6 Ways to Successfully Pivot as a Freelancer During a Crisis

As the COVID-19 pandemic reshapes the world, business owners are left wondering how they can survive, let alone thrive. For so many freelancers, 2020 has brought financial hardships and fears for the future. Yet its during crisis moments like these that the most successful professionals do something extraordinary.

They pivot.

For freelancers, pivoting is essentially moving sideways into a space that offers more potential for income and growth. It’s not a complete transformation of business nor is it giving up, but rather a lateral move born out of necessity.

Pivots can be temporary, or they can go on to be permanent. Most businesses, large and small pivot at one time or another.

Examples of businesses pivoting

Here are just three examples of famous pivots.

When we think of Flickr, we think of the famous image hosting site. However, Flickr was originally an online role-playing game called Game Neverending. Within the game was a photo-sharing tool, which was one of its most popular features. The company behind the game decided to pivot and create the Flickr we recognize today. 

Avon, the internationally recognized cosmetics company, began life as a solo traveling book salesman. It was only when Mr. McConnell realized his female customers were more interested in the accompanying free perfume samples, that he pivoted to selling perfume.

Nintendo, the famous video game brand, which brought Super Mario to the masses, used to make vacuum cleaners and instant rice packages. They then tested video consoles and games, and the rest is history. 

How freelancers can pivot

As a freelancer, you’re in a better position to pivot than any other type of professional. The task is even easier if you work entirely online. To pivot in your case is simply adapting your brand and messaging to your new direction. It’s about innovating to survive and thrive.

So, what are some of the ways you can quickly pivot during a crisis?

1. Focus on a tighter niche

Being a generalist, even at the best of times, is hard work. You need to market yourself as a kind of “Jack of all trades, master of none”. Unless you’re experienced and have an extensive network, it can be challenging to gain traction and earn top dollar.

Life as a generalist becomes even more challenging during a national or world crisis. A potential solution is to pivot into a specialism focused on a particular skill or single service. Specializing in such a way doesn’t mean you discard other services entirely but merely that you position yourself in your marketing as a more focused freelancer.

2. Expand with new skills

Depending on your industry and skills, you may decide to expand your services, if you’re already a specialist. In a sense, this sounds counterintuitive and conflicts with the previous point.

But instead of expanding in a general sense, you pivot to select new services that will be in more demand in a post-COVID world. This tactical expansion potentially means learning new skills, which many freelancers have done during lockdowns and because of reduced workloads.

3. Same skills but different target markets

Another way to pivot your freelancing business is to maintain the same skills and services but to focus on attracting different types of clients. Essentially, this means targeting particular markets who will pay more and who need your services the most.

Discovering your perfect niche market is easier said than done. However, you’ll generally have a good idea based on previous clients you’ve worked with, the number of inquiries you receive from particular types of prospects, and any industry experience you have from your pre-freelancing career or education.

When you understand an industry or market, you can usually work faster and more effectively, as well as charging higher fees, which is always a bonus in a crisis.

4. From one-off services to retainer services

A negative aspect of freelancing for many freelance professionals is the client churn rate. Once a project is signed-off, it’s often the last time you hear from that particular client. For others, it can be years before they need another job done. This churn means you constantly need to attract new prospects.

If you’re tired of high churn rates, you might consider pivoting to offering only retainer services. Retainers are the nearest equivalent to a long-term contract in a traditional job. A client pays you weekly or monthly for on-going work which can last for years.

Some freelancers work exclusively with four or five clients long-term and only need to onboard a new client once or twice a year. If that’s your dream scenario, then it’s time to pivot!

5. Introduce products

When your services face reduced demand during economic downturns, then you might consider how you can introduce products as an alternative. For some sectors, even as the need for freelancing services decline, the demand for related information remains steady, or it even increases.

Together with your services, you might create a series of self-published books, online courses, premium video tutorials, or packaged services combined with templates or guides.

If you can’t think of a way to create your own products, you might look into affiliate marketing. This is where you sell other peoples’ products for a commission.

6. Offer coaching or consulting services

Another type of service freelancers often miss is coaching – or its near cousin, consulting. With the popularity of Zoom conferences and remote meetings online, the ability to coach and consult with your target audience has never been easier.

If you currently find it difficult to sell your typical services, due to global circumstances, consider pivoting to coaching or consulting. Your target audience might be more open to paying for training, advice, and more DIY solutions.

Pivoting for freelancers

Regardless of the crisis, whether it be a global pandemic, an economic recession, or something more personal, pivoting can help you both in the short term and long term.

In desperate circumstances, pivoting can mean the difference between zero income this month, and at least something. As mentioned earlier, a pivot can be a temporary stopgap, or it can lead to an entirely new journey to riches that are currently unimaginable.

Or a happy place somewhere in the middle.

Pivoting is not something to resist. It’s an essential aspect of running your own business. As a freelancer, it’s always wise to view crisis moments as new opportunities, which is the mindset of all the most successful entrepreneurs.