How Freelancers Can Navigate COVID-era Financial Challenges

While many creative freelancers have thrived during the pandemic, there are just as many if not more, who have not. Unemployment in the US reached an all time high last year, leaving small business owners and freelancers with unprecedented financial challenges. While the spread of COVID-19 is more controlled now, artists, writers, graphic designers, and other creative professionals are still experiencing financial stress.

Fortunately, these continued effects have prompted officials to develop financial assistance programs. The Small Business Administration is providing more funding opportunities such as PPP loans. While other foundations and organizations are creating programs specifically for creative freelancers and small business owners, like CreativeLive’s Back To Biz program.  

Financial Challenges and COVID-era Funding

Freelancers, independent contractors and small business owners are typically excluded from receiving unemployment benefits. However, self-employed people are now able to receive benefits from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA), Paycheck Protection Programs (PPP), as well as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Additionally, there are many other ways freelancers and small business owners can secure funding if they are experiencing financial challenges due to the pandemic. 

The Freelancer’s Union Relief Fund and the Workers Fund led the way for freelancers to secure emergency funding. Although the programs are now closed, both organizations have funding opportunities available for freelance workers and self-employed people. 

Let’s take a look at some of the emergency funding that is still available for freelancers and small businesses in 2021:

  1. The Writers Emergency Assistance Fund was started by the American Society of Journalists and Authors in 1982. The organization has provided over $400,000 of relief to writers affected by natural disasters, who have become ill or disabled, or are unable to work due to professional crisis. There is a vetting process and requirements, but applicants do not need to be members of the ASJA to apply. 
  2. The Authors League Fund is a funding program that helps authors, journalists, critics and poets with funding related to medical bills.
  3. The Dramatists Guild Foundation is a grant program that provides financial assistance for writers, screenwriters, performance artists, journalists, and directors whose income has been affected by COVID-19.
  4. The Sweet Relief Musicians Fund requires that 50% of applicants’ income comes from musical gigs as well as documentation of cancellations, medical bills, and other relevant documentation. They provide funding for medical expenses, lodging, food, clothing, and bills for freelance musicians who are out of work due to the pandemic. They also have a unique program that supports and matches a percentage of peer to peer fundraising that is started through Sweet Relief. 
  5. The Artist Relief is another fund that is available for artists who has suffered financially due to COVID-19.

Strategies to overcome the financial challenges without funding

When you apply for emergency COVID-19 relief, there is no guarantee that your application will be approved, even if you do qualify for the program. For this reason, it’s important for freelancers and small business owners to utilize tools and strategies to keep cash flowing during this economic crisis. 

Acquire new clients

While cold pitching takes time and effort, this is one of the most direct ways for freelancers secure new clients. Make a list of businesses in your area or online that could benefit from your work. Then create a script that is geared toward the business you are trying to acquire. Even if they say no now, they may call you back in the future when they need freelance work. 

Maintain a work/life balance

Set yourself up for success by listening to your body and what it needs. Freelancers who work from home often struggle with separating work and home life. It can feel like your free time would be better spent catching up on projects, reaching out to clients, and checking your notifications. 

Burnout is a real thing if you don’t take care of your mind and body. Make time for yourself, family, and friends by turning off your notifications for a few hours, getting regular sleep, and doing things that help you unwind. Then, you can go back to work with a refreshed and focused mindset. 

Time management

If you often find yourself procrastinating when you could be working, you might benefit from budgeting your time. Prioritize your time and work in chunks rather than long stretches. In doing so, you may find that you do have time for a side project or a new client. Set aside time for client acquisition, regular work, side projects, and free time and most importantly, stick to that schedule. 

Cut costs 

One of the simplest ways for freelancers to bring home more cash is to cut their existing costs. Be creative and look for ‘hidden’ expenses that you can either reduce or eliminate completely. 

Common expenses freelancers and small business owners incur include monthly subscriptions tools they no longer use, web hosting/DNS services for running their websites, or internet that’s more expensive than other available options. Taken together, the monthly costs for these expenses could potentially add up to be several hundred dollars. 

Know your worth

Although you might be desperate for work, it’s important that you don’t take on time wasting gigs that deplete your resources. Creatives often fall into the trap of underselling themselves, so be sure to pause before you take a job that pays less. Your time is valuable and your art takes effort and talent to create. Price yourself appropriately.  

Do what’s right for you

Many creatives have multiple talents and just need to take the time to develop skills in other areas. This can give you the ability to offer different services to your clients and increase your income without funding. But if you do require funding, there are many resources available to freelancers and small business owners who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. It’s just a matter of finding the right programs for you. 

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