Freelancing During A Pandemic

Being a freelancer right now in the marketing and advertising industry is unpredictable.

While some work continues to come in, other projects are sputtering to a halt. But as more marketing professionals get laid off or furloughed, demand for freelance work is on the rise.

“We get really good news and then really bummer news every day,” said Stephanie Nadi Olson, CEO and founder of We Are Rosie, a network of 4,000 independent freelancers working across media, creative, mar tech, ad tech, events, innovation and strategy.

Nadi Olson is trying to create opportunities for people who need it while staying connected to her remote community, whether that’s by launching a new Facebook group, creating mentoring opportunities or holding Zoom happy hours for freelancers working on projects.

At the same time, she and her husband are caring for two children, ages 4 and 6.

“It’s intense and a little scary,” Nadi Olson said. “As someone running a bootstrapped business, what does this look like with two small children long term? It’s a mess, and we’re still figuring it out.”

Nadi Olson spoke to AdExchanger from her sunroom in Atlanta, while her children watched TV in the next room.

AdExchanger: What’s the market like for freelancers right now?

STEPHANIE NADI OLSON: Our clients are still requesting work. We moved into contract negotiations with three Fortune 100 brands that weren’t options a few weeks ago.

But we’re seeing smaller clients and agencies pump the breaks. That’s where we’re seeing a big dip. Agencies are cutting freelancers first, and they should. They’re thinking about layoffs and cost cutting. Of course, that’s going to impact us. But those companies should be focused on their full-time employees.

What kind of work do brands need right now?

We’re working with a pharma company to change the way they promote to doctors. That industry has been built on door-to-door salesmanship, and that’s not happening anymore. They had an initiative underway already, but it’s become more urgent.

How are you supporting your freelancers through this crisis?

Our team’s No. 1 directive is to check on our community. We don't need to be pitching and selling. We need to be caring for our people. They need us more than ever right now.

We’ve been having a lot of one-on-one conversations, which we’ve always done, but it’s accelerated. We are doing virtual happy hours. We’ve also accelerated the launch of our Facebook group, The Garden, a place to connect and offer opportunities. We’re sending emails and resources much more frequently now. The goal is to put more of them to work.

A lot of agency employees and marketers are out of work. Do you have opportunities for them?

We’re seeing a huge influx of people who are furloughed or laid off. Even though these people aren’t part of our community long term, how can we care for them now, whether they’re here for two months or two years? We’re going to create a space for people to opt in to community building. Do you want to be a mentor? A mentee? Do you want to talk to someone from a similar background?

One of the Big Three consultancies called us and said they’re working on a resource list for clients that have to furlough their workforce. They asked, “How can you help us care for these people during this difficult time?”

What changes to remote and freelance working do you think will stick?

This situation is causing people to rethink the notions they had about how work needs to happen and the rigid parameters we’ve had around work. While this isn’t ideal – I call it “emergency work from home” – it’s going to open folks’ eyes to the fact that we can work in different ways. Things we thought could never be done remotely can be.

Nobody has a sense of space and time anymore, which is good and bad. It’s bad if people get burnt out, but it’s good if people have the freedom to work in a way that makes sense.

How’s life in Atlanta right now?

We have been in quasi-quarantine for a couple of weeks. My husband and I are both working from home. We have a home office set up in a guest bedroom, and we work side by side.

Is it hard to be productive?

It’s not bad. He’s an engineer so he doesn't talk as much as I do. It’s probably worse for him.

We initially had to reschedule this interview because you lost child care this week. How are you dealing with that?

We don’t have a routine yet. It changes every day, frankly, based on my schedule.

We’ve been trying to time shift. I get up at 4:30 am. I work until the kids get up at 7:30 am and spend breakfast with my family. I try to block three hours in the middle of the day for my husband to work. And I’m doing bedtime at night so he can catch up on work.

We talked last week about day shifting. What if I worked Sunday through Thursday, and he worked Saturday through Wednesday, so we can be more present for the kids?

How are your kids responding to this new normal?

They’re living their best life. We’re giving them privileges they don’t normally get. They’re getting sugar every day. We go on family bike rides, which would never happen every week.

We also just bought the most ridiculous water slide that’s going to take up the entirety of our postage stamp backyard. And we have a slip and slide. It’s the most ridiculous mess, but I don’t care, as long as my kids have something fun to do.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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