's been a slight increase in inquiries, though not because of the virus. I actually feel guilty about that—I know so many freelancers who have seen projects canceled and work disappear—and am incredibly thankful that I have several clients who entrust me with retainered work." - Lauren McMenemy, writer.
The Challenges of Balancing Freelance Work and Family in Isolation
Many freelance creatives are suddenly balancing their work lives with heightened family responsibilities, now that their children will be at home for the unforeseeable future.
"The biggest challenge I've had to overcome is balancing work with the sudden care and home-schooling of my two young children. Ensuring they're learning, being creative, having fun, and, most importantly, receiving emotional support during a tough time—while getting my work done—has been hard. But I am trying to take it hour by hour, day by day, and recognize it's best to stay even-keeled. After all, the health of my family is my top priority." - Albert McKeon, writer.
"What's been most challenging is the change in my work routines, as my two young children are now both at home with me. I'm still trying to get into a good rhythm, but I know so many people are in the same boat and that it might just take a little time to adjust." - Kristie Kwok, writer.
"My husband's office closed for at least a month, and I have a first grader and fifth grader who are now at home as well. I gave up my office to my husband because he has conference calls all day and a full eight- to 10-hour workday. I usually work part-time. He has settled in and rearranged my furniture. I'm working at our dining room table, where the kids are also doing their schoolwork. I've stopped trying to add more work and am just focused on fulfilling the client work I have and maintaining those relationships." - Tricia Chaney, writer.
How Client Communications and Tone Have Suddenly Evolved
Although freelancing work may be uncertain right now, many creatives have noticed a positive change in their client relationships since the outbreak began. They've seen clients leaning toward an empathetic approach when engaging their audiences, thoughtfully considering their heightened anxiety and stress.
"I definitely feel I have developed better and warmer relationships with clients and editors since this global health crisis erupted. Emails from clients [often include] 'stay safe' and 'take care.'" - Kristie Kwok, writer.
"Some clients seem a little distraught over calls, with what I can diagnose as 'cabin fever.'" - Julie Friedenberg, designer.
"I have always believed that business is built on relationships and sales follow. I check in on colleagues in Seattle and California and offer what I can—a shoulder, a call. I don't want to be tone-deaf during these uncertain times, and any marketing that I will do will take that into account." - Poornima Apte, writer.
"I had an article revision come through from a regular client because they wanted a more empathic tone to reflect the uncertainty we're all facing. Another client changed a brief to include a topic related to the fallout from the pandemic. At such a difficult time for clients, I believe it's important that I am flexible so they can position their brand in the best possible way to help their audience." - Kristie Kwok, writer.
How Freelance Creatives Are Adapting to the New Normal
When considering the coronavirus and freelancing, creatives are thinking outside the box to keep business flowing.
"My partner Yuri and I discussed how it's an opportune time to do stock footage. So there's a lot of stock websites that house different pictures or different video clips that are just stock images. I'm in Boston currently, so if you want to go out and get empty street shots of Boston, which is very rare, you can take different area shots in communities and neighborhoods of landmarks and things like that just to get out of the house and be active. You start to think outside the box of what you can do with the tools and the skills that you have during this kind of stalemate." - Charles Hughley, videographer.
"I've really made more of a dedicated effort to focus on marketing. I've been lucky, in that most of my business is from referrals, but in these uncertain times, freelancers really have to be more proactive. I've applied for some things on job boards, followed up with old clients and contacts, and connected with new contacts who have posted on LinkedIn and Twitter that they're looking for freelance writers or content strategists." - Satta Sarmah Hightower, writer.
"Even before this crisis emerged, I had decided I needed to begin exploring ways I could develop other income streams that weren't dependent on a particular client, whether it was a brand or a publisher. I launched my own publication, which is focused on how companies create great customer experiences. It's called 360 Magazine, and reading the articles requires a monthly membership via Patreon. I only launched in January, and the number of paid subscribers I've attracted so far won't pay all my bills yet, but I'm hopeful it could fill in some gaps over time." - Shane Schick, writer.
"My adjustments mostly target my anxiety levels—I get snowed under from too much news and social media—and I have made intentional changes to dial those down. I no longer check social media and I read the Times just once every morning. This has allowed me the mental energy to focus on work." - Poornima Apte, writer.
What Resources Are There for Freelancers Affected by COVID-19?
Networking, staying in touch with old and new clients, and tapping into online job and gig boards can prove fruitful for creatives navigating this new normal. Some freelancers also recommend selling vector assets on sites like Creative Market, Shutterstock, iStock, and Envato as a means to generate passive income and diversify revenue streams.
"I think it's hinging on the network, meaning all of the other freelancers. I've been asking them what they're doing and kind of staying in contact. We've been bouncing ideas off of each other and trying to be creative." - Charles Hughley, videographer.
"I've found that it's a good time to think small. Reach out to your peers and see what they're cooking up. You may just find a new collaborator or business opportunity." - Kenny Keil, writer and artist.
"A freelancer named Sonia Weiser does a great job of tweeting or retweeting calls for pitches from editors. She also has a newsletter called Opportunities of the Week that you can pay to receive. She doesn't just curate these but follows up with people to ask the specifics around rates, which I think is really helpful." - Shane Schick, writer.
"A couple of resources that I've found particularly helpful are Freelance Success and Jennifer Goforth Gregory's Freelance Content Marketing Writer Facebook group. I've been a member of both groups for a while, and right now the camaraderie and solidarity with other freelancers really has made me feel less alone. Boston Content is a great resource, too." Satta Sarmah Hightower, writer.
"The Leapers community is a godsend for remote workers normally and, true to form, they've really stepped up in this crisis. Touting themselves as 'the team for people without a team,' Leapers' mission is to support the mental health of freelancers and the self-employed. They've created a lot of guidance to help the newly remote workers of the world, and have a Slack community that is super supportive." - Lauren McMenemy, writer.
What Freelancers Have to Say About Finding Resiliency in a Crisis
In uncertain times, it's especially important for freelance creatives to consider how they can make their businesses more resilient. Some creatives also see this as an opportunity to pause and re-envision how they approach their work.
"Those of us who write business stories often interview executives who talk about the 'lifetime value of a customer' or the cost to acquire a customer. As freelancers, I think we need to adapt similar approaches—ensuring we prioritize the clients who are stable, who pay on time, and who give the most work and make sure if we're hustling for new work, that the prospect is worth the effort. We all need the money, but time and energy are equally important resources that this crisis threatens to deplete." - Shane Schick, writer.
"The main step I'm taking for resilience right now is to maintain my current client relationships and fulfill those contracts. Referrals from happy clients have been the primary way I've been able to grow my business over the years. As my home life is demanding and stressful right now, I'm just trying to prevent that from showing in my work. That way, when I'm ready to scale back up, I still have a strong reputation." - Tricia Chaney, writer.
"If anything, this uncertain time has made me realize both how lucky I've been since I went freelance, and also how unplanned my business is. I set up my business around three-and-a-half years ago and have been finding my way ever since. I'd already set this as the year I'd 'get my act together,' so to speak, and had already engaged a virtual assistant to help get my admin in order. We're using this time to work together to get the basics in place so that I can better understand my business, my ROI, and any gaps that need filling. It's a really exciting time, even if I'm stuck in the house for the unforeseeable!" - Lauren McMenemy, writer.
"Reset your business. Reset your mindset. Reset your creativity. Build some new habits. Break some old habits. You know, clean out the closet—that's figuratively and literally. There's something in my mind, I don't know what it is yet, but there's something that you know, needs to be captured in this moment, whether it's interviews or the bareness on the street, because this is going to be a historical time." - Charles Hughley, videographer.
While the coronavirus outbreak is certainly impacting our collective consciousness and upending freelancing work, it has also presented unique opportunities for writers, designers, videographers, and other creatives to pause, rethink their businesses, and take the appropriate steps to adapt. And the silver lining—they're not alone. "We're all in this together," Kenny Keil reminds us. By standing strong and united during this uncertain time, mining opportunities and networking along the way, freelancers can weather this storm and come out on top.
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