The Born Freelancer on the COVID-19 Crisis

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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It seems to me we freelancers are in a unique position during this crisis.

Unique, in this case, being both good and bad.

We are psychologically better prepared than most to adapt to the rapidly-evolving circumstances being forced upon us. But we are also among the most easily compromised financially as freelancers are always the first to get “the chop”.

First, to our strengths.

Some generalizations. We are used to working at home. Often but not always alone. Usually with little or no direction. We continuously have to reinvent ourselves. We must be frugal. We know how to save! We must be strong enough to handle pressure, deadlines, rejection, disappointment.

We must also be sensitive enough to understand the hopes and fears of others. We are good at networking. We are good at planning and adapting to new circumstances.

The list goes on.

And so for many of us the initial hardships forcing others into minor meltdowns, such as working from home, are already part of our lifestyle. We are no strangers to the nature of the challenges that now face all of us – namely, adapting to enormous change that mutates daily.

Our troubles are more related to where we are on the employment “food chain”. We are usually the first to be let go and the easiest for employers and government to exclude from any mandated benefits. So we must be prepared to look out for ourselves as much as possible – while also helping those around us.

Finances

Our financial well-being will be the first concern for most of us.

Will work continue to come in? (No one knows.) If it does will the post office continue to deliver my cheques? (Better arrange for direct deposit if this is a concern.)

It is very likely in the short term that many or most freelancing jobs may simply vanish as companies shutdown and grind to a halt. (I know mine have.)

Eventually as more and more of their presence revamps and goes online there should be expanding opportunities for freelancers to contribute again. The trick will be to stay ready and vigilant for such circumstances to emerge. And meanwhile to stay healthy and well in body and mind.

If you haven’t already, make a budget. How much do you spend. How much do you get in income. How much do you have in savings. (No point in touching your TFSA or RSP if they contain stocks unless you absolutely have to do so. You will have taken a brutal hit. But they will come back given enough time.)

Now looking at reduced income you must look at reduced spending. What are your absolute essentials? Rent. Food. Hydro. Phone. Figure out how much you have or will have and how long you can make it last. Tighten that belt! Cut all non-essentials. We are looking at an ordeal of multiple months here, not weeks, so plan on that basis.

The government says it has plans to help freelancers and those who normally do not qualify for EI. This is a rapidly evolving situation so refer to the government website for the latest details.

However, as of March 20th, 2020, our sister guild, The Writers Guild of Canada, issued the following statement in an email to its membership:

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“The federal government has unveiled a sweeping emergency plan in response to the COVID-19 pandemic worth $82 billion—a full $27 billion is allocated for direct financial support for Canadian citizens and another $55 billion has been allocated to tax deferrals.

FOR INDIVIDUALS

1. EMERGENCY CARE BENEFIT (TEMPORARY INCOME SUPPORT FOR WORKERS AND PARENTS) It will provide up to $900 biweekly for up to 15 weeks to support workers who have to stay home, but don’t have access to paid sick leave. Canadians will be able to apply online, do not have to provide a doctor’s note, and will receive payment via direct deposit.

Applications will be accepted through the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA’s) MyAccount secure portal, the My Service Canada Account, or by calling a toll-free number equipped with an automated application process. APPLICATION INFORMATION WILL BE PUBLISHED IN EARLY APRIL. The following people are eligible to receive this benefit:

* Workers, including the self-employed, who are sick, quarantined, or who have been directed to self-isolate but do not qualify for EI sickness benefits.

* Workers, including the self employed who are taking care of a family member sick with COVID-19, or other dependent(s), but do not qualify for EI sickness benefits. * EI-eligible and non-EI-eligible working parents who must stay home without pay because of children who are sick or need additional care because of school closures.

2. COVID-19 EMERGENCY SUPPORT BENEFIT (LONGER-TERM INCOME SUPPORT FOR WORKERS) Also delivered through CRA, this benefit is for self-employed and part-time workers who do not qualify for EI and are facing unemployment as a result of COVID’s impact. Payments will be comparable with current EI rates. DETAILS REGARDING THE APPLICATION PROCESS AND PAYMENTS WILL BE AVAILABLE IN APRIL.

3. ADDITIONAL SUPPORT A number of measures were also enacted to help individuals further manage resources during this time including:

* Boosted payment amounts of the Canada Child Benefit. Those will go out automatically with the next round of payments.

* The big six banks are instituting a six-month mortgage payment deferral program (please speak with your individual banks for details)

* A six-month, interest-free reprieve on student loan payments has been enacted

* The Goods and Services Tax credit (GSTC) will be raised for modest and low- income Canadians, up to $400/individual or $600/couple

* The tax deadline for individuals has been extended to June 1. Taxpayers can defer payments due on taxes until at least August 31, 2020.”

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Our thanks to the WGC for sharing this information.

So help could be on the way depending upon your individual circumstances.

But it may take some time to get it.

Daily routine

It is important during times of greatest stress and anxiety to create and stick to a regular routine. With in-person meetings at cafes, drop-ins to the library and such now banned, use of the old fashioned telephone (or more up-to-date social media platforms) has never been more important.

Schedule time each day to contact former employers to see how they are doing. They may or may not be in a position to reply at the moment but you want them to know you can still help, remotely.

Next, keep in contact with colleagues near and far. We are social creatures and even if we must live with social distancing as the new reality for the foreseeable future it is no excuse for psychological distance.

And since many of us are, by nature, often reclusive and curmudgeonly, it means we can more easily fall prey to deeper depression and ill health than others with stronger personal networks to check up on them.

Schedule time to work on projects that mean something special to you. That long cherished idea for a novel. Or screenplay. You could start a podcast. Or new blog. Whatever. The important thing is to keep writing, keep working, even if income has been reduced or is curtailed. You must keep on keeping on doing what you do best.

Finally, I hope it is not necessary to say that you should keep in good contact with friends, family and neighbours. (This should realistically be your first priority!)

Sharing our concerns and solutions is one of the most important ways to help us all get through any crisis. The cliche we hear so often is true and accurate – we are all in this together.

Hygiene

I won’t insult you with reminding you what you need to do. You are hopefully doing it already.

However, pay extra attention to regular cleaning of your keyboard or tablet. You don’t want to know how many germs and bacteria lurk there even at the best of times!

News

Keep informed as to the latest developments that you need to know. But don’t be ashamed if you have to switch off at some point and listen to music or read a book or go for a walk. (Walking is always a really good idea for as long as we can. Keep social distance at all times.)

We can only absorb so much bad news. Sometimes it pays good-health dividends to get away from it all – even if only temporarily.

The takeaway

We are now in a worldwide crisis, unparalleled in living memory, the likes of which we could not have predicted even a month ago. How long it will last, and what its long term consequences will be, nobody knows.

What I do know…

It is a time during which things will get worse before they improve.

It is a time to put the good of the community first.

It is a time to be extra kind to family, friends, neighbours, colleagues – even strangers –  and most importantly ourselves.

It is a time to look after our health and the health of those nearest and dearest.

It is a time to start that long delayed screenplay, novel or collection of short stories.

It is a time to remember that we will eventually get through all of this. And when it is over, the way we have gotten through it and the hard lessons we have (hopefully) learned will inform how we move forward in future.

For now it is a matter of – to paraphrase Churchill during WWII – staying calm and keep buggering (muddling) on!

Good luck to all of us.

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Do you have any thoughts or comments on freelancing in the age of Covid-19? Please share your thoughts and add your comments below.

Posted on March 24, 2020 at 2:54 pm by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

3 Responses

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  1. Written by Jamila Christie
    on March 28, 2020 at 2:55 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    A good read, thank you for all the advise – I feel well supported

  2. Written by Erin Gleig
    on March 30, 2020 at 12:57 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    You’re right about being able to adapt to change easily. I’ve found that many who are now working from home due to Covid-19 are finding it difficult. Thanks for the resource.

  3. Written by Lyn Jones
    on April 11, 2020 at 1:56 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Always solid advice given. Reassuring to all the freelancers out there in these scarey times!

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