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Freelance Resources During an Economic Downturn


As freelancers, we’re all-too-familiar with “feast or famine” cycles. Sometimes you get an influx of work … And other times? Seeking client opportunities can feel like a barren wasteland.

Under normal circumstances, this is hard enough but the solution is pretty straightforward: When you hit a lull, you get your hustle on. And sure enough, you’ll eventually land more work.

But economic downturns are a different beast altogether. And right now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing an economic impact that’s entirely unlike anything that’s happened before. So many industries are being hard-hit, and many businesses are being forced to close entirely. And of course, that means many of us are impacted financially.

If your clients are scaling back or halting production entirely, that could mean less work for you. But there’s no need to freak out and assume you’ll soon be draining your financial reserves and have zero money coming in. There are, in fact, ways you can still maintain income during these uncertain times. Here are a few ways you can go about it:

Expand to niches that are still hiring

While it can be hard to gauge at first, there are businesses and industries that are still hiring despite the economic slowdown. In fact, in times of economic uncertainty, many businesses are more likely to hire freelancers rather than new full-time employees.

Among the freelance groups I’m part of, some colleagues are seeing a spike in businesses. And in the past few weeks, I’ve gotten wind of new opportunities across different spaces.

Let’s start with freelance writing, since that’s the niche I know the best. Right now, some topics are undoubtedly low in demand — think travel and credit card hacks. But there seems to be a greater need for other topics. For instance, there appears to be a spike in the financial, health, and wellness industries, particularly issues relating to COVID-19. And that’s just in my tiny little corner of the universe as a freelance writer and content marketer.

Not sure which niches are continuing to hire during the slowdown? Besides scouring the internet for leads, look toward your community and colleagues. Ask them if they’ve heard of any new client opportunities or listings. My friends actively pass referrals and job leads to one another.

Build on existing relationships

I’ve always found that it’s easier to get more work from existing clients than to gain work from new ones. You’ve already invested time in understanding and helping them develop their brand. What’s more, you’ve established rapport and trust.

During times of uncertainty and change, you can quickly reach out to clients you’ve established relationships with to see if their needs have changed, and if there’s anything you can help them with. I’ve done this during my past lulls.

And even if a client doesn’t have additional work for you at the moment, they might keep you in mind for future projects. Case in point: My friend Sandy, who is a fellow writer, reached out to all her clients and said if there were any urgent assignments in the wake of COVID-19, that she could offer a 24-hour turnaround and waive the rush fee. It’s a smart move indeed, and it put her on the top of the list for upcoming projects.

Repackage and promote your services

Besides reaching out to existing clients, think about how you might be able to tweak your services to better cater to your client’s current needs. For instance, if a client is scaling back, perhaps you can offer not only content creation but also social media management. Offering a spate of services could make you more appealing.

On the flip side, if your client is a large company or corporation, they might prefer that you offer one thing (i.e., design, writing, photography, video services) but in a very niche space. So it might be a good time to reach out and explain all the different topics or skills you could offer within a subject or experience you have in a particular industry.

Finally, find ways to use your skills and experience to offer new services. For example, my friend Aaron typically shoots a lot of live-action videos for clients. Now that live performances and events are being put on hold, Aaron is offering motion graphics, animated videos, and also creating tutorials and resources to help others shoot videos at home.

Take advantage of relief programs

Although freelancers, under normal circumstances, aren’t available for programs like unemployment, a lot has changed with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, there are a couple of new relief programs that are available to many freelancers. For instance, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is open for both small business owners, sole proprietors and independent contractors. Justin Armstrong, Director of Lending at Azlo, recommends that while you technically have until June to apply, due to the large volume of applications, you’ll want to apply sooner than later.

While the PPP is backed by the Small Business Administration, you’ll need to apply directly through a bank or lender. If you’re an Azlo customer, you can learn more about applying for a PPP loan here.

Justin Armstrong also notes that besides the PPP, you can also get relief from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). Also backed by the SBA, the EIDL has been around before the pandemic. However, what’s new is that it includes $10,000 advance that can be forgiven.

Make the most of your time during a slowdown

Lulls in work are always a bit scary. It’s never pleasant to have your income take a dip.

But in between the hustle, you can also see a lull as an opportunity. Or could you use this time to brush up on a new skill? Think of how you can carve out time for career development. That way, when opportunities come your way, you’ll be far better prepared to swoop in on them. For instance, when I had my last lull I worked on some articles that I’ve always wanted to write, including articles with a literary journalism bent or posts to help freelancers.

Adding these clips to my portfolio helped me be better prepared when I found opportunities to pitch to different outlets, or to existing clients who were looking to take their content in a new direction. I also spent lulls to create videos and to update my writing portfolio and website.

You can also use the lull to venture out into different niches. A colleague of mine, who traditionally writes about personal finance, is working on expanding into different niches and publications. Her latest byline? A personal essay on how pole dancing has transformed her life.

Right now, with the economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19, some of my writing colleagues are taking some time to find work in different industries. Others, such as myself, hope to have some time to work on side projects. I’ve long been itching to finish the draft of the first installment of a book series to help freelancers. Hopefully, I’ll have some downtime to focus on it.

New times, new opportunities

You can still land client work and maintain income during an economic downturn. And as this is an unprecedented situation, it’s quite challenging to navigate. And there’s no way to predict what will happen in the near future. However, we freelancers can still manage to get through this rocky patch by relying on some of our core skills to build relationships, play to our strengths, and evolve to meet our clients’ constantly changing needs.

Jackie Lam
Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based money writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, Business Insider, and GOOD Magazine. She is currently studying to be a financial coach (AFC®) to help artists and freelancers with their money. In her free time she blogs at

Hi there! This post exists to offer you (hopefully) useful information and insights, but it cannot take the place of personalized professional advice. Please consult a qualified expert if you have questions about your business. Also, Azlo doesn’t endorse any third-party sites that are linked here.

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