Payment, pivoting and the unknown: Here’s what Philly freelancers say are their biggest hurdles right now

One web developer told us there's heightened pressure to prove value right now, as the economic downturn may make clients nervous about keeping non-staff work on the books.

On the web.

(Photo by Vojtech Okenka from Pexels)

“These are uncertain times.”

It’s the sentiment of every business leader, health official and corporation these days — yep, you’re not the only one who feels like every advertisement uses the phrase.

But for freelancers, or folks who work for themselves, uncertainty can be boiled into the job. It’s common enough to worry about when a client will re-up their contract or pay an invoice.

And while many freelancers already worked remotely or from home, when the coronavirus pandemic hit the Philadelphia area in early March, the day-to-day concerns became even more … we’ll say it … uncertain.

We checked in with a handful of self-employed people in the area to see how they’re doing and what their biggest hurdles are right now.

Mike Trischetta, a Fishtown-based web developer who’s been freelance for about three years now, said quarantine hasn’t physically or financially affected him yet, and he was already comfortable working from home. But having his roommates home with him has proved difficult with more distractions and challenges when they’re all on a call at the same time.

But there is an underlying worry that work could disappear, he said. Most of his clients have a two-week termination clause, and it would be harder to pick up new clients right now.

“So there’s a little more pressure to demonstrate value,” Trischetta said. “Even though I’m doing the same amount of work, I’m trying to be more vocal in the Slack channels and more regularly check in to show progress.”

No one has ended a project yet, he said, and most of his clients are long-term.

Full-time project manager Alisha Miranda, in South Philly, has been a freelance writer as a side hustle for about 10 years, and focuses much of her writing on world, travel and food. Many of those stories are on hold for the moment, and she likely won’t be paid for them any time soon, she said.

So, she’s pivoting her attention to pitching digital work.

“Once COVID hit, I realized digital tools and knowledge would be a skillset to leverage to help get small business operations in order amid ongoing crisis-related issues,” Miranda said.


That’s included managing websites, social media, third-party apps and customer service. She added that lunchtime Philly Freelance webinars have been instrumental in helping her think through repositioning herself, her brand and her goals.

Philly Freelance Fest at REC Philly, Jan. 30, 2020. (Photo by Paige Gross)

Queen Village’s Marissa Taffer, founder of M. Taffer Consulting, is in a similar place, but is already seeing the effects of the status of the economy on her work. She said a large client’s work is on pause for the moment, and this month, she’ll be billing less than she did in April. Some clients are unsure of their own circumstances and are just trying to keep their full-time people accounted for.

“The support for freelancers like me is hard to navigate and I am totally able to work and have been very busy, but it’s not all paying off financially yet and it is hard to plan since there is a lot we just don’t know,” she said.

There’s a lot of webinars and online resources out there geared toward keeping businesses afloat, but since she has no employees and works alone, much of it doesn’t pertain to her, Taffer said. This time has allowed her to pick up some other projects, like her own blog and website, and some things around the house.

“There are a few more things in my pipeline but I think it could be a while before I am back to what I was billing this time last year,” she said. “I hope people will continue to use consultants like me where it makes sense and we add value to their organization.”

Find the answers to 12 questions self-employed and gig workers have about Pennsylvania’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance here.

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