How to deal with the pandemic as a freelancer

How to deal with the pandemic as a freelancer

We’re all stuck in a pandemic that caught us off-guard (aside from Bill Gates and other scientists who have warned mankind about an upcoming pandemic). The stock market has plummeted. Some businesses are temporarily halted. Many were laid off and put on forced leaves. Households are affected. The COVID-19 pandemic is no fun. This has affected most, if not all, people. Freelancers for one have also been hit.

I’ve seen people comment in freelance groups that their contracts have been put on hold as clients deal with the crisis. Others have hours minimized while some are out of work indefinitely. I, for one, have one project that’s currently on pause and that has affected my finances in a way. While the market and the economy are both uncertain, it is important to focus on the things we can control.

Here are some tips on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic (or any other stressful event) as a freelancer:

Use your emergency fund

If you find yourself out of work or with less working time, it can be challenging to stay afloat. This is the time when you can take advantage of your emergency fund. This is one of the reasons why you’re saving this money, to save you and your family on a rainy day.

When you have saved around three to six months of expenses, then you are able to cover your needs while you’re still looking for a job. If you can afford to cover up to a year, then do it. I talked on a previous post about the importance of having an emergency fund as a freelancer. Clients come and go and the income can be unpredictable. This is why setting aside money can be useful. The bigger your emergency fund, then you can withstand extended periods of unemployment.

Prioritize expenses

This crisis is not the time to spend money on unnecessary things. You may be tempted to order a milk tea and a box of pizza delivered straight to your home because you are stressed. However, you may want to divert that money to essential expenses like your rent, utilities, groceries, and meds.

Some utility companies in the Philippines have offered deferred payments. Others are giving discounts if you’re paying your bills on time. If you are currently in a tight place with your budget, take advantage of this payment option. Contact your biller and ask if they are offering some sort of leniency during this crisis. If you are able to pay your bills without a problem, then it would be best to pay them right away. Don’t wait for the extended deadline only to find yourself short of cash when that day comes. Chip off payments if you are able.

Stockpile cash

Keep a pile of cash on hand. Always. Especially in this crisis. This doesn’t mean cashing in on your stocks due to the crash (NEVER DO THIS!). What I’m referring to is having money on hand that’s enough for two weeks up to a month.

I don’t want to sound like a doomsday prepper, but having cash is important. Banks might close and ATMs might go out of cash. Although this is very unlikely, it is important to have cash lying around just in case you cannot use your card. This also gives some peace for emergency expenses and purchases.

Apply for short-term projects

Always be on the lookout for new opportunities, if you find that your job isn’t stable.  Try to send out three to five applications per day. Send more if you can. Having a backup job when your main job fails will save you. There have been countless occasions where my side gig saved my ass in the past. Make sure you have multiple streams of income in case the economy tanks or your client’s business folds.

The thing about facing a crisis such as this pandemic is that we’re not exactly sure how this will pan out. There might be a possible recession or depression. Having a few extra projects to work on will give you some sort of a safety net in case SHTF. With extra work, you can stash some extra money as savings to prepare for an emergency. This will also buy you time to find another job.

Learn new skills

If you want to keep up with the ever-changing freelance landscape, always upgrade your skills. If you have some time in your hands, learn something new. Watch tutorials and get yourself a certificate or two. Make sure that these skills add to your current skillset. Doing so can help you in landing a new position in no time.

Since a lot of people are forced to stay at home, competition for projects and jobs has recently increased. Jobs are now filling fast. If you want to stay on top of the game and be hireable, then it is important to improve your skillset now and then. Get certifications. Read more books. Stay current. It’s either you change with the times or you perish.

Bottom line: Safety net

I know that this situation is challenging for everyone. It is definitely a strange time for all of us. It can be difficult for some to get up in the morning lest even be productive. Although it is easy to be worried, you can reframe your mind by taking action on things that you can control.

These tips will work not just for freelancers, but for all types of workers. Having a safety net and being competitive in these changing times will help you stay afloat during this pandemic.

Stay safe!

Freelance life in the midst of a pandemic

Freelance life in the midst of a pandemic

The last three months have been a pretty long year. 2020 has thrown us a ton of curveballs and it seems like there is no end to it. I hoped that this year would be smooth but it was definitely otherwise. There have been quite a lot of big catastrophes and sad news. The biggest so far is the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic and the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Cebu (and in some parts of the Philippines) added strain to the already tense freelance work life that I had.

I have been very anxious in early March when the virus started to spread in the country. It is unsettling to know that we’re fighting an invisible enemy, a virus that kills. There have been a lot of casualties and the worldwide economy is taking a hit because of the pandemic. With this unusual turn of events, my anxiety was through the roof. I found myself crying in the middle of the night unable to contain my fears and emotions.

The current life

I have one project (with a Luzon-based startup) that’s currently on hold because of the ECQ. It was an understandable move. With the quarantine set in Luzon, the business was on its knees. It would be futile to keep continue marketing when your target audiences are still trapped in their homes with limited funds.

I see other foreign clients taking a big hit because of the pandemic. Sales were down and some of the businesses were halted. This heightened my anxiety levels. It can be nerve-wracking to think about what the future holds, especially for industries and businesses that are tied up to my freelance work.

The ECQ also tossed the routine I had. I used to work out regularly for an extra boost of serotonin, but gyms and studios are closed. You can also find me cooped up in a cafe in the afternoons trying to get work done, but dining in is no longer allowed. I am still grappling with the loss of structure and I’m trying to put back the pieces. I am a creature of habit and this made my life really difficult.

The good thing is, I am still working on a few projects that are enough to pay for the essentials. With one project gone, I am forced to prioritize important line expenses. It is not so bad but, it is kind of crippling.  With what’s going on, now is the time to have more than extra dough. This would help ease anxiety and provide a little bit of financial security. This is also the time to minimize unnecessary expenses and save because the future might not be what we expect it to be.

How I’m coping

Although I lost one big project (for the meantime), I am still working and I have money set aside. I am grateful that I still earn and have projects because some people have it worse. I see other freelancers post their woes about clients who have paused contracts because of the crisis. Although I am lucky, the fear is still lurking. The pandemic just started and I really don’t know how the economy will fare in the coming months.

With this, I am putting myself out there. I am applying to projects and looking around for new freelance opportunities. This is not the time to be complacent unless you’re set for six months or more. I try my best to reply to messages and invitations and always look into the possibility of getting some work done for others. On the bright side, I am blessed to receive interview invitations and seasonal projects here and there. It is something I am thankful for. I have new projects that are about to commence in the coming weeks. However, I don’t want to rest on my laurels.

I recently opened up to a freelancer friend regarding my worries about the possible recession (or depression). She said that this will be the time our emergency fund will come in handy. It’s going to be a matter of feast or famine, so we need to readjust our priorities. This really struck me as the most honest piece of advice I’ve ever received recently and I’ve adjusted how I view my expenses in the past few weeks.

Refocus

We are definitely living in an uncertain time and this might be the new normal. It is easy to be stuck in a loop of anger, fear, and anxiety with what’s going on. However, I decided to take hold of the things I can control, like showing up for work every day and putting myself out there by sending emails and proposals regularly. It can be challenging especially when all that you see are bad news. I used to get worked up by the little things but I cannot constantly live in anger and anxiety.

The freelance life is not easy, especially with the pandemic. The risk is doubled. Everything around us seems so fragile. What’s important is making sure that you focus on what you can control and learn to reprioritize the more important things in life.

Living with Uncertainties as a Freelancer

Living with Uncertainties as a Freelancer

I want to talk about something that nobody is openly discussing. Freelancing is not all rainbows and unicorns. It’s not even all roses if that’s your thing. Being a freelancer is not at all dreamy. If you want to become a freelancer, you need to live with constant uncertainty.

I ended 2019 (and also started 2020) with anxiety. There were times when I woke up in the middle of the night wondering if I’ll make it. Then, I’ll cry and not get back to sleep. I would cry and get mad at everyone almost always in a cycle. I didn’t want to go out and hang out with friends. Furthermore, I didn’t want to talk to anyone about what I was going through. Every single day, I was living in fear. I kept my thoughts (and fears) to myself and I wasn’t holding everything pretty well.

Uncertainty is the norm for a freelancer, usually. Projects and clients come and go. Just like working in a normal nine-to-five, you have no security. However, with being a freelancer, the risks are higher. Some projects tend to be short-lived. There are times when your services are no longer needed or the clients’ needs have changed. You just have to be comfortable living with risks and dealing with uncertainties.

My story

One retainer project ended last year and I was worried as hell. I worried that I might not be able to save enough or pay my bills. But that’s not the entire picture. I still have two retainer clients and another on-going non-urgent project that I am working on. It’s not the end of the world, but I panicked because I might not reach my target income that allowed me to live (i.e., save and pay) comfortably.

A funny thing happened. When that retainer project ended, other projects came unexpectedly. I got short-term writing projects that allowed me to earn that same amount I lost (or even more). For this, I am thankful to the Universe (and to former clients who still trust me through the years). When one short-term project ends, another one came. Always. Then, I realize I panicked for no reason at all.

I also had emergency funds that covered the lost income. This allowed me to pursue projects that paid at a later date. Had I not saved enough; I would probably be fucked for real. However, I will have to replenish the funds I took out to prepare for a similar situation in the future.

The ebb and flow

Freelancing has its ebb and flow. There will be good months where you’re fully booked and blessed with paying clients. However, not everyone talks about the slow months where it takes you weeks to find a project that fills your work schedule and pays the bills. These months are real. They’re too real. You either learn to live and deal with these slow months or you let this break you.

Unless you’re okay with this, you should not jump into the sea of freelancing. Sorry to break it to you, honey. Clients and projects don’t just magically appear in your inboxes. You have to put in the work. You need to create your profile, build your portfolio, and be searchable. In short, you need to put yourself out there. Work has to be done.

Dealing with uncertainties

To deal with these uncertainties, you need to take measures. You need to prepare yourself. You should have money saved to cover for the slow weeks or months. Having three to six months of expenses as your emergency fund is a good start. This will give you enough time to search for another project while making sure that the bills are paid.

On the good months, it’s important to save all the extra for the slow months. Always budget for the worst. If possible save most, if not all, for your emergency fund. This is your top priority if you’re starting in the freelancing world.

Aside from that, you need to mentally prepare yourself. I thought I was ready for this to happen, but it turned out I wasn’t. I was devastated. Unfortunately, I still have this tendency to equate my self-worth with the work that I do. With one project ending, I battled with my demons. I thought I wasn’t good enough. I sulked and went on a rage. Later on, I realized that part of this ebb and flow is acceptance and letting go. It wasn’t as easy as meditating or practicing yoga. Real life can be harder than it seemed.

Getting by

To be honest, I am just starting to get out of my anxiety-ridden funk. It has been two months of sleeplessness and dealing with my demons. I have skipped dinners and gatherings with friends because I wasn’t “well.” I’ve been living in my head for too long. Then, I realized that things will work out eventually.

I am currently working on other projects that allow me to earn back the income that I have lost. I am still creating backup plans and striving to work my way out of this rut. It’s not easy but it’s not something I cannot do. I am trying to get by. I am trusting the Universe while making sure that I also do my part.