With the invasion of the internet and mobile technology into our daily lives, the last decade saw the rise of the gig economy. Why work in a corporate setting when you can work from anywhere? So when the government announced the enhanced community quarantine on March 17 in response to the COVID-19 threat, freelancers didn’t seem to be affected. That’s unfortunately not the case.
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Many freelancers today are virtual assistants, content writers, web designers, and other purely digital work. For them, working from home all day without seeing another human being is the norm. For freelance agents who offer services that require face-to-face interaction, however, it’s a different story. Real estate brokers, photographers, fitness trainers, tutors, music teachers, event hosts—these are just a few of the careers in the gig economy that was abruptly interrupted by the lockdown.
No work, no pay
“Unlike regular employees who receive support in times of calamity from their employers or DOLE via advanced pay or a possible 13th month bonus ahead of time, if we don’t work, we don’t get paid,” says makeup artist Jigs Mayuga. “My primary work is a service and requires actual close contact with clients, so working from home is not an option.”
Luis Cruz works in real estate and property management. “I can't exactly show clients around properties now, and bookings for managed properties have been cancelled,” he says.
It’s like income is frozen, says financial advisor and Enderun Colleges Chinese language instructor Kendrick Chua. “I earn through commissions, bonuses and professional fees. Since I can't go out and meet clients or students, my income drastically dropped,” he says. While Kendrick has investments in stocks, he gave a grim report: “No investment income either since stock market is on a downtrend.”
Does having a job help? Yes, Migs Bustos, an ABS-CBN sports anchor and broadcaster, says. But he supplements his income with gigs as an events host and sports commentator. “Sports events were cancelled so there's literally no more opportunity to call games. So no pay,” he says. “As an events host, I've had a number of cancelled events already, which also affected my expected income.” He says the lockdown affects his payables, which includes bills, loans, and the unexpected rise in grocery expenses.
Owning a business would’ve helped except that their business relies on people gathering, too. Dix Perez is a photographer who also rents out his studio. “Time is money. As a freelancer, it's not that you are not making money when you aren't working, you are losing money,” he says. “The time you don't spend shooting should be made to good use. No economic activity means people won't avail of my services or rent the studio.”
The contingency plan
The men in our article aren’t complaining. As freelancers, they’re acutely aware of droughts. A steady income comes from constant hustle, and they need to be prepared for events whether it’s unfortunate like an illness or a joy like a whole summer touring the world. That’s why, unlike people who expect a salary every 15 days, they prioritize setting aside money.
Though Mayuga is a successful makeup artist, he’s also a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer at Central Ground CrossFit and a partner at Spinning and Rowing Studio Saddle Row. Plus, he has social media sponsorships from beauty, fitness, and lifestyle brands. “I’ve learned to always be prepared financially for the unknown,” he says, adding that he was laid off from a previous airline job during the aviation slump of the 2000s, right after 9/11 and SARS. This taught him that an emergency fund is essential, especially now that he’s a freelancer. “Other than my savings, I have life insurance and health insurance (HMO) that I pay for as an individual.”
Professional food photographer Aldwin Aspillera says that, right now, he is so concerned about surviving the quarantine. “I still have some money in the bank, and my wife and I are staying with my mom, so there are some expenses that are mitigated. The good thing about this quarantine is that we're basically jailed at home,” he shares. “So a lot of the usual daily expenses like gas and parking fees are gone. I get to maximize what I have and hopefully it'll be enough to get me and my family through.”
It’s no surprise that Chua is financially ready, too. “Fortunately, as a financial adviser, I have practice and espoused setting aside an emergency fund for, well, emergencies. This is one of those. So even if I don't earn anything, we are okay.”
Nevertheless, even with all their financial preparedness, our freelancers were blindsided by the community quarantine. Jobs not just suddenly dried up; the future is also uncertain as the COVID-19 crisis is only just beginning. They’ve learned new lessons and give advice to all freelancers:
1. Diversify your income streams.
If there’s one thing every working person—salaried or freelance—must know, it’s this! “I learned that I shouldn't be putting all my eggs in one basket,” Aspillera says. “I rely solely on my photography income. I should diversify my income streams. Have investments. Don't rely on one stream of income.”
2. Adjust your business model.
Freelancers whose business model relies on face-to-face services will need to bring their work online. If you’re in real estate, do digital home tours. If you’re a makeup artist or fitness coach, start a YouTube channel offering tutorials. If you’re a photographer, add photo editing to your list of services. Offer online courses about your career.
3. Invest in a business people need.
“This crisis really drove home the point that I need to source at least some of my income from a business based on basic necessities,” Cruz says. “I've been focused on important, but ultimately, non-essential services. In times of crisis, demand for this kind of work drops, so I have to make sure I have alternative income streams that, though less glamorous, provide a steady flow of funds.”
Aspillera agrees. “If you can run another business that's totally different from your current one, then do it.”
“I'm learning to be more mindful of home supplies and planning more long-term in terms of food and perishable, often-used goods.”
4. Have an emergency fund.
Mike Aquino edits corporate content for a regional content creation company, writes articles on finance, technology, and travel, and is a Tripsavvy.com contributor. He says he’s fine... for now. “I’m worried about getting sick from COVID. As the breadwinner, that will definitely be a problem for my family!”
“An emergency fund is totally different from your savings. Your savings are your savings. That's for the future,” Aspillera adds. “An emergency fund is something tucked away that's usually three to six months’ worth of your monthly income. So that if an emergency like this happens, you have three to six months’ worth of your income to live on even if you're not earning anything.”
5. Have cash on hand.
While Chua is financially okay, he confessed that the lockdown emphasized the need to be liquid, especially when you’re about to become a father. “I can be better prepared in terms of having more cash on hand. Fortunately, I was able to withdraw what I needed for my wife's delivery, but it's just enough,” he says. “Looking back, I would have wanted to have more cash on hand. We never know. Banks might be closed and we can't get our money.”
6. Learn how to do everything online.
Mikey Bautista, managing editor of Everydaycarry.com, says that the quarantine obviously affects his ability to perform errands: banking, groceries, mailing packages, and other activities that require his physical presence. While many people are adept at online tools, many freelancers prefer going out to do errands since this is a chance for them to have human contact.
Unfortunately, there will be times we’ll need to stay indoors. So download apps that can help you pay your bills, shop for groceries and medicines, order food, ship items, and do bank transactions online.
7. Learn how to work together even when apart.
Aside from emails and text messages, freelancers must add online tools to their arsenal so that when you need to stay put, you won’t be unavailable to your clients. Bautista says that part of working with his team online is looking for ways to improve their workflow even when on different time zones. “Even now we're looking into collaboration and socializing tools not just for work, but also during downtime while people are stuck at home,” he says. Tools his team used to take for granted like voice calls and chatrooms are now finding new purpose during this time, and they try to keep abreast of what's new and useful when it comes to improving their day-to-day work life.
8. Learn something new.
“I now have a lot of free time so I enrolled myself in online graphic design classes,” Aspillera share. “After that, I plan to enroll in video editing and color grading classes—additional skills that I can offer alongside my photography and that I can do at home remotely.” That's one thing he realized about his work. “I have to do my shoots with other people in other locations. I can't service a hotel's photography requirements at home. I have to do it on location. Unlike graphic design or video editing, as long as I get the materials, I can do everything pretty much at home. So if another lockdown comes up—God forbid—I will have the option to still offer my services and earn something even if I'm just at home.”
Check online learning platforms like Udemy, Coursera and Masterclass for courses you can enroll in.
9. Think long-term even while at home.
Now that he’s confronted with the fact that he can’t just go out for what he wants and needs, Bautista is more careful with their household stores. “I'm learning to be more mindful of home supplies and planning more long-term in terms of food and perishable, often-used goods.”
Bustos agrees and brought up the need to ration supplies: “Limit food intake so you won’t finish up your ration!”
When all this is over, stock up your pantry wisely. Learn recipes that will feed plenty and last for a week in storage. And let’s hope that this experience has taught us to be careful with how we use our resources.
“I should diversify my income streams. Have investments. Don't rely on one stream of income.”
10. Care for the people who matter.
Because of the month-long community quarantine, everyone’s spending more time with their family. Facebook—our default community now that everyone’s indoors—shows many are using the time to finish reading their book pile or watching their Netflix shows. Others are discovering new hobbies, cooking more, and organizing and decorating their home. These activities have allowed for more family bonding time.
“Keeping busy, avoiding boredom. Work is still coming in, so I have that covered. My wife and kid are spending more time at home, so more of my time at home is spent in their company,” Aguino says. “Luckily my kid isn’t very needy about my time.” The important thing now, he says, is to keep a good balance of work and family time.
Bustos is also grateful for the sudden pause. “The silver lining is we're getting more rest. Home workouts are a plus, too. It’s important to stay healthy. It’s unimaginable that we're experiencing this pandemic for real. [It used to be just in] movies or video games. This brings perspective on how we should treat our bodies and other people,” he says. “We must care for the ones who have no other choice. Of course, we have to trust in the Lord. This is beyond our control and we should leave it all to Him.”