Nikki McCaig 2020

Freelance FAQs Part II: Working and Surviving in 2020

2020 has been one hell of a year and we’re still only in June. From threats of World War III and global pandemics, to racial injustice and devastating bushfires, our world has gone through so much change, fear and pain in the past 6 months that it’s hard to know what normal feels like. We’ve experienced a high volume of difficult living, and we’re still expected to come out the other side thriving and succeeding in our individual ways – whether it be through work, family life, health or personal growth.

Listen to: Freelance FAQs Part II: Working and Surviving in 2020

I can’t honestly say that I’ve found working in 2020 to be easy. Whilst I’ve been through some tough periods as a freelancer, trying to stay positive and focused when the world around me is burning has not been an easy task. When all I want to do is talk about the wider issues of society, to escape from the heartbreaking headlines and make some real change, sitting down at my desk to stare at social algorithms and client emails is a tough task to prioritise.

Yet through endless cups of coffee and some serious mental grit, we’re slowly coming out into normality again. So in today’s post, I wanted to answer some of the most common questions people are asking about freelancing during lockdown, surviving 2020 as a self-employed worker and staying productive in a world of chaos.

Q: How has lockdown and COVID-19 affected your usual business practice?

A: When the lockdown first began, one of the first major changes that happened to me was the loss of two significant clients. Both were businesses that operated in physical spaces and events, and so their own working lives were put on hold and they couldn’t afford to keep up marketing efforts as the weeks went on. Their businesses struggled without the usual flow of customers, and whilst a few small jobs were sent my way initially, it was unlikely that their budgets would be able to stretch to a freelance salary even after lockdown ended.

This meant that, although I still had some full time clients, I had large gaps in my week without any work at all. Luckily, I was eligible for the Government Self-Employment grant which helped to keep my finances steady, but the sudden down-time was incredibly hard to get used to. Eventually I was able to utilise my time, working on my own hobbies, writing, planning and reading more books than I would ever have had the time to before. I built a new routine for myself, and I honestly began to enjoy the quietness of lockdown – something which I think I’m going to miss as we all return back to work.

Q: What challenges are marketers facing during these times of global change and fear?

A: For many marketers, one of the biggest questions asked of them is ‘how relevant is our content right now?’ Do audiences still care about discounted beauty products and high quality sofas and new music releases when Australia is burning and the President of the United States is one tweet away from declaring war? It can be hard to estimate just how welcome your typical content will be, and how readers will react to it when there are so many pressing issues to be talked about elsewhere.

In addition, marketers are also having to educate themselves on their role in these events and the influence they might have on their followers. As representatives of brands and businesses, the messages they share at these high-pressure time periods are highly scrutinised, watched and noticed – and often are seen as their response to politically driven events. One of the biggest examples of this in recent weeks has been the brand response to the Black Lives Matter campaigns. Where some brands remained silent on the protests, others shared their support both on and offline with donations, shared information and written messages of sympathy for those affected.

Q: What are the advantages of working as a freelancer during lockdown?

A: Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a number of people trying to adjust to the challenges of working from home full time. It’s not easy trying to adapt to an entirely new working space, a new system, a new order of work and home life and so for me, having been working from home for the past 10 months, I feel lucky to have already experienced it. I’m already aware of my distractions at home, and how to prevent them. I taught myself how to make the most of my productivity, and how to stay focused and motivated in my home. I learnt how to deal with the isolation and loneliness that can come from working from home, and how to turn that isolation into creativity and inspiration for future projects. I know the financial worries, and gains, that come from staying home – the lack of travel costs, eating out, spontaneous work lunches and costly nights out can even save you money in the long run, without you even realising it.

From that perspective, my working routine hasn’t really changed, and in terms of adapting to the lockdown, my own adjustment period has been considerable shorter than other people’s. Being a freelancer has taught me how to work remotely, and how to make the most of my own freedom and time, and this is something I’ve utilised throughout the new systems of lockdown.

Q: How can we prioritise our work when so much is happening around the world?

A: It’s never going to be easy or simple to switch your attention from a global catastrophe to a daily to-do list. But the truth is, we all have to do it – day in, day out. We all face difficult times in our lives, on a personal scale and on a public one, and work goes on. Deadlines still need to be met, emails need responses and work has to be completed. One of the best ways to help yourself to stay focused and productive during these times, however, is organisation.

Set aside time for you to learn, and to absorb what’s happening to your country, your people and your society. Give yourself space to take it all in and process it, and to do your bit to help. And then close the tab, turn off the news, put your headphones on and focus. The problems won’t go away, or get worse or get better if you do five hours of work. They will carry on, with or without your attention, and they will still be there when the job is finished.

But it’s also important to remember that the pandemic will, one day, be over. The headlines will change and new stories will dominate. When they do, you will still have work to do, you will still need a job and you will still need income and that has to stay consistent. There is enough of you to share it out with all of the causes you care about – all you have to do is find the time.

Q: What are the biggest disadvantages of being a freelancer working from home right now?

A: Honestly, in my experience, the biggest problem I’m facing working from home right now is the lack of freedom. When I chose to swap my desk in an office for my desk at home, I did so because I loved the idea of being able to shape my day around when I wanted to work and where. I liked having the freedom to work in coffee shops and go outside and go to meetings and work anywhere. I liked being able to work alone and have total focus on my own tasks and projects without interference. At the moment, I don’t have that.

My boyfriend is working from homealong side me, and this means a shared working space – shared distractions, shared productivity, shared conversations and shared physical space too. Without the option of working from any of the places I used to love, all of my energy is spent inside the same four walls every single day and it can feel overwhelming and stifling at times. Creativity is incredibly limited when all I can see is a blank wall and my old grey sofa.

I’m also missing the human contact from my client meetings – exploring new parts of the city, seeing inside new businesses, getting to know people face to face, rather than through a virtual video call. I’ve taken on three new clients since lockdown began, and I’ve not met a single one of them in person. They know me by my pixelated face alone and it feels somehow impersonal to begin a strong working relationship through this distance. I enjoy getting to know my clients through small moments in our meetings – their coffee orders, their laptop backgrounds, how they decorate their desks, their punctuality and their dress sense. I’m sure they also prefer getting to know me through these quirks as well, and so I am looking forward to getting back out into my old favourite meeting spots and coffee shops once again.

What have you found to be the biggest advantage or disadvantage of working as a freelancer during 2020? Have you enjoyed the extra downtime, or are you desperate to get back to normality instead?

If you have any more questions that you’d like me to answer, get in touch at nikki.j.mccaig@gmail.com and I’ll include them in my next FAQ post!

Thanks for reading and stay safe.

Nikki