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BusinessApril 12, 2020

Can’t knock the hustle: In praise of freelancers, now more than ever

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With many of us forced to adapt to get through Covid-19 and the lockdown, the constant juggling act of freelancers should be a source of inspiration.

Waiting for pay, waiting for work. Taking what you can get in between. For many people, such an austere scenario sounds like a scene from a grey and dusty era, one that has been made extinct by decades of economic growth.

While it seems as though it might soon be having a revival, this scenario has long been a reality for many people, and it isn’t quite as bleak as it sounds. In fact, waiting for irregular pay and work is a familiar game for the thousands of self-employed freelancers and contractors who have ceded certainty and stability in order to take the reigns and do what they love.

To celebrate the independent-earner economy, a competition has been organised to showcase the versatility and resolve of freelancers, who have long been accustomed to monetising their skills with limited resources.

Organised by Fintech Company Hnry, the competition was launched well before the Covid-19 lockdown and has now reached the final stages, with a panel of judges whittling down the hundred of entries to ten finalists in early April. A prize of $25,000 will be split between the top three entries, who will be selected from the ten finalists through public voting in the coming days.

Despite the lockdown – or perhaps because of it, Hnry CEO James Fuller decided to press on with the awards, while postponing the physical ceremony. He says that the ability to adapt to find new ways of making money has become even more critical, and Covid-19 has suddenly made such skills relevant to a growing number of New Zealanders facing a shortage of work.

“There are people from many backgrounds and industries looking to earn money through different means because the lockdown is affecting their primary income source. We decided to continue with the awards because they recognise so many different people and types of work, and the prizes may be able to significantly help someone during this time.”

The value of the awards – and the prize money – was evident in the days before the lockdown, as the competition’s submission window closed; a large chunk of the several hundred entries came through in the last 30 minutes, with many themed around the effects of Covid-19.

The competition was not limited to any one trade or craft however, and the entries showcased the skills of people from all walks of life: graphic designers, bloggers, artists, video editors and entrepreneurs – each one submitting a unique work to describe the perils and perks of the freelancing grind.

“They aren’t being judged on who has got the best craft,” Fuller says. “It’s actually what is a creative and entertaining submission that really demonstrates what it’s like to be a freelancer, and demonstrates what can be done with limited budgets.

“Imagine you’re a freelancer creator and contractor and all of your work dries up; to be able to have an entry suddenly win you $15,000 is something that could be very life changing at the moment.”

HNRY CEO James Fuller. Photo: Supplied

As a CEO of an accounting firm with many self-employed contractors on its books, Fuller has for months witnessed the way in which Covid-19 has assailed those who lack permanent job security.

“Our customers are the widest range of self-employed individuals, so everyone from Uber drivers to E-scooter juicers through to midwives, physiotherapists, personal trainers, creative freelancers and professional contractors. Right from the start we’ve seen how they’ve been affected.”

Hnry has helped many of those affected navigate the complexities of applying for the government’s wage subsidy scheme, which is available to freelancers and contractors who are registered and operating as New Zealand businesses. Although the process to acquire the assistance can be vague, Fuller applauds the government’s initiative and the speediness of payments – which are often received two days after applying.

One of top ten Hnry award finalists, artist and wrestler Michel Mulipola was able to receive the self-employed subsidy which he says is a lifeline during the lockdown.

“It allows my bills to be paid and also allows me to buy groceries and other essentials. Funnily enough, the subsidy is the first time I’ve gotten any type of funding from the government for my artistic endeavours!”

Mulipola says that the lockdown isn’t so different from his normal life, and he is spending the four weeks living in the Arkham City Comics store in Royal Oak, surrounded by inspiration while he works on his various projects.

For his HNRY submission, Mulipola created a comic strip depicting the many “hustles” through which he makes his money, an arrangement he says he wouldn’t change for the world.

Michel Mulipola’s Hnry award entry

While the competition’s voting window has closed, you can still see the entries of the other nine finalists here. All of them are unique: Drawings, websites, songs, and videos – each one is coloured with the skills and passion of its maker, and each a tribute to the lifestyle that has enabled them to work for themselves.

Yet they all echo the same sentiment that the life is not an easy one. It’s full of doubt and toil but also of creativity and endurance ­– features that may define the lives of many more of us before too long.

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