Well that was an interesting few months wasn’t it?
When we quit our jobs and moved to Spain last year to become full-time freelancers we hadn’t really planned for a global pandemic shutting down the world!
When businesses have to cut back, the first thing they cancel is contractors, especially for things that are ‘nice to have’ such as social media and marketing. I didn’t qualify for any help here in Spain as my business didn’t physically have to close its doors so having contracts cancelled was definitely stressful.
Luckily we survived and business has picked up massively since the end of May, so thankfully we’re back to our pre-Covid income. However, the lockdown has taught us a few lessons and we realised that we need to be more prepared for things like this in future.
Here are some lessons freelancers can learn from a global pandemic…
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1. Always have contracts
The top lesson freelancers can learn from a global pandemic is to always have contracts in place. For most of my freelance clients I have contracts but for a few that were friends or people I used to work with in the UK, I didn’t have contracts as was never worried they wouldn’t pay. However, even friends and ex-colleagues have no scruples about canceling on you with no notice!
Going forward I’ll always make sure that everyone I start working with will sign a contract. Even if it’s a rolling contract rather than for a fixed period you need to make sure you have agreed a notice period. For most clients I would recommend a 30 day notice period so you have a month’s notice before your last invoice is due. For larger clients that bring in the majority of your income it’s worth trying for a 3 month notice period.
You can find freelance contract templates online which you can adapt to your business, and use a service like HelloSign to allow both parties to sign digitally.
2. Have different types of customers
We’ve all heard the saying ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ and that popped into my head quite a few times when things got quiet over lockdown. The majority of my clients were UK estate agents as that’s the industry I worked in for 12 years. Whilst this kind of experience in an industry is great when it comes to touting for new clients, it did mean that most of my clients all cancelled at the same time when they had to close their doors.
Luckily I had a few others such as fitness instructors and accountants who were still busy and needed to continue with my services, but it wasn’t enough to keep us going indefinitely. I’ve since gained some new clients who have nothing to do with property and going forward will try to find a wide range of different types of customers just in case.
3. Build good relationships
Most of my clients I had known for years, either through working with them in my full time job or from being their social media manager for a long time. This helps when something like a pandemic hits as you know they will have your back.
Whilst many had to stop working with me for a while as they had no income themselves, 99% of my clients have come back to me now things have picked up. This is because we’ve worked together for so long and we have a good working relationship.
4. Have some savings
Suddenly losing your income is about as stressful as it gets. If you can’t pay your rent or mortgage, or for the food shop, what do you do? It doesn’t bear thinking about but that’s where many people have found themselves over the last few months.
Having some money in the bank to pay a couple of month’s worth of rent or mortgage can make such a difference, especially if you’re a freelancer with no option of furlough or other financial assistance.
We’re very lucky that as we sold our house in the UK and haven’t yet bought one in Spain we had some savings to fall back on. Had this happened once we’d already bought a house here though it might have been a different story. Going forward we’ve vowed that we’ll keep 6 months rent/mortgage payments in a separate savings account in case of an emergency. Peace of mind is worth scrimping and saving for a bit to make sure you have something to fall back on.
5. Get insured
I’m not sure if many freelancer insurance providers covered those who couldn’t work or lost income due to Covid-19 as I know most insurances aren’t valid in the case of a pandemic. However, one thing that some insurance providers offer for freelancers is help in getting outstanding invoices paid.
I’ve seen so many freelancers complaining on social media that their clients haven’t paid their invoices because they aren’t getting paid themselves, and whilst I’m sympathetic to small businesses it’s arguably the freelancer who needs the money even more. Getting a company involved to chase unpaid money often has a better outcome than trying to do it yourself so an insurance policy with this included is definitely worth having.
Insurance for freelancers does cover you if you lose income due to an illness or accident, so if you would be stuck without your income it is definitely worth looking into in case of other situations.
6. Have multiple skills
In the same way that having different types of clients is a good idea, so is offering different services. I provide social media and content writing services, but am thinking about what else I could offer. I have a degree in Graphic Design so I could also offer design services, and am brushing up on my web design skills.
Think about what else you could offer as a freelancer. It might be an idea to take some online courses if you need to brush up on your skills or learn new ones.
7. Have a backup plan
Do you have a backup plan if something happens to your freelance career? I don’t!
I realised during lockdown that if business closed long term and didn’t need or couldn’t afford social media management, I wouldn’t have anything else to fall back on!
I still don’t really have great a backup plan but I’m working on a few things. I earn a bit from my blogs but it isn’t enough to live on. I have a few plans to earn more money from my blogs such as creating products to sell, but I don’t think this would ever be enough for a full-time income. I’ve also started an Etsy store with digital prints (which I need to get back to working on!) which again will bring in a small amount of cash each month. These are both good for extra money but not long term solutions.
Other work from home jobs I’ve been looking into include TEFL courses as I know many expats here in Spain who still had plenty of work when schools closed. This is still at the research stage at the moment as the courses cost money but I will update if it progresses. If you’re also interested in teaching English from home as a foreign language, TEFL Pros are offering a free trial of their course.
Hopefully, with some of these things in place we can be better prepared if another unexpected event occurs. Do you have any other useful lessons freelancers can learn from the pandemic?
If you freelance how have the last few months been for you? Are things picking up again now?