We are living in a truly unprecedented time with the COVID-19 outbreak and the abrupt halt of media production throughout the world. This shutdown affects union workers and freelancers alike. Unfortunately for many freelancers, safety nets such as unemployment, healthcare, benefit funds, or saleable assets may be limited. Without your steady stream of gigs, what can you do to stay solvent during a pandemic?
- Be proactive and don't panic. While the government may be drafting checks for its citizens, possibly delay the date for income tax-filing, and potentially offer federally guaranteed loans for small businesses in the upcoming stimulus package, you should not wait while the rest of your bills add up. Do not rely on donations or crowdfunding to supplement your income, as nearly everyone’s income is affected. Accept that no one has foresight into the duration of this production blackout and that you must act now.
- Contact your banks, credit cards, and lenders about your debts including credit card bills, mortgages, leases, and lines of credit. In light of the coronavirus’ economic impact, banks are working with their customers in refunding interest charges and late fees, or deferring monthly payments. Speak with your home utilities, cell phone, and internet provider too. Do not wait until you’re about to default on your debts—do this right away.
- Did you call your landlord about your rent? There is no guarantee rent can be waived for a month, or that rent is reduced, but you should let your landlord know about your situation and see what can be done. Also, check your state or city to see if evictions are on pause during this crisis. If there is no pause on evictions, now is the time to call your local and state representatives to tell them that you, and many others like you, need help now.
- Consider pivoting with your skillset. Can you work remotely from home? What special skills do you have that could benefit your clients or local businesses? What can you do on a consultation basis? How can you help a business with live streaming, content creation for web distribution, or getting their work seen on social networks? Can you edit, create graphics, master audio, write blogs, or shoot video updates? While these jobs may not have a large budget, you can focus on volume and fast turnaround. Additionally, businesses are willing to also offer trades for your time and reduced fees.
- Get creative and look at where there’s a demand for labor. Ask yourself if you have a talent that can be streamed and monetized? Does your local news station need shooters, writers, or technicians? Are you able to transcribe video content, or offer translation services? Can you remotely help less computer savvy clients with simple tech support such as using an FTP, sending attachments over email, or navigating Youtube? If you’re able bodied, is there work available through Amazon, USPS, FedEx, or your local grocery stores? How can you use those jobs not just for supplemental income, but as opportunities to find new clients for your filmmaking, audio recording, or graphic design business?
- If you’re in dire need of help, look to your local charities for assistance with food, clothes, shelter, or financial relief. Remember it is OK to ask for help as these organizations are created to help people just like you in times of crisis. Also, keep in touch with what unions and guilds like SAG-AFTRA or IATSE are doing for freelancers. At the time of writing this article, both unions are providing information about what resources are becoming available to freelancers in financial peril, and actions that freelancers can take in contacting their representatives for relief.
Remember to take a deep breath and not panic. Keep in contact with your colleagues, friends, and family, and stay attuned to what new skills or services rise in demand during this pandemic.