How COVID-19 Has Affected Freelancing: A Global Survey of 1,365 Freelancers

15 second snapshot

  • We received 1,365 responses from over 100 countries.
  • 4 out of 5 freelancers (81%) have seen — or expect — a dip in their freelance income.

  • 4 out of 10 freelancers (37%) are considering leaving freelancing and taking up full-time employment.
  • More than half (54%) of freelancers are spending lockdown time improving their online presence. 

Freelancers from over 100 countries responded to our survey, giving us a glimpse into how COVID-19 has altered their lives — and their livelihood.

The overarching goal of this survey was to find out how the freelance community is being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We want to show freelancers that they’re not in this alone, and to offer constructive advice to help them weather the storm.

We hope you agree that it was a valuable exercise. And if you do get some value out of the study, please share it with other freelancers. It’ll make our effort — and the effort of the near 1,400 respondents — worthwhile. Thank you!

Who Took Part?

We received eye-opening insights from all major freelance verticals, from design, development, and marketing to event planners, musicians, videographers, photographers, construction freelancers, and more. 

These responses came from over 100 countries, including the United States, Canada, India, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Cancelled Events, Fewer Sales, Cost-Cutting: The Impact of COVID-19 on Freelance Businesses

Of the freelancers we surveyed, we observed a moderately high impact of COVID-19 on business across all freelance verticals, with 32% very highly impacted.

The most significant issues experienced by freelancers at this time include:

  1. Cancelled events and/or meetings (23%)
  2. Fewer orders or sales (17%)
  3. Customers slow or unable to pay (17%)
  4. Insufficient cash flow (14%)

Interestingly, however, just over 1 in 10 respondents noted no impact (yet).

4 out of 5 freelancers have seen — or are forecasting — a dip in revenue due to COVID-19

This probably won’t come as a shock, but a combined 81% of freelancers have either witnessed a dip in their income, or they’re anticipating one in the coming weeks. Only 18% remain unaffected.

77% of freelancers have started cutting costs in response to a dip in revenue

The top cost-cutting measures include:

  1. Cancelling non-essential tools and subscriptions (59%)
  2. Reducing or cutting office expenses, inc. coworking memberships or office leases (14%)
  3. Reducing or cutting marketing costs, inc. advertising (8%)

Some admit to reducing personal expenses or contractor and subcontractor costs, while others have stopped paying themselves to help cover their overheads. Meanwhile, only 3% of those surveyed have not yet seen the need to cut costs.

79% of freelancers are worried about the long-term impact of COVID-19 on business

However, the overall expectation among these freelancers is that business will either stay the same or improve over the next 3 to 6 months. Very few think things will get worse from this point. And yet... 

Almost 4 in 10 surveyed want to leave freelancing

We’ll be honest — this one surprised us. 37% of freelancers are considering leaving freelancing and taking up a full-time job in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

A note from team Bonsai

We accept that this is an incredibly uncertain time in history, but this is a health crisis, not a financial one. A full-time job isn’t any more secure than a freelance career. In fact, there are a number of reasons why freelancing could be considered more secure. Big companies have big overheads, and when they feel the pinch, it’s usually their staff who suffer.

Just look at the layoffs and record unemployment levels at this particular moment in time. If you stay the course as a freelancer, you may soon discover that — thanks to an evolving market and a growing acceptance of remote working — larger companies will actively seek talented freelancers like you to bolster their output. So, don’t give up!

And please remember, you’re not alone.

We know that freelancers across the globe are being affected by this crisis. And we know that some sectors are more badly hit than others — especially those that require boots on the ground, like event planning and wedding photography. But we want you to know that you’re not alone in this.

There’s a great big network of fellow freelancers out there, ready to lend you support or a sympathetic ear. There’s light at the end of this tunnel and things will return to normal someday. But, for the time being, there’s still business to be done. It’s up to each and every one of us to transition into a new way of freelancing — and a new way of living.

With that in mind, let’s find out how those we surveyed have responded to the crisis... 

Branding, Pitching, Exercising: Freelancers React to COVID-19 and Plan for the Future

There’s an old Irish proverb that says “You'll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind.” From a freelance perspective, this is not a time for sitting and worrying. Nor is it a time for giving up. This is a time for action! Here’s what your fellow freelancers have been doing in the time of coronavirus:

Over half of freelancers are building their online presence

We’re delighted that many of the freelancers we surveyed are being proactive in an attempt to boost their business. 

More than half (54%) are spending time building their online presence by improving their website or polishing up their portfolio, and around one-third (30%) have been reaching out to more prospects via email, social media and messaging platforms. If you want to sharpen your pitching game, here are a few articles to help you get things right: 

  1. What is a marketing pitch?
  2. How to write a winning pitch in 9 easy steps
  3. And remember, you can use Bonsai to send and track proposals!

Meanwhile, 28% are taking a more pragmatic approach to matters by seeking financial aid to help them through this situation. Here are some financing options to check out if you’re considering this approach:

  1. Coronavirus Small Business Survival Guide (US)
  2. Coronavirus financial support for your business (UK)
  3. Support for entrepreneurs impacted by the Coronavirus (Canada)

Almost one-quarter of freelancers “aren’t doing much” at this point...

We all move at our own pace, and there’s no one definitive way to deal with this crisis. But it is interesting to note that 23% of those surveyed aren’t doing much to deal with a dip in revenue. This could present a major opportunity for the top 1% of freelancers to capitalise and steal a march on the competition. As the restrictions are eased and things return to some semblance of normality, demand will likely increase along with it. When this happens, do you want to be the freelancer who built their presence and grew their network? Or do you want to be the one who “didn’t do much”?

What else are freelancers doing to improve their business?

By surveying almost 1,400 freelancers, we received some creative suggestions in the “Other” field, and we thought we’d share some of them below for inspiration. While some are offering special deals to customers (19%), re-negotiating contracts (8%), or offering credit to cancelling customers (3%), others are:

  1. Connecting with clients and building social capital, positioning themselves as a brand that cares and one that’s there for their clients during this difficult time;
  2. Diversifying their offering and their client base, pivoting their business to meet the demands and needs of the market;
  3. Taking on pro-bono projects to help others (in hope that, one day, they return the favor);
  4. Building their social media presence and creating more content for their audience;
  5. Creating new packages with a lower price point, so that, when the economy revives, they can pitch their clients higher-level packages;
  6. Using the time to learn new and marketable skills;
  7. Exploring new revenue streams;
  8. Shifting their focus to the top 20% of projects that bring in 80% of their revenue.

Read more: How to find new clients for your freelance business

More exercise and quality family time: Here’s how freelancers are dealing with stress & anxiety in their personal lives

The good news is, quite a few of those surveyed are taking the COVID-19 crisis in their stride: 

  1. Almost one-third (30%) are focusing their energy on living better, with more exercising, reading, sleep, and a healthier diet on the agenda. Kudos if this is you!
  2. Around a quarter (23%) are enjoying quality family time, connecting and reconnecting with one another, taking walks, playing board games, and staying positive. 
  3. And 15% are holding money worries at bay by keeping their expenses low.

Interestingly, 8% of those surveyed are avoiding any news about COVID-19. This is perfectly understandable; news overload is a real issue, and it can heighten stress or anxiety. If you do want to stay on top of the news, however, we recommend following digital marketing pioneer Ann Handley’s adviceChoose news inputs carefully + thoughtfully: Bad news in the morning, good news before bed.

Meditation, new hobbies, volunteering: Six ways freelancers are de-stressing

Looking for some inspiration to help you overcome your stresses and worries? Here’s what your fellow freelancers recommend:

1. Try connecting with yourself

Practice mindfulness, meditation, self-care, or prayer. Get in touch with your inner self. Nourish your soul. Interested in starting mindfulness? Mindful.org has everything you need.

2. Try learning new things

Learn a new musical instrument, language, or a practical skill, like cooking or woodworking. Taking up a new hobby doesn’t have to be expensive, either. With the internet at your fingertips, you’re bound to find a tutorial that fits with your interest and skill level. Why not spark your curiosity with YouTube Learning and take it from there? Good luck!

3. Take time to enjoy life

A few of your fellow freelancers have simply taken time to stop and smell the roses (some of them literally!). They’ve been gardening, painting, walking their dogs, spending time with their horses, discovering new music, watching their favourite TV shows and movies, cooking, baking, and gaming. The possibilities are (almost) endless.

4. Take time to give back

Others have been volunteering to assist senior citizens or deliver food to vulnerable members of society. If you’d like to follow their example, here are a few handy resources:

  1. NCVO (UK): Volunteering and coronavirus - how can you help?
  2. Humanity First (US): COVID-19 Volunteer Registration

5. Work on pending passion projects

Maybe you’ve got a podcast idea, a book brewing inside you, or a side-project you’ve been putting off forever. Some of your freelancing colleagues are taking this time as an opportunity to start on theirs — you could, too!

6. Finally, rest, relax and reset 

One survey respondent told us of their plan to simply relax. They wrote, “I haven’t gotten a break in years!” We hear you! Even now, during this crisis, maintaining a good work/life balance remains vitally important. If you’re lucky enough to still have a steady stream of work, make sure you’re taking time to rest. 

Just time for a quick PSA from Bonsai

We got some responses from freelancers who are using alcohol and recreational drugs as a way to deal with stress. These aren’t long-term solutions and will cause more harm than good.

Instead, we encourage you to channel your energy into something positive. Take inspiration from the list above, take care, and be safe. And if you’re worried about your mental health during this time, check out these resources:

  1. Every Mind Matters (UK)
  2. Mental Health America (US) 

A Great Big “Thank You!” to All Our Respondents

We just want to tip our hat to all the amazing freelancers who took the time to take part in this survey. You did it with great enthusiasm and offered incredible insight. Thank you! 

From Bonsai to all you freelancers out there, please remember, things will get better. Take care of yourselves. Take care of one another. And if you need any support, we’re always here to help.

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