How to be a Freelance Survivalist

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Photo by NRKbeta on Unsplash

I once attended an overnight survival skills course (research for a play). I figured it would be a combination of men, women and middle-aged couples who had given up drinking and were looking for a new hobby. I was wrong, it was me and 20 other men who had probably been looking forward to a woman free weekend but it was fine, all very accepting, even the serial-killer farmer.

I’m awful at knots and pretty good with fire which I knew already but my best takeaway from the evening was the rule of threes of survival. 3 minutes without breathable air or in icy water, 3 hours in a harsh hot or cold environment, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food.

There’s another kind of survival that’s close to my heart going into my second year of official copywriting; freelancer survival. I’m not going to moan about how difficult it can be, instead, I’ve written this blog. What lessons can we take from (mostly) real disaster scenarios to make ourselves robust freelance survivalists?


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Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

You’re running out of air and have approximately three minutes till it’s game over. Is it a burning house? Is something choking you? It’s not looking good but you know that know already.

Air is as critical to a human as passion, drive or a raison d’être is to a freelancer. This is the trickiest disaster situation to recover from and I don’t have any answers. Love lost, like respect is difficult to come back from.

You probably just need to get out of the house, watch it burn and build a new one. Tough but you know what, you’ve built something before and you can do it again.

This is what happened with my playwrighting aspirations. The love went and it was time to try something else. I did and now I’m exploring screenwriting, blogging and short story writing and I’m in a happier and highly oxygenated space. You can’t keep a good freelancer down for long.

Not convinced? Here are some of the epic heartbreaks of Elon Musk.


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Photo by Romana Iorga on Unsplash

You take a walk in the mountains. By the morning light, they look so tranquil but one wrong turn can add hours to your journey and when nightfall arrives earlier than expected they can be treacherous.

Snow comes from nowhere, the temperature drops and you can barely see in front of you let alone the path downwards. Good news, you have a little bit of time. 3 hours without shelter, let’s call it three weeks in freelancer years.

Two things can get you out of this pickle. Communication and resources. Call for help or dig a snowhole. Both depend on a certain amount of pre-planning but are effective survival methods.

Freelancers, that big retainer that you’ve been relying on for the past 6 months goes out of business. You are out in the cold and alone but all is not lost with a couple of weeks to reclaim some work.

Resources: Hopefully you have some savings, if not some clothes, shoes, crossword books (I did sell one once, it was half-filled out — this was when I knew it was time to get a part-time job), stuff to sell on eBay. I bet you do.

Here in the UK Music Magpie will pick up your old books and CDs and I’ve managed £100 on one house sweep before. Note, do not leave anything sales-worthy with me! You’ve been warned. In the meantime it’s time to embargo those coffee and croissant outings, make paid travel essential only and get working on replacing that client.

Communication: Old clients, warm leads, Linked In connections, networking groups You can reach out to your existing clients. There’s plenty to be done here and if all that fails it could be time to get a part-time job. It doesn’t mean you need to revert to an old life entirely and lose the work that you’ve done so far. It’s just some temporary shelter to get you through the cold night.


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Photo by Jared Verdi on Unsplash

You’re driving through the desert and you get a fuel leak. It’s 1 pm and the car stops. It’s 40 degrees and you’re on a quiet road. An hour goes by, another hour but not a single car. Your objective has now changed from getting to your destination to getting rescued. Water is now a critical factor. The car will not move.

Your range of options depends on your preparation; does your car have a sat phone because there is no reception out there. How much water do you have? How much water is left in the car Do you have signalling equipment? Flares? Hopefully, you have some of this because if not you might just die. You need to wait for help and cannot leave the car.

Freelancer’s what happens if your clients start to run dry? The fuel for your car, the ingredient to take you from a to b is investment; water is your money. Without it coming in things start to turn.

Outgoings accumulate. You need new clients, or at least the old ones to buy again. With three days translating to a month or so in freelancer years you’ve got time. What are your other strengths? Can you create new products and services if the old ones are not selling? You’ve got time to see what’s stopped working and revise.

As for your lines of communication, how many can you think of? Old clients, email lists, Linked In, Twitter, networkers, friends even. My best leads recently have been recommendations from friends. I bet there’s enough there to get you to water before the three days are up.


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Photo by Yohann LIBOT on Unsplash

Eek, your neighbourhood has been overrun by zombies. You are the last survivor on your road. You’ve sealed off the house and have approximately 3 weeks worth of food left. After The Walking Dead, we all know that the way to kill a zombie is to stab it in the head but do you want to get that close?

Just forget being rescued because the whole town has been taken. The options are fighting or finding a way out of the town quietly. I vote for option 2. Take zombies out only when you must. Why? Because not only is the risk high but you’ll also use up valuable energy if you take on this battle on your own.

What analogy can we use for food in the freelance world? Learning, ideas and opportunity are all high nutrient sources of growth for us. When we stop learning we stop thriving and sometimes you don’t notice that a year or six months have passed and you haven’t moved on.

How has this happened? Sometimes our energy is spent in the wrong places, needy clients or zero-value networking events. These can be places of comfort but sooner or later you might see that there’s a certain lifelessness around you. Learn or die freelancers. My advice is to slip out of town quietly and seek new quarters. If you have you have to slay a few zombies on the way out so be it but what’s the point in taking on the entire town.

From what I understand of real-life survival situations the real danger occurs when two situations kick-off. You’re stuck in a zombie town and your house sets on fire. Your car breaks down and you’ve forgotten water. Etc but hey I’m a solo freelancer and I’ve only got energy for one survival at a time.

Written by

Storyteller, ex playwright (produced), award winning screenwriter, always writing. Creating story-based content for businesses. London based but heart in Europe

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