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  • Writer's pictureHannah Duncan

Staying in business, without government support 🙄

When Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak triumphantly announced a COVID-19 support package for the UK’s self-employed, we probably rejoiced too soon. What do people always say about trusting politicians…? While the government grant has some eligibility terms, Sunak assured us that it would cover 95% of the UK’s 5 million self-employed workers.

However, according to the BBC, only 3.8 million people – or 76% - qualify. Other publications say it's a lot less. So what about the 1.2+ million other self-employed people (including me)? Can our businesses weather the storm, without any government help? Well... it looks like they'll have to.

But turning a business model around and adapting to change is not always easy. Inspired by the wonderful businesses around me, here are some ideas for all the contractors, consultants, freelancers and gig-workers out there.

1. How can you adapt your business?

Brainstorming what your unique selling point is, and how that could be useful for people in lock-down could inspire some new business ideas. Many businesses have managed to hold onto some of their income, by creatively switching up their offering.

Some hairdressers are organising virtual hair care parties, buy-in-advance gift vouchers or selling DIY products online with instructions. Elsewhere, local cafes are transforming themselves into delivery services for meals and veggie boxes. Searching online, you can find music, yoga and art teachers delivering their private and group lessons with platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and creating tutorials.

Across the UK, we’ve seen incredible creativity and resilience – particularly from small and micro businesses – who are finding ways to quickly pivot and adapt their offering. While some sectors, such as the fashion and insurance industries may need to cut back, there are others such as technology who may need your skills as they scale-up. Adapting your business to meet their needs could turn out to be a win-win, in these unprecedented times. For my own business, which is copywriting, I’ve tried to do exactly that, expanding my client base as much as I can and focusing on magazines.

2. How can you create new clients without cold-calling?

As a contractor, freelancer, consultant or gig worker, if you don’t already have a website and social media presence, now could be a great time to build one. This can help more people find you and see your full range of skills. Globally there are 4.33 billion people who have access to the internet, and so placing yourself here could boost opportunities and expand your reach. These days it’s relatively simple to build your own website, with many platforms offering the service for free.

Don’t let your skills go to waste during this time. You could write engaging blogs or articles on your specialist skill, create online tutorials or find other innovative ways to grab attention to your expertise. All of these things build up brand equity and help create stickiness in people’s minds.

3. How can you get clients to pay-up on those stale invoices? 😠

Reading through today’s business articles, many of them stress the importance of chasing up outstanding invoices. Easier said than done. When it comes to clients who are not prepared to pay, there are some steps you can take.

The best possible outcome is to have an open conversation about why the payment is taking so long. This way you can create a re-payment plan, and work around the problem. Ensure that the plan is agreed to in writing – just in case you have more payment problems down the road.

If you find that your calls and emails are being ignored, you can escalate the problem to the line manager. Once you start down this road, it’s unlikely that you’ll be working together again, but if they don’t pay you, you probably don’t want to continue the relationship anyway.

Taking things to the next level, you may be able to take your client to a Small Claims Court (for UK companies, claiming less than £10,000). Making a claim costs a small fee which you’ll get back if your case is successful, you can find out more and get started with a claim here. Before doing this, it’s normally better to let your client know in a clear way of your intentions. You may get a response and be able to reach an agreement.

Other methods include using a debt-collection agency. A quick search online should bring up some options.

If we can't do it, who can? 💪

Staying afloat for the future without a life-raft isn’t easy. However, we self-employed are a pretty savvy bunch, with a good head for spotting opportunities. After all, we founded our own businesses, right? For me personally, I’m confident that my little micro business will be ok, but it’s taken a few sleepless nights and a lot of planning to get to this stage. For the self-employed out there who feel alone right now, don’t forget who you are and what you’ve achieved. We’re a brilliant community – hard working and passionate – we have the creativity and business acumen to create potential, even in the midst of a pandemic. If anyone would like to talk, to discuss ideas, please get in touch!

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