Life at a Creative Studio During the Covid-19 Pandemic
These are uncertain times for small businesses. The hysteria around job security is scary for everyone. How do make it the other side of all of this?
At this point in the Covid-19 shut down, we know you’re tired of hearing how other teams are navigating the pandemic. Really, we’re all in the same boat, and have largely adapted to the same new ways of doing things. Working remotely, facilitating team and client meetings digitally, modifying some processes to accommodate off-site collaboration, etc. These are steps that teams both small and large have taken, and we don’t pretend to be unique in that.
But there are a couple choices we’ve made at Thread that I think can be helpful or encouraging to creatives and creative teams as we continue to navigate our way back to in-person collaboration. These are slightly more philosophical, and less tactical, so we hope there is some value for you in what we’ve learned.
I’ll preface by acknowledging that we have an advantage in that we are a small, lean team which relies on a roster of talented freelance collaborators to bring ideas to life. Our overhead and payroll are manageable, but we take great pride in being able to factor in to the livelihood of our freelance collaborators as often as possible. To be transparent, we are in startup mode, and we have dreams of growing our team internally as we grow. But in the meantime, we are choosing to look on the bright side, and celebrate as we create opportunities for frequent collaboration in the freelance marketplace. The size of your team may affect how easily our experience can translate to yours, but I hope you find encouragement and solidarity either way.
Look on the bright side
We’ve chosen [sometimes easily, and sometimes with great difficulty] to look on the bright side. Plain and simple, this shutdown has affected everyone. Every individual, every business, everywhere. There is no benefit in entertaining the “what ifs” that lead to self pity. It doesn’t help us to look at our trajectory from Q1 and imagine what could have been “if this pandemic shutdown hadn’t happened”. The only thing that matters is what we have done since March 23rd. How have we sought to adapt and thrive, to trim and modify, to push forward.
With Covid-19 claiming hundreds of thousands of lives around the world, our business ventures have been put back in their proper place on our priority list, and that has been a good thing. Every day that we wake up in good health, with the ability to provide for our families is to be celebrated. On top of that, to be able to continue doing that through the business that we care so passionately about, doing creative work for clients, is more than we could ask for. We are incredibly grateful, and when the inconveniences and doubts brought on by the Covid-19 shutdown creep in, we have been diligent to dutifully acknowledge them before reminding ourselves how fortunate we are.
We’ve flexed our service offerings while reiterating the dream. If you work professionally in any creative field, you already know what we’re talking about: the sliding scale we use to measure the projects we take on. On one end is work you would never touch, and on the other end of the spectrum is work that you’d do in a heartbeat, for free. Heck, we might even pay to be a part of it (but don’t tell the client). That’s the dream - to do work we’re excited about all the time. The reality for us, and for most creative professionals we know, is that the majority of our work lies somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, and we endeavor to continue winning more of the work we want.
As we laid the foundation, and began to build Thread (before the shutdown), we continually reminded ourselves that now is the time to declare and devote ourselves to the type of work we desire to do. All it takes is a few successive projects to become typecast into a certain type of work. As a new company, we realized that we could easily lose our vision if we took a few of the wrong projects in a row early on. A diversion like that - in the startup phase - could take years to correct. So we talked (and continue to talk) a lot about this internally, and we try to accurately place any project that comes up somewhere on that spectrum. We do this in an effort to be realistic about the work we are taking on, and to identify how it helps - our hurts - our long-term goals and aspirations.
As we navigate the Covid-19 shutdown, we have expanded the circles on our target without moving the target itself. We have made intentional decisions about the type of work we are willing to do for a simple reason. As a business, we need to be in existence in the future in order to do the type of work we feel most passionate about. We could go down on a ship full of good intentions, or we can navigate these rough waters while reminding ourselves of the dream we are chasing. And that is the key: continuing to remind ourselves of our ideal clients, projects, processes and systems. If we stop re-calibrating our compass, we’ll come out of this thing struggling to regain our direction and momentum.
This temporary adjustment has most directly impacted our film projects, as virtually all filming has been put on hold. As we’ve expanded the circles on our target, we’ve taken on editing projects, produced projects remotely, and helped produce online content for others. These are not service offerings that we have on our dream list, but in a tough time they have given us the opportunity to serve our clients, foster client relationships, and continue doing billable work.
So, is it working?
How have these two internal choices affected our business? How are we doing practically at this point in the pandemic? Thankfully things are good. With an optimistic outlook, we’ve been clear-headed when presented with new opportunities. We made a decision when Chris came on as a partner to expand our service offerings to include design/branding (his first creative language), and that diversification has been huge during this time. The design process has been far less affected than film production, and has grown during this time. We’ve landed a couple big design projects that we are super pumped about. We know we are fortunate to win business in this environment, so we’ve been celebrating those wins. Supplementing our normal film projects with remote editing and producing have helped buoy the business, and we’re continuing in pre-production on projects to be filmed when restrictions begin to ease. As far as our compass, I’d say we have managed to keep it calibrated toward our long term goals and aspirations, and we’re thankful for that. Onboarding inspiring design clients has definitely helped in that regard.
All-in-all, we are fortunate to be busy and growing during this time, and we are the first to acknowledge that things could easily be different. As I said in the preface, we are lean, and that has definitely helped. If your business or freelance career has struggled, we’d love to connect with you. Partly just to listen and hear your story. To encourage you and help you keep your compass calibrated. Maybe in doing that, we’ll stumble on something that proves to be a healthy and helpful refinement as you move toward the future. If you’ve found success and thrived during this time, we’d love to hear from you too. We’re eager to learn and be inspired. Eventually we’ll make coffee for you at the studio, but for now, we’ll see you on Zoom.