It’s safe to say that 2020 is becoming the year that’s more than we expected. Freelancers are some of the economy’s hardest hit workers, with limited contracts and access to safety nets. Unexpected situations such as the economic downturn caused by Coronavirus can have a damaging effect for a lot of people in the short term, and as the global economy heads into an economic recession, it’s looking tough.

A large number of freelancers I’ve spoken to in the last month can share at least one, but most likely more, stories of a client who has cancelled or postponed expected freelance work because of Coronavirus. 

There’s no nicer way to say it than it sucks. So what can we do when the economy is changing so quickly and there’s so much uncertainty in the world? 

The article details the process I am currently going through with my own freelance activities to prepare for what the economy might look like in a few months. At the end of each section is a checklist of things freelancers can do in a matter of hours to help them prepare. I hope some of these things will be helpful for other freelancers.

#StayAtHome

Needless to say, you should follow any rules that have been put in place wherever you live – for a growing number of countries around the world, that means only leaving your home for essential trips, such as going to the supermarket and the doctor, as well as individual exercise. 

Practising social distancing means the healthcare system where you live will be less overwhelmed and better be able to provide the treatment people need in order to survive coronavirus. Tomas Pueyo explains why these measures are necessary to flatten the curve in a Medium long-read.

Staying at home is a great opportunity for freelancers to look into how their business is going and make important decisions about their future livelihood.

Check your financial health

Understanding the basics of your freelancing business using a monthly budget will help you make informed decisions. This will only take a couple of hours, and the numbers can be based on your income from previous years. 

I use a simple excel sheet that is broken down by month, and forecasts to the end of 2020. For income, I set quarterly targets and keep these on a separate tab so it’s easy to play around with the numbers.

Starting with fixed expenses is one of the easiest places to start when coming up with a target income. Fixed expenses would be things like rent, insurance, groceries, and taxes. 

The more detail you go into here, including differentiating between personal and business expenses, the better you’ll be able to quickly cut away those that aren’t essential. You’ll now have a clear income target for the year and can play around with pricing, the number of clients you need to bring on, and the number of hours you need to work.

Checklist:

  • Create a monthly budget
  • Categorize expenses into professional and personal
  • Set an income target based on fixed expenses
  • Set minimum day and project rates for new clients

File expenses and tax returns

If your income after expenses in 2019 was lower than 2018, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to receive a tax refund. By filing your 2019 tax return as early as possible, you can get that cash faster, and it can help ease the immediate income loss. 

Additionally, you can ask your tax office to reduce or postpone your 2020 prepayments. It never hurts to speak to your accountant or the tax office directly to get more information.

Getting a head start on your 2020 expenses can also help to reduce the amount of tax you’ll owe. Start by looking over any expenses you might have collected from January, and begin to digitally file them away for your return. It won’t lead to immediate cash in the bank, but it can help lower your tax payments for next year.

A number of governments across Europe, the US and Canada, are providing freelancers, the self employed, and small businesses with liquidity loans to make sure they don’t go out of business because of Coronavirus. Each government’s website should have more information on this, and the programs seem to be rolled out within the coming weeks.

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Checklist:

  • File 2019 income taxes
  • Contact your accountant to defer 2020 prepayments
  • Look into Government grants and loans for freelancers and the self-employed

Tell the world that you are ready for new clients

Now that you’ve got an income target to achieve, you can make a plan to get there. 

Reaching out to existing clients is the easiest place to start. You’ve already got an established connection with them, and even if it’s been a few months since the last project, it doesn’t hurt to let them know you’re available to help if they need it. 

For a lighter touch, checking in to see how they’re holding up in the crisis would be a nice thing to do — chances are they’re also struggling with the changing situation.

Family and friends can be amazing door openers for new clients. Plus, they can also provide a recommendation, hopefully making the process move even faster. Asking them to like or share your social media content is an easy way they can help you get more business.

A good next step would be to update your social media profiles, including freelancer networks, such as Upwork and The Dots. Adding a note that you’re looking for new clients, along with your area of expertise, and a short paragraph about what you can offer for potential clients, makes it easy for them to approach you with challenges they might have. 

If you provide a service, providing a free sample of the type of work you do is another way to get the interest of prospects.

Checklist:

  • Contact your existing and former clients
  • Update your social media profiles
  • Send out social media posts mentioning you’re looking to bring on new clients
  • Update your profiles on freelancer websites
  • Reach out to family and friends letting them know you’re looking for new clients

Update your website and portfolio

If you’re not strapped for cash, then use this time to take care of those important but not yet urgent tasks, such as your portfolio and website. 

Portfolios showcasing examples of your work, and success stories of previous clients are two projects which are important and can lead to even more income in the future, but can be time consuming to complete. No-code websites have a number of templates for freelancers and small business owners – Squarespace and Wix.com are a couple of the more popular options.

This is also a great opportunity to take a look at your freelance activities from a bird’s eye view, examine the market as it shifts, and ask some tough questions. How can you prepare for what the market will look like in a few months’ time? Does it mean you need to look at different verticals, or can you focus even more of your efforts on what’s currently working well?

Checklist:

  • Create or update your personal website
  • Update your portfolio and success stories
  • Spend a couple hours on strategic work for your freelance work

Try something completely different

This is a fantastic time to try something different with little to no pressure. It’s also a good time to pick up hobbies and experiment with creative activities. There are countless studies and articles available online that explain the benefits of creativity to strategy, business and leadership. 

There are also opportunities to help on the front lines of tackling the virus in many cities. Whether it’s answering phones on the hotline, directing people within hospitals and testing centres, or working at supermarkets. These are ways to try something completely new while also helping out the community.

Checklist:

  • Schedule time for hobbies
  • Try something you’ve never done before
  • Volunteer in your community

Be kind to others

Everyone will process this situation differently. The best thing we can do is to be kind to each other and provide support where we can, even if it’s as simple as a message to family and friends letting them know you’re thinking of them. We’re all in this together.