10 Ways to Manage Your Freelance Business During Tough Times

As an independent professional, you’ve worked hard to grow your business, establish great client relationships, and land awesome opportunities. But when a crisis hits, the effects can be seismic, sometimes amplifying the challenges you may already face as an independent professional.

The key is to focus on the things you can do today to help ensure that when the dust settles, you’re ready to ramp back up.

Read on for advice from Upwork professionals, and some practical tips to manage your business in uncertain times.

1. Prioritize what you can control and what you cannot. Focus on what you can.

There’s a lot to worry about right now. Take a pause and consider the challenges in terms of what you can control and what you can’t. This will help you to block out the noise and concentrate on what you can do in the here and now to keep business going—more of which we’ll focus on below.

“Focusing on what’s right—instead of what’s wrong—builds confidence and momentum,” says freelance writer Danny Marguiles. “These are key elements of successful freelancing, especially during a crisis.”

2. Shift your focus online (if it’s not already).

In certain crises like the current pandemic, social distancing and stay-at-home orders mean brick and mortar locations, in-person events, and face-to-face transactions become impossible. Here’s where you can get creative and think “virtual” to keep business rolling.

Consider how startup Kidadl, an online booking platform for planning in-person family events and experiences, changed gears to help parents during the COVID-19 crisis. With its customer base on lockdown, Kidadl pivoted to creating swaths of online content for parents with kids stuck at home—and has seen exponential growth as a result.

3. Nurture existing relationships—and build new ones.

Freelance writer and coach Abbi Perets says now is the time to stay in touch and connect with one another. And when you do, sincerity plus the right messaging can go a long way.

“The entire world is going through something new and different right now,” she says. “It’s important that you’re truly connecting with people on a human level. It can be as simple as asking ‘How are you?’ and listening to the answer. If you’re on a call with a client or prospect, dig into their answer. What is especially challenging for them right now? And most importantly, how can you help?”

Perets recommends a well-thought out email campaign to clients and prospects, and shares a few pointers. “Make your conversations about connection, not closing sales. The sales will come—especially if you connect with people in a real and honest way. They will want to work with you the moment they can.” She adds, “Make sure your messaging isn’t tone-deaf. Don’t send an email you wouldn’t want to receive during a crisis.”

Check out Perets’ The Email Sequence Workshop to learn more about writing emails that connect with people.

Also, consider joining an online community to network with peers in your field, or in your part of the world. During challenging times, there’s comfort in shared experiences—and the potential to collaborate.

4. “Adjust your hustle.”

Jennifer Mizkata offered this bit of advice in her Work Space column. Pivot to focus on growth, generating leads, and new revenue streams. Prioritize outbound efforts, expand your audience or social reach, or look into broadening your offering and finding new revenue streams. Some independent photographers with cancelled shoots are taking the time to beef up the inventory on their stock photography profiles in order to earn extra revenue.

Marguiles suggests broadening your wheelhouse to accept different types of projects. “While I lost a great client due to the effects of the current pandemic, I’ve also gained two more excellent ones by stepping just outside of my comfort zone. For example, I’ve never written a chatbot script before, but I knew I’d be able to figure so I pursued the job anyway. Now I have a new client, and a new skill.”

Learn more about how to adjust your business offerings to survive during a recession.

5. Polish up your branding, portfolio, website, and proposal template.

Josh Burns, software developer and coach on Upwork suggests polishing up your portfolio to put your best foot forward for the next great opportunities when they arise. (Which they will.)

“Invest your extra time into creating an attractive profile and portfolio that stands out to potential clients. Your profile is like your resume—it’s your chance to hook them and stand out among all the other bids,” he says. Get creative and think of ways to stand out. Burns says, “I hire independent talent on Upwork to help scale my business. When I’m looking at profiles, I focus most on the Title, Overview, Reviews, and Portfolio.”

Update any other digital assets or business materials you regularly use, such as email and proposal templates. While you’re at it, brush up on your project proposals. “Freelancers who consistently write great proposals can always get great clients, in any economic climate,” says Marguiles. “There are so many tips to writing an outstanding proposal: showing highly-relevant examples of work you’ve done in the past; sharing your knowledge with clients; offering helpful tips or ideas; and ending your proposal with a thoughtful question that demonstrates your expertise.”

6. Learn something new.

If client work has slowed down, take advantage of downtime to master something new that could enhance or diversify the services you offer.

Burns suggests training websites and online resources that offer free trials, like Skillshare. “They’re currently offering a free 2-month premium membership. If you’re unsure what skills that you want to learn, search top skills in demand for 2020, or browse Upwork’s job categories.”

Was there a programming language update, SEO course, or design program you’ve been putting off learning? It’s also a good time for software developers and engineers to brush up on their cybersecurity knowledge.

These don’t only have to be only professional endeavors. You can put time toward learning anything that leaves you feeling inspired or gets your creative juices flowing. This is where a lot of great business ideas come from!

7. Find resources and relief funds for financial support.

While independent professionals contribute more than $1 trillion to the country’s GDP, they face a disproportionate risk of financial setbacks by going without protections such as paid sick leave and unemployment insurance. The Freelancers Relief Fund from the Freelancers Union provides grants for freelancers experiencing economic hardship or COVID-related health crises, up to $1000 per household. The grant covers expenses such as utilities, food supplies, and cash to cover income loss.

Also, the Small Business Administration is offering Paycheck Protection Program loans to cover certain payroll and business costs to self-employed people and independent contractors. The loan is fully forgivable if the money is used for the expenses specified by the SBA.

Reevaluate medical coverage and benefits to ensure you have the plans you need. Burns recommends, “If you’re an independent contractor, look into benefits such as health, dental, term life, disability, liability, and accident & illness. Paying out of pocket should never be in your plan.”

8. Lend your expertise for good.

If you have the bandwidth, lend a helping hand to a cause or community you care about. This isn’t just a great way to give back when it counts; it can build growth opportunities for your business on the other side of a crisis. From app developers to SEO pros, professionals around the world are stepping up to help clients get by.

For example, Shopify developers have rallied around a number of ways to help commerce businesses get through the crisis, from free coding workshops and storefront set-ups to Twitter-based suggestions to improve email subject lines for better open rates. And these startups and tech companies have creatively partnered up to offer resources for free, such as interactive restaurant menu technology.

9. Write up your own “business continuity plan.” Include a plan of action for everything from big events to small interruptions.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re in the midst of something disruptive and are navigating changes on the fly. One way to make things easier on yourself as you press on is to create a business continuity plan. Think of this as a set of guidelines you can turn to when any future crises arise, big or small.

Create a document and list out things that could disrupt your ability to do business—whether it’s a power outage, a prolonged illness, or a hardware failure. Having actionable plans to address each can ease your mind, help you bounce back quicker, and minimize downtime.

10. Don’t forget to take care of the talent. (That’s you.)

Speaking of hustle, as an independent professional, you’re probably used to being busy. Adjusting to more downtime can be jarring—but take that time to take care of yourself. Alternatively, if you’re on the other end of that spectrum—maybe you’ve experienced a huge increase in business or new clients, related to the current crisis—be mindful of overworking yourself.

For independent professionals, you are your business, and staying healthy can directly correlate to your success. “Even more important than adequate health insurance, make health and fitness changes in your life,” suggests Burns. “Take action to be proactive and avoid health issues that could lead to thousands of dollars in expenses.”

Stay in tune with yourself and prioritize wellness. We all absorb and cope with stress differently, so check in with how you’re feeling. Take breaks from the news, eat healthy, exercise, and connect with others. Video callingoutside of work can be an uplifting, encouraging way to combat isolation and stay connected.

Remember: Businesses are engaging freelancers more than ever—and will continue to post-crisis.

As an independent professional, you’re already adaptable and resilient. It’s how you’re built. And now more than ever, businesses are turning to independent contractors to transform their capabilities and output. Your specific brand of expertise and efficiency will be in high demand when things improve.

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