Recession-Proof Your Freelance Writing: How to Earn During COVID-19 and Other Tumultuous Times

Feeling nervous about what’s happened to freelancing during COVID-19? If so, you’re not alone.

But you can recession-proof your freelance writing career and continue to earn — if you know what steps to take.

For me, the past few months have given me déjà vu — because I was freelancing in the last recession, around 2008. I had just begun ramping up my writing income when the financial meltdown came on. 

I decided to stick with my plan to grow my income to six figures, despite what was happening. And in 2011, I got there, cracking six figures for the first time. 

What does it take? Let me boil down the key components of earning well in a down economy into four important steps. 

1. Win the mind-body battle 

Understand that writers who thrive in the coming months will take good care of their bodies. Healthy food, regular sleep, exercise. All the basics are absolutely essential right now — they’re the foundation of your freelance-writing success.

I know, it would be so easy to eat giant chocolate bars and order in French fries and be a Netflix binge-watchin’ zombie. But that won’t give you the stamina you need for this. Think of it like you’re training for a big race, and keep yourself in trim! It’ll help both your writing, and your chances of doing well if you end up getting the virus.

Once you’re committed to taking great care of your body, the next step is to work on your head game.

I’m talking about the endless undertow of negative thought-babble going on in our minds. Bad things we see on the news, worries about what could happen, all that. 

Shut. It. Off. There’s nothing good there. Put yourself on a media diet, and focus on what is within your sphere of control. That will help you feel empowered. 

Also, take time to experience joy or be silly each day. Laughter is good for your immune system.

Finally, know that everybody’s productivity is taking a hit. Practice self-forgiveness, and when you have days where not much gets done, don’t beat yourself up. Do better tomorrow. 

2. Get your schedule on 

Once your mind and body are in as good a shape as you can get them, it’s time to come up with a battle plan for how and when the writing gets done. If you’re homeschooling kids, it’s going to take extreme creativity — but it can be done.

Assess who you’ve got on your team, and when they could help. Some families are co-isolating with another family to get a sitter. My cousin has newborn grandkid twins, and they are cleared to come babysit. See where your comfort zone is for looping in family, neighbors or friends.

You probably had a writing routine, and now it may be out of the window. That’s OK. We’re all reinventing how we do our work. My sister has a set of affirmations she’s using to get through this, and one of them is, “Being flexible is an action.” 

Think of it as a science experiment. How much could I get done between 8 p.m. and midnight, after young kids go to bed? (That’s actually the schedule I used to write all my blog posts, for many years.) What if I got up at 5 a.m., before others arise? What if I grab this 20-minute break while everyone else runs an errand, and try to crank out a pitch letter? 

If you stay open-minded about when creativity can happen, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results. Whether you create a new schedule, or ‘unschedule’ and just use whatever opportunities present themselves, commit to getting the writing done, one way or another. 

3. Don’t be scared – be prepared 

I’m hearing from many writers who are wringing their hands as clients ‘pause’ or cancel projects, cut their rates, or flat-out disappear. Payments are late, and you don’t know what to do. You’re worried these clients are going away.

Let me suggest another mindset for this situation: Stop fearing that things are changing, and accept that they are. 

In a downturn, the pace of change accelerates. That’s reality. In 2009, I lost every single client I had, one by one. I also replaced them all with better ones. 

This is a situation where you should ‘act as if.’ Act as if that client who’s starting to pay slower, or send fewer assignments, is going away. What would you do, if that were true? Do that.

Be ready for turnover, and you’ll be calm and in control – because you’ll already be acting on your backup plan to line up new work.

4. Target winners and market massively

When the economy tanks, it’s not all losers out there. There are also winners. Think of Amazon, or Zoom, and all their competitors.

If the niches you’ve been writing in are at a standstill, think about what related areas you could move into that are doing well. (Hint: If you’ve written about one kind of tech, you can write about another.) 

Once you know who you’ll target, it’s time to do mass quantities of marketing. Before this hit, I would routinely tell my coaching students to do 100 pieces of marketing a month. Now, I think it’s 200.

What type of marketing should you do? It depends on your industry, your personality, and what you’re willing and able to do.

Obviously, in-person networking is out right now. But virtual events are booming, LinkedIn is sizzling hot for connecting with new prospects, and pitch emails still find people, even if they’re working from home.

Don’t overthink. Don’t get emotionally attached to any one pitch. This is a numbers game. You want the largest possible number of people to know who your ideal client is, so they can refer you.

Proactively reach out to prospects, and not with generic, “Hi, I’m a writer, do you need a writer?” messaging. Bring them solutions, concrete ideas of how you could help them succeed in this tough environment.

If you’ve never had to find many prospects at once, know that the list you want already exists, and it’s free. It might be data you get from business databases such as Owler, Hoovers or Manta. It might be tracking who’s getting investor money, as reported on CrunchBase. Or grabbing lists of fast-growing or biggest companies in a sector from your local business weekly, or off the Inc. 5000. 

Check out their websites, see where you might contribute, shoot off a pitch.

If you write for publications, be networking like mad. Everything is shifting so fast, it’s helpful to get an inside line to an editor, so you can ask them what sort of story ideas they need right now.

When the economy is slow, you have to shake more trees to make sure you’ve got enough coconuts in your hand. Again, think of it as an experiment, a crazy beat-the-recession game. If you play to win, you’ll be surprised at how well you do. 

Check out Carol Tice’s new e-book The Recession-Proof Freelancer: A 12-Point Plan for Thriving in Hard Times.

Photo via LightField Studios / Shutterstock 

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