This is a guest post by Vanshika Mehta, an independent brand storyteller and communications consultant. In this post, she elaborates on how she has been managing her freelance business lately, navigating through the difficulties posed by the coronavirus outbreak and following lockdown.
As freelancers and independent consultants, we consciously chose to leave corporate and weather the sunshine and storms alone. While it was sunny and bright, work came in by the bucket loads and all was dandy. But as the storm clouds gathered, the skies became gloomy and dark, and projects have become harder to come by.
Businesses are now cutting down, cutting back and going into survival mode. No one has any clarity on when all will go back to being well, or at least to a new normal.
In these uncertain times, as a member of the fraternity, I wanted to share insights on three topics I thought were not being paid attention to, as much as they should. Money, mental wellbeing and client servicing.
The goal of this post is to share how I’m managing these three critical aspects and possibly serve as inspiration for you and give you the strength to weather this storm.
You are powerful.
For independent consultants/freelancers, this is a point of grave concern as the economy and businesses tumble. Financial literacy and wellness is not something we are adept with. Yet, when disaster strikes, the first thing we think about is money.
There are tons of resources and reading materials out there, but I wanted to focus on three main aspects of financial wellness.
We’ve all heard this term at some point in our life, but never really got down to doing it. Raise your hand if you’re one of them!
Right now, as we move into survival mode, very few of us can forecast the money coming in this month. An even smaller percentage will be able to calculate it for the forthcoming months.
Budgeting rule #1: Never count your chickens before they hatch. With money, until it is credited into your account, income is equal to zero.
Therefore, here’s a simple way to budget for and during this time:
- Calculate what you have currently
- Calculate all expenses, from your rent to your Netflix subscription, till your house helper’s salary
- Discover if there’s a deficit or a surplus
- If there is a deficit, this might come as a rude awakening, but you’re going to have to hustle a little harder to make ends meet
- If there is a surplus, put the excess money into savings
The reason you need to draw up a budget right away is so that you are prepared for what’s to come. Additionally, you are sure you can cover the basics — rent, food, electricity/water. Netflix is not essential.
Savings are extremely important because when your income is unstable or unpredictable, you have something to fall back on. Over time, it is advisable to keep saving/storing away a part of your income.
You do not accumulate wealth overnight.
Here’s a curation of budgeting templates from The Savvy Couple to help you get started
b. Credit-debt cycle trap
If you hold a credit card, your first priority should be to pay off that card. Interest rates on credit cards are high and will keep piling on. With COVID-19 outbreak not slowing down, and uncertainty about income, don’t let last month’s expenses hurt your financial stature today and tomorrow.
Pro-tip: When you’re budgeting, put this money aside first and pay it off.
Additionally, stop spending on the card till you’re confident you can pay it back, without incurring further debt.
c. Emergency fund
Remember we had talked about savings in the first point? Now, there are two kinds of savings – the ‘can be dipped into’, and the ‘cannot be dipped into’. This is the second kind.
This segment is specially created to act as a buffer. Just like savings, you build this with time and patience.
How did I create and maintain an emergency fund?
Since July, when I was working, I’ve been investing in a liquid mutual fund. I do this via Sqrrl, so the money is not visible to me on my banking apps/transaction apps.
How do I do it?
Every income I receive, I split it into three segments:
- Spending money
- Saving money
- Emergency fund money
It took me a long time to get used to being strict about this, and I’m still trying my hardest not to cheat. Saving, and especially an emergency fund require a great deal of mental training and future-oriented thinking.
This is just my experience and advice regarding it. I am not a financial advisor, and I would definitely suggest reading up on tips of budgeting, emergency fund options and also how to grow wealth.
We all want to be stable, and rich, at some point in our lives, right?
2. Mental health
In these gloomy and dark days, it is very easy to feel stressed out. You are worried about your future, the safety and wellbeing of your loved ones, and on top of that, you are bombarded with news related to Covid-19 pandemic.
Stress is not something everyone handles with ease. For some, the stress and the anxiety that follows is fatiguing. Therefore, just as we handle all other aspects of our lives, mental health needs to be given its due space and time.
Here are some tips and tricks I’ve absorbed over time to ensure my mental health stays healthy and robust.
a. Disconnecting from technology/media outlets
With the Coronavirus news being everywhere we turn — from Facebook to Whatsapp till Linkedin — it does get daunting and overwhelming really quickly.
And, the more (negative) information you consume, the heavier it is going to weigh on you. Therefore, it is vital to disconnect and distract yourself.
In the instance that I notice I am beginning to have anxiety or fear, I shut off all technology, close my eyes for 10 minutes and say affirmations to myself.
Affirmations are a powerful tool in believing in yourself. These are statements you say to yourself to uplift and bring in positivity. My two favourite ones are:
- I am strong, capable and smart. I can handle this.
- Work is a part of my life. Work will happen. I know it might be rough now, but it will get better with time.
It’s always a good thing to write your own affirmations since you’ll relate to them closer and it’ll automatically become extremely contextual. I would suggest having at least five and have different ones for different scenarios.
Alternatively, you can meditate for a couple of minutes. Couple meaning 10-30 minutes, depending on how much time you have on hand. I found this resource by Calm, a meditation app, which has curated a page just to handle mental wellbeing during this time. You can access this page here
b. Realising things that are in my control and those that are not
When things are normal, the lines between these aren’t that blurry, and therefore, it really does not cause us much stress. The world around us is as perfect as we expect it to be.
Right now, that is not the case. We are dealing with family-work-life-responsibilities-duties-friends-virtual social life, and the list can go on!
Therefore, to protect my mental wellbeing during these testing times, I’ve modified my schedule so I can control the things I can.
Examples of this are:
- Time to do chores
- Time to work
- Time to scout new clients
- Time to connect with friends/associates
- Time to spend on virtual socialising platforms (Houseparty, my new favourite!)
By taking charge of your day, and scheduling what is in your control or things you know that need to be done — you reduce the chances of uncertainty. Additionally, it gives some structure to your day, so you’re not shuffling around responsibilities based on what comes up.
I use Trello for my scheduling. I make a checklist of items I need to do and make it as detailed as possible. Then, I place them in order of when they need to get done, and as I do so, I move it to the ‘Done’ List.
Bonus: Trello crosses out a task when it’s complete – V.I.C.T.O.R.Y! Pat yourself on the back when you finish a task. It’ll keep you motivated.
If Trello isn’t for you, and you want something within the Google ecosystem, Google Tasks is pretty good too!
c. Setting boundaries
This is one of the most underrated tools, but perhaps the most critical for mental wellness. When you establish your own boundaries, you take charge of the day/task and conquer it on your terms.
Especially now with the lockdown and no face-to-face interactions, it is tough for someone to know, for example, when to call you or ask for a review of something.
Since you are a freelancer/working independently, you have to set these boundaries for yourself, or you’ll see your day slipping by gradually.
One way I do it — have set time for ‘deep work’, where I try to eliminate distractions, and focus exclusively on the tasks at hand. It helps me get through them with ease. I generally also keep my phone on silent at this time and laptop on emergency alerts only.
How do I schedule my day? I like to start my day with calls as it fills it with positivity, and gives me a sense of purpose and direction. Then I work till lunch. Eat lunch. Work. Get on calls later in the afternoon. And continue the cycle. Doing this helps me prioritise and efficiently use time and energy.
A quick hack would be to use Calendly, for example. Here clients can find time on your calendar and book in appointments for themselves. It saves you time doing the back and forth, and since it syncs with your calendar, there is zero chance of a clash!
d. Building a support group
A support group or a mastermind group is a setting wherein you find people in the same situation as you, and you agree to communicate frequently — when you want to check-in, are feeling low, or when you need assistance.
You’ll find many such groups on Whatsapp and now, more than ever, it is essential to be a part of these groups.
A support channel does not have to be large; it could be multiple groups of 3-5 people.
In the groups that I’m part of, we do check-ins whenever we can, we talk about our struggles, we share our hardships and have random banter. I often turn to these groups when I need a boost or a stress-buster.
Now, with Coronavirus, we have begun video calling each other more than ever.
If however, you’re into meeting strangers and want to talk to people within your domain, visit Standuply’s website and get a listing of Slack groups you can join!
3. Client servicing
You’re probably wondering why people don’t talk about this often enough. It could be that either they haven’t crossed that bridge yet, or are hustling to make the business/freelance/consultancy’ work’.
This pandemic outbreak has affected almost all the industries; few exceptions would be EdTech, Networking, Skill Development, HealthTech, InsurTech, and so on.
If you see that your clients are either cutting back or cancelling contracts, I have a piece of advice for you:
Talk to your clients. They’re human. They might not immediately reveal the real reasons behind their actions, but if you have an honest conversation, you’ll probably be able to find out.
They are humans as well. So, empathise with them, step in their shoes and see where they are coming from.
Even if you have to take a pay cut to sustain a longer-term relationship, I would advise you to take it. The market and environment will get better. It’s not going to remain this way forever.
Some of the things that can come out of the conversation are:
- You might discuss contingency and continuity plans. Ride the tide together.
- You might renegotiate the terms of the contract. You might cut down deliverables and cost, to reach an agreement with each other.
Taking into account that you may lose clients during this time, here is how you can make your days proactive, productive and useful:
a. Reengage with old connections
I’m a big believer in community and its strength when it stands together. Right now, with this coronavirus outbreak, it’s us, humans (you, your connections, your clients), against the virus.
Reengaging with old connections could mean a variety of things:
Reaching out to:
- The connections who’ve turned into friends but you haven’t chatted in forever
- The ones you worked with in the past
- The ones you did not work with but had discussions with in the past
- The ones who you think might need more hands-on-deck because their industry is booming
- The contacts who were hiring people in your domain prior to the Coronavirus outbreak
Conversations might lead you down a path you didn’t expect, keeping silent will leave you stagnating.
It’s not all business – it’s human too!
One of the easiest ways to start conversations is to download your Linkedin contact list.
Go down the list of people you’ve connected with, and pick the ones you want to reignite conversations with. Here’s how.
You will still need to ask them for their email and phone number. Linkedin removed these sections from the sheet a couple of years ago.
b. Start exploring other countries for work
This might sound somewhat confusing or stupid, but, not every country is as affected as ours. If you have been keeping up with the news, you’d know.
This means that opportunities in other countries do exist. This presents a unique opportunity to you as the currency exchange rates are favourable right now, and it could just be your first international client.
The platforms you can use to find these clients, and work, are well-known to all of us.
However, there are three things you need to keep in mind when working with clients abroad:
- Ensure payment terms are clear, and written, in a currency you both agree on: My advice would be to do it as per your home currency so that you don’t get ruled over by the exchange rate. If it is for a recurring contract, it also helps you predict income better.
- Ensure you adhere to payment terms: When working with international clients, stick to your payment terms always. It will help you in the long run, and you won’t be taken on a ride later. For instance, if you typically work on a 50-percent-advance scheme, don’t change it.
- Always overcommunicate: If your client is in another country, it does add a level of complexity to the project. Overcommunicate on deliverables because only then you both stay on the same page, always. Be it in written or over phone calls, build trust with them with time before, during and after.
As a Linkedin pro user, here’s a hack. It’s called the boolean search, and here’s how you do it.
- Read up on the boolean rules, available on the Linkedin Help page
- Click on ‘content’ when you’re on the search screen
- Use a custom formula when searching and see Linkedin do the work for you. For example, Looking AND Content AND Canada could be an option for me
To end this article, I would like to revisit affirmations.
- I made the right decision by moving into freelance/independent consultancy
- I am capable of thinking about a better tomorrow and working towards it
- I am not going to let temporary setbacks affect me longer than they need to
- I am creative and will work my way up and around what’s happening in the outside world
- I will be patient and understanding with my clients
Vanshika is a brand storyteller and communications consultant. With an undergraduate degree in Marketing and Management from Northeastern University in Boston, and 4+ years of experience, Vanshika joined the ‘independent consultant’ tribe in early 2020. She works with high-growth startups and emerging companies to convey their messaging to their audiences in the best possible fashion. She’s worked across EdTech, SaaS, Design and more.