The truth about being a self-employed mum during covid-19

Like most people, when I cast my mind back to those first few weeks of coronavirus lockdown, it today seems like it was all a ‘dream.’ Or perhaps more like film. I can’t quite believe we lived through it -- or that as survival routes were being carved out, we all had no idea how long lockdown would go on for!

As a freelancer and a mum, I’ve always been a big believer that resilience is a key skill, writes freelance voiceover artist Faye Dicker, the founder of child-friendly business network Freelance Mum. But trying to keep one’s business afloat, while simultaneously home-schooling children during the government-imposed closure of schools was the ultimate challenge.

As we approach the first lockdown’s two-year anniversary, here’s 10 things Covid-19 has taught me as a mum with a self-employed freelance career.

1. It’s more than just about the money

Being self-employed was always about more than ‘just the money’ to me; it was about identity as well.

Yet in those early weeks of lockdown, financial pressures were like never before. I instantly lost two of my sponsors on Freelance Mum, due to each sponsor’s own financial constraints.

At the same time, my voiceover agent insisted I have a piece of software installed, at a hefty cost of over £500. The software was proposed so that we (as freelancers via the agent) could all keep working and keep connected.

Well later, looking at my accounts at the month-end, it didn’t take much of an accountant to work out there was suddenly far more money leaving my self-employed business, than there was coming in!

2. Rivals can come out the woodwork overnight

Then, as covid’s grip on the creative industries tightened by stopping filming and shutting down productions, HUNDREDS of actors all became out of work -- only to set up home studios and become my competitors.

So amid unprecedented financial pressures for me, my industry was awash with rival voiceover artists – almost overnight!

Not that I blamed them. It was all about survival. To quote a good friend at the time, “We were all scrabbling over scraps.”

3. Rely on the government at your peril

In the midst of this, we self-employed were waiting for financial ‘lifeboats’ from the government, and they arrived in different sizes. Or they didn’t arrive at all.

For example, the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme didn’t work for those freelancers who’d been on recent maternity leave, and sole directors of limited companies (myself included), didn’t get a look-in on the SEISS.

Some directors were able to qualify for the furlough scheme’s salary offering. But the salary portion on offer from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme represented an absolute pittance when compared to the costs and lost revenue such incorporated business-owners faced.

4. Don’t disregard the most difficult path

Financially-speaking, it would have made more sense for me to have thrown in the towel and to have just got a full-time job, when covid hit and the support didn’t arrive.

But as I said previously, being self-employed is not just about the money. It’s about the freedom and identity as well. And I’d worked too hard to get as far as I had, to give in now.

Plus I knew that if I was going through it, other freelancers who were also mums were going through it too. So I had to do something for my Freelance Mum community in the shape of The Mothership.

It may sound insignificant now – out of lockdown – but I made a point of going for a run each morning to my parents’ house, just so I could wave at them every day! I then did a ‘Facebook Live’ in the evening, where I shared my thoughts on the day for other freelance mums. It was a way for me to process, let off steam and communicate and (I’ve been told), it helped people feel united, knowing we were all ‘in it together.’

5. Take practical potentially tough decisions early on, and for the greater good

When it came to working from home, in many ways I was lucky. After all, I had my recording studio as a voiceover artist already set up for work and I enjoyed the flexibility it gave me. I just wasn’t geared up, mentally, to share it with my husband and simultaneously home-school my children!

Quite quickly though, it dawned on me as a ‘no brainer.’ My husband earned more money than me, my income was drying up, and our children needed home schooling. It made sense for him to work in the studio while I desperately tried to hold things together -- albeit from the dining room table.

So yes, I was evicted from my own freelance work space but it was a self-imposed eviction. And despite what it sounds like, my husband is actually a very caring, understanding sort! But it didn’t feel like there was much choice in the matter and, in the end, I wanted him to have the studio.

6. Pivot and pivot again

If covid has taught us self-employed creatives anything, it’s the importance of remaining agile. You need to pivot, then pivot again. Constantly look and re-evaluate your self-employed offering. It can be exhausting, but it’s totally worth it.

Take my network Freelance Mum. Before the pandemic, I was running two meetings a month, complete with guest speakers, craft for the children, ‘netwalks,’ coffee and cake. Everyone said the meetings were amazing and I ought to run them across the country. But how could I? Who else would be as foolish as me to run these brilliant, but exhausting meetings, that weren’t really making any money?!

Well, covid forced me to take a long hard look at my offering. In the first instance, I was able to launch a weekly ‘digital coffee morning,’ which was an instant hit. Many people found it a real lifeline in those early days of coronavirus, knowing they could just ‘drop in’ and talk to someone. It became obvious that these like-minded souls weren’t just here due to covid, but were here to stay.

Then, as soon as we were physically able, we started running (socially-distanced) netwalks. The netwalks had always been a signature part of the meeting, but now they could go further and become the main offering. Guest-speakers could become Facebook Lives so the content wasn’t diluted. It just took a different platform. It became obvious -- this was the new model.

Once it was streamlined, suddenly I was able to look at launching hubs across the country, where other netwalks could be run by fellow freelance mums in the region. Before I knew it, the model was there. It wasn’t a case of putting everything online but instead, coming up with an online and offline offering which complimented each other. Pivot and pivot again.

So it’s the businesses that remain nimble which will stand the test of time, no matter what’s thrown at them. Indeed, it seems even a pandemic is not fatal to a pivoting freelance business!

7. Stop firefighting and form a strategy (as soon as you’re able)

I’m one of those freelancers who thrives in adversity. There’s not much that gets me down. In fact, I go into a strange ‘overdrive’ and feel compelled to find a solution. Which is a great skill to have at the beginning of a pandemic.

But you can’t keep that pace up forever. Sure, running to my parents’ house every day during lockdown to wave at them and then doing a Facebook Live gave me a sense of purpose. Yet I couldn’t keep it up forever. Quite simply, I needed a strategy.

8. Reach out

In particular, I needed someone to talk to and felt drawn to a wellness coach, rather than a more traditional business coach. Between us, the wellness coach and I plotted my business timeline; looking at its ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ and how my energy levels operated within that.

It was really interesting to note that even at points where Freelance Mum was outwardly doing really well, my energy levels were beginning to wane. Yet still I kept peddling! I knew though -- I couldn’t keep furiously peddling if it wasn’t getting me anywhere.

So I took a step back and looked at the bigger picture. You too, in such a moment, should ask yourself the following three questions which I posed:

  • What do I want to achieve?
  • What does that goal look and feel like?
  • And how can I make that achievement happen?

In short, I needed to stop firefighting and revaluate my commercial offering. Or as freelance marketing experts like to say, ‘Connect with your why and think of your how.’

9. Let your loved ones fill you up

Covid was tough and I’m not sure there are many people who I’ve met who’ve come out of it completely unscathed. And in the midst of it, there were little human beings attached to many of us self-employed who demanded life and living, not lockdown!

For me, there’s a sense of fortunate timing here. My girls were aged just 5 and 7 when we went into lockdown, so as parents, we were still the centre of their universe.

While we were trying to salvage my business interests, my husband and I were always also trying to home school children as best we could, with all the many questions and challenges that children bring with them.

Yet the plus side of having young children, was their complete joy ‘in the moment.’ It’s something covid couldn’t affect, touch, infect. The hours of fun we had playing with the guinea pigs for example. The giggles I can still hear as they roller boot up and down, back and forth on the smallest strip possible of hard ground in our back garden!

10. If you’ve got your health, get some perspective

My girls’ total pleasure at things like this was a huge boost to me, a welcome distraction and reminder of frankly, ‘what it’s all about,’ We were healthy. We were together. We could laugh.

Plus their hugs throughout lockdown, as well some hand-made cards they presented us with showed us that despite us often feeling like we were failing them, as parents, they still the thought the world of us!

One of The Mothership’s followers perhaps sums it up best when it comes to being a self-employed mum during covid. “Ultimately, I think the restrictions have ended up doing me a favour. That said, I'd never wish that journey on anyone. The only people who really didn't seem to be affected were the kids. And that’s amazing.”

 

9th November 2021

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