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Freelancing like a pro through difficult times

March 20, 2020

A lot of freelancers have to get creative right now.

We see you, we get you, we support you. Our guest writer Monika Kanokova, a freelancer herself, has 5 helpful tips to help you get through these times.

“Milan Design Week might get canceled.”

This is how the coronavirus hit our home. My partner was working on a project for Hyundai due to be exhibited at Design Week in Italy. This year, Design Week fell on my birthday, so I laughed and said: “So, I get my birthday with you after all.” I didn’t think twice about it.

But now, the situation is very different. Wherever I look, I see more freelancers dealing with canceled projects and dwindling future prospects.

If you’re reading this, you probably know what I’m talking about.

Having freelanced for the past six years (I even wrote a book about it), I’ve thought a lot about what to do as a freelancer when you’re experiencing a dry month.

It goes without saying that freelancers make the most money doing client work. But there’s other ways to make money. When I had a slow month, I used that time to work on my books, travel guides, and Skillshare classes. None of these things pay very much. With Skillshare, I make around $100 each month, which, over time, has added up to what I would usually earn in two months working for a client. So I’d say it definitely paid off.

Here are my tips to help you think of this challenge as a chance.

1. Map out your skills 📝

Pour yourself a cup of tea and grab a big sheet of paper and some pens. Then, start mapping out what you’re good at and what you’d like to get better at.

What are the different activities you like doing? What’s something you’d like to do in the next couple of months? Maybe you like writing, doing yoga, or doing PowerPoint presentations. You might be good at math, grammar, or running. Think of all the skills you’ve acquired in your life so far.

2. Monetize your skills 💶

When interviewing the illustrator Maaike Boot for my book, she said something I thought was incredibly smart: “Whenever I work on a client project, I create three options. To get to those three options that I present to them, I had probably made 10. But when you think about it, they only pay me for one option and so I sell the other options as stock images or use them as a print for fabrics on platforms such as Spoonflower.” Smart, right?

Once you’ve thought about what your skills are, think about how you can apply them to different products. In the past, I’ve created travel guides for Berlin and Vienna and published them via Kickstarter to cover the print costs before I put them in my Etsy store. I’ve also written how-to guides, mostly to teach myself. There are many things you can do, too!

The sky's the limit, as they say.

You can create products and sell them on Etsy or Gumtree. You can monetize products on Society6 or Spoonflower. You can self-publish on Amazon. You can sell your photos and videos on stock platforms such as EyeEm or Envato.

Use this time to think about the products you can produce using your skills. Then, search for platforms where you can sell them.

Also, don’t forget to collaborate with others to add complementary skills. I usually collaborate with designers, editors, and illustrators who I pay using the money I raise on Kickstarter. I’m not a native English speaker, but I don’t see it as a weakness. I see it as an opportunity to support the creative community. I’m sure your freelancer friends will be grateful if you help them make money, too!

3. Teach your skills

You might not be in a position where producing products is easy. That’s alright because you can always teach people and earn money by sharing your skills. There are platforms like Skillshare, Udemy, and Linda, that pay you to create learning content.

You can produce a decent class with just your laptop and a microphone. If you get nervous in front of the camera, you can use a teleprompter. Simply google how to produce online tutorials, and start teaching others what you’re good at!

4. Make a side project a self-branding tool.

Dry months are not just a great time to create products to monetize - you can also use them to finally start a side project that might eventually turn into a side income. This is your chance to finally start that podcast, YouTube channel or write that novel. You can even start a Patreon or a Steady page to have your friends and fans support you. Now would be the time to do that!

5. What about money?

When I first started freelancing, I interviewed 24 incredible women and then turned my research into a book, which I called This Year Will Be Different.

All of the women I spoke to said I needed to save at least three months of income as my emergency fund.

It’s easy to write these words from the position of someone who has this sort of buffer. It’s not so easy if you’re just starting out and don’t have that sort of money set aside.

As a bunq customer, I can say that being able to have up to 25 separate sub-accounts has made it easier for me to save money. Through proactive budgeting, AutoSave, and SavingGoals, I manage to save far more than I used to when I had just a regular bank account. Now, I have a separate business account, an emergency account, an account for daily spending, and one for vacation.

Even though the money from your efforts might not show up tomorrow, you might create a source of income that many refer to as a passive income stream. By now, you’ve probably noticed it’s not that passive at all. You still have to put in work, but, given the current situation, you might at least have the time to do that.

So here you have it, my 5 tips for freelancers currently going through a difficult time. I truly hope they help you get through this and maybe come out on the other side with a whole new idea, skill or experience.


Monika Kanokova

Berlin-based freelance community strategist, author, and TEDx speaker.

Her Insightful Guides for Freelance Creatives have been recommended by Girlboss, Inc., and 99U. You can find it on Amazon.

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