Like many people, I was hit hard by the pandemic. 2020 started well enough, including a huge two-month project for a Commission. But just days before lockdown, I was let go from the newspaper where I’d been freelance subeditor for some years and all my commercial work got cancelled as the businesses that had booked me battened down their financial hatches. All that was left was the last week of work on that big project. Then nothing. For the first time in 15 years of working for myself, I was 100% workless.
Normally I’d never admit this. But I was not alone. I heard countless similar tales from other freelances. For a few weeks I seriously contemplated getting a supermarket job. I had bills to pay, after all. I even got as far as filling out half an application form for one supermarket. But, as the public clamoured to “build back better”, I decided to do the same.
It was tough. New website, new newsletter, more and better marketing, a few webinars to learn new skills, a training course to learn how to edit medical comms – I did it all. And gradually work started to return. Early this month I got hired for three long-term projects, but before you say “oh no, I was just about to book you but now you’re not free” – yes, I am. All the new projects will still leave me free to work for you. And you. And you.
I have learned a lot
Resilience is the best quality: I’ve always been strong, and I’ve been good at bouncing back from some of my life’s most challenging situations. I was able to draw on that in 2020 to rebuild my business, bank balance and sanity. Never underestimate the power of keeping going – you’ll get to where you want to be eventually.
Envy is pointless: I looked furiously at some colleagues who were still busy. Why them? Why not me? Especially the ones who’d only just started freelancing. But who knew what trouble they too might be in? For all I knew, just because they seemed busy, it didn’t mean they too weren’t struggling. I felt better when I let go of the envy and focused on building back. That too was better for my mental health.
It’s ok to ask for help: So I did. I’m generally a lot crap about asking for help, but I did. I was honest on social media, in the forums of my professional bodies and to friends offline about being in a hole. They helped keep my spirits up and some also put work my way. I gave interviews (one on video) to two other journalists who used lockdown to examine how freelances had been hit. You can read the print one on Google Drive (PDF). I also did a turn as a guest speaker at the NUJ’s London Freelance Branch (on Zoom, naturally) on what I did to get back on my feet. My honesty inspired others and brought more work my way. It’s good to be honest. No one is totally alone.
Look forward: I decided, after half-heartedly applying for that supermarket job, that I was still my own boss. I reminded myself that I still wanted to be my own boss, rather than someone’s employee. Looking forward was crucial – there was no point dwelling on what I’d lost. Looking forward helped me make some big decisions. I’d commuted to that paper once a week, sometimes twice, but I decided no matter what I didn’t want to be on a train again in the midst of a pandemic. Looking forward meant thinking about what I didn’t want, as much as what I did. For the first time in my self-employment I participated in a webinar on setting goals. So I set a couple for 2021.
So, what now?
Bring on 2021!
I have set my goals for the coming year and I’ll be reviewing them every month. One of them was to find three new long-term contracts – two of them already found me, so that’s a good start. And I want to grow my newsletter too – I’ve set a target number of new subscribers. Do sign up – I offer language tips every month for all you business writers out there, as well as chat about the world of editing and what I’ve been reading or doing.
And don’t forget – I will still have availability to provide you with editorial support when you need it.
I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2021 – let’s face it, it HAS to be better than 2020.
(PS – I’m signed up to start participating in a Covid vaccine trial from mid-January. Wish me luck!)