How to Manage Your Freelance Finances During a Crisis
Have you ever heard of disaster recovery and business continuity? Basically, they’re processes that enable businesses to survive a crisis — no matter what it’s caused by: a natural disaster, economic downturn, personal emergency, or something else.
There’s a lot involved, but one of the most important parts of recovery is how the company manages their finances before and during a crisis. This isn’t just for large corporations, mind you. These practices are really useful for businesses of all sizes, from solo freelancers to enterprises.
If you’re reading this, then you’re probably wondering what you can do to manage your freelance finances when you’re in the midst of a crisis. That’s what I’m going to lay out for you today.
Step 1: Contact Your Clients
Before you start crunching the numbers, you need to figure out how your business has actually been impacted. Plus, by getting in contact with your clients before you look at your finances, you can go into the conversation with a clear head and without the pressure of, “I really need this money right now.”
If the current crisis only impacts you, do the following:
- Take care of yourself first;
- When you’re recovered or in a safe place, email each of your clients;
- Inform them of your status and if anything has changed with your availability to work for them.
If the current crisis impacts your clients or the globe as a whole, do the following:
- Take care of yourself first, if you’re impacted;
- Email each of your clients;
- Wish them well, briefly and professionally address the crisis, and let them know that you’re still here to help if they need it (and if you’re available for it).
Here’s a sample of a “Checking in” message you might send:
Hi [client name],
I hope you and your family are doing well and are staying safe.
I realize that this is an uncertain time for everyone, so I just wanted to let you know that my schedule is flexible and I can accommodate whatever changes you might need. If you need to hit the pause button on our project or adjust the timeline or scope until things have gone back to normal, please let me know what I can do to help.
Not only will this touchpoint help you maintain relationships with clients during a crisis, it’ll give you immediate insight into how your incoming revenue is going to change. The same goes for your clients — by reaching out in this manner, you can help them plan their own budget for the coming months or locate another source of help if you become unavailable.
Step 2: Take Stock of Your Cash
One of the things web designers should do to manage their freelance finances is to make regular deposits into a rainy day fund. You might hear some people say that you need three months’ of rent saved while others suggest having at least $1000 to cover basic expenses.
If you’re curious to see how much you actually need to cover expenses and how long it’ll take to get back up and running, run your numbers through Money Under 30’s Emergency Fund Calculator:
If you don’t have a rainy day fund, then you’re going to have to look at the rest of your cash and assets to see how it can help you recover during this crisis. Here are some things to look for:
- Money in a checking or savings account meant strictly for expenses (business or personal);
- Food in your house that can hold you over for awhile and keep you from grocery shopping as frequently as normal;
- Gift cards, frequent flyer miles, free hotel nights, credit card points, and anything else that can cover some of your expenses until things return to normal.
This is not the time to dip into your retirement savings or to pull your money out of investments. When you get through this crisis — and you will — you’re not going to want to start all over again replenishing these accounts. Nor will you want to pay the fees for early withdrawal when the next tax season rolls around.
It’s probably not a good idea to take out loans either. You don’t want to be stuck with an additional expense when this is all over.
If you’re light on cash, keep reading.
Step 3: Cut Down on All Your Expenses Immediately
Once you have an idea of how your incoming revenue is going to change, it’s time to cut back on both professional and personal spending.
If business has stopped, shut off as many business expenses as possible. Or look for ways to downgrade your plans (e.g. web hosting, app subscriptions, wifi, etc.) until you need them running on high again.
If business is operating but at a slower pace, you probably won’t be able to dig much into your professional expenses since you’ll need most things to keep going. If you absolutely need to make cuts, make a list of priorities. What can’t you operate without? Then, reduce or remove the rest.
As far as personal expenses are concerned, this is where you’re going to cut deep. Identify areas where you could start spending less ASAP. For example:
- Dining out or ordering in vs. cooking the food you have;
- Emotional spending splurges on Amazon vs. using what you already have;
- Date nights out vs. staying in together;
- Buying brand name products vs. buying generics;
- Watching TV on cable vs. using cheaper streaming services;
- Paying for a gym membership vs. using workout streaming programs or apps;
- Going to a cowork space vs. working from home.
The one thing you might be tempted to ditch or cut back on that you shouldn’t is health insurance. Even if this crisis isn’t one that affects you physically or emotionally, you don’t want to be left without that safety net in case something happens while you get your business back on its feet.
For everything else, make your cuts and go deep. Then, use that to create your budget until the crisis resolves and things stabilize.
Step 4: Negotiate with Your Lenders
There are so many reasons why experiencing a personal, professional, or global crisis sucks. But watching your bills pile up while you already feel so helpless amidst the chaos has got to be one of the worst.
Thankfully, many lenders (e.g. credit card companies, loan providers, mortgage companies) will cut you some slack during this time. You just have to be willing to ask for it.
In some cases, you may be able to negotiate a lower monthly payment until you get back on your feet. This’ll give you some breathing room in case your revenue takes a dive.
In other cases, you may be able to ask for a lower interest rate or to freeze it altogether. While you’ll still owe normal monthly payments, the interest fees that stack up won’t be as devastating to deal with later on.
Another thing you can do is only pay the minimum owed each month. It’s not ideal, but it’ll at least provide you with a buffer in case you need that extra cash. And if you don’t, then you can put it towards your debt at the end of the month.
Step 5: Look for Other Ways to Make Money
If your business or your clients’ businesses are impacted by the crisis, you need a way to make money until things go back to normal.
As a web designer, there are other things you can do in the meantime to support yourself:
Enter a New Niche
Contact business owners in niches that are thriving during the crisis and need a website built or maintained. For example, health crises tend to keep medical equipment suppliers and pharma companies busy. If you’re comfortable building sites for companies outside your niche, it’s worth reaching out.
Become a Tutor
While you could create design or coding courses and sell them through a site like Udemy or Skillshare, it takes time to build up an audience and make good money on those platforms. Instead, use something like Tutors.com or Wyzant to share your skills with others right away.
Work as a VA
There are tons of people who need help with the technical aspects of getting online and using cloud-based services. While virtual assistant work is usually associated with doing random business support tasks, you could adapt this to your particular set of skills and become an IT assistant.
For instance, if a crisis forces people to work from home or take classes remotely, you could help get organizations set up with shared cloud workspaces, virtual conferencing software, collaboration apps, and so on.
Even if you have rainy day funds to cover you during a crisis, it might be a good idea to get another gig anyway. That way, you’ll stay busy and won’t obsess about the crisis or the impact it’s having on you and everyone else.
There are a lot of big decisions and compromises you’ll have to make during a crisis, but it is possible for you and your freelance business to get through it in one piece.
If you want to make it easier on yourself next time, manage your freelance finances on a regular basis — not just during a crisis. Keep costs low, income high, and your cash reserves growing at all times.
Featured image via Unsplash.