I’ve just finished six months of voluntary self-isolation writing a book, so it’s bizarre to find myself facing another one with COVID-19. Major new measures have been announced to protect people at highest risk of coronavirus, so I’ll be getting a letter this week asking me to stay at home for at least 12 weeks, as I take immuno-suppressants for rheumatoid arthritis. I work from home so it’s not a huge change to my daily routine, but I am feeling anxious about the lack of financial support for freelancers, and how I’m going to work and home-school a teenager in a small flat. I washed her school uniform last night – “Bin it!” she said gleefully, “I won’t be needing it.”
One freelance colleague has lost £1,000 of photography bookings. Another, an events manager, has had all of her work cancelled. I’m lucky that I can work remotely for clients but some of my work has fallen off. I was due to start a three-month part-time contract to finish off the book – not heard a peep, and other work – also events-based, has stalled. I’ve put money aside for tax and other contingencies, but it’s not enough to see me through months of upheaval. Last week the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced various measures to help companies and employees. Still, there’s not much support for creative freelancers and the five million self-employed in the UK.
Employees have a guaranteed 80% of their income, up to £2,500 a month. In contrast, the self-employed have so far been advised to claim Statutory Sick Pay at £94.25 a week or Universal Credit, which is a minefield when you have unpredictable earnings. The eligibility criteria for UC include savings, which means those who set aside money for tax may be ineligible. Oliver Heald MP has said that Sunak will make a statement on the self-employed on Monday. Fingers crossed as so many of my freelancer friends are worried sick.
The National Union of Journalists is lobbying for support for freelance workers. It has some policy recommendations here, e.g. that the 80% rule be extended to the self-employed, based on recent tax returns along with a temporary cancellation of the savings rule for UC. This would help freelance members at the bottom of the earnings scale. It seems to strengthen the case for a Universal Basic Income going forward!
I can’t control the big stuff – my heart goes out to Italy – almost 800 deaths yesterday, and it’s heartbreaking to see a country brought to its knees. So, I’m focusing on the things I can control – my environment, self-care, online chats and campaigning, and using this unexpected pause to read, study online, and do some business planning.
Here’s what I’ve been doing to keep my business on track during COVID-19.
MONEY – I’ve given myself a pay cut. I have a limited company and pay myself a monthly salary, so I’ve reduced this for now. I can cut back to the essentials as I won’t be travelling to London, doing coffees with clients, using hot desk space etc. I’m reviewing all my subscriptions and memberships and cancelling those I can do without. I’ve been using Xero for my accounting, which is expensive – £36 a month as I had EUR payments coming in, so I’m switching to Free Agent, which offers a 30-day free trial and seems more contractor-friendly. I’ve found a cheaper online accountant who specialises in creative businesses. I’ll do my tax return at the end of this month to get it out of the way, so I know what tax I have to pay next year.
Some guidance from HMRC for small businesses and the self-employed and from The Guardian.
TIME TO HUSTLE – I rent my home, so will speak to my agency to see what help is available and haggling with utility providers and suppliers to see what they can do. I’ve applied for a grant from the Society of Authors contingency fund for authors and journalists and joined the Creative Industries Federation (they are offering free six-month membership for all freelancers and microbusinesses). There are small grants available from various charities, so see what’s available in your field. Facebook is offering cash grants and ad credits for small businesses.
TRAINING – I’ve signed up for some online courses and webinars to learn new skills. AllBright, a club and community that celebrates and connects women at work, is running 20 digital courses at 2 pm every day, so an excellent opportunity to dip my toe in and see what they offer. FEU Training has a digital learning centre for creative freelancers (free to NUJ/union members). Also, check out Skillshare.
ONLINE WORK – it’s a good time to update the CV. I use Indeed, We Work Remotely, Hoxby Collective, Yuno Juno, The Dots, Freelance Alliance, and LinkedIn to find remote work. Search hashtags: #remotejobs #remotework #workingfromhome #JournoJobs. I also subscribe to newsletters that list writing jobs, e.g. The Professional Freelancer, Journo Resources, Freelance Writing Jobs.
OPPORTUNITY/MINDSET – things are going to be very different over the next few months, so I will use this opportunity to think, review my business and what I want to do next. As Debbie Wosskow, co-founder of AllBright, said, “It’s an unexpected pause. I’ve never spent any time in my own home, and now I’m here!” Make the most of it and enjoy family time. Small businesses might need more online content and social media to stay connected while they’re shut, so I’ll pitch my services around locally.
DIGITALISE YOUR BUSINESS – What income streams can you digitalise? I’ve seen yoga teachers, fitness instructors and nutritionists doing online classes via Zoom. I wrote a book a few years ago which got pulled, so a good time to publish it as an e-Book. What digital products can you create now for future passive income? I use Free Conference Call for team calls, Skype, WeChat groups, Trello for planning, Twitter and LinkedIn to share work.
SELF-CARE – It’s tempting to scroll the newsfeed all day, but it makes me feel anxious and unable to concentrate, so time to stop. It’s also easy to spend all day on your laptop when you work from home and not take proper breaks. It’s spring and the weather’s changing so I’ll go for walks and jogs to clear my head. Check out online fitness classes, and the Headspace app for meditation.
COMMUNITY – This is a war on a virus, and there’s been nothing like it in my lifetime, so we are having to rethink how we live, work and interact. We’re in this together and need to help each other. I’ve joined Nextdoor to find out what’s going on in my neighbourhood, and AllBright Connect – they asked for volunteers to do skills swaps so a good opportunity to make new contacts. Follow hashtags on Twitter like #SupportFreelancers and local Coronavirus groups on Facebook to find out what’s going on in your area.
CAMPAIGNING – I’ve signed and shared several petitions to support freelancers and the self-employed:
Don’t Leave Freelancers Behind in the Coronavirus Crisis.
Self-employed in Statutory Sick Pay.
Self-employed 80% of Their Median Salary During the Coronavirus Pandemic.
I’ve written to my MP calling for the benefit to be extended immediately to the self-employed. Here’s a template letter from the NUJ which you can adapt. I’m also following various MPs on Twitter like Tracy Brabin, John McDonnell, and Keir Starmer who are campaigning to help the self-employed.
Keep calm, carry on. We can survive, we will thrive! Let’s see what happens next week. I hope more measures are introduced to help the self-employed. Celebrate your achievements and have a virtual glass of vino with your colleagues to help each other through this crisis. If you’re home-schooling – there are some great ideas here. This is an opportunity to do things differently, and it will lead to a more creative and connected way of living.
Stay safe, keep well, and look after those around you!
What are you doing to keep your business on track? Send me your tips and follow me on Twitter @niccitalbot, I’d love to hear from you.
Clear messaging (& tone of voice) is crucial at all times – not just during coronavirus!
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