Challenging 28 Oct 2020
I’ve worked on a freelance basis for over thirteen years and this has, without doubt, been the toughest year to date. 2020 has been unpredictable and challenging – you just couldn’t make it up, could you? And not just from a work perspective – that in itself has been something of a roller coaster. Also from a “keeping it all together” angle.
Many of us have spent part of this year based home 24×7 and facing new challenges generated by the lockdown. And social isolation comes for free as part of the package. Here in Wales, we are currently wading through round two, this time nattily labelled a Fire Break lockdown. Layer on homeschooling, family life, school governor responsibilities, a rangy old house with a big garden to keep in check. Plus a renovation project that’s been frozen several times now by restrictions, family bereavement and lots of uncertainty. It would be a lie to say these have not been challenging times!
The flipside of freelancing
Being self-employed when the world is recoiling into itself has been a life lesson. The fragility of freelancing is the counter side to the flexibility and variety it offers. And, working in the field of websites and marketing, you are one of the first areas to be axed when cashflow is tight. Which is what happened. Within 48 hours in late March, all my work dried up as clients reacted to the pressures created by Covid-19’s global journey. Added to that, I’d recently made the decision to give notice on my part-time employed work and go to college for a new qualification. The course ground to a halt too! Sod’s law.
Much of my work was in the travel and leisure sector, one of the hardest-hit. And on that particular evening in late March, I faced the prospect that my income had dried up. Challenging times indeed. I’ve worked with many clients for years and am heavily invested in their success. And on a personal note, have always paid my way, even when the children were tiny, so this was a big deal.
I’ve been very lucky in that, since that low point, a local client offered me regular work as part of their team. So my work-gap has been short-lived. And I’m loving my new work. I’ve continued to work for a couple of my clients for free to help them through and I launched Keeping It Local as a side-venture. I’m still picking up enquiries and advising local businesses with questions about their marketing, websites and social media. And my course has resumed, though it is now online as the second wave has gathered momentum.
If this year has taught small businesses one thing, it is that they should look long and hard at what they sell and how they do so. Times are tough. But, it could also present an opportunity for challenge and for thinking outside the confines of business as usual. Shopping habits have changed. More and more consumers transact online. Search engines are often the first place that people go to for information and buying options. Small businesses must move with changing times or risk being left behind.
Here are some must-dos that could help to stop small businesses being left behind:
- being online is a must
- having a solid digital presence is essential
- having a Facebook page is not enough. You need a website, even if it is very simple to give you a good online presence.
- do invest in the capability to take card payments and online payments
- customer service is key and will take you a long way
- word of mouth is invaluable. Remember, if can work both ways – good and bad
- think laterally – think outside the box – what else can you do to differentiate your business from your competitors?
Back to ItsLello HQ. So in late March and when lockdown kicked in, I was working from home. Nothing new there – I’ve worked that way for many years so the prospect of #WFH didn’t bother me in the slightest. I know the pitfalls and challenges that come with this way of working.
What was new for me was having the rest of the family in the house. All. The. Time. And the assumption made by the education establishment that kids can flip over to digital learning at the click of a finger and mouse. Schools and education authorities relied on an unspoken expectation that parents could magic themselves into ersatz teachers. As well as filling as mental health/wellbeing experts alongside working, running a home and keeping their own sh*t together.
So our two, one at secondary school and one at primary school, waited for their respective schools to click across to a remote working set of railway tracks. This took weeks. After which they were both expected to negotiate a mix of digital platforms, learning remotely with very little school driven input. What a seismic shift. Students were expected to magically have the digital skills necessary to organise their work online. And to be able to work entirely off screens (a skill in itself) and to largely self-teach. All in all, a huge step change and one that you’d expect at 6th form or even university, not in years 6 or 9. They had not been educated nor prepared to work in this way. So all in all, it was a tough ask for all involved.
This term, digital platforms have been used as a norm which is making a huge difference. And next week, our older son will be doing a week of “blended learning” from home and has been told to be present and correct at his desk at 8.45 am every morning. Which should be interesting.
I’m thankful that both of us are digitally literate and had enough resources for the boys to be able to use. But this hasn’t been the case for many households where digital and educational inequality have been very real issues. In our case, through the summer term, neither of our children received any interactive teaching. And they enjoyed just a bare minimum of interaction with their teachers. We went months with little more than a skittering of feedback on pieces of work that took hours to complete. Between us, like many parents, we supported and taught them day after day, whilst also juggling work demands and personal commitments. Massively challenging for us all, children and parents alike. And how those with no digital literacy were expected to manage is beyond me.
Students in North Wales lost six months of education and support earlier this year. It won’t be retrieved whatever government rhetoric may say. I hope that schools and authorities took time over their very long summer break to plan for both face-to-face and digital strategies for all eventualities in this school year. Next week will be a test. After all, medical experts have been predicting second and third waves for months so there is no excuse. Children deserve the best educational experience possible – it’s absolutely the key to their future. And to able to spend time with their friends. And parents need to be able to work and earn.
The isolation created by lockdown and impact on everyone’s mental health has been so hard. Particularly for children and young people who are such social creatures. And all of us, irrespective of age, need some social interaction and friendship. Lockdown provided a chance to get on with jobs at home that had been put off for years and to slow down for a while. It also offered a chance to reflect on what is important. But without the ebb and flow of social interaction, the longer social distancing goes on, the more challenging it becomes for all of us.
Solid friendships have flourished and it has been great to have been able to help people out where needed but I do worry about how our society may react to further lockdown measures. More are now coming into place over the winter when the days are short and the nights long and it so much harder to get out and about than in the summer.
Contrary to government messaging, I don’t think that the challenges presented by Covid-19 have created greater social cohesion. Cumulatively, as the pandemic goes on, sustained lockdown and social distancing measures result in insularity, intolerance and less trust as people tackle it in different ways.
Time of change
On a simple level, we are safe, well, housed, fed and watered. I still have work. And we live in a beautiful place where we can be on a beach or up a mountain so easily. We have much to be thankful for.
Perhaps so far, the hardest aspects have been:
- the intensity of living together 24×7
- worries about job stability
- the stresses of filling in for teachers when we’re not educationalists;
- not being able to spend quality time with close family and friends – screens and phones can only go so far
- And, perhaps most importantly, the continuing lack of certainty
First world problems? But they are all are going to feature in the “new normal” for the foreseeable future. This is a time of change for everyone, businesses and individuals alike.