As scary and unsettling as it is, a crisis, a pandemic, a natural disaster and other world-changing grenades can be thrown at us at any time. Or as Lane Kasselman, crisis communication expert, and the co-founder and managing partner at Greenbrier puts it: they are inevitable, thus making preparation absolutely essential. This is true for any business but especially a small one, like a freelancer career, that experiences ebb-and-flow regularly.
While some of these ordeals are difficult to predict — like the spread of COVID-19, the novel strain of coronavirus — there are ways to add safety measures to your strategy plan, ensuring your income streams remain steady and your cash reserve is strong.
Crisis-proof your business in seven steps
But how? Now, more than ever, consider taking these steps — and definitely in the future — to protect the business you built from the ground-up.
Steps to take:
- Double and triple-check all contracts.
- Diversify income streams.
- Budget ahead.
- Prioritize your leads.
- Market consistently.
- Have a solid content marketing strategy.
- Remain calm.
1. Double- and triple-check all contracts.
Maybe you have trouble wrapping your head around the nitty-gritty fine print of clauses within contracts. Or, you consider yourself more of a creative than a left-brain thinker, and you usually let emails stand as your binding agreements. If so, cut it out!
As communication strategist and freelance consultant Erin Cafferty explains, contracts are essential to protect your business, the money you are owed, and the ability to require payments, should someone fail to pay. Even when there isn’t a crisis or a wishy-washy contact, Cafferty says contracts should be step one of turning your freelance side hustle into a bonafide business:
“Contracts prevent clients from backing out of contracted work, ensure you’re paid on time, limit scope creep — when a client asks you to do more work than agreed upon for the same amount of pay — and protect your business on the legal end.”
2. Diversify income streams.
Decades ago, a journalist could be merely a reporter. An editor could build a solid living off of their red pen and smart wit. A marketer could specialize in digital — or ignore it completely. Today though, moonlighters are expected to be experts in their industry of choice. And, they should be prepared to cover all of the various functions of their talent. Not only does this make us a more attractive candidate for a new project but copywriter and communications strategist Mary Tindall says it also diversifies our income streams.
Rather than only offering blog-writing services, wordsmiths can offer assistance with digital products, courses, ebooks or templates. Marketers can become the gurus who run social media accounts, while also recommending the best spend in terms of ad dollars. The more hands you have out into the universe, the more likely you are to grab one, says Tindall:
“These products can help buffer you from economic turbulence and allow you to keep making a profit even if you can’t physically deliver a service. Figure out the easiest and fastest way to package your expertise and get it online!”
3. Budget ahead.
If you’re in the middle of a crisis right now, take a deep breath. You can’t go back in time and get back the money you spent. What you can do though is start now by implementing proactive measures to protect your assets. Writer, journalist and content marketer Leanna Lee suggests starting small with a system that works for you by following a budget for money coming in and funds going out:
“If I get paid for a client project in March, I try not to break into it until May or June, longer if it’s a project I’m still working on. Budgeting out those payments puts as much distance between you and a paycheck-to-paycheck scenario.”
And furthermore, working a few months ahead financially creates a much-needed buffer, should something happen that threatens your livelihood. Since most freelancers don’t have short-term disability insurance, it’s likely you won’t get paid if you can’t work.
4. Prioritize your leads.
If you find yourself in the middle of a crisis and you’re looking for a way to move forward and keep your income stream flowing, Tindall recommends pivoting immediately. After all, when your clients need you the most, that’s when you should be available for opportunities.
She says to start addressing these areas:
- Ways you can solve the crisis.
- How you can drive revenue.
- Work you can delegate to someone else.
- Work you can delay until the crisis passes.
- How you can support your client post-crisis.
This may mean hiring a virtual assistant to take lower-level items off your plate so you can focus on more critical workstreams.
As Tindall says:
“Uncover the opportunity! Find out what your clients need right now and how you can tailor your services and products to fit their needs. Does your client need help with crisis communications? Lend a hand and help any way you can.”
5. Market consistently.
Whether you’re in the eye of the storm, under a sky of clouds or enjoying the sun, your pipeline should never be empty. All too often, when freelancers have more than they need, they stop marketing. This is dangerous since as we all know that everything can change in an instant — and often without warning. Lee says when we don’t have any leads, we panic and turn to desperation marketing, often landing us with less-than-ideal projects. Or, in other cases, you become overbooked with no time to prepare for when the work dries up.
That’s why Lee suggests you think ahead:
“A consistent marketing plan gives business owners the ability to take on new work quickly while nurturing leads for projects down the road. When hard times strike, you may still lose some work, but you’ll have a pipeline of warm leads, contacts, and prospects to work with. Whether it’s outbound emails and networking or inbound blogging and social media, create a plan and goals for each month and stick to them.”
6. Have a solid content marketing strategy.
A lot of professionals — including Lee — struggle with promoting their own business. And when the world is going through a crisis? It’s even harder. “Coming up with an effective strategy and content under pressure is more difficult than to change something that is already there,” she explains.
That’s why developing your own brand strategy for your services, your ability to help clients far and wide, and your reliability with past projects should be an ongoing project. That way, when businesses need you more than ever, they’ll be able to find you — and trust the work you can provide.
7. Remain calm.
With any industry and any profession, there are always seasons of progress and ones that are slower than normal. No matter how long you’ve been in business or how prepared you are to manage a crisis when it arrives, sometimes, it’ll throw you off your feet. And perhaps, make you miss your goal for the month, quarter or year. Remember that not only is that okay, but that you can always push forward.
Rather than feeling like everything around you is crashing down, try to remain calm, focused and ready to jump into action. The longer you wait, the more of a mess you’ll make for yourself and your clients. The first step is breathing and the second is getting started.