Stress-testing your freelancing against coronavirus

I know that some freelancers have already started to feel the effects of Covid-19 on their work. Projects are being postponed, events cancelled and everyone has a latent sense of anxiety as they worry about how this pandemic will play out. 

As someone who in another life would’ve been a crisis recovery planner, my view is that now is a really good time to stress-test your freelancing business. Panicking doesn’t get us very far and we won’t be able to control everything, but there are some proactive steps we can take to minimise the impact. 

Here are some suggestions for ways to think about future-proofing your freelancing amidst a global pandemic.

Identify your weak spots 

The first thing to do is to take stock of the situation. Every freelancer will be in a different position – some have already experienced work losses, others might be more vulnerable to getting sick. It’s important to be clear and realistic about your personal circumstances. Do a mini risk assessment by asking yourself the following questions:

  • How will my work be affected? Do I make my income from sources which are likely to get cancelled (eg public speaking)? If so, how much money do I stand to lose and how will I plug the gap?

  • Am I in communication with my clients so that I will be updated as soon as a situation changes?

  • Is my freelancing business in a good position to weather disruption? Both financially and structurally? Eg do I have enough clients that if I lost one, I would be ok? Do I have the tools in place to do my work remotely?

  • Am I in a good position to weather disruption? Do I have a financial safety net and an emotional support system?

  • What will I do if I get sick and can’t work? Do I have emergency funds I can access? Do I know what (if any) government assistance is available to me should I get sick?

  • Do I have income protection (through an insurance policy or Association membership) and do I know if it will cover me if I get sick?

Don’t panic reading these questions. The point of this exercise is to understand where your risks lie and to put contingency measures in place.

Focus on the work you can do remotely

If any of your freelancing involves going on-site or travel, now is a good time to scale back on it. Focus instead on work that can be easily done remotely – so less public speaking, more writing.

If you have lots of work that requires you to be on-site, talk to your clients to ask if remote options could be made available. This won’t always be possible but in many cases, it will be so it’s worth having the conversation. For example, if you were supposed to go into a newspaper’s office for shift work, ask if you can work remotely instead. Or if you were supposed to go on-site for a meeting or interview, ask if it can be conducted via videolink instead. 

When you’re speaking with clients about alternative arrangements, be as collaborative as possible. Rather than presenting problems, make suggestions for solutions and offer to help implement them. Everyone’s work and lives have been turned upside with this pandemic, we can all help each other by working together through it. 

Add additional clients

Relying on one or two clients for the majority of your income will put you at higher risk should you lose that work. Now is a great time to make a plan for reaching out to new clients to buffer against that problem. 

While some companies will be tightening their belts right now and not taking on new projects, that won’t be the case for everyone. Businesses still need to continue to operate. As slimy as this sounds, there will always be opportunities in any crisis. For example, while a music editor may have to cancel a live review of a band, they will still need to fill that page with another story. What non-corona stories can you be pitching editors right now? Check the calls for pitches below for editors currently seeking pitches. 

As for how to approach new clients, I’ve written before about how to cold-email a prospect about freelance work that’s not advertised anywhere. Even if all you do right now is research and draw up a list of clients to approach once the situation has improved, that’s a positive step forward.   

Diversify your income

The single best way to future-proof your freelancing is by not relying on a single source of income. Start thinking about how you can repackage your existing skills into other revenue streams. None of the following suggestions I have will get you rich quick, but if you start thinking about one or two of these options now, you can start to develop an additional revenue stream that will pay off in a few months time. 

Audience-funded/subscription-based

This is when your audience pays you directly. This could be newsletters, videos, e-books, online courses, the list goes on. The big advantage of this model is that it gives you the full creative freedom to run a project exactly how you want to it. You don’t have to wait for a green light from a client to develop it, you just sell it directly to your audience. Platforms like Pateron, Substack, Skillshare, YouTube and Memberful all allow you to create an audience-funded revenue stream.  

You don’t need a massive online following to launch an audience-funded creative project, you just need a great idea and an engaged audience. If you’re specifically interested in launching a paid newsletter, I’ve written more about that here

Brand partnerships/sponsored content

When we think of brand partnerships, we typically think of influencers with huge followings doing Instagram paid partnerships, but brand deals can take lots of different forms. A brand partnership is really just a brand paying you to make content for them.

So a partnership might look like a company sponsoring an episode of a podcast, but it can also be a content creator making a piece of content for a brand that sits on their website or media channel. (As an example, I’ve written blogposts for Starling Bank in the past.) Again, you don’t actually need a huge following to do this work, especially if you do a brand deal that involves you making content for a brand’s channel rather than your own. I’ve written about finding sponsored content gigs here and here.

Grants 

Not enough writers and creatives take advantage of the many nonprofits and foundations out there who are willing to give you a lump sum to fund a project. While this revenue stream won’t be a regular one, it will give you an opportunity to undertake an ambitious project that might otherwise be hard to realise, such as a foreign reporting trip.  You can look for grants on GrantsOnline.org.uk, the European Journalism Centre and JournoResources.

Build an emergency fund

I’ve banged on so much about emergency funds in past newsletters that I will keep this very short. If you don’t already have an emergency fund, do whatever you can to start building one. Even if that means sticking a pound a day into a savings account. 


Additional resources


Calls for pitches