Articles - 8th January 2021

The what, how, and why of pivoting as a freelancer

Words by Louise Quick
Illustration by Jon McCormack

Pivot. It’s one of those words that we often cast off to the figurative bin labelled ‘corporate jargon’ alongside the likes of ‘leverage’ and ‘synergy’. That, or we immediately picture Ross Geller struggling with a sofa in a stairwell. Like many cliche terms, however, ‘pivot’ has a simple meaning and, it turns out, is something every freelancer has done and should be doing.

In the grandest sense, pivoting means mixing up the way you make your money without overhauling your career. Some freelancers may take their business in a different direction, while others may adopt a new branch of work, or even drop some to focus on just one element of their business. Pivoting is about changing the work you do or the way you do it to boost productivity.

There’s no end of reasons why freelancers choose to pivot, but ultimately it’s a reaction to changing circumstances. Those circumstances might be in or out of our control, they may be professional, (e.g work from one client dries up), or personal, (family matters demand a more flexible schedule). Regardless, freelancers need to be ready to pivot like a prima ballerina in order to maintain a secure workflow.

While every industry has its nuances, there are a few universal considerations when contemplating a success pivot.


Have some wiggle room

As with almost every freelance decision, finances come first. It’s vital to analyse the hit your wallet will inevitably take from making changes to your business – large or small. Ideally, you want to pivot when you have the money to do it at a thoughtful pace, rather than a panicked gamble to make next month’s rent.

As Grace Holliday, freelance journalist, travel writer, and journalism lecturer, says, “Make sure you’ve made a solid plan and got money set aside or other income sorted for if it doesn’t take off as quickly as you’d hoped”.

Financial wiggle room is a privilege not everyone can afford, particularly right now if your reasons for change are out of your control. However, if you do predict trouble ahead for your business, then treat necessary pivots as prevention not a cure. The ideal pivot is one you can implement knowing that, if it doesn’t work out, you can easily pivot back or onto something else.


Confidence is key

Something that helps make that leap earlier rather than later is confidence. Without sounding too much like an inspirational message on a cushion, an idea is nothing without the confidence to breath life into it. Asking around, it’s clear that actually having the confidence to execute a pivot is something almost all freelancers have struggled with.

“It took me a couple of years to pluck up the courage to go properly freelance”, admits Lily Canter, the freelance journalist and co-director of Freelancing for Journalists. Reflecting on the opportunities she turned down for lack of confidence, she says, “looking back I should have just said ‘yes’”.

While confidence comes from experience, annoyingly that experience comes from having the confidence to just say yes in the first place.


Value your skill set

Some jammy freelancers may have confidence by the bucketload and enough financial wiggle room to swing a cat, but are struggling to nail down how they should pivot. Many people are unsure what new string to add their freelance bow and how.

This is where the inspirational cushion would read ‘know your worth’ and it’s right. One way to figure out the opportunities open to you is to brainstorm your skills – try revamping your CV or portfolio to remind yourself of your experience.

“Look at your skill set and brainstorm ways you can be tapping into that”, says Suzanne Bearne, freelance journalist and media consultant. “I don’t think enough of us realise what talents we have or how our experience and skills might actually help and benefit others”.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Half of being a confident freelancer is trusting in your own ability to just figure things out, while the other half is knowing when to seek help.

PR coach Skye Ferguson advises, “Don’t be afraid to reach out to your peers and competitors who are a few years ahead to get some advice”.


Get the skills to pay the bills

Further down the line, when you’re carrying out the pivot, seeking help can mean signing up for some further training.

“If there are areas you need to upskill in, invest in your business from the start”, explains Skye, who pivoted from PR consultancy to PR coaching. “I have really focused on up-skilling in marketing and sales, and understanding how to grow and further an audience”.

Yes, training will cost time and money but, (wiggle-room permitting), it’s an investment into your business and will result in greater productivity in the long term.


What’s trending?

When researching how to pivot, look at what’s trending; read articles, listen to podcasts, and look at what people you admire are up to. What are the current money-making trends? And are they something you could do?

It’s impossible to write an article on pivoting in 2020 without mentioning the c-word: Covid-19. To say that this year has brought freelancers some serious challenges feels like an understatement. We’ve all had to adapt to the changes that the lockdown restrictions have thrown at us, but one more positive repercussion is the trend towards online opportunities for freelancers.

This goes beyond yoga classes on Zoom. In the world of journalism, for example, Lily explains how webinars have taken off – “every freelance journalist I know has got their own webinar, myself included” – and Grace is launching a YouTube channel as a resource for freelance journalists and creatives – “I don’t think I’d have created it had the world not moved online to such a huge extent this year”.

Meanwhile, the lockdown spurred professional guitarist Will McNicol to launch his online platform earlier this year.

“With live music being well and truly hit on the head, I wanted to explore some of the other options”, he explains. “Providing a subscription-based service was the big thing I wanted to explore, having seen it work well for others in the past, and I had already built up a decent number of people who I believed would be interested.”

That leads onto a final necessary consideration: is there an audience or, at least, a gap in the market? At the end of the day, freelancing is about supply and demand, like any business. However great an idea is and however viable your skills are, if there isn’t a demand then that potential income stream won’t grow beyond an income puddle.

Ultimately, it boils down to putting in the research, having a plan, and giving yourself time. Plus, remember that a pivot isn’t set in stone. Set yourself a review deadline and if your changes aren’t working out, then remind yourself of what Ross Geller shouted in that stairwell, (just have a better plan in place than he did).


What are your goals for 2021? To grow your business, or to just find your first client? No matter what stage you’re on in your freelance journey,  Albert and UnderPinned’s Ultimate Guide to Freelancing Course will make sure you’re on track to build a successful freelance career. The course starts February 1st and will consist of five jam packed weeks of learning. Find out more about the course and sign up here.

We champion the freelancers and every entrepreneur who took a leap of faith with their idea.

If this sounds like you, head over to our Virtual Office and send us your best work via an UnderPinned Portfolio. We want to hear from you!

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