Top 10 Tips to help Freelancers & Social Entrepreneurs stay in business.
Working for yourself right now is challenging. The coronavirus pandemic has become a global crisis, with freelancers and small businesses particularly feeling the strain of government regulations forcing all but a handful to close their doors during the nationwide lockdowns. The lockdown has inevitably led to declining sales, cancelled bookings and possible job losses, leaving many small business owners anxious about what the future holds.
So how can you keep your social enterprise afloat until we’ve managed to weather the worst of this storm?
I am a sole director of a limited company, Sustain-Live Consulting Ltd and also one of three directors of social enterprise, Catalyse Change CIC, which is also legally classed as a private limited company. In many ways we are in a good position, as we are agile and don’t have large overheads, however our normal income streams and activities have all been hit by COVID-19.
So we have been exploring all the options open to us, which I’m going to share with you here.
Are you eligible for Government Support?
Firstly – before we look at social entrepreneurship ideas – have you checked what government support could be available? As there is currently a package which provides an opportunity for all businesses ‘to furlough’ – or not be available for work – and claim back 80% of total earnings. The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme will give individuals a taxable grant worth 80% of average monthly profits, up to £2,500 a month for the next three months. However as a company director it is more complicated eg. how do you actually do it and how much can you actually get paid, so it’s best to speak directly to your accountant to understand how it could work for you. My accountants TaxAssist are providing useful advice, here is a useful short film Guidance for Company Directors. Other clear, current sources of information are: Enterprise Nation and Martin Lewis.
However if this won’t help you – or not quickly enough – and if you don’t have savings or generous wealthy friends or family ready to help. What are your next steps?
Here are my 10 top social entrepreneurship ideas to try now:
1.Contact Your Customers
Get in touch with all of your current customers, this includes sponsors and funders. As if they have furloughed and/or lost income – which is more than likely – then it’s probably going to affect existing contracts and jobs. So contact them now to discuss options and negotiate any changes to project timelines and payments. Clearly you want to maintain good relationships with them, so be kind and empathise with their situation, remember that everyone is in the same boat right now. Try and negotiate a new arrangement if current work can’t go ahead e.g. a payment plan or a new timeframe. Communicate any new agreements clearly in writing.
2. Get Your Products Online!
Okay, so this is the obvious next move, how can you now deliver your key products and services online? What sort of digital offering can you now create. My sister, who is a yoga teacher for studios and corporates, lost all her income overnight. So she set up a Facebook group for her clients and has now started delivering her classes via zoom.
At Catalyse Change we are creating an online programme as a contingency for our summer sustainability camp. This is also a new business opportunity which will provide us with a new product for a much a wider audience. You might be thinking ‘that’s all very well but it wouldn’t work for me’ however you might be surprised at what’s possible. I recommend joining Janet Murray’s ‘Build your audience online’ membership club. Janet runs clear, engaging masterclasses on how to create passive income in your business e.g. online courses, memberships, Ebooks etc.
3. Innovate & Pivot!
As a social enterprise you exist to help solve specific social and environmental problems. So in a time of crisis how can you best serve your community? How can you help them whilst also keeping your business afloat? “Pivot” is a popular term in the start-up world whereby if an initial idea doesn’t work as planned, entrepreneurs pursue a Plan B.
A social enterprise in Milan has opened up a residence for children whose parents have been hospitalised. What problem can now you turn your skills and resources to solving? Many restaurants and cafes are pivoting into food takeaways & deliveries. A great social entrepreneurship idea is the Food Union where chefs collaborate to feed NHS staff.
4. Grant funding?
There may be grants available to help your business deliver charitable services, especially if you are serving those most affected by COVID-19. Unfortunately a lot of normal grant funds have now been closed to new applicants. However there are new emergency funds available, especially if you are working with certain vulnerable groups, such as children, elderly or homeless people. There are also regional and local funds becoming available, so do sign up to funding bulletins. Check out Grants online and Funding Central
Have you considered a crowdfunder to help you? It’s a great way to build your community and market your business, as well as to raise money for a new project or product. It could be an effective way to help you pivot and do something more community-minded. Check out the crowdfunding websites to find out how to do it and get ideas. We used Crowdfunder to launch Catalyse Change CIC, other good ones are Fundsurfer and GoFundMe who don’t charge a platform fee.
Also we use Local Giving as an effective way for a social enterprise to fundraise, as you benefit from gift aid. Another idea for independent businesses are ‘pay it forward’ vouchers, so your customers provide cashflow now, to use it when you open for business again eg. Wiggle PayitForward
6. Have you heard of Patreon?
It’s a website for creatives and entrepreneurs with a subscription-style payment model. Fans pay their favorite creators a monthly amount of their choice, starting from $1, in exchange for exclusive access or extra content. I just heard about this from Bex Band, The Ordinary Adventurer, as it is helping her to stay afloat now she’s just lost her main income from live events. Have a look around the site and see what people are offering. It could even become a core part of your business going forward. I also recommend Bex’s webinar if you are looking to grow your own brand and business.
7. Skill swap
Get creative. You don’t actually need money to get what you want. As many people now have more time on their hands, even if they have less money. So it’s an opportunity think about what you have to offer and what you need. Why not contact people in your network to find out how they are and explore the opportunity to skill swap e.g. web design, bookkeeping, how to run online events or develop a communication strategy. It’s an ideal time to put your house in order and look at some creative ways of doing it. You could also try established skills exchanges like Timebanks LETS or TimebankUK
8. Partnerships & Collaboration
Now’s a good time to have a think about your Big Hairy Audacious Goals and how to achieve them. Who would your dream partners or clients be? Who are those great people you would love to get to know better? Well now is the time to reach out and strike up a conversation. Have you got an idea you’d love their opinion on? Have you got an new project or event you’d love to collaborate on?
So while now is not the time to ask for money, it’s a time to lay the groundwork and grow relationships. There are currently lot of people sitting at home who would normally be difficult to get a meeting with. So why not use this as an opportunity to connect with them through Linkedin (do send a message with your invite if you aren’t already connected) and see what happens!
9. Newsletter & email list
Do you have a quality email list, of your customers and wider network, with whom you regularly communicate? Well if not, then now is the time to create one. Or if you do have one, now is a good time to use it and grow it. As an email list is an asset which you own. It’s not like your social media community where you don’t have any control over the algorithms or platform. We use Mailchimp for our monthly newsletter, as it’s easy to use whether for simple emails or to different target audiences.
I get a daily email from my marketing guru Seth Godin. His daily blog is always insightful and interesting. As a result, I’ve bought a number of courses and books from him. Don’t try a daily one for now though! But do make sure that whatever you do is consistent, even if it’s only monthly or every 6-8 weeks.
10. Put your house in order
Use this time to reflect, to dream, strategise and plan. Use it to put those admin, finance and project management systems in place. Perhaps finally sort out your website SEO and Google Analytics? And don’t just do it but also use them to think about how to work smarter.
How about your newsletter sign-up system, can you think of ways to improve that? Perhaps add a new email footer, write an ebook or set up an automated email sequence for new subscribers. So, when this pandemic ends you’re ready to launch that new product or event and hit the ground running. As you’ve done all the research, the preparation and other backroom jobs which we usually push to the bottom of our to-do list. Also do consider doing an online learning course – many are currently free or reduced – as a way to increase your knowledge and to help you develop your business.
Also how about using this enforced PAUSE to stop and reflect for a bit.
To dream about the ANSWERS to the BIG PROBLEMS which you want to help solve?
As a social entrepreneur you should be always thinking about what problem needs solving for the community you are here to serve. There are a lot of problems right now and so it’s a good time to think about how we can help solve them.
Our economic system is at a crossroads. We’re not only dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the single most impactful event of a generation, but also the increasing impacts of climate change and social inequality, and they’re not going away, are they? We’ve now got to think a lot harder and work a lot smarter.
We’ve got to dream, to create and to collaborate in order to deliver social entrepreneurship ideas and solutions to help fix society’s biggest problems. So let’s leave the master of innovation Albert Einstein to have the last word here.
“We can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Do you have more ideas to add which have worked for you?
Good luck with it all, do let me know how you get on. I’d love to hear from you.
Traci Lewis, director, catalyst & consultant, Catalyse Change CIC & Sustain-Live Consulting Ltd, email@example.com @TraciLewis79