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What does the future hold for freelancers?

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These “unprecedented” times of Covid have created unprecedented challenges for those working in the PR industry, as for most sectors. Although freelance PRs might have reason to feel particularly precariously balanced at the moment, as our career choice is great for flexibility but less so for job security.

Women in PR in partnership with CIPR Independent Practitioners Network assembled a panel of experts for a webinar to support freelancers in finding a way forward. Chaired by Ebony Gayle (WIPR committee member) and Dominic Ridley-Moy (CIPR public services member), who are both freelance/independent and co-founded the CIPR’s Independent Practitioners Network, the expert panel included:

  • Sarah Samee, WIPR VP and Group Head of External Communications, Lloyds Register (employer’s perspective)
  • Alice Weightman, Founder & CEO, The Workcrowd (freelancer matchmaker platform)
  • Nigel Sarbutts, Founder of PR Calvary (freelance matchmaker service)
  • Olivia Freeman, Deputy Head of Interim Practice, Ellwood Atfield (Europe’s largest specialist headhunters)
  • Rohan Shah, MD & Co-Founder, Reuben Sinclair (Recruitment agency – PR, marketing & digital)
  • Jane Fordham founder, Jane Fordham Consulting (consultant & trainer)
  • George Blizzard, Co-Founder of The PR Network (virtual PR agency)

PR people are arguably some of the most positive out there, so naturally the webinar delivered a lot of great of advice and insight. Here are some highlights from the discussion…

Fill these extraordinary times with extraordinary experiences
Many of us have less paid work to do than we did pre-Covid, so make full use of this rare luxury of relatively empty working days to up-skill and expand your mind. There’s a whole host of free learning available at the moment in the form of webinars, online courses and content usually behind a paywall, so soak up all you can while you can. These are mostly flexible to fit around new responsibilities like home schooling and additional caring roles, without the need for a babysitter or to hop on a train.

Seize the opportunity for virtual collaboration and networking
Coffees and cocktail parties might be off for the time being but that doesn’t mean networking is cancelled. One upside of the lockdown is that people are getting much more familiar with the video conferencing and social networking. Many of us are also craving the company we used to have in our office. This is therefore a great time to make new connections outside of your usual circles, to expand your network and open up interesting new opportunities.

Don’t compromise on price
With so many of us with extra capacity and looking for work, the recruitment market is highly competitive but don’t fall into the trap of underselling yourself for a quick result. The recruiters on our panel told us that they are not seeing falling day-rate budgets and that any employer worth their salt will recognise the value of paying for quality candidates. Always remember that you are being paid not just for the minutes it takes you to do something, but also the years it took you to learn and gain the experience to know how to do it well. Accepting a lower wage can leave you in a weaker negotiation position in the future and contributes to a wider ‘race to the bottom’ at an industry level which no one wants.

Be kind (to you)
Yes the current situation has opened up a wealth of learning and networking opportunities but at the same time, it’s crucial for your personal wellbeing and state-of-mind that you remember you are only one person with limitations. We are all new to this and learning to live in lockdown and a whole range of new unwanted skills and language like social distancing, herd immunity and face covering, which requires a lot of brain space. So, make the most of a bad situation while recognising your own boundaries. Lower your expectations for yourself from superhuman and make sure to celebrate all the small wins as each counts.

Find the silver lining
While there is a lot to be sad and miss at the moment, it’s important to appreciate that this current crisis will reshape and change the world, and in some ways that will be for the better. Our panel suggested a number of emerging trends that could benefit freelancers.

Most prevalent, is the opening of minds to the virtues of remote working that in the past might have ruled out some more traditional employers for freelances that couldn’t travel to an office.

While many sectors are suffering, some are thriving – fitness, digital/tech, healthcare, to name a few – so it’s worth considering the transferable skills you have that would be relevant to them and marketing yourself in line with the demand accordingly.

The introduction of part-time furlough and the fact that parents/carers might not be able to commit to a full-time role currently could also create more freelance, short-term projects. Keep in touch with your network and your eyes peeled on LinkedIn so you’re ready to react.

The full webinar is available on demand here.