How to Keep Writing and Making Money During the Coronavirus CrisisBy Margie Zable Fisher March 19th, 2020
Your kids and spouse are probably home, you hope to get to the supermarket today, and oh yeah, you still need to make a living during a pandemic that’s grinding everyone and everything to a halt.
While we are lucky enough to be able to work remotely during this crisis, economic uncertainty hangs heavy for freelancers, who are especially vulnerable during slowdowns. Absent long-term contracts, freelancers are easy targets for cuts. Plus many of us are sitting on a backlog of completed projects that only pay upon publication. Unrelated to coronavirus, they seem painfully irrelevant now and it’s anyone’s guess whether and when they’ll run.
The good news is that, as media outlets and brands pivot coverage toward the crisis, we’re still seeing plenty of paid writing opportunities up for grabs. We checked in with freelancers across the country to get their take on the fallout and round up their tips to weather the storm.
Freelancers can meet the moment with coronavirus-inspired pitches
All eyes and ears are on coronavirus, so ideating with the pandemic in mind is imperative if you want to secure work in the near term.
If you don’t cover news, health, business or money, and your head is spinning from everything going on, here are some examples of recently published stories in other categories (some with really unique angles), to get your creative juices flowing:
- I have OCD. Here’s how I’m dealing with coronavirus fears.
- A List of Indoor Activities That Will Keep Kids Entertained at Home During the Coronavirus Outbreak
- Why bidets are better than buying countless rolls of toilet paper
- 6 Ways to Arm Your Immune System to Fight Coronavirus
- 20 Best Hand Creams To Moisturize After Washing Your Hands
- Guide to summer travel: Where to go, what to do — and whether to book at all
- Worried the coronavirus came home with you? Tips for cleaning your gear post-trip
- Stuck at Home? These 12 Famous Museums Offer Virtual Tours You Can Take on Your Couch (Video)
- If You Could Use A Laugh Right Now, These 19 Tweets From Women This Week Should Do The Trick
- What to stream in a pandemic? Here are 25 comfort shows to binge and get your mind off coronavirus
Is anyone in the media looking for stories unrelated to the coronavirus?
The answer is yes (including our sister publication, The Content Strategist)—but not everywhere.
Richard Eisenberg, managing editor of Next Avenue, a PBS site for older Americans, has largely shifted his coverage of money, policy, and work toward coronavirus, but continues to publish virus-agnostic stories.
Certain topics, however, are off the table for now. Travel and humor stories “whose tone seems off in the current climate,” are on hold, Eisenberg said.
Twitter is showing signs of life for virus-unrelated stories:
Freelancers, send me your travel pitches 👉 Qin.Xie@independent.co.uk
I like colourful, narrative stories that involve "doing something" @IndyTravel readers might like to, and can afford to, do. Quirky and unusual and made for clickable headlines a bonus. As is sustainability.
— Qin Xie 谢琴 (@qinxiesays) March 13, 2020
— Mark Yarm (@markyarm) March 13, 2020
This post had more than 2,000 responses:
Are you an editor at a magazine/publication looking for articles/essays *not* related to COVID-19? Drop your @ in the replies so freelancers can find opportunities beyond pandemic coverage.
It’s important to stay on top of corona info, but we can care about many things at once!
— Matt Ortile (@ortile) March 15, 2020
What are corporate clients looking for?
The private sector is reeling from coronavirus as companies scramble to assess the impact on their customers and business operations. Many require new streams of emergency and/or virus-related communications with employees, customers, and readers. Freelancers who work with private clients and content companies are finding work amid the scramble.
“I’m putting on my news hat and helping my clients see how or whether to work coronavirus into the stories I write for them,” said Jeff Zbar, a Coral Springs, Florida-based freelance copywriter for professional service providers, including realtors, attorneys and medical practices. “They’re not a fit for all. But where they are, in stories or blogs, we work it in for timeliness and SEO.”
In one recent story about the real estate market in Fort Lauderdale, Zbar sprinkled commentary about the plunging stock market to keep it current. Another assignment picked up a few days ago for a client in the call center industry was about coronavirus and home-based agents.
Elizabeth M. Jones, a Westminster, MD-based freelance writer specializing in Fintech and SaaS, had one client shift gears mid-project to focus on coronavirus. “One client pulled me off one piece and asked me to write a different story about strengthening your business in the face of a pandemic.”
For other freelancers, it’s business as usual so far.
“Most of my clients are in the personal finance, insurance, or small business space,” said Sarita Harbour, a freelance writer in Canada. “None have mentioned the coronavirus at all.”
Contently managing editor Lisa Farino said some of her clients are exercising caution when it comes to virus-sensitive topics. “Clients that have typically had a small amount of travel content in the mix are pausing those stories and focusing on other types of content.”
Some freelancers are having difficulty reaching clients. “One of my clients hasn’t contacted me since late last week, which isn’t normal for them,” said Heather Patton, a Seattle, WA-based freelance writer specializing in product reviews, higher education, and technology. “I have had to cut back on my hours due to lack of communication about how to proceed with some of the individual projects I’m working on.”
How to get more writing assignments during the coronavirus pandemic
Many freelancers will have to retool to stay busy during the crisis. Several writers offered insightful advice.
Go through your virtual Rolodex
“My recommendation is that content marketing writers contact all current and past clients, including agencies, and let them know that they are available for quick-turnaround projects,” said Jennifer Goforth Gregory, a writer based in Raleigh, NC, who specializes in B2B tech. She included this recommendation in a recent blog post, where she also provided sample templates that can be used to reach out.
Be flexible and stay open to quick turnarounds
“I took on two same-day freelance assignments related to coronavirus. And I wrote like the wind over the weekend,” said Elyssa Kirkham, a freelance finance writer based in Salt Lake City, UT.
Post your thoughts on your blog and social media
“On Twitter, I shared some tips on how to prepare financially for some tough choices that people might face as a result of coronavirus. I actually had a brand reach out to me in response to that thread, asking me to turn it into a short post for their blog,” said Kirkham.
“For freelancers who don’t have much on their plates right now, take this time to beef up your own content,” said Trae Bodge, of Montclair, NJ, who writes about how consumers can save money. “I find that when my blog and social channels have consistent, current content that clearly shows what I do, the more work that comes my way.”
Update your information
With more time on your hands, consider freshening up your LinkedIn profile and writing portfolio.
“The more stories you can share on your portfolio, the greater the chance is that the Contently Intelligent Talent Recommendation system will match you with a client—and the greater the chance that managing editors and clients will see the type of depth and breadth to your background that will make them want to add you to a team and ask you to write a story,” said Farino.
Shift to in-demand niches
Most freelancers write for more than one category. “If my travel assignments are limited, I will try and focus on other subjects that I often write about, including women’s issues,” said Stacey Zable, a freelance writer based in New York City.
Put yourself in the mind of the reader
Writers can help ease the transition to a new way of life as people hunker down indoors. “We’re in a position now to do our part during this horrible time to create serviceable content that can be useful to people who suddenly find themselves stuck at home with kids, working from home, maybe eating and cooking at home when they are not used to it,” said Brooklyn-based Aly Walansky, who writes about food, lifestyles and travel.
Walansky also noted that the pandemic may require a new approach to covering the holidays and events that inspire editorial calendars. Typically at this time of year she would be gearing up for spring and summer gift guides for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and graduation, for example, but she’d be tone deaf to cover them the same way she did last year.
“The reality is, a lot of people are just going to be on a way-tighter budget in the months to come and won’t be doing as much shopping, or eating out, for that matter,” she added. “There’s still content to be written, but I think we need to cultivate pitches that are sensitive to these realities.”
Margie Zable Fisher has more than 20 years of experience writing about business, personal finance, health, fitness, lifestyle, personal development, and aging. She is available for assignments.