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.