Six MORE things I’ve learned from being a freelancer during a pandemic

Freelance pandemic Coronavirus Atena Juszko

It’s been almost half a year since my last post – the one on six things I’ve learned from being a freelancer during a pandemic. I was really hoping that I wouldn’t need to write an update to that post. Unfortunately, the situation now is quite similar to where we were then. Many countries are going through a second lockdown, and it looks like Canada (where I live) is also heading in that direction.

I haven’t written any posts as between my family life and working life I haven’t really had much time for anything else. But some things have been weighing heavily on my mind, so I decided to write the second part of ‘Six things I’ve learned from being a freelancer during a pandemic.’

1              The work is there, you just need to work to find it

When my long-term contract was suddenly terminated due to Covid-19 at the end of May, I found myself almost completely out of work. I had a few smaller jobs with a couple publishers, but the one I lost had been taking up around 80-90% of my time and was supposed to last well into 2021 giving me a nice, steady income. So when this contract ended I cried. I cried because I felt that every publisher was closing down and there’d be no work. I cried because I had never looked for work before and I didn’t know how to do it. I cried because I felt so helpless and didn’t know what step to take next. I cried because we’d just bought a house and we really needed two incomes…

After about four days of crying, I brought my laptop into the kitchen, poured myself a glass of wine and decided that that was the time to find work. I can’t remember why it was that day or why I hadn’t done it sooner. After crying for so many days, something just clicked in my head and I was ready to face the situation I found myself in.

I started emailing and messaging people I had worked with in the past, people whose work I turned down in the past, people I had met at conferences, people I had heard of. I kept a spreadsheet of everyone I contacted. I became really active on LinkedIn and also started contacting people there offering my services. I was spending every minute of my day telling people how I could help them with their projects (which I didn’t even know existed). The following week, work started coming in…

pandemic freelancer ELT

2              Block time to do some marketing

As I mentioned above, I put in a lot of time and effort into marketing myself when my big contract got terminated. I feel that this is something we, ELT freelancers, take for granted. Especially when we have a steady supply of work from our clients. Prior to the pandemic, I wrote a few LinkedIn updates, a blog post here and there and instagrammed on a monthly basis. I never looked at those activities as marketing myself. But the pandemic showed me that ‘being out there’ is extremely important. Potential clients need to see you, they need to get to know you through your social media activity and they especially need to know if you’re available for work. So now, I set aside 15 minutes of each working day to improve my online presence, so that hopefully, when another dry spell hits me, I won’t have to spend eight hours a day marketing my freelance business.

3              Don’t take on every job that you’re offered

After putting in a lot of work to find work, I got offered a number of various projects and I took on … everything! I didn’t even look at schedules or my workload, I just accepted every project that came my way. The reason was twofold: 1) judging by past experience, any of these projects could get cancelled with no warning, 2) any of these projects could get cancelled with no warning. You get the idea – I was just trying to prevent a dry spell in case projects got cancelled.

Well, none of them did get cancelled, so I had more work than I could handle. I’m only just now (mid-November) seeing the light at the end of a long tunnel (or hole in my case).

This is probably one of the hardest things about being a freelancer during a pandemic – work isn’t set in stone and can be cancelled at any moment, so we need to use our intuition when booking projects. Or take big risks. Freelancing is a gamble at the best of times, but it’s a lottery at the worst of times.

4              Do stick to your niche if it makes you comfortable

In my previous post I advised to be more flexible and work outside your niche. After niching down for the last seven or so years of my freelancing life, the pandemic forced me to take on work outside of my niche. Truth be told, that wasn’t the best idea. Don’t get me wrong, I completed the work, got good feedback, and got paid, but I didn’t enjoy the work. I now know that I can’t just take on ANY job. So, make sure that if you take on work outside your niche, you feel comfortable doing so.

5              Don’t lower your rates just because someone asks you to do so

I noticed (which was also confirmed by other freelancers in the industry) that some clients were using the pandemic to lower rates and fees. Well, my education, skills and experience didn’t diminish during the pandemic. My mortgage payments and other costs of living also didn’t go down. And I’ll still be due to pay the same tax and pension contributions as I did last year. So why should I accept lower rates? I explained this to several people and managed to get work for my standard (pre-pandemic) rates. Where this wasn’t possible, we just reduced the scope of work, so I still ended up receiving my regular rate. I even managed to increase my consultancy fee with much success. Just because there’s a pandemic, it doesn’t mean that you should lower your value. Remember that if you do this now, it’s going to be hard to go back to your higher rates later.

6              Don’t hesitate to rely on your network when things get hard

I started a Facebook group for ELT editors, writers and other people in the ELT publishing industry in May, just in the midst of the pandemic. I felt really lonely at home and was missing having ‘desk buddies’, someone I could ask about an apostrophe or a comma, someone I could have a 2-minute chat with while making a cup of coffee in the communal kitchen or someone whose shoulder I could cry on. Starting the group was one of the best things I did for myself this year. I haven’t got enough words to say how much I value the contributions of the group members. And I’m sure the group members don’t realise how much they’ve helped me get through this really difficult time!

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