• Ellen Gardner

Create it your own way

How one freelancer struggled with keeping her business afloat during Covid-19 and eventually came to embrace the uncertainty and the adventure.

For the first few weeks of the pandemic, Alison Garwood-Jones sat on her couch and scrolled through her phone. As a freelancer who writes, teaches and blogs for a living, she watched projects and assignments evaporate like the morning mist in a matter of days. In a state of disbelief, she wondered, “What do I do now?” Along with the several freelance writers listening to Alison’s presentation in early October, I could certainly relate to her urge to curl up and hide from the world.

But when you have to make a living, there is no escape. She knew she needed to navigate her way out of the problem, or as she put it, “Learn her way into the future”. The future had suddenly arrived and it didn’t look pretty. Yes, she had talents but how could she turn them into a sustainable income at a time when many businesses were downsizing and the economy had stalled?

Fortunately, this creative optimist had already established a framework for her business that gave her some flexibility. While some doors were closing, she was delighted to discover that others were opening.

“When Covid hit I had seven streams of income,” she said, “Writing, speaking, drawing, university instructor, private coach, webinar host and ecommerce store.” Things were just taking off with the ecommerce store, where she sells her colourful floral drawings printed on pillows, scarves and tote bags, when the printer suddenly went out of business. What she learned about where her products were actually being manufactured set Alison a journey to learn more about corporate social responsibility, eco-printing and ethical employment practices.

“I had always seen writing as my primary profession,” says Alison, “but the internet was telling me something different.” It sure was – with doom and gloom all around, there was a keen appetite for life, colour and beauty. She was soon selling her caricatures and getting requests from people to draw their houses.

As if seven streams wasn’t enough, the self-professed ‘DIY’ (Do it Yourselfer) decided to take on a new skill – making 60-second video art lessons called “THE INK SPOT”.

Sure, there were some missteps – she tried selling a poster listing all the items that are selling more during the pandemic (in case you’re interested: puzzles, ice cream makers, hair shears, puppies and many others!). “I put it up for sale at $20 and guess what happened? Nothing! Not a single sale!”

What we took away from Alison’s modest, funny and candid energy is the importance of being unafraid. Embrace a “create-it-your-own-way” career mindset. “Alison's advice felt like a call to action,” said Nathalie Noël. “To listen more to what people are actually telling me they want and listen less to my inner ‘that's the way I've always done things’ voice.” Judy Irwin said, “Not only do I have new ideas, I also feel more optimistic.”

She’s still experimenting but Alison’s focus now is on helping others; in this chaotic and unsettled moment, she’s embracing activism and teaching a class on how to use art to get in touch with our emotions.

Here are a few of her ideas that stayed with me:

  • Embrace the new – take courses, learn different skills, don’t be afraid of being a beginner

  • Serve, don’t sell – this is not the time for ‘in your face’ marketing; lay down the breadcrumbs and let people come to you

  • Share your process – let people see how you do things

  • Update your social media channels!

  • Don’t talk about yourself too much; celebrate others in your circle – everybody deserves attention now.

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