By Sheeva Azma
In this post, we offer eight tips for freelancers, and other small business owners, regarding how to adapt business strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read on for our best advice, based on what we’ve learned, to help your business better navigate COVID-19.
In February, I had just launched freelance science writing company Fancy Comma, LLC. A couple of weeks later, the entire world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Faced with the choice to adapt or … was there another option at this point? … I decided to just go with it and see where I could take my small business in a pandemic. To me, this meant building my company and brand so that, even if the next few months were rocky and uncertain, we would emerge stronger from the challenges.
The good news is that we made it through the most difficult part of the pandemic — the early months where it seemed like the entire world was shut down. The bad news is that many others have not been as successful. That’s why we wrote this post — to share what worked for us and hopefully help others who are trying to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic as a freelancer or other small business owner.
We realize that many freelancers, such as those working in industries like travel, entertainment, dining, and other sectors impacted by COVID-19 may not have been as lucky. Furthermore, with a high unemployment rate, many people are now seeking to get into the freelance or “gig economy” that could benefit from the advice of people like us.
Here are eight principles that were indispensable to our company’s success over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. They may be useful to you, too, whether you are new to the freelance world or a more established presence in freelance writing, another kind of freelance work, and/or small business.
1. If you don’t have a web presence, create one.
The first thing I knew would be really important for my business was a web presence. In the first days of the novel coronavirus pandemic, everyone was under stay-at-home orders and companies worked diligently to create an updated web presence. For businesses — both larger retailers like Walmart and Target, as well as much smaller businesses such as ours — the digital world became more important than the physical one.
Remember that you need more than “tech savvy” (or the ability to invest some time in learning how to set up a blog/website). You also need writing skills (or a freelance writer that can help you out) and the ability to rapidly brush up on trends in Search Engine Optimization to make sure that your website gets the most traffic and exposure.
When launching a new #business, start small to reduce risk and help you succeed — even if that means a webpage with a single “About Me” page.Tweet
If you’re new to freelance writing, it’s good to start small to reduce risk and help increase your business’s chances of success. So, even if your website is an “About Me” type page with a blog with a single post, that’s a lot better than nothing. Commit to blogging weekly, and promoting your posts via social media, and soon, your website will begin attracting readership.
2. Use free digital marketing tools like social media.
In addition to creating a website, I also developed a social media presence – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. My goal was to connect with others, offering helpful advice, and use these platforms as a way to promote my posts. The best part about these websites is that they’re free and used worldwide, so you can connect with like-minded people in just a few clicks of a mouse — perfect when you’re just starting out with your digital web presence.
3. Communicate openly with staff about uncertainties.
The first month of the COVID-19 pandemic was very difficult for Fancy Comma, LLC. Projects were cancelled left and right. It seemed like there was not enough work to go around, and the work that was available was much more selective, especially given the number of unemployed people seeking freelance work in the “gig economy.” While this was daunting, the truth was that we had a lot of growth ahead of us before we could compete in this newly competitive market.
What helped the most in this difficult time was being honest with staff that I did not have any real idea where the COVID-19 pandemic was going. Instead, we just powered on with our smaller goals of building a website, attracting new clients, and building up our skill sets so that we could compete in the newly competitive market.
4. Practice mind over matter and think “big picture.”
You are not expected to know all the answers in a pandemic, but you should be able to make wise decisions and take small steps to help your business get where you want it to go. Think past the bad news of the COVID-19 pandemic — consider the “big picture,” such as the direction of your business life after the pandemic. Ask yourself questions, like, “Where do I want my business to be a year from now?” and “How can I help my company get there in small, measurable steps?” Realize that this journey will not be easy, but that while it will likely be a difficult learning process, it will be necessary for your business to adapt and stay afloat in the long term.
Though staying adaptable to COVID-19 might be a difficult learning process, it is necessary for long-term #business success.Tweet
Resist the mind game of comparing yourself to others. This is your personal journey as a business owner, not anyone else’s, and what works for someone else may not be the best decision for you. That said, feel free to reach out to other small business owners — for example, on social media — and participate in Twitter chats like #freelancechat.
5. Take stock of your strengths — and use them creatively.
Despite the economic downturn, Fancy Comma, LLC has a major thing going for it — the fact that we do science writing. Another aspect that helped us was our strong research skills. Since the information about COVID-19 is constantly evolving, tons of research is needed to figure out everything we know from various sources. Strong research skills can be a useful skill for any freelancer trying to adapt in the COVID-19 economy, so don’t discount simple skills you take for granted, like your ability to use Google search hacks (sometimes called “Google-Fu”) to find things quickly on the web.
Think about what you have to offer and how you can adapt and expand upon your skills to be most useful during the pandemic.Tweet
The truth is, though we are in an economic downturn, freelance writers have a lot of skills, many of which are transferable and apply to a variety of industries. The challenge is to think creatively and inventory your hobbies, skills, etc. — anything you could leverage to help people move forward in the ongoing pandemic.
6. Try to be a “helper.”
An icon of my childhood, Mr. Rogers famously said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
A client-focused approach in which you bring your skills to the table to help navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to be both more rewarding and more lucrative than other approaches.
For the survival of your #business during the COVID-19 pandemic, adopt a client-focused approach. #freelancing #smallbizTweet
As a scientist, I immediately started taking on jobs that sought to explain COVID-19 or some aspect of it to the general public. I did this out of necessity, as I needed to figure out a way to remain afloat amidst major economic uncertainty, but it turned out to be very rewarding (not to mention interesting). I also learned a lot about adapting to COVID-19, and the science of COVID-19, that I ended up providing for free on my website as a resource for others.
Importantly, “helping” in this context doesn’t mean working for free. If you don’t already know how to negotiate and advocate for yourself, you should consult Google to quickly brush up on these important skills. What “helping” does mean is helping your clients navigate this dark period in history using the services you can offer them.
7. Learn something new.
A pandemic is a great time to leave your comfort zone because you’re already so far outside of your comfort zone. When you’re stuck at home due to a virus nobody really knows about and doesn’t have a cure, not being a subject matter expert on something you can easily Google to read up on does not seem as much of a challenge.
A pandemic is a great time to leave your comfort zone because you’re already so far outside of your comfort zone.Tweet
I gained many new areas of expertise during the pandemic. I did this by taking on work that was offered to me that I might have otherwise declined because it was “not in my wheelhouse.” I did this a lot, because of the economic uncertainty. Now my wheelhouse is much larger, which has helped my company remain successful and even grow to cater to more industries.
8. Find balance.
In the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to find joy and fulfillment in the small things, and avoid being overwhelmed by work obligations (or lack thereof). Burnout can be very real when you’re stuck at your home-turned-office and can’t leave to go do fun stuff as much as you’d like, or if you’re preoccupied with a bleak financial situation because business is not taking off in a turbulent time for the global economy.
Finding balance in today’s “work from home” world may seem impossible, but it’s as simple as stepping away from your computer and watching a funny video on YouTube, taking a walk (make sure to wear a mask and do appropriate social distancing), or calling a friend to catch up, or even making a cup of tea or a delicious meal.
You Are Not a Work Robot
One thing that’s great about freelance writing is that you can work as much or as little as you want. It’s often said that “you reap what you sow,” and that applies to investing time and effort into your business. Many people discount these important “business-side” types of advice because they do not pay. However, keep in mind that the time you spend working on ensuring the financial future of your business is more valuable than your hourly (or fixed-price) rate.
The great part about freelancing — that you can set your own hours — is also one of the most difficult things about freelance writing. As a freelance writer in the COVID-19 pandemic, you should not be working extra long days (unless you want to and find them fulfilling). Be kind to yourself and don’t treat yourself like a work robot. You are a real human being, trying to be the best you that you can be in a pandemic, and that’s really difficult.
You are not a work robot. You are a real human being, trying to be the best you that you can be in a pandemic, and that’s really difficult.Tweet
The COVID-19 pandemic can be a great opportunity for professional growth if you’re willing to learn. While we’ve learned that takes a bit of strategy, some cautious business decisions, and a lot of flexibility, growing your business during the COVID-19 pandemic can help build your resilience, both professionally and personally.