Over the past month, the global economy has faced its most severe crisis since the Second World War.
As the coronavirus pandemic envelopes the globe, businesses are shutting down, stock markets are in free fall, and people are being laid off. According to a recent survey, more than 50% of American jobs could be at risk.
A group that is hit particularly hard are freelancers, who have lost clients and have seen their sources of income dry up. Some have been forced to shut their business down altogether.
The timeline of the evolving pandemic is unclear. No one can predict how long freelancers need to hang in there — is it a question of weeks, or is it months?
But there is little time to panic and grieve lost income. Instead, it is time to get practical and develop business strategies to weather the storm.
Here are the top 10 things you can do to survive the corona crisis as a freelancer.
Now is the time for you to take stock of your business situation — and gauge how badly it is affected by the pandemic.
What amount of loss are you looking at currently? How much business could you lose in the worst-case scenario? What emergency capital do you have to fall back on?
It is painful to look at the figures, yes. But once you're clear on what losses you will likely have to compensate, and which resources you currently have, you can move forward from there.
While going over your current business situation, it is also essential to analyse all recurring expenses your freelance business is amassing, and to streamline them where you can.
Chances are that the acute corona crisis will last for several months. Even then, it may take markets a considerable amount of time to recover. Systematically reducing regular expenses will help your business survive until the markets pick up again.
One vital step in this process is to revisit the business tools and platforms you are using, and to do research on alternatives and new offers. Subscriptions to tools and services can often amount to a considerable part of regular expenses.
In addition, sales and marketing platforms, data analysis tools, and customer relationship management software continuously shift and expand their offers. The same is true for project management tools, and communication platforms for conference calling, live customer chats and business telephony.
Comparing the existing array of tools and platforms you’re subscribed to with current offers and new developments in your field, will most likely result not only in increased efficiency, but also in a reduction of business expenses. Especially since the current crisis leads many platforms to offer reduced rates and special deals.
You might not currently have any emergency funds at your disposal (if you do, it's time to dip into them, because this IS an emergency.)
However, there are still financial options you can explore at the present moment.
For one thing, it is essential to closely track the aid packages currently being debated by the government. It may well be that your freelance business could benefit from them.
You don’t need to act like everything is going well. While it may be the first reflex of many freelancers to keep up appearances, it is smarter to be open about the difficulties you're facing. And go looking for support.
Your network of colleagues and clients is an invaluable resource in this situation. Many of them are facing similar difficulties and may have already found ways to deal with them. Or perhaps long-time clients who can't hire you at the moment could refer you to someone who can.
Even if no concrete jobs or business opportunities emerge from engaging with your network, you will certainly encounter encouragement and support. And in trying times such as these, that in itself is already worth a lot.
In some places, broader networking opportunities for businesses affected by the corona crisis are being set up. In the UK, for example, the Coronavirus Business Ideas Exchange offers a platform discuss the challenges businesses face, and exchange tips.
It is the age of working online.
Currently, it's not just freelancers in specific industries who're sitting behind screens in their own homes, but a large portion of American employees. With many companies having their staff work remotely, the focus of business activities has definitively shifted into cyberspace.
As a freelancer, it is time for you to do the same.
The internet is currently the only corona-proof business space. To be clear — this may not be possible for all lines of freelance work, especially in those industries requiring physical contact with clients.
Chances are, though, that by thinking creatively and doing research, you can find some ways to monetise your business online: whether you're a small business setting up a virtual store, or a freelance professional breaking into creating online courses and content for the first time.
Like millions of people across the world right now, you might have no other choice but to work from home.
While setting up a home office may seem an exciting (and exceedingly comfortable) prospect, your productivity could take a serious hit. This is especially true if you are used to working in dedicated spaces like workshops or co-working offices.
Luckily, there is a variety of things you can do to prevent yourself from losing your focus during the transition to working from home.
As a first step, carving out a space dedicated to your work is essential. It is equally vital to stick to fixed work times, and to set up clear boundaries between your work life and your private life — even though they are now both happening between the same four walls.
In terms of your work routine, eliminating distractions and finding ways to hold yourself accountable for your progress are key in boosting your productivity. For the latter purpose, time management software can be helpful.
Ultimately, it may be a struggle at first to fall into a work routine in your own home. But with the right strategies, studies have even shown that working from home can improve your overall productivity. In this sense, the current crisis may even offer the benefit of a new productivity experience.
Let go of the idea of sticking rigidly to your niche.
As unappealing as the idea may be, it may be necessary to take survival jobs to tide over the temporary lack of income from freelancing.
These jobs may be on-premises, in industries such as building maintenance or sales.
But they may also be online — in content creation, administration, or web development. In fact, a recent article in Forbes records that many freelance platforms that inherently work online have even seen an increase in business on account of the corona crisis, as more and more companies shift to digital business.
Life for millions of people in the US and abroad is rapidly shifting. Social distancing, quarantine, working remotely — all these measures have a pervasive influence on people's everyday lives.
It is your job as a freelancer to analyse the impact of these changes on your target audience. How has the demand for your services changed? Which other services could you (remotely) provide in your industry to help with the challenges of modified work and life routines? What are your target clients' novel pain points — and how can you best address them?
Coronavirus may have crippled demand for your established services. But the massive changes in people's lives have undoubtedly created new service needs. It is up to you to analyse these needs, innovate your business accordingly, and overcome your current difficulties.
You may not be in the financial situation to make new investments right now — but if you are, there is a host of new investment opportunities that could profit you considerably. During the crisis, some industries are not just surviving, but surging.
Producers of medical equipment and retailers like Amazon, Costco and Walmart are thriving, as are providers of online entertainment. Companies offering remote services are winners in the current situation. Companies like Teladoc Health, digital signature provider DocuSign or online business communication providers like Zoom are on the upswing.
Some businesses are also seeing renewed interest in their products due to the crisis. Companies creating robotic solutions are experiencing high demand, and the virus crisis is also driving a surge of interest in high-tech disinfectant devices. While some of these surges may be short-lived, some are certainly sustainable investments during, and after, the time of corona.
Losing assignments and gigs as a freelancer is a nightmare. There is no way to sugarcoat that.
A side effect is that a lot of your normally busy time will be freed up. It may be tempting to wallow in grief over lost opportunities or to spend the time frantically searching for jobs that just don’t exist at the moment. In the long run, however, it will be more profitable to make systemic improvements to your business and yourself.
So, turn this time to your best advantage.
You can seize the opportunity to acquire new skills. Some of these might be relevant to you right now; some could benefit you once your business situation has stabilised. Coding, web development, content creation or marketing are just some skill sets that you can develop to boost your business.
Especially improving your SEO game can help you stand out amongst your competitors, during the time of corona, and afterwards. Revisiting your SEO strategy, and learning about SEO aspects that you might not yet be familiar with, such as Local SEO, could be a vital stepping stone in your path through the crisis.
It may sound trite at this point, but there is always opportunity in adversity.
The current abrupt shifts in the global economic situation were not foreseeable. And there is no denying that many businesses — both large and small — will not survive the current crisis.
However, by making the best of the situation, staying flexible, adapting to changing demand, and innovating accordingly, you can maximise your business' chance of making it through.
And one thing is beyond doubt — those businesses that make it to the other side of this crisis will emerge stronger, more competitive and more geared towards success than they were before.
Hasan Saleem is an accomplished business leader with expertise in digital marketing, social media, and business development.
He planned, launched, and operated many successful web-based businesses, which involved all aspects of marketing, web presence, e-commerce, customer service, staff management, and social media.
The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.