Hey Freelancer! What Now?!

Ok. As I write this, Manila is about to be locked down in a few hours time. Most of my social media feeds are riddled with updates on COVID-19, locations of groceries, and possible restrictions on our movements for a good month. How this is all panning out is subject for debate. But for all it’s worth, there are important lessons to be picked up out of this situation.

I am freelance photographer, and dwell at end of the food chain of advertising. Because of this pandemic, most if not all of my work has been put on hold or cancelled outright, costing potential income for the foreseeable future. Now I’m not alone. An entire industry is hurting simply because of most it is comprised of freelancers like myself who specialize in a particular part of the advertising and production process.

That’s us doing a DoT x Jollibee campaign shoot.

We rely on incoming work provided to us by various ad agencies and clients. With COVID-19, we suddenly find ourselves dwindling thumbs on what do for almost a month while we ride this out. Below are just some things I thought of sharing; industry lessons this pandemic is currently teaching us and things we can carry moving forward.

This article has nothing to do with medical and preparation stuff, there are various sources for those.

Buffer funds would save your life. Freelance work is feast or famine. Unlike FTEs (Full Time Employees), we don’t have a baseline salary to rely on a monthly basis. Just because the going is good, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be like that forever, no matter how euphoric you may feel at the moment. Always remember to bleed yourself a bit and stash away a percentage of your paycheck into a buffer fund when the lean season comes. How much you may ask?

Going top down is about revenue. This would be computing based on your average monthly earnings for a year. The previous year can be a good measure. As much as 6 months worth is a good rule of thumb. Basically half of what you earned last year — make sure you have that amount in the bank.

Bottom up is about computing expenses. This might require an additional step like tracking down how much Starbucks you have spent or Grab rides taken, (we have all the time now, right?) but this would give us better perspective on the lifestyle we tend to live on when the money is good.

I suggest doing both. Whichever yields the higher figure, that’s how much you should be saving up for your buffer fund. Hurts? Yes, you might need to scrimp on those lattes for awhile. Put this a separate bank account that you by habit won’t be seeing often.

There was this article some time ago about steps full timers need to heed before taking the plunge on free lancing. Interesting side read. Also another side note, you can check out this expense tracking app. Been using this for awhile, and it has helped me heaps on how I’ve been spending over the past months.

Stay Creative. People like me tend to get antsy when nothing is in the calendar. That translates to no incoming paycheck to collect months down the line. That in turn causes anxiety. But productivity is what you make of it. Instead of getting mentally bogged down and worrying about when the next client would call, use this time to come up with ideas like mood boards, wish lists, etc… for a dream shoot you may have. Creativity is a muscle. The more you flex it, the faster is reacts. Don’t let your training down.

It’s so easy to wallow over lost gigs, but we tend to get paralyzed by those thoughts. Move on. Move forward.

Organize your shit. We spend most of our week chasing after meetings, hustling our craft around that we tend to neglect keeping house. What do I mean by keeping house? A freelancer’s body of work is our testimony of what we can do. Clients we have now are clients we have now. But what about clients we don’t know we can snag with just a glance at our work? Given we have forced downtime (not just for us in the gig economy), spend this more productively by updating your portfolio with the recent work that’s been released.

This might also be the time to fix up any pending paperwork you need for your business. ITR season is coming up and it seems like the BIR isn’t adjusting the deadlines.

Speaking of organizing your shit, as a photographer… back your shit up. During crazy shooting weeks, I tend forget this habit and live on the fly. use this down time to catch up on your backup backlog and then make it a habit to back up once a week, at least.

When this blows over (and it will), be ready to have a hectic schedule once again.

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