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Freelancing in a recession - is it a good idea?

If the news is leaving you feeling worried lately (erm, when hasn’t it in the last few years?!), this is for you. I’m talking specifically about the economy here, and the impact on freelancers and the self-employed.

Watching the pound fall off a cliff in the UK always leaves people scrambling – the uncertainty can bring chaos if we let it, but that doesn’t serve anyone.

I’m seeing post after post in my feed from people overwhelmed with the negativity. The words ‘cost of living crisis’ have numbed our brains and let us believe there’s no good to be found.

But look carefully, and you might be surprised.

I’m going to hit pause right here and say I am NOT a financial advisor (if that wasn’t obvious). I’m not giving concrete financial advice. If you want official economic updates, this is not the website for you.

I’m here for freelancers and business owners left wondering where they stand in a recession. Can we make it work? (For most of us, the answer is simply, ‘we have to’.)

Freelancers come to me for mentoring support, and sometimes that looks like worried humans just wanting to know they’re going to be OK. I have good news for you, here’s what it looks like:

In my research, there are two main takeaways to feel reassured by.

1. Businesses might be tempted to avoid long term financial commitments, including hiring new permanent staff. This opens up a gap for freelancers to fill. Jobs still need doing, but to businesses, you are the perfect answer that doesn’t place a big commitment on their plate. This article covers this point really well.

2. Unfortunately, past recessions have shown us these times often come with redundancies. As above, this leaves a gap in the workforce that organisations need to fill, without hiring internal staff.

Here's the thing though - no business making redundancies or pausing investments are going to advertise this. The way you recruit clients will have to take a different tack. Keeping a close eye on your clients and a big focus on your 1:1 relationships will be essential over the coming months. Check in with your regular clients that you have a good relationship with, remind them you're there and be sensitive - they could be facing very difficult situations.

This isn't the time to be scouting LinkedIn looking for big shows of available work. It will be there - but maybe with less noise than usual. Organisations will not want to make redundancies then make a show of working with you. Make sure your marketing plan is watertight for its sensitivity while covering enough ground to keep your business going.

I’ll say this bit loud and clear for the people at the back: This is not the time to get desperate and reduce your prices. We all need fair pay and cutting your own doesn’t serve anyone – in fact, it can actively harm the rest of us by setting a precedent others can’t, and shouldn’t match.

Now, be confident you can charge your normal rates. When clients come to you for your services, they are automatically saving money versus hiring someone internal to do the job for them. Working with freelancers means businesses are not liable for holiday, sick pay or insurance. They’ve already saved a packet – remind them of this if you need to, but there really shouldn’t be a need to reduce what you charge.

Now again, I’ll reinforce my point – I’m not a financial expert – but my understanding of economic shitshows are that they get worse or struggle to recover if we all stop spending. That goes for your clients too. They must carry on investing in the services they need to keep going. You can tell them that. But it goes for you too – the freelancer. Some freelancers’ clients are other freelancers, and we need to support them. If you were thinking of getting your website done, new branding photos, VA support, whatever – please still go ahead once you know your own income is secure. And with the right marketing and strategy, you can be confident in this. (If you need help with this, get in touch!)

So far, I’ve talked about freelancing from the perspective of those already doing it. But what if you’re new to this, and don’t have a big audience yet, or were just about to do it and now feel unsure?

After a quick request for input on LinkedIn, I had a great response from others on this:

“There’s never a ‘good time’ IMO, there’s always going to be obstacles, it will either work or it won’t, your determination will determine the outcome I’m sure!”

Donna Stocks (Clark) Owner and manager @The Beverley Card Company

“If I were starting again now, this is what I’d do: — post about my niche/service passionately on LinkedIn every single day. I wouldn’t try and sell, I wouldn’t expect sales, I’d just share knowledge. — I’d sign up to Upwork, Fiverr, contra and all other freelancing sites. (Upwork was best for me). — I’d put every ounce of love into my freelance profile and make it SO GOOD it’s a no brainier for clients to hire me. — I’d apply to few, highly relevant jobs to increase my chances of hire — id work to retain clients, ask for referrals In the background I would: — build up emergency savings (3-6 months expenses) — keep my FT job or a PT job until I could afford my expenses each month”

Zoe Ashbridge Senior SEO Strategist

“Work out where most of your business is likely to come from and put yourself in that space/market/industry as much as you can. If you're unsure, then network hard to work out what businesses or organisations may be a good fit.”

Jennifer Cadger

A lot of these people covered what I always reinforce, but I’ll do with emphasis here:

Go freelance when you have a lot of savings. Some people say three months’ of expenses, but personally I’d want closer to six. You need time to learn the ropes, surround yourself with the right people and understand what it is to be a freelancer before you can expect a steady stream of clients. That process will be a lot less stressful knowing you can cover yourself for longer. Especially if yours will be your only household income, which I wrote about here.

Other than a financial safety net, going freelance is likely to be infinitely more successful if you back yourself up with the right support. Having others around you that get it is essential for both the practical stuff and your own sanity. If you don’t have a close friend who’s self-employed in a similar industry, it can be a great idea to start with a mentoring programme.

I work with freelancers in the first few years of business to get them off the ground and help them reach their goals. My mentees tell me it’s just great to have someone to talk to who gets it, especially those with kids in the mix. That’s a whole other ball game…

Has this blog post helped? Would you like more support on this topic and making your freelance business stronger?

I’m launching a new mentoring programme soon, but if you’d like to chat to me about your options I’ll give you the details before they’re live.

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