Freelancing in the time of COVID: a few survival tips

I’d normally start this post with, “I hope you’re doing well,” but at the moment, how about, “I hope you’re holding on to a few threads of sanity.” It’s a crazy time for sure; and let’s start with the reminder that health (mental and physical) and family come first right now. If it’s taking all of your available energy to keep those balls in the air, just focus on that!

Now that it’s clear that the COVID situation is a months, not weeks-long crisis, I thought I’d offer a few coping strategies if you need them:

1. First, I’d suggest this blog post by Madalena Sanchez Zampaulo, on taking care of your freelance business during the pandemic. Madalena offers tons of great ideas on how to stay mentally and financially afloat during this very stressful time.

2. Next, I’d suggest this podcast from Ed Gandia, where he interviews Carol Alexander, a homeschooling mom of six kids who’s been homeschooling for a total of 27 years. That’s approximately my worst nightmare, but she has some great (like, really great) suggestions for how to freelance from home while your kids are there, without completely losing your mind.

3. I’d offer the following tips:

Let yourself be sad about the sad things, even if they are not matters of life and death. A few examples on my end: after turning down all non-ATA travel and speaking invitations for the past seven years, I was all set to go to Germany for the BP conference and some vacation, and to Boston for the New England Translators Association conference: of course now cancelled. My daughter–a senior in high school–likely will not have a high school graduation, and will probably have to pick a college via video tour. My husband and I were hoping to do a big trip for our 20th anniversary in May, coinciding with meeting my daughter at a bike race in Europe (nope, and nope). Although these things are not life and death, they are hugely disappointing, and are not things that can simply be “made up” later. If you’re going through those kinds of emotions, do not sad-shame yourself. It’s OK to be sad about the loss of things that are important to you.

To whatever extent you can, try to create a “new normal” routine. At my house we don’t have a rigid schedule, but we try to keep a regular sleep and meal schedule, exercise at least one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon (it helps that we can still go outside for exercise with no restrictions, and the weather has been great), limit TV to one hour after dinner, limit news to quick checks a couple of times a day (if something catastrophic happens, we will find out anyway), and check in with a couple of friends every day to see how they are holding up. All of that is definitely helping.

Remember that not every business sector is going to stall out. In the past two days, I received inquiries from two agencies that are moving to seven day a week operations to keep up with medical translation requests from large clients. I don’t do medical translation, but it was interesting to see that happening.

If you have a business savings account, give yourself permission to tap into it if work slows down. If you don’t have one, this is your sign from the universe that you need one. I’m a huge proponent of the business savings account: two summers ago I tapped into mine, to take two “once in a lifetime trips” that were absolutely worth it. So far my own work volume is steady, but if it falls off a cliff, my plan is to start paying myself out of my business savings account while I write another book. If you don’t have a business savings account, vow (right now) that you’re going to establish one.

I’ve got two free offerings on tap if you haven’t seen them already: the April master class on “surviving to thriving,” taught by Jennifer Nielsen, and a free, MOOC-style session of Getting Started as a Freelance Translator, starting Monday.

I think the most important tip for all of us is this feels like the end of the world, and it’s an unprecedented upheaval, but it will not last forever. The people who say, “This too shall pass” are actually correct. The best thing you can do right now is to keep swimming, and set yourself up as well as possible for what comes next.

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