Coronavirus (COVID-19) is having a profound and lasting impact on businesses and freelancers across the world. Almost overnight, the world economy has been turned upside down.
Consequently, we are in the early-stages of a global recession. It represents a more sudden and damaging downturn than previous recessions, although the recovery is expected to be stronger and more robust. We have to remember that this is an unexpected event, and therefore it doesn't come with the same economic weaknesses inherent in previous recessions.
As a designer, you must be wondering: How can I get through this?
How can designers survive the challenges of Covid-19?
In the US, lawmakers passed the largest economic stimulus package in history. A $2 trillion package, twice the size of the one the Obama administration signed into law early into the previous recession, known as the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act).
Businesses can apply for a government-backed and 100% forgivable COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan. You could benefit from $10,000 in free money. The loan, which effectively acts as a grant, could be in your account in 3 working days. A really useful article on how to qualify is published here.
In other countries, such as the UK, Europe and the rest of the world, there are similar schemes in-place. Germany, for example, gave freelancers €5,000 almost immediately. Unfortunately, because of the way governments have set these up, designers, and many self-employed don't always fit the criteria, so you need to pay special attention to the fine print and details.
We can confidently say that this is the first step towards survival. Grab whatever money you can, and do it quickly. Make that your top priority, and if you aren't eligible for any reason, then at least you’ve ticked that off your list. Alongside that, make any cost savings you can too. Many lenders, urged or forced by governments, are offering payment holiday’s, and in some countries landlords are offering rent reductions/rent free periods.
Once you've done whatever you can to get support, either in the form of loans, grants, and reducing costs, there are other proactive steps you can take.
4 Steps for Getting Through These Challenging Times
#1: Communicate with customers
In the early stages of this, life as we knew it seemed to stop. Lockdown, also known as quarantine, had a profound impact on countries and regions with these orders in-place. Many businesses panicked, either laying staff off, or putting them on government-backed job retention schemes, and reducing or slashing investments.
For agencies and self-employed designers, this proved a challenging time. Many lost clients unexpectedly. Projects were put on hold; hence the importance of grabbing any support and funding possible.
At the same time, open lines of communication are more important than ever between clients and designers. And these need to be more open and transparent than before this happened. If you are struggling to maintain pre-pandemic workloads, at least temporarily, then let your clients know.
Keep in mind that with modern tools, you can communicate quite effectively with your clients even though you can’t meet in person. Use the phone, use screen sharing, schedule a web conference, and/or use project tracking tools like Basecamp to effectively manage client projects despite the physical distance.
#2: Secure bookings/future work
Alongside keeping communications open, you need to know that future work and bookings are secure. If you are transparent with clients and prospects, you can ask the same from them. Especially when it comes to retainers, or work you regularly get. Even if the answer isn't what you want — such as projects being cancelled or put on hold — you can take action.
However, if clients confirm that budgets are secure then you can be confident that a relationship is stable going forward, at least in the short-term.
#3: Look for growth opportunities
Beyond your current client list, and sales prospects, look at ways you can grow. In every crisis, there are opportunities. Ways companies and freelancers can work with others who will benefit from their services and skills. Start with your client list (including past clients) and sectors; see what you can do to drive forward growth.
Providing you've got through the initial shocks of this, and kept whatever clients you can, now is the chance to push forward. Don't be afraid of pitching in this client. Remember, your design services and skills help clients. See how you can adapt the services you provide, to help companies keep their customers engaged and interested when more people are online than ever before.
#4: Look after your mental health
Something that needs to be top priority right now and in the months ahead is our mental health.
Mental health has always been important, of course. It should be treat as important as physical health. So under these circumstances, we need to be more mindful of it than ever.
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), “an estimated 2.6 billion people – one-third of the world’s population – is living under some kind of lockdown or quarantine. This is arguably the largest psychological experiment ever conducted.”
Consequences of this are going to last for years. Looking after our mental and physical health, through a wide variety of things, such as going for walks, running, yoga, eating healthily, reading a book, meditating, and anything else that helps is worth doing. Even if this means taking a break from work for a while, you need to be in the right place mentally to maintain client workloads and pursue growth opportunities when it feels right.
Designers are not alone in struggling with this. All of us, at some point, are going to struggle with a range of issues, whether it’s keeping the money flowing or maintaining our mental health. Remember, throughout these challenging times, we are all in this together: look after yourself, and reach out whenever you need more support.