Industry

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Most freelancers will need nearly a year to recover from the COVID crisis

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Being one of the world’s largest creative communities, Creativepool is in a unique position to understand to what extent the creative industry is recovering from the COVID-19 outbreak.

We had the power to make a difference by asking about the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on businesses, employees and freelancers across the creative industries in the past year. We created two surveys and launched them as a follow-up to our first reportone for full-time employees and freelancers, one for business leaders from agencies, creative services, brands and creative companies. Both included a section for unemployed professionals.

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 effects of the lockdown on freelancers, the most affected group since the beginning of the pandemic. Here is what we found out.

Productivity & Earnings

Freelance businesses have been affected the most by the coronavirus outbreak. With little to no government help for some (limited companies are a painful example) and clients spending less and less, freelancers are struggling to get back on their feet and 50% wouldn’t have been able to survive more than 3 months back in April. Most of that portion has been forced to upskill, reinvent themselves, or change life completely.

As a result, almost 1 in 2 freelancers has been considerably affected by the pandemic. Overall, over 8 in 10 freelancers have been at least moderately affected [Graph 1].

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Graph 1 - Freelancers Survey

This translates in either reduced spending or a difficulty in guaranteeing client retention. 31.2% of freelancers now have no work, and of those who are still working, almost 50% is earning much less [Graph 2]. Though some have been able to retain the same clients as before (31.5%), over half of the respondents have lost all or some of their clients. Only 10% was able to gain a few more clients [Graph 3].

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Graph 2 - Freelancers Survey

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Graph 3 - Freelancers Survey

This is likely due to a drop in client spending. Over 3 quarters of freelance clients have either stopped or reduced their spending in this period, leading to difficulties in client retention and all the issues mentioned above [Graph 4].

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Graph 4 - Freelancers Survey

Though the rest of the industry was somewhat able to adapt to these changing times, freelancers have struggled to find their balance, most likely due to a lack of government help for a good portion of them, as shown a few sections down. As a consequence, some have been forced to up their skills or change their business altogether.

Here are some comments from our respondents:

“Work stopped literally overnight, and there was very little to be found. As a Director of an Ltd company I self furloughed myself to see through the worst. Thankfully, contracts have been offered so I'm more confident about the future.”
Senior Copywriter, Freelance, United Kingdom

“I am an American in Italy. We were one of the first countries hit really hard. As I've always worked from home, quarantine did not affect me terribly, however my husband lost both his jobs and it was frightening to be away from my family in such a dire circumstance. As Covid spread to the US it became clear that they were going to be worse off than Italy and now it's my turn to worry about my family back in the States. A lot of my clients needed work done to communicate closures or new rules with their clients, so despite the fact many people lost their jobs I had more work that revolved around quarantine and safety. Many states in America opened too quickly and many of my clients were eager to open even though it was unsafe. I still have some guilt making advertisements for re-openings that weren't in the best interest of their communities.“
Illustrator, Freelance, Italy

Consequences on Skillset

The data related to freelancers and their skillset is consistent and reflects what seen above. 

Some 41.2% have believed their skills were less in demand, but the services of 22.7% of freelancers were not required at all [Graph 5]. According to our data, among these were the freelancers in the production/post-production field, such as editors and filmmakers. With most creative services agencies unable to carry on shooting while on lockdown, these freelancers appear to have been among the most affected, alongside event managers and organisers.

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Graph 5 - Freelancers Survey

Some took the opportunity to up their skills or reinvent themselves. With less work, some freelancers had a bit more time on their hands, and decided to invest it with new professional qualifications or to learn new skills. However, still a staggering 30% was forced to reinvent their business [Graph 6].

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Graph 6 - Freelancers Survey

Tapping into a pool of experienced freelancers, with most having been in their business for more than 3 years, our survey unearthed a discouraging reality for the future of the freelance industry. Will some professions disappear? Will they adapt to change and find new sources of income? Unfortunately, only time will tell. One thing is for certain: with over 66% of freelancers relying on their own contacts as the main source of freelance work [Graph 8], it appears that reduced client spending could have a disastrous effect on the overall freelance industry.

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Graph 7 - Freelancers Survey

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Graph 8 - Freelancers Survey, all responses aggregated

Here are some comments from our respondents:

“I am from a third world country, and practice as a freelance cinematographer, camera operator and documentary producer/filmmaker is really challenging. I am stuck. These days post production of my two movies is under threat, because I have lost my freelance work, I am not able to pay my colourist, sound designer, editor, and this is really ruining my creative relationship with technicians.”
Documentary Filmmaker, Freelance, Belgium

“I found out I was pregnant November 2019. I knew I didn't have long before I needed to go on maternity leave, so I was looking for more clients to boost earnings. However when the pandemic started to get worst and we became closer to lockdown, one client was in a rush to complete a project and another was negotiating an extension to my current contract. It was very uneasy time in March, as I was sure I was going to loose both clients.
I did lose one client in the end, but the other kept me on, so I have been lucky and managed to keep a monthly salary coming in until July at least. Negotiating is a bit hardy nowadays because almost everyone is in financial difficulty and will be for some time to come. I think freelancers are going to find it hard to get a decent pay while the country and businesses recover. So I am very worried for when, in a year’s time I return to work after having a baby. I don’t know if I will be able to earn a decent rate.”
Video Editor & Motion Graphics Artist, Freelance, United Kingdom

Recovery

Government regulations have hardly helped and, in fact, have largely ignored a specific part of the industry. Over one third of the surveyed freelancers wasn’t able to take advantage of government help – not because they had a choice, but rather because there was none available to them [Graph 9]. In the UK, these were largely freelancers with their own limited companies, who have notoriously fallen through the cracks of the government furlough and financial help scheme.

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Graph 9 - Freelancers Survey

All of the above has left the freelance industry in a dismal state. While some freelancers have stated they should be able to get back on track in around 6 months, nearly half say they will need around or more than a year to return to a pre-pandemic level of business [Graph 10, Graph 11]. This is especially true of those freelancers who have lost clients in the past 8 months.

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Graph 10 - Freelancers Survey

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Graph 11

Still losing finances, still neglected, freelancers in the creative industry appear yet again as the most affected group in our report. With some working less or not working at all, clients reducing their spending, and the inevitable push to recovery happening in other parts of the industry, most freelance businesses may struggle to stay afloat.

And yet, most decide to stay positive. While almost a quarter believes the industry will get worse, some 53.6% are confident that the situation will gradually improve [Graph 12].

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Graph 12 - Freelancers Survey

We at Creativepool are determined to play an active part in that recovery. Following our recent introduction of studiogigs, we hope we can provide opportunities to those who need it the most in these challenging times. Head onto our Studio homepage to find out more.

Here are some comments from our respondents:

Being a full-time freelancer is difficult in general because you may have work now but not for the next month or even next. It's been this way ever since I started freelancing. This could be because I'm on my own and do not have an agency to help with work. However I have been fortunate to have worked on some really good projects with some great brands in the US, UK etc and I'm thankful for it. 
For almost three months since the pandemic started I did not have work. I understand everyone is going through a hard time. Since May I started getting work and it's been good so far. Again, this project will get over in another two weeks after which I will have to again start looking for new opportunities.

Jewellery Designer, Freelance, India

Being diversified between camera and post was essential to weathering the storm. Furthermore leaning into remote productions right as things went bad has opened up a lot of new opportunities. Every disaster is full of opportunities, you need to lean into them. I did.
DOP/Post Finishing Artist, Freelance, United States

Creativepool Coronavirus Survey Report – Part 2

Header image: Manuel Ruberto

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