Self-employment survival in a pandemic

On the first day of lockdown, a year ago, it was the quiet that was most unnerving.

I live in South West London, opposite a small park, and there is always the sound of a ball being kicked or bounced on the sports pitches.

Taken at Megan’s in Clapham the day the first lockdown was announced

An aircraft flying over, a car going by or someone talking loudly on their phone. Even on my relatively unpopulated street.

My neighbourhood had been switched off. But friends and family sprang to life; Zoom calls were organised, regular Whatsapp messages sent to check in on each other.

In contrast, being self-employed, there were no colleagues to rally around and huge uncertainty about what would happen to business.

I had enough work to see me through the first few weeks, but regular writing gigs started to dry up.

Negotiations about new work stopped.

There were debates on LinkedIn about whether it was appropriate to be marketing during a pandemic. How else was I get work if I didn’t stay visible?

Visibility campaign

I adjusted my approach but threw myself into a visibility campaign. In those first few months, I was never in a position where I didn’t have any work; it was just small bits and pieces.

But I was securing work with new clients and that gave me comfort. It might only be a tiny project here and there but, do a good job and you never know where it might lead. It’s a foot in a door.

Having more time on my hands wasn’t something I feared, I saw it as an opportunity to work on some new ideas.

It might be a tough few months – that’s how long I thought it would last – but I was determined to come out of it with a business in better shape.

I managed to move my training online which was something I’d been toying with pre the pandemic. I got asked to moderate a webinar which kept that service line open and was an opportunity to adapt my skills.

As we came out of the first lockdown, things started to pick up. There were more enquiries and enquiries about bigger pieces of work.

As busy as it got: The National Gallery and Trafalgar Square on a weekend in March 2020

August and September ended up being busy, partly because I didn’t want to turn anything down just in case work dried up again.

The time I was putting into marketing was paying off; I was getting leads from LinkedIn, which was my main platform. Then as we headed into Autumn, I landed several chunky projects. I ended up having to work at weekends.

From famine to feast in six months.

It was tiring, and I had moments of anxiety, but there was bugger-all else to do, as we were in our second lockdown by this stage, and the weather was getting more wintery.

Exhaustion and struggles

Christmas was a welcome two-week break. I was physically and mentally exhausted, not having had a break all year, not having had a change of scene of any sort. That and the struggle of being so isolated from people and the pressure of finding work, then getting it all done.

What would 2021 bring? It was looking increasingly like we were going to go into our third official lockdown. Not that it made much difference to me as everything bar schools were already closed.

January and February are usually busy months, partly because of the MIPIM – an international property trade show in March.

No MIPIM this year and the landscape was so different I wasn’t taking anything for granted.

I had a two-day a month retainer starting for a new client, a few bits to finish off, and a couple of new bits lined up with existing clients.

However, by the end of the first week, I’d landed another retainer client and had several new leads. It wasn’t too long before I was booked up, and February was looking good too…and then March.

The magic of marketing

Was it the result of the work I’d put into marketing over the previous nine months, or a better understanding of what I want to do with my business or an accumulation of effort from the last three years? I suspect it’s a combination.

It has been an experience and one that, despite being extremely tough at times, I believe has made me stronger and more focused.

Investing in my own development has been an important part of the past 12 months. I’ve done a business development course, and I’m now doing a podcasting course.

My aim was to come out of this with my business in better shape, and I think I’ve ticked that box. I’ve added 24 new clients to my books, I’ve refined my offer and see more ways of adding value.

The clients I’m working with are great and I’m doing work that I really enjoy.

While I’ll never take anything for granted, having built my business up twice now, I feel I’ve got a bit better idea of what I’m doing.

Am I ready for lockdown to be over? Goodness, yes. I’m looking forwards – even more so today, I got the call to book my first vaccine jab.

Seeing friends and giving them a big hug seems like a step closer. And I’m looking forward to hearing the noise sports being played opposite my flat again.

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