Can You Realistically Start Freelancing During a Pandemic?

May 20, 2020

At the beginning of this year, you were determined to finally make this freelance thing happen. You were going to take the leap, quit your job, and relentlessly pursue the freelance lifestyle.

You were inspired. You were motivated. You were committed.

…and then a global pandemic happened. COVID-19 rocked the world in a way that most of us could’ve never imagined.

Businesses started laying off employees or closing down entirely. Industries started suffering and collapsing. With the blink of an eye, we were teetering on the edge of a major economic crisis.

So, where does this leave you with regard to your freelance aspirations? Is freelancing during a pandemic a realistic possibility? Or, do you need to put that dream on hold until the world finds some more stable footing?

Freelancing During a Pandemic: Is It Even Possible?

Of course, there isn’t one answer to these types of questions—and a lot of it is going to depend on your chosen specialty.

Web developers, for example, are in high demand as more and more businesses need to beef up their online presence and offerings. But on the other hand, photographers are struggling as events have been canceled and in-person contact is at an all-time low.

So, I think it’s important to note that—much like with anything—there isn’t going to be one cut and dried answer that applies across the board.

Let’s try to bring a little more clarity to your situation by talking through some upsides and downsides of freelancing in these uncertain times (seriously, how often have you heard the phrase “uncertain times” during these past few months?).

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Pros of Starting Freelancing Right Now

1. Certain industries are booming

The pandemic has been bad news for everything from movie theaters and gyms to restaurants and small businesses. But, it’s not all a nightmare. Some industries are absolutely thriving.

From telemedicine to e-commerce, certain businesses are seeing more demand and interest than ever and are scrambling to keep up.

If you can offer freelance services to those types of clients, you might be surprised by the number of opportunities that are out there for you.

2. Some companies are looking for more cost-effective labor

One of the unfortunate truths of this pandemic is that layoffs were pervasive. I’ll spare you the statistics about unemployment numbers, because I know you’ve heard them all already.

Needing to significantly reduce their workforces puts businesses in a tight spot (especially if they’re staying open and trying to continue their typical production).

In those cases, some companies might turn to freelancers as a more cost-effective alternative to full-time employees. When working with freelancers, companies don’t need to cover benefits (think everything from paid leave to health insurance to retirement contributions) the way they do with with traditional employees.

So, if they still have work that needs to be accomplished but could no longer afford to keep their full-time staff onboard, they might be in search of some on-demand freelance help to fill in those gaps.

Cons of Starting Freelancing Right Now

1. There’s potentially more competition

If you thought freelancing seemed competitive before (in 2018, there were reportedly 56.7 million freelancers in the U.S.!), the level of competition is only reaching a fever pitch during this pandemic.

With a record number of employees out of work, I think we can safely assume that more and more people are pursuing freelancing as a way to bring in some income.

2. It’s daunting to add more uncertainty to your plate

Going the freelance route can be anxiety-inducing even in the best of times. Throw a pandemic and the threat of another recession into the mix, and you have the perfect recipe for a whole lot of stress.

The world seems rocky and unpredictable right now, and it’s totally justifiable to want to white-knuckle any shred of stability or certainty you can grasp at the moment.

Leaping headfirst into an entirely new career path? Well, that’s the total opposite of sticking with the safe and predictable—and it might add a lot of extra anxiety at a time when you don’t necessarily feel equipped to cope with it.

freelancing during a pandemic

4 Tips for Freelancing During a Pandemic

Maybe you’ve decided to throw caution to the wind. You’re going to start chasing the freelance dream right now.

Or, perhaps you’ve been a freelancer for a while and are eager for some tips and advice to help you keep your head above water (and your bank account in the black) during these challenging times.

We’re in uncharted territory right now, which means I’m certainly no expert on how to navigate through this. But, here are a few tips that I think can help you start or maintain your freelance business as we claw our way back to normalcy (or, at least something that resembles it).

1. Be flexible

Flexibility is the name of the game right now. That applies to your niche, your services, your clients, and maybe even your rates (more on that in a minute).

Freelancing always requires a certain amount of out-of-the-box thinking, but that’s especially true now. Freelancers need to get creative to identify find opportunities that are a fit for them—and those opportunities might not be gigs they would have originally thought of.

For example, imagine that you want to be a freelance writer in the fitness space. You always thought that you’d write content for popular fitness blogs and publications, and maybe even some gyms and workout facilities in your local area.

But then those workout centers had to close their doors, and all of the publications you were interested in have completely slashed budgets. Now what? It’s time to broaden your focus from those original targets and think about other potential clients. Yes, your skills and expertise are transferable.

Businesses like fitness trackers or apps and even fitness equipment dealers are all thriving right now—and they could be looking for help writing everything from product descriptions to email campaigns to blog posts.

That’s content that you could be writing! It’s not exactly what you imagined, but it’s certainly in your niche.

Now isn’t the time to be rigid as a freelancer. You need to remain open to opportunities and efforts that you otherwise would’ve brushed off. That’s how you’ll stay afloat.

2. Be willing to negotiate

In most cases, I’m all about knowing and asserting your worth. When you provide significant value, you deserve to be compensated accordingly.

I still believe that. But, I also recognize that it’s tough to make that a reality in the current circumstances—especially if you’re just getting started and don’t have a large portfolio of work backing you up.

A lot of places are trying to scrape by with smaller budgets, and as a result, I think freelancers need to be willing to negotiate now more than ever.

Does this mean you need to work for peanuts? Absolutely not. I’d never advocate that you majorly sell yourself short. If it’s obvious that you and a potential client are worlds apart in terms of your expectations, then it’s usually better to cut your losses.

But, if you think there’s room for some compromise? Then it’s wise to engage in a conversation with prospective clients about what could work for both of you.

Maybe you do need to take a slight price reduction, but you’ll gain the value of a strong relationship and a project you can showcase to other potential clients. Or, perhaps you need to adjust the scope of work to be more realistic within the client’s budget restrictions.

Here’s the point: Don’t hit the road the moment a client mentions that your price is a little high (even though I know that stings). Use that as an opportunity to open up a discussion and hopefully land on some middle ground.

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3. Bring unique ideas to the table

The world looks a heck of a lot different—which means the demands of most customers look a lot different too.

Companies are racking their brains to find ways to not only adapt to these ever-changing circumstances, but also provide value to their customers in a more innovative way.

That’s where you come in. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The best way to get your foot in the door as a freelancer is to come to the table with a great idea. A brilliant suggestion is tough to resist.

Please don’t approach businesses or publications with a generic email that looks like this:

“HI, I’m [Name] and I’m a freelance writer looking for opportunities. Are you currently hiring writers?”

There’s no incentive for that person to respond. Plus, you’ve done nothing to set yourself apart or illustrate what you can do for them. You’re much better off presenting them an idea right from the get-go.

Let’s return to our example of a writer in the fitness space who has decided to pitch their services to a workout equipment dealer. Rather than getting in touch with a “blah” introductory message like the one above, they say something like this:

Hey [Name],

I hope you’re staying safe and healthy!

As I’m sure you know, a record number of people are getting their workouts in at home. Not only have they lost access to the equipment in their local gyms, but they’re also missing the advice and guidance of the personal trainers and staff members who used to be readily available to them.

As a freelance writer and Certified Personal Trainer myself, I wanted to get in touch with you. If you’re currently looking for content to support these people who are now focused on fitness at home, I’d love to work with you to produce a comprehensive ebook all about home workouts.

I’d connect with other trainers, fitness experts, and health professionals to source their tips. The ebook would cover everything from what equipment home gyms need to tips for proper form and advice for making the most of an at-home exercise session.

Is this something you’d be interested in offering? If so, let’s connect for a chat when we can discuss specifics—including timing and pricing.

Thanks so much for your consideration, [Name]! I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

All the best,

[Your Name]

See the difference? I don’t know about you, but I’d be much more inclined to respond to that second message—and I’m confident that the same holds true for your prospective freelance clients.

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4. Build your network

Cue the collective groan. I understand if you’re sick of everybody yammering on about the importance of networking. But, there’s a reason this advice is so oft-repeated: it’s true.

In my experience, relationships always pay dividends. That’s increasingly true in the current market where projects and clients can be harder to come by. Your contacts might be able to direct you to opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t have been aware of.

What exactly does it mean to “network”? Let’s make this advice a little more tangible with a few tactics you can implement starting now:

  • Reach out to existing professional contacts or even people you admire to set up virtual coffee dates and informational interviews
  • Join groups (yep, LinkedIn and Facebook groups count!), associations, and organizations that are relevant to your niche and freelance career
  • Start following brands, publications, editors, hiring managers, fellow freelancers, etc. on social media and interact with their posts

Remember, one surefire way to sabotage your networking efforts is to swoop in with a request right away. That seems pushy and one-sided.

Focus on nurturing the relationship first and foremost. You can make a request for referrals after you’ve laid that oh-so-important groundwork.

So…Seriously, Should You Start Freelancing Right Now?

As I mentioned before, there isn’t one blanket answer that applies to everybody. But, if you’re curious for my hot take, here it is.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a stable job and income right now, I probably wouldn’t recommend kicking that to the curb immediately in favor of freelancing. I’m risk-averse by nature, so I’d ride the waves and see how this pandemic and the economy pan out before taking the full leap.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t build up a side hustle! That allows you to take advantage of the perks that the current climate offers, while still having the benefit of some stability in your professional life.

If you’re someone who’s found yourself without a job at the present moment? I’d say you might as well try your hand at freelancing—while still remaining open to other opportunities (yep, even full-time roles) that cross your path. Putting yourself out there as a freelancer certainly won’t hurt!

I’m willing to bet that most of us didn’t anticipate living through a pandemic, and I know it can be frustrating to feel like it chucked a major curveball into all of your freelancing dreams and aspirations.

But, freelancing is never a sure thing (heck, life isn’t), so I’m choosing to look at this as yet another creative challenge that I get to work around.

And when in doubt? Repeat this mantra that has become a favorite of mine lately: This too shall pass. And I’m sure we’re all looking forward to when it finally does.


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