Nikki Kitchen, Founder and creator of freelancer platform, The Freelance Kit, and MD of multi-award-winning PR and Marketing agency Purple Riot, offers up some tips for the UK’s freelance community who are understandably concerned and confused about the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
The freelance and self-employed community is well equipped to survive working from home for prolonged periods, but the business closures and lockdown situation due to COVID-19 has already had a devastating effect on many sectors.
So, in this shaky and uncertain climate, and in this unprecedented global situation, what can freelancers do to weather the storm and prevail?
Here are seven ideas that may help…
Think about alternative options for work
Firstly, if you have lost clients or feel like this could be a possibility, it’s important that you find more work – and fast! There are still opportunities out there and freelancers are pulling together online to pass work to each other.
Facebook has some brilliant groups for different sectors and skill sets – Freelance PR Jobs for PR’s for example, or No 1 Freelance Media Women for writers, and there are larger all-encompassing groups like Freelance Heroes. There are also platforms for freelance work, such as The PR Cavalry and People Per Hour and lots of regional business and networking groups to tap into.
Check in with old clients and contacts, you never know who might need a hand as things change on a daily basis, and check Twitter and LinkedIn for leads by searching for freelance jobs hashtags and using specific jobs terms in the search option.
Lastly, try calling recruitment agencies who are looking for emergency freelance support across a variety of sectors.
Whilst we know that many businesses have taken a hit, others have pivoted their offer to create products to help during the crisis. Some sectors are even seeing huge sales uplifts, especially those in wellbeing and fitness, home furnishings, tech, some food and drink and home entertainment. So, don’t lose heart completely, have a think about the businesses who might actually be busier as a result of the crisis and in need of support.
Look for different ways to support your existing clients
Some businesses may have to reduce output, but will need to carry on and try to weather the storm the best they can if they are to come out the other side.
Many companies will have had to furlough staff, or have shortages due to illness, so there will be opportunities to offer up your services to help out where you can and plug the gaps with flexible support. This might mean using your transferable skills to do something you don’t usually do, the key is to be flexible and be willing to roll your sleeves up.
Work out a survival budget
Whilst it’s always great advice to have some money saved up to cope with any sudden loss of business, it’s not always the reality for many of the nation’s freelancers.
Regardless of your savings situation, do a quick inventory of the money that you do have, and think about what bills and payments are necessary, which can be postponed, and which things are easily cancelled for now. Have a look through your direct debits and standing orders and cancel any unnecessary subscriptions or things you don’t use. Councils are starting to offer council tax breaks for those who have lost work because of the crisis, so speak to them early and find out what help you can get.
Call your creditors and arrange payment breaks, most are now offering some sort of help, whether that’s a payment holiday, reduced or interest-only payments. You can also speak to your landlord or mortgage firm to ask if a payment holiday is possible. Again, do this as soon as possible so you know what your options are, don’t wait until you just can’t pay. By applying for a mortgage holiday properly, it shouldn’t impact on your credit rating, but if you just cancel the direct debit or don’t make the payment, it will.
Find out what you’re entitled to
The government has now announced a self-employed rescue package that has left many freelancers, and those with Limited Companies, in the lurch and quite confused about what they’re entitled to.
At the time of writing, petitions have already been set-up to lobby the Chancellor to offer more support for the self-employed and those running their freelance businesses as Limited Companies. On the flip side, some self-employed freelancers will be able to access up to £2,500 per month.
Financial support options currently include the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan which will be delivered by the British Business Bank, however some applicants are reporting that you must have a turnover of over £100k ,which won’t be the case for most freelancers.
For the self-employed not eligible for statutory sick pay, Contributory Employment and Support Allowance will be payable, at a rate of £73.10 a week if you are over 25, for eligible people affected by Coronavirus or self-isolating in-line with official advice. This will be payable from day one of sickness, rather than day eight which is usually the case.
To summarise the help that freelancers can claim:
For sole traders – Income support, Universal Credit, Self-assessment/tax deferral scheme and a taxable grant of up to £2,500 per month depending on profits (available from June) and possibly the Business Interruption Loan.
For Directors of Limited Companies – It has now been confirmed that you can furlough yourself and claim 80% of your PAYE salary but NOT dividends. Directors will also be able to defer tax and VAT and those in premises already receiving small business rates relief will be eligible for a grant of up to £25,000. The Business Interruption Loan may be an option depending on your turnover and Universal Credit for those who don’t pay themselves a PAYE salary.
You can read more about the ever-changing government support for small businesseshere.
Help each other
As a freelancer, you’ll be well versed in working from home and coping with isolation, self-motivation, time-management and looking after your wellbeing, but remember to reach out to friends, family, and colleagues who might have had a harder time adjusting. Helping our fellow humans is essential in times like this, and it will help you to feel empowered and in control, too….
There are Facebook groups popping up for local Covid-19 Mutual Aid, so if you are able to help, consider seeing how you may be able to provide assistance for vulnerable neighbours or elderly members of the community.
Freelancers can stay connected to each other and chat about issues affecting them by joining Facebook groups, which all help to bolster the feeling of community amongst the self employed. The Freelance Kit has a free closed group which allows members to ask questions and share advice in a private environment. You can access the group here https://www.facebook.com/groups/1402032126567965/
Stay connected but look after your mental health
It goes without saying, but staying in touch with friends and family is more important than ever right now. Human contact, even via video call, is crucial to maintain sanity and ensure we all stay connected as much as possible.
However, as much as it’s important to stay in touch, make sure that you also take the time to have phone and device breaks, switch off, leave the social media feeds alone before bed and get enough sleep. There is so much information out there right now and it can become confusing and overwhelming and impact our anxiety levels. Having a digital detox period every day is really beneficial for your wellbeing and mental health.
If you feel stressed out, don’t bottle it up – speak to your friends and family and vent/ask for advice in freelance community groups.
Use the time to rest, plan and think!
Whilst the situation is scary and uncertain financially, try not to panic and go into frantic survival mode. We’re going through a life changing experience which will undoubtedly leave us in a very different world when the crisis has passed, so it’s important to think strategically about what’s next for you. What is your business vision, what is it that you really want to achieve?
Also, it’s OK to rest! Most self-employed people are always on the go, always on to the next thing, but treat the time as a gift and a chance to rest and recuperate. Look after your health as a priority, catch up on sleep and switch off from the news and social media as often as possible.
About the author
Nikki Kitchen is the Founder and creator of freelancer platform, The Freelance Kit, and MD of multi-award-winning PR and Marketing agency Purple Riot.
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