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With Coronavirus lockdowns on the rise, it’s become increasingly important that freelancers and contractors know how to manage their business during one. Because as worrying as lockdowns are, they do present an opportunity for you to make and implement a plan of action - and one that could see you emerge from one in a strong position.
So with this in mind, what can you do during lockdown to win work, develop and protect your business? To help us answer, we spoke to several experts and self-employed workers who had some useful tips to share.
Contractors are business owners in their own right. And what do businesses do to grow their reputation and win work? They market their services by establishing a presence in the right places, on the right platforms and with the right people.
Now, we aren’t talking about plotting and delivering a fully budgeted, long-term marketing strategy. But exploring simple ways to market your business to source projects and land work may prove to be a shrewd move. Small steps like building a business website, writing and publishing relevant articles and updating your LinkedIn profile will mean more people will notice you.
This is a point that freelance developer, Tom Gant, made clear:
“In my opinion, all businesses need a website that’s regularly updated - a place where potential customers can find out everything they need. My advice is to start small, with something like a simple portfolio page that includes a bit about you along with your contact details. Then focus on driving traffic to the site, whether through social media or blogs exploring topics that matter to your clients.”
Never underestimate how powerful your existing network can be. Granted, catching up with people for coffee or lunch might be out of the question for the time being, but touching base online with fellow freelancers, previous clients and agencies could unlock new opportunities.
So don’t be afraid to dig out your address book, put your thinking cap on and reach out to people who you like and have worked with before. You never know what a casual phone call, Zoom or Skype might lead to, as freelance journalist, Jyoti Rambhai said:
"I set up my freelancing business during the first lockdown and for me, my contacts and network were a key part of me getting work. All but one of my clients came through someone I knew and had worked with in some capacity. While the other stuff like your website and your brand is important, having someone recommend you to potential clients or be willing to work with you again also goes a long way.
"I would also say don't be disheartened if you don't get a response straight away when you reach out to someone. I sent out emails back in February before the lockdown, when I was first considering going freelance, and some of them didn't get back to me until May. But at least you are putting yourself out there and that's the important part."
Socialising is out of the window in a lockdown, which means you’re likely to have a little extra time on your hands, even if you are working throughout. Use these extra hours wisely. Look at how you could reduce unnecessary business overheads and run a leaner, more efficient and profitable business. After all, every little helps, as James Foster (ACCA), Head of Partnerships SJD Accountancy, explained:
“You might be surprised at how many business expenses you can cut back on. No matter how small these payments are, they all add up. A good place to start is by looking over your recent business bank statements and highlighting regular and recurring payments. Think carefully about whether you really need them in this climate. Small changes can make a big difference over time.
“Make sure you know how to claim working from home expenses too, given that in lockdown you’ve little choice but to run your business from home.”
While some threats (a pandemic being one) are very difficult to protect your business from, this crisis might be the nudge you need to focus on the risks that can be managed. Business insurance, as digital marketing consultant, Oli Coates, told us, is one way to do this:
“I learned the hard way, unfortunately during the first lockdown. I broke my Macbook screen and, sod’s law, I didn’t have insurance. I won’t even tell you how much it set me back to repair, but needless to say, it made me think carefully about which parts of my business - in addition to my laptop - that I might want to insure, whether that’s through tax protection or professional indemnity cover.”
Other than potentially making a big difference to your business now and when lockdown is lifted, the likes of insurance and a company website are also considered in IR35 status assessments, despite not being a decisive factor. This might just serve as an extra incentive to follow some, if not all, of this fairly simple but nonetheless important advice.
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