50% of creative freelancers won't survive more than 3 months

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Being one of the world's largest creative communities, Creativepool is in a unique position to understand how the creative industry is struggling in self-isolation for the Coronavirus lockdown.

We had the power to make a difference by asking about the impact of the lockdown on businesses, employees and freelancers across our community. We created two surveys and launched them last week – one for full-time employees and freelancers, one for agencies, marketers and business leaders. Both included a section for unemployed creatives.

This is one of a series of articles which will look at the impact of COVID-19 on the creative industries. This article will examine the devastating effects of the lockdown on the creative freelance industry, which is the most neglected by government help around the world so far.

Freelancers are the most affected by the lockdown

Half of the surveyed freelancers in our Coronavirus survey has stated that it will not be able to survive for more than 3 months, if the lockdown continues for too long.

As if that weren’t enough to paint a discouraging picture of most freelancers in the industry, an additional quarter of the surveyed has responded that they won’t be able to survive for more than 6 months. This brings the number of freelancers in potentially severe financial straits to a staggering 74.3% [Graph 1].

Almost half of the respondent freelancers won't survive more than 3 months with less work


Graph 1

Over half of the surveyed freelancers in the creative industries have been severely affected by the pandemic. Whereas other fields of the creative industries were mostly moderately affected [Graph 2], 51.9% have been considerably affected by the lockdown [Graph 3], to which we can add an additional 18.9% which is just one step down the top of the scale.

About 50% of agency productivity has been heavily affected


Graph 2

Freelancers have been hit the worst: 70.8% of freelance businesses are struggling considerably right now


Graph 3

As a result, some freelancers are going for the reinvention route [Graph 4]. 61% are already working to reinvent themselves, while 6.5% are still considering their options.

This strategy goes from exploring new skill paths/attending online courses for 36.5%, working more on personal branding for 15.4%, or looking for new clients in 7.5% of cases. But most freelancers (40.7%) are doing a mix of all of the above, trying to fight back and face this lockdown the best way they can from different sources [Graph 5].

60% of freelancers are already working to reinvent themselves


Graph 4

40.7% of freelancers are doing all they can to stay afloat


Graph 5

What is perhaps more worrying is that most of the surveyed freelancers have been working as such for more than a year [Graph 6]. These are established professionals, presumably with a stable list of clients, all of whom are facing unprecedented challenges to stay afloat.

This is perhaps due to the fact that most organisations are laying off freelancers as the first choice when cutting down budgets. 42.7% of the surveyed agencies have fired all of the freelancers on record [Graph 7]. Only 17.1% have kept them all, while the rest of the scale shows varying results. 22.2% have laid off some freelancers while keeping others.

84.9% of the respondents are established freelance professionals


Graph 6

Less than 1 in 4 agencies has kept all of its freelance staff


Graph 7

All of this shows freelancers have been hit the hardest by the pandemic lockdown. And despite receiving a response from the government to their call for help, most are not happy with the results.

Here are some comments from our respondents:

"I worked full time for 7 years, finally going into the freelance world as a specialist in my field - pitch work. Unfortunately, my clients are putting most of their new business ventures on hold as a means to save money and cut costs - freelancers are seen as an unnecessary extravagance businesses can do without, but I cannot make a living without these companies. My work is highly specialised, and as I have been out of FT work now for so long I don't even know if I would be able to easily re-enter the workforce."

Freelance Graphic Designer, United Kingdom

"I am a commercial photographer. Earlier, I have worked in media industry. I have to depend upon wedding and event assignments. Due to lock-down, I have to work in public gathering, I have to keep close with public. In this period of time all fixed assignments have been cancelled. Not only me, a huge number of people are now jobless, no earnings, no money in hand. How long can we survive with small savings? Price of necessary commodities are increasing. We are taking twice the food, only rice, dal or any vegetable curry. Many people belong to unorganized labor class, they are stranded in many parts of the country without money."

Freelance Photographer, India

Government help

More freelancers than not think that government financial aids will not help keep the economy afloat or are sceptical that it will [Graph 8]. This is true across the world, with only half of the surveyed (44.6%) coming from the United Kingdom. When asked why, most freelancers responded that the government does not cover small businesses.

Small limited companies cannot stop working to take advantage of furloughed funds, lest running the risk of ceasing all operations before 3 months. Others have brought the harshness of this lockdown situation as the key motivation, stating that the pandemic is unprecedented in the modern era and their government is still unsure about which direction this will all go.

Most freelancers do not believe or are sceptical that government plans will keep the economy afloat


Graph 8

In this scenario, freelancers are also the ones who are worried about their work the most [Graph 9]. Nearly 4 in 10 freelancers are extremely worried about their work right now, but numbers go up if we include a slightly smaller portion of that scale. Overall, 64.7% of freelancers are worried or extremely worried about their work.

Freelancers are the most worried for their work


Graph 9

Here are some more comments from our community:

"I'm a freelance proofreader and copy editor, and also a children's book author. I have already been having a hard time finding new clients and work, but the pandemic has essentially shut down any possibility of getting new work. So many people are laid off, I'm seeing hundreds of applicants for a single position. The competition is fierce and terrible, and I wonder how I will be able to make a decent living again."

Freelance Proofreader & Copy-editor, United States

"The situation in India is very difficult. However, Our state Government and Central government is trying to provide basic food items through rationing system. Those are very poor, but they are getting certain amounts of food free of charge. Our government is working the best it can to get over the situation and we are with our government. We shall overcome."

Freelance Graphic Designer, India

Keeping hopes up

In this chaotic climate of uncertainty for freelancers all around the world, some freelancers have chosen to share their story with us. The ‘after’ seems to worry most of them. 33.1% believe the industry will ‘go back to normal’, but almost 40% predict it will be a new normal, with the rest being either unsure, hopeful or believing the damages of the lockdown will be irreversible [Graph 10].

38.2% of freelancers believe the creative industry will face 'a new normal'


Graph 10

Amidst all this, one long comment stood out when reading the stories of our surveyed freelancers. It comes from Emilie Burnham, freelance art director, who moved to the States two years ago.

"I moved back to the states almost two years ago after living abroad for 10 years to my city that had changed dramatically in the design world to the point where I was having trouble finding work that previously I didn't even have to try. I'm also transitioning my career from part design/part design education to full time design practice in UI/UX.

"In the mean time I am trying to get UI/UX design work to update my skill-set and portfolio, however you need the UI/UX work first to put in portfolio but can't get UI/UX work unless you have it in your portfolio. I don't have enough time to create comps because I am looking for jobs/projects to get me through this unprecedented time. I'm currently taking a year-long UX course which will eventually help, however I'm only into month 3 of a 15 month course and need work now.

"I have much talent and experience, am an artist and illustrator, copy writer, experienced with animation, typography expert, robust career as a professional art director, designer and illustrator, so as you can imagine my frustration and worry. I know I'm not alone but right now, it sure feels like it.

Freelance Art Director, United States

“I know I'm not alone but right now, it sure feels like it.”

Emilie's comment sadly captures the spirit of the moment, with most creatives stuck at home or abroad looking to rise again when the lockdown will be over. But in our own self-isolation, that time looks every day farther than the one before.

Here are some more comments from our respondents:

"Freelance Designer with more than 15 years experience, Now working for some clients who don't know how the future will look and how they will survive this crisis. This will surely affect me but I am positive and think this is a chance to reinvent ourselves, explore new horizons and recycle our skills and be able to offer new services to our clients."

Freelance Designer, Alemania

"I have already started a transitioning process to a more promising industry. The pandemic has forced me to speed up this transition. Interestingly, the pandemic is affecting my competitors more since most of them have very old-fashioned manner of conducting business and have been relying on their old methods which are no longer applicable. Many of them are going to experience a brutal bankrupt because of that. I think it is safe to say that the coronavirus pandemic marks the official end of the industrial revolution and the official begining of the information/digital industry. The sooner people relize this, the sooner they will stop wasting their quarantine watching Netflix and will sooner start adjusting to the new economic reality."

Freelance Translator, Bulgaria

“My story is a common one. I was a very busy freelancer, I had my plans, hopes and dreams for the future - I was about to make an offer to a house I fell in love with. All was going well until this. I had my last gig 2 weeks ago. I have been refreshing YJ and Linkedin since then looking at the same posts and the same empty pages all day long. I have no idea when I will get a job again. Roles are on hold. Life is on hold. Everything is on hold apart from the bills and the day to day expenses.

“Looking for a job right now or looking at the current situation is equally depressing as looking at the numbers of the dead people going up every day. It might sound dramatic, but what comes after worries me most.”

Freelance Head of Design, United Kingdom

Here at Creativepool we know that the creative freelance industry is in financial pain and we are taking active steps to support you through the lockdown. More news about that will be available in the coming days. Make sure to watch this magazine space for upcoming details.

Creativepool's Coronavirus Survey Report

Here are some useful links to published articles:

Header image: Opening to Travel, by Stephanie Brandl


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