Independent Work in the Age of Coronavirus

We hope that the spread of the disease is contained soon, but in the meantime, it’s worth thinking about how to best prepare and protect your finances.
March 8, 2020

Dear Freelancers, Contractors, and Independent Workers,

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) will change the face of the country and the world this year. Many of you have already been impacted by the virus and the decisions governments and businesses have made as a result. We understand the stress this puts on you, and we are here to help. The disease threatens lives, but it may also affect your livelihood and your family’s financial wellbeing.

We hope that the spread of the disease is contained soon, but in the meantime, it’s worth thinking about how to best prepare and protect your finances.

You may be overwhelmed with the amount of information and suggestions coming from your community, the media, and the government about how best to stay healthy. This note is not about medical advice or public health; it is about the health of your finances and safety net during a time of turmoil and uncertainty. For public health updates, pay attention to the CDC and your local health department.

Catch’s users live in all 50 states, and currently risk may look different depending on what city or county you’re in. However, as the disease spreads, it’s important to be proactive about the impact certain foreseeable events may have on your ability to earn money. While there is no one-size-fits-all experience, many independent workers may face the following:

  • Decrease in services demand: You may see the number of customers looking for services drop dramatically in the next several months. If you work in close contact with people: as a hairstylist, photographer, masseuse, driver, or server, overall business may slow as people choose to limit their contact with strangers and stay home.
  • Cancellations of corollary demand: Events that peak business in your city or hometown (notably, SXSW in Austin and Ultra Music Festival in Miami) may be cancelled, shrinking new money that comes in from out of town. You may have been depending on the spike of business to build your income and savings this year.
  • Overall recession: Although it is too early to know if these changes will lead to a recession for the country, it is possible that all businesses will begin to cut their spending on non-essential services including travel, consultants, and freelance work. Larger businesses will be working hard to stay afloat and may make layoffs increasing the pool of those looking for independent job opportunities.

These changes won’t all happen immediately, and it will likely take a significant amount of time — perhaps a year or more — to recover from all of the second- and third-tier consequences. Some of you may have meaningful savings already, others may be living paycheck to paycheck. It’s our expectation that financial support from the government will be slow to arrive, if it comes at all.

We suggest you take a hard look at your business and family finances now, including:

  1. Savings. How much have you got in the bank at this moment? How long could you get by with just essential spending? Do you have any backup plans? Where could you cut back on expenses? Answering these questions with the household decision-makers now can save you confusion and heartbreak later.
  2. Investments*. It may seem like now more than ever is a time to pull out of the markets and maintain cash. However, if your investments are long term, remember that business cycles include growth and contraction. The risk profile you follow means you are exposed to losses in your investment products. It’s ok to leave your money in the market even if they lose some value while short-term volatility plays out.
  3. Insurance. Make sure your understand your insurance, especially health insurance. Know what medical centers are in network. Be sure you have a primary care physician if your plan requires you have one. Being prepared with this information can help you avoid unexpected costs later on from doctors or facilities that aren’t covered.
  4. Income. If all of your income comes from a single source that’s dependent on in-person services, now might be a good time to research other options and diversify. Are there remote-only roles that you’re qualified for? Are there other types of work that you could take on so the hit to a single type of work is minimized? Earning extra income now can help boost your savings for the coming months. If you directly collect client payments for larger projects, be extra insistent on at least a partial payment up front.
  5. Partner. One of the scariest things about being an independent worker is being, well, independent. The prospect of getting sick may prevent you from earning any money at all. If you have a spouse or partner, make sure you have a plan for what to do if one of you gets sick. If you have a business associate you work closely with, consider discussing options to help support each other if the unthinkable happens.
  6. Marketing. Don’t give up on communicating your services. Spend extra time now to update any marketing or branding you have (website, ads, resume, podcast, business cards, etc.) so that your value proposition is clear. If people cut back on their spending, they’ll be even more discerning in looking for independent partners who are the best. Even if demand is slow for the next few months, take the time to be ready with why someone should choose you when things pick back up.

One of things that sets apart families that weather storms better than others is the ability to be calm, thoughtful, and prepared. Keep your eyes open to what your situation is. Be agile and ready to try new things if you see the conditions around you changing. Ignoring the threat (both of the disease and falling demand for your business) will not make the impact easier to bear. Be decisive and realistic about what needs to be done.

As a small business, Catch, too, is thinking through how best to protect our business so that we can continue to operate and serve you. We have strong contingency plans in place, and we’re confident that by being prepared, we will be able help ensure your current and future safety net stay intact.

We have immense confidence in your ability to lead. Being an independent worker means you have already had to face difficult decisions and hard work. You have the grit and tenacity to get through this. We are a part of your community, and we are here to support you however we can.

Here are a few words from Kristen, our CEO, on our mission at Catch in the face of COVID-19:

“The job of a safety net is not to pull back when things get hard. It is to provide comfort, respite, and a soft landing during disaster. This virus will not beat the movement independent workers have fought so hard over the last decade to achieve. We will continue to show that there is a future where we can protect ourselves and each other. Our community is strong. Our vision is clear. We must create an even better benefits system to protect it.”

Stay healthy. Keep building. We will get through this together.

Team Catch

*This is not personal investment advice. Consider your own investment objectives before making decisions about your long-term financial planning or speak directly with an expert.