Confession: in the first 6 months of the pandemic I was still delusional enough to think that the industry I worked in – my partner and I run a boutique wedding planning company – would soon return to business as usual.
When it became apparent that COVID was a lot like my Chinese-herb-smelling aunty who visits, overstays, and makes no indication of ever leaving, I slowly sank into a funk. We’d spent the last two years building our brand through a lot of trial and error and were looking forward to 2020 being our year. Like many other entrepreneurs and employees around the, we found ourselves in unfamiliar territory for the first time in our lives. Were we headed for shark-infested waters or are we doomed to be stuck in a Carpool Karaoke loop with James Corden? No one knew.
So after a long wine-y zoom session one night, my partner and I agreed to put the business in the backseat for now while we individually looked for work. In the past two years, I’d developed many skills while running the organisation but I wasn’t confident that they were at a level that was good enough to be hired. Thanks to 2021 buzzwords such as ‘remote work’, ‘unprecedented’, and the dreaded ‘new normal’, I now had a name to describe what I needed to do in order to survive this brave new world. A word that I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever heard being used in relation to ballet or moving a sofa up a flight of stairs.
Disclaimer: pivoting is not easy.
Taking the first step by accepting that change is uncomfortable
The first thing on the to-do list was to get off my mopey butt. I spent many lockdown days living a mushroom-like existence and was beginning to blend in with the couch so this required a lot of resolve. Finally, I got up before noon one day, put on clothes that weren’t used for sleeping and began tidying up my LinkedIn profile. I also joined several global digital nomad/remote work Facebook groups which became key to getting jobs; more on this later. It was encouraging to see many remote vacancies available but I had to also confront the fact that to qualify, up skilling would be required. Here I was, a woman in my 30’s who had been out of the workforce for over 5 years. The thought of going up against clever, sharp-toothed Gen Zs to fight for work actually gave me naked nightmares. But power on, we must.
Filling in the gaps
I listed down what I thought were my useful hard skills: copywriting, graphic design and web design. I applied all three to my own business before, but how did they stack up in getting actual work? As it turns out, not very much; I just about met 60% of most job requirements. Luckily, this was easily solved. I signed up for SEO courses and TikTok time gave way to watching YouTube tutorials on Adobe Illustrator tricks. I even took online classes to improve my cobwebbed Spanish so that I could boast an additional language. Hasta la vista, lockdown time wasting!
Die, ego, die
Next, I had to announce to the world my sub-rebirth as a writer and designer. This was a little tougher than I thought because frankly, I was embarrassed by myself. The more I looked at others’ work for inspiration, the more flashbacks of perpetually sitting in reserves during school netball games I had. It took a lot of battling with my ego before I was even ready to start offering free services to friends and family to build a portfolio. This turned out to be a fantastic move because 1. the more I worked, the more I grew my confidence. 2. I didn’t charge anything so even if my work sucked, no one could complain – it was free!
Finding freelance work on remote work Facebook groups
I can’t recommend this enough to those who are looking to transition to working remotely. These are digital nomad groups where you’ll be able to connect with other people in various stages of remote work. In 2020, the first group I joined had only about 6,000 members. Today, that same group is at 140,000 strong. As digital nomadism approaches mainstream, you can expect to see a steady flow of remote vacancies posted in the groups by startups and digital companies. Tip: Google what a Virtual Assistant is. They’re in high demand right now). The more seasoned members are also really helpful in guiding newbies navigating this new normal. With a decent portfolio now under my lockdown-tight belt, I managed to score good, solid clients by word-of-mouth and from these Facebook groups.
Adapting professionally in this time of pandemic will mean different things to each individual. My partner and I attempted to diversify our business by delivering home party kits. In the end, we decided that it was better to conserve resources and hunker down for the time being. Since I sucked at baking, capitalising on my existing know-how seemed like the best shot I had of riding out the pandemic.To sum it up, going back to the starting line again has not been easy. It helps to adopt the marathoner’s mindset: it’s a long run where speed is secondary to keeping a steady pace. You may face rejection in the beginning but that’s okay, keep trying until you can carve a comfortable space for yourself in the remote work-sphere. Buena suerte!