Your gigs may have dried up, your contracts cancelled, and your future looks bleak. You’re running low on binge-worthy series, your grandma can’t figure out Zoom, and you never want to see another box of mac and cheese.
The Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation has issued an alarming forecast: While over 11% of Americans are currently unemployed, that number could increase to 26% by year-end if we experience a second COVID wave.
Right now, when the earth seems to be standing still, it may feel like you have no way forward.
In fact, you do. You have many options you may not have explored. Let’s open that toolbox and see what we can find.
1. Take care of yourself.
You’re the only one who can do that. The most important relationship to maintain now is your relationship with yourself, and maybe even strengthen it. Pull out emails of positive feedback from clients, reread some of your own best writing or photos or spreadsheets or strategic plans, re-read a note from a family member or dear friend. Remind yourself of how valuable you and your work are.
You have time now, like never before, to refresh your self-esteem. If you can do that, you will get maximum value from investing in the tips that follow. If you don’t, your lack of confidence may subtly seep into your interactions.
2. Become a super communicator.
Make a personal phone call to your clients and potential clients, not just to get more work, but to see how they’re doing. How are they adapting to the isolation or work-at-home directives? Find out if their core business has collapsed or is weakened, ask what they’re doing to compensate.
Consider sharing a positive anecdote, something resourceful one of your other clients is trying. Tell them you’ll continue to be in touch.
3. Ask the magic question.
“How can I help?” Your client’s answer could be anything from, “I don’t need help,” to “Please let me out of our contract/give me a refund.” To the first: “Just want you to know I’m thinking of you.” To the latter, you might offer options, like a 10% discount, payment over three months, or an extra (small) job for free or half price.
Based on what you’ve learned about the status of their business, you may be able to come up with something new or additional to what you do for them now. This is the time to pitch it.
4. Join virtual groups.
Or start one. These can provide invaluable networking opportunities, not to mention support systems. For example, www.OnlineGeniuses.com calls itself, “The Largest Slack Community for Marketers.” On www.Meetup.com you can find an endless supply of interest groups or create one of your own: remote employees, women who code, professionals with children at home who are distance learning, etc., etc.
5. Upgrade your online profile.
Now you have time to spend on this task which can fall off the calendar when you’re hard at work. Remember – this is your personal brand. It deserves as much attention and maintenance as does that of any major corporation.
- Make yourself findable. You know the drill. Create profiles on LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, and a professional Facebook page. Twitter: make sure you tweet at least once a day.
- If you’re confident in your writing skills, consider creating a personal website or blog.
- List any projects you’ve done since you last updated your resume.
- Be specific about your skills.
- Shamelessly list your achievements.
- Collect recommendations.
6. Find out who’s hiring.
Yes, some companies are. This is a time to apply your transferable skills to new industries. Contractors with experience in customer service, project management, content writing, and programming are in high demand. These are some of the top industries hiring right now:
- Software and IT
- Tech Support
- Education and Training Companies
- Grocery Stores and Home Good Stores
- Customer Service
- Accounting & Finance
Prepare yourself to be ready to expand your offerings. What can you learn that will make you more valuable to existing clients and more attractive to potential clients? Whether it’s writing or coding or analyzing financial markets, you have time to pursue it. Thousands of individuals and institutions now are offering training free or for an extended free trial.
- Professional Development for Office Workers offers a curated list of courses to improve your work from time management to networking to customer service skills.
- Udacity focuses on tech. It “partners with more than 30 leading companies – Google, AT&T, Facebook, Amazon and Mercedes Benz among them – to create and tailor courses that teach the specific skills these employers are looking for.” Udacity is awarding free tech training to American workers laid off as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
- Learn or re-learn a programming language. Unemployment offices around the country are struggling to process hundreds of thousands of claims on their antiquated systems. Several states, including New Jersey, Connecticut, and Kansas, still use COBOL, and they’re scrambling to find programmers. IBM is offering a free COBOL programming course.
8. Brainstorm for your customers.
You might be able to imagine business ideas for your customers that they haven’t thought of. They are, of course, immersed in managing whatever damage their company is experiencing. Just as sit-down restaurants have pivoted to take-out and reduced occupancy, you may help your clients rethink their own business models. And, best case scenario, you’ll demonstrate how they will need your services as they move forward.
9. Fill up your calendar.
This is true now more than ever: Scheduled time drives out unscheduled time. That means, if you don’t have a certain task on your calendar, it likely won’t get done. Even when it feels unlimited, time is not, even in this weird period of enforced idleness.
We know, it’s tough to decide what to wear today for the walk from the kitchen to the living room. But it’s still important to have an itinerary to keep you focused and on track. Call it a to-do list. Whatever it is, it will keep your calendar from looking empty. Create entries for every call, email, and card. Schedule time to search for online training, virtual networks. And be certain to record dates and times for follow-ups with your clients.
10. Get all that’s coming to you.
Make sure you have received the full benefit of the CARES Act and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program (https://www.dol.gov/coronavirus/unemployment-insurance), as well as any additional local or state aid packages that may apply to you or your business.
Over 13 million freelancers and gig workers have received unemployment assistance through the PUA program, and while these benefits may expire at the end of July, another stimulus package may be passed. Be sure to regularly check the news and government resources for updates.
11. Give your work away.
There is no time better than the present to volunteer your services to nonprofits enduring the pandemic. Not only will you gain the satisfaction of making a positive contribution, volunteering may give you the opportunity to try out new skills or even a new career.
The organization Fast Forward is facilitating these connections, focusing on tech nonprofits. They have opportunities for a wide range of jobs, from board positions to fulfilling needs for engineering and design. “Social distancing shouldn’t be a barrier to touching human lives.”