15 Minute Freelancer

78. Freelancing in a recession (6 tips)

September 30, 2022 Louise Shanahan Episode 78
15 Minute Freelancer
78. Freelancing in a recession (6 tips)
Show Notes Transcript

Are you worried about what the current economic situation might mean for your business? If so, please know you are not alone. 

In this solo episode, I share the questions I'm considering to prepare my freelance business for economic disruption, including:

  • How is the downturn affecting my niche?
  • Should I change my services?
  • Should I raise or lower my rates?
  • How can I bring in more work if needed?
  • How can I make my business more financially resilient?
  • What are the potential upsides of an economic downturn for freelancers?

Our financial situations and businesses may be different (I'm not a financial advisor and this isn't financial advice), but hopefully this will spark some ideas to consider for yourself. 

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Find out more:
Episode 54: Make yourself ridiculously referrable
Episode 21: Stress-free accounting with Martin Brooks

Want to feature in my Ask Me Anything episode? Record your question here: memo.fm/15/

Say hi to Louise:

Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter and a big fan of finding your freelance niche. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.

LinkedIn: Louise Shanahan
Twitter: @LouiseShanahan_
Website: thecopyprescription.com

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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack size guide to being your own boss and building a business that works for you. I'm your host, Louise Shanahan. I'm a freelance health copywriter and on this podcast, I take you behind the scenes, so you can borrow from what's worked and what hasn't as you grow your own freelance business. We'll also have some practical tips and tactics from special guests along the way, so you can skip a few steps on your own freelancing journey. So without further ado, let's get started with today's episode. If you enjoy it, hit follow so you don't miss the next one.

Louise: Hello, and welcome to another episode of 15 Minute Freelancer. Today, I wanted to talk about a question that I think is probably popping up for a lot of freelancers and self-employed folk at the moment, and that is what the current economic situation means for our businesses. We've got rising inflation and rising energy bills. The UK is on the brink of a recession, although not technically in one right now I don't think as I'm recording this, the outlook is equally gloomy in much of the rest of the global economy. So what do we do? Should we do anything? I thought I would share how I'm thinking about this, and maybe it will help you, maybe it'll reassure you, maybe spark some questions to consider yourself. 

The first thing that I want to just note before I dive into this is that obviously, we're all in very different situations, different businesses, different household situations, different financial situations, your own personal financial circumstances will be different from mine. What works for me might not be right for you, etcetera, etcetera. I'm not a financial advisor and I don't play one on a podcast. That said, here are a few questions that I have been asking myself lately and maybe they'll be helpful for you. 

The first thing is, what's changed, has anything changed, am I noticing any differences in my clients' behaviour and the number of leads I'm getting, or in how projects are moving forwards. So far, not really, I have to say, I have a few long-standing contracts with clients in the US and the EU and there haven't been any changes there. With my UK clients, I have actually noticed more leads coming in lately, which is interesting. This might be because companies are looking to ramp up their marketing activities, which is obviously the category that my services fall into. It might be because they're looking to outsource more work to freelancers rather than hiring new permanent staff members, so that's a way in which this might actually be advantageous to us, if that's not crass to say that. Of course, it could be completely unrelated to either of those things. What I am paying attention to is that it does seem to take longer to get projects off the ground than it has previously. Client teams are taking more time to make business decisions, maybe being a bit more cautious and involving more people internally in signing them off. I'm not sure, again, might be nothing to do with the financials and could be a combo of people being on summer holidays, adjusting to post-COVID hybrid working arrangements or whatever I don't know. But that's still something I'm paying attention to because it does seem to be a little bit of a pattern lately. I'm not expecting enthusiastic leads to be signing on the dotted line right away so that gives me a little bit more of a cushion if I'm booking in other projects. 

The second question that I'm thinking about is how is the downturn affecting my niche and the clients that I work with? As you know if you've listened to this podcast for a while, I work with a mix of healthcare providers, life sciences, research organisations, medical tech, biotech companies, so there's quite a broad mix there. Healthcare tends to be pretty steady and resilient during difficult economic times. Though, of course, I'm not taking that for granted, we just never know what's going to happen. Investment in new MedTech and biotech start-ups does seem to have slowed a little bit after a surge during the pandemic. And the downturn could mean that healthcare companies and organisations consider reducing their headcount and marketing budgets just like any other industry, so I'm not taking anything for granted. If you work with a specific industry, you might want to consider how they will be affected by a recession. For example, if you work with lots of direct-to-consumer brands it might be interesting to see what's happening there. They may be harder hit as everyone is thinking about their rising energy bills and the impact of inflation and so on. If you're not sure you could ask a trusted client what's happening with them. What are they planning? What are they thinking about over the next three to six months? Or just keep your ear to the ground on social media, see what's in the news. If you feel you have all your eggs in one basket in one industry or with one particular type of client and that industry or that type of client seems a little bit vulnerable, a little bit precarious, you might want to consider branching out to a different kind of client. 

What we're trying to get at here is if you work with a specific type of client or industry and that group suddenly has to make sweeping budget cuts, could you be left without a reliable pipeline for future projects? Should you consider focusing on clients in other industries, maybe broadening out your niche a little bit to include clients where their customers are spending more money, or industries that are maybe just a little bit more resilient? 

Another thing that I'm considering is if I need to switch up my services in any way. So you might like to consider if there are specific challenges that your clients are facing as a result of economic pressures, can you help them, is there something that you could do to solve that problem for them, make yourself valuable. Then you'd want to reach out to them, promote these services, keep the work coming in and help your clients weather the storm too. Yes, we're going to squeeze in all the cliches today. 

If you think your clients are likely to be reducing their budget for the kind of service that you provide, you might want to think about a more affordable option for them. Now, I would never recommend just lowering your prices. But you could reduce the scope of your services and bring the price down for your client in that way. So that might include offering more strategic options. That could be a way to charge more for your time but bring the overall fee down for your client. For example, instead of pitching website copywriting projects, I might focus on promoting my website audit service. So that's a lower fee for the client but it still gives them a solid framework from which they can undertake the project internally themselves if they want to. So they're saving money on the overall copywriting project but it's actually a higher price point for me relative to the amount of work that I'm doing. Maybe if you normally offer a full-day workshop, you might cut it to a half-day. If you normally do one-to-one services, maybe you think about offering a group programme that might be more affordable individually, but doesn't dent your overall income. If you see opportunities for ways to help clients, but you don't feel confident in offering those services, then it might also be worth thinking about getting some training. Where do you need to upskill? Are there services adjacent to yours, where it will be worth investing in training so that you can offer your clients a more comprehensive service. 

Just on the subject of prices while I'm thinking about it. If you feel you can, you should be increasing your rates in line with inflation. Because if you keep them the same, then you're effectively taking a pay cut as the value of that amount has gone down. That might feel very uncomfortable but that is something to consider. 

The fourth question that I'm asking myself is how much capacity I have for work over the next three to six months? Do I need to bring in more work and if so how am I going to do that? Personally, I am in the fortunate position right now where I have steady leads and ongoing projects so I don't have that much capacity over the next six months, which is as I say, a very fortunate position to be in. But if you feel like you do have capacity and you want to bring in more work, then here are a few things that I would suggest doing. Check in with existing and previous clients to see if you can support them with any upcoming projects. Ask those clients for referrals, put the word out into networks that you're open to referrals and new work. There's actually an episode on making yourself ridiculously referrable I believe it's called, which I will link to in the show notes, I think that was episode 54. It might also be worth doing an honest time audit to see where you're spending your time and if that time investment is actually the best way to generate leads. Be really honest, do you need to put a little bit more effort into your marketing activities, do you need to put some time into tweaking your branding and positioning to attract more or different clients? I'm sure we all have those days where we just really want to make a graphic really pretty when we should be reaching out to potential new clients. So no judgement, but maybe this is something to just be really honest with yourself about. 

Another point here might be to include retainers if you can. Now they're not for everyone, but obviously if you have that ongoing contract in place where the client is paying for your time regardless of whether they're using it or not then you know that that money's coming in each month, so that puts you in a really strong position. I don't think I've done an episode on retainers, would that be helpful? Let me know, I might put that on my list. Getting deposits and having contracts with cancellation clauses and notice periods in place do the same thing. So that's another way to protect yourself in case a client changes their plans at the last minute or at short notice. 

I mentioned having all our eggs in one basket earlier and that's the next consideration. Do you have multiple streams of income or are you getting the majority of your income from one client? Can you diversify and offer other services, or maybe develop a product or a course or some other means of bringing in revenue, so that you're more resilient if one thing takes a dip? Also, on the financial side of things, it's worth reviewing your business and personal finances to see if you can reduce your outgoings. Are you paying monthly subscriptions for Zoom and Canva and Calendly, and all of these things that maybe you're not using that much anymore? If so cancel them, you may as well. If you can, you also want to make sure that you build up a bit of a financial buffer, so you have some savings set aside to cover you if your income does go down. I've also talked previously about paying yourself a monthly salary or income and saving the rest so that you don't feel the financial ups and downs so much. Another point to consider here is whether it'd be worth getting income protection insurance, so that you're covered if the worst happens. There is an episode from way back with accountant Martin Brooks on how to get your finances in order, that is episode 21. Maybe I should invite him back for a follow-up. 

Finally, just a general point. But if things do get a bit tough, then do make sure you get the community support that you need. Reach out to your freelance friends for moral support, advice, reassurance. People are so generous, we want to help each other don't we, and people will put feelers out to help you find new work. 

Let's end on a positive, there are actually benefits to being a freelancer during an economic downturn. You have more flexibility and freedom to adapt and change track and find new solutions than if you had a single employer where you really do have all your eggs in one basket. You get to make the decisions, you can literally change your business overnight if you want to and if you need to. You can create new services instantly, well, not instantly but you know, you can put a note out on LinkedIn saying I do this thing now. You can send 10 pitches this afternoon if you need to. And if larger companies are holding off hiring new staff, then they may be more likely to work with a freelancer who can deliver great work quickly and without all the overheads. So you might find you're actually busier than ever. I would suggest keeping an eye out to see where those opportunities are. 

The thread through all of this, of course, is to continue doing great work for your clients and letting that speak for itself. Then if you've got quiet time, you can turn that into case studies and all sorts of things to help attract more clients. Okay, that's all for today. The main takeaways are to be adaptable, be flexible, look for opportunities, keep speaking up about the value that you bring and diversify your income where you can. I know it's a difficult topic and of course everyone's experience will be different. I know a lot of people are feeling really anxious right now but I hope that there will be one or two points in here that will be useful for you. So please hang in there, you've got this. 

One more thing before I go. I'm going to do an Ask Me Anything episode soon so if you'd like to be featured in that and hear your voice on this podcast, then go to memo.fm/15 and record your question. It can be on absolutely anything to do with freelancing, copywriting, running a business, honestly ask me anything. And I will answer them on a future episode. 

All right, until next time, thanks for listening. Happy freelancing. 


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