Freelancing in the Coronavirus Crisis

, The Happy Beavers
How to survive during and after the pandemic

Freelancers are familiar with dealing with uncertainty. The intervals between one job and another, from fruitful periods to more reduced situations, more experienced professionals learn, in some way, to adapt to the circumstances. What should you do, however, when an unexpected event, on a global scale, adds an even greater layer of unpredictability to the job market?

The coronavirus crisis has posed many challenges for freelancers. Around the world, to a greater or lesser extent, families are staying home, companies are closing their doors indefinitely and budgets are shrinking. Even in countries that are already preparing for a return to normality, there are many doubts about the economic recovery.

Of course, not all economic activities are affected in the same way. If you develop e-learning tools for a living, for example, you may be more active now than in any previous year. However, all professionals, even those who are working the same amount or more during the pandemic have been impacted by the changes that the coronavirus crisis has brought to everyday life.

This article provides useful information both for those who already work as freelancers and for those who intend to begin with self-employment in the midst of the crisis.

Do the math

First of all, it is important to understand one’s current financial state, the expected expenditures and the work prospects for the coming months.

Depending on your situation as well as your competence, you may have a sufficient financial reserve to survive a possible shortage of work during the crisis. Unfortunately, this is not a reality for everyone. Even if this is the case for you, be careful not to overestimate your savings.

A reserve of six months may seem sufficient under normal conditions. In a time of crisis, however, it is best to be cautious. Most countries still find it very difficult to predict the economic impact of COVID-19. Therefore, unless you have a truly significant financial reserve or take specific steps to limit your expenses, it is best to avoid ceasing to work altogether. You may ultimately run the risk of exhausting your savings waiting for a recovery that may take time.

On the other hand, a reserve that would be sufficient to cover three months of expenditures under normal conditions may yield much more with some domestic economic measures. Even if the cause is something negative, the emergency measures adopted by some countries encourage economizing. After all, with shops and restaurants closed, the tendency is to consume less.

The following list presents some ways to save during the crisis:


Avoid buying what is superfluous

Do you need a new, expensive outfit in the middle of a lockdown? Probably not. Still, you might be tempted to buy something that’s on sale, for example, out of sheer sense of opportunity (or just boredom). Resist the temptation. The money you spend on something superfluous today may be needed for something important tomorrow. After all, as we have already said, it is too early to predict the duration of this crisis. Focus on indispensable items and preserve a security reserve of the greatest possible value.

Cancel the services you do not use

In normal times, many expenses can go unnoticed on a credit card bill or in a debit account. A classic example is streaming services such as Netflix, Spotify and Amazon, among others. We often pay for services that we use seldom, but we prefer not to cancel because the services are not very expensive. Evaluate if it’s really worth keeping all of them active. Instead of three or four streaming services, for example, you can choose to keep only your favorite.

Renegotiate contracts

If you have some free time, take the opportunity to make some long calls with your Internet or pay TV provider. It may seem like a bad idea at first, but it’s an effective way to negotiate a cheaper plan, especially if you’re not on a loyalty plan. If possible, try to negotiate the value of your rental space as well. In a period of economic uncertainty, your landlord may accept a readjustment if you justify the request well.

Consider moving to another city, region or even country

If your expenses remain high, even after you cut costs, consider the possibility of moving to a location with a lower cost of living. This is, of course, not a simple decision, especially if you have family or other factors to consider. It may be easier, however, if you are already working as a freelancer in a home office. In this case, even a change of neighborhood can make a big difference in the bills.

Still, it’s possible to search on a wider scale. Look at prices in other regions or even other countries, if there are no visa or travel restrictions. Many freelancers choose to live in countries with a lower cost of living, such as in Eastern Europe or Asia, where they can also benefit from differences in exchange rates.

Search for government benefits

Many countries have taken measures to help families during the crisis. This support can come both in the form of a basic income, as announced in the United Kingdom and the United States, and in the suspension of property debts, as in the case of Spain and Portugal. There are varied examples as each country has developed its own policies to fight the crisis and reduce economic hardship. Inform yourself through the press and the official channels of your country’s government about measures that may benefit you and your family.

Making the change

If you are starting your freelance career or just want to make end meet during the pandemic, these tips can help you along the way.

Develop your skills

If there isn’t enough work in your area of expertise and experience, why not learn something new? There are many online courses, both paid and free, available to help you develop your skills and add a sparkle to your resume. If these courses have previously enabled millions of users, now is your chance.

These are some examples of popular platforms:

Coursera

edX

FutureLearn

Udacity

Udemy


In addition to these platforms, which usually integrate content produced by respected universities and professors around the world, many educational institutions offer their own online courses. This includes renowned universities, such as Harvard and Princeton. Courses are available from all parts of the world.

Search for new customers

If you’re having trouble getting new jobs, but don’t want to significantly change what you already know how to do well, you can choose to refresh your client portfolio. After all, the crisis does not affect all types of businesses in the same way. Stores and online services, for example, continue to work. So, expanding your network to meet the demands of other types of customers could be a smart move to adapt to the circumstances.

Adapt to digital

Whatever your professional activity, there is a good chance you will find an efficient method for practicing it or spreading it via online tools. With the required social isolation measures and the emergence of new protocols for social interaction, it has become imperative to have an online presence. Whether you are an English teacher or a carpenter, search for and take advantage of media and applications that can help you work more and better during the crisis.

How to find work

Of course, you can continue to advertise your work through more traditional means, such as leaflets or newspaper ads. If you already have a good network, it is also likely you will continue to receive proposals for work by phone or e-mail.

If you have trouble acquiring new jobs because they are unavailable or unsuitable or if you are still beginning your freelance career, there are at least two types of services that bring professionals closer to potential clients: agencies and online platforms.

In both cases, a company acts as a link between the client and the requested professional. The difference lies in how this mediation is done. Traditional agencies usually participate in the description and delivery of the contracted product or service. In other words, they do not simply mediate. Therefore, the freelancer is hired by the agency to participate in the project.

In the case of online platforms and applications for freelancers, participation is limited to administrative matters. The company offers resources that connect potential customers to professionals from various fields, without being responsible for the delivery that will be performed. The contract is concluded directly between the individual parties, and the platform acts as supplier for both parties.

As with everything in life, each of these formats has its advantages and disadvantages. Moreover, there are many options to choose from in each format. You can search for the service that best suits your style.

Platforms for freelancers

While platforms and applications for freelancers can be very useful, you need to know how to use them intelligently and effectively and to avoid certain pitfalls. The following summarizes some of the advantages and disadvantages of this type of service and lists some of the most popular current services.


Advantages
  • Practicality
  • Platforms for freelancers are easy to set up and use which saves a significant amount of time. You can immediately register and create a profile, add resume and photo, search for vacancies in your field and submit your first applications for available jobs.

  • Number of places
  • Freelance platforms are a good alternative when you are starting out and have not yet managed to build your own client base. If you are lucky and work efficiently, you can secure a first contract quickly. Obviously, many of the job offers available are for short, one-time tasks. These, however, can still be used to acquire positive feedback and gain experience.

  • Global market
  • One of the greatest benefits of working through platforms is the possibility to meet people and establish relationships with companies around the world. In other words, you can expand your market, develop professionally and increase your chances of financial gain without geographical limitations.

  • Payment Guarantee
  • The platforms usually offer greater security to professionals regarding receiving compensation for their services. This is one of their main attractive features as the risk of not receiving compensation is a sensitive issue for anyone working as a freelancer.

  • Productivity tools
  • Such platforms also offer many additional useful resources for freelancers. From advanced search filters to application statistics, there are several tools that make navigating the job search and fulfilling tasks easier for freelancers.


Disadvantages
  • Intense competition
  • If there are vacancies on platforms for freelancers, it is also true that the competition for these vacancies is usually fierce. When you apply for a job, you are likely competing with more than 50 people, particularly if it is a highly attractive task for professionals. It is therefore difficult to stand out and be selected, especially if you are still in the beginning stages of your freelancing career.

  • Low payments
  • One of the direct consequences of the fierce competition between candidates is low payment rates. Not only is the labor supply large, which leads to low rates, but a large part of the competition is also formed by professionals from countries with low costs of living. Therefore, these professionals are more willing to receive less for the same type of service.

  • Difficult start
  • It’s difficult to obtain one’s first jobs without significant feedback in one’s profile. This is why, in the beginning, it’s necessary to accept jobs that pay little but will give you an opportunity to gain experience and feedback. Regardless, the task may be time consuming.

  • Premium features
  • Platforms usually charge for special features. In Upwork, for example, premium users can view the average price proposed for a vacancy. This grants the applicants an important factor to consider when planning their own proposal.


Most popular platforms

There are several platform options for freelancers around the world, but some of them stand out for their above average activity and global reach.

  • Upwork
  • Upwork, formerly Elance-Odesk, is currently the largest freelance platform on the planet with over 1 billion dollars in contracts in over 3,000 specialties.

    To participate in Upwork services, you must register on the site and activate your account. After that, you can set your rate and the services you want to offer. In addition, you can create a simple portfolio by uploading examples of previous work. Each job that you complete through the platform receives a rating which is displayed in your profile and account as your Job Score Success (JSS). When selecting an applicant for a vacancy, a company can review his or her history and the grades received, among other factors, before deciding to hire anyone.

    Compared to its rivals, the great advantage of Upwork is the immense amount of vacancies it offers. As a registered freelancer, you will receive a specific number of “connects” which decreases for each proposal submitted for a vacancy. New “connects” will cost money, so essentially, you are going to pay simply for the opportunity to make an offer.

    The main disadvantages are the high competition and the consequent drop in prices. One of the main factors for this is the presence of freelancers from countries with lower costs of living which allows them to charge much less for work. In addition, Upwork charges commissions that cost between 10% and 20% of the contract value, and payments take 10 days or more to appear in your bank account.

  • Fiverr
  • Fiverr is a global company that, as the name suggests, offers services starting at five dollars. To start working on the platform, you must first register and create an account which can be done through Facebook, Google or Apple or by creating a new account on the platform itself.

    One of the main differences between Fiverr and Upwork is that the freelancer has a much more passive performance at Fiverr. In the case of Upwork, the contractors most often post their projects. Interested persons should then apply for the open position. With Fiverr, the freelancer posts his specialty/main service (his “gig”) and waits for interested parties to get in touch. Due to this change of focus, there is a very large specialization among professionals who start offering extremely specific services.

    The format is one of the distinctions of Fiverr as it is designed to make the hiring process more agile. On the other hand, the rates charged by the platform are lower than those of Upwork. In addition to a 20% fee on the sale, the freelancer pays to transfer his money to PayPal. You must also wait two weeks to receive your payment.

  • Twago
  • Twago is one of the most popular freelance platforms in Europe, essentially a German version of Upwork. The company was founded in Berlin in 2009. Currently, about half a million professionals are registered, representing a range of different specialties.

    You need to create an account and register a professional profile to join the platform. As with Upwork, freelancers can apply for projects worldwide. Still, Twago is not as international as Upwork as much of its job opportunities are announced in German. In addition, specialties are restricted to web services, design and writing and translation services.

    On the other hand, there is less competition on Twago than on Upwork and Fiverr because the user is obliged to acquire credits to apply for a project. Thus, the quality of freelancers is also usually higher, and the compensation is higher than the average of the other platforms.


Agencies

Agencies are a traditional option but are also very useful for those who are having difficulty finding work. To apply for a position with an agency, a professional must research those that interest him/her most. Many agencies allow professionals to register their résumés online. This can be done on the company’s website by writing an e-mail or using LinkedIn, among other options.

Advantages

The main advantage of the agencies in relation to platforms for freelancers is the possibility of maintaining a more stable professional relationship with frequent projects. As the agencies are also responsible for the final result of a project, there is an incentive to cultivate a more solid relationship with the professionals who have previously participated in it.

Disadvantages

As with freelance platforms, the agencies also receive relevant compensation for each job. In the case of agencies, however, the professional is often not aware of what the client is paying for the service.

Mental health first

It is not easy to start something new or to simply remain focused in the midst of a crisis such as the current one. Around the world, the fear of contracting the virus contributes to financial uncertainties, routine breakdowns and concerns about family and friends. Therefore, don’t overburden yourself. You are not expected to become an ultra-productive individual in the middle of a pandemic. Prioritize your physical and mental health.

Some tips to help you maintain your sanity:

  • Maintain a regular balanced and healthy diet
  • Make time in your day for relaxation and meditation activities
  • Try to perform some form of physical activity
  • Connect more with others (as an antidote for loneliness)
  • Exercise compassion and reflection
  • Improve your sleeping habits

Following this advice may be difficult for many people due to extreme levels of stress and anxiety. This is largely due to constant exposure to news and information about the pandemic. To avoid this:

  • Designate specific times during the day to learn about the crisis
  • Avoid rumors. Look for reliable sources to follow for updates about the crisis
  • Keep things in perspective

Finally, stay informed about the opportunities for psychological care available where you live. If you are in therapy, try to continue with this on the phone or by video call.