COVID-19 hasn’t just toppled economies and strained health systems worldwide; it’s cost many freelancers and arts practitioners their livelihoods. It’s easy to feel scared and uncertain when work you relied on to pay your bills suddenly disappears, and events and exhibitions you poured your heart and soul into are cancelled.
Planning and making smart choices can help alleviate stress and uncertainty. We speak with business coach Nicole Coyne – the business and leadership coach behind Tikumu Consulting – and Murray Phillips – Principal at Insight CA Limited – about how freelancers can plan for the next 6-12 months.
Freelancer Advantages During Global Upheaval
While it’s easy to focus on the negatives right now – especially if you’ve lost gigs or had events and shows cancelled – being a freelancer may be your biggest asset.
“During times of upheaval, the ability to shift gears quickly is an advantage for freelancers,” explains Coyne. “They have the ability to stay agile, adapt quickly and stay flexible compared to larger businesses.”
Coyne recommends that the first thing all freelancers consider is diversifying their income streams in order to protect their earnings. That way, if one stream dies off, you’ll still have steady income.
“We’ve all heard the saying, ‘don’t put all your eggs into one basket.’ This external trigger may be an excellent wake-up call to start thinking about how to diversify your product or service. Online forums are excellent at the moment, but also for the future. How can you develop passive income streams? Think about collaborative work, consulting as an expert to industry, online teaching… there are many possibilities once you think creatively.”
Don’t Panic but Do Act
The business and arts landscape will be drastically different for the next two years, if not longer. If you intend to continue working in your industry, it’s essential to stay current. Keep up-to-date from official sources, and discuss ideas and strategies with your colleagues and community but steer clear of constant negativity and rumour-mongering.
Coyne explains you need more than just a good plan. “To be successful in business – especially during turbulent times – you must have the right mindset. It’s about building resilience and being prepared mentally for these external influencers.
“What strategies do you have in place to ensure this happens? Keep positive; surround yourself with positive people. Looking after your health and wellbeing is essential.”
Business and Leadership coach Nicole Coyne.
Ensure Your Services/Work can Continue
A business continuity plan identifies the most significant risks to your business and prepares you to recover as quickly and easily as possible. Chartered accountant and business advisor Phillips explains that it’s best to consider business-as-usual (depending on the nature of your freelance work) but assume your trading level might fall by 10-20%.
“Remain positive and don’t talk yourself into a recession, but plan a scaled-back level of activity,” adds Phillips. “We will all need to look at new ways to run our businesses.”
As a freelancer, you might need to consider the following if you wish to continue to work and keep the lights on.
Crisis communication: Set clear expectations with clients and stakeholders, especially if you’re not able to work for a period or if you have to inform them you’ve been exposed to COVID-19. Acknowledge and address the issues, demonstrate empathy toward their situation (everyone is hurting right now) and show how you’ll be combating those issues to maintain good relations.
Understand changing customer demand: explains that the needs of your customers may be changing, or have already changed. “Study the current market and develop a product/service to meet that need.”
Build a business plan: “If you don’t have a business plan, now is the time to develop one,” says Coyne. “You may have some additional time on your hands, so start working on your business. There may be a project that you have been putting off; now is the time to finish it off.”
Cut expenses: “Look at your business and personal expenses and clarify what is essential and what is ‘nice-to-have’,” suggests Coyne. She recommends highlighting necessary expenses and considering if anything can be put on-hold to reduce your liability. Make sure you have alternatives in place for anything you put on hold – for example if you let go of the rent on a studio space, can you clear room for a home studio?
Strengthen cancellation and rescheduling clauses: You may not be able to deal with contracts already in place, but you can ensure you include clauses that protect you in the future. Talk to a lawyer about what you’re able to include.
Negotiate tight terms of trade: Phillips recommends you tighten your terms of trade and ensure your debt collection processes are in order. “It might be that you require a deposit in advance of the work and payment on handover. This may seem logical, however, more businesses will face liquidation and close their doors before paying you for your work.
“Invest some funds with your lawyer and have them tighten your terms of trade. This could also include a clause around personal guarantees. The personal guarantee would then come into play should there be a business closure.”
Reduce your regular payments: If you have loans or money owing, Phillips recommends talking with your financial institutions. “You might be able to negotiate to pay interest but not principal for a period of six months. Go in armed with your current cash flow history and project your next 120 –180 days of trading. The bank will be more supportive if you show a reduction in your drawings.”
Tax arrears: Phillips suggests that if you have a debt owing to the IRD for tax arrears, then have your tax agent contact IRD and arrange to spread your existing payment arrangements over an extended period of time.
Collaborate and Engage the Community
You’re not the only one feeling scared and uncertain right now. Fellow freelancers and artists are scrambling to figure out their continuity plans, and your clients and other businesses in your community need clear next steps.
Talk to other freelancers and arts organisations about how they’re tackling continuity planning. Collaborate on projects that continue to engage the community, and hire freelancers from your network when possible. We’re all in this together, so share information and solutions, and be a source of hope for others.
Collaboration is key. Photo: Charles Delivio on Unsplash.
Ask for Help
You are not in this alone. Everyone in our industry (and in fact, everyone in New Zealand) is experiencing COVID-19 and its impact alongside you. Talk about the problems you’re facing, and ask for help when you need it.
Learn about the government’s COVID-19 Economic Response Package. There are two payments you may be eligible for as a freelancer – wage subsidy and leave support. Creative New Zealand is also providing emergency relief for the arts sector.
Creative New Zealand: Will make updates to their newsletter and social media channels. Sign up for the CNZ newsletter, as well as following the COVID-19 update page on their website.
COVID-19 information for businesses: Government page collecting data related to COVID-19 and its impact on NZ businesses, including details of the Economic Response Package, updated as new information is available.
Work and Income New Zealand: Details on COVID-19 employer support (wage subsidy, leave payment) and how to apply. These packages are available to sole traders and contractors as well as employers.
Inland Revenue New Zealand: Details of the tax relief and income assistance available for NZ businesses.
Ministry of Health: For the most up-to-date guidelines on staying safe and healthy, as well as the latest news about the COVID-19 outbreak.
Worksafe NZ: If you’re a PCBU, what you need to know about workplace preparedness for COVID-19.
Air New Zealand: If you have overseas travel, check their COVID-19 FAQ page for information. They advise not to contact the call centre unless you’re due to fly within 48 hours.
Ministry for Business, Innovation & Employment: Information on business continuity plans is available on their website.
Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand: Offers advice on looking after your mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19 on their website.