It’s been a hugely challenging 12 months for the freelance community. Back in March 2020, nobody had the faintest idea what the year ahead had in store for us. The impact of the Covid pandemic was something that no-one was prepared for, and it’s been a roller-coaster of emotional, professional and financial ups and downs over the course of 2020 and into 2021.
But now, with (hopefully) the end of the UK Covid restrictions within sight, how is the freelance community fareing in the post-Brexit, post-Covid UK landscape?
The impact of 12 months in lockdown
A quick glance at any freelance Twitter or Facebook thread reveals that many of us are feeling pretty knackered after a year of Covid restrictions, home-working and very little social contact with our friends, family and clients.
I can only speak for myself on the details of this, but I certainly feel that the pandemic has taken a toll on me – both physically, mentally and professionally. I’ve gone from having a regular coffice (coffee-shop office) in town, with a friendly bunch of like-minded freelancers and coffee-shop regulars, to sitting on my own in our conservatory each day for hours on end. Yes, I have been able to work. And yes, I am very lucky to have a roof over my head and a separate room to work in. But, bloody hell, it’s been boring!
As freelancers, we were probably used to working at least part of our time from home, pre-pandemic. But this enforced quarantine has removed all real-world elements of socialising and has replaced them with the dreaded video meetings and Zoom calls. And the upshot of all this is that we’re all feeling a bit below par, shall we say.
Speaking for myself, this is how I’m faring after a year of Covid freelancing:
- Feeling fatigued and tired – I’m sleeping badly, waking up too early and generally feeling like I could do with at least three hours more sleep, however much sleep I actually do get. This means I’m feeling fatigued, sluggish and unable to concentrate by about 3.30pm in the afternoon.
- Feeling emotionally fragile – coping with the pandemic has had a real impact on our mental health. We’ve dealt with worry, anxiety, grief and anger over the course of the pandemic, and I certainly feel like my skin has got a little thinner. Where something pre-pandemic might have been brushed off fairly lightly, many of us are feeling our emotions nearer to the surface – and that can have a huge impact on our wellbeing and overall mental health.
- Being less productive and driven – the combination of tiredness, boredom and a Groundhog Day-style feeling of deja vu has made me less productive. Pre-Covid, I’d be solidly writing content from 8.30ish through to 5pm in the afternoon. I now start later (my brain doesn’t kick in until at least 9.30am) and I’m finishing around 4pm. It’s not a huge change, but it does mean I get less done – and being less productive will usually mean being less profitable.
- Struggling financially – I’ve been exceptionally lucky with my client work and income. I haven’t seen my sales drop off a cliff like many people have, but I have seen a real dip in sales and work over Summer 2020. That resulted in a serious drop in income and me having to take out the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) grant.
Reassessing our work/life balance
I doubt that my experience of the pandemic is in any way unique as a freelancer. I’m guessing that the tiredness, the boredom, the anxiety and the financial worries are common to just about every freelance business out there. But what can we do about this slump?
- Reject the traditional 9-5 work pattern – pre-Covid, it was still fairly common to stick to the rigid 9-5 and to do the same hours 5 days per week (or more, if you’re a busy freelancer). The pandemic has shown us that there’s another way and that we can be just as productive and efficient by flexing the hours we work. Start early and finish early afternoon, or vice versa, and work when you feel most energised and productive.
- Take on less work and work smart – grinding yourself into the ground by working all the hours under the sun isn’t productive. You’re far better off taking on two or three large, well-paid projects with clients that you like, rather than trying to squeeze ten small, low-paid projects into a week – and no doubt turning yourself into a nervous wreck in the process of trying to meet all the deadlines. Work smart and plan your pipeline carefully.
- Be more healthy in general – when you’re stuck at home 24/7 it’s easy to graze and eat lots of unhealthy snacks. But when you’re stuffed full of carbs and sugar, you’re likely to burn out pretty fast. Likewise, relying on caffeine to get you through the day won’t help in the long-term. Try to eat more healthily, get plenty of fruit and veg, try caffeine-free drinks and have plenty of water. And make the time to exercise too. A run, a walk or a yoga session can be an excellent way to break up the day and burn some calories.
- Price yourself for what you’re worth – if you have a loyal customer base who value the service you deliver, they’ll be willing to pay for that value. Think about who you work with, how you set your prices and what you need to earn in sales revenue to meet your financial goals. If you can meet your revenue target for the month by only working 4 days per week, that’s a win, right? If you plan your finances well, there’s no need to struggle.
Less time working and more time enjoying life
Ultimately, this period of lockdown has also been a period of reflection. It’s given us all time to reassess what we find valuable in life, and where we want to focus our freelance work goals – and where there are toxic practises that we need to ditch ASAP.
Finding customers and work is still likely to be a challenge in the post-Covid landscape, as businesses small and large get back into the swing of trading at full strength. But there is work out there, and if you can market yourself to the right audience and convert new prospects into long-term customers, the world is your oyster.
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