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3 ways freelancers can survive the crisis

(Image credit: Craig Black)

My name is Craig Black and I’m an independent designer, lettering artist and typographer running my own studio from my hometown of Gourock in Scotland. Like many other designers' right now, my life is a little chaotic. 

The coronavirus pandemic has struck and, as a result, the world has seemingly changed forever. For me personally, my wife being pregnant, an elderly relative in lockdown in a care home and several members of my family on their own in self-isolation is making this a very scary experience. On top of all that, I've got a business to run. 

What I am about to share with you is actionable steps that I have taken to ensure my business and mental wellbeing survive these difficult times. I really hope that this insight provides some value to the community. Take it as you wish, but these are the things that have worked for me, and can hopefully help you on this tricky journey.

If you've got time on your hands, also read: How to draw: the best drawing tutorials

01. Get in the right mindset

The right mindset is more important than ever before. I’m an incredibly positive person – it’s the way I’ve programmed my mind to make my life the best it can be. I always believe there is opportunity to be found in even the darkest of moments. It helps that my wife, Ally, is a mental health nurse and she recommended the following tips, which work to help safeguard my mental wellbeing:

  • Ensure you maintain a structured routine – set your alarm as you would for work, have breakfast, a shower and get changed out of your pyjamas in preparation for starting work. Schedule a lunch break, a finish time and try to stick to a sensible bedtime as you would during a normal working week. Try to keep your day structured, as much as possible, as you would normally for work. This will help separate work time from chill time, which can get easily mixed up when working from home.
  • Get daily exercise to give yourself a break away from work and take time to think about the things that you are grateful for.
  • Try to maintain a healthy and balanced diet - if you are eating well, you generally tend to feel better overall. Try not to slip into the habit of eating unhealthily and ordering numerous takeaways through boredom as this will ultimately leave you worse off physically, mentally and financially. 
  • Limit the amount of time you spend on social media and instead focus on spending quality time with loved ones, or getting stuck into a great book or a piece of artwork.
  • Embrace the downtimes – if there are things you have been meaning to do for a while and not got round to, now is the time to do it. My wife and I have only just got round to putting up our wedding photos and we got married almost a year ago. Doing things like this make you feel more productive and you end the day with the satisfaction of having achieved something that you otherwise wouldn't have.
  • Take things one day at a time, but also keep an eye on the bigger picture. The world is chaotic and it can look very doom and gloom, but eventually this situation will end.

02. Cut your costs

With much of the world on lockdown, people are understandably spending less right now. One immediate thing you can do to look after your own finances is to look at how you can cut your costs. Go back to basics, think about what you really need, what is essential for you to get by. Look into securing revenue in the short term. Does that mean cutting down on the takeaway meals and do more cooking at home to help bring the costs down?

There is lots of financial advice online, depending on your circumstances, but here are a few quick ideas that might help:

  • Adobe has discounted their membership programme and have a 60-day free membership deal
  • Many mortgage lenders are offering a three-month payment holiday, which may come in handy. 
  • Contact your credit card provider to see if they are also able to suspend payments for a period of time.

It's important also to try to help everyone survive this incredible challenging time. One thing that I've introduced to help my clients is to extend more favourable payment terms. For example, rather than 50 percent deposit and 50 percent completion fee, I have adapted that to a four stage payment structure, which sees them pay a 25 percent fee over a project duration to help their cash flow.

It’s important to talk to your current and past clients. Check in to see how they are doing and how you can help them out? Focus on the relationship with your client, revenue aside, as those bonds are the key to future work. 

Unfortunately some clients will be struggling and potentially unable to survive this current crisis. Where possible, you want to get that information as soon as possible to help you adapt to the situation.

Once the economy recovers, you want to be firing on all cylinders as every brand and businesses will be wanting to get back to their successful state as soon as possible, and you need to be ready to help them get to that level with your creative magic.

03. Adapt your service

Consider pivoting either the services you offer or the markets you serve. For example, if you're an illustrator who specialises in editorial design, can you adapt your services across branding, packaging, digital and motion graphics as well?

My biggest asset is my versatility in typography and lettering, as it means I can work across a number of verticals. I’m hugely fortunate to have projects continuing on and new ones coming in during this challenging time but I know a huge factor in making that happen is my skillset and relationships with those I'm collaborating with. 

I’ve realised that it’s easier to offer new services to existing clients than it is to find new clients for existing services. So your focus should be on the challenges and the needs of your client in this present time and how you can adapt to that situation. 

Creatives are problem solvers, so help your clients with their problems. If the issue is  not within your remit to fix, be helpful and, where possible, point them in the direction of someone who can help. People will remember even the smallest acts of kindness when this is all over. 

Another avenue to investigate is working as a consultant or teacher. Maybe you could share your skills in an online workshop? Make it your goal to come out of this crisis and into the future positioned to win. Look further ahead than everyone else in the market and bet on yourself to succeed. Having that goal will shift your mindset from negative to positive. It will truly make a difference.

One thing I say to myself every single morning, as part of my visualisation process and positive affirmations, is: “I commit today to do what it takes to succeed. I take responsibility for where I am”. This rings so true for me, take responsibility for the situation you’re in, own it and try everything in your power to overcome all the challenges that you face. 

The creative community is a hugely resilient bunch. We're all in and will come through this together. Stay well and keep safe – we've got this. 

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