Time to flex: coping as a freelancer post Covid-19
In 2018, Beckie Smith, Directing Consultant at Flying Geese shared her journey setting up her own consultancy and tackling a career as a freelancer in My Freelance Journey - a series of eight blogs written for AMAculturehive. Two years on Beckie takes us through how her consultancy has grown and now, as an established freelancer, how she's navigating work in the new Covid-19 landscape. Beckie also gives advice and tips on what's worked for her and on how to overcome the challenges of balancing work and family life.
Having written my blog that tracked my journey as I braved it into the world of freelance arts marketing, I now follow it up with thoughts and reflections as an established Freelancer, operating in the post Covid-19 world.
Although my story started like many, I know that my story is rare, and is entirely down to a massive stroke of luck, and a little bit of proactive activity on my part. Other Freelancers have not been as lucky and every day before my head hits the pillow, I think of those whose lives have been turned upside down.
The week before lockdown, I was on a career high. I was on my way to visit a new client, I had a summer of work lined up, I was about to induct my first ever (dare I say it) new member of the team, to help me manage capacity. The second day of lockdown, I lost five of six clients all on one day, and the income from the remaining one was not enough to see me through, yet alone my new teammate. Of course I had to tell her. What could I say? My brain told me I had to cancel our agreement; I simply couldn’t afford to pay her. But I knew I was her only project.
When the world turns upside down, there is only one option left. To be kind to people. So I found myself saying “I can’t guarantee the hours or the fee we agreed, but whatever we make, we will share.” I expected to lose sleep worrying about finances, but I slept soundly knowing that life is about relationships and family, not income.
I’m aware that not everyone would have been able to make the same decision, but thankfully my husband’s job was secure. We planned to make savings through lockdown as the nursery was closed, there was no commuting, no days out, no slices of cake, and no emergency runs to the local garage to get chocolate at 9pm –as they were not essential!
What goes around comes around in the freelance world, and I’m so glad I made the choice to keep my teammate on. Four days later, our one existing client called to say that due to the Pandemic, they were releasing funds to upskill the marketing departments of arts and cultural organisations across the city. They asked if I would be willing to take on a marketing training contract to include a piece of audience research across the county, and individual consultancy to six organisations to help them understand their audiences better so they could come back stronger when life returned to normal. Suddenly, we are back up to full throttle…cue much celebration and relief, and bottle of prosecco.
Then reality hit. A story I share with many. Both parents are trying to work full time, you have a school-aged child, for whom you have to plan and deliver a curriculum and a toddler who cant sit at a table for more than 15 minutes. Like other families my husband worked 8am – 1pm while I had the kids. Then we swapped 1 pm – 6pm. 6pm – 7.30 was tea time, bath time and bedtime, and at 7.30 we would log back into work, to make up hours until 11pm. It was hard and wasn’t sustainable. But we got through it, and I would choose that any day, over the worry of no contracts, no income and not knowing where to start.
But what have we done specifically to help up our momentum and carry on the success? Our top tips include:
Flexing the Fee
Everyone has a day rate or a project rate. We threw that out the window and are accepting work at any proposed fee, because, quite simply, we don’t know where the next contract is coming from, and we would rather have something than nothing.
Flexing what we do
We used to specialise in audience research and insight and strategic planning, but now plan and deliver campaigns with a focus on social media activity. Take what you can get.
Throw the clock and the contract in the bin
We have never really counted our hours or days spent on a project because I feel it’s more important to exceed expectations regardless of the hours spent. But we did like to stick to what was agreed on the project brief. However, with life in state of flux for everyone we find that clients are asking us to problem solve and offer a spare pair of hands sometimes far from the project brief, and we just roll our sleeves up and do it. Clients really value the extra effort.
Treat your clients like colleagues
Conversations with our clients used to be conducted through email or prearranged phone conversations. But we suddenly found ourselves looped into What’s Ap groups. Although it took a day or two to accept the merge between home and work, being part of everyday conversations of the office place has made us feel like we are part of the organisation’s family, and can respond and help whenever is needed. Suddenly we have colleagues as though we were employed.
Use the time wisely
If you have a quiet day, or quiet week, use it to market yourself. Update your website or portfolio, blog your stories, make connections, train and upskill yourself.
Give yourself a reality check
We recently applied for a contract that had over 200 applicants. It’s disappointing not to win a contract, especially when you consider the hours spent on it, and the games you didn’t play with your children while you were applying. But let it be water off a duck’s back. Competition is fierce - it isn’t that you are not good enough.
Join a community of freelancers
Share things when things are hard. You need to keep good mental health in order to be attractive to potential clients, and to be a nice person at home.
Ignore the lows, celebrate the highs, and spend time with your family
Work is a maximum of 1/3 of our time. Remember to invest in and cherish the other 2/3s too.
Beckie Smith, Consulting Director, Flying Geese