Greetings from Seattle, the American Ground Zero of the coronavirus pandemic! Yes, both my teens’ schools are closed for 6 weeks. If you’ve been frantically reading up on how to avoid catching coronavirus, remember one important aspect of that process: You also need to prevent coronavirus (and fears about it) from destroying your freelance-writing income.
Right? Let’s go!
First off, let’s all breathe for a minute here and just sit quietly. BIG breath in through the nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Good.
We’re going to get through this. I promise.
Yes, I know the stock markets are crashing, too. But it’s still going to be OK.
How do I know? Because I’ve freelanced through previous economic recessions, most recently in 2009. In fact, I built my freelance-writing biz up to earning six figures during that downturn.
The tunnel has a light — and there’s lots of opportunity for us in bad times, too.
Best way to get through this is to focus your energy on what is within your sphere of control. What you can take action on.
Because there’s no point worrying about the rest. Like Erma Bombeck once said, “Worry is like rocking in a rocking chair — it gives you something to do, but never gets you anywhere.”
What can you do, proactively, to prevent coronavirus from putting a hole in your writing income? Here are my tips:
1. Keep yourself healthy
Take rational precautions to avoid becoming ill yourself. Hard to meet deadlines if you’re running a fever, coughing, or worse.
You’ve heard this all by now, especially if you are part of a group at particular risk of serious health impacts from COVID-19. Consider that you could:
- Avoid crowds
- Postpone travel if possible
- Try to avoid touching your face (I know, so hard!)
- Open doorknobs with your sleeve
- Wipe down common areas with disinfectant
- Clean your smartphone and computer (overdue anyway, yes?)
Job One is to keep yourself in good health to manage this chaos and drum up new client work, if need be.
2. Figure out your work sitch
If you need childcare because your school closed, it’s likely many teens are also out of school and available to help. Start strategizing about how you can find the peace and quiet to keep your business going.
See if you could tap relatives for help, find other work-at-home parents, babysitting co-ops, do tradeouts, hide in a coffee shop if yours are open…put on your thinking cap.
So far, I like heading to my co-working spot, The Riveter. As you can see, it’s delightfully quiet here, few people coming in, and they’re doing a great job of wiping everything down:
If you need to buy disinfectant wipes or any other critical supplies, do it. Get your new safety routine in place. Then, stop reading news updates about COVID-19 and get back to work.
3. Market your freelance know-how
Corporate America is now struggling to get productive work out of office staff they’ve sent home to work remotely. Maybe they could use some fill-in help from a ready-to-go freelancer, while that’s getting up to speed?
- Play up your experience as a work-from-home writer in your marketing lingo. Right now, it’s a valuable asset.
- Be ready to sub for ill workers, too. Target big companies who might have multiple marketing people go out. Consider checking in with local temp agencies about emerging needs.
Above all, this is not a time to stop marketing. Because you may lose clients in the coming weeks. Poorly run companies will freak out and stop marketing. Prepare to replace any flakes by keeping fresh leads coming in.
If you’re one of those freelance writers who’s never really marketed their business, now’s a great time to start.
4. Steer clear of hard-hit industries
Just for efficiency, I’d focus your marketing energy on companies outside of:
- Tourism, and
- Events industries, for now.
They seem to be in the eye of this fear-and-illness cyclone.
This sector will likely be back in the fray soon — they need to get travelers moving again! — but I’m betting this isn’t the moment they hire a new freelancer to write their marketing.
5. Check for shifting sands
There’s a big reason that content writing is a great freelance niche. It’s because compared with many other forms of marketing — radio ads, TV ads, billboards, print magazine ads, event sponsorships — even well-paid content writing is a huge bargain.
Content writing gives a lot of bang for the buck
How? That post you wrote persists online for years to come, helping that company build authority, attract leads, and make sales. When the chips are down, long-term benefit from an affordable content project sounds mighty enticing.
- Get hired. In the current uncertain moment, hiring a content strategist who could take the whole content project off a company’s hands, from goals to content topics to writing, sounds mighty appealing.
- Capitalize on this fact by looking for companies that may be shifting marketing spend away from more expensive types of ad buys that won’t work well right now, and into content marketing.
Tip: Find the sponsor and booth-rental lists for local conventions that are cancelled, and shoot them an email. Perhaps they’d like to bust a different marketing move, now that they won’t have that event exposure.
6. Look for winners
In every economic chaos, there are winners and losers. Ask yourself: Who are the winners here?
One sector that springs to mind immediately is small-business lenders. Many small organizations may be seeking bridge loans to get them through a cash crunch, about now. Right? And the interest-rate drop means mortgage refis will boom.
The companies that offer small-biz loans may be ramping UP marketing (they’ve got some federal backing now), and you know real-estate lenders are going wild. Perhaps they could use a freelancer’s help with promoting their offers?
Medical research & testing companies
Medical research labs and medical-testing companies might also be seizing the moment to promote their vital role in keeping us all safe — another possible winner.
Video sharing firms
Ditto for video-sharing firms such as Zoom or Skype, right? Their business must be exploding.
In general, bigger companies tend to double down on marketing in hard times, because they see the opportunity to take market share from weaker players. Identify who’s likely to increase marketing in the niches you write about, and reach out.
7. Be good in a crisis
When a crisis hits, ‘Crisis PR’ firms swing into action. Think of all the companies that may want to scramble the jets right now and get out some reassuring messaging about how they’re handling COVID-19 in their workplace?
- Connect with Crisis PR firms in your area, and see if they need extra hands. This is an especially good opportunity if you have any experience with crisis management, or are a quick writer who could crank a press release out, oh, today.
8. Retrain problem clients
This virus outbreak is the perfect opportunity to change the game with any clients who’ve insisted you come to in-person meetings or work in-office a day or three a week.
Tell them due to virus concerns, you’re no longer available for that. Introduce them to video calling, and live happily ever after.
When the virus dies out, stick with your virtual participation — and enjoy the improvement in your hourly rate, now that you’ve cut out travel time.
9. Hold a sale
If you’re a copywriter and clients are holding off on projects, consider drumming up some quick new business with a package sale.
I’ve seen writers do this before, and quickly book $10,000 or more of prepaid work. Offer a package of email or website copy, social swipes, a done-for-you launch sequence, whatever you do best.
- Estimate what you’d usually charge.
- Put a fat discount on it.
- Take to your favorite social media channel and announce it.
- Ask your network to spread the word.
I see clothing retailers doubling down on discounts right now, knowing people are feeling nervous — and we can keep our cash-flow strong the same way.
10. Learn a new skill
OK, you’re trapped in your house. The bars and schools are closed. What can you do that’s productive?
Get online and enhance your skills, to make you more valuable to your clients.
- For instance, check out this free Webinar I did this week with content-writing expert Jennifer Goforth Gregory, on landing retainer content clients and moving up to earn more as a content strategist.
Let’s face it — in a recession, millions of people are laid off. And it seems like they all then decide to try their hand at freelance writing. The low end of the market gets flooded, and it becomes hard to even get the cheapo assignments.
You’ll want to offer something more than being able to dash off a short blog post. Figure out your positioning, and improve your skills to stand out, charge pro rates, and be more in-demand, as the going gets tough.
Prevent coronavirus poverty
Know who I’m worried about right now? All the freelance writers I know who live close to the bone and aim to earn just enough to survive the current month.
No emergency fund. No retirement fund. Not an extra dime.
We’ve had such a long economic boom, it’s been easy to forget how living without a safety net can come back to bite you.
With what’s happened now, it’s easier to see why a subsistence goal is a problem when you’re a freelancer with no paid-for-you vacation, sick days, healthcare, or retirement fund.
Use this virus event as your wake-up call about how much you should charge, and what you really need to earn, in order to keep your freelance lifestyle secure.
If you don’t have one, build an emergency fund with at least 3 months’ bill money in it, as soon as you can. It wouldn’t hurt to start auto-deducting money for retirement, too (you want to get to do that one day, right?).
The rainy day is here.
Earn a healthy income as a freelance writer
I hope the steps outlined here help you see a way forward, and give you ideas for marketing and managing your cash flow during this crisis.
Fear and panic are in the air — but you don’t have to buy in. Likely, we’ll have a coronavirus vaccine for this in the coming months.
Focus on the concrete things you can do to make sure your little ol’ freelance business keeps on growing.
Because one thing is for sure: as soon as they can, consumers will be back traveling and eating out and shopping. And marketing will be needed.
Here’s to taking action and setting yourself up to have a healthy freelance writing biz, despite the virus!
Has coronavirus impacted your writing business? Leave a comment and tell your story.