The Freelancer’s Guide to Surviving the Economic Crisis

I’m an optimist.  I always try to see the good in every situation.  When some people see spoiled milk, I see cottage cheese.  The economic crisis that we’re in right now is a serious issue.  With banks failing and stocks crashing, we’re witnessing events that no one has experienced since World War II.  People are losing their jobs, their homes and seeing their savings evaporate.

With all these unfortunate events happening all over the world, most of us are worried about what the next few months or years will bring.  I am no different; I too worry about where my next paycheck will come from but like I said, I’m an optimist.  When life gives me lemons, I make lemon meringues; so when I see all this turmoil around me, I try not to focus on the negative things, instead, I try to see opportunities.  Hopefully, this article can arouse your spirits and help you to navigate through this economic crisis and maybe even come out ahead.

Let me first state that I am by no means a financial advisor or an economist.  I have never experienced anything like what is going on in the world right now, so please take my advice lightly.  My advice to you is based mostly on opinion, common sense and my experience as a freelance graphic designer.  With that said, I hope you will find my advice helpful in the days ahead.

Use This Time as an Opportunity to Invest

Yes, I said invest!  A low market isn’t always a bad thing.  If you’re new to the whole investment thing, now is the perfect time to buy.  You don’t make money by purchasing expensive stocks; you make it by purchasing them when they’re cheap and selling them when they’re not.  The people who feel the crisis in the stock market the most are people who have been investing for some time.  For those people, they’re seeing the value of their investments decrease.  That can be a scary thing to have happen but remember you only lose money if you sell something for less than you paid for it so try not to do anything that you might regret later.

Choose Your Clients Carefully
In this tumultuous economic climate it is common for businesses to close suddenly and unexpectedly.  Don’t put yourself in a situation where you do work for a client only to see them go out of business before you get paid.

When a business is going through hard times, it is not uncommon for them to increase their advertising.  For them, it’s a gamble; they increase their advertising hoping to increase revenues and pull themselves out of the hole.  The problem is that this doesn’t always work.

If it doesn’t work, it is common for a business to declare bankruptcy to escape all their debt.  A business that declares bankruptcy doesn’t have to pay you, even though you did the work in good faith.  If you’re worried about the financial stability of one of your clients, protect yourself and make sure that they pay you before you do the work and not after.

Keep an Eye out for Companies Looking to Outsource Their Design Staff
In this economic climate, many companies are reluctant to add any new design staff.  What this means is that they are more-likely to hire freelancers to do the work that they may have used in-house designers for in the past.  This is a common thing to happen in the design field, in order to cut costs; companies will outsource their design jobs to freelancers like you and me.  Think about this when you’re looking at potential clients.  It may open some new doors for you.

Capitalize on the Advantages of Being a Freelancer
As a freelancer, you’re not bound to any one job.  You have quite a bit of flexibility in how, where and when you work.  This is an advantage that conventional in-house designers lack.  This means that you can cut costs by working from home, and by conserving money that you might otherwise spend on gas or other work-related expenses.

Seek Out Lots of Small Jobs

There are two types of ways to make money as a freelancer: by taking on one huge job or by taking on lots of smaller ones.  With decreased revenues and a lack of credit, companies may be reluctant to spend thousands of dollars on a new website or a direct mail campaign.  In this economic climate, companies are looking for a one-night-stand not a marriage, so keep an eye out for companies that have a lot of small jobs that they need to get done.  These types of jobs are great for freelancers because you can start and finish them quickly and because you don’t have to think about them again after you’re finished.

Look for Jobs in Non-Profit Sector

One thing that always surprises me about people is their generosity.  You might think that during an economic crisis people would hoard their money, hoping to save it for an emergency.  While that might be true in some cases, it is also true that during economic hardship, donations to charitable organizations actually increase.  This means that charitable and non-profit organizations might need an extra hand to update their website or design materials for a new fundraising campaign.  So keep a look out for charities in your area that may be looking for design help.

Look for Work in Politics or Government

Even during an economic downturn, politicians and government agencies always have money.  Even though the elections are winding down in the United States for 2008, you can bet there loads of politicians getting ready for elections in 2009 and 2010.  Politicians and government agencies are always needing logos, business cards, yard signs, direct mail pieces or informational brochures so keep an eye out for these types of jobs.  They pay well and they are easy to do.

I hope that this article has given you some ideas on how to protect yourself during these hard economic times.  I also hope that this article has helped to calm your fears about the days to come.  Like I said earlier, I am by no means an economist nor can I predict the future.  I have no idea what the days ahead have in store for us.  I can only say that I have faith in the economic system and believe that in time, the markets will stabilize and recover.  I can only hope that we learn from our mistakes and that we are stronger for it in the end.

What I do know is that the design community is both strong and flexible.  As designers, we are always learning new technologies and techniques; we are an adaptable group and I am optimistic that we will all overcome this unfortunate situation.

Grant Friedman

Grant Friedman is a graphic design, blogger, and author. In addition to being the founder of this website, Grant is also the editor of Psdtuts, one of the world's most popular tutorial websites.

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  • The Freelancer’s Guide to Surviving the Economic Crisis

    The economic crisis that we’re in right now is a serious issue. With banks failing and stocks crashing, we’re witnessing events that no one has seen in the last 100 years. This article offers some advice for freelancers hoping to navigate this econom…

  • I think that all of your points are valid ones. The go after small jobs point can be problematic. Often a small job can be as big of a challenge as a large one. Without the benefit of a larger payday. It’s important to weed out the ones that are not going to be worth it. Yes you may be turning away certain jobs. But what you save in time and frustration will be worth it.

  • I’m brazilian and things here are not too bad yet…
    But I also say: “I always try to see the good in every situation.”


  • I’m mexican and here our bones are starting to tremble… If you dont mind i will take your article and post it on my blog, after traduce it to spanish because i haven’t succeed to find this kind of information for spanish speakers, and i think more than one must be worry about this matter.
    Thank you very much for your post and.. good luck!

  • Very timely article for many I’m sure. You make several good points. Being a freelancer, you need to remember what benefits you do have, one being great flexibility. I think we all need to be open to taking new kinds of jobs and looking at different markets to make it through this economic period.

  • Matt

    Excellent article overall, but I think you went overboard in the introduction.

    With banks failing and stocks crashing, we’re witnessing events that no one has seen in the last 100 years.

    Really? Ever heard of the Great Depression? The economic pains of the late 1920s far exceed anything we’re seeing today, and that was 90 years ago.
    I’m all for hyperbole, but let’s not be downright disingenuous.
    I’m not trying to nitpick, honestly. I just think a little perspective is in order when we’re considering all this. On the whole, excellent tips for freelancers however.

  • Thanks for all the comments everyone. @Matt, you’re right the Great Depression did far exceed anything we’re seeing today. What I meant to say was that this is the most significant economic event to happen since. I edited the introductory paragraph to reflect that. Thanks for pointing out my mistake.

  • Great thoughts. It can be a tricky time, but in the long run I think it will have much less impact on freelancers than those you are full-time employees because of your third point.

  • I wouldn’t say it better myself, great article!

  • I don’t see it making much of a difference here, but not necessarily in a good way. I know plenty of very qualified, seasoned and talented freelancers locally that have been just dying on the vine, even before this financial crisis nonsense hit. Here in Sacramento (northern California), there continues to be a real problem with smaller clients going with horribly underskilled designers/students/secretaries simply because they dont charge, with no regard for what they’re actually turning out. Good enough is very often the accepted norm, made even worse when the only determining factor in a pitch is that cheap cant ever compete with free.

  • A great and thought provoking article.
    I agree that a positive attitude and flexibility are the key to surviving a financial crisis and slowdown in the economy. Yes there will be losses but opportunities arise because of those losses.
    Be flexible, diversify your client base and be positive, don’t let the bad news stories keep you from achieving your dreams.

  • Good solid sound advice, brilliant. Nice work man, enjoyed reading through this, very informative.

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