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Freelancers may have mastered working at home, but that doesn’t mean they have it easy right now. In a crisis like COVID-19, independent contractors are often the first to be cut.
Although most freelancers are eligible for loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, the PPP can’t make up for lost work. And those who do receive loans through the program will eventually need to pay them back, raising the bar for future revenue.
By all means, explore the aid programs available to you. But don’t ignore all the other ways you can work on yourself and your business in the meantime.
What can you do if client work is thin? Make the best of a bad economy by:
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As a freelancer, you already know that what constitutes “work” is so much more than just the services or products that you provide. Take this time to strengthen your operations.
Whatever your line of work, you have to communicate with clients and vendors. You have to track your time, create and send invoices, keep records and crunch numbers.
Why waste time on tedious tasks? A study by work operating system monday.com found that 38 percent of workers could save five or more hours per week by using automation tools, while 16 percent said they could save at least 10 hours per week.
There are automation opportunities everywhere, including:
- Invoicing and billing: Getting paid for your work shouldn’t take more work. If you use Quickbooks, you can set up recurring invoicing. There’s also an accounts payable automation option that can keep billing off your back.
- Email follow-ups: Why write dozens of “just checking in” emails yourself when a computer could do it for you? Email automation tools can be configured to send a follow-up message after a number of days without a response.
- Social media management: You’ll still have to create the content yourself, but software like Hootsuite can help you schedule posts across platforms days in advance. Batching your social media work means it won’t be a daily headache.
- Appointment scheduling: Sending six emails to schedule a single meeting doesn’t make sense. Gmail, Outlook, and other digital calendars let you schedule appointments with a click. Consider integrations, features, and user interfaces when choosing an online calendar for your freelancing work.
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Highlighting digital services
Some freelancers, like writers and web developers, are already used to working online. But if you’re an independent salesperson, a craftsperson, or a consultant, your clients may not know how you can help them from afar.
Think about how best to showcase your digital skills. Show, don’t tell. Although you could send an email to clients saying, “I can show you how to improve your social media presence,” prove it to them through your work. Add or swap in case studies on your website that demonstrate your online abilities.
If you typically perform your services remotely, treat it as a differentiating factor. Marketing yourself as an experienced remote worker may give you an edge when looking for new clients. Remember, a good portion of the workforce is still getting used to working from home.
Tending to your network
If you’ve been in the freelancing world for a while, you know the importance of growing and maintaining a strong network. Chances are, you get a good portion of your business through personal connections.
You may be stuck inside, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep your connections strong. To get started:
- Reach out to past and current clients: Ask how they’re coping in this new economy. Be genuine, and help if you can. If they don’t have any work for you at the moment, be understanding.
- Ask for introductions: One of the hard lessons many freelancers learn in their first year is that all introductions have value, even if that value isn’t immediately obvious. Treat every intro as a chance to get to know someone, not merely a chance to make money.
- Leverage social media: Use this time to spruce up your social profiles. If you’re an independent distributor or influencer, Facebook or Instagram may be your best bets. Look to LinkedIn first if you provide professional services. Don’t just toot your own horn all the time. Start conversations, give advice and ask for recommendations. Give people a reason to remember you.
If doing business isn’t an option, spend your time learning how to do what you do better. Professional development is the perfect task for a slow afternoon.
Take a broad approach, and consider:
- Learning a new skill: If you’re a web designer, you probably get requests all the time to tweak code. Why not learn the basics of Java, HTML, or another in-demand programming language?
- Earning a certification: Certifications show that you’re continuing to grow in your field, and many of them can be earned online. Adding an inbound marketing certification from HubSpot can up your game as a marketer. The American Association of Inside Sales Professionals offers a series of sales certifications that cost less than $1,000 each.
- Reading industry content: Every corner of the market is changing right now. Take an afternoon to check out thought leadership content in your space. If you’re a freelance marketer or writer, Steve Olenski of The CMO Whisperer has written “well over 5,000” articles on advertising and branding best practices.
- Attending virtual conferences: Although most in-person conferences have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, you can find plenty of them online. In many cases, they feature the same speakers and workshops as they normally would at a fraction of the price. Plus, you won’t have to worry about travel costs.
Freelancing is full of ups and downs. Don’t let the lean times throw you. Rather than fret about lost business, take the opportunity to make yourself more valuable and efficient. That way, when the good times do return, you’ll be all the more able to enjoy them.