I keep hearing people talk about how these are ‘unprecedented’ times, and how we’re all struggling to figure out how we can best respond: not only to the immediate shock to our cash-flows, but also how whatever we do in response should help us better withstand future shocks.
But I’m not sure I agree – or at least, I think I may have accidentally trained for this new world we find ourselves living and (trying to carry on) working in…
Let me take you back about 5 years to the Christmas of 2015, when I was living in the Calder Valley. That year there was a LOT of rain. And there was a LOT of flooding.
Short version = my family home was washed out (needing rebuilding from the foundations up); we were technically homeless for 4 months (and when we did get back into the house, works carried on around us for another 4 months); my home office got destroyed; there was no government support for us freelancers; all the retail business in the area suffered as no-one came into the valley because people thought nothing would be open; the specter of recession loomed large (which no-one wanted to talk about); and somehow there was an assumption that we’d all miraculously just be able to carry on with our businesses as if nothing had happened after a few weeks of ‘mopping out and cleaning up’.
But it happened to all of us in that place, and together we worked out ways to carry ourselves through it.
Sound a bit familiar to where we find ourselves today?
If it does, then the similarities don’t stop there – the ways I responded, and joined together with others, also eerily foretells what we’ve been seeing happening over the last few weeks:
- Facebook groups being formed to share information and encouragements.
- Local crowdfunding campaigns.
- Emergency grants becoming available.
- Mutual trading initiatives between local businesses.
- Recreating festivals to have an opportunity to celebrate with each other in ways we’d lost the usual means to be able to stage them.
- Lobbying public bodies so they could better appreciate our circumstances and need for support, to elicit state support for the majority of enterprises who ‘fell between the cracks’ of the initial business support packages.
- And everyone talking about our mental well-being
And just about all of us came through it. And I realised a lot about how supportive clients, suppliers, and just about everyone can be. Because when you explain that despite overwhelming circumstances that are beyond anyone’s control, you’re trying to do the best you can to carry on and maintain a standard of professionalism, people tend to reciprocate in kind. And those simple acts of kindness make an awful lot of difference.
Now, it was supposed to be a 1 in a 100 years level event, but earlier this year there was flooding to the same extent – enough to see industrial shipping containers floating past people’s front doors. But this time, businesses turned things around a lot quicker, because as we were recovering in 2015-6, we were also taking the opportunity to think carefully about how we could (re)design the ways we worked and lived to better recover from the next flood.
And why am I sharing this history lesson here with you today? 2 reasons:
- I’ve lived through times that are very similar to these in many ways – and managed to not only come out of the other side of them, but in ways that have meant I can (in theory) cope better with unexpected and sudden shocks (such as the hard drive on my laptop failing 1 week into lockdown…)
- The approaches we took in supporting ourselves through it (and which worked!), are pretty much what we’re seeing happening today – so we can take comfort that we haven’t missed anything obvious in helping our recovery as businesses and communities.
As for me in all of this – at the start of the lockdown, like many fellow freelancers I lost over 90% of all my client work. But just as 5 years ago, I’ve tried to continue to live by my professional mantra of “trying not to be a d!ck”, so I’m trying as best I can to offer time to others to help them access support, recreate the ways their businesses work, and such like. And just as then, most haven’t set aside any budget for that kind of development work and are needing to avoid spending cash wherever possible, so I’m doing it for ‘karma points’. And ‘karma points’ seem to be the basis on which we as a community of freelancers thrive – trying to look out for each other as best we can, not just in the good times, but especially so in what are for many are these dark and scary times.
Adrian has somehow managed to stay freelancing for 16 years (despite periods of homelessness, significant family illness, and investigations from HMRC…) and along the way changed company law, national policy, and been feted with some ‘paperweights and doorstops’ (awards) in recognition of the impact he creates and how he is valued by clients. Described by others as an ‘enterprise consultant A-team’ and ‘babel fish’, he works across different sectors, offering a range of consultancy, advice, and training support to people from ‘pub mentoring’ to pilot programmes to create new models of enterprise in the economy for Ministers in the Cabinet Office.
Visit Adrian’s website and find him on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.