Taking Advantage of Freelance Resources: A Conversation with Emily Leech

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Now that COVID-19 has us stuck indoors, I’ve been spending a lot of time on LinkedIn

Every day, I see posts about people getting laid off from their long-time jobs. In fact, a company whose success that I just wrote about at the start of the year, ClassPass, has had to lay off tons of employees due to the outbreak. Every time I see someone posting their resume looking for opportunities, I always reshare it in hopes that some recruiters will be on the prowl. 

Needless to say, it’s a tough time for everyone, and since I’m a full-time freelancer, I can also recognize how challenging it is for freelancers and independent contractors to make a living right now. Of course, in America, the new PPP loan program offers assistance, and unemployment insurance around the country has opened up to freelancers for additional help, but overall, funds are limited and hard to come by. Even the Freelancers Union has launched the Freelancers Relief Fund to give everyone in the business a leg up. However, applications have been temporarily closed due to overwhelming responses. 

Then one day, I came in contact with Emily Leech who is the Founder of The Freelance Conference and Freelance Business Week—organizations that host events to unite freelancers and provide them with guidance and support to help their careers succeed. Right away, Emily struck me as an advocate for freelance work and we got a chance to chat about what resources freelancers can take advantage of to get through this challenging time.

What are the greatest challenges you see freelancers facing or will face as COVID-19 rages on?

Emily:

Although there are new areas of opportunity that opened up with the COVID-19 pandemic and “shelter-in-place” restrictions, there are still a lot of freelance business owners with a dramatic drop in income during this period. Even with all of the stimulus programs in place, not every freelance business owner will be able to take advantage of them for various reasons.  

Even after businesses are back to work, it could be months before they are stable enough to bring on additional help. Then again, in some cases, the only way they will be able to make it through the beginning stages is with the help of freelance experts to stay nimble.

This crisis will not impact every freelance business owner the same, but the trend I’m seeing is that it will take a lot of hard work and emotional support to help us all put this experience behind us and start growing again.

What are your thoughts on the PPP loan for freelancers? Do you think that it, along with the stimulus check, is enough support for freelancers during this time?

Emily:

The benefit of the PPP program for freelance business owners will depend solely on how well the freelancer managed their books and workflow. 

This is not, in general, where most freelance business owners spend their time in order to have the data they need to take advantage of a program like this.

The fact this program was opened up to the solo-business owner is wonderfulit shines a light on why we need community in this space. Working in isolation cuts us off from information, support and collaborationa freelance business owner needs those assets. It’s why my partner, Laura Briggs, and I created the Mighty Freelance Network. www.mightyfreelancenetwork.com, which I encourage freelancers to get involved with to help network and find support. 

And yes, the stimulus check issued by the Federal government is a nice boost of assistance, but it’s only a patch in the grand scheme of what’s still needed. 

You mentioned to me that you help freelancers take advantage of grants and resources to boost their income and successcan you explain what you do and how you aim to help freelancers?

Emily: 

This is a new program for me. 

I’ve partnered with four other successful freelance business owners to create the Freelance Community Fund that allows companies and individuals to donate any increment of funds to be used to support freelance business owners. 

The initial purpose was to help subsidize skills training, coaching and educational events for freelancers. However, with this crisis, we immediately pivoted to begin raising money and taking applications to help with the financial gap our peers will have to address in order to make it through this.

I believe in humans helping humansthis fund is a vehicle for allowing us to do just that.

Are there any specific grants or awards or opportunities that you encourage freelancers to get involved with?

Emily:

I have not started researching other funds or grant opportunities, but we did start the Freelancers Choice Awards in 2017 to celebrate the hard work and success of peers across the country.

The award nominations kick off in the early spring of each year and run for three months followed by three months of public voting. The nominations are narrowed down by the public voting to three finalists in each category, then a set of third-party judges make the final selection.

The entire awards season ends with a red carpet awards ceremony at the Freelance Conference each year. Unfortunately, the crisis has caused us to cancel the awards season this year due to the conference being postponed to Sept. 12-14, 2021.

How do you think the economic landscape will change as a whole for freelancers after COVID-19?

Emily:

Honestly, I think it is going to have a positive impact on the freelance industry as a whole. 

Recovery requires the ability to be nimble, responsible and intentionalfreelancers are positioned to be that workforce. We do not need to be trained on how to work from home or manage ourselves, or how to use the communication and management toolswe use them every day.  

We already manage our own financial overhead of benefits and taxes, and bringing on freelancers can happen in hours instead of days or weeks.

Can you talk about your #FREECON USA event that you host and explain how freelancers can get involved?

Emily: 

Absolutely! 

#FREECON is short for the Freelance Conference, and as of right now, it is still the only conference in the world dedicated to the skills and tools of running a freelance business, regardless of industry. 

The conference happens annually as an in-person event in a different city each year. We launched a Virtual Summit opposite the conference to keep on top of information and reach more freelancers. 

The concept came from realizing we’re already great at our craft, and most of us didn’t come already understanding how to run the business. Learning these skills with and from our peers has proven to be more effective and enjoyable than sitting in a business class. Not to mention, freelancing is a unique business model that needs attention in different areas. We meet that need.

As mentioned above, the in-person conference has been postponed to Sept. 12-14, 2021. We will be providing a virtual version of the conference during the current dates of Aug 28-Sep 30, 2020.

In 2019 we launched a new concept called Freelance Business Week in three cities (Denver, Buffalo, and Austin) where local organizers create a local peer-learning event over five days in locations across their city. It was amazing! In 2020 we’re expecting six cities to participate.

That’s incredible! Do you have any other creative projects or resources you’d like to mention?

Emily:

The podcast: Freelancers Guide to Life kicked off this year with its first season of interviews highlighting twelve freelancers talking through how they navigated a serious challenge in their business. Season two launches in June 2020.

Get Involved and Get to Work

It’s refreshing to see that advocates like Emily are out there creating opportunities and providing resources to freelancers in need of support. 

With all the information she’s shared, now is the time to get involved and get to work on improving your business. Whether it’s getting involved with new networks or learning a new skill in your downtime, heed Emily’s insight and prepare for the possibility that things could be even busier once COVID-19 breaks and the world reverts back to the usual grind. 

After all, what else is there to do while you’re sitting around at home?

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Chase Maser
Chase Maser is a full-time freelance writer and content marketer. Aside from meeting deadlines, he writes poetry and fiction, and hosts poetry events throughout Los Angeles, CA.