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A freelancer's guide to the coronavirus downturn: jobs, resources and support networks

Freelance work in the industry is drying up as ad campaigns are paused

The Drum has pulled together an evolving resource for freelancers looking for jobs, support, training and information as the coronavirus cuts into projects.

‘Last in, first out’ the adage sadly goes, and never was it truer than for the modern creative freelancer in times when budgets are cut.

This week, the coronavirus pandemic has seen a swathe of marketing campaigns paused or axed entirely, and the trend is likely to continue as more and more clients in retail, entertainment and hospitality stop trading. In advertising, 65% of execs expect the crisis to lead to layoffs in their company, according to research from Fishbowl.

This adds multiple layers of uncertainty to freelancers’ weekly forecasts: will there be work? When will there be work? How can I plan for the financial year when no-one else can? Will my client’s business fold before they can pay me before last month?

“We are facing an unprecedented time with unknowable outcomes,” said Nancy Van Brunt, head of talent success at Upwork. “Companies might be shifting their strategies and reprioritizing the projects currently on their roadmaps, but they are still in need of support.”

If you’re a freelancer who’s found themselves sitting on a cancelled project, Van Brunt advises updating your portfolios and social profiles “to highlight how you can help clients through this time with your specific skill sets and experience” before reaching out to past clients with ideas.

Then, after hunting down any missing invoices, take the time to update your skill set, find a support network and start looking for new work.

Who’s hiring?

The majority of agencies told The Drum they are currently focusing on their “internal resources” for now. However, a number are still open for new recruits.

VidMob, the creative technology company, is hiring creative directors, video editors, motion graphics designers, 3D modelers and animators to develop digital/social ads for leading brands. The company offers clients a ‘virtual creative workforce’ that is encouraged to work from home all year round. Send a message to this email if interested.

Digital marketing agency Croud is hiring across its ‘Croudie Network’. This community is made up of more than on-demand 2,400 digital experts who enable Croud to service clients in real time – 24 hours a day, in 118 markets and in 86 languages. Needed expertise covers SEO, PPC, paid social, programmatic, content, creative and analytics. Click here for more information on joining.

Indie digital studio TheSoul Publishing is hiring for a variety of positions across a number of markets, including a creative writer and a senior account executive slated to work on brand partnerships. Its stable includes brands such as Bright Side, Frankenfood and Slick Slime Sam. Head to its LinkedIn page to apply..

AKQA is taking a “business as usual” approach and hiring for no less than 125 roles in its New York Studio alone. Freelance gigs are also up for grabs. Applicants should go through its recruitment page here.

Grey is still directing candidates to apply for open positions on its LinkedIn page. Freelance support is still on its roadmap, however those that get the call-up will likely have worked with staff executive creative directors before. A spokesperson said the agency is unlikely to hire new freelance staff until its building reopens.

Santa Monica’s RPA currently has more than 40 open positions open in media, account management, analytics and digital. A spokesperson said it will potentially be hiring some freelancers in the future, too. Its jobs board is here.

AnalogFolk is still hiring for both permanent and freelance roles, particularly in tech, UX and UI Design. Its job board is here, and anyone interested in temporary work should message Peter Davenport.

Strategic marketing consultancy SalientMG is currently looking for freelance writers and an editor in the US. The latter will oversee all its executive thought leadership programs and manage the team of writers charged with producing content on sectors such as e-commerce, fintech, edtech, martech, adtech and data. Chief executive Mack McKelvey is ideally looking for copywriters with editorial experience. Contact her here.

Blend Media, a marketplace for immersive tech creators, has a number of live projects open on its platform. It's primarily after freelancers working in the immersive tech space, such as AR and VR creators and developers. The company will also be waiving all platform fees over the coming months to support developers.

Atlanta-based We Are Rosie has built a network of more than 5,000 marketing consultants and is still accepting new freelancers throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Most work is undertaken remotely, projects typically range from 20-40 hours per week, and a 401k, full healthcare benefits and weekly pay are offered to its working consultants in the US.

Assemble, which runs a similar networked model rooted in video production, is also encouraging new creatives to join – and promises new client work is still rolling in. Wethos, a freelance platform that connects nonprofits with skilled professionals, is open for new talent too.

Upskilling and charitable opportunities for days off

Mt Freelance is an online, four-level video course created by Andrew Dickson and Aaron James, two former Wieden+Kennedy creatives now working as successful freelancers. This week, they’ve made their first level free to all who are new to freelancing or want to audit their approach. It’s a 50-minute introduction of nine videos worth $257.

Adobe Creative Cloud is extending its renewal grace period to 60 days for customers using its Value Incentive Plan, as well as offering free at-home access to students and teachers. Someone’s also found another discount hack and is passing it around the online freelance community – more details here.

Zwolf Strategy founder Heidi Hackemer has launched the Strategy Supper Club – a series of intimate online classes. The idea stemmed from her belief that “so much [brand strategy] training has gone out the window or is reductive”. The sessions are free but she’s collecting donations for local food banks as part of the program. More information can be found here.

Marc Lewis, founder and dean of the School of Communication Arts, has created a virtual studio for his students to work in while coronavirus hits south London. It features digital tables, whiteboards and even a Dean’s office. The technology works so well that he’s offering up the platform to freelancers who are interested in running a webinar mentor class. These sessions will be ticketed, and the money raised will go directly to the presenter. Those interested can sign up through a short survey here.

Members of mentorship app Fellow are taking advantage of social quarantine by organizing an online junior creative book review via Google Sheets. Nearly 300 portfolios have been posted so far, but many are still in need of review.

Support groups and resources

Format is an online portfolio platform that’s launched a $25,000 fund for freelance photographers and visual artists who have lost work off the back of the pandemic and are likely to struggle financially. It’s offering assistance of up to $500 per person but is looking to partner with other companies to increase the total amount. You can find the application form here.

Chicago-based out-of-home art agency Muros has launched #MakeWithMuros, a campaign that provides artists with a platform while they’re prevented from taking to city walls. Muros will be spotlighting an artist a day on its Instagram page for 30 days – paying them to create a piece and helping them sell it afterwards. There is no restriction on medium, a spokesperson said “Muros will accept canvas, sketch, digital, animation, play dough, cleverly arranged refrigerator magnets ... The only requirement is that it spreads joy.”

Created by former MTV marketer Pip Jamieson, The Dots has been a destination for a diverse crowd of working creatives since 2014. Its job board currently lists more than 100 freelance gigs based primarily in Europe. It’s also started new chat thread called ‘Coronavirus support’, which is filled with advice and moral support for those who have lost jobs or work.

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) has put together a comprehensive guide for UK-based freelancers worried about the impact Covid-19 will have on their income. This includes links to special HMRC helplines and broad advice on dealing with clients.

In the US, the Freelancers Union has produced a raft of useful guides on everything from health insurance to non-payment (you just need to register). Rafael Espinal, the president and executive director of Freelancers Union, has also published the letter he sent to New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio demanding that “any and all financial safety nets that are implemented in this moment of economic crisis must include freelancers”.

Marguerite, a club for women who work in the visual arts, has started a ‘seeking work’ jobs board and is encouraging creatives to think about the diversity of their skillset. It’s an easy sell-in for employers who can scroll through the list and pull out freelancers’ contact details straight from their posts.

Work Notes is doing a similar open call for freelancer pitches on this Twitter thread.

Industry app Fishbowl can feel like the high school cafeteria at the worst of times, but the Freelancers pool is currently highlighting how helpful an anonymized forum can be. Handy posts from the last week cover filing for US unemployment benefits with a freelancer status and advice for budgeting in a “dry spell” of work.

A collective of freelance artists has created an aggregated list of free resources, opportunities and financial relief options available to artists of all disciplines across the US. It’s a mix of official advice, guidance and topical articles that will resonate with freelance commercial creatives too.

Another spreadsheet doing the rounds is this one called Freelancers & Community Resources, which is unlikely to get you a job but is full of creative inspiration such as ‘a big Google drive folder of zines’ called Quaranzines and printable coloring-in pages.

Facebook’s push into Groups is coming to the fore with a raft of communities set up to offer support, tips and job leads. One is ‘Anti-viral work for freelancers and small businesses, which has grown to more than 11,000 members in the space of the week.

Another is The Garden – a private group for members of We Are Rosie. Kiana Pirouz, head of marketing at the network, explained: “The group will be a call and response of what the community needs and how we can be of service beyond our ability to connect to jobs, whether that's Zoom lunch breaks, sharing work, meditations, etc.”

The Professional Freelancer, Anna Codrea-Rado’s weekly newsletter, may be angled at freelance journalists, but it still features lots of useful advice and opinions on the world of contracted work. Similarly, Sian Meades-Williams’ Freelance Writing Jobs newsletter regularly includes copywriting and branded content work, and the jobs featured are often exclusive to subscribers, too.

Are you hiring for any roles during the outbreak? Email Katie Deighton with the details

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