By The Denver Egotist / /
By Adam Vicarel
*Prior to starting this article, I want to express my sincere condolences to those who are deeply affected by this disease. Whether that’s work related, the loss of loved ones or otherwise. This is a terrible situation, and this article is not intended to undermine the severity of the pandemic at hand, but merely serves as an opportunity for me to process my own situation through the conversations and perspectives of others.
Welp, COVID-19 absolutely blindsided me.
I lost ~$30,000 of work in ~30 hours last week.
I have since lost another ~$20,000 in projects or prospective work. As a one-man business, a $50,000 loss in two weeks is a huge hit. Not only financially, but mentally and emotionally. Coupled with being an extreme extrovert who thrives amidst community and connection, but has been mandated to stay away from humans, I’ve been a bit lost in a dark fog for the past few weeks.
So, what should we do as creatives, marketers and small-business entrepreneurs when “what was working” no longer works? What do we do when the world is unpredictable and unprecedented?
Well, I chose to reach out to the community. To founders, CEOs, designers, and creative badasses from around the world to see how COVID-19 is affecting them, and how they’re adapting and/or pivoting in response to those effects. I was blown away by the breadth of responses I’ve received. Everything from “nothing has changed” to “I lost a $150,000 job this week.” After ~40 conversations, a few consistent themes, ideas and recommendations rose to the surface.
I’d love to share some of these insights with you.
My question was essentially this: “Has COVID-19 affected you and your business? What are you doing and how are you pivoting and/or adapting to the pandemic?” The following is a distillation of ~40 artists, designers, marketers, entrepreneurs, pr-firm-owners, videographers, photographers, self-employed creatives, muralists and strategists. I’ve absorbed perspectives, thoughts and plans in response to COVID-19, and I’ve distilled and interpreted them down through my own perspective. I will be referring to the individuals when I’m directly quoting them or their ideas, and you can find additional information on each of the individual contributors at the bottom of this article, as well as any news articles referenced.
Despite tapping a diverse sample set from around the world, there were a significant amount of commonalities amongst these conversations.
Answering the question “what are you doing and how are you pivoting or adapting”, a few topics continued to come up:
Life is more more than Work.
Audit your business. Evaluate and possibly rethink your processes and strategy.
Focus on personal & passion work.
Build Relationships. Check in with people, clients and collaborators.
Diversify services and/or income streams.
Additionally, for those of you experiencing bouts of doubt, fear and anxiety, find solace in knowing that this is not about “you” or your skills, services or talent. Don’t allow yourself to take personally a global pandemic forcing business to make tough decisions. Everyone is getting hit by this differently. It’s only temporary. And embracing the thoughts below could prove to have positive longterm impacts on you, your processes and your business.
“The challenge of being forced outside your normal patterns can lead to new ways of thinking and behaving that open doors never notice before.” –Rick Ruben
1.) Life is more than work.
If you’re like me, that sentence sometimes gets lost on you. I frequently find myself identifying with my business, its success and how it’s perceived by others. It’s a byproduct of how much time, love and passion goes into what I do. I’ve built this business from nothing, and I’m damn proud of that. However, loosing sight of the “why” that was the catalyst for starting business in the first place is losing sight of a key point: I work (to make money) in order to afford the life that I want to live. In my opinion, if you don’t want to live a lavish lifestyle, then you don’t need a lot of money. And if you don’t need a lot of money, you don’t need to work as much.
What are you doing and why?
Paraphrasing the rather graceful words of designer and illustrator, Becca Reitz: “This loss of work could actually be beneficial for some from the stand point of introspection and aligning with their true intentions. COVID-19 has forced the opportunity upon many to face the question: what am I doing and why? When everything is gone—when everything is stripped away: money, work, projects, things, what’s left? Who are you? What do you love?” We spend 50% of our adult awake life doing our job. It better be something you damn-well love, and ideally, its contributing to something larger than yourself.
Director of Photography at Sean O Studio, Sean O’Neill echoed Becca’s words, stating: “When you strip society down to its bare essentials, our [creative] work doesn’t actually matter to the human race…compared to, medical workers who are saving lives. A pretty hard thing to hear, but real nonetheless.”
Were you expecting me to start off this article by saying “this could be a good thing for us all.” ?! Probably not. But I have a point. Repeat after me: “I am more than the work that I create.” This is a great opportunity for us as creatives and entrepreneurs to take a step out of the little work-laden hole we’ve dug ourselves and realign our life values and intentions. What do you do outside of work? Are you into fitness? Are you a philanthropist? Do you enjoy puzzles, reading, or gardening? Now is a great time to slow down and remember these “other things” that ultimately comprise the diverse, unique, and interesting person that you are. In the long term, these life-things inform your work-things, and having a diverse and interesting life outside of work makes you a more diverse and interesting business person and creative.
There is SO much to life outside of work, and both Luke Gottlieb, photographer at Victor of Valencia, and Dutch designer and illustrator Viktor Baltus noted the importance of “be okay with just being.” We’re allowed to live slowly sometimes. Embrace the current change in pace of life, and allow yourself to enjoy some time outside, on a walk or meditating. These are activities that often get pushed to the wayside because “we’re so busy”, but in reality, they help level and round us out as humans. Nick Friend, Commercial Director at Friend Films also emphasized the importance of slowing down and not contributing to the hysteria. Being grounded through these times is a quality that people will be drawn too.
The entire world is uprooted and struggling in some way due to the pandemic. In fact, CNBC predicted that the travel industry is estimated to take a $850 billion revenue hit in 2020. Firstly, holy shit. Secondly, with a staggering statistic like that, I hope it sheds light on the fact that we’re in this for the long haul. Whether you like it or not, the world will take awhile to recover from this experience. Becky Mickletz of Remickz Marketing noted that “things are out of mine and my clients’ control, and we must learn to go with the flow more now than ever. We can prepare, we can strategize. But we also have to live and let live right now.”
Give yourself a break; you don’t need to try and recover before the rest of the entire world does. Before you know it, you’ll be overwhelmed by projects, meetings and obligations. Give yourself the grace to absorb life from a new lens and a new perspective. Allowing yourself this time could prove to be both career and life-altering.
In not allowing yourself to focus on fixing or controlling that which you’re incapable of fixing or controlling, you will bring yourself a much needed reduction in anxiety. You’ll have the mental space to focus on what you can control: yourself, your reactions and your intentions. As I’ve learned from Stoic Philosophy: You have no control of your external circumstances, only your reactions and responses to those events. A shit-situation doesn’t need to breed a shit-attitude — that’s YOUR choice. Right now is a great time to focus on prioritizing our mental health. (Becky Mickletz as a free beginners guide to navigating mental health that I’ve linked up in the references.)
Eloquently stated by NYC-based Director Jackson Cook of The Brother’s Buoy: “[we’re trying to] slow down and appreciate things we haven’t for several years…we want to be sure we remember [the important] things once this is over…because what else is there really?”
Trying to get past some of the anxiety and weird feelings of this entire situation, I personally am making an effort to find more time to exercise, I’m trying to read/learn (even just a bit) more frequently, I’m enjoying more down time with my girlfriend, I’m catching up with friends I haven’t spoken with in awhile. While yes, I’m doing plenty of ‘business things’, myself and many other creatives are trying to make an effort to do more Life-things. Things that truly matter.
The world has been forced to slow down. Don’t resist. Take this as a rare opportunity to get a bit more introspective than normal; you might uncover something incredible.
2.) Audit your Business. Evaluate and possibly rethink your processes and strategy.
Does the sentence above sound un-relatable? Welp, now is a great time to prioritize and implement these practices!
Update and Refine Business Processes and Strategy
My long-time friend Aaron Fazulak is a Founder, CEO and Consultant. Most relevantly, Aaron built, scaled and sold Designation, a design-bootcamp, to WeWork in 2018. Aaron is an intelligent designer, empath, businessman and has a background in finance. Simply, he knows what he’s doing. If you take nothing else from this article, take this quote from Aaron: “Now is a great time for entrepreneurs to stay in and look inside their businesses. When you’re busy you have less time to think strategically or come up with creative ways to make your organizations operate more efficiently. I think major downturns or natural disasters like this pandemic buy us time to focus on our people and processes, allowing us to lay a better foundation for the next period of growth.”
Reiterating Aaron was Corey Mercer, Founder and Creative Director at FRNDS Agency, noting that he’s focusing on diversifying his business offerings and simplifying his outreach and sales process as well as looking at this pandemic as an opportunity to “pull back the slingshot day by day so that once it’s over we can [release and] grow faster than we ever have.”
Use this time to invest in yourself and your business for the long term.
Generally speaking, you’re better off playing the long game than trying to capitalize on quick wins. Now is a great time to align yourself with this mentality.
Internationally acclaimed type-aficionado and muralist Ben Johnston suggests focusing on things like building pitch decks, filling out prospect-list spreadsheets, and focusing on SEO and website updates. Acknowledging that this is not the time to push for substantial revenue gains and simultaneously echoing Ben’s thoughts was acclaimed travel photographer & blogger, Renee Hahnel. Renee’s career is synonymous with travel, so she’s taking this time to refocus her energy and attention on “the internal stuff”: blog content, website updates, and passive income streams (more on passive income in point #5.)
A few additional ideas of what you could do:
Build out pitch decks, client prospect lists, creating content (blog posts, back-log your IG posts, start filming short videos/tutorials, update your Dribbble, Behance, LinkedIn or Working Not Working profiles), get your SEO dialed, update that portfolio, update contracts, documents or canned responses. What are the most common or repeated tasks that you do in your business? Do you frequently get emails asking “how much is a logo?” and have to write a new response every time? Maybe this is a great time for you to create a canned response that answers that question in detail with a link to a cloud-based PDF that shows the exact branding/logo process. That way every inbound inquiry becomes an essential 1-button-push response instead of a time-sucking task. This is a great time to focus on efficiency.
Assess your business position and strategy. Who are you targeting and talking to, how are you talking to them, and why?
Hannah May, co-founder of the boutique PR-firm Her House candidly stated: “The biggest thing this has taught me to access is: are the markets you are working in recession proof? It’s a terrifying thing to analyze because the markets that are fully “recession-proof” may not be your current clients or even the clients that you want to work with. As a small business owner this is something that you will need to figure out. Now is the time to start planning for the future; how are you going to sustain your business when this happens again?”
Maybe this is the kick in the ass that you needed to reassess what you do and who you do it for. I strongly feel that you don’t want to start making decisions based in fear or scarcity, but I do think Hannah’s point sheds a light on a poignant topic: when another recession hits (because it absolutely will) how prepared will you be next time? Maybe this is a great opportunity to pivot a bit and begin acquiring some clients in an industry that is a bit more recession-resistant, such as healthcare, alcohol and cannabis, and technology.
Director, DoP and Photographer Garrett Creamer is using this time as a blessing in disguise (from a business perspective) and is taking this time as an opportunity to re-focus his marketing efforts so that when the time is right, he can hit the ground running.
Take this forced-work-break or loss of work as an opportunity to make your business more efficient and streamlined so that when the world inevitably goes back to normal, you’re bigger, stronger, faster, and better looking than ever before.
3.) Focus on personal & passion work.
Just about every person I spoke with for this article noted that this is the perfect opportunity to focus on personal work. Let me tell you why…
Creating personal work for yourself; it feels good.
Nick Friend emphasized the importance of using this time to do the work that you always want to do but never have time. These self-initiated creative projects are your brain-child, and they showcase your point of difference as a creative/business. These projects are a metaphor for the unique human that you are, and they tend to exemplify your true creativity. I would bet that 90% or more of successful creatives would point to personal or passion work as a catalyst for finding their style and/or their most prolific career successes.
Personal suggestion: don’t put too much pressure on your personal work. If you don’t finish the project, or if it takes longer than anticipated, that’s no biggie! It’s about the process, not the result.
Personal work intentionally forms your portfolio, and can land you the work and the clients that you desire!
If you’re focused on creating personal projects that can become portfolio pieces in an effort to acquire new or similar client work, Ben Johnston suggests throwing a deadline on your project. Deadlines force you to work within constraints, make decisions, and thus progress. This process manifests progression, and essentially treats your personal project a bit more like a normal client project.
I’m not ashamed to admit that after losing all of that work, I was in a dark, weird spot for a bit. I lost a lot of projects (and thus money) really fast, and I literally had no idea what was happening or what I was going to do. The experience was both humbling and eye opening. A combination of talking with friends, other designers (the conversations referenced herein) and the virtue of time brought me up and out of my fog, and I was reminded of the importance in my own career of doing personal work.
Personal work single-handedly enabled me to build my business. I was never hired or asked to do hand lettering. I just started doing it on my own terms and putting it out into the world. No one ever asked me to paint a mural; however, I started painting them. What you put out into the world, you will receive. I believe this stands true when referring to a positive and optimistic attitude or in reference to creating and pursuing your ideal projects, industries or clients.
As the homie Scotty Russel of Perspective Collective pointed out: “Now is the time to hire yourself!” Scotty’s new portfolio has two projects (for a coffee shop and a pizza company) that were not only some of his favorites to create, but they’re 100% self-initiated. If you want to do branding for a coffee shop or a pizza joint, show branding for a coffee shop or pizza joint in your portfolio! When said out loud, it seems so obvious, doesn’t it?
“Losing work” shouldn’t mean that you “lose sight of doing work.”
For perspective on how imperative personal and passion work can be for your business, over half of the people I talked to mentioned prioritizing personal work during these times. Among others Josh Jevons, Viktor Baltus, Corey Mercer of FRNDS Agency, Jackson Cook of Buoy International, Hillary Powers, Avi Kommel, Jessie Baylis, Nick Friend of Friend Films, Brennah Rosenthal of Great Escape Media, Scotty Russel of Perspective Collective, Sean O’Neill of Sean O Studio, and James Martin of Baby Giant…all of these people mentioned that personal work is key.
Austin Dunbar, Founder of award winning studio Durham Brand & Co. is actually the hardest worker I know. Clients such as Adobe, Bud Light and Old Spice don’t lie. One of Austin’s (old, new, I’m not sure) brand values is “don’t stop working when the work stops.”
By virtue of self-initiated hand lettering projects, I’ve landed essentially every ‘big’ client of mine. Take this advice to heart, folks. It is a HUGE reason I have been able to build the career of my dreams, and so many other creatives would give this same advice.
Just because a client isn’t hiring you to create, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be creating.
4.) Build Relationships. Check in with people, clients and collaborators.
Another quote of Austin’s that I’ve really latched onto is: “graphic design is about people. Not projects.” It’s imperative to remember that as a creative (a commercial creative, at least) we are hired to solve problems. And, who do you go to and trust when you have a problem? A reliable friend. The more you position yourself as a friend, the better opportunity you’ll have to build a strong relationship with your client. They’ll trust you, they’ll be easier to work with, your communication will be more effective, and they’ll pay you more while arguing your value less, if at all. It’s a win win win.
Check in with clients (collaborators) old and (potentially) new.
Becky Mickletz had a lot of gold when it came to this topic. “Now is a good time to get vulnerable and focus on things (other than your services that you normally sell) like relationship building, valuable content such as blogs, articles, thoughts, perspectives, etc.)” Break down those facades, my friends. Personalizing your communication strategy and allow your clients to be your collaborators could go a long way in a time like this.
This is the perfect opportunity to humanize or personalize your business a bit more than normal. Show your face, do some little things for free, do some live streams, check in with your current/past clients, or get vulnerable on a social media post. Whether it’s sharing an article on LinkedIn, emailing clients/prospects directly, or sharing some stories or content on Instagram, there’s a lot of different things that you can do to break down those business walls and build up that trust. Don’t shy away from being vulnerable and candid.
Scottish-bred multi-disciplinary designer Craig Black mentioned that “I’m hugely fortunate to have projects…during this challenging time, but I know a huge factor in making that happen is…my relationship with those clients. *Not clients, collaborators!” I’ve seen Craig experience immense success and international acclaim in his career as a type-focused designer, and he notes that relationship-building has been a key component of that success.
As I tend to say: your network is your net worth. The more you prioritize surrounding yourself with quality humans and quality relationships, the better off you tend to be from a financial perspective. Focus, during these times, on the former, so that when this storm passes you experience the latter.
Brand Strategist and Futur co-host Melinda Livsey mentioned that “brands may not be the number one thing that will be built right now, but it’s the perfect time to build tribes.” During a time of global uncertainty, community and connection has proved to be everything.
People may not remember what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel, and now is the perfect time to lean into that. We as designers are here to solve problems. Right now, there is a problem of generally lower morale, anxiety, discomfort or sadness — how can we help?
I do want to point out that it is okay to continue selling your services during this time. As Sean McCabe elegantly stated: “There’s a difference between making Money FROM a crisis and making money DURING a crisis. Life and business must go on…” Don’t feel guilty continuing to market or sell your work and services during these times. Just be aware of your surroundings and the current circumstances. Don’t be tone deaf.
There are many ways that you can show your collaborators that you are sensitive and aware of the current circumstances, one of which is offering discounted products or services. Everyone is a bit more money-conscious right now, especially businesses. One of my best friends that I’ve never met is NYC-based designer and illustrator Zachary Kerinan. Zach is offering a few of his clients 20% off his services to not only foster that relationship and show his support during these tough times, but this gesture also enables him to hang onto some projects that might have otherwise been lost due to tight budgets.
Megan Heilman, Founder at City Pine Collective also mentioned that she’s allocating a lot of her time and attention towards fostering relationships and going above and beyond to help current clients. Not only that, but she is also putting in a lot of her time and expertise towards contribute to a fundraiser that helps support ICU clinicians and local restaurants [link below], and she was the one who encouraged me to write this article. She’s a hero. Founder and Creative Director of Fried Design Co, Joshua Sullivan, mentioned that Fried is doing as much free work for their clients as they can justify. “[We’re] trying to bail water to make sure [our clients] survive. If they don’t, we don’t” he said. That type of dedication and partnership goes a LONG way, particularly during these times.
Now is a good time to put a growth-mindset on hold. Focus on sustaining and fostering what you have. Your clients and collaborators will revere you for your support during these hard times, and you’ll reciprocate that feeling for their partnership. This will prove to be beneficial for both you and your client in the long run.
5.) Diversify services and/or income streams
As I mentioned, i was pretty blown away by the range of impact from COVID-19 experienced by the individuals with whom I spoke. Some were seemingly unaffected, and some were struggling to keep their head above water.
The people/business who were least affected and seemed to be doing okay had:
Positioned themselves as an essential design service, or they offered a more essential design service than others.
Business models comprised of multiple revenue steams, or they have more than one service offering as a business. In this time, they can lean into the more essential service based on the client and their needs.
Providing Essential Services.
In losing much of my work, I heard the sentence “We’re temporarily holding off on all non-essential design work” or “we’re putting a hold on all non-essential marketing efforts” more times than I can count. So much of my work was lost or postponed because it wasn’t essential in keeping the business afloat. In many ways, I agree (that bathroom doesn’t NEED a mural…but, like, it’d be super dope though) but it still a bit of an eye opener. I do so much mural, lettering and marketing work that truly is non-essential. I wonder if Visible Mobile feels that the commercials I made with Bokeh Ray Productions where I dressed up like my own mom and wore multiple wigs are essential? Psh, I hope so…
Though, contrast the decisions of my clients, CXL Marketing [reference below] suggested that businesses who continue to market and work through the recession — they reallocate or refocus their spending as opposed to fully cutting back — end up much better off after the recession than those who stop their marketing efforts all together. When you stop marketing your business during this time, a time with a lot of digital-noise, you fall off of the metaphorical map. Once things are back to normal, you’ll have to spend way more money to get back on people’s radar. History has proved this, and intelligent businesses act accordingly. It could behoove you to figure out who these “smart businesses” are and strategize how you can bring further value to what they’re currently doing.
Travel writer Steph Vermillion realized that her travel clients weren’t publishing any travel articles (cause, ya know, no one is traveling.) Under her own initiative Steph brainstormed and pitched a few timely and situationally-relevant stories. How’d it play out for Steph? She landed two large, national publications that she’s been trying to crack for years! All it took was a bit of patience, composure and creative thinking. Steph went from non-essential to essential by simply altering what she was saying. How can this equation work for you?
In talking with Ben Johnston, he noted the importance of truly aligning with your clients and collaborators to understand what their needs are. Like, ACTUALLY absorb what they’re saying, and think about how you can flex on your creativity to solve their problems. Don’t just do what they’re asking of you, but try to understand their problems and use your professional, creative insight to suggest and provide solutions. Build that relationship! Positioning yourself in this way shows that you’re invested in their success, and this positions you as an essential service and partner for that business.
The work is still out there — it just might not be as shiny as you want it to be.
Paraphrasing designer and art director Avi Kommel: “There are companies that still need work. [Designers] all have the “ideal dream work” that they want to be doing, and i think a lot of us are going to have to put that on pause for now and go back to doing the work we were trying to get away from.”
Even through a recession, businesses need to promote their products and services. Though, you may need to realign your expectations, and accept that the work that needs to be done won’t necessarily be the shiny portfolio work that fulfills you (to find that fulfillment see point #3, Personal & Passion Work, above!)
Most of my ideal dream work is generally considered non-essential. This work comes in the form of painting murals, creating installations, drawing beautiful lettering or illustration… a lot of this stuff isn’t necessarily needed to keep the lights on for a business. While yes, it helps businesses establish a unique visual brand and aesthetic that can help propel them towards success, this work is not imperative to a business’ survival. Work such as this will likely have to wait until the market regains traction. And I can assure you, I’ll be damn ready when the market is…
Passive income streams.
Noting that I’ve heard of some businesses experiencing an increase and some experience a decrease in digital product or e-commerce sales, now could be a great time to look into building digital products or services that people can purchase online…From their couches in pajamas…From at least 6 feet away. Digital/e-products are oftentimes a one-time-effort to create, and they then can live on your website indefinitely. Once these products are up and being sold, they create passive income for you while you’re sleeping, drinking beers or even sweepin’ dust out from under the davenport!
Depending on your industry, this could look like selling apparel, stickers or pins, or as aforementioned Renee Hahnel noted, she’s building out guides, photographic presets and tutorial videos. Luke Gottlieb, Photographer at Victor of Valencia just launched an online mentorship program for photographers. This will now be an opportunity for a quick $400–800 that Luke didn’t previously have. Not too shabby…
I’ve always sold prints on the side in varying capacities. But more recently I’ve began focusing way less on the $20 one-off orders that I need to fulfill myself, and more so on acquiring wholesale or consignment accounts. Those accounts land me purchases more in the ‘hood of $200–$800 profit per order, and they generally require 1–3hrs to manage and fulfill on my end. I’ll take $200–$250/hr! This is a great time for me to focus on building up some wholesale/consignment outreach lists.
Now is a great time to learn something new that you can offer future clients.
Sean O’Neill noted that this experience has opened his eyes to a new business offering: “thinking.”
That’s right, folks, thinking creatively is something you can get paid for. Thinking creatively and problem solving is the role of a Creative Director at an agency…and it can pay out big time! Melinda Livsey actually charges $10,000 for brand strategy workshops with her clients (and some people charge way more than that) and that’s before she even starts designing! If you can position yourself as an expert in creative thinking you’ll be able to create better work, and that will be the work that truly solves the problems of your clients. This type of strategic work is invaluable and essential in almost any market.
Flex on your services or skills that are relevant right now.
Producer and social media strategist Brennah Rosenthal of Great Escape Media found herself loosing all of her production work over the past month or so. Much of her higher-paying work came in the form of preparing larger photo/video shoots around the country and then being on-site to be sure everything runs smoothly. It goes without saying that both travel and gathering in large groups are not only frowned upon, but illegal, right now. Fortunately, Brennah is a multi-faceted creative, and she’s been leaning hard into her social media strategy work. From Brennah: “At the beginning of the year I was ready to phase out all social media and content strategy to focus on what I love, which is commercial production. That thought process was forced into a new perspective recently. I am grateful to still have my social media clients and I am currently seeking more [of this work] to keep myself and my business afloat.” Similarly, Jackson Cook graciously acknowledged that while most of his work for the last few years has been photo / video, because his crew is multi-disciplinary, they can now shift their focus and flex their “more essential services” during this time.
The points above both exemplify the importance of being more than a 1-trick pony. I don’t necessarily think that you want to be a jack of all trades, but having a few different skills or services to to lean into in times like these can be crucial to your survival as a small business.
But, wait. I’ve focused all of my attention on being an expert in just one thing! What do I do?!
That’s a legitimate choice — but as always, there are pros and cons to everything. If you’re interested in diversifying quickly, you’re in luck. We live in a generation where access to knowledge is seemingly unlimited. And that knowledge is relatively inexpensive. With your unintentional-new-found spare time you have access to TONS of resources to learn new skills that may be deemed as a bit more essential. Consider looking up tutorials on YouTube to learn the Adobe Creative Suite, or sign up for Skillshare to learn email marketing (or Eric Friedensohn’s illustration class, linked below) or:
Bluprint is currently offering two weeks of FREE CREATIVE CLASSES on their website: learn from some of the best creatives around the world to round out your skillset for future opportunities. If you’re interested in learning from me, I have a lettering, painting and a few mixed media classes available. Act fast—available now through April 9th, 2020 (while yes, these two weeks are free for you, I will receive a small kickback from Bluprint for you signing up through the link above.)
6.) Financial Audit
As we all know, history tends to repeat itself. That applies to culture and society as much as it does business and even relationships. For instance, the economic recession that we’re experiencing isn’t anything new. The timing and source of the recession may be a surprise, but the recession itself should almost be expected. Moving forward, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be blindsided by something that history tells us is a reoccurring instance.
Be financially prepared.
One of the best things I did for myself when beginning my self-employed career was asking a shit ton of questions to people better/further along than I. I spent the better part of a year having 1–3 curiosity coffee conversations each week. These coffee convos were an opportunity for me to ask questions to a designer, entrepreneur, creative, or someone I looked up.
One of the reoccurring pieces of advice that came up during these conversations (in addition to many blogs I’ve read, podcasts I’ve listened to and my parents beating this into my head) was to HAVE A RAINY DAY FUND! This is finance 101: have money set aside for the unexpected. Additionally, I’m a fairly frugal individual, and I generally choose to live below my means. So, in the instance of a recession, lull or drought, I’m not immediately thrown into panic mode. You’ll hear a range of how much you should have in that rainy day fund, but generally speaking, the recommendation is an amount equal to that of 6–12 months of life-living & expenses.
My rainy day fund is set up as an investment account with Baird. I receive higher interest rates than a traditional savings account, but the money is still ‘liquid’ meaning that I can access all of it within a day or two. In this very moment, I’m feeling very grateful that this was a piece of advice I took very seriously.
Echoing the importance of having money set aside, Avi Kommel mentioned that he had some well-paying consistent work for the past few months, but in an effort to be financially intelligent, he was fairly frugal with his spending. Amidst something such as this pandemic, the choice of living below his means affords Avi a more likely opportunity to resist a scarcity mindset. Without that looming fear, he’s able to continue making decisions that focus on the long term success of his business as opposed falling into to panic’d short-term or short-sighted decision making.
Reoccurring payment audit.
As freelancers or small shops, many of us have the fortunate circumstances of ‘little overhead’ as muralist and lettering artist Hillery Powers mentioned.
Right now is a great time to audit your monthly expenses — both business and personal. Are you paying a lot for gym memberships, streaming apps, studios you don’t use, or something else? Do you really need Netflix, Prime TV, HBO Go, and Hulu? If your answer is yes, I would contend that you should reallocate some of that tv-time…Also, all brand-placement aside (I get no kickbacks for this), if your phone costs more than $40 per month, you should truly look at switching to Visible. Your phone bill could be as little as $25/month with them. Seriously though.
All in all, if you took nothing away from the above, take away this: we’re all in this together. Everyone is experiencing anxiety, unrest, discomfort or confusion in some way. It’s going to take awhile for things to get back to normal. We must be patient with the world, with our clients, and maybe most importantly, with ourselves.
Even though things won’t be “normal” for awhile, things will continue moving forward. If you afford yourself the time to slow down, breathe and truly think about what you do/why/and how, you might uncover something profound. This is a great time for you as a creative and as a business-owner to build up a back log of content, focus on relationships, and to think through repositioning yourself as more of an essential service or irreplaceable collaborative parter. Find brands or companies whose ethos align with yours, and figure out how present yourself to them as an essential asset. Take some time to figure out how to reach out and connect with these prospects, and in no time you’ll find yourself back in the “oh shit I have no time for anything, I’m so busy” mode. A generally detested feeling that I all of the sudden miss longingly.
Breathe. Slow down. Accept that money might be slim for a bit, but that doesn’t mean that your diligence in progressing your creative business forward should reflect those circumstances. Get some of that shit-boring-dirty-work done now, so that when COVID-19 is a thing of the past, you’re set up in a position to be one of fastest, strongest and top creative businesses in your city.
We’re in this together, folks! If you made it to the end here, God bless ya. This was a doozy. I hope you pulled some value outta this.
If you have any questions or thoughts, please leave them in the comments below — I’d love to continue the conversation and see how I can help you get through this crazy time!
Lastly, a quick summary note on the $2 trillion stimulus bill and unemployment as it may pertains to the creative industry.
*Note: I do NOT claim to be an expert on this, and as such, I would further research the below should you want to take action.
$2 trillion Stimulus Bill:
One-time payment of $1,200 for individuals making under $75,000 / year.
If you make over $99,000 a year, you won’t reap any financial benefits from this.
The amount you will receive is on a sliding scale if you make between $75,000–$99,000 / year.
Additionally, this bill expands unemployment insurance, paying an additional $600 / week for up to 4 months (on top of whatever your state unemployment claim pays you) That’s an additional $9,600!
Filling for Unemployment:
Unemployment is different state by state.
Generally speaking, it covers 20% – 55% of your average weekly wages.
NY, for instance, pays a maximum of $504/week
From my understanding, as a sole proprietor, independent contractor or freelancer, you’re unable to collect unemployment benefits. With a business set up in this way, you don’t contribute your state’s unemployment fund, and thus, you can’t pull from it.
If you’re set up as an S-Corp (which will also likely give you some tax benefits) You are able to receive unemployment if you’re structured to pay yourself as an “employee” of your company and then pay a percentage into the state’s unemployment compensation funds. (talk to a CPA about doing this.)
You have to contribute to the bucket to pull out of the bucket.
Freelancers Relief Fund, paying up to $1,000 to freelancers who are affected by COVID-19. (applications open April 2, 2020)
Reference / Sources:
Find below, in no particular order, a reference and some links to the contributors to this article and people mentioned above:
(if I missed you, please let me know!)