Working from home as a freelancer is a part of the grind, but what happens when you have no choice? Five creative freelancers talk about how COVID-19 has changed their work.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) is hitting U.S. industries hard. And freelance creatives are a class of workers who are experiencing a dramatic shift.
During non-pandemic times, being a freelance photographer, writer, podcast host, or consultant can be marked by late payments, ignored emails, and inconsistent communication with companies. (Unfortunately, this comes with the territory when it comes to building a competitive portfolio.) This lack of stability left cracks for a crisis like COVID-19 to come and exploit.
Working from home as a freelancer is a part of the grind. But what happens when you have no choice? Getting creative with the content you’re already making, pivoting to video, or maybe even making your pitches to brands more unique could solve the issue of being limited to your home. So how do freelance creatives deal? We handpicked five freelancers who are experiencing real-life effects. This group is losing thousands of dollars and also are getting opportunities pulled from underneath their feet. Despite these negative effects, they are pushing forward and understanding that this is a time to work on their craft.
This population of workers are overcoming the pandemic by sticking true to themselves and by being nimble. One writer and podcast host based in New York City is coming up with alternatives to recording in the studio. She’s also been actively training to improve her video production skills. A Los Angeles-based beauty reporter has been actively pitching unique angles that will set her apart from other journalists within her market. While a content marketing consultant in Las Vegas has pivoted and begun focusing on COVID-19 in his writing work.
Read on to get an in-depth look at how creatives are handling social distancing and the coronavirus pandemic.
Jourdan Ash, Freelance Writer, Creative, Host of Dating in NYC Podcast
On pitching and working on commissioned stories
In this climate, the only industry that’s not holding me down is editorial. All the projects that I was on hold for before [the coronavirus pandemic] paid me out or made sure to make arrangements to pay me out. As far as editorial goes with my pitches, people are either not responding — which makes me think the freelancer budget is now frozen up — or they only want coronavirus-based pitches. This isn’t something I want to write about. I’d rather write about things to keep people a little more sane.
I had [previously] written something and I sent it in, and my editor hasn’t responded yet. I don’t know if it’s because he’s sick or because there’s no more money. That was a $1,300 check I was supposed to be getting. That’s something that’s on hold for me. A lot of my projects that I’ve been on, I’ve been very lucky that they pay a lot. Because I’ve freelanced before, I make sure that all my bills are paid up so I don’t have to worry about the next time I’m getting paid.
I think [coronavirus] is going to force a lot of people to pivot to video. I know in my personal work, I’ve been trying to do more video stuff in the event that somebody wants me to do something over Zoom, just so I have that experience and what not. This is definitely a test for everyone. This is crazy.
Darian Harvin, Beauty Reporter featured in The New York Times, BuzzFeed & More
On how coronavirus is affecting her workout routine
I’ve been working out to keep myself moving and it helps me be focused for the rest of my day. I have a membership to a pilates class that I go to but they’re closed. [The virus] is really forcing me to workout from home. I have been jump roping on my roof so that’s been new.
As a freelancer I work from home most days, so I feel that I have been able to deal with this adjustment maybe a little bit easier than people who don’t work from home. In terms of my work itself, what I’m doing with my reporting is I’m finding out how I can cover the coronavirus through the angle of the beauty industry. After a few days of practicing social distancing, I had an editor’s meeting with myself to figure out what editors would potentially like to see written about coronavirus and beauty. I’ve [also] been managing my time by allowing myself to realize this is new territory for everybody and that I’m going to have such a variation of emotions and I should let myself go through them, versus just trying to focus on working and getting down on myself if I don’t get everything I want to get done in a day. I’m really considering this uncharted territory into my mental health. It’s just balancing [things] and realizing some days are going to be better than others.
I [also] really like to use the Pomodoro method which is 25 minutes of work followed by minutes of rest. I typically use that in general just to be productive.
Mark Clennon, Photographer
On what to do when $16,000 vanishes
In my situation, I’m not working on anything. Since I’m a photographer there are no inquiries coming in and anything that was on the books has been canceled and tabled indefinitely. I’m kind of uncertain about when this is going to be over and when jobs are going to start coming back. I’ve completed shoots for production companies and those payments are late. It’s even affecting shoots that I’ve done before in a net-30 window before this broke out.
Working from home there’s things I guess I should be doing but I’m just not in a very creative mode. I’d say so far it’s been about $16,000 in process that has vanished or been pushed back indefinitely. It’s rough but I’ve been a freelancer for a couple of years now. You learn to never get your hopes up about anything, even if I do get a verbal “yes,” or already shot it. My hopes were up but I understand that anything can happen, though I didn’t expect this. It’s [a part of] weathering the storm. Eventually, this is going to pass. I think there’s going to be a huge balloon of content and photoshoots that need to be had. I’ve licensed a couple of photos already, so I was able to salvage some money by licensing.
I’ve never been through anything like this. I don’t think anyone has. I’m worried about myself, worried about my family and my contemporaries that might be in different situations.
Rae Witte, Freelancer Writer & Columnist ILY Magazine
On how she tackles working from home on a daily basis
I recognize the amount of privilege [I have] as I’ve been freelancing and working from home over the last three years. If I was new at freelancing, it would be a lot more difficult. In the past year and a half, I really made it a point to stay in, eat at home to put away money. I feel like I’m back in those shoes by force. It’s hard to not have a feeling of impending doom. It’s also a bit hard to stay motivated. I was able to leave the city and come stay with my parents in a place that’s less densely populated. [I’m at] my hometown and they’ve been preparing [for coronavirus]. I’m about four and a half hours upstate. So I do have a little sense of relief.
I had an editor actually offer to get on the phone with me and talk through things. My editor was saying, “you should be reading our news,” because I tend to write about the human side of tech stories. He said, “I want you to figure out the human way to pitch me.” He even shared where they’re seeing traffic and what the trends were. That was so helpful for me and really, really reassuring. I [also] always have a to-do list and it’s extremely detailed down to running errands at the grocery store. It’s like a 360 full life to-do list. I think having all of my things I’d like to accomplish in one place makes me feel like I did not fail the day. Even if it’s a phone call, or sending a pitch to an editor, my to-do list is hyper-specific and that has really helped me as things have been falling apart more.
Kevin Payne, Growth & Content Marketing Consultant, featured in Black Enterprise, Blavity, & More
On limiting social media usage
Since I was already working remotely, my lifestyle hasn’t really changed. Of course now with some clients, I do have to make myself more flexible. I have a child as well, a toddler, so I have to help my wife and give my child attention. I live in a gated community, so I’ve also been going out on walks to get fresh air while still practicing social distancing. I definitely limit my social media time and how much news content I consume because that can trigger anxiety.
In terms of writing, I usually do 20-40 articles per month for other publications. Some of my articles have been put on the backburner, so I try to be proactive and pitch angles that speak to coronavirus, remote working, and productivity tips. I try to keep the pitches light and not get too philosophical. Since I have a team of writers, I use Slack and other programs to communicate with clients, others in my company and to get an understanding of other people’s points of view and put a human element in everything I do. The biggest thing I would say is [important] during this time is to manage your emotional health. Especially because some people have anxiety or depression.
The best thing to do is communicate with family and friends just to have someone to talk to and relate to. Also, I’d reiterate limiting social media and the news, you can stay informed without getting bombarded.
Robyn Mowatt is a staff writer at Okayplayer where she covers culture, music, and fashion. You can see what's on her mind @robyn_mowatt.